There were three tiares at the fleamarket and elsewhere on the same day (and one of them was Loulou in miniature) – like premonitory visions of the ocean in some warm, far-flung summer. Strange that I should gather them all up in one go, though, in the middle of winter; particularly as two were from Tahiti – souvenirs bought, I imagine, on some holiday at the airport and brought back in suitcases to Japan, never to be touched by anyone until me, unwanted keepsake flora with the conch shell exhalations of waves and that smooth, encompassing, pink white scent of the tiare, or its synonyms frangipani and plumeria: a smell I quite simply adore.
Softer and less animalic or pungent than gardenia or jasmine, more relaxed than tuberose or ylang (flowers that luxuriate hysterically in their own self-seduction), tiare flowers have something eternal to them – a cool, coconut breath and a smooth, lactonic serenity that lets the flowers just be: on their branches, emanating scent and unmoving in the breeze – but entrancing the blue sky that surrounds them.
The best frangipanis I have smelled by far were in Laos last year, in Luang Prabang – the entire ancient gilded city perfumed with them delicately at dusk.
But even the annually flowering plumeria on my balcony have a creamy, luscious scent, if more subdued in their Japanese environment: indigenous to Polynesia, the tree not as prolific as its cousins by the sea, but still containing their essence, their memory, and their ancestry.
The flowers take a long time to bloom (we keep the tree inside during the cold Japanese winters and put it back outside again come April: sometimes they don’t even come out until October or finish flowering until mid-November), but when they do, and they drop from the bough, I place the flowers in water and they subtly unfold their scent within the room.
Because of this, I am very familiar with the natural smell of the tiare/plumeria in all its facets. The party girl tiares like Loulou or Montale Intense Tiare are all embellished and embodied fantasies bolstered with coconut, vanilla, and all the delectable notes tropicales, while conversely Ormonde Jayne’s interesting Tiare goes the other way in producing something very delicate, elegant – and very English. Parfums Sachet, on the other hand (which I know nothing whatsoever about, but loved the Rousseau-like leaves on the box at the flea market and just snatched it up without thinking (I once did the same with a vanilla perfume I came across there from Tahiti, incidentally : very unusual, quite brown-sugar, molasses island winds – I don’t wear it much but when I do find it very rousing and distinctive) just tiare: the flowers gathered, macerated, strained and bottled, grown and captured beautifully in their place of origin. Natural and quite dense in scent, it has a slightly medicinal edge that tells you that the flowers are real. I have another Hawaiian plumeria perfume that smells very similar: a quiet yet richly petalled stasis. There is no throw as such, but it works as a kind of skin scent, or as a moment of tranquillised and dreamy, armchair travelling.
Far more exciting to me is Reva De Tahiti, which I am currently quite obsessed with and wearing on a daily basis to work. I love this, and in fact, quite presciently had been looking at my empty bottle the other day that a friend of mind had given me after staying in Tahiti on her honeymoon a few years ago (could there be a more romantic destination?) and sighing at the fact that I would never again get another bottle. You couldn’t have presented me with a more perfect souvenir, and I couldn’t quite believe how much I was liking it (considering the mediocre packaging): I drained the entire bottle over a couple of months that summer.
Whereas Sachet’s Eau de Tiare smells natural but a little flat after a while (the perils of just saturating alcohol with petals), Reva de Tahiti presents a similar fantasia on distilled tiare flowers but it is as if they had been rinsed in the essence of blue ocean: a fresh, almost ozonic element that is perfectly realized: fresh enough to give the flowers a burst of life (and very much bringing the aforementioned medicinal note to the fore – which I do enjoy, actually: you could almost call this Plumeria Criminelle – the tiare equivalent of Serge Lutens’ mentholated tuberose), but not so much as to make it smell overly oceanic.
What I like so much about this scent – which I found, to my astonishment in a recycle shop in Asagaya – is that while it evokes the ‘clean’ type of fragrance to an extent – Beyond Paradise, Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, Pacifica Star Rock Jasmine et al – and I like such scents in small doses when I am working, particularly in summer – it is far less synthetic: the flowers in the simple but exuberant and very clear concoction floating down from their seaspray gently; settling on the skin in the most delightful manner : light; lei-fresh, and perfectly tiare.