Building Perfume Wardrobe Guide Part 1 : Florals

Veraroses2

Part 2: Florals ~ Jasmine and White Florals
Part 3: Florals ~ Lily of the Valley and Violet
Part 4: Florals ~ Blends
Part 5: Essentials
Part 6: Orientals

As much as the idea of a signature fragrance seems alluring, I find that the world of fragrance is too diverse and fascinating to limit myself to only a single olfactory idea. I eat different foods everyday, I change the music selection on my iPod, I read new books in hopes of learning and experiencing something new. So I do not see any reason why someone who loves fragrance needs to wear only one perfume for years on end. A perfume wardrobe, which is the subject of this series, is my idea of enjoying fragrance—a collection of perfumes that contain a variety of scents that are appropriate for different occasions and moods.

When I started working on a perfume wardrobe guide, I decided to organize fragrances into several large groups that would give some idea of what is available in the perfume universe. Given the breadth of the subject, the series will be published in several installments. The fragrances illustrating each group were selected on the basis of their quality and availability: I wanted to come up with a list of well-made fragrances that are available either from department stores or via the sampling programs online (Luckyscent, Aedes, etc.) I also include a “must-know classic” in each group, avoiding, however, the classics that have been reformulated beyond recognition. By and large, the fragrances in this series are not necessarily the legendary classics (for those, I would like to refer you to my 100 Fragrances That Influenced Perfume History series.) Needless to say, such lists cannot include everything, and if you have your own favorites, please do not hesitate to share.

How to Use the Perfume Wardrobe Guide

The idea of this guide is to give an overview of fragrances available today grouped by their dominant accords.  Similar to your clothing wardrobe,  it takes time to create a collection that will suit your lifestyle and preferences. Building your own perfume wardrobe comes hand in hand with learning about perfume notes, smelling different fragrances and figuring out what one likes.  For instance, if you enjoy rose fragrances, you might want to try as many different roses as you can find, but it would be even more interesting to explore the oriental fragrance family, where rose plays an important role. In the floral category, I try to show that despite the diverse world of floral scents, they are related to each other. Without aiming to present every single floral scent out there, I will indicate the major floral notes (in bold font) with which a fragrance lover should be familiar. The underlined floral notes are related to the major note, and they can be explored after one becomes familiar with the latter.

Although in Western perfume tradition, floral notes are generally reserved for women, it is not the case in other cultures, where heady rose or jasmine scents are worn by men as well. A man who would like to smell of something other than citrus rinds and ozone might find many interesting options among floral notes like mimosa and orange blossom. In addition, jasmine and iris feature heavily in masculine fragrances, and I will highlight them alongside the traditional feminine perfumes.

Rose

The honeyed warmth of rose notes lends itself to many interpretations. Whether light and effervescent or dark and luscious, rose has a distinctive honeyed, sweet character. The classical tea roses like Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose are citrusy and bright, while the crisp amber embellished Stella by Stella McCartney is a quintessential modern rose. Yves Saint Laurent In Love Again is a fruity rose, with tart grapefruit and passion fruit adding a zesty twist. Estée Lauder Dazzling Silver, Serge Lutens Sa Majesté la Rose and Frédéric Malle Lipstick Rose are the playful, coquettish roses that retain a luminous, bright quality from top to finish.

On the dark and seductive spectrum of rose, Agent Provocateur is one of the best examples. Heavily foiled by patchouli, moss and spices, this rose has a dramatic and smoldering character. Frédéric Malle Une Rose is likewise striking, but the rose in it is even darker hued. It is earthy and dense, with a rich amber backdrop. All of these roses would work for men as well. A few more excellent dark and moody roses to consider: L’Artisan Parfumeur Voleur de Roses, Etat Libre d’Orange Rossy de Palma and Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady.

