The Scent of Osmanthus

Once the weather turns cool in Tokyo, a sweet perfume fills its streets. It escapes from the parks and enclosed gardens and for a few weeks it becomes a familiar presence in a city better known for its skyscrapers, electronics and cuisine than for flowers. The tiny blossoms that give Tokyo its aroma are easy to miss, but the perfume is so vivid that osmanthus is sometimes called “a 10-mile fragrance” tree. In Japanese, it’s known as kinmokusei, and in English it may be referred to as a “fragrant” or “Chinese” olive, hinting at the plant’s origins, but by any name, the aroma of ripe apricots, jasmine petals and leather is irresistible.

In my latest FT column, Perfumes Linked by Osmanthus, I discuss one of the most fascinating perfume ingredients, osmanthus, and explain how it’s used in perfumery. Of course, I mention three of my favorite osmanthus perfumes and share stories about them. You can read the article by clicking here.

Please let me know other osmanthus perfumes that should be included on a list for someone who loves these apricot scented blossoms.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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43 Comments

  • Cornelia Blimber: Osmanthus is not my favourite kind of smell, but from time to time I reach for my bottle of Osmanthus by The Different Company. January 19, 2018 at 7:28am Reply

  • Monica: I like Osmantus Blossom by Jo Malone. January 19, 2018 at 8:39am Reply

  • Kandice: I haven’t tried any of these and now want to try all three! I’d especially like to try the Hermes. I’ve been looking for the right tea note perfume for awhile now and just can’t seem to find it. Thanks for the article. January 19, 2018 at 8:43am Reply

    • Victoria: That one is my top favorite, but try it on skin, because some find that it doesn’t last well. January 22, 2018 at 2:03pm Reply

      • Kandice: I seem to be having that problem with a lot of fragrances lately! Thanks for the heads up. January 22, 2018 at 3:24pm Reply

  • Lovestosmellgood: JOURNEY WOMAN! January 19, 2018 at 8:51am Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t remember that one well. January 22, 2018 at 2:03pm Reply

  • limegreen: Thank you, Victoria, for writing about one of my favorites, osmanthus. It is such an elusive floral scent, hard to capture in perfume.
    I love Osmanthe Yunnan.
    Amouage Journey Woman is also lovely.
    Another beautiful osmanthus fragrance that may be considered is Memo Inle and if one can dream: Memo Inle Iris January 19, 2018 at 9:05am Reply

    • limegreen: Parfum d’Empire Osmanthus Interdite is in the same vibe of Osmanthe Yunnan but because I love osmanthus so much, it is not exactly the same, seems to be a little greener, spritzier. January 19, 2018 at 9:09am Reply

      • Monica: I would love something like Osmanthe Yunnan but long lasting. My skin eats it up. January 22, 2018 at 9:33am Reply

      • Victoria: It also smells spicier to me. January 22, 2018 at 2:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: I like your list, and now I know that I need to revisit Journey. January 22, 2018 at 2:05pm Reply

  • Nancy Chan: I absolutely love Osmanthe Yunnan😃, and a lovely cup of Osmanthus green tea. January 19, 2018 at 10:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Osmanthus tea is an unrivaled pleasure. January 22, 2018 at 2:06pm Reply

  • Rain Adkins: I love osmanthus. Was introduced to it by Louis Feraud’s really excellent “Fantasque” fragrance in the ’80s. Lovely stuff. An especially peachy but not-too-sweet osmanthus combined with jasmine and oakmoss over, I think, galbanum (definitely a green note, whatever it is)…how can you go wrong? Do go for the vintage.

    Also, try osmanthus tea as a wonderful alternative to jasmine. Upton usually has it (though they’re out right now) and it’s not expensive. The tea is generally a jade oolong or pouchong, and the osmanthus scenting is not heavy-handed. It’s recognizably in the same fragrance family as jasmine, but simpler and softer: much like the smell of warm white clover on a summer evening. January 19, 2018 at 10:26am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, I’ve written about osmanthus tea in December. I enjoy it very much. January 22, 2018 at 2:07pm Reply

  • briony: My two favourite Osmanthuses have been mentioned already – Journey Woman and Osmanthe Yunnan. I love them both and wear them a great deal, especially in the summer or when I need an injection of happiness. The one I want to try but haven’t yet is Auphorie’s Miyako. I’ve heard such good things about it but they keep running out and I keep forgetting to check the website. The Different Company’s Osmanthus is nice too January 19, 2018 at 11:01am Reply

    • Brooke: I’ve tried Miyako, but I wasn’t too impressed with it tbh. I found the texture of the fragrance a bit odd as well. It was more like an oil. January 20, 2018 at 7:59am Reply

    • Victoria: The Different Company has a soapy note to me, but I love to smell it on others. January 22, 2018 at 2:08pm Reply

