In the Search for the Perfect Carnation


Through my childhood carnation was considered an official flower. Probably because of their resilience and color (red – the color of the 1917 Revolution, the anniversary of which was just a couple of days ago) carnation bouquets were traditionally brought to monuments of political leaders, used in decorating official gatherings and as funeral flowers. People were buying them for personal use as well but they always had a little stigma about them being too official and not personal enough. I remember one patriotic song’s refrain:

Red carnation is a troubled times companion;
Red carnation is our flower!

I didn’t dislike carnations but wasn’t too fond of them either. Those still were flowers, which meant better than no flowers at all, but not the first… let’s say five choices.

Soviet October Revolution Postcard

I have to mention also that the art of making real bouquets – as the opposite to just putting several stems in a bunch – didn’t come to the country where I grew up until I was well into my adulthood. Just so that you could feel the depth of it: I got married holding a cellophane cone with a bunch of (extremely expensive!) long-stemmed roses. And that was how it was done back then; it wasn’t some eccentricity on my part.

My perception of carnation had changed on my wedding day. In lieu of flower decorations it was customary for guests to bring flowers as a gift to the bride. There were many bundles of flowers, mostly roses. Some relatives brought me a huge bouquet of white carnations with greenery. It wasn’t done for me. They did it because they were very wealthy and wanted to stand out in the crowd (can you tell how I feel about them?). But regardless of their intentions they impressed me: it was one of the most beautiful bouquets I’d seen by then. And because of the mentioned above natural resilience of carnation that white-green composition well outlived all the roses we hauled home after the celebration. The bouquet below is just an illustration, “my” was three times bigger and even more beautiful.

Carnations Bouquet

Carnation isn’t the most popular note in perfumes. There are not that many soliflores or carnation-centered perfumes. I wasn’t really looking for the perfect carnation scent but I tested those that came my way.

Vitriol d’oeillet by Serge Lutens – created in 2011 by Christopher Shedrake, notes include clove, pepper, carnation, Gillyflower, woody notes, powdery notes and sweet notes. I won a decant of Vitriol d’oeillet in a giveaway on Ines’ blog (All I am – a redhead). Carnation – check! Woody notes – check! Sweet notes (whatever it means) – check. Altogether… it’s a nice and calm (despite the name) carnation perfume that I wish had a better longevity. I like it and wear sometimes but I do not see myself going beyond a bigger decant that I bought recently.

Terracotta Voile d’Ete by Guerlain – created in 1999 by Jean-Paul Guerlain and Mathilde Laurent, notes include bergamot, jasmine, mint, carnation, heliotrope, lily, pear, rose, iris root, vanilla and ylang-ylang. Lovely Tara (Olfactoria’s Travels) sent me a generous sample of this perfume. Terracotta Voile d’Ete is a warm and spicy perfume with a prominent carnation note. It’s not as transparent as Vitriol d’oeillet and has a much better tenacity. I like it as a scent but I’m not sure if I want to wear this perfume.

Eau Eternelle by Poncet – created in 2011, notes include grapefruit, jasmine, lemon, mandarin, petit grain, carnation, lavender, pink lotus, rosemary, water lily, clove, guaiac wood, moss, patchouli and sandalwood. Eau Eternelle is one of those perfumes with which I feel puzzled comparing the notes list to what I smell. The first second after the application I smell an interesting floral burst but really for just a second. Then – a relatively boring scent. Some lily, some carnation… It’s never unpleasant, just completely unremarkable and not memorable. Did it really require all those ingredients to create this?!

Oeillets Rouge by DSH Perfumes – created by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, notes include bergamot, green peppercorn, nutmeg, beeswax, carnation, amber, ambergris, myrrh and vanilla. My sample came from Joanne (Redolent of Spices). Oeillets Rouge is a very believable carnation scent. I liked it when I tested it first but now it smells to me as a prototype, a pencil draw for the perfume I describe next.

Euphorisme d’Opium by DSH Perfumes  – created in 2012 by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz as a part of the Tribute to YSL collection, notes include aldehydes, bay leaf, bitter orange, mandarin, peach, pimento, pink pepper, Bulgarian rose, carnation, cinnamon, clove, amber, Atlas cedarwood, benzoin (styrax), civet, incense, Indian patchouli, musk, myrrh and vanilla. Don’t let that plethora of notes confuse you: this is a carnation-centered perfume. Too bad that “pissed-off carnation” name had been already taken: in my opinion, it would have suited this fragrance much better than Serge Lutens’ one. I sample it from a dab vial sent to me by the perfumer and thought it was a very powerful perfume. I’m not sure I could stand it sprayed – this is how intense it is. I’m still testing Euphorisme d’Opium trying to figure out if I should go for a bottle of it – while it’s still available.

