Carnal Flowers

No fragrance type elicits more polarized reactions than white flowers. For some, they’re the ultimate love potion. For others–a bottled nightmare. I realize that the term “white flowers” covers too many botanicals to be useful, but let’s pretend we’re talking about night-blooming plants like jasmine, gardenia and tuberose. Jasmine can smell like horse sweat. Gardenia has a distinct whiff of mushrooms. But at least jasmine and gardenia can be tamed and made pretty and gentle. Tuberose, on the other hand, doesn’t do demure well and it also stands no competition. Add a touch of tuberose to a perfume, and it takes over everything with its warmth and luxurious heft. It’s perfect for those of us tired of wan floral perfumes that smell as if they need to be on life support.

My favorite tuberose is Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower. It’s been around since 2005, and I’ve rhapsodized about it for about that long. It thrills me with the richness of the sensations it evokes, from the brightness of green notes to the warmth of the tuberose petals. But that’s not why I selected it for my modern classics series, On White Flowers. Over the past decade it has become one of the gold standard tuberose fragrances against which others are judged. Love it or hate it, but it’s a modern classic.

In my FT column, besides explaining why Carnal Flower deserves its special status, I also talk about other tuberose perfumes and the way this note is used.

White flowers aren’t known for subtlety, especially tuberose. Its essence smells of petals and ripe fruit, but also of coconut, smoke and sun-warmed skin. It’s a disconcerting sensation to experience this voluptuous aroma only to realise that it comes from a modest lily-like plant. To continue, please click here.

The other fragrances in the Modern Classics series were Serge Lutens’s Féminité du BoisLolita Lempicka, and Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert. Of course, I would love to hear all about your favorite white floral fragrances in the comments.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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91 Comments

  • Diana: I think that another lovely tuberose fragrance is Santa Maria Novella’s Tuberose. Straight and old-fashioned perhaps, but beautiful. August 28, 2017 at 7:43am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s such a charming tuberose. August 28, 2017 at 10:42am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Years ago, I emptied 3 samples of Carnal Flower, and bought a full bottle. I am a tuberose lover, and Carnal Flower was a true love. But then, suddenly, it gave me a headache. The smell was still in perfect shape, it was me, and I gave it away.
    Fortunately, I have other favourites, like Fracas
    and Tubéreuse MPG.
    ————————————–
    Off topic: rereading The Pickwick Papers, I saw a perfumed character, unique in a Dickens novel! The Master of Ceremonies in Bath ( very effeminate person) wearing “‘Bouquet du Roi”! I think that is Bouquet du Roi by Pierre François Pascal Guerlain, 1834. August 28, 2017 at 8:36am Reply

    • Victoria: My first thought was either Guerlain, but it might have been by any other brand, since Bouquet du Roi was not a perfume name, but rather a name of an accord, like chypre. It was based on vetiver. August 28, 2017 at 10:45am Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: I see! Thank you. August 28, 2017 at 11:43am Reply

        • Carla: Victoria your knowledge impresses me! August 30, 2017 at 10:17pm Reply

  • Annie: Chanel Gardenia and Guerlain Cruel Gardenia are my favorite white florals. I,d love to try Tubereuse Criminelle. August 28, 2017 at 8:38am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s beautiful but very different from the ones you like. The opening is especially shocking, reminiscent of gasoline fumes. August 28, 2017 at 10:45am Reply

  • Lucy: So beautiful, and every word resonates with me. You bring so much to the perfume obsession. CF is one of my prize perfume possessions. Recently found another tuberose by PG, Tubereuse Couture, that knocked me back the same way, with variations on this theme, and in the midst of getting to know it better now. August 28, 2017 at 9:59am Reply

    • maja: I love Tubereuse Couture as well. So young and joyful and heady. 🙂 August 28, 2017 at 10:03am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Lucy! Tubereuse Couture is another beauty, and yes, it’s lush, heady, opulent. August 28, 2017 at 10:46am Reply

