William Shakespeare wrote, “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.” Although delicate and ethereal may be the first associations one makes with spring, this season of the year is also a time of great upheaval. Before the first leaves appear on the tender branches and before the first gossamer thin white petal unfolds, the snow and ice have to melt. Nature’s awakening from the slumber of winter can be almost violent and unpredictable, contrasting sharply with the crystalline and radiant beauty of the late spring. Similarly, the musky aromas of wet earth, the metallic pitch of melting ice and the pungency of last year’s decaying leaves revealed by the vanishing snow can be contrasted with the brilliant verdancy of first grasses, the sunny warmth of narcissuses and the luminous freshness of spring air. The duality of spring and her scents is fascinating and alluring, and it is difficult to resist their call.
In his extraordinary memoirs Souvenirs et Parfums, perfumer Constantine Weriguine declares his teacher, Ernest Beaux, to be the master of spring perfumes. “All of his best creations scintillate with the joy of spring, its upheavals and its moods. Thus, unrivaled Chanel No 5 is suffused by the breath of spring, musky, earthy, much like the aroma appearing after the melting of snow… Intensity, strength, brilliance and brightness as well as the light intoxication of youth are contained within it.” Although my translation does not seem to capture the beauty of Weriguine’s descriptions, I cannot leave aside his characterization of Beaux’s other creations. “Gardénia by Chanel is no less brightly touched by spring, especially in the initial flight of its fragrance. However, its spring is the spring of a different nature—it speaks of the spring of southern and tropical countries. Cuir de Russie is also remarkably fresh in its first movement and only later does it segue into an autumnal fragrance, which characterizes the perfumes of its type [chypre].”
The same enchanting spring-like beauty marks some other Chanel fragrances, from the refined freshness of Cristalle to the green musky richness of No 18. The latter is especially appropriate for the spring. The initial unctuous note, reminiscent of sticky green buds, slowly transforms into a delicate bouquet of tea rose and iris. Lacking the honeyed warmth of the summer blooms, the flowers unfolding in the heart of No 18 are marked by a slight sharpness and dewiness. It is a bouquet picked after a May storm—the earthy muskiness on the petals only serves to accent their delicate beauty.
If I were to name a modern perfumer whose fragrances capture the essence of spring, Jean-Claude Ellena would be someone of note. His compositions are based on the contrast between the dark woody or musky base notes and the ethereal radiance of top accords, which for me beautifully captures the intriguing duality of spring. Frédéric Malle Angéliques sous la is reminiscent of the first grasses appearing under the melting snow. With its combination of osmanthus, tea and suede, Hermès Osmanthe Yunnan evokes the sweetness of apricot blossoms and the darkness of wet branches. Similarly, Cartier Déclaration possesses the effervescence and intensity which mark the beginning of spring. The vision that it paints is of a slowly awakening landscape which is about to burst into sensual and voluptuous bloom.
Green leaves, delicate blades of grass, spears of tulips and crocuses… Once the winter departs with its snows, the aromas of spring attain a vibrant green hue. Fresh and bright, untouched by the dust of the soon to be sun parched soil, the verdancy of spring instills a sense of joy and lightness. Its fragrance has also inspired a number of legendary perfumes, from the ebullient Balmain Vent Vert to the elegantly restrained Chanel No 19. Guerlain Sous Le Vent is an intriguing juxtaposition of green herbal notes with lush jasmine and ylang ylang. Even if at times it appears to be filled with the balmy warmth more characteristic of the summer, its effervescent seems to me to be quite spring-like. Jacomo Silences is the translucent greenness of snowdrops and first May roses.
Annick Goutal Eau de Camille is a colder and fresh green floral, combining the sweetness of honeysuckle with the sparkling touch of ivy leaves. Monsieur Balmain (another creation by the perfumer behind the aforementioned Vent Vert, Germaine Cellier) is a delicious marriage of green notes, lemon and sandalwood. Everything about this extraordinary fragrance speaks of the vivacious brightness of spring and the more seductive charms soon to be brought by the summer. The dark verdancy of Diptyque Virgilio speaks of the late spring, which is soon to segue into the summer. Although it has been discontinued, Gobin Daudé Seve Exquise is one of the most spring-like green fragrances. It conjures the sticky sap covering the leaves, the chilly breeze of capricious April weather and a delicate whisper of white blossoms. Finally, Miller et Bertaux Green, green, green… is an exhilarating tribute to the greens of spring, even if it is as evanescent as the spring itself.
Speaking of spring scents, one cannot ignore the flowers. The commercial understanding of spring blooms is often crisp and fruity layered with bright white musks. However, the incredible diversity of spring flowers defies generalizations. Thus, Frédéric Malle En Passant speaks of lilacs drenched by a May storm. Guerlain Chamade hides a stunning hyacinth in its heart, intoxicating, opulent, sweet and green all at once. L’Artisan Parfumeur Mimosa Pour Moi is a lighthearted mimosa soliflore, while Caron Farnesiana and Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie are the more complex mimosa dominated symphonies. The queen of spring flowers, fragile and heady lily of the valley is the inspiration behind the legendary Christian Dior Diorissimo, Parfums DelRae Début and Gucci Envy. Finally, the exquisite Guerlain Après l’Ondée captures spring in its full blooming glory, contrasting dusky violets and chilly iris with spicy hawthorn and milky sandalwood. Après l’Ondée is filled with airy spring-like freshness. This remarkable fragrance enchants with its tenderness and fragility foiled by the sunny intensity of its warm heart. Even if its top notes speak of the winter chills and the final accords evoke the gilded autumn, the heart of Après l’Ondée belongs to spring.
For an additional list of my favorite perfumes, with which to usher in the spring, please see Perfumes To Usher In Spring article.
Painting by one of Ernest Beaux’s favorite artists, Isaac Levitan. Spring Flood, 1897. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. An interesting explanation of this painting can be found on the website called Russian Painting.