I tried Bellodgia by Caron but either my sample is too… vintage or my nose isn’t trained enough but I’m not getting a carnation from it.


Do you like carnations?


Images: not a single one is mine, I found them all through a search engine but I can’t find proper attribution.


51 thoughts on “In the Search for the Perfect Carnation

  1. Oh, the DSH YSL tribute one sounds right up my alley!! Or maybe I’m just biased in favour of anything with the Opium name. (My beloved, my Preciousssssss…..) Still, those notes sound heavenly!

    Carnations aren’t my favorite flower, but I do enjoy them as a note from time to time in a larger composition. I don’t think I’ve ever been drawn to a carnation soliflore though. Hm, I wonder why that is. I shall have to ponder it. Perhaps the way it can often be powdery?


    • I’m with you on the Opium. My tiny precious bottle of pure vintage parfum is pretty damn close to being my Holy Grail scent, and the EDP and EDT get plenty of skin time in cool weather too. And I am quite entranced with the Euphorisme d’Opium, and debating a bottle for Christmas. I didn’t get the point of carnations as scented flowers until I grew some old cottage pinks and discovered the sweet, spicy, almost effervescent, penetrating fragrance that is the birthright of the carnation, fainter and a lot less spicy in modern versions. They had a strong note of freshly grated nutmeg. They were left behind in a winter move, but I plan to get plants from a nursery and start again.


    • Kafka, if we meet one day you just have to wear your Opium: as much as I could never go with this perfume I will be extremely curious to smell it on you :) And if you to try/review any of DSH’s perfumes, you should definitely try this one. And Le Smoking and The Beat Look – from the same collection.

      Since you’re not a big floral fan, it’s not surprising that you do not like soliflores. But even I, being still a floral gal, find most soliflores to be too simple.


      • Sorry for breaking in here, but oh have I been eyeing that set too: Unfortunately I’d also want the ‘Ma plus bell…’,( so we wouldn’t be good sharing partners here ;-)) the other one I favour is La Smoking. I can’t remember the others actually. I keep going back to it on DSH site, maybe one day…


  2. What a timely review…I have in my hot little hand a small decant of the original Metallica, and it is about the only carnation I LIKE.
    But the peppery edges have been softened way down, and it has the typical Guerlain note at the end. Very nice.


  3. Interesting to read about floral history and culture. I used to grow carnations as a kid. They were very popular but seem to be out of vogue these days with the more exotics being currently popular in stores. The fly flowers in from South America, Malaysia etc.

    Bellodgia – “too…vintage”. Very nicely put. I think vintage is often exactly that. I am sure you know that there is a perfume blog called State of the Carnation (last updated 2012). Would love to know what Kafka makes of Euphorisme d’Opium.


    • I tried to remember if my grandmother had any carnations in her garden – and couldn’t. Most likely, it means that the answer is No. I wonder what her reasons were? :)

      I almost gave up testing any vintage perfumes because too many of them smell the same for my nose. From my experience with several perfumes that I knew in their previous life, when you know how it used to smell you kinda can still catch a whiff of it from its vintage form but if it’s a new scent for you the chances to get any impressions other than “it’s vintage, alright” are slim.


      • I have smelled a few that I loved, most notably vintage Opium (an entirely different animal from the current formulation) and a vintage Chanel Gardenia parfum that dear Ginza sent to me from Japan, which is so exquisite that when I wear it I just sit and meditate on it. But for the most part it is hard for me to share the general vintage-mania.


  4. Hey there Undina,
    I love carnation and have loads of Bellodgia here, Terracotta Voile d’Ete, Vitriol d’oeillet, Cartier: L’Heure Convoiteé II, Sous le Vent and a few more that are less specific.
    If you need pics go to Google Commons images and you can choose “labelled for reuse”
    Portia x


  5. Such an interesting post, Undina! I love your story and history lesson and never realized what a presence carnation notes had – the only one on your list I have sampled was Bellodgia. In fact, I am wondering if I’m the one who sent you the vintage sample? In a pink atomizer? I think I date myself, I love those older compositions, if it “turned” my apologies! Hope you have a chance to sniff a fresher sample of the ethereal Bellodgia.

    My associations with carnation are soft and feminine, since it was my mom’s favorite flower – nothing political. I find it to be a lovely, soft embracing note.


    • Dear Renee, I need to look again at the samples you sent me: they are still in my “processing” box, not added to the database – so I don’t remember for a fact but now when you said I might have “your” Bellogia in there. But my impression above was based on somebody else’s small dab sample (I wrote this post several months ago but waited for that anniversary date – November 7th – to post). I’ll re-try Bellogia.


  6. It’s always fascinating when your posts take the form of a story from your life, and we get to understand some of the customs from your homeland, Undina. That bouquet of white carnations with greenery seems beautifully matched for a wedding (I love the photo you used as an example).

