I’m not normally that into florals – especially the white kind – but I have to admit that there is something about the summer heat that is making me crave them right now. The hot sun seems to activate their lurid, blowsy side and to dim their rather prim, pretty aspects, and this is an effect I like. So, despite myself, I find myself charmed by the lush, almost tropical miasma of white petals radiating off my hot, sticky skin. I will enjoy them while I can because I know that as soon as cool weather approaches, I will want to set these aside.
In the meantime, here are some of my favorite florals that positively bloom in the heat.
Carnal Flower by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle: My sample of Carnal Flower sat in my sample box, unloved and untested, for a whole year. I kind of fear tuberose, you see. It brings back unwelcome associations for me between the sleek, buttery smell of tuberose blooms in vases and rich ladies who lunch in hotels.
I used to work in one such hotel – Kelly’s Hotel in Rosslare Strand (Irish people will know it). Don’t get me wrong – the hotel was, and still is, a great place and the owners are wonderful. But never was I so aware of my lowly socio-economic status as when I stepped through the revolving doors into the tuberose-scented air of that hotel.
Over time, the smell of tuberose became linked in my mind with rich people, carpets so deep your heels sink into them, and the indefinable smell of wealth in the air. My prejudice is wholly my own, of course – it only means that I have an inferiority complex. But I am careful about tuberose because I am only human and don’t want to deliberately trigger those feelings.
I needn’t have worried about Carnal Flower. It’s less of the ‘wealthy hotel air’ smell of hothouse tuberoses and more botanical, earthy, natural in feel – like walking through a swampy field of tuberose stalks. It is a smell rooted in nature and not in something man-made. The opening notes are luridly green and camphoraceous, and every time I get a mental image of the waxy leaves of a privet hedge and the stalks of the tuberose being crushed and offered to me to smell. The freshness is a surprise, every time, and it moves me. Slightly bitter, sappy, and evergreen, I wish it could last forever; it’s that intoxicating to my senses.
Eventually, the opening dies back and a creamy tuberose is revealed. To my relief, it is not the butter-and-candy disco flower of my worst nightmares (hello Fracas!), but a cool and restrained take on the infamous bloom. It is creamy, yes, but not overblown. Hints of coconut and white musk round out the floral element. Although I like the opening more, I also quite like this last phase, especially in the heat, because the tuberose and coconut give off a natural, salty beach feel. Despite the marketing and the name, I don’t find Carnal Flower to be sexy in the slightest. In my opinion, it is simply a tuberose presented in the most botanical, natural way possible. I think Carnal Flower does a brilliant job of showcasing the headiness of the flower as it appears in nature, and not in a hothouse environment, and for that alone, I will always love it.
Mito by Vero Profumo: Addictively green! Actually, green and acid yellow, because along with the garden’s worth of green leaves and a tree’s worth of dry, resinous galbanum shoe-horned into Mito’s opening notes, there is also a hyper-lemon or bergamot accord in there that feels like a million citruses pressed into action all at once. The bitter rind, the juice, the pulp – it’s all here, upfront.
And immediately, in the midst of all this green-and-yellow madness, a creamy white flower starts unfolding its petals, explosively, in a hurry to show off its pushy beauty. Magnolia? Maybe jasmine. Surely, at first it is magnolia – a creamy, non-indolic smell that smells like a magnolia freshly plucked from the tree, complete with the slightly poisonous smell of the green juice of the just-ripped leaves and stems.
It’s beautiful and heady, and yes, supremely botanical in feel. Mito feels like a dense, packed green thing at first, but it has development. It unfurls. The green, citrus ‘roid-rage’ opening unfurls to reveal a magnolia, and the magnolia parts its petals to reveal a very Diorella-esque note of overripe peach or melon. No fruit is listed, but I smell a sticky fruit of some sort.
This ‘rotting fruit’ core is the part of Mito that takes it from a merely botanical wonder of citrus and greens that might have been done by Annick Goutal (only 100 times stronger) to something more complicated, something closer to the slightly decaying, salt-grass-and-fruit chypres that form the bedrock of French summer-chic perfumery, specifically Le Parfum de Therese, Diorella, Cristalle, and even Femme.
Wearing Mito is an all-in experience. You get the lush grandeur of an Italian garden, the resinous greens, the citrus, and creamy white flowers. But you also get the gassy fruit and underlying decay. The extreme dry down of Mito is a surprise – on my skin, it’s all jasmine, with nothing green or botanical or chypre left to provide ballast. I find myself re-spraying to re-live the amazing opening and heart. That’s the part that I find exciting. I’ve gone through two samples, though, and am currently Mito-less. Damn it.
Sarassins by Serge Lutens: So sexy they should put a warning label on the bottle. It explodes onto the skin with a huge roar, like a bull mounting his mate, all purple and engorged, half-ferocious, half-lustful – a mentholated and rubbery jasmine so ugly-beautiful you just can’t tear your glance away. It is down and dirty sexy in a good way. I love indolic scents, so the opening is calling my name.
I grow jasmine on my balcony and it may come as a surprise to people who have never had a chance to smell jasmine when it flowers in nature that it smells just exactly like this – dirty, creamy white flowers with a hint of fecal decay as an undertone. Some people are sensitive to indolic scents, so even the mere hint of feces is enough to give this girl a bad old reputation. But I would think that anyone who gets on well with the copious amounts of horse poo in Cuir de Russie and elephant dung in Dzing! would rub along nicely with Sarrasins too.
There is something fruity in the middle – an apricot perhaps – its skin lending a tart, leathery feel to the base. The fruity leather is warmly spiced with either clove or cinnamon. To my nose, these notes combine to produce a delicious smell of freshly-cut hay, damp on top with summer dew and dry underneath, laid out in the sun to dry prior to being baled. This mixed damp and dry hay smell also feels like chamomile tea, because to me these two smells are very similar.
The jasmine rests on top of this base throughout, fanning its petals and blowing hot jasmine fumes into your face, just being its own, wonderful, natural self, true and unapologetic. This is a dry, unsweetened and not too creamy jasmine, which manages to feel both airy and earthy at the same time. I find it quite sexy in the heat, especially in the base notes which smell like jasmine and hay mixed together and left out in the sunshine.