Category Archives: Carnation



I recently had the fortune to pick up a boxed, pristine, vintage parfum of one of the most famous of the Coty vintage classics, L’Origan. Schlepping at the back of the key-locked glass cabinet, unrecognised among its more fashionable second hand perfumes, the owner of the antique shop in Kamakura obviously had little idea of its worth. I was extremely excited to find it – not that I didn’t already know how it smelled  (my other tiny parfum enchantillon bottle was already running low), but to have this scent in more luxurious amounts, and at such a reasonable price, is a precious, and historically important, addition to my collection.

Often compared to L’Heure Bleue, which it preceded by seven years, L’Origan is a powdered, peppery, spice carnation with violet, orris, labdanum, incense, and a sharp, almost dour aspect reminiscent of dried herbs (‘L’Origan’ is usually translated as ‘The Golden One’ but also means ‘oregano’ in French). If Mitsouko was a fuller,  romantic reworking of Coty’s classic Chypre – said to be more angular and spiky – then so is L’Heure Bleue, which I find to be infinitely more plush, gustatory, and melancholic (not to say romantic) than the more private, yet  determined, L’Origan.


I find in fact the comparisons between the two perfumes to be somewhat overstated. While L’Heure Bleue may have some spiced aspects that dwell within its swirls of cherry almond patisserie, L’Origan, in vintage, is pointed, divaricated: a soft, ambery, poudré vanilla base offset by the far more strident and full-willed; hard; nutmeg and cloved notes of the top.

This perfume has an autonomous quality : a strength and presence whose romantic overtures ( L’Origan would smell beautiful all dressed up in furs ) do nothing to detract from its essential self-reliance. If Jacques Guerlain did later use this anisic template to make his exquisitely rendered and emotional ‘blue hour’ ( I adore L’Heure Bleue), the perfumer certainly made that perfume very much his own, embroiling his heliotropine atmospherica in a lighter, and sweeter, Parisian wonderment.

François Coty’s Italo-Corsican roots come much more to the fore in L’Origan, which is less sugared and much more androgynous; pressed : tightly bound together like powder in gilded compact : ready; when the moment is allowed, to release its strange, almost medicinal, beauty.


Filed under Carnation, Spiced + Powdery Orientals






You cannot envy Richard Fraysse, head perfumer at Caron. Much maligned by perfume lovers for his reformulations of the Caron classics (whether in an attempt to bring them into line with modern sensibilities, to match IFRA regulations, or to bring the price of the formulas down for the pleasure of his accountants I couldn’t say), but in any case his strikes me as being  something of a lose-lose situation. Caron is in a funny position: revered, adored, yet with little consistency. The new perfumes are rightfully scorned (Yuzu Man? Miss Caron? I think not…), and when the perfumes you think you are buying are not what you hoped they would be, you know that with Caron, every perfume is something of a precarious risk.


Though I often think the rumours of total and disastrous reformulation are exaggerated, I have myself owned and been highly disappointed by certain contemporary versions of classic ‘Carons’  (Poivre, Nocturnes), then, conversely,  found myself ogling at, and spraying on, the urn perfumes in Fortnum & Mason,  finding many of them strange,  glorious and in perfectly good condition. That name, ‘Caron’, still has so much cachet and appeal for me, and I can’t help hoping against hope that Mr Fraysse will, one day, somehow again deliver the goods.



Bellodgia, the legendary perfume Caron originally released in 1927, was/is a spicy, musky, creamy and very emotional oeillet soliflore that enfolded cloves and thick, cinnamon-embalmed carnation petals in quilts of roses, jasmine and musks, and it is yet another well-loved classic from the house that I have in the original perfume extract. She is, to me, the Grand Duchess of carnations, this Bellodgia:  vulnerably bosomed, sensitive, and hopelessly, almost embarrassingly, romantic. But she is also rather old-fashioned, and Più Bellodgia ( a play on the Italian words più bello, meaning ‘more beautiful’), is a decent attempt to bring the carnationy rose template back to the modern palate.


Like Serge Lutens’ unpopular Vitriol D’Oeillet, which it resembles in some ways,  Più Bellodgia is boldly enlivened and refreshed with the rosey, pink-peppered top notes we have come to anticipate in many contemporary feminines, and this stage of the fragrance, I have to say, is my least favourite. However, the more sprightly headrush of the top notes lead the perfume into more zested territory that does, basically, work: Più Bellodgia has more spine than its osteoporotic predecessor (the original Bellodgia was always so cushioned I thought), so this is not, necessarily, a bad thing.


The good news for Bellodgia lovers is that the original formula has not been eviscerated: the essential structure of carnation, clove, cinnamon, rose/jasmine and cedar wood musk is intact, the spices just that little bit spicier, the aura brighter but essentially unchanged. She may not be more beautiful, but the Grand Duchess’ great niece is still vivacious and alive, inclined towards the classically Parisian, and she has certainly not disgraced her family.








Ylang Ylang is one of my very favourite essential oils, and I get through bottles and bottles of it each year. It arouses me, lifts me, tropicalizes my senses, and in our sadly aborted mission to Madagascar, originally set for August, part of the itinerary was to have been a trip to ylang ylang distillery on the famed perfumed isle of Nosy Bé. To have seen those flowers: picked, distilled and bottled, would have been as exciting to me as encountering the vanilla we were specifically going to Madagascar to see……I love it: more than jasmine, gardenia, even possibly tuberose…for me, though it is cheaper and more readily available, ylang ylang is intoxicating.


Call me crazy but I have even drunk ylang ylang essence. I had read somewhere that one drop in a bottle of champagne was a dizzying experience, and, when I tried it one summer evening, it was. The giddiness was doubled, my nerve endings delighted.

Hiccuppy ylang ylang kisses…..



Sadly, Caron’s My Ylang has none of this. In fact, perhaps unbelievably, I can’t really think of anything to say about it. I have tried the perfume four or five times, but it makes almost no impression. Supposedly a ‘luminous, powdery floral’, with top notes of cassis and mandarin layered over a green muguet/jasmine accord and (practically undetectable) ylang ylang with a light base of green vanilla and woods, it is pleasant enough in a nineties sort of way: a light, greenish floriental, a bit going-outish, not entirely unsexy, but without any real draw to actually make you want to re-smell it. The only perfumes I can think of that it vaguely reminds me of are two obscure scents whose own characters were never very clearly defined either: Jean Claude Ellena’s mix-everything-in-blender leaf-floral Miss Arpels, and Guerlain’s weird, tea-ish floriental Secret Intention. It smells nice enough, and My Ylang is certainly not bad exactly, but it certainly is a slightly baffling release (I am not really sure who is going to buy it.) If you try it and it does make sense to you, do please enlighten me on how to approach it.


In the meantime, Your Ylang should, if do you like this flower, come in the form of Parfumerie Generale’s lovely tropical sundress Ylang Ivohibe; Calice Becker’s new perfume for Oscar De La Renta Mi Corazon (similar to By Kilian’s Beyond Love, but with a shirtier, ylang ylang twist), or, my personal favourite, the blasé, vogue-reading-girl-on-a-summer-beach, sun kissed caress of Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Ylang Vanille, a perfume I use by the bucketload when the season is right.  I have also heard amazing things about Micallef’s exotic Ylang In Gold.









There is also, apparently, a remake of Caron’s classic Nocturnes (1981) which has just been released.

The original, an aldehydic mandarin/stephanotis/vetiver/vanilla, is by far my favourite Caron to wear on myself (you should smell the base notes on a winter’s morning, glinting and magical as crystalline sunlight on snow), though (un)fortunately this wasn’t included in the package of samples I received. I wonder what they have done with that one; perhaps it is better I don’t smell it……


Filed under Carnation, Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Ylang Ylang

The bewitched carnations : DIAMOND WATER & GOLCONDA by JAR (2001)

















That reclusive, nebulous jeweller of perfumery, Joel Arthur Rosenthal ( or ‘JAR’ to use his acronym ), has a very dark and cryptic boutique just off the Place Vendôme in Paris, swathed in black and borderline vaudeville, that radically changes the way in which perfume is presented.

A very theatrically-rendered thunder bolt painted across the ceiling of this perfumery announces you have entered a fragrant world of showmanship, as you sheepishly pull back the curtains and the perfume show begins….




But first to the scents themselves. Rosenthal seems to have quite a thing for cloves and carnations (as do I), and his powdery, opoponax/incense carnation creation, Diamond Water, is quite alluring. It is a rich and decadent floral, with rose; tuberose perhaps (they will reveal nothing), possibly cinnamon, and honey-drenched luminous white lilies over santal. Very intense – some would say foul – and lurid, even, but at least these JAR fragrances never bore (they are really quite intensely unfathomable), and for the jaded perfume lover this point is important.



But prior to all this, as I said before, to get to one of these hallowed creations, it is necessary for you to have the INITIATION EXPERIENCE, in which the assistant, steeped in a rather pained ‘mystery’, seemed to think he was auditioning for a re-make of Eyes Wide Shut (with neither the requisite Kubrickian charisma nor indeed the acting skills, to carry it off), I, myself,  on the verge of intense irritation with the absurd levels of gravitas allotted these sickly oils, as though I were about to inhale the sacred and liquified remains of the holy mother….



They lie waiting, nameless.

You are seated at the table, like an audience awaiting a trick by Houdini.


The  magician – po-faced, puffed up, elegantly besuited –  will lift the glass spheres under which the perfumes lie.

He will waft (ludicrously, ludicrously!) the scent under your nose, and will brook no questioning.



You ask what’s in the perfume: nothing. Just an enigmatic, or what he imagines is enigmatic, smile. You try and smile back, wondering where this all is going while trying to prevent your eyeballs from rolling back in their head; look about you at the other shoppers who have wandered in on this scene, their hands obediently placed quietly in their laps, eyes lowered…








JAR perfumes are apparently a plaything for the rich jeweller whose boutique is just down the road on the main square. This is just his hobby (can you imagine!!) and I am extraordinarily envious at a person being able to indulge such a passion with that kind of money, to attempt to elevate the entire experience of perfume-sampling with this rabbit-out-of-hat, white-gloved roleplay (just for the fun of it!)



Yet monsieur is apparently not a trained perfumer, and I personally think it shows.  The smells are all so drenched in themselves (and quite frankly, weird) they can be quite difficult to appreciate, even though it is very apparent that they are made with high quality, natural  materials (carnations, tortured in the dungeons down below in the streets of Paris by a sadistic perfumed sorcerer?  Juiced of their absolutes, depleted and tossed out onto the streets – wilting, translucent husks sighing their last breaths…….?)



This creation, which has very good reviews from some writers for what they see as its dazzling handling of carnations (see the Non-Blonde’s take on it – she finds it elegant and emotive), is certainly a welcome addition to the small family of carnation scents, and I can’t say that I would refuse a bottle exactly if someone gave me one, but if you do decide to go to the … (dare I call it a shop?)…… to the locus of these shenanigans – which I recommend you do just for the fun of it – but woe betide you if you attempt to touch anything there – and you  like the smell of these clovey blooms, be warned that you will have to hand over rather a lot of money.

At least two hundred pounds, if I remember correctly, which is quite a lot when you think about it, for  a bunch of white carnations.








If Diamond Water is a white carnation tribute, then ‘Golconda’ (either a ruined ancient city in India, apparently, or a painting by Magritte) is the red –  thousands of them, surrendered beautifully in a piquant floral oil slick. An ultra-intense perfume that employs actual carnation absolute – rare in perfume – over other floral absolutes and cloves (lots, lots of them), this is a carnation like no other.



No top notes, no progression, just an extravagant, spiced elixir….