    My favorite carnation perfumes are Cartier: L’Heure Convoiteé II and vintage Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps.


    • The bouquet was beautiful. I’m thinking about reproducing it at some point.

      I haven’t tried either of the two perfumes you mentioned but I had Cartier on my list of carnation perfumes – just never got around getting a sample of it (I’m not talking to those snotty Cartier SAs at Saks!).


  7. The beautiful bouquet of white carnations mentioned would match my favorite carnation Oriza L.Legrand Oeillet Louis XV which is inspired of white carnaton. A tart, slight rosy, powdery, carnation -great.


  8. Great post, Undina! Even though I love carnations I’ve never grown them.

    It seems that a lot of very different fragrances have just a hint of carnation. The closest that I’ve experienced to the real thing is DSH Oeillets Rouge. I have not yet tried Euphorisme d’ Opium but now will have to get a sample.


  9. My comment really echoes that of Suzanne above, namely that I always enjoy hearing more about your childhood and the political mores of your country. The story of your floral wedding gifts was fascinating, and that white bouquet does look stunning.

    On the whole, however, I neither care for carnation as a note in perfume nor as a flower. In perfume I do enjoy it in my vintage L’Air du Temps (again, like Suzanne!) and I quite like the drydown of Vitriol d’Oeillet, which I found surprisingly smooth and silky.

    In Britain carnations – perhaps unjustly – have become synonymous with ‘garage forecourt flowers’ – those emergency gifts of flowers you pick up from a bucket outside a petrol station that are the epitome of a thoughtless last minute gift.


    • After the wedding we had a bathtub full of roses (that was how we would deal with a lot of flowers when there wasn’t enough time to put them into vases).

      As to the “garage forecourt flowers” – I hate that type of bouquets. In my opinion, one but beautiful rose looks better than a bunch of those sad flowers from a supermarket.


  10. Dearest Undina, I love the personalization of your posts! I haven’t explored carnation as a note as yet but may be inspired to do so between this and several posts by The Muse In Wooden Shoes. Also, come to think of it, I had never tried any DSH perfumes and she seems to have a few carnation-based scents.

    In any case, I have a small decant of Prada No. 2 Oeillet and it is probably my closest carnation perfume encounter. I currently have it layered with Le Labo Vanille 44…really by chance since SOTD is Vanille 44 and I wanted to try the No. 2 Oieillet as well. It’s a lovely pairing!

    Now what I would like to know is how does Rusty feel about carnations?


    • Thank you, hajusuuri.
      I remember that Mals had a post on carnations but I was too busy to look for real reviews to link to this time – that’s why I didn’t find that one, But I remember that she covered a lot of perfumes there.

      I have no idea what Rusty thinks of carnations since I don’t think I ever had them in my house since we got Rusty: as I said, not my favorite flowers. I couldn’t even find a single picture of carnations in my very extensive picture collection!


  11. I do really like carnations, but I haven’t found a carnation fragrance that I really like. I think it prefer it when it is in a supporting role in perfume, rather than very full-on and spicy. But then sometimes I can’t smell it! So it feels a bit like a catch-22. I enjoyed the stories about bouquets and your wedding; do you still carry the perception of carnations being a bit less personal, I wonder? I know I am still very aware of the perception of them as being cheap (even though I like them, there is no ignoring the fact that poor carnations get died gaudy colors and sold cheap in massive bunches around certain holidays).


    • I think I still subconsciously avoid carnations as less personal flowers but I’ve never thought of them as cheap since they weren’t! I’m talking not about the small “wild” variety. Big and beautiful carnations were sold at our equivalent of farmers markets and those usually weren’t cheap. But still not personal enough :)
      One day I will try to re-create that white bouquet and see how I feel about carnations then.


      • I would like to see a bouquet of wild carnations. I bet that would be so much prettier than the bouquets that are so common in the US. I have only seem them growing in the wild once or twice (the ones with the darker-edged petals) and they were not only prettier but more fragrant. :)


  12. I love carnations. They are sentimental to me because they’re flower of my sorority.

    I really like Oeillets Rouge, you have now inspired me to try Euphorisme d’Opium as well. Mals did an interesting series on carnations perfumes a while back – she listed so many I’d never even heard of!


    • Yes, I remember Mals’ post. She did a much more thorough job at reviewing those perfumes. But, as I mentioned, I wasn’t really trying to find that perfect carnations scent so I went with just those that came my way naturally.

      If you haven’t tried it yet, I think you should try the complete YSL collection (5 perfumes): I think you’ll appreciate the price/quality ratio on these ones.


  13. Wonderful post, Undina and thanks for the mention.

    I have a special place in my heart for carnation perfumes because my search for the perfect one led me down the rabbit-hole. This was a result of love of the amazing essential oil as opposed to the flower though.