Must-know classic: Guerlain Nahéma, Lancôme Trésor, Yves Saint Laurent Paris (although it is more of a violet than a rose)

Carnation

If you like rose notes and enjoy dark and spicy florals, carnation is worth exploring. Perfumery carnation is a rose generously laced with jasmine-like notes, pepper and clove, but unlike rose, it tends to be dry and spicy. Modern peppery carnations can be very interesting given their fiery, sparkling top notes. By and large, carnation is considered an old-fashioned flower, and it rarely stars as the main floral note in today’s compositions. However, for an interesting carnation with a retro glamor aura, I would recommend Parfums de Nicolaï Sacrebleu (a spicy carnation set into a dark oriental accord,) Etro Dianthus and Comme de Garçons Carnation (Red Series). Hermès Bel Ami, a classical masculine, has a beautiful carnation flourish in its heart, as does the outstanding leather composition Knize Ten.

Must-know classic: Caron Bellodgia and Yves Saint Laurent Opium (the new 2009 version is particularly carnation heavy)

Peony

On the other hand, if you prefer your rose to be as light and wispy as possible, you might enjoy peony. It is often rendered as dewy and fresh, with accents of tart fruity notes like rhubarb and pomegranate. The floral accord in Christian Dior Dune is laced with peony, as are the top notes of L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzongkha. Yves Saint Laurent Elle and Guerlain Idylle (especially the EDT) are examples of modern bright and fruity peonies that have been replacing the heavier and more opulent rose notes.

Lilac

Lilac has been one of the most important floral notes in classical perfumery, but today it is mostly associated with air fresheners and bathroom cleaners. Yet, it has a fantastic character combining the dewy freshness of rose with the milky richness of almonds. An interesting modern fragrance that pays a beautiful tribute to lilac is Frédéric Malle En Passant—a fresh etude of cucumber, wet lilac petals and sundried linen. Another well-made lilac is Yves Rocher Pur Désir de Lilas, an almond macaron and flower petal composition created by talented perfumer Annick Ménardo.

Must-know classic:  lilac was rarely used solo in classical fragrances, although it was an important note in nearly all floral bouquets.

Hyacinth

Green notes can transform a rose into a hyacinth, and its character likewise changes dramatically. Hyacinth juxtaposes the opulence of flower petals with a green, watery freshness. A cool undertone reminiscent of wet soil further tempers the floral exuberance. The cool-warm dissonance of hyacinth can be felt in Chanel Cristalle EDP, Annick Goutal Grand Amour (it beautifully blends rose and hyacinth) and the most recent version of Balmain Vent Vert.

Must-know classic: Guerlain Chamade

To be continued…

Photography by Verakl

Further reading: Perfume Posse’s fun article Perfume 101 — Beginning Your Fragrance Adventure and Robin’s comprehensive New to Perfume and Want to Learn More are highly recommended.

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55 Comments

  • Ines: Can’t wait to read what comes next.
    This is a great idea for a series of posts. :)
    And I see I missed some perfumes in my perfume education but at that is an on-going process, it’s never too late. November 11, 2011 at 4:38am Reply

  • Ann C.: Thank you for doing this series, Victoria. Like Ines, I can’t wait to read future installments. Can you tell us what the categories will be?

    My collection has grown in a topsy turvy manner; I’m beginning to feel the need to edit it, and I certainly want to choose new additions more carefully.

    How do you manage your collection? November 11, 2011 at 7:19am Reply

  • astrorainfall @ beauty box: I too can’t wait for the next part of this series…Very interesting! November 11, 2011 at 7:25am Reply

  • Isa: Thanks for this interesting and useful post! I’m looking forward to the next.

    (I couldn’t have just a signature scent. I need to change, even though there are some perfumes which I always have). November 11, 2011 at 7:40am Reply

  • Tulip: WAAHOO Writing with intelligence, knowledge, and love and understanding of nature and our sense of smell! Blogging is good, but it is necessary that your contribution be polished in book format. Please please. The world is hungry for it! November 11, 2011 at 9:41am Reply

  • Miss Kitty V: Just wanted to add two of the BPAL Last Unicorn scents to the lilac section. Both The Last Unicorn and The Lilac Wood are lovely, very wearable lilacs. Not at all air freshener-y. November 11, 2011 at 9:47am Reply

  • Victoria: There will be a series on more florals (all the white flowers and then violet/iris.) Then orientals, leather, woods, incense, green, citrus, watery, etc. I wrote it all out, but I need to format it. I do not want to make each post excessively long, so that’s how the idea of series came about. November 11, 2011 at 9:48am Reply

  • Victoria: As I mentioned to Ines, there will be more florals ( white flowers and then violet/iris.) Then orientals, leather, woods, incense, green, citrus, watery, etc. Within each category, I will have breakdowns, so it is easier to follow.

