“The fragrance of magnolia is pure happiness,” said a friend of mine from Alabama. To her, the scent of magnolia meant the lazy days of summers, white sandy beaches and picnics on the grass with ice cold watermelon, crab cakes and banana pudding. Much later when I myself had a chance to visit the American South, I pulled down a heavy magnolia branch and leaned into a large white blossom. It smelled of melted lemon ice cream and green, not yet opened roses. I was drunk on the perfume of magnolias all summer long.
This heady, radiant aroma was likewise spellbinding for the Australian floral designer Saskia Havekes and two perfumers, Sandrine Videault and Michel Roudnitska. Havekes decided to capture all facets of magnolia and gave the perfumers carte blanche to create their Magnolia Grandiflora. Although both fragrances aim to give a realistic rendition, their creators leave enough of their own fingerprint and imagination. But they also reveal what a challenging subject they’d been given. The sunny radiance of magnolia is not easy to capture in a perfume bottle.
At first Sandrine Videault’s Magnolia smells remarkably like the real thing. It has a beautiful lemony start that feels fizzy and sparkling, with plenty of sheer green notes that slowly become white petals. Most magnolia varieties smell so citrusy that taking the idea into the direction of a lemon-bergamot cologne feels natural.
Which is exactly what Videault did. She added a generous dose of grapefruit and pepper and then laced the whole thing with sheer white petals and marine notes that give an airy texture to her blossoms. It’s bright and shimmering, but not sharp and raspy. If you’ve only smelled Videault’s Les Nez Manoumalia, you’d be surprised not to find anything even remotely raunchy about her take on magnolia. It’s light and easy to wear on even the hottest of Alabama days.
But if you’re after real southern magnolias or a perfume with substance, you’ll be disappointed, because the drydown of Sandrine’s Magnolia is pale. After an hour, there is hardly anything of the southern summer that remains, and you simply carry around a pleasant but not remarkable slick of musk and sandalwood. Where have all the magnolias gone?
Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine includes notes of lemon, grapefruit, white pepper, fresh garden accords, dry wood accords, marine-aquatic accords, and musk.
While Sandrine’s Magnolia doesn’t have enough animalic, dirty notes, Michel Roudnitska’s has enough for both. This flower is not a new bud that just broke through its fuzzy brown casing, but a lush blossom that is about to drop its petals. The freshness comes as a lemony flash at the top, but the subsequent stages are all about ripeness and darkness.
Roudnitska composes his magnolia of white floral femmes fatales, jasmine and ylang ylang in several different guises. There is a sheer jasmine used as a backdrop filler and a much darker jasmine–all apricots and indoles–in the heart of the magnolia. He also infuses the composition with rose, and as time goes on, the little details accumulate enough to obscure the magnolia, but they create a complex floral accord.
Wearing Michel’s Magnolia is exciting, because you never know what comes next. One moment, it smells of waxy white petals and salty lemon. Later, you notice mossy patchouli and green herbs. It’s a sensual floral, but also elegant and tender. Unlike Roudnitska’s powerhouse Delrae Amoureuse, it doesn’t clear a path for the wearer. (But in certain aspects, Magnolia and Amoureuse are close siblings and share the same heady jasmine layer.)
However much I enjoyed Michel’s Magnolia, my conclusion about it was the same as for Sandrine’s–it doesn’t evoke a magnolia for me. My quest for a southern summer in a bottle continues. If you have any ideas where I might find it, please let me know.
Magnolia Grandiflora Michel includes notes of lemon, bergamot, grapefruit, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, magnolia, vetiver, patchouli and musk
Magnolia Grandiflora Eau de Parfum (Sandrine’s and Michel’s) is available at Luckyscent and directly at Grandiflora. 100ml/$185