  • kat: I’ve got a tuberose soap by Andy Tauer – and for the life of me I can’t get near it. Since Roger & Gallet’s Fleur d’Osmanthus also made me run I guess it’s safe to say that I’m not into white florals. August 28, 2017 at 10:01am Reply

    • Victoria: They’re definitely a love or hate type of perfume. August 28, 2017 at 10:46am Reply

  • maja: Another beautiful article.
    For a long time I thought I preferred CF to Tubereuse Criminelle but TC won my heart over since Malle’s tuberose became too coconuty for my taste. I do love the green opening, though – so lush, like a cascade in the tropics. August 28, 2017 at 10:07am Reply

    • maja: ps. The one white flower I am struggling with is gardenia. I have tried several and found just a couple I can wear – Boutonniere N° 7 and Honour Amouage. August 28, 2017 at 10:13am Reply

      • Victoria: I loved Velvet Gardenia by Tom Ford, but of course, that was the one they discontinued. August 28, 2017 at 10:47am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, it feels creamy, especially in the drydown, while Tubereuse Criminelle stays dark but clear. August 28, 2017 at 10:47am Reply

  • Patricia: My most recent perfume purchase is Jasmin et Cigarette by Etat Libre d’Orange. The slight horse sweat note you mention from the jasmine combined with the smell of the bottom of a dirty ashtray makes it oddly compelling to me. I have gone through many samples and finally decided I needed my own bottle. 🙂 August 28, 2017 at 10:20am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s oddly compelling. Hard to describe why, but it is. August 28, 2017 at 10:48am Reply

  • Asta: My favorite is Beyond Love, Beyond Love, Beyond Love….
    I cannot get enough Love.

    I tried to love Carnal Flower, but there is something in the composition that makes me sneeze! August 28, 2017 at 10:30am Reply

    • Victoria: One of my favorites too! August 28, 2017 at 10:48am Reply

  • Lisa: Ha ha ha! That picture in your photo captures my face when I smell a white floral perfume. August 28, 2017 at 10:33am Reply

  • Rebecca Colavin: I am conflicted about white flowers and tuberose in particular. When I first started actively enjoying fragrances a couple of years ago, I was given a sample of vintage Lagerfeld Choe. I loved it for reminding me of the 80’s. I dabbed it on just before bed and woke with a massive tuberose hangover. In general, I have discovered that I really like the scent of white flowers, I just don’t want to smell them all day. Perhaps the jasmine body wash you once recommended is the ideal vehicle for me, pleasant but fleeting. August 28, 2017 at 11:08am Reply

    • Victoria: It was by Korres, I believe. Yes, it’s a good way to enjoy white flowers.

      By the way, I once had a big bouquet of tuberose in my bedroom, and all night long I kept having nightmares as if something was chocking me. My mom mentioned the same thing the other day, that a strong smell of white flowers makes it difficult for her to sleep. August 29, 2017 at 6:21am Reply

  • Phyllis Iervello: The Queen is Carnal Flower although my bottle (which was my back-up bottle from my first bottle) is from several years back. It has probably been reformulated by now.
    SL’s Tuberose Criminelle is also one of my favorites as are the Histoires de Parfum three different Tuberose scents. August 28, 2017 at 11:12am Reply

    • AndreaR: Carnal Flower is the queen to me as well, followed by Tubereuse Criminal. On Friday I picked up a sample of Naomi Goodsir’s Nuit de Bakelite and am finding it intriguing, although I don’t think it will come anywhere close to Carnal flower and TC. August 28, 2017 at 12:12pm Reply

      • Victoria: I also think that it’s good but lacks depth. August 29, 2017 at 6:24am Reply

        • AndreaR: Yes, I see what you mean, but glad I tried it. August 30, 2017 at 11:30am Reply

    • Victoria: It still smells very good. August 29, 2017 at 6:21am Reply

  • Richard Potter: I really must try this some day! Thanks for the intriguing review. August 28, 2017 at 11:18am Reply

  • Jillie: Tuberose is love AND hate for me. I hate certain perfumes where it features strongly, and yet like others. Sometimes just a hint can be too much and yet I am happy for a big slug in a different fragrance. Just weird. I always thought I would like tuberose when I learnt it was one of the notes in my beloved Infini by Caron, where it behaves in a cool yet warm, subtle way. But tuberose is a mistress of disguise and can be such a heavy hitter – like a femme fatale, luring you with her indolic haze to your fate.

