The Elusive Perfume of Matthiola and Night-Scented Stocks

The fragrance of night-scented stocks is so heady, sweet and spicy that if you’ve experienced it once on a balmy summer evening, you’ll understand my obsession. For years, I’ve been searching for a fragrance that captured it. I’ve also tried creating a night-scented stock accord. I’ve asked other perfumers for their ideas. Although all of these trials have been fun, none captured the scent of this humble, but richly scented flower.

This night-scented stock saga reminded me of the oft asked questions to find a perfume that smells like this or that flower. A rose on a summer morning. A garland of jasmine. A bouquet of lily of the valley. Whenever I think of these quests–and of my own search for a perfume of night-scented stocks, I realize that what we want is more than the scent of the flower. We want a mood, a scene, a story. For this reason, finding the right perfume becomes more complicated.

The solution is to narrow down the criteria to the essential. I decided that what I wanted in my night-scented stock perfume is spiciness, warmth and a velvety feeling. It should be a perfume that captures the dusk and the humidity of a summer evening. The floral interpretation was something that I left to the perfumer’s imagination.

In my video, I describe the results of my quest. I limited it this time to whatever I had in my wardrobe. Hint: it’s all about carnation. It fits the cool days perfectly. It also smells great on men.

By the way, the flowers I am holding in my hands are Matthiola incana, rather than the true night-scented stocks. It has a much less opulent fragrance, but its character is similar.

Are you on a specific fragrance quest these days?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Matthiola incana

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33 Comments

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    Being a Kate Bush aficionado from way back, as soon as I saw the title of your post, I was reminded of the singer’s attempt to capture the scent of night-scented stock in music. She came up with the 51-second, multi-layered vocal piece, “Night Scented Stock”, which is on her third album, Never for Ever”. You can listen to it (and view some photos of La Bush) here.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=erKuVyR-eeg

    How fascinating it was to hear of your quest to capture the flowers in fragrance! I don’t think I have ever smelled night-scented stock, but I have wanted to do so ever since hearing Kate’s song. Knowing how rich the scent was, though, the first idea that came to my mind was carnation (in particular, my beloved Bellodgia). It makes sense to me that any night-scented stock fragrance would contain eugenol.

    As for fragrance quests, I would like a perfumer to tell me the main fragrance notes in three products (or product groups), so that I could attempt to find, or make, perfumes to approximate them.

    The first is the old Erace (a coverstick) by Max Factor. I first used an old one belonging to my mother when I was in school plays as a child. I fell in love with the scent back then, and I still adore it.

    The second batch of products is the older Cyclax makeup products, including powder and lipstick. To my nose, they seem to contain violet and vanilla, for starters. This would make sense, because the packaging was (and still is) deep violet. The two main scents of my first year at university were the Revlon Intimate perfume that I wore, and the Cyclax face powder and lipstick that I used.

    The third batch is the Au Lait range of Hand Wash and Hand Lotion by Scottish Fine Soaps. I’ve enjoyed this aroma for at least ten years, and wish it came in a matching perfume.

    If I could throw in a fourth batch, it would be Nivea products!

    I look forward to trying Oeillet Bengale sometime. In the meantime, I am content with my big vintage bottle of Bellodgia. I am also looking forward to receiving the other Caron fragrance that I ordered a couple of days ago – vintage Nuit de Noël. I confess that it was a “blind buy”, but I have heard so many wonderful things about it over the years that I’m sure I will like something about it. I can’t wait to try it! December 7, 2020 at 10:19am Reply

    • Victoria: Some makeup products have such an evocative smell. I used to love the scent of Chanel lipsticks, although these days all of their lipsticks are pretty much unscented or else they have a delicate fragrance. December 7, 2020 at 10:45am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Yes, it occurred to me how prosaic my wishes were – for simple products that I use every day! But you’re right, those scents are so evocative. I think the Cyclax products are unscented now, too. December 7, 2020 at 10:53am Reply

    • Peter: Aloha Tourmaline. Mahalo for sharing the interesting La Bush art piece. I can see why it intrigued you. Witches blossom in the dark of night! December 8, 2020 at 1:29am Reply

      • Tourmaline: G’day Peter,

        Yes, I can almost feel the humidity and smell the scent of the flowers! December 8, 2020 at 1:32am Reply

  • Maya: For years I was obsessed with finding the bottled version of fragrant flowers from my grandmother’s garden. In particular, with the scent of citrus blossoms from the orange orchard behind her house, the honeysuckle that climbed her fence, her fragrant white callas, and her heady violets. I’ve come close a few times but never quite got there. December 7, 2020 at 10:20am Reply

    • Victoria: Which perfume came the closest for you? December 7, 2020 at 10:44am Reply

