Every now and then I have a longing for a picture perfect holiday, the kind advertised at tourist agencies with the ubiquitous image of blue waves, white sandy beaches, and a bronzed goddess in a bikini. Deep down I know that I’ll get tired of this kind of vacation after two days–and a beach bunny I’m not at all, but on an overcast, cold day, the allure of warm sand and sunshine is hard to deny. These kinds of blues–and that’s exactly what my longing indicates–have little to do with the weather and lots with stress and fatigue, and I’ve come to recognize them quickly before they take complete hold of me.
The easiest way to recreate the ambiance of a vacation is to find things that feel uplifting. I bring home bouquets of flowers to add a splash of color to my surroundings, float rose petals in my evening bath, and burn sweet Japanese incense in the bedroom. Then I temporarily set aside my beloved cool irises and woods for the most exuberant perfumes of all in my collection–the tropical florals.
When I talk about tropical florals, I mean fragrances based on the scents of exotic flora: tiaré (Gardenia taitensis), frangipani (also known as plumeria), and orchids. In perfumery today, tiaré essence may be used–you occasionally can find it in perfumes like Annick Goutal Un Matin d’Orage 0r Ormonde Jayne Tiaré—but it’s much more likely that the bottled Polynesian blossoms are the result of a perfumer’s fancy.
Tropical florals may be recreated using the notes of jasmine, tuberose, ylang ylang, whether natural or synthetic. By studying the scents of real flowers using a technique like headspace analysis, experts can put together a facsimile portrait. With a generous dose of coconut and peach, which are naturally present in both tiaré and frangipani, the sunlit floral is complete.
When I want tropics, I want a perfume that smells like sunshine, warm flesh, coconut milk and petals sticky with nectar. If it’s heady and flamboyant, even better, because the idea is not to play it safe but to have fun. (I realize that others may not find such rich scents enjoyable, so when in public, I apply carefully and wait till I get home to turn up the volume).
Monoi de Tahiti Oil
Leading my list of favorite anti-blues, anti-rain and anti-dullness cures is Monoi de Tahiti Oil. It’s made by steeping tiaré flowers in coconut oil, and it smells like coconut, jasmine and vanilla. There are numerous brands of Monoi de Tahiti oil, and they’re all equally good, provided they come with an Appellation of Origin as an authentic Tahitian product. The coconut oil makes for an ultra-nourishing moisturizer for skin and hair, and rubbing the oil after a bath feels sensual and relaxing. That you get silky soft skin as well is a great bonus.
Kai Perfume Oil
A big dose of gardenia and frangipani smells so tropical and bubbly that it’s impossible to be gloomy when wearing this fun perfume. The roll-on bottle is convenient to throw in a purse for those moments when I want to put the whole world on pause and take a deep breath. It’s not a complicated perfume, but Kai gives me an immediate boost. It’s also a compliment magnet.
Some people call this reissue of Guerlain’s Mahora vulgar, and so be it. Understated it is not. It’s also not polite and polished. Mayotte collects every single flower on the island, from frangipani to ylang ylang, borrows plenty of sandalwood from Guerlain’s bombshell Samsara and then drenches the whole thing in creamy vanilla. Call me vulgar, but I love it. My main complaint is that Mayotte became overpriced once it joined Guerlain’s Les Parisiennes collection, so if you still enjoy this glitzy perfume, look for Mahora on Ebay and at discounters.
Vero Profumo Rubj
Rubj smells of Indian nights, indecently lush flowers, overripe fruit and salty skin. The Eau de Parfum is more pungent than I can handle, but the parfum is pure seduction. The new Voile d’Extrait is somewhere in between, since it tones down the raunchy bits and adds more crushed tuberose and orange blossom petals. Nevertheless, it’s still a rich potion.
Parfums de Nicolaï Juste Un Rêve
Juste Un Rêve is a tiaré blossom soaked in apricot nectar. It would be too sweet and pretty if it were not for an aloof, contemplative note of iris that gives Juste Un Rêve an intriguing touch. True to its name, it’s dreamy.
Tom Ford Black Orchid
Decadent and smoldering for those days when I want excitement rather than comfort. There is so much going on in Black Orchid–fresh green leaves, cucumber peels, melted chocolate, incense, tropical flowers–that it’s hard to wear it without feeling like I’m playing dress up. But some days require some fantasy and play, and Black Orchid satisfies on all counts.
Ormonde Jayne Frangipani Absolute
In contrast to Mayotte, Frangipani Absolute is the most refined of my favorite tropical flowers. It doesn’t throw white petal confetti in your face and it doesn’t hit you on the head with a bouquet of gardenias. It simply smiles and makes you smile in return. An elegant ikebana of frangipani, a coconut and peach scented tropical bloom, set against blond woods.
If none of these perfumes cure the blues, then there is always chocolate.
Extra: you can read more about white flowers in Building Perfume Wardrobe Part 2: Florals ~ Jasmine and White Florals and Favorite Big White Floral Perfumes (and be sure to check out the comments section for more excellent suggestions).
What perfumes capture your tropical fantasies?
Image: Plumeria flowers by Robstephaustralia, via flickr, some rights reserved.