Orange Blossom Special

-  a getaway vacation into the heart of a favorite flower

Of all the many fragrant memories of my South Florida childhood, one in particular has stuck in my mind and stayed with me even today, as a redolent symbol of all that is …happy.

I was ten or eleven at the time, and it was a day I had forgotten my house keys, so I had to wait in the back yard for my mother to arrive home from work. It must have been late March or early April, for the citrus tree orchard in our back yard was in full bloom. We had grapefruit trees, lemon trees, lime trees, and a stand of orange trees that stood at least twenty feet tall. They all required careful navigating to climb – those trees had spiky thorns – but I had long since found a path up the trunk and onto a favorite branch, and that’s where I chose to wait.

It was a heady late afternoon out there beneath the orange tree canopy, the slanting sunlight beating down upon those trees from that breathless blue Florida sky. Everywhere around me, the no less heady, nearly narcotic fragrance of orange blossom in all its many shades…the soapy floral, the hint of the orange zest behind it, the thick, sensuous, indolic aspect that somehow stupefied me to such an extent I have no memory of how long I sat there, only that as I sat on that branch and waited, I was aware of only one thing – the simple joy of breathing in, of inhaling all that was supremely beautiful and supremely happy, which was precisely how I felt.

No matter how much my life attempts to drag me down and chew me out, nothing, but nothing makes me happier in an instant like orange blossom.

Orange blossom – and its kissing cousin, neroli, which is the water-distilled extract of the bitter orange and lighter and less indolic – has been used for centuries in perfumes and soaps, so much that an overdose can easily lead you to dismiss an orange-blossom fragrance as ‘soapy’. It adds its own power-packed punch to countless famous perfumes as one of the four boldest white florals – rose, jasmine, tuberose and…orange blossom. Robert Piguet’s Fracas – that reference tuberose – gets a good deal of its divalicious oomph from orange blossom, as does Caron’s classic Narcisse Noir, although in Narcisse Noir’s case, the orange blossom is a dark and dangerously erotic creature of the night. I never have understood why orange blossom is such a symbol of innocence, unless it’s that orange blossom tends to soothe frazzled bridal nerves, since so far as I’m concerned, it’s a very erotic flower…

A while ago, I posed a question on one of the Facebook fragrance groups about orange blossom. We generally agreed on the orange blossom gold standard  – my absolute favorite orange blossom, which is Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger. This is the orange blossom I recall from that afternoon that burned itself into my memory, the rose, the jasmine and the tuberose somehow all adding up to all the nuances contained in that one fatally fragrant blossom – and the cumin (a deal-breaker for some) adding its own intimations of carnal intent. This is no blushing ingénue orange blossom, this is an opulently sensuous creature in full bloom beneath the orange trees, just waiting to lure you in…which might explain why I’ve likely ‘wasted’ a good portion of a bell jar spraying it on my pillow before bed. Sweet dreams indeed!

But there are other orange blossom specials, and here they are for your delectation…some famous, some not so much, some innocent and flirty, some of them not quite so innocuous…

Joyous Orange

Mona di Orio ‘Jabu’

Jabu – the Zulu word for ‘joy’ – was created in 2009 by the epically talented niche perfumer Mona di Orio, who tragically died last year. No tragedy lurks within ‘Jabu’, which was made to benefit the Dutch charity ‘Orange Babies’ for African HIV-positive mothers and their babies. Jabu is a glorious, complex, grand, glowing Oriental of an orange blossom, from its laughing beginnings of petitgrain through its honeyed, swirling heart of orange blossom, rose and coconut all the way to the feather-soft drydown of benzoin, myrrh and sandalwood. Coconut can be a deal-breaker for me, but here, I have no complaints – everything works in perfect harmony, and everything spells precisely what it says on the bottle – which is…joy. It is virtually impossible to be blue when wearing this, and if that’s not an accolade, what is?

Jabu – in the ‘main’ collection of Mona di Orio perfumes – will be re-released along with the other perfumes in Mona’s main line in 2013.

Notes for Jabu: Orange blossom, monoi oil, petitgrain, Damascus rose, honey, amyris, plum, myrrh, benzoin

