In the Search for the Perfect Magnolia

Those of you who like me grew up in pre-Internet era, probably can remember a phenomenon of knowing about something from books, articles or even songs but never actually seeing those thing or knowing how those looked. I’m talking not about remote planets or exotic places but about rather mundane objects – plants, foods or articles of clothes.

Magnolias came into my life with a song of a popular band Ariel from 70s. It was one of those songs that are catchy and pleasing – as long as you do not think much about the lyrics (translation is approximate, just to give you the impression):

Without sorrow, sorrow, sorrow
Sea splashes in the land of magnolias
Young boys are sitting on the fence
Stirring melancholy feelings in me

Couples are dancing, dancing, dancing
Tune is familiar and even old-fashioned
And sweet sound of a bass guitar
Brings back memories… Oh, well…

If you’re curious, listen 20-30 seconds of this video: this is exactly how I remember hearing this song (though I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it before I found it recently).



It wasn’t before I moved to the U.S. that I saw the actual magnolia tree and flowers. The first encounter I remember was many years ago in a park to where we went for a walk on my birthday. It was amazing to see those huge and untidy flowers on bare branches mid-February.

Since then I saw magnolias many times and took numerous photos of this unusual bloom but when I realized how many magnolia perfumes I tried and decided to do this Single Note Exploration post, I realized that I didn’t remember how real magnolias smelled. So I waited until I spotted a blooming tree not far from my office, and today walked to it to check the scent of live magnolia flowers. On the positive side, I know now that I wasn’t just absent-minded or not curious: magnolias that grow around here just do not smell. It means that, on one hand, I have absolutely no reference point in my search for perfect magnolia perfume. But on the other, I’m not limited by the realism factor. So, to balance it out, I decided to consider only perfumes that were unequivocally designated by their creators as magnolia-centered ones (judging by the names).




Two years ago, while in London, I almost bought Tom Daxon Magnolia Heights. The notes include gardenia, violet leaf, ylang ylang, magnolia, jasmine sambac, cedarwood and musks. Perfume was created in 2016. It is a beautiful floral bouquet, and I like it very much but, as I mentioned in the post then, being a floral perfumes fan, I have at least several perfumes in this genre that I like more. But give it a try if you ever come across Magnolia Heights, or if you’re looking for another floral favorite.


Tom Daxon Magnolia Heights


Perfume that I keep testing and seem not to be able to put off my mind is Magnolia Grandiflora Michel by Grandiflora. It was created by Michel Roudnitska in 2013. Notes include lemon, bergamot, grapefruit, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, magnolia, vetiver, patchouli and musk. Michele is beautifully blended, and I like the composition though I can’t tell most of the listed notes; maybe some citrus in the opening. And in development it reminds me of tea. I think it is jasmine that gives me that impression. Had the brand launched it as a travel spray, I would have bought it already. But even with the only offered size 50 ml I still might go for it (though I must say that I really dislike their new bottle design and cannot explain the change by anything but a desire to save money on packaging).

A sister perfume, Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine, created the same year by Sandrine Videault, is one of rare perfumes that actually repulse me. It evokes a smell of something overripe, maybe even decaying. Interestingly, for a while I thought that this scent might be characteristic of magnolia flower. Why? Because I smelled it (and disliked there as well) in another magnolia-centric perfume – Sud Magnolia by Atelier Cologne. But as I discovered, Sandrine’s notes do not even list magnolia! So, I’m not sure what smells that unpleasant to me: lemon, grapefruit, white pepper, fresh garden accord, dry wood accord, marine-aquatic accord or musky accord.

As I mentioned, Atelier Cologne’s Sud Magnolia didn’t work for me either. Jerome Epinette who created it in 2015, is a nose behind several perfumes that I like both from Atelier Cologne and other brands, but Sud Magnolia, after starting even nice, develops unpleasantly on my skin. I thought of listing all nine notes mentioned on Fragrantica but since that site doesn’t allow copying, I went to the brand’s site where I learned that the only notes they cared us to know about were Magnolia accord, Grapefruit from South America and Cedarwood from the Americas (sic). Well, since the brand doesn’t want to overwhelm customers with these details (other than with the required by law, I assume, list of used chemicals), I won’t bother either.




I wanted to love Eau De Magnolia created in 2014 by Carlos Benaim for Frederic Malle: I like the brand, and I was looking for another perfume from them to cross that like/love line. Bergamot, magnolia, vetiver, patchouli, cedarwood, moss and amber sounded promising but, in my opinion, Eau de Magnolia hasn’t become to magnolia what other perfumes of the brand have done to the respective flowers. It is quite pleasant and wearable but I don’t find it memorable.

Bottega Veneta’s Parco Palladino I: Magnolia seems to be even less memorable. Floral perfume with some green notes. It is nice, but I did expect much more from the first perfume in the “high end” collection of the brand whose first perfume was as impressive as their one was. But since the notes list proudly and openly mentions Iso E Super that I like in perfumes (in addition to bergamot, grapefruit, orange, lily of the valley, magnolia, rose, green notes and white musk), I urge you to give it a try if you can do it without paying for it.

After running all these tests, I think I recognize how magnolia note is represented in perfumery. But until I smell real flowers or find perfume that I’d like even more, I’ll consider Magnolia Grandiflora Michel the perfect magnolia perfume.




Have you ever experienced aromatic magnolias? Do you like this flower in either natural or recreated form? Do you have a favorite magnolia-centric perfume?


Images: my own

42 thoughts on “In the Search for the Perfect Magnolia

  1. I have no idea what real magnolias smell like but from the perfumes, I imagine them to be creamy and citrus tinged. The trees are beautiful.
    I really enjoy Eau de Magnolia but feel its expensive for what it is. Maybe I’ll get a travel spray one summer.
    I’ve long been curious about the Grandiflora scents. I don’t think they are available in the London but I could well be wrong.

    • Grandiflora has a limited distribution, in the U.S. only Luckyscent carries it. If it weren’t for a friend, I don’t think I would have even tried it.

      Those 10 ml travel sprays ave very convenient: enough to enjoy perfume if you feel like wearing it for a while but you do not have to commit to a bottle if you’re not sure (and I’m rarely sure about 100 or even 50 ml of any perfumes these days).

    • I’m sure that you’ll come across one of these but I don’t think that any of them are “to die for” (OK, Michel is kind of nice but still), so you’re not really missing out.

  2. I now realise that I haven’t smelt an actual real magnolia bloom either! Near where we used to live there was a lane lined with magnolia trees – there must have been at least 30 of them – but I never got the least whiff of perfume from them, so assume they didn’t have a scent.

    My favourite interpretation in perfume is that by Pierre Bourdon, Sous les Magnolias. It seems like a chypre to me and reminiscent perhaps of YStL’s original Y. But I haven’t been able to find my bottle since we moved house so I can’t remind myself of its smell (fingers crossed it will surface soon).

    • I hope you’ll find your bottle: it’s so annoying not to be able to locate something you know you should have somewhere.

      I feel much better now after getting a confirmation from others that they don’t know real magnolia’s scent as well: I’m never sure if lack of some of my experiences are something common or should be attributed to the country where I grew up.

  3. My sister has a beautiful Magnolia tree. Full of pink blooms. I can’t recall ever smelling any perfume coming from it. M&S do a nice magnolia Bath and body line. My daughter and grandaughters love it. I always buy the bath foam and bath cream for them , especially if it’s on special offer. Three for two at the moment. Bargain. As is all the floral line.

  4. I actually have a magnolia tree in my Texas home, and although the flowers are as big as dessert plates they have no smell. However, now that I am back in Australia, I take long walks every day. My neighbors yards are beautiful and there are lots of climbing vines that spill over to the street and trees with blooms. I came across a magnolia bush? Tree? It is definitely a more petite version of what I have in Texas. I was so curious to smell the blooms which were much smaller that I went up the driveway a little ways to the bush. It had the citrus opening that you describe in the Grandiflora Michel. It was a very pretty scent; sort of like a less opulent gardenia. The only perfume I have sampled recently with a magnolia note is Dusita’s Fleur de Lalita. It has a really pretty magnolia note in the opening. I did not like Magnolia Sud either. It smelled nothing like I imagined magnolia should smell. And although I am a fan in general of the Parco Palladium line by BV, I remember being underwhelmed by the magnolia. It was just too faint, especially for the price.

    • It’s very interesting observation about the size of the bloom and scent. I assumed that there should be some aromatic magnolias but not those that I came across so far.

      I suspect I would have appreciated Parco Palladium line more if it weren’t for SAs in the only store that carries the line who just hover over the display as if they were selling gold dust. I was persistent and got a sample of this one but even testing anything else beyond the cursory sniff from the nozzle felt like a personal offense, so I chose not to continue.

  5. Very interesting topic and it’s leaving me yearning for spring. We have winter hardy magnolias here in Montreal. No scent. I remember reading that a flower’s main objective is to attract pollinators. They do so in a variety of ways. Through scent, colour, shape or size. Cynthia3403 already made this observation above. The large dessert-sized Magnolias in Texas had no discernible fragrance, while the smaller blossoms in Australia did. So, I suspect that if you could find some of the petite flowered magnolias they would probably be scented.
    I was delighted to read your thoughts on Eau de Magnolia. It’s been on my ‘why don’t you just go ahead and order it’ list. Unsniffed. I reckoned it was a safe blind buy cuz I love all the FMs I have, but ‘nice’ just doesn’t cut it for me.

  6. I grew up with a fragrant magnolia tree in our front yard, and I would love to find a beautiful magnolia scent. From the Perfumes you mention, I’ve tried Sud Magnolia and Eau de Magnolia. I didn’t care for either one, but I was really hoping for a realistic magnolia, so I judged them against that expectation.

    Magnolia Grandiflora Michel sounds like it’s worth testing!

    • Almost no perfumes smell even close to how real flowers do, even when natural oils are used. I think that it might be that artificial ingredients might be even better in recreating natural smells of flowers than natural ones.

  7. A few years back, my husband and I took a vacation to South Carolina in April, and everything was in bloom there (including lots of jasmine and magnolia). In the city of Charleston, the magnolia trees have big blossoms that smell to the nose similar to how a delicate bite of lemon chiffon pie tastes to the mouth. They are lemony and creamy and sublime. Cynthia’s description above is a very good one.

    I think its’ a hard scent to capture in a perfume. Vero Profumo Mito does it quite nicely, as I recall. Have you tried that one, Undina?

  8. I share your disappointment at Sud Magnolia – it was distinctly lacking in magnolia-ness and not very nice at all. I was also underwhelmed by the FM Eau de Magnolia, which seemed a bit watery somehow. I am partial – and may still have somewhere – to Kenzo’s Eau de Fleur de Magnolia, which Robin of NST also rated way back when. It is only mainstream stuff, but nice and lemony and creamy. Isn’t Zelda a magnolia perfume? I blogged about it so I should know! I do love that one, though it is very green as well. The Grandiflora one I have yet to try, but magnolia is a fave note, also because it is often teamed with ylang ylang.

    • Zelda didn’t work for me so I have a vague recollection of how it smelled. But you should know! :)
      Since I liked the original Atelier Cologne’s collection, the one they created once they appeared in Sephora got some additional scrutiny from me – and hadn’t passed it. I think they “sold out.”

  9. Hello sweetie and happy weekend!
    Like you I love magnolias, here in Poland they usually grow in the gardens by people’s houses. There aren’t that many ‘wild’ ones in parks for example.
    I love experiencing magnolias in Milan because they grow all over the city and when I’m there for Esxence it’s just the right time when they are in full bloom.
    Magnolia Grandiflora Michel is probably my favorite representation of this flower in a fragrance right now. I also consider Puredistance I as a partially magnolia perfume. It’s been long since I smelled it last time but I recall that one of the version of Magnolia Nobile by Acqua di Parma was nice.