    Adding more is always tricky, and I completely see what you mean. It can easily get overwhelming. In general, I keep it all in a linen closet, with the samples in one box and decants in a transparent container. The fragrances that I actually wear on regular on regular basis are on my dresser (I make little decants to use up quickly, while the larger bottle remains in the closet.) I have certain favorites that I know that I never get tired of, and others come and go. The trick is to find the perfect balance between having your staples and smelling new things. That’s actually how this particular post came about. :) November 11, 2011 at 10:02am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you! Next there will be more florals–jasmine, orange blossom, tuberose, gardenia, etc. November 11, 2011 at 10:02am Reply

  • Victoria: The idea of just one fragrance seems too limiting to me personally, although there are times when I gravitate towards just one perfume and wear it for some time before switching. So, I get my signature perfume cravings time to time. :) November 11, 2011 at 10:04am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you very much for your kind words! It will all come together when it feels right to me; for now, I am happy to share this way. November 11, 2011 at 10:07am Reply

  • Victoria: Great additions and thank you!
    Another nice lilac is Ineke’s. November 11, 2011 at 10:07am Reply

  • Bulldoggirl: Wonderful–can’t wait to read more!

    This idea of a signature scent is very intriguing to me. Such a fusty ol’ bromide, yet it still gets trotted out by fashion publications every now and then and given a new spin. I’ve never understood it.

    Those handful of my friends and family who are die hard signature scent folks, totally uninterested in sampling anything other than the perfume they have worn for years, and, in some cases, decades, proclaim that, “People associate me with my scent. It is as much a part of me as my eye color.”

    But I don’t buy it. In over 25 years of active perfume-wearing, I can count on my two hands and feet the number of times someone has remarked on my scent (and half those times, it was Amarige, which has the sillage of a Mac truck). I’m not talking about intimate encounters, mind you, where a boyfriend or husband was up close enough to smell my perfume; I’m talking about every day life. In those instances, I think few people really notice the way another person smells. November 11, 2011 at 10:32am Reply

  • Kym: Thanks so much for this series. When I first fell down the rabbit hole, just two years ago, I was longing for a breakdown like this. I’m looking forward to future installments! November 11, 2011 at 10:39am Reply

  • Erin T: Really looking forward to the next installments, V. I particularly like the peony section, here – not a category generally beloved by perfumistas, but your suggestions here show how it can be an interesting and versatile note (Dune?! Who knew?!)

    In the dark and interesting rose category, I would also suggest By Kilian Liasons Dangereuses. November 11, 2011 at 11:20am Reply

  • Suzanna: Wonderful start to this exciting series, V.! Looking forward to reading more while wondering why this is not expanded into a proper book.

    Am a huge fan of In Love Again, and to this we can add its cousin fragrance L’Ombre dans L’eau. November 11, 2011 at 11:37am Reply

  • Ylesuin: What a fantastic idea! My perfume collection is still in the fledgling stage, as is my knowledge of perfume in general, and it’ll be great to have an organized guide of some things to sniff, whether they fit my current preferences or not. November 11, 2011 at 12:26pm Reply

  • Emma: Carnation is not a modern note but I don’t necessarily think a dab of vintage Bellodgia parfum is more old-fashioned than wearing No.5 edp… November 11, 2011 at 1:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: Same here! In theory, it sounds nice, but it rarely works that way in practice. I think that it is all marketing stuff that the fragrance companies perpetuate. And paradoxically, they continue to send the same message, even as they release numerous perfumes each season. And then they say that the consumer is confused. Well, who would not be! November 11, 2011 at 3:08pm Reply

  • Victoria: I am glad! :) I so enjoyed writing this set of posts. November 11, 2011 at 3:09pm Reply

  • Victoria: Peony is often used as part of the nondescript florals that are so numerous today, but it can be much more interesting. Still, if one likes a light rose, it is a good choice to consider.

