It is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of floral variations. This need not be the case. Once you know what rose, jasmine, violet and lily of the valley smell like, you already know a fair bit and have a nice foundation to continue with your fragrance explorations. Almost everything else would stem from these notes.
In continuing my guide on building a perfume wardrobe, I will resume the discussion of floral fragrances, with the focus today being on jasmine. In marketing descriptions, jasmine, orange blossom, gardenia and tuberose are called white florals, which is a vague and confusing term. Rose, carnation and lilac can also be white. What unites the flowers in my group today is their jasmine character of apricot jam, banana peel and an inky touch of indole. The jasmine group also offers the most examples of prominent floral notes used in masculine perfumery.
Brief explanation: 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.
Jasmine has an appealing combination of fruity brightness and velvety softness. Its ability to evoke the sensation of silky flower petals makes it an alluring note that can be easily played up to be sensual and dark. Even the most delicate and innocent jasmine compositions have a seductive streak. Most feminine fragrances include a jasmine effect in some way. Guerlain classics like L’Heure Bleue, Mitsouko and Samsara are impossible to imagine without it. The beautiful green jasmine note is very prominent in Jean Patou Joy, particularly the EDT. Christian Dior J’Adore Le Jasmin and Donna Karan Jasmine Essence treat it in a luminous, bright manner. Serge Lutens A La Nuit is a jasmine gold standard. It presents jasmine as endless layers of lush petals. For a darker and warmer interpretation, I would recommend Annick Goutal Songes and Parfums de Nicolaï Number One. Serge Lutens Sarrasins is an excellent jasmine, in which the dark, animalic notes are emphasized at the expense of the light, fruity ones.
Must-know classic: Jean Patou Joy, Van Cleef & Arpels First, Christian Dior Eau Sauvage, Christian Dior J’Adore (a blend of floral notes, but the jasmine effects in it are beautiful; they are even more pronounced in the new version.)
The duality of orange blossom makes it exciting. It pairs a fresh, zesty top with a dark animalic undercurrent. Like jasmine, it is another important note in modern perfumery, allowing for a remarkable diversity of compositions. It dominates exhilarating colognes like Annick Goutal Néroli, Jo Malone Orange Blossom Cologne and Lancôme Ô. In Bobbi Brown Beach, it is transformed into a sweet accord, evoking the lazy days of summer. Moving into the dark, richer spectrum of orange blossom, I have to mention the classical floral oriental genre that is based on this note. Guerlain L’Heure Bleue and Oscar de la Renta Oscar are classical takes, while Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger and Hermès 24 Faubourg are more modern.
Orange blossom and neroli are indispensable in masculine perfumery, whether in fresh blends like Penhaligon’s Sartorial and Chanel Pour Monsieur or in rich orientals similar to Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male and Dolce & Gabbana The One for Men.
The creamy coconut notes lend tuberose a completely different character from other jasmine like notes. It also has a salty, animalic accent that makes it particularly sensual. When smelling tuberose, one’s impressions oscillate from warm skin to waxy petal. It has been a particularly popular note in the past few years, although Giorgio and Christian Dior Poison are perhaps the most famous examples of the 1980s love affair with voluptuous tuberose notes. Today, it is decidedly more toned down. Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion (yes, despite the name, it is a tuberose) and L’Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse Aux Papillons offer this floral note as bright and vibrant. Jean Paul Gaultier Fragile, Michael Kors Michael, Estée Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia and Thierry Mugler À Travers le Miroir are in the darker, headier realm. Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle is the darkest tuberose, liberally laced with shockingly strong wintergreen notes. The gold standards of tuberose for me are Robert Piguet Fracas and Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower, which fully showcase the full spectrum of sensations that this flower offers.
Must-know classic: Robert Piguet Fracas, Christian Dior Poison
A crisp green rhubarb note and a touch of peach give gardenia a playful character, which matches nicely with its sultry floral aura. Most fragrances on the market today that call themselves gardenia smell nothing at all like the flower, with the exception of the now discontinued Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia. Chanel Gardénia is not my favorite, but many perfumers like Jean-Claude Ellena consider it to be an excellent representation. Estée Lauder Bronze Goddess has a well-crafted gardenia note, as does Kai. Marc Jacobs Perfume was an attempt to capture the smell of gardenias floating in water, and it succeeds by offering a dewy, transparent composition.
Must-know classic: Carven Ma Griffe
Tiaré, Frangipani, Plumeria
In perfumery, these notes are rendered as something between tuberose and gardenia, although true frangipani has a pronounced peach skin note. They are quite modern accords, and one of the best examples of the way these tropical, plush notes are used is Chanel Coco. Cacharel Loulou and Kenzo Amour set these heady florals into oriental incense and vanilla frames, respectively. Annick Goutal Un Matin d’Orage and Chantecaille Frangipane are elegant compositions in which the floral notes dominate.
Must-know classic: Chanel Coco and Cacharel Loulou (also these are must-know classics for the oriental family)
Besides the floral notes mentioned above, the jasmine-like white floral family also includes such interesting perfumery notes as ylang-ylang, magnolia, honeysuckle, and datura.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin