In the depths of winter, when I begin to lose faith that spring will ever come again, the yellow pompoms of mimosa lift my spirits. No matter how rushed I am, the slender branches arranged in the florist’s windows tempt me to slow down, and I walk out of the store burying my face in a large bouquet. The fluffy flowers caress my cheeks and dust them with lemon-yellow powder, and the scent is vivid and joyful to match the explosive color–a mixture of green violet and honey soaked almonds. It’s delicate, but remarkably persistent, filling the room with the aroma of Provence within minutes.
Even if you haven’t smelled real mimosa*, chances are you’ve encountered it in perfume. This material is one of the most intriguing and complex. The mimosa used in perfumery belongs to a related family, Acacia, with two varieties processed commercially for their fragrant oil–Acacia decurrens var. dealbata (called simply mimosa in the perfumery trade) and Acacia farnesiana (cassie). The former is the pompom like yellow mimosa in my photo, the latter is simpler and more austere but equally fragrant.
When I first met mimosa absolute, I couldn’t recognize the familiar honeyed almond fragrance in the green, thick and spicy scent emanating from the dark, viscous liquid. It was not until I left a scented blotter to evaporate for an hour that the familiar soft mimosa began to take shape. The reason mimosa and cassie essences are heavily accented with spicy, green notes has to do with the way they are processed. The flowers are often distilled together with the foliage to maximize the yield. On the other hand, there are methods to give it more nuanced treatment, isolating and highlighting the floral and honeyed facets of mimosa blossoms.
The best of mimosa essences smell of cucumber peels, tender leather, violets, honey and green almonds. Cassie, by contrast, has more curves and spice. The powdery violet and jasmine notes are whipped together with cinnamon and leather for a decidedly different sensation. Though beautiful, mimosa is not as immediately alluring as rose or vanilla, and most perfumes use it in small doses. Then again, it’s one of the most expensive raw materials, so few perfume houses can afford more than a touch.
But even a hint of mimosa can significantly enhance the complexity, richness and nuance of many blends. Man-made jasmine, violet and lilac accords become more natural with a mere whisper of mimosa or cassie absolute. In masculine fragrances like the famous Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel, mimosa, along with other floral notes, is used to soften the woods. I also like the way it mellows the green sharpness in fragrances like by Kilian Bamboo Harmony and Tom Ford Jonquille de Nuit.
Besides natural mimosa, perfumers use a variety of materials that have a mimosa-like scent. For instance, to create Après L’Ondée, Jacques Guerlain used anisic aldehyde, and its combination with violet, tonka bean, orange blossom, and iris gives Guerlain’s masterpiece a delicate, spring-like aura. Decades later, his grandson Jean-Paul Guerlain designed Champs Elysées, a mimosa based fragrance that was more frothy than wistful. Despite it being a market flop, you can still find it at the Guerlain counter and can compare it to Après L’Ondée.
Mimosa Gold Standard
The gold standard mimosa for me is Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie. Its author, perfumer Dominique Ropion, is a man so in love with mimosa that his passion is contagious. In Une Fleur de Cassie he uses the top grade of mimosa and cassie absolutes, and it’s a bombshell. It’s also one of the most challenging fragrances I know and is somewhat of an acquired taste, but it’s worth keeping a sample on hand to revisit from time to time. I’ve been wearing Une Fleur de Cassie for the past six years, and I still discover new twists in its elegant form.
For a true mimosa as it smells on the branch, I turn to L’Artisan Parfumeur Mimosa Pour Moi. I haven’t found anything better, but frustratingly, before you manage to say its name, the perfume vanishes. Annick Goutal Le Mimosa is a blend of mimosa and peach, a lovely idea in theory, except that the sweaty touch of cumin seems out of place to me. Nevertheless, this quirky perfume has its fans, and I recommend giving it a test drive.
A Taste of Mimosa
Two relatively new fragrances with interesting mimosa notes are Yves Saint Laurent Cinéma and Valentino Valentina. Cinéma is a sophisticated gourmand perfume that reminds us that we probably taste mimosa more often than we smell it; it’s a popular flavor component, important for creating a natural tasting raspberry, passion fruit, or violet. Valentina’s strawberry milkshake is accented with tuberose, mimosa, and jasmine, and while I admire the way it’s constructed, it’s too sweet for my tastes.
Another perfume that bridges the gap between flavor and fragrance with mimosa is Caron Farnesiana. If you’ve tried Ladurée Cassis Violette macarons, you will recognize similar almond meringue, black currant and violet notes in Farnesiana. The sweetness is moderate, and the gourmand notes are wrapped in layers of creamy musk and sandalwood, but the teasing sensation remains.
Bonus reading: Erin’s delightful 5 perfumes: Mimosa post for NST.
*Not to overwhelm you with botanical names, but in the U.S., Albizia julibrissin, the Persian silk tree, is sometimes referred to as mimosa, and it’s also richly scented with powder, honey and sweet hay. To add to the mimosa confusion, a plant colloquially called acacia is actually a black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia), and while it smells deliciously of orange blossom and coconut cream, it has nothing to do with mimosa.
Florist’s Tip: when you bring cut mimosa home, trim the ends and put the branches into warm water. It’s best to do it in a heat-resistant container, and once the water cools, you can transfer the bouquet to a glass vase. My florist recommends repeating this treatment every day while the mimosa is fresh; it forces the flowers to open up and release a strong burst of perfume.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin