Peach Flowers and Cherry Leaves : 5 Fragrances for Hinamatsuri

This week as Belgium and the rest of Europe was battered by Siberian winds, I’ve enjoyed thinking about peach blossoms and pink confections. March 3rd is celebrated in Japan as Hinamatsuri, also known as Girl’s Day or Doll’s Festival. Starting in February, families with daughters put up elaborate platforms representing the imperial wedding, complete with the emperor, empress, court ladies, famous poets and musicians of the Heian era (794-1192). These doll sets are usually given by grandparents to their granddaughters as they wish them health and happiness. Since most Japanese live in tiny, cramped apartments and doll sets cost around $2000, only a few still keep to the old customs. Nevertheless, girls are still feted on this special day.

The reason I enjoy Hinamatsuri is not for the dolls but the flowers and food. March 3rd is known also as Momo no Sekku, the festival of peach blossoms. Peach trees blossom even before spring makes its first claims, and the flowers are as beautiful as they are symbolic–delicacy need not come at the expense of resolve. The fragrance of peach blossoms has a hint of bitter almond and creamy jasmine, but it’s fresh and bright. The pale color of flowers inspires the meals served on Hinamatsuri, like chirashi zushi, a bed of vinegared sushi rice scattered with raw fish, salmon roe, egg threads and pickled lotus root slices, or hishi mochi, diamond shaped rice cakes in delicate pastel shades. My other favorite is sakura mochi, glutinous rice cakes filled with red beans and wrapped in a salted cherry leaf.

Wrapped in all of the sweaters I could find in the house, I’ve been sipping sakura tea and thinking about peach flowers. Since any perfume called “peach blossom” is a lie, I discarded the idea of looking for a perfume that merely represents the scent. The fragrances that I was after had bright characters, delicate yet with a certain boldness.  They need not be conventionally feminine, but I gravitated towards scents that evoke the shades of pistachio, cherry petals and ivory.

Frédéric Malle L’Eau d’Hiver

Frédéric Malle L’Eau d’Hiver has a haiku-like simplicity–almond slivers, violet leaves and a whisper of cool woods. Yet, as in classical Japanese poetry, the simplicity is deceptive, and the perfume develops in layers, with a number of surprising nuances. For instance, a touch of bitterness reminds me of the scent of fresh sakura leaves, while honey in the drydown makes me think of spring flowers like hawthorn and apple blossoms.

L’Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse aux Papillons

La Chasse aux Papillons was one of the first niche perfumes I’ve tried, and all of these years later, it’s still a favorite. It’s delicate yet vibrant, and a touch of tuberose blended into the bouquet of jasmine and linden flowers gives it richness and depth. Green orange blossom tones down the sweetness and makes the fragrance smell airy and radiant.

Hermessence Rose Ikebana

Rose Ikebana would have been overly refined and pale had the perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena not added bitter grapefruit. This one note changes everything and lends the fragrance a shimmering quality. Nevertheless, if Rose Ikebana is too pastel-tinted for you, try Yves Saint Laurent’s In Love Again. Same perfumer, similar formula, bolder rendition.

Another Hermessence I could have picked is Osmanthe Yunnan. It’s exquisite.

Jean Patou Vacances

It’s hard to believe that Vacances is a grand dame, originally created in 1936. Even the original that I smelled at the Osmothèque has a modern flair–a crisp, transparent mosaic of lilac, hawthorn, mimosa and hyacinth.

Lanvin Eclat d’Arpège

Eclat d’Arpège has been gracing the list of Japanese top-sellers since it was launched in 2002. I think of it as a modern variation on Jean Patou’s Vacances with its layer of lilac, lemon, and green tea. Simply pretty.

What are your favorite delicate scents?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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67 Comments

  • Leslie: My goodness, what are these colorful bits in your photo? It looks very pretty. March 2, 2018 at 7:38am Reply

    • Mona: Looks like candy to me. March 2, 2018 at 9:46am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s colored sugar. Not much flavor, though. March 5, 2018 at 11:20am Reply

  • Mona: I also wear La Chasse aux papillons. I usually save it for when it’s warm, but you gave me an idea to wear it now. March 2, 2018 at 9:43am Reply

    • Danaki: I finished my small bottle of La Chasse aux Papillons last spring – you column made me think I need to replace it. It is such a wonderful fragrance. March 2, 2018 at 10:17am Reply

      • Victoria: It’s such a delight. March 5, 2018 at 11:27am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s been many years since I’ve been wearing it, but still, every time I put it on, it makes me smile. March 5, 2018 at 11:23am Reply

  • Anne: I love your list! I would also add Hermes Hiris and Annick Goutal Quel Amour. They’re delicate but far from boring. March 2, 2018 at 9:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Anne. I agree. March 5, 2018 at 11:23am Reply

  • Emilie: Hinamatsuri no oiwai wo moshiagemasu!

    I hope this greeting made sense. My Japanese is very poor these days. I have a real fondness for this festival. I remember in primary school being entranced by the platform doll display that was set up in our Japanese language classroom. My friend Yukari (who grew up in a traditional family in rural Japan) told me a story that would make you cringe though… she and her sister inherited a beautiful display from their grandparents. The dolls wore elaborate Heian era kimono and long hair. Well, they thought the dolls needed to look more “modern” and cut all their hair off!

    Ahh I really want to try L’Eau d’Hiver but there is nowhere near me that stocks this. My Hinamatsuri scent is another Frederic Malle, En Passant (perhapas not quite effervescent enough to be truly in keeping with the spirit of the day but it felt right.) March 2, 2018 at 10:12am Reply

    • Victoria: Yikes! You’re right, my heart stood still imagining this. Especially since I was guilty of something similar. My mother had a beautiful German doll, and I decided that she needed a haircut…

      よろしく お願い し ます. March 5, 2018 at 11:26am Reply

      • Emilie: I think all us women are guilty of a few disastrous doll ‘makeovers’ when we were little! March 5, 2018 at 5:17pm Reply

        • Victoria: I also performed surgeries on my favorite doll. I think that it was during the brief period when I dreamed of becoming a doctor. March 6, 2018 at 3:43am Reply

          • Emilie: I used to set up a ‘hospital’ of my dolls using shoeboxes for their beds, lining them up in the corridor… and I’m now a nurse! It’s quite amusing watching the home video’s my Mum made of this and reading the ‘nurse’s manual’ I wrote when I was tiny. March 6, 2018 at 5:29pm Reply

    • Austenfan: This had me in giggles! Although I never molested any seriously precious dolls, I did subject all my own dolls to a rigorous hair routine. They all got a new hair cut, sort of similar to what the comedian Bill Bailey has today. It still makes me laugh today. And I’m sure that at the time I thought my doll’s looked much better for their new hair! March 5, 2018 at 2:05pm Reply

      • Emilie: Hehehe your story made me laugh so much too! March 5, 2018 at 5:23pm Reply

      • Victoria: Ha ha ha! March 6, 2018 at 3:39am Reply

  • Neva: Antonia’s Flowers Tiempe Passate with its creamy clementine is my favourite delicate perfume. In fact, I will be wearing today. I need something delicate to ward off the harsh winter. March 2, 2018 at 10:17am Reply

    • Emilie: I have not tried Tiempe Passate yet but your description of creamy clementine has me organising a trip in to town to try it on my skin… sounds delectable! March 3, 2018 at 2:43am Reply

      • Victoria: By the way, I’m wearing it today, and Neva’s description is perfect. March 5, 2018 at 11:54am Reply

    • Victoria: I also enjoy this perfume as is Flower. March 5, 2018 at 11:27am Reply

  • Elise: What a lovely column! Thank you. Being quite allergic to almonds eaten or almond oil on the skin, I am left with smell. Of course I feel very lucky, because almond-scent is lovely. I especially like Crabtree and Evelyn’s Almond Blossom, but cannot use it, of course, due to its ingredients. Thanks to you, I can explore almond-shades in perfume.

    La Chasse aux Papillons I gave to my niece for her first grown-up perfume. It makes me smile that she shares the same perfume journey start as you. March 2, 2018 at 11:04am Reply

    • Emilie: Such a beautiful gift and first perfume! You are a very elegant aunt 🙂 March 2, 2018 at 11:11am Reply

      • Elise: Shucks. Thanks, Emilie! March 2, 2018 at 11:52am Reply

      • Victoria: I can’t agree more! 🙂 March 5, 2018 at 11:31am Reply

    • Victoria: Your niece is lucky to have such a generous aunt. What a perfect gift!

      Have you tried Castelbajac perfume? If you like almond, it might be a good option. March 5, 2018 at 11:30am Reply

  • Joy: Wonderful list today, Victoria. I really enjoy the Frederic Malle, L’eau d’Hiver. Now I have more delicate scents to try. March 2, 2018 at 2:26pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you’ll find something new to try. March 5, 2018 at 11:33am Reply

  • Maria: Hi Victoria! I love L’eau d’hiver, but now I’m really craving sakura tea and salted cherry blossoms. I will look for that! March 2, 2018 at 4:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: You can buy salted sakura flowers from most Japanese stores and online. You can make tea with them or mix them into rice before steaming. March 5, 2018 at 11:34am Reply

  • Almi: Lovely article with excellent mentions Victoria! I am currently wearing Zarkoperfume Pink Molecule and its apricot accord is simply divine. I love that it is a soft and slightly edgy concoction rolled into one! March 2, 2018 at 7:02pm Reply

    • Victoria: This sounds delicious! March 5, 2018 at 11:34am Reply

  • Ramin1215: Dreams (The Peach Orchard) by akira kurosawa . in love again by jean-claude ellena March 3, 2018 at 7:38am Reply

    • Maria: Thank you for remembering that!! The perfect movie for this post! March 3, 2018 at 10:38am Reply

      • Victoria: Ramin’s post reminded me that there is a wedding scene in the film that looks almost like a hinamatsuri platform. March 5, 2018 at 11:45am Reply

    • Victoria: The Peach Orchard is such a haunting part of the film, especially with the Marriage of Foxes scene. March 5, 2018 at 11:38am Reply

      • RAMIN1215: Sunshine Through The Rain : Angéliques Sous La Pluie by Jean-Claude Ellena March 8, 2018 at 6:40am Reply

  • KatieAnn: This is delightful. I love these beautiful shades of pinks, peaches, and greens. It nicely captures the atmosphere of Japan in spring. All the perfumes you mention sound so lovely. I have only tried La Chasse. It really is a joyful scent. Vacances is one that has haunted me for a while. I adore lilac and hyacinth and have been wanting to try this perfume for so long. Have you tried the re-issue? I think it’s included in the Heritage collection. I would love to hear your thoughts on it. I am still searching for that perfect lilac/hyacinth perfume. By the way, I also love sakura mochi. Its floral, salty-sweetness is so satisfying! March 3, 2018 at 9:29am Reply

    • Victoria: The reissue is very good, and I recommend trying it. The main difference is that today’s version is muskier and less transparent, but it’s still a beautiful lilac bouquet. March 5, 2018 at 11:41am Reply

      • KatieAnn: That’s good to know, Victoria, Thanks! I am a little wary of the “muskiness” (don’t usually like too much of this in my perfumes), but I really need find a sample of this. March 6, 2018 at 1:37pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: What about Keiko Mecheri’s “Peau de Pêche”? It’s a pretty photorealistic take on a peach: skin, fruit flesh, juice and all.
    And just to refresh my mind, I spray tested my old bottle after a very long time, say 5 years. Guess what: it’s gone off in the meantime. The juicy fruit scent has all gone. Oh well— March 4, 2018 at 10:50am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, no! Where did you store it? March 5, 2018 at 11:47am Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: In a dark cupboard, out of light or heat. Never mind, as it had become too sweet anyway. (Or to be a bit cynical: room for something new.) March 5, 2018 at 12:05pm Reply

        • Victoria: It’s true that perfume doesn’t last forever. My Hermes Un Jardin en Méditerranée also turned despite being stored well. March 6, 2018 at 3:39am Reply

  • Aurora: What charming customs you describe, I had no idea. It’s a coincidence but I have received my bottle of Vacances only last week. I loved it so much when we tested it during the class. Also a delicate scent I enjoy on these cold days is violette, AG La Violette, SL Bois de Violette , Penhaligons Violetta, they don’t make me melancholy, they rather ground me in the season. March 4, 2018 at 1:09pm Reply

    • Victoria: Perfect timing! You can wear it and imagine spring blossoms. March 5, 2018 at 11:48am Reply

  • Laura: So surprised to see Eclat d’Arpège on your list! It doesn’t seem to have many fans. I enjoy wearing it in the spring. Perfect for occasions when you want to smell lovely but unobtrusive. March 4, 2018 at 5:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: Bright, transparent florals are seen as too simple, although they are anything but, and Eclat d’Arpège is a good example of a floral done well. March 5, 2018 at 11:49am Reply

  • Austenfan: I love your list of transparent florals, Vacances is a recent favourite. I got myself a bottle for my birthday in November last year. It was very expensive but I knew I really loved it. March 5, 2018 at 2:07pm Reply

    • Emilie: Do you find Vacances similar to En Passant? I love the scent of lilac flowers but this has been the only lilac perfume that has enchanted me so far and Victoria’s description of Vacances has me intrigued. March 5, 2018 at 7:02pm Reply

      • Austenfan: No, not at all. Vacances is much more symphonic. I love both actually, and don’t think I have a preference but they are really rather different. March 6, 2018 at 4:05am Reply

        • KatieAnn: Hi Austenfan, where did you purchase your Vacances? I am looking around and it seems that only discount places on-line carry it (I’m in the US). Thank you! March 6, 2018 at 1:45pm Reply

        • KatieAnn: Oops! Looking closer, it wasn’t Vacances, but some other Heritage Collection scents. I have only found Vacances on ebay. March 6, 2018 at 2:06pm Reply

          • Austenfan: I got mine from Ausliebezumduft, I also like some of the other Heritage scents. March 6, 2018 at 4:10pm Reply

            • KatieAnn: Thank you. It looks like they ship to the US, but the cost is pretty high. They offer a lot of nice fragrances. March 6, 2018 at 5:03pm Reply

        • Emilie: Oh symphonic sounds wonderful! Now I am more determined to somehow track down a sample… this is proving to be very difficult so far. March 6, 2018 at 5:33pm Reply

          • Emilie: Oh! Sorry Austenfan and KatieAnn I did not see that you had written where you purchased it from. Thank you for the tip 🙂 March 6, 2018 at 5:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: Did you get the older one or the recent reissue? March 6, 2018 at 3:40am Reply

      • Austenfan: I got the new one. I’m rather weary of buying old stuff that I’m not familiar with, and I had tried the new one and loved it. So why torture myself by trying to discover something I might like even better but would be hard to obtain in a decent condition? March 6, 2018 at 4:04am Reply

        • Emilie: I just received my sample of Vacances (the 2015 version) from Ausliebezumduft and it is love! Oh my goodness, I don’t even want to try and track down the older version in case it is even more beautiful and I have to spend the rest of my life betting for vintage bottles on Ebay 😉

          I found it perfect for warm weather; floral, green, bright and sparkling. I’m going to save up for a bottle and buy it next time Spring comes around.

          Thank you for the tips everyone! March 24, 2018 at 10:11pm Reply

  • David: I love your posts about Japanese culture. I am reminded of my wonderful years living there. I had friends who would change their stationery and postage stamps (and tea ware) to match the seasons and seasonal celebrations (old school ways still persist in Japan, at least among my friends). May I suggest a phone app called 72 Seasons and its companion 72 Seasons Nara to those who are interested in Japanese seasonality? It’s free and I am not affiliated in any way….the irony of my high tech suggestion didn’t escape me. March 5, 2018 at 2:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, David. I just downloaded 72 Seasons Nara. They have such interesting articles, and it makes me wish I could travel to Japan in this season. I usually visit in the fall, which has its own beauty. March 6, 2018 at 3:42am Reply

      • David: The wonder of Japan is that every season has beauty and treasures. I remember once i visited Kyoto in the depth of summer. My friends cautioned me against it. It was sublime! The lotus flowers were in bloom. I spent my time visiting “minor” temples that don’t get much publicity. I refreshed myself with iced green tea and so much matcha soft-serve ice cream cones. I need to get back to Japan! March 6, 2018 at 5:52am Reply

        • Nora Szekely: It sounds lovely, David.
          I plan to go to Japan next year with my friends. It must have been an amazing experience living there. March 8, 2018 at 4:11am Reply

          • David: Living there was wonderful (working there had its ups and downs). I’m sure you will have a fantastic time in Japan. Each season offers so many festivals, events, flowers, tastes. Enjoy! March 10, 2018 at 11:15am Reply

  • Eric Brandon: I’ve never been to a cherry-blossom viewing, living in coastal Texas, but it’s high on my list! My old chado-sensei would always make sakuramochi for the occasion. So tasty.

    I used to love Eclat d’Arpege. One of my first perfumes, actually. I think most of Ellena’s perfumes could work for hinamatsuru, but I used to wear just a touch of Iris Ukiyoe to chado class. I know it wasn’t well-received but I adore it. March 6, 2018 at 12:29am Reply

    • Victoria: Iris Ukiyoe is a fine perfume, but since it appeared after such a stellar collection of other Hermessences, it got lost. Ellena is consciously following the Japanese Zen aesthetic in his work (or so it seems), and I agree that almost all of his perfumes are perfect for the occasion. March 6, 2018 at 3:50am Reply

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