  • Tara C: I’ve never smelled night scented stock, but I do love Oeillet Bengal. Thanks for the interesting video! December 7, 2020 at 10:38am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! Thank you for watching. December 7, 2020 at 10:44am Reply

  • Carolyn Middleton: Penhaligon used to do a fragrance called Night Scented Stock – it was absolutely gorgeous – fairly sure it’s been discontinued – I found it when buying their ‘discovery set’ for assorted friends as gifts & one friend gave me back a couple of the phials as she said they were too floral for her. December 7, 2020 at 11:23am Reply

  • Nancy A.: Hello Victoria,
    Interesting article and endeavor. I for one never favored carnations whether in a fragrance or floral arrangement. However, not unlike freesia I am drawn to the unusual scent of stock whenever I purchase flowers. Your article brought about the memory of a charming vintage French film..two actually. Are you familiar with Jean de Florette and Manon of the Springtime? Charming. December 7, 2020 at 11:46am Reply

  • Maya: Hi Victoria, thanks so much for your beautiful and informative writing.
    Jo Malone, Orange Blossom, the first and original Kate Spade, and Chanel Misia all have fleeting moments when they evoke the original. As for my grandmother’s white callas- nothing ever came close to that delicate and exquisite scent. I’m assuming they were a heirloom variety that still had scent to it. Today they smell of nothing. I would stick my nose in the white flowers and emerge with yellow pollen on it. Family used to call me Maya the Bee because of my flower sniffing habits. December 7, 2020 at 11:52am Reply

    • Maya: Oops! Meant this as a reply to Victoria’s question to my previous comment. December 7, 2020 at 2:16pm Reply

  • Nina Z: Yes, I love the scent of night-scented stock! And, yes, I would love a perfume that evokes it. Maybe you solve this challenge one day? I was super excited to try Oeillet Bengale and when it first came out because I just have to try every carnation-related perfume. And I was able test it in NYC at Aedes de Venustas. To my disappointment, it contained that modern synthetic wood chemical that I’m hyper sensitive to, so a strong, harsh, spiky, acrid note just ruined the perfume for me and I’m not able to smell what others smell in this one. (I know a few other women who have this same reaction to that wood note–whatever it is–and it is something that is not in vintage perfumes.) December 7, 2020 at 12:28pm Reply

  • Silvermoon: I love stocks as cut flowers for my vases. They certainly create a beautiful spicy scent in the room. Interestingly, I have never thought to look for a perfume that smells of stocks. As I listened to your description of them in the video, I immediately thought of Noire Epices, which by chance I am wearing today. So, I immediately sniffed my wrists, over twelve hours after spraying the perfume this morning, and oddly I could almost get the smell of stocks. Whether this is the power of suggestion or my imagination or genuine similarity, I cannot say. However, I am now going to search for the note of stocks cropping up in perfumes.

    So, I have a sample of Oeillett Bengale that I shall test out with stocks in mind. Anybody with other possible suggestions, please let me know. December 7, 2020 at 5:11pm Reply

  • rickyrebarco: I’m not familiar with either of these flowers, but I’m sure they smell amazing. Hopefully I will be able to smell them some day. December 7, 2020 at 10:46pm Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria, for this evocative post. I didn’t catch the name of the Aedes de Venustas perfume. While checking their website I came across Cierge de Lune, a night-blooming cereus scent. At Punahou School, in 1836, Missionaries planted this cactus, gifted from Mexico, on a rock wall. I’ve seen the light yellow blossoms in the late evening, but I’ve never smelled the fragrance.
    I’m now eager to smell the scent of Mainland night-scented stock, Oeillet Bengale, and compare it to the tropical, Cierge de Lune. December 8, 2020 at 1:07am Reply

    • Tourmaline: G’day Peter,

      That perfume was called Oeillet Bengale.

      I bet those two night-blooming flowers smell amazing. Wish I could sniff them too! December 8, 2020 at 1:38am Reply

  • Nikos: Never smelt night scented stock but Matthiola incana is burned in my olfactory memory and it is associated with Good Friday. I’m from a Greek island and these flowers that everyone had in their gardens where used to adorn the “epitaph”(sorry I don’t have a precise English word for it but imagine a wooden structure where a replica of the body of Christ is placed and it is carried around the streets on Good Friday night).You can imagine the smell. So it’s a perfume I love but wouldn’t like to actually wear.
    As for my fragrance quest it has to be chrysanthemum. After the disappointment that De profundis was (at least the current formulation I tried) I’m still in search for the elusive chrysanthemum scent. December 8, 2020 at 5:54am Reply

    • Victoria: They smell very similar, since they’re both Matthiola. Night-scented stocks are Matthiola longipetala. December 8, 2020 at 11:59am Reply

  • Andy: I love the scent of stock, and you describe it so well. Even the kind in supermarket bouquets generally has some scent. I was inspired by your suggestion and revisited Oeillet Bengale today. Just as you’ve said, especially in the early stages, along with the bright notes, I get a suggestion of stock and carnation, like a bouquet of both flowers together (how exquisite that would be). I forgot how gorgeous this perfume is and how it reminds me of another carnation-inflected favorite, Noir Epices.

