It is cold, it is icy, and like many perfume lovers, I cannot only limit myself to the cosy and the spicy in winter: I find myself dreaming of summer, fast forwarding in my mind to that moment in May here (can’t wait) when everything goes ballistically pink and green; an explosion of lush life after the cherry blossom petals get blown and washed away from the trees by the last ferocious squalls of Spring and everything heats up; jungle like; humid, moist and fragrant. Sometimes I just want to branch out, rip myself out of the January mindset and let hot flowers bloom; I find myself dousing my skin in the ylangs and noix de coco that make up a sizeable part of my daily collection; the tuberoses, gardenias, the vanilla and the frangipani. I can’t just remain dormant and docile and huddled and feasting on gingerbread.
So today, though the subject has been done to death by every perfumista under the sun, let’s revel in the alabastrine lust of these floral beauties, let their noxious transulence asphyxiate us with their lone, sensuous purpose…..
EAU DE TUBEREUSE by LE JARDIN RETROUVE
The tuberose is no rose. It is a voluptuary: a night-blooming flower from India and Mexico with white, fleshy petals and a sweet, unavoidably carnal aroma of hot skin and stamens. Victorian girls were forbidden to adorn themselves with tuberose toilet waters for fear they would swoon with certain discomforting thoughts (so difficult to avoid with a scent of such delirious candour), and the classic tuberoses, such as this gorgeous creation by French house Le Jardin Retrouvé ( a perfume I found at the flea market) up the ante of this luscious facet to glorious effect. I am very partial to the billowy soft insinuations of perfumes like the dreamy original Chloë by Karl Lagerfeld, and Tubéreuse is of the same template, only stronger, more lush, more medicinal, more…..tuberose.
CARNAL FLOWER / EDITIONS DE PARFUMS FREDERIC MALLE (2005)
A friend of mine, Yuta, lives down the hill from me in Kamakura with his wife Mikako. She has the most beautiful skin I’ve ever seen: as translucently smooth as white porcelain. One Sunday in spring they came round to the house, and naturally, like all dinner party guests, they had to be found a perfume from the collection. This is usually fairly easy, as I have an idea what people will like and what will suit them. But Mikako wasn’t having any of it. My instincts towards grey-blue iris scents were rebuffed, as were all perfumes over five years old.
Determined, I kept thinking. And then, as I was looking into the living room, my eyes rested on the amaryllis flower that had just bloomed: giant, translucent pale-pink on a milky green-white stem.
‘I think I have found it’, I said.
‘What does it smell like?’ she replied.
‘Like that’, I said, pointing to the plant.
Carnal Flower is very original. Its creators wanted to make a classic perfume that actually resembled the living tuberose but which would be the antithesis to the standard, butter-saturated model set up by Fracas. The project was two years in the making while perfumer Dominique Ropion perfected the formula: a green, petal-centred perfume with florist-fresh top notes – the least sweet of the genre. It is a very unusual fragrance, like watching a plant growing in a sealed-off white laboratory. Crushed stems and eucalyptus leaves begin the scent, over light floral essences (jasmine, ylang), cradling the highest percentage of natural tuberose absolute used in any perfume (hence its rather extravagant price.) On me it smells wrong, but on Mikako, with her cool white skin, incredible. The coconut-milk/white musk finish, the tuberose stems, the green leaves, turned her quite simply into a cold, living flower.
FRACAS / ROBERT PIGUET (1948)
Mention tuberose and most perfume lovers immediately think of Fracas, the benchmark to which all others of the type must match. A dense and potent woody floral with blasts of the most flamboyant white flowers, this is a perfume for women who like to make an entrance.
The bottle in my own collection was given to me by a friend, who in turn was given it by the late Isabella Blow, doyenne of fashion and extravagant headwear, muse of Philip Treacy, and stolid socialite of the art and fashion world. She wore so much Fracas, and carried so many little bottles about with her, that she could just hand out the perfume like sweets. Wherever Isabella Blow went, so did Fracas; to the extent that for her friends, the smell was her (isn’t that what we all secretly want from a scent?). At her funeral in September 2007, the air was ‘redolent with the scent of Fracas’, according to the Guardian, Alexander Mcqueen having decided to scent the air with her presence.
Though Ms Blow’s signature, Fracas is the preferred scent of many a diva and always has been. It is gorgeous, headstrong and sexy, which is perhaps why it is also loved by Madonna. In the Reinvention Tour documentary ‘I’m going to tell you a secret’, the singer is seen backstage, flustered and sweaty, liberally spraying her Rococo pink corset with what she refers to as her ‘Italian whore’s bath’. A huge bottle of Fracas stands in pride of place in front of her dressing room mirror.
TUBEREUSE / CARON (2003)
While some tuberose perfumes verge on sickly sweet (Versace Blonde I am talking to you….) Caron judiciously allows the full sensual bloom of this flower to open without letting it cloy, tempering the florality with a delicious, creamy base; just a hint of truffle-like darkness. The result is a supremely wearable tuberose; delicate, beguiling, with an underlying texture of cool, white leather, and one I would wholeheartedly recommend for the true tuberose lover who wants to keep it close. Possibly my favourite.
TUBEREUSE CRIMINELLE / SERGE LUTENS (1998)
Until Carnal Flower came along, it was this cult creation by Serge Lutens and his wildly talented perfumer Christopher Sheldrake that had taken the crown of ‘most original tuberose’, principally due to a medicinal note of wintergreen that braced the florid top note with a shocking sensation of gasoline, rubber and Vicks Vapour rub. This highly unconventional (‘criminal’) beginning you either endure patiently because you love the beautifully petalled, fresh tuberose flowers that await beneath, or it is the principle reason you are obsessed with the perfume. I personally love it in all its perverse, ugly-beautiful glory, but understandably there are many who don’t.
MICHAEL KORS / MICHAEL KORS (2000)
Sharpness of metal: a glinting blade slices clean through ripe, lustrous tuberose flowers to a backdrop of blue lagoon. The sky is brilliant. A fresh, watery accord of flowers cuts the air, leaving a sensuous trail in its wake. A vivid, widescreen floral: notes of fresh tuberose, ‘dewy freesia’, and ‘white wings peony’, with an interesting twist of tamarind for piquancy. It is this more androgynous note, contrasting with the sweet wetness of the tuberose, that gives the perfume its character.
A future flower is on the screen, sharp focus: near enough, almost, to make you wince. A new tuberose: shot; cut; frozen in time. And there the image stays, on pause; for this perfume is unchanging. What you see is what you get with Michael Kors. It is modern, sexy, but not up too close: I prefer the outer limits of its aura, meant to draw you up in as it tingles the air. Though not devoid of tenderness, there is perhaps too much harshness, as though the tuberose were revealing truer, chillier colours.