    By the way, jasmine always reminds me of cat poo! August 28, 2017 at 11:36am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, everything depends on what else is present. It’s a strong note, of course. August 29, 2017 at 6:22am Reply

  • Richard Goller: Another very worthy addition to your modern classics series. Loved reading your description of these flowers and the various treatments of tuberose. Thank you. R August 28, 2017 at 11:46am Reply

  • spe: I like white florals, but strong on the woods (not patchouli). For example, just a dab of CF over Caleche is perfect for me. And I love No. 22.

    One of my favorite tuberose was California Reverie, by Van Cleef. But there is a note in there that began bothering me. August 28, 2017 at 11:46am Reply

    • Victoria: That combination sounds great. August 29, 2017 at 6:22am Reply

    • Asta: I too wanted to love California Reverie, but once again there was the sneeze factor! August 29, 2017 at 10:04am Reply

  • KatieAnn: I love the opening of Carnal Flower. Even the green notes are creamy and almost minty, very different from the sharp greenness of galbanum. Perhaps that’s the Eucalyptus. It reminded me of a shrub that was blooming here in mid-spring. It had clusters of little white flowers. They smelled so creamy and fresh. Unfortunately, the drydown, which comes rather quickly for me, is not to my taste. Perhaps it is just my chemistry. As far as white florals are concerned, my current infatuation is 24, Faubourg, though I don’t know if it is really considered a typical white floral. Still, I think it is gorgeous. Have you tried i Profumi de Firenze’s Tuberosa d’Autunno? It is the most realistic tuberose perfume I have encountered. The opening is rather harsh. Celery is listed as a top note! The dry down, however, is nice. It smells like real tuberoses, right down to the cardamom-like warmth in the base. August 28, 2017 at 12:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: 24, Faubourg has orange blossom, among other things, and I think that it’s a shape-shifter of a perfume. It has some elements of a chypre, amber, floral.

      Tuberosa d’Autunno is very good, and as you say, very nature-like. August 29, 2017 at 6:24am Reply

  • spe: Forgot to mention that the new fragrance by Hermes “Twilly” is a tuberose. I’m eager to try it. August 28, 2017 at 12:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m curious about it too. August 29, 2017 at 6:25am Reply

    • Tara C: It was very coconutty on me, I liked it but it will never dethrone CF. September 9, 2017 at 6:54pm Reply

  • Hamamelis: I love Mona di Orio’s Tubereuse, sometimes called a tuberose for those who don’t get along with tuberose. But, I also really like Vamp a New York, and Estée Lauder’s Tuberose Gardenia so I suppose I do get along with the night-hyacinth on a good day! August 28, 2017 at 1:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: Those two are my other favorites, Vamp a New York and Tuberose Gardenia. August 29, 2017 at 6:25am Reply

  • Zuzanna: White flowers, the best drug in the universe. Take a large part of my perfume “collection” (still fighting with irises…). I always see them as something white and glowing, opalescent or as sth purple, almost black.
    My favorites: Divine (Divine) (an elegant gardenia/tuberose chypre; Turin compared it to a white dress by madame Gres and it’s so true!), Beyond Love, Fracas, Jardin d’Armide (Oriza) (white flowers and a lot of powder).
    And today I’ve purchased Moon Bloom by Hiram Green. The name says it all… August 28, 2017 at 1:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: Moon Bloom is a beautiful thing. A bit short-lasting on me, though, but everything is perfect. August 29, 2017 at 6:26am Reply

