It’s ironic. Where By Kilian’s In The Garden Of Good And Evil series was a selection of fruity florals without much real hint of the sensual, in the post yesterday I received, unexpectedly, the latest from the Asian Tales collection – Imperial Tea. I quite like tea fragrances, and so was readying myself lackadaisically for a delicate, unthreatening scent that might be nice come Spring. Instead, spraying this perfume on the back of my hand I am assailed by an intense and beautiful green jasmine, rasping on a bed of fresh Chinese (oolong?) tea leaves; impertinent in its reach, hypnotically sexual, the kind of perfume that is guaranteed to turn heads as its wearer moves knowingly through the room in an open-at-the-neck white dress.
I don’t have the official notes of Imperial Tea to hand, but to my nose, it is essentially an inspired infusion of jasmine with tea, or tea with jasmine: a marriage. The jasmine used in abundance in Chinese temples and perfume oils: indolic, pungent, erotic, almost harsh and disturbing, but here paired beautifully with an equally no-nonsense fresh tea leaf accord, well tempered, the tea calming down those fierce jasmine blooms, the jasmine bolstering the tea: similar, vaguely, to Jean Claude Ellena’s Osmanthe Yunnan in construction but with three times the heft and eros.
There is a scene in Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette where the ill-fated Dauphine Of France shows her brother, a prince of Austria who has come to visit and remonstrate with his wayward sister in Versailles, a gift she has just received from the Emperor Of China: a magical novelty apparently never seen before in Europe.
“Watch”, she says, as a dried, furled up Chinese jasmine flower opens up rapidly in a cup of hot tea. “Isn’t it just divine?” she intones, as the jasmine comes alive in the heat of the tea’s embrace and gives off its rich, luscious scent to the surrounding chambers.
I also like the ‘story’ behind this scent, the tale of an imperial concubine, sick, who is cured by the discovery of revivifying jasmine tea when her son, desperate to make his mother well again, espies water that is flowing from a ‘hidden tree’, the signifier of wellness and amorousness, once she drinks of it, that will restore the emperor’s secret lover once again to her robust, flower-bud sensuality.
Being a perfume by Calice Becker (author of other such dazzling florals as Beyond Love and Mi Corazon – its ylang ylang variant ), there is in fact, as you might aspect, also a very fresh, watery and contemporaneous aspect in the backdrop of Imperial Tea which will undoubtedly disappoint people looking for a really rich, dirty jasmine, one that comes on thick and gets more and more animalic as time goes by (for one of those, try Amouage’s Jasmine extrait, or Histoires De Parfums’ La Reine Margot). No. Like Beyond Love, Becker’s fêted tuberose scent that gradually fades down to a delicate, but perfectly balanced tuberose skin scent, Imperial Tea does the same but with jasmine; clean, pleasant, wearable. The difference with Imperial tea, though, lies in the boldness of the top section, which is, in my view, ineffably carnal.
Yes. There is something in the initial rush of tea and jasmine in this scent that is so vivid (and indeed very Asian): delicate, but like the secret apparatus that lies at the heart of a flower, flushed with sex; a different, more vernal, form of carnal flower.