The Drop Dead Elegant Orange

Hermès 24 Faubourg

If every luxury perfume brand needs a Great Big White Floral, then 24 Faubourg is surely Hermès’ contribution. Made by Maurice Roucel in 1995, this is a unique throwback to those elegant, supremely French perfumes of yore when ladies who lunched wore couture, carried Hermès bags, and wore fragrant statements that left an emphatic presence in the room behind them. Make no mistake – this is no ingénue orange blossom, this one is all woman, and she roars even when she whispers! It starts with a seamless fruity-floral effervescent blast – there’s no other way to describe it – and then. And then, it grows. And it glows. And it grows. Blooming into a luscious, lilting blend of thick orange blossom, gardenia and jasmine, with black elder adding its own earthier segue to its chypre-tinged drydown hours and hours later of orris, sandalwood, amber, patchouli and vanilla. I really don’t do it anything near the justice it clearly deserves when I wear it barefaced in my leopard-print pjs – 24 Faubourg somehow demands a flawless maquillage, great hair, grand clothes and high heels – something to accentuate its stunning sillage, outstanding longevity and eternally stylish structure. Wear it for when you want to make a definite impression no one forgets in a hurry! Preferably with Louboutin heels, but Manolos might do in a pinch…

Notes for 24 Faubourg: Orange, peach hyacinth, ylang ylang, bergamot, black elder, iris, jasmine, orange blossom, gardenia, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, vanilla.

The Limited Edition Orange

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fleurs d’Oranger

There should be laws against limited editions I only discover after it’s way too late to do anything about procuring them. But on the other hand…what wonders would I miss? L’Artisan Parfumeur’s ’s special edition tribute to an exceptional Tunisian orange blossom harvest is what. L’Artisan puts the orange blossom – one spectacular orange blossom – front and center of this composition by Anne Flipo, and it’s all orange blossom, all the time! Lush, flirty, ripe, borderline naughty orange blossom, neroli, petitgrain – it’s the whole tree and all the flowers, too – and it’s glorious – and gorgeously linear –  stuff. If I have any complaints – apart from being nearly impossible to find any longer – it’s that it doesn’t last nearly long enough to suit me, which only means that one bottle will be too many and two not nearly enough!

Notes for L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Fleurs d’Oranger: Orange, petitgrain, neroli, orange blossom, almond.

 The Great Escape

Dior Cruise Collection Escale à Portofino

In my fevered imagination – all evidence in my life to the contrary – I have what I’ve come to call ‘perfect moments’ – those fantasies of being somewhere infinitely glamorous, wearing something equally devastating, standing on a balcony overlooking the limitless blue Adriatic with a Bellini in my hand exuding effortless ‘du chien’, a French term that implies something slightly better, cooler and much more fashionable than mere ‘chic’. Chic can be acquired with a little help, ‘du chien’ is something you either have or you don’t. Needless to say, that never happened. Yet if any perfume takes me ‘there’ to that balcony and that fantasy, surely it’s Dior’s Escale à Portofino, created by Francois Demachy in 2008. It was one of the first remotely exclusive perfumes I ever bought for myself, and it is a very unique and uniquely summery vacation-in-a-bottle, with its entire orange tree from leaves to blossoms bottled up and tied around a milky, transparent green almond note so wrong, it’s utterly right, a while before it whispers its twilit song of darkest summery green some hours later. It could last a bit longer, this is true…but isn’t that just another excuse for another hit of fantasy?

Notes for Escale à Portofino: Bergamot, petitgrain, lemon, orange blossom, almond, juniper berries, cedar, cypress, galbanum, caraway and musk

A Vial with a View

Tom Ford Private Blend Neroli Portofino

Although I can’t quite put my finger on precisely what causes it, something about the few Tom Ford’s Private Blend of perfumes I’ve tried tend to rub my fragrant fur in a few wrong directions. It isn’t that they’re not meticulously crafted (Neroli Portofino was created by Rodrigo Flores-Roux), or truly horrible or cheap-smelling, which they’re not. It could be their prohibitive price tag, or else that I’m just not a Tom Ford kind of woman. For one, I’m too short – and too busty, if not quite blonde enough. But if anything could persuade me otherwise, it just might be Neroli Portofino, tacky, tasteless advertising notwithstanding. Neroli Portofino is neither tacky nor tasteless, but instead, another tribute to the deathless, posh summer cool of Italy’s Amalfi coast, and lo and behold…you are all there with that breathtaking balcony view and all of a damn near flawless orange blossom dream yourself. Strangely enough, neroli isn’t listed as a note at all, but orange blossom – the plush, heady, slightly soapy sort of orange blossom – certainly is. It’s pretty linear from start to ambery finish, but who cares with that picture perfect Portofino view?

Notes for Neroli Portofino: Bergamot, mandarin orange, African orange blossom, amber.