    Need to revisit Liasons Dangereuses! I remember liking it the first time I’ve tried it. November 11, 2011 at 3:11pm Reply

  • Victoria: I guess, I never intended to write a whole book on this topic, although heaven knows, there is plenty of material for it. Something to think about… November 11, 2011 at 3:12pm Reply

  • Victoria: The easy thing about perfume, unlike wine or some other hobbies, is that it is fairly low-maintenance. You do not have to buy a full bottle to have a taste of something new or spend 2 hours of your time watching a film, the genre of which may not appeal to you. As much as possible I will try to keep the list of perfumes balanced between the department store and niche fragrances. In some cases, it is easier than others. November 11, 2011 at 3:18pm Reply

  • Victoria: I agree, and I would argue that No 5 is much more retro than Bellodgia, which is not a bad thing, of course. November 11, 2011 at 3:19pm Reply

  • chatchien: I am going to like this series.

    I was looking over my perfume collection and evidently, I am mad for orientals. I need to diversify. This series will give me a guide to doing that.

    As for roses, isn’t Rive Gauche a sort of astringent almost hospitally rose? And one of my favorite roses is Knowing which is as smooth and smug as a prize-winning rose in a moss covered hot house.

    I got a sample of Comme des Garçons, Red: Carnation. I never realized how much I like the way carnations smell. And cloves. November 11, 2011 at 3:44pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: One of the things I really disliked about Perfumes: The Guide were Luca Turin’s pronouncements on what women should and should not wear. Among the thou-shalt-nots are any florals that are not “completely abstract” or tuberose. Telling women what not to do in order to be a “proper” female is old-fashioned sexism, no matter how one dresses it up.

    This is a very long, roundabout way of saying that I love floral perfumes, and I have quite a wardrobe of them! I have gone through several bottles of La Chasse aux Papillons, En Passant, and Annick Goutal Neroli. If my desire to smell like jasmine and linden flowers, a lilac bush, or an orange tree in bloom makes a certain critic furrow his brow and frown, that is simply not my problem! November 11, 2011 at 4:14pm Reply

  • Yulya: Wonderful series! As others, I cannot wait for the next article. And… I love florals. Carnation is the one that is something very retro and shique. November 11, 2011 at 7:51pm Reply

  • Lindaloo: Count me among those eagerly awaiting the next articles in this series. I appreciate you referencing easy to access scents as well as niche and I like to must-know-classic feature. November 11, 2011 at 8:20pm Reply

  • Nikki: Great article and commentaries, as always! Regarding Peonies: I just got the classic (old) Lalique which is a peony fragrance. In regards to Tuberose, I would like to add Panthere de Cartier. Regarding chauvinism/sexism in the Guide by Luca Turin, well, I used to really enjoy the French version of his guide which I found amusing. The English version written with Tania Sanchez borders on below the belt meanness at times and definitely lacks the savoir faire and overall knowledge not only of perfumes but other art forms as well (I am referring to TS comments which I find quite unpleasant). However, that being said, it seems to be the classical evolution of the Hero as described in Campbell, the adoration, then boredom, then finally the destruction (discarding) of the “hero”. By that I mean, everybody who read French seemed to be just crazy about his guide, then it was in English and everybody thought it was just the best thing ever, now people are starting to critique it on all levels which is well founded. Maybe one woman should write the same guide with esprit and knowledge and we can compare…and see whether she will be sexist in regards to male fragrances? November 12, 2011 at 2:05pm Reply

  • Andy: I agree! I love this, and can’t wait for the next installment. The references to hyacinth and lilac in the rose category were intriguing and offered a new take on these florals (which I hadn’t before thought of as related to rose). November 12, 2011 at 2:05pm Reply

  • annemariec: Exactly! I was talking about that paradox to a signature-perfume wearing (Angel) friend the other night over dinner. She looked confused, understandably.

    Bullgoggirl makes an interesting comment about signature scents. The SS wearer seems to regard her/his fragrance as physically part of her/him, like eye colour, whereas I regard it as more like a dress. I would not wear the same dress every day, regardless of season, mood, or time of day, so why wear the same perfume every day? November 12, 2011 at 2:54pm Reply

  • johanna: Just wanted to add my thanks for this lovely article. I’m already looking forward to the next installments. The mixture of readily available perfumes along with the niche is particularly appreciated. I shall visit my local department store on my next lunchbreak, and sniff Stella, Elle and Opium with new appreciation. November 12, 2011 at 8:43pm Reply

  • Marilie: Thank you for this informative article! I can’t wait to read about the other floral notes.
    What a great idea of highlighting one major note and going into detail which related notes exist. This explains my indifference towards some of the masterpieces in perfumery (take En Passant, Cristalle, Sacrebleu…) I am not a rose hater but don’t really care about rose perfumes (though I appreciate some of them). And I don’t own or love any carnation, peony, lilac or hyacinth fragrance either. November 13, 2011 at 9:15am Reply

  • sweetlife: Gorgeous and thorough, V. Exactly the kind of post where I can’t believe the sheer amount of work involved. We are very lucky readers… November 13, 2011 at 12:32pm Reply

  • Victoria: You are right, Rive Gauche has a big rose note in its heart, and it is definitely something to try. I was going to mention it among soft florals/aldehydic florals, which are very distinctive and different from others. November 13, 2011 at 2:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love floral perfumes too, and I do not treat perfume as something overly intellectual–I wear whatever smells good to me, and I do not typically search for some deeper meaning in it. November 13, 2011 at 2:44pm Reply

  • Victoria: There are going to be florals in the next post! :) They are so diverse, and I love exploring them. Even if one asks 5 different perfumers to come up with a simple rose, one will have 5 different roses. It is really fascinating. November 13, 2011 at 2:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: Niche fragrances are great, but there are so many good perfumes available at regular department stores that it is a shame not to include them. Plus, I find so many niche perfumes overpriced today. November 13, 2011 at 2:48pm Reply

  • Victoria: I think that the slant and the audience of the new Guide is different, which is why you notice the difference in tone. The French guide was written for a much more narrow group of connoisseurs, whereas the new version aims much wider. The scope of the project was also great! I cannot imagine how much work went into it. My head hurts simply thinking about smelling all of those perfumes. November 13, 2011 at 2:51pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is interesting how one can put similar materials together and come up with a different floral effect, depending on the proportions! November 13, 2011 at 2:52pm Reply

  • Victoria: You are welcome, Johanna! I resmelled Elle recently, and even though I was not a big fan of it when it first came out, today it seems much more interesting (especially in comparison with other new floral launches.) The peony note is very nice. You can smell it right on top, and then 15 min later, it is presented more fully. So, do not get put off by the initial sharp lychee note. November 13, 2011 at 2:54pm Reply

  • Victoria: I was the same way. I did not like rose notes nearly as much as I liked jasmine and tuberose, so some of those fragrances left me cold. Over time, I seem to develop a taste for different things, so it is interesting to see how my preferences change. November 13, 2011 at 2:55pm Reply

  • Victoria: I like to classify things and see patterns. :) Thank you, A! I am the lucky one to have such a great group of readers. November 13, 2011 at 2:57pm Reply

  • sunsetsong: Late to the party, thanks for this Victoria! Your writing is wonderful, and while a book is a big commitment, I echo the sentiments of previous posters. Please write a book for us! November 14, 2011 at 7:25am Reply

  • Victoria: :) Thank you for having confidence in me! November 14, 2011 at 9:22am Reply