Filed under Carnation, Flowers, Perfume Reviews

Let all of me seethe: Vitriol d’Oeillet by Serge Lutens (2011)

‘Vitriol d’Oeillet – the carnation, alias the clove pink. The fragrance fraught with anger. It’s petals, laced with tiny teeth, hold out the solution; a burst of fragrant spikes…’



























Thus, in 20II,  Serge Lutens’ entered his curious foray into the fragrant obscurity of the carnation: a much maligned flower, long out of fashion for its bland, mumsy, truck-stop associations; its banal intimations of death; cheap mother’s day bouquets; and the wreath.



Carnations and pinks: who really loves these floral run-of-the-mills now?



Once, however, many moons ago, these flowers were considered the height of elegant fashion.  By ladies, gentlemen, dandies, and fops; worn ostentatiously in the buttonhole, or on hats at the end of the nineteenth century. But what might once have been considered decadent, (Oscar Wilde famously dyed his carnations green to wear on his lapel, as well as sporting Floris’ carnation perfume, Malmaison), has, unfortunately, become disdained.



Still, there are many carnation and clove lovers out there (myself included), and the concept of a Lutensian vitriolic pink had many in a frenzy of anticipation upon its release. What would the provocateur do this time?  Would there be a scandalous, reinvented floral along the lines of his legendary Tubereuse Criminelle? How angry would these carnations actually be?



Not enough, it would seem. The perfume’s reception was a collective sigh of disappointment, as it was not the flurry of eye-blinding cloves we were perhaps expecting: somehow, by the majority it is seen as too tame, insufficiently vicious, given its fiery, provocative title.


I must say that am personally rather drawn to this scent, however, and have recently really enjoyed wearing it (particularly when layered with the vintage extrait of Feminite du Bois to rather elegant effect, though I say it myself). But to some extent I can understand its detractors: we always expect grand theatrical flourishes from Monsieur Serge, and Vitriol d’Oeillet has a subdued, almost melancholic air to it – aeons away, for instance, from the carnationy spiced joy that is Santa Maria Novella’s Garofano (by far the best carnation in my view) – a plushly, burningly exuberant Italian creation that fangs forth from the flesh, piercing the air all around it with its St. Sebastian pinkness. If Garofano is the feel-good king of carnations, hyperreal and fresh ( I feel like John Travolta wearing it with an open-necked shirt of a Saturday summer evening ), then Vitriol is his dour, imperious queen.


The scent is a two-faced Janus –  Lutens also refers to it in the press release as a Jekyll & Hyde –  with two competing facets: a pretty, even somewhat prim, rose/lily/wallflower accord (with none of the creamy, clovey ylang we associate with the traditional carnation soliflore); and then an acerbic, almost corrosive cold/heat accord that favors pepper and red spices over the expected warming buds of clove (which are there, but in a background role). The peppers (black, pink and Cayenne, along with an unexpected note of pimento) adorn the flowers like a claw-sharp, iron-spiked petticoat. Further beneath is a quiet, gnarling murk of nutmeg and woods that on me smells very much like a light Japanese incense.


At first, while I found it difficult to reconcile the two sides ( I received my bottle as a Christmas present from my sister, who likes to give me a surprise Lutens each year – I love it when you are given a scent you might not have chosen yourself but have the luxury of getting to know it anyway, having the impetus to try….) and felt, initially, that somehow something was missing (a heart?) .  Gradually, though, I have come to appreciate this perfume’s unique qualities.  I wore it constantly during the New Year period, sprayed it inside the house during those cold winter months on blankets and curtains, loving its frosted, supercilious air; living with it daily until it became part of my memories ( I still get a shiver of pleasure now every time I smell it from the bottle).

The tingling, graphite-grey peppers; the pale, quietly seething, cayenne-tinted flowers in those watery, minor chords, all, for me, despite the perfume’s  slight conservatism, add up to a delicate, hard-hearted chic. Vitriol d’Oeillet might be thought of, then, not as the failed carnation soliflore that it is often perceived to be, but ultimately, more a curiously beautiful, and fractious, floral spice. Alone, cold and remote.




Notes: black pepper, pink pepper, cayenne pepper, pimento, nutmeg, clove, carnation, wallflower, lily, woods.


Filed under Carnation, Flowers, Perfume Reviews