    I never found that perfect carnation perfume but I always keep an eye out for them. So often they smell dusty and you’re right about Bellodgia – it’s more geranium than carnation.

    Really enjoyed reading about your home country’s connection with carnations and your wedding bouquets. I hope you write a book one day.


  14. So lovely reading about the carnations and your wedding, with every post we know about more about Undina- very nice. I do like Terracotta Voile d’Ete a lot, I find it the perfect summer-oriental. I also looove Metallica, divine stuff. Jean Patou’s Adieu Sagesse (DC’ed) is another great carnation.The SL wasn’t really me, and I suppose I really don’t go looking for carnation in scents, however in a supporting role it does often add a spiciness that I really like.


    • Thank you, Asali.

      I prefer most (if not all) flowers in supporting roles rather than soliflores but it’s fun to test perfumes grouped by a prominent note – that’s why I do it.


  15. I love the carnation note, especially this time of year! My current favorite is the “other” Caron carnation, namely Tabac Blond, which Suzanne generously sent me a decant of earlier this year. Comme des Garcons “Carnation” is also a good one. It’s a very intense soliflore with a chili bite – not a scent Id wear if I’ not serisouly craving carnations :) My two latest carnations finds are Carthusia “Fiori di Capri” and “Ligea la Sirena”. The former is a traditional carnation laced flower bouquet. The latter is a Guerlainesque oriental reminiscent of both Jicky and Shalimar. Carnations are not an official notes, but I positively do feel them in there.


    • I tried Tabac Blond again after reading your review and I agree that it’s a good carnation perfume but it was too late to change the post. I’m not familiar with other perfumes that you mentioned but maybe one day I smell those and remember your description.


  16. I find carnations…difficult. I like them for the political associations, but the smell isn’t something I actively seek in a perfume. With exceptions, and Terracotta Voile d’Ete sounds like it could be one of them. I will have a look. Merci.


    • Carnation isn’t my favorite note as well but when you come across several perfumes centered around the same main (or at least very prominent) note it’s interesting to compare how you feel about them – even if none of them ever becomes a FB in one’s collection.


  17. Oh, oh, I’ll bet the source of the overly vintage carnation is probably me because I remember sending you some Bellodgia of a geriatric sort. The carnation is in the dry down and you have to wait for it, but I now have some younger Bellodgia that probably has a clear (er) smell if you want to try again. It’s the extract.

    Must say your carnation list is pretty nice, have never smelled the Vitriol d’Oeillet yet, but the DSHs usually do the carnation dance very well.

    The note’s in Golconda too, and that’s a very nice,very expensive version. Did the Terracotta stay nice on you till the end? Mine always turned on skin.


    • I think you’re right, it was your sample. I have a newer sample from Renee and will try it but I might come back to you asking for a small sample of yours later.

      For the price they’re asking, JAR’s perfumes better be really good (I’ll smell them one day but I’m afraid I will be disappointed).

      Terracotta stays for very long and dies gracefully on my skin – but still it’s probably not going to be something I’ll choose to wear.


  18. Funny thing, I found carnations to be dull as a child and they often signified death and funeral wreaths. They were just above geraniums on my list of boring flowers. But today I have a much better appreciation for both buds of the garden. And I owe that all to my love of perfume. I now grow red geraniums on my fire escape. And they are an endless source of joy to me.
    I loved reading your Russian story. You know how I love a good tale.


    • Thank you, Lanier. You and “good tale” usually go hand in hand, so that compliment means a lot coming from you.

      You are growing flowers? I’m impressed. I kill everything :(


  19. Forgive me, I know this is an older topic. Hopefully, my post will still be useful! I also enjoy carnation scents, and it would be worth your while to find a decant of Floris’ discontinued Malmaison. It was a fabulous carnation scent, mildly spicy with a creamy, rich carnation heart that lingered throughout the drydown.

    I’ve greatly enjoyed reading your blog since stumbling upon it a couple of weeks ago- take care!


    • I love when people comment on older topics! :)

      I’m sooo unfamiliar with Floris that I wouldn’t even know where to start: it’s not a brand widely available in the U.S. But if I ever come across it (in swap, I think) I’ll check it out – thank you.


  20. Pingback: DSH Perfumes Euphorisme d'Opium (The YSL Retrospective Collection) Kafkaesque

  21. Pingback: In the Search for the Perfect Peony – Undina's Looking Glass

  22. Habit Rouge is the only decant I have that has carnation in it (according to fragrantica…I had to go and look!)…I guess carnation is not a note I gravitate towards?


    • Carnation isn’t the most popular note in modern perfumery, so it might just be that you haven’t come across enough perfumes featuring this note so far. Or maybe you just don’t like it :)


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