Three Odes to Osmanthus


three osmanthus-based perfumes for Spring

This morning, as I trudged to one of the few open grocery stores for milk for my coffee, something very obvious hit me on the way.

It is (still) a glorious, calm, bright blue, perfect Spring day. The sun is blazing away, there’s a hint of actual warmth in the air, and after being blasted by a wicked Easter nor’easter for over a week that kept the garret nearly arctic, the contrast is intoxicating. Somewhere in that shriveled black, cynical heart I call my own, all that daylight through my opened windows is wreaking havoc with wintery pessimism and however-shall-I-survive-exam-season-with-my-integrity-intact speculations. I might actually survive exam season, after all. (Especially if I read up!)

There might even … dare I write it … be possibilities for a perfume writer of dubious repute?

Because it’s Spring! And what better way to celebrate Spring than by wearing a flower that blooms in August and September? Anyone?

The flower is osmanthus fragrans, or as it’s known in English, sweet tea olive. Osmanthus the flower (last sniffed at the CPH Botanical Gardens in September) is a whole, opulent perfume in itself. It somehow manages to exude floralcy, fruity-apricots-with-a-tinge-of-marzipan and animalic leather/suede all at once.

So once I returned this morning, I hauled out three odes to osmanthus. They all contain differing interpretations of this humble little flower with the big odor profile I so adore, and few florals exemplify Spring quite so nicely.

The fruity flower

Parfum d’Empire Osmanthus Interdite (2007)

Perfumer: Marc-Antoine Corticchiato

A very long time ago, I blind-bought 10 ml of an Osmanthus Interdite split on the theory that a) I loved osmanthus and b) Marc-Antoine Corticciato has never, to my knowledge, made a bad perfume.

I’m not familiar with all of Parfum d’Empire’s perfumes, but of the ones I have tried, they are rather spectacular and highly unusual. I could write volumes on Azemours Les Orangers‘ orange grove perfection (and wail that my decant is practically empty), but Osmanthus Interdite  – another fast-diminishing decant – did not prove me wrong with either a) or b).

Inspired by the Forbidden City of Beijing, Osmanthus Interdite puts the flower front and center with an epic green tea note – a sibling of that other green tea note I once loved allthe way to discontinuation in Bvlgari’s ground-breaking Eau du Thé Verte. It begins with airy, lemony osmanthus, who introduces herself and slyly retreats as the green tea steps forward. Half an hour later, she makes another, grander entrance, bolstered by a hint of rose and jasmine, and now, we can sense her for what she truly is: a stunning, fruity floral for sophisticated grownups, blowing juicy apricot kisses to the adoring crowds, bridging the gap between smell and taste, which is smaller than you think.

The rose and jasmine hold her in place for the duration (6+ hours on me), and accentuates a hint of the soap she also conceals in her orange-yellow depths, before she finally drifts off on an exquisitely tanned suede accord to gild her edges.

I say ‘her’, since osmanthus in general strikes me as very much a feminine note, and Osmanthus Interdite  – ‘forbidden Osmanthus’ is very feminine to my nose. But don’t let that stop you – this would be fantastic on a man with the fortitude to thumb his nose at perfume conventions. Feminine, yes, but not frilly and with no perfume-y flou in sight, just a beautifully rendered osmanthus perfume that is always – again, a hallmark of Parfum d’Empire – always sophisticated, flawlessly delineated, and perfectly rendered.

Notes for Osmanthus Interdite:

Osmanthus, green tea, apricot, jasmine, rose, musk, suede

The Sultry Blooms

Perris Monte CarloAbsolue d’Osmanthe(2016)

Perris Monte Carlo came to my attention about two years ago when a perfume writer friend of mine reviewed their Ylang Ylang Nosy Be so beautifully, I wanted to forfeit a rent check and just buy it already. So I ordered a few samples from First in Fragrance, but for whatever reason, my order for a sample of Ylang Ylang Nosy Be didn’t go through, nor did my comment requesting it on my order. Absolue d’Osmanthe, however, arrived instead. If it’s any indication of the quality of the rest of the line as I suspect, then I’m done for.

Creative Director Gian Luca Perris took a very different tack with this osmanthus. This osmanthus is sourced from Guinan in China, famous for the quality of its osmanthus absolute.

Quality is the operative word here. Absolue d’Osmanthe exists in two incarnations – as do the other members of the Perris Monte Carlo Black Line – as an eau de parfum, and as a hyper-luxe extrait. Although I only have a sample of the eau de parfum, you’ll hear no complaints. As it is, Absolue d’Osmanthe has heft and sultriness to spare.

Sultry, I hear you ask? Sultry! Is my emphatic reply, for M. Perris avoided all the obvious traps of airy-fairy, girly osmanthus and decided to accentuate the, ahem, sexier side of osmanthus, by pairing it with the animale hidden within sandalwood, tolu balsam, vanilla (a dry and very woody vanilla without sweetness) and tied it all up with a pretty jasmine sambac bow. Voilà! Sultry osmanthus. I would never have guessed that sandalwood and osmanthus could sing such a duet, but sing, they do. The osmanthus is apparent right from the start, apricot and marzipan tones all accounted for, but the sandalwood makes the heart beat faster – in both the wearer and the perfume, before the tolu, labdanum and vanilla sashay in on orange-tinted sunbeams to show you just what osmanthus can also do. It is easily unisex and would be spectacular on the right guy. It lasted a full day through all its many twists and turns, and that, too was a surprise. Now, I have to hunt down samples of the rest of the Perris Monte Carlo Black Line (to start). Damn it.

Notes for Perris Monte Carlo Absolue d’Osmanthe: Osmanthus, jasmine sambac, sandalwood, vanilla, tolu balsam, labdanum.

The Silken Suede

Parfums Serge Lutens Daim Blond(2004)

Perfumer: Christopher Sheldrake

My gateway osmanthus is remarkable for not listing any osmanthus at all, but a not-at-all abstract representation of its listed notes that somehow, some way, all add up to an elegantly restrained, decidedly chic flower I shall henceforth refer to as ‘osmanthus-with-extras’.

Daim Blond came under my nose by way of a sample courtesy of the superlative perfume writer Lucy of Indieperfume, and it was – and eight years on, still is – love at first and four-hundred-and-fortieth sniff. I’ve worn it a lot this past winter when I needed to be reminded of alternatives to blustery, frigid days, or simply something besides my January disillusioned self.

It gets stranger still. One of my most loathed perfume notes in nature – the smell of flowering hawthorn, which induces instant, all-encompassing nausea – is listed as a top note, and although I can detect faint traces of hawthorn, I don’t care nearly enough to make a fuss about it, since the rest of it is simply glorious.

Apparently, Daim Blond is quite divisive, if the reviews on Basenotes and Fragrantica are anything to go by. Some smell a derivative Feminité du Bois, some a reworking of the great Iris Silver Mist, some a truckload of ‘tamed’ Arabie (a criminal thought!), and some just complain that M. Lutens was simply repeating himself and his famous Orientalist aesthetic. YMMV.

Yet I named Daim Blond my gateway osmanthus, because it was the first osmanthus-tinged perfume I encountered that I actually loved, enough to remember it when a friend asked about a birthday present and I suggested Daim Blond off the top of my head. Since it arrived, it has remained in constant rotation for the past three years, appropriate whether April or August or January, whether a school day of linguistics for ADHD students, or a night out in Copenhagen.

Like most masterpieces of perfumery and a few humans too, it exists between the spaces of its contradictions. Just as the odor profile of osmanthus itself, it is simultaneously fruity, floral and suede-leathery all at once, and this suede has the texture of melted Isigny butter. Wherever that suede came from, I’ll wager that was one exceedingly pampered goat/pig/cow.

But I would be hard pressed to name notes as such, for no other reason than on my skin, I get osmanthus in all its orange-gold glory, a smidge of a very discreet musk, and that flawlessly prepared suede. That’s all, and that’s already more than I deserve.

Notes for Daim Blond: Hawthorn, cardamom, iris, apricot stone, (iris?) pallida, musk, heliotrope, leather.

The osmanthus may bloom in August in Guinan, but few flowers put quite so much Spring in my steps as osmanthus. If you like yours bold with a side of opulence, I recommend Amouage Journey Woman. There is another fragrant traveler in my test drawer, but that one gets its own review. Stay tuned!

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.