  • kayliz: I wanted to love Carnal Flower, and I do think it’s fantastic, just not for me. One I never get tired of wearing is Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, and I’ve recently become smitten with House of Matriarch’s Forbidden, which I think of as a hippie tuberose. Another one I think is beautifully made (but not for me) is Couture Tuberose by Versace: it’s the only tuberose that strikes me as consistently cool, as if the menthol aspect is minty rather than camphorous (if that makes any sense). August 28, 2017 at 2:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: There is a strong minty note in it, and I like that pairing. August 29, 2017 at 6:26am Reply

  • Becky K.: Your article makes an excellent point about appreciating perfumes for their own merits, rather than comparing them directly to the garden. Yet, when it comes to white flowers, my favorite scents come from the garden. I adore a pinwheel gardenia known as “Heaven Scent.” Also, my moonflowers are finally blooming at night, and they smell wonderful. I would love to try some fragrances inspired by moonflowers! August 28, 2017 at 4:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: I need to look up what are moonflowers. August 29, 2017 at 6:27am Reply

      • Carla: We had moonflowers in our old garden. (I can’t believe I’m writing that – we relocated less than a week ago and our house already sold. I miss it already!) It’s a shrub with huge blooms maybe a foot in diameter. They are lovely shrubs, either white or fuschia blooms. I’m afraid I never noticed much scent. August 30, 2017 at 10:26pm Reply

        • Victoria: I realized after googling that it’s a plant we call tropical morning glory. It has a pleasant scent, but I don’t find too strong (at least, the variety we grow). It reminds me of bitter almonds and hawthorn. September 1, 2017 at 2:34am Reply

    • Lorie: My moonflowers are about to bloom, hopefully in the next week, as I’m having a garden party! September 4, 2017 at 9:31pm Reply

  • Robert H.: Carnal flower was one of the very first perfumes that actually made me physically swoon when I smelled it. I remember standing in my office, opening the bottle, and when the scent reached my nose I literally had to sit down in my chair as my legs started to buckle out from under me. It remains to this day my all-time favorite tuberose. August 28, 2017 at 5:08pm Reply

    • maja: How wonderful! August 28, 2017 at 5:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: Perfect! It’s such a rare sensation. August 29, 2017 at 6:27am Reply

  • Elizabeth: This year, I have spent time on tubereuse, attempting to find one I can love. Carnal Flower is so green and never sweetens up at all on my skin. I have tried a few others and the one I have decided upon is Mona di Orio Tubereuse. There is just a smidgen of sweetness to keep it soft for my nose. It is on my wish list for next summer. August 29, 2017 at 1:00am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, it’s less sweet than some others, mostly because it’s modulated by the green notes. August 29, 2017 at 6:28am Reply

    • kpaint: That’s exactly what I love about it! August 31, 2017 at 7:42pm Reply

  • MaureenC: Lovely writing on one of my favourite perfumes both here and in the FT. Carnal Flower is a masterpiece. I do love tuberose generally and also really enjoy Nuit de Tuberose and then I was lucky enough to win a bottle of Estée Lauder Tuberose Gardenia in your Christmas draw for MSF!! August 29, 2017 at 2:49am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, fantastic! I’m so glad that you’re enjoying it. 🙂 August 29, 2017 at 6:28am Reply

  • Nancy Chan: I agree with Becky K, when it comes down to the scent of white flowers nothing can beat the scent of the garden. My favourite white flowers includes Lily of the Valley and Tuberose which I managed to grow last year. If pressed for a favourite white flower perfume, it’s got to be Kai perfume oil by Gaye Straza. August 29, 2017 at 10:40am Reply

    • Victoria: Gardenia and frangipani would be my other favorites. August 29, 2017 at 1:02pm Reply

  • Aurora: If anything could make me change my mind about tuberose it would be this terrific article: I enjoy this series so much. I made some mistakes mainly due to the fact that I love gardenia and they so often come in tandem. Gardenia Passion for eg is all about tuberose to my nose. I love the other white flowers too, especially jasmine (I recently got MH Jasmin Vert) and will never have enough of orange flower. Scents with tuberose that worked for me are AdP Gelsomino Nobile, Molton Brown Celestial Maracuja where it is well balanced and I’m not sure but it may have been Ode?which I tried with you and loved. August 29, 2017 at 1:27pm Reply

    • Victoria: Tuberose is made to stand up for lots of white floral notes, but it never loses its character. And yes, I agree with you, Gardenia Passion is a tuberose in drag.