  • KatieAnn: I love Osmanthus! When I lived in Japan, I was absolutely enthralled with the smell of kinmokusei. It literally does fill the air with its scent. Quite an amazing feat for such a little blossom. I have also eaten kinmokusei jelly. I purchased it from a rest stop in Japan one day. When I saw it, I had to have. I love to eat foods with floral flavors. The blossoms were vibrant orange and the flavor was just like it smells. I only learned just recently that kinmokusei translates to Osmanthus. I have been searching for a pretty perfume that captures its scent. My most recent encounter is Gucci Flora EDP. It really does have that peachy/apricot note and I am rather enjoying it! I would love to try Osmanthe Yunnan. Thank you for sharing another fascinating article! January 19, 2018 at 11:52am Reply

    • Victoria: Last year I found osmanthus jam in Brussels and I got so excited that I bought the whole stock and gave it as Christmas gifts to my scent-loving friends. It’s such a treat. January 22, 2018 at 2:09pm Reply

  • carole: Thank you for saying good things about Nuit de cellophane-I love it, and no-one else sees to! I learned about osmanthus via Annick Gout’s Folavril, which I still love. Creed Fantasia des fliers also has a good amount of osmanthus. January 19, 2018 at 2:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: I went back and forth on it, but eventually it really grew on me. The tweak a couple of years ago seems to have made the osmanthus facet more prominent. January 22, 2018 at 2:10pm Reply

  • Manuela: Osmanthus by The Different Company (by JC Elléna) it smells like the gardens in the Forbidden City in Beijing January 19, 2018 at 3:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: That’s what my Chinese friend says about it. January 22, 2018 at 2:11pm Reply

  • Maria B.: I treasure my Fendi Theorema, so sadly discontinued. January 19, 2018 at 8:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: That one is definitely worth treasuring. January 22, 2018 at 2:11pm Reply

  • Aurora: How I would love to discover Japan and your article was the next best thing. The apricot like osmanthus is a note I often look for in perfumes and excited to discover the scents you list. Sometimes, I layer SL Daim Blond with AP l’Agent, they share osmanthus as a note, I think. January 20, 2018 at 5:22am Reply

    • Victoria: It does, and it’s a lovely twist of apricot and osmanthus. January 22, 2018 at 2:17pm Reply

  • Odissea: I absolutely love the smell of osmanthus absolute. It is such a complex smell with the apricot, leather, and tea like facets. I have never smelled fresh blooming osmanthus – is the smell more fruity? The only osmanthus perfume I have tried was Ormande Jayne Osmanthus, which is absolutely lovely, to me it is osmanthus interpreted in more of cologne-style, with lots of light fresh citrus notes. I’ll have to try these! January 20, 2018 at 7:36am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, the scent of fresh osmanthus is more fruity but also warmer and brighter. One small plant can fill the whole street with scent. January 22, 2018 at 2:19pm Reply

  • Brooke: My favorite osmanthus perfume (so far) is Nobile 1942’s Malia. Ironically, the first time I sprayed it, I didn’t like it at all, but the memory of the smell was in my head all day. When I went back to it a few days later, I was head over heels in love with it. Curious to try some of the others mentioned in the comments. <3 January 20, 2018 at 7:49am Reply

    • Victoria: Such a reaction is a sure sign that the perfume has your name on it. January 22, 2018 at 2:20pm Reply

  • Zuzanna: Neela Vermeire, Rahele. January 21, 2018 at 11:08am Reply

  • Chris Rusak: Mandy Aftel’s Parfum Prive — lush although pricey, very pure and vivid osmanthus note that shines through. January 21, 2018 at 8:32pm Reply

  • iodine: Hi Victoria, happy new year BTW!
    One of the best rendition of osmanthus- a scent I adore and can’t wait September to smell wafting in streets, courtyards, balconies…- is IMO Dominique Dubrana/ AbdesSalaam Attar’s Frutti Paradisi: round, sweet, velvety soft like an apricot’s skin. Sunny and joyous, it puts a smile on your face.
    The only downside for me is a fleeting, but definitely there, hint of oily, which I perceive as slightly fishy (I perceive the same note in Miyako, so maybe it’s really there and not only due to some spoiling of my sample vial)… Too bad, it would have been perfect otherwise. 🙂 January 23, 2018 at 1:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: A little belated, but Happy New Year to you too!
      Ok, this perfume is now on my list to try. February 1, 2018 at 9:10am Reply

  • Andy: Osmanthus is such an incredible plant–I wish it were easier to grow where I am, but it simply makes it more special when I have the good fortune of encountering the fresh blooms.

    Osmanthus perfumes often seem to go one of two ways for me–either focused on the natural material, and highlighting the rich, cured tea-like quality of osmanthus absolute (which I find a breathtaking material), or focusing on approximating the radiance of the fresh bloom (sadly, these don’t tend to win me over). The perfumes I seem to enjoy best are those that situate the note in the middle of a “story,” and incorporate both the complexity of the natural material and a sense of radiance and sunshine. Osmanthe Yunnan and Journey Woman come to mind for me as well, as does Patou 1000 (I’m not sure if the osmanthus I smell is actually there or not, but I perceive this type of note). January 23, 2018 at 2:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also notice osmanthus in 1000. February 1, 2018 at 9:11am Reply

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