What do Elizabeth Bennett and geranium share in common? Elisa explains.
I’ve never heard anyone call geranium their favorite flower. Compared to the more photogenic blooms found in bouquets and floral arrangements, geranium might seem like a workaday houseplant.
Cheery sidewalk geraniums
If rose and geranium were sisters in a Jane Austen novel, rose would be known as the pretty one and geranium as the sensible one. But geranium, like Elizabeth Bennett, has her own beauty, and is indispensable in rose fragrances!
When we refer to geranium notes, we’re usually talking about the oil of the pelargonium graveolens, also known as the rose geranium. Rose geranium oil contains over 50 organic compounds, but primarily consists of geraniol, nerol, and citronellol. Nerol, so named because it was originally isolated from neroli oil, has a fresh rosy scent and can be found in lemongrass and hops. Citronellol is the familiar pungent citrus smell often found in insect repellants – but it’s also important for creating realistic rose accords. Geraniol, one of the primary components in rose oil, smells – you guessed it – rosy and is also commonly used in fruit flavorings. (I’ve noticed that adding clove to a fruity rose can conjure up a raspberry note.)
Geranium in itself doesn’t smell identical to rose, though it is rosy – the oil smells greener and more lemony. Whereas roses smell naturally sweet, even honeyed, geranium has a sharp, aromatic quality, similar to lavender, making it smell more “masculine” to some noses.
Although there are a few geranium soliflores, the material is much more common in perfumes categorized as roses – and some of my favorite roses have a pronounced geranium note. The geranium acts almost like the acid in a vinaigrette, adding tang and brightness to what otherwise might feel heavy and flat. If you ever think of smells in terms of frequencies, as I do, you’ll find that geranium-centric roses are higher pitched, more soprano than alto.
My favorite geranium, Miller Harris Geranium Bourbon, doesn’t add so much adornment to its namesake material that you lose the basic note, but it’s deepened by a woody patchouli base, creating a burgundy impression rather than the red-orange poppy color of typical geraniums. It’s dark but polished – a handsome rose. Despite the name, La Parfumerie Moderne No Sport comes off as a sportier version of a geranium soliflore – it’s green, crisp, and aromatic, with an outdoorsy note of hay.
For a troubling few seconds, Diptyque Geranium Odorata smells overly sharp, giving me flashbacks of Demeter Naturals Geranium, which I briefly considered using as a cleaning product before throwing the bottle in the trash (avoid at all costs). But it quickly smooths out into a pretty, sheer, especially citrusy geranium, almost like a cologne version of a rose. (That said, it’s quite expensive for what it is; the above versions have more complexity, and if you want a sheer citrus rose, I’d recommend Marni instead.)
Many rose perfumes rely heavily on geranium for their effect. Agent Provocateur is an updated rose chypre that trades traditional bergamot or galbanum in the top notes for saffron, and traditional oakmoss in the base for musk and patchouli; a geranium note keeps it feeling quite dry and almost bitter throughout, a nice change from the “modern chypres” that draw more from the fruitchouli genre than anything else.
Another updated chypre, Tauer Perfumes’ Une Rose Chypree (which I consider a masterpiece) relies in part on geranium to create an effect that’s both timeless and genderless – an androgynous floral that’s as ambery as it is mossy.
The reissue of Robert Piguet Calypso is one of those transparent dry roses I think of as papery. Geranium, suede-like iris and an unsweetened patchouli note would make this wonderful on a man. I could say the same for Tom Ford’s Oud Fleur – rose and oud are a familiar-verging-on-cliché combination, but I’m fond of this one because the rose accord is quite geranium-heavy, making it feel unusually bright and crisp.
Geranium also shows up in a lot of fruity-florals: Annick Goutal Quel Amour! opens with a blast of sharp peony and a realistic pomegranate note (in that it’s a little medicinal, not merely sweet) and dries down to berry, geranium, and rose. (This may have been reformulated, but I can’t say I’m a big fan of the current version.) By Kilian Liaisons Dangereuses manages to smell less straightforwardly pink by foregrounding the green facets of geranium as well as coconut and blackcurrant – it’s tart and unusually sophisticated. Another favorite, Parfums de Rosine Rose Praline veers closer to a full-on gourmand, and though the notes advertise chocolate, amber, sandalwood and other dark materials, to me it feels (with the help of crisp geranium) bright and cheerful, like apple-scented tobacco smoke from a hookah.
Geraniums for men
Geranium frequently crops up as a note in fougères, such as YSL’s Rive Gauche pour Homme, but it won’t necessarily stand out in the complexity of the structure. Frederic Malle Geranium Pour Monsieur on the other hand puts the material front and center. It’s a clean and simple geranium made as fresh as possible with a big mint note (don’t worry – it smells green and herbal, not toothpastey).
Lonestar Memories (another from Tauer) also has a strong minty geranium note, bolstered by menthol, and in the context of this strange, smoky leather, it reminds me of catching a toxic note of gasoline while riding a motorcycle through the desert.
For years, my favorite all-purpose cleaning product has been Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Multi-Surface Concentrate in the geranium scent. Reminiscent of the Miller Harris perfume I love so much, it’s a rich and deep true geranium that will make your bathroom or kitchen smell fantastic. (In my mind, if the bathroom smells like Mrs. Meyer’s geranium, then it’s clean!)
Do you have favorite geranium scents or products? Please let me know in the comments!