      We’ve tried Ode during our class, I recall. It’s not as brilliantly original as some other Jacques Guerlain’s perfumes, but it smells rich and lush. September 1, 2017 at 2:26am Reply

  • Alicia: Oh, yes, I love Carnal Flower, and practically all tuberose fragrances, including Maddona’s. I tend to wear often Lauder, Tuberose Gardenia. … Nevertheless, if I had only one tuberose in a desert island, I wish for it to be Fracas. August 29, 2017 at 6:46pm Reply

    • Victoria: Which Fracas version do you wear? September 1, 2017 at 2:27am Reply

      • Alicia: EDP, from several years ago. Still have some drops of vintage, just to smell the magic. September 1, 2017 at 4:01am Reply

        • Victoria: I also have the EDP that’s fairly recent. It’s hard to rob Fracas of its character, even with the constant reformulations. September 1, 2017 at 5:27am Reply

  • Nancy Chan: Hi Victoria, yes I forgot to mention Gardenia being another favourite. Cereus is another white flower which has a strong scent that can scent the whole room. This night blooming plant is related to the cactus and produces beautiful large elegant flowers which open for a few hours at night. The flowers usually wilt before the next morning. It produces flowers only once a year. As for the scent, it has a somewhat powdery vegetal smell you either love or hate. My family use to stay up night just to wait for the flowers to open. August 30, 2017 at 4:52am Reply

    • Victoria: A few years ago I worked on a project to capture the scent of cereus, and it was so difficult to get the balance right. September 1, 2017 at 2:28am Reply

  • Christine Lewandowski: Tuberose is my fragrance menace. I don’t “hate” it but it never ever smells on me like it does on other people. It goes one of two ways; either it smells like gasoline or it turns into this demure, dainty, barely there scent. I kid you not. FRACAS is a mild mannered, innocent scent on my skin & pretty much the only tuberose-centric scent I own. I sold my bottle of Carnal Flower, as it went the way of turning into gasoline on my skin. Freaky. August 30, 2017 at 12:42pm Reply

    • Victoria: That can happen. Tuberose does have that natural sharp facet, which on some people becomes more pronounced. September 1, 2017 at 2:29am Reply

  • Severine: My very first experience with white florals was Fracas. Boy, was it hefty but so glam! While I wouldn’t wear Fracas today as I find it a tad dated, my favorite is Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle. This one hits out of the ball park.
    Am ernestly searching for a true, Gardenia soliflore for a wedding. Suggestions? August 30, 2017 at 12:44pm Reply

    • Victoria: I would have said Tom Ford’s Velvet Gardenia, but it has been discontinued. It was the only true solifloral I knew. September 1, 2017 at 2:30am Reply

    • katherine x: Not a soliflore but you might try Van Cleef & Arpel Gardenia Petale (Extraordinaire collection). Very gardenia”y” and gorgeous- a bit carnal to my nose. September 1, 2017 at 11:50pm Reply

    • Silvermoon: Have you tried Jovoy’s Gardez Moi? I find the gardenia dominates it (but it isn’t a soliflor). Very pretty and would suit a wedding. And then there’s Iluminum London’s White Gardenia Petals. Apparently it’s what the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) wore as a bride.