 The British Art of Understatement

Penhaligon’s Anthology Collection Orange Blossom

From the overtly stated to the softly sotto voce…Bertrand Duchaufour’s reorchestrated ‘Orange Blossom’ for Penhaligon’s is as soft and as soothing as a down duvet. It’s a light, flirtatious orange blossom that lures you in and surprises you with all the tales that can be told about ‘orange’ and ‘blossom’. It begins clean, cologne-bright and full of light – no intimations of sexpot here, or so you surmise – but that’s nowhere all it is and not at all where it stays as it evolves past those squeaky-clean beginnings into a pas-de-deux of petitgrain and cardamom, tied around an orange blossom that seems more neroli than ‘orange blossom’ to my nose. It’s understated, never obvious, and supremely suited for the mood of summery, flirty and light-hearted laughter that seems to go with long, sunny days and warm, delicious nights. You won’t be knocking anyone over with this, but you won’t overwhelm with your presence either, and that sometimes has its own undeniable appeal. I’ve loved it and worn it when other orange blossom perfumes might seem a bit much in the heat – in other words, when understated is precisely the kind of statement I want to make!

Notes for Penhaligon’s Anthology Collection Orange Blossom: Calabrian orange, bergamot, peach, rose, cardamom.

Many fragrant multiverses lie in waiting within that simple term ‘orange blossom’. Some others I wear, adore and have reviewed include Olympic Orchids‘ ‘Golden Cattleya’ and ‘Emergence’, Andy Tauer’s ‘Orange Star’, Opus Oils’ ‘Giggle Water’ and of course, the Gold Standard… Serge Lutens‘Fleurs d’Oranger’.  Coming up on the Genie –  yet another orange blossom-centric perfume, but this one is so special, it deserves its own review!

Do you have your own orange blossom moments, too?

With thanks and love to the Great Facilitators…Ruth, Carlos and Amy, for making this review possible, and the many comments to my question on my favorite FB group! <3

Two Laughs In Winter’s Spite

-  reviews of Parfum d’Empire’s ‘Yuzu Fou’ and ‘Azemour les Orangers’

In Norse mythology, the end of the world as we know it will be preceded by a fimbulwinter, three years of burning ice and barren, brutal cold and snow that kills all hopes almost all of humanity and all possibilities, not least the possibility that winter will ever come to an end.

Buried in the minuscule Ice Age that has hit Europe these past few weeks, I can rather relate to that concept of never-ending winter. Now, in the frozen black cat nights of February, it seems as if this vicious, dry cold will never end, as if spring is only an impossible dream conjured up from fevered tales of light and heat by some delirious Northern mind desperate for anything at all to warm its chilled blood and frigid heart.

Not mine. It’s time to haul out the big guns, to dream those lighter, warmer thoughts, time to conjure up a djinn of sun and heat and happy. And in my own ever-expanding olfactory universe of wafting wonders, with all I’ve come to learn and love, for dreams of warmth and joy I fall back on an olfactory memory from my childhood and a fruit tree that more than any other tree spells light, breathes heat and exudes happy like no other.

At the age of eight, I moved from Virginia Beach to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and in one fell swoop, my life was no longer the same. Instead of hunting for apples to steal off a stranger’s tree, we searched for the mangoes that grew in gardens everywhere, and those glowing orange fruits I was once convinced grew in cartons at the supermarket I could suddenly find anywhere I went, in backyards and front lawns, growing in public parks, glowing through the foliage on the way to school in their perpetual, summery glow.

Ever since, whenever I’ve needed to think ‘happy’, when I seek to breathe joy in an instant, nothing at all takes me back so quickly as the scent of…orange. I remember a day in spring I came home from school and had to wait for my mother to return from work, and so I sat on a swing in the shade of the orange, grapefruit and lemon trees in our garden, fruit burning their color through the dark, glossy green of the leaves and the heady, hypnotic, narcotic sensuous perfume of orange blossom in the afternoon heat. Somehow, under that searing subtropical sun, the memory of that afternoon, that orange tree, those blossoms twinkling like fragrant stars amid the verdant leaves became equated with ‘happy’, ‘heat’ and ‘joy’ ever after.

Lo and behold, these (too) many years later, I can open a tiny vial and I am there again… with all my childhood dreams concocted beneath an orange tree, and these many years later, they are not so very changed and the woman I have become is not so very different from that girl on a swing, conjuring all the possibilities for a future that ‘orange’ and all that word implies and all those blossoms made her believe.

The French niche line of Parfum d’Empire was a line I first encountered through a sample sent to me by Helg of Perfumeshrine, when she enclosed ‘Iskander’ with a sample I won in a draw on her blog. ‘Iskander’ was an olfactory tribute to that inspiration of the ages, Alexander the Great, a tribute to the conquests and wonders he encountered through his short yet epic life. That was an immensely appealing idea to a diehard classicist like me, and I’ve come to discover that the Parfum d’Empire line has a definite dedication to those inspirations from the past – inspirations of travel and adventure, history and heritage – what wasn’t to love about that concept for a history-obsessed budding perfume writer?

Quite a lot I learned, for now Marc Antoine Corticchiato, perfumer and founder of Parfum d’Empire, has moved from world history to personal history and pays tribute to both his childhood and the ancient pilgrimage city of Azemmour in Morocco with his latest creation, Azemour les Orangers.

If I ever thought to capture my happiest childhood memories in a perfume, starting with my personal Tree of Life, the orange tree, then Azemour les Orangers would be it.

Here is … that eternal tree of my life, too, from the tips of its glossy leaves to its snowy white blossoms, from the twigs and the bark to the glowing orange fruit from zest to juice to pith, the sun-baked earth beneath the tree and a sentient green, salty-sweet breeze blowing in from the ocean close by. It isn’t literal in the sense of, say, Andy Tauer’s Orange Star, and miles removed from another favorite orange blossom of mine, the utterly opulent Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger, but it has an extraordinary sense of place and time, not least for being that elusive unicorn creature I never thought I would live to see…an orange chypre.

Breathe it all the way in and you are…there…fully and entirely present in a moment beneath that tree, beneath that warm blue sky, with a waft of the souk around the corner to help shock your senses aware and at one with the tree above you and all it simply is, with the dusty, smoky-sunshine scented earth beneath your feet and a restive whiff of salt and sea wrapping all this wonder in an olfactory bow and tying it up for your pleasure in an emerald green, mossy knot. Moss as in oakmoss, that defining element of chypre that grounds and binds and enriches so many of my great immortal perfumes, a bold and defiant and definite green song to summer all its own.

Most orange-based perfumes with a few exceptions are lighthearted, flirty creations that laugh and giggle and are gone with a song on a summer breeze. Not Azemour les Orangers. I’ve tested this five times on different days, and every time, it has surprised me with its evolution and that green, earthy depth. Sometimes spicier, sometimes cooler and saltier, sometimes with the orange blossom unfolding before my nose in its own ode to joy, and always with the heartbeat of earthy heat and verdant happy that reminds me – lest I become blasé – why I love what I do and why I love to breathe as I do. It is neither old-fashioned nor generically modern, but classic in the best sense, constructed with an elegant sleight-of-hand that keeps my nose marveling that such wonders exist and can be found – even in the freezing black cat nights of a fimbulwinter February that seem to never, ever end.

Yuzu Fou, another of Marc Antoine Corticchiato’s creations, shares some notes in common with Azemour les Orangers, but this is a very different take on bottled sunshine with a remarkably different effect.

Supposedly an antidote to the frantic pace of Japanese urban life, I get something entirely different from it. I swear that inside my tiny sample bottle is an imp jumping up and down, singing…

”Wake up! Wake up! Your hibernation is almost over!”

With its zesty open of singing yuzu, grapefruit, orange and kumquat, I am not only awake and aware, but happy about it, too, dancing out the front door leaving a minty-green, kicky verbena trail in the frozen air behind me and nothing at all will ever drag my spirits down this day of all days, I shall grab the world by the tail and show it what I’m worth today. Yuzu Fou is yet another kind of happy, happy in an energetic, upbeat fashion, happy to exude its endless optimism in the face of winter.

But that’s not all Yuzu Fou (Crazy Yuzu) is and not all it remains, because just as with Azemour les Orangers, Yuzu Fou is nothing if not surprising. As that effervescent citrus, verbena and mint fade, it shows a far more contemplative face. Green bamboo accord is listed in the notes along with cedarwood and white musk, and I wonder if they give it that definite feel of Japanese incense I’ve met in other perfumes, adding up to something reminiscent of hinoki but greener, calmer and thoroughly confidence -enhancing.

If current scientific research is anything to go by, the scent of grapefruit can make your surroundings believe you’re up to ten years younger than you are, and at my age, that’s not something to sneeze at! As it dries down and evolves, I feel more and more Zen with every breath, more whole, more centered and less fragmented and believe it or not – still a hopeless optimist!

Both Azemour les Orangers and Yuzu Fou are two defiant, life-affirming laughs in the face of winter, bottled joys to remind you as you breathe them in and marvel as they evolve that no winter will last forever – not even this one!

The Parfum d’Empire line is available at Luckyscent, First in Fragrance and Les Senteurs, as well as directly from the Parfum d’Empire website.

Disclosure: Samples were sent courtesy of the utterly fabulous Nick of Les Senteurs. Nick now has at least twelve more reasons to be thanked  – and adored!

Notes for Azemour les Orangers: Orange, clementine, tangerine, grapefruit, coriander, black and pink pepper, galbanum, cassis, neroli, geranium, orange blossom absolute, rose, hay, oakmoss, henna, woods.

Notes for Yuzu Fou: Yuzu, kumquat, sweet and bitter orange, mint, verbena, neroli, green bamboo accord, cedarwood, white musk.