  • OperaFan: I’m even later to the party, but it was worth backtracking to this post. Oh the ROSE! My favorite floral note (with jasmin a close second) – it’s no wonder I love Joy, and that along with Annick Goutal’s Rose Absolu made up my wedding day fragrance.
    The combination of turkish rose and hyacinth mixed with the galbanum in its spectacular opening notes was what drew me to Chamade in the first place, and its still a favorite today.
    Thanks, too for your remark about Paris. Years ago I didn’t realize it was a rose scent until someone told me because all I could smell was violet, which made it seem sour to my nose. November 18, 2011 at 9:39pm Reply

  • donna: When I see your blog in my mailbox in the morning, I save it till the end of the day, that way I know I have something amazing to look forward to. I’m in awe of your writing and knowledge. I found En Passant accidentally and it’s another thing I look forward to each day, spraying it on before I go for a run, in the cold air, this fragrance is like the smelling salts of life for me. I read about it here while tracking lilac, so thank you. again. November 19, 2011 at 9:54pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love floral notes, so I have a hard time picking, yet rose is so versatile and complex that one can have a lot of fun with it.

    Paris is a good example of how marketing affects people’s perceptions! It really has more violet notes in it, with some rose, of course, but violet is the main character. November 20, 2011 at 1:20pm Reply

  • Victoria: This is such a nice thing to say! It really touched me. Thank you very much, Donna.
    Isn’t En Passant beautiful? Whenever I feel down, I only need to smell it to immediately feel much better. It is almost like a magic potion for me in this regard. November 20, 2011 at 1:22pm Reply

  • Yulya: Dear Victoria, what do you think of CREED Fleurissimo? I love this one, although it is quite pricy, I think it is worth it. It seems that it started blending with the scent of my skin since I have been gradually becoming a vegetarian… :) November 22, 2011 at 12:31pm Reply

  • Victoria: Yulya, I think that it is very pretty! There is something so fragile and delicate about it, but it does not seem bland or limpid. A lovely fragrance. November 22, 2011 at 12:54pm Reply

  • Yulya: Victoria, thank you. It is one of the very few fragrances that received compliments. The most complimented is Chanel #5, it is funny how surprised people become once they find out what I am wearing! And I am often complimented when I wear Fleurissimo. November 23, 2011 at 6:15pm Reply

  • Mezzodiva54: You forgot my favorite carnation of all time, Blue Carnation by Roger & Gallet. Sadly discontinued several decades ago, and a choice item on eBay nowadays. I still have a bottle of the sachet powder, which I have used to scent my correspondence ever since I was in my teens. December 13, 2011 at 1:56pm Reply

  • Jane Barber: Victoria – I love your blog – wish I could write as well as you and make it interesting. I love the smell of the skin care company REN’s rose otto range. I am trying to find a perfume which smells just like that but am struggling – the rose ones I tried eg diptique l’eau rose just don’t smell like RENs. Do you know of any which come close? If I can’t find one I might buy an aroma chemical instead but there are some many and I’m confused – perfumersworld have – Rose Otto Fleuressence TM, Rose Aldehyde Fleuressence TM ?? and the perfumersapprentice – rose and tea rose fragrance oils ?? November 28, 2012 at 7:36am Reply

  • Aromahead: Hi,
    I am definitely a floriental & Oriental perfume fanatic. I have been working on creating on a signature scent very hard for the last 8 month or so trying to achieve that powdery dry-downscent. Are you able to tell me what the main ingredients that makes up a floriental scent are? I have gotten different version from different sources and here they are: 1) Muguet (Lily-of-the-valley), jasmin, white flower notes (Tuberose, Ylang Ylang) Rose, Orris, Heliotrope Fresh leafy green, Bergamot, pineapple & Peach
    2) Bergamot, galbanum, hyacinth, honeysuckle, orange blossom
    Lily, lily of the valley, rose, ylang-ylang, tuberose, carnation
    Cedarwood, sandalwood, amber, oakmoss, incense, vetiver
    All inputs are highly appreciated
    Thank you September 1, 2014 at 10:14am Reply

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