    • When I mentioned the park, I didn’t mean a wild-type one: magnolias there were also planted. And all of the trees that I photographed for this post were “domestic” as well.

      I thought of including Magnolia Nobile into this post, but my sample has evaporated, so I couldn’t re-visit it. But from several years ago I remember that it was pretty.

  10. I love magnolias and am always on the hunt for the right magnolia fragrance! There are so many different kinds of magnolia trees — my favorite is Magnolia soulangeana, sometimes called the “saucer magnolia.” It is one that blooms in early spring, usually with pink or purplish flowers, before it puts out leaves. There are several in full bloom right now in my neighborhood. In my experience, they are often fragrant. The magnolias I have in my own garden are the classic evergreen Southern magnolias, Magnolia grandiflora, with huge leathery leaves and large white flowers that bloom in the summer. Very fragrant, with a heavier scent. Your post is prompting me to try Bvlgari’s Magnolia Sensuel! I’ve tried most of those named here, except Michel, and none struck me as the “right” magnolia.

  11. Growing up in Georgia and Florida I am familiar with the scent of magnolia. I have been wanting to try the FM Magnolia. i also like the Acqua di Parma magnolia scent and Parfums de Rosine Magnolia and rose scent, very pleasing to my nose. I will have to seek out theTom Dixon, sounds lovely.

    • I like de Rosine brand, so I should probably try to get a sample of their Magnolia – thank you for the idea!
      Tom Daxon’s Magnolia Hights is definitely worth trying: it is original enough and has a potential to be “it” (and it’s not prohibitively expensive by modern niche perfume standards).

  12. Except for roses and calla lilies, I don’t I know what other flowers smell like because I’m just that not into smelling flowers while I am out and about. I would probably try to smell a fruit more than a flower. I’m glad you found your almost perfect magnolia. Maybe this is should be Lucas’ 2nd project, with iris, of course, being the first one.

      • Heh, ask me how a peony looks like – no clue, I have to look up a picture. Carnations are more ubiquitous but they don’t smell like anything to me so when people say they smell spicy, I have to trust them and when I smell a perfume that claims to have carnations and I smell something spicy, I connect the dots. Lily season is coming up so maybe I’ll make an effort to consciously smell one close up and not how they smell as they permeate a room. I do like taking pictures of flowers, I just don’t really care what they are.

        I have to say that my feelings about flowers were affected by my association of it to death (rather than joy or celebration) resulting from being overwhelmed by so many at my grandmother’s wake when I was 6.

        • I think those possible bad associations were the reason why where I grew up there were “designated” flowers for funerals: usually carnations.

  13. Magnolias are lovely! They do have a wonderful fragrance around here – though it is really difficult to recreate in a perfume. I love the way they fill the air. It is always so splendid when they bloom and then sad when some crazy storm dashes their petals to the earth. Such a reminder to appreciate the moment…

    • I hope one day I’ll come across an aromatic variety of magnolia. As to perfume recreation, I think it’s hard to do for any blooms, not just this one. But if we keep searching, sooner or later there will be perfect perfume for the desired flower/note.

  14. Oh no! Your magnolias don’t smell?! How sad. I guess I have taken it for granted that the ones around my area smell. It is quite a lovely scent. Like a milder gardenia in a way. I love your perfume suggestions though I have not tried any of them they sound wonderful. I don’t personally gravitate towards a magnolia scent but I do love gardenia and jasmine. Hope you are doing well!

    • Thank you, Julie, I’m fine but extremely busy (which explains a delay in responding to your comment).
      I’m envious a little that your magnolias have an aroma. But, on the other hand, it gives me hope that I’ll find eventually a smelling magnolia as well.

Leave a Reply to lucasai Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.