It is that time.
NYMPHEA / IL PROFUMO (2004)
I am not sure how such a heavenly creature actually works on a real life girl, but this dreamy, artful, fresh-green bouquet (bamboo, fig, white waterlily, lotus flowers, water jasmine, and white rose) is, in my view, almost heartbreakingly lovely. Il Profumo describes it as having a ‘lacustrine tranquillity’, and it does have such a transparent, lake-like, lily-pad beauty that I am compelled to agree.
ANTONIA’S FLOWERS/ ANTONIA’S FLOWERS (1985)
Antonia was a florist in The Hamptons, and knowing her flowers, and adoring freesias, and being dissatisfied with the floral scents available on the market, set out to create her own. In the process she produced three American classics: Antonia’s Flowers, Floret, and Tiempe Passate, all of which have apparently been among the best selling fragrances since their launches at Bergdorf’s and Barney’s New York.
Despite my own personal love of fleurs à la Parisienne, there is no reason why the classic French model (flowers, woods, musks and animalics) should necessarily predominate in a person’s floral wardrobe; not everyone wants that suggestive, ‘come-thither’ quality in a perfume – sometimes you want a scent that goes on fresh and clean and stays that way. And what distinguishes the Antonia’s Flowers perfumes from the mass-market chemical-sheen ‘flowers’ like Romance and Happyis a natural, well crafted, ‘made-with-love’ quality that, in the case of this, her eponymous fragrance, shines all the way through the brilliant fusion of light-shimmering, china-dry rosewood and crisp, springtime flowers (mainly freesia, magnolia and lily). It is a highly unusual fragrance – the intense but beautifully natural bois-de-rose note is too much for some – but one I would recommend to anybody who loves flowers and just flowers.
FLORET/ ANTONIA’S FLOWERS (1995)
Or alternately, try Floret: a tightly controlled, crystal-clear, sweet-pea floral, with rose, tuberose and marigold, and a delicious, transparent apricot top note. Pure, feminine, it is springtime in a bottle: the olfactory equivalent of pressed, clean clothes in an airy, open room.
FLOWER BY KENZO/ KENZO (2000)
‘A flower with no fragrance.’
Kenzo, who I have always liked (for their Kenzo Homme, L’Eléphant, Le Tigre, Summer, Kashâya and their sensuous, eponymous original scent) suddenly became a major contender in the perfume world when, thirteen years ago, in a marketing act of brilliance, they released a rather stunningly designed bottle, which appeared to contain poppies at various stages of growth, and cleverly filled airports and department stores with them. The effect was startling, the concept (‘creating the scent of the poppy’) an instant hit with consumers, and thus cities were suddenly filled with scent of young office girls going to work in Flower.
It is a very pleasant scent, like anything by the company; airy and green, with soothing, gentle notes of Bulgarian rose, hawthorn, cassie and parma violets over a sheer, powdery almond base: gentle, carefree, light, and safe – like running through a neighbouring field in freshly tumble-dried, clean smelling clothes. Which is another way of saying that it is fragrant, and nice, but rather dull. I quite like it, but don’t get my friend Helen started on how much, and why, she despises this to the extent that she does.
J’ADORE/ CHRISTIAN DIOR (1999)
Knowing what the women wanted – something fresh, light, sophisticated but somehow ‘vulnerable’ – Calice Becker, one of the world’s undisputed masters of florals, created a scent for Dior in 1999 that went down a storm – J’Adore is now one of the world’s best selling scents, and I can certainly understand why. Despite the usual fresh floral metallica, this perfume does have that ‘classic’ stamp on it; the greenness of the fresh ivy top notes; the gleaming flowers (orchids, champaca, white roses, violets – apparently it was designed as an ‘emotional floral’); the fruitiness (Damascus plum and blackberry musk), the gentle, skin-tone, base notes. This scent is ‘pure woman’, and something you can’t really go wrong with. For evenings out. For romantic dinners. For engagement parties and anniversaries: the magazine adverts featuring Charlize Theron say it all – in gold; glamorous, pretty, charming and ‘dazzling’.
Despite my objective appreciation of its charms, however, I myself don’t like J’Adore at all, and, as the murdered woman in Goldfinger was to find, all that gold can be suffocating. The perfection; the flawlessness, is all too much for me I’m afraid, and it catches in my throat; hysterical – a sharp, processed, gilded lacquer.
ROMANCE/ RALPH LAUREN (1998)
True-blue thoroughbred, how could Ralphie go wrong with an advertising campaign that played up to every Tiffany-dreaming, happy-ending, Caucasian fantasy? And the smell! So clear, so sheer, so ‘romantically’ floral and clean: so ‘right-for-every-occasion’.
Inevitable then, that Romance should be such a big hit. I can’t personally say that I like it (shrill; synthetic; far too conservative for this writer), but it might be what you are looking for if you want an inoffensive, indistinct scent for that wedding or baby shower.
PLEASURES/ ESTEE LAUDER (1995)
Pleasures is, I think, aimed at the same target audience as Romance; thirty-something mothers of a stable income and societal position who shun any hint of prurience (or even any acknowledgement they have a body) in their scent (what would the other mothers think?!?). For the successful original advertising campaign, that foxy British minx of the upper-middle classes, Liz Hurley, donned a lilac cashmere sweater, and, airbrushedly, tumbled about with a Lenor-washed puppy in a field, a thousand miles from the cleavage Versace It-dress that made her famous. The message was clear: like Romance, this woman was a Good Girl, and her family values were most Virginally Intact.
The difference between Romance and Pleasures, though, is that Pleasure has character, and lots of it – only characterful creations are this recognizable. So powerfully, translucently floral it almost hurts, this complex bouquet of rain-drenched flowers (lily, lilac, violet leaves, peonies, baie-rose…) can be hypnotically feminine, mysterious even, on the right person if used in small doses (I have known women who have smelled quite gorgeous in it) but, ultimately, it is so resolutely ‘pure’, so WASP, I have to say that it rather scares me.
BOUQUET DE LA REINE / FLORIS (2002)
Middle England: a secret, illicit tryst between two married people, in love, speaking in quiet voices under their drinks in the hotel bar.
He is wearing Eucris (Geo F Trumper): she is wearing this: a pretty, insistent bouquet, green and fresh (bergamot, blackcurrant buds, violet leaf, rose, ylang and jasmine) that is respectable, pliant, and womanly. He leans in closer, and, furtively watching and smelling from a distance, we don’t doubt for a moment the passion that will later ensue.