      And I love all the tuberoses, with TCriminelle, Fracas, Carnal Flower, Nuit de Tubereuse, Le Labo Tubereuse 40, EL Tuberose Gardenia, and others in my collection. I like the power/heft in them, and yet their femininity. September 10, 2017 at 12:12pm Reply

  • Vanessa: Ooh, you got me onto Carnal Flower – I remember your choosing it as your wedding scent. Since 2015 I have become something of a born again tuberose aficionado, and as well as CF, I am also a big fan of Tubereuse by Mona di Orio and Beyond Love, mentioned by some of your commenters above. I am also haunted by a fleeting memory of Tubereuse Criminelle, and hope to catch up with it again sometime. August 30, 2017 at 4:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: It matched the spirit of an Indian wedding perfectly. 🙂 And the thing is that it smelled understated alongside incense, jasmine and all of the flower garlands. September 1, 2017 at 2:31am Reply

  • Carla: My favorite tuberose perfumes are Fracas and Nuit de Tubereuse. Carnal Flower is almost too perfectly beautiful for me and Tubéreuse Criminelle is too bold. Fracas feels more comfortable than those two. Nuit de Tubéreuse is polite and abstract for a tuberose so I can wear it anytime August 30, 2017 at 10:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: It does feel abstract to me too, which is what makes it interesting and different from other favorite tuberoses. September 1, 2017 at 2:32am Reply

  • Bibi: Love me some tuberose!!!!!
    Carnal Flowers is in my top 10 but my favorite ‘hidden’ tuberose?
    Houbigant’s Orangers en Fleurs! August 31, 2017 at 3:21am Reply

  • Elisa: I feel like my favorite tuberose is always changing. But this summer the ones I craved the most were DSH Tubereuse and Tom Ford Orchid Soleil. They’re both quite rich — the DSH reminds me of oak casks and the TF reminds me of rice and coconut frosting! September 1, 2017 at 11:27am Reply

  • Luxe Ford: I can’t really stand tuberose soliflores. They make me think of Joan Collins (who’s Spactacular was one). But I love it in L’Heure Bleue, Oscar de la Renta, Molinard Balahė and…Gloria Vanderbilt. None of them come across as very tuberosy. In fact I don’t detect it in them, but I see it listed as a note. September 3, 2017 at 10:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, Oscar and Gloria Vanderbilt are stronger on orange blossom. Same for L’Heure Bleue. The “white floral” accord in these perfumes is made up mostly of orange blossom, but other florals are used to. September 3, 2017 at 12:03pm Reply

  • Tiffanie: Wonderful discussion, and the photo up top made me smile. I am enjoying tuberose more and more. A wonderful perfume-lover passed along her mostly-full bee bottle of Jardins de Bagatelle. I don’t remember smelling it decades ago, but this recent version is marvelous. September 4, 2017 at 2:25pm Reply

  • Jana: Love, love and love white flowers. My first love was Fragile from Jean Paul Gaultier, which- as I learned later thanks to Bois de Jasmin- was not really much of a tuberose but more orange blossom. Since it was discontinued I was searching for a perfume that could evoke this other-worldly feeling. I found Carnal Flower and I loved it for two years and thought that the search is over. Until I got pregnant and could not bear the smell anymore. The once creamy and comforting fragrance changed into something threatening and dark. Like a spring meadow from Winnie the Pooh turning into jungle from Platoon. The hunt started again. Now I have some favorites: Beyond Love (where I always add to myself Beyond love…is suffering, as the perfume has something vulnerable in it – btw. is it also discontinued ? I can find only the refills now), Do Son (making me think of French movies Indochine and L´Amant), Peche cardinale and oddly Juicy Couture… I smelled the new release from Gucci- Bloom- and I quite like it though I am not a millennial and hence the target audience but it´s jasmine and tuberose and quite strong. The hunt goes on… September 7, 2017 at 11:10am Reply

  • Strugnella: I ‘m not a huge fan of tuberose, but I adore Bella Freud’s Close to my Heart. Paired with sandalwood- amongst other things – it becomes dark, soft an warm. I also love Nuit de Tubereuse by Artisan Parfumeur for a “quiet” tuberose. September 8, 2017 at 12:24pm Reply

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