    I have some Katz stock seeds which I’m anxious to plant out early (late February or so) before it gets too warm for these cool-loving flowers. A fact that other stock-loving readers may be interested to know is that not all stock seeds in a variety will grow the ruffly double blooms that are sought by florists. In good hybrid mixes, about half or slightly more seeds will yield a double bloom, and the rest are rather anemic looking (though still pretty!) singles. Serious farmers can identify and weed out the seedlings that will be single blooming to ensure a profitable cut flower crop, though it requires some skill.

    Anyway, till I have my own fresh cut stock in the spring, I’ll enjoy Oeillet Bengale. December 8, 2020 at 10:44am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Hi, I am absolutely unfamiliar with these flowers, and had to look them up. In German they‘re called „Levkojen“ which to me at least has these lovely Russian ring to it. I envisaged them in some Chechov play, say The Cherry Orchard. I looked up the name and it appears to come from the Greek word „leukoion“ meaning white violet. How lovely! Now I only have to find out how they smell. December 8, 2020 at 11:38am Reply

  • Miwa: Hi Victoria. I love the real osmanthus flower’s sweet scent. I sometimes see it in notes list, but never found any fragrance that smells like the real osmanthus. I enjoy your blogs and videos! December 9, 2020 at 4:59am Reply

    • Victoria: Me too! Ever since I’ve spent time in Japan, I became enamored with this scent. Hermes Osmanthe Yunan comes close, though. December 9, 2020 at 5:21am Reply

      • Miwa: Oh, I shall try that. Thank you for the tip! December 9, 2020 at 8:34pm Reply

  • Shelly: Another great video so evocative of the smell. I used to love Roger and gallet Carnation soap. I really liked muguet de bois by Coty when I was very young and have tried to capture that fleeting lily of the valley smell from the fresh flower on a breeze. Tourmaline’s ideas are fascinating, I also loved the chanel lipstick smell, I am wearing one now. Another early scent memory was of aqua manda does anyone remember this? My 12 year old self always asked for this as a gift, I used to snif the talc. Happy memories. Another fragrance that I can’t capture was an avocado soap but I can’t remeber where it was from. I like the idea of planting some stocks when the weather is better here in the UK. December 9, 2020 at 3:28pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Shelly,

      I still have a Roger et Gallet carnation soap from a pack of three that I bought my mother. It was the last gift I gave her before she died in 2011. It has a lovely scent.

      I’m glad you like my ideas. I suppose that if I used the Nivea soap, followed by the body lotion, and then rubbed a little of the “creme” on pulse points, then I could smell like Nivea products!

      Good luck with your stocks! December 11, 2020 at 3:02am Reply

    • Gilad: Yes!
      Thank you for mentioning Muguet de Bois – it was my fragrance love (my first?) at around the same age…haven’t thought of it for decades.
      Amazing scent from the drug store, and I bet I’d still love it today. December 13, 2020 at 2:32pm Reply

  • Aurora: What a good idea to highlight this unassuming flower. Penhaligon’s had Night Scented Stock, I smelled it once but don’t remember much. December 12, 2020 at 3:05am Reply

    • Victoria: Now I recall that one, but I also don’t remember its scent. December 12, 2020 at 3:58am Reply

  • Patricia Devine: Late to this thread but I love night-scented stocks. We had them in the garden when I was a child and I planted them here outside my front door in France. The smell is wonderful, though they are an insignificant little flower. As for other scents, I would love to know if anyone has put the scent of eleagnus in a fragrance. The eleagnus hedges flower in autumn here and to me they are the smell of Brittany, walking down to the cold beach, with the sea air, the salt, the seaweed, the sloes on the bare branches. December 15, 2020 at 3:22pm Reply

  • Trisha: Stocks are my favourite smell, the one you have in your hand, I grow from seed each year in pots outside, as it is my favourite scent, although love the look and colours of them too. I have tried for years and years to find a perfume that smells like them, they smell like cloves to me above everything else. In the end, the nearest came to it was Chanel Cocoa, the original in the perfume, not the eau de parfum. OK, it is not that close, but has the warm, clove like, spicy essence to some degree, so I wear it in the winter – but still searching. December 17, 2020 at 4:51am Reply

  • nimrit: your video was so insightful as I am very new to fragrances but I am getting really into understanding fragrances and the smell of different flowers. thanks for sharing this video December 28, 2020 at 1:14am Reply

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