In the Search for the Perfect Peony

What did we do when Fragrantica wasn’t around to helpfully provide a list of notes for perfumes we tried? I don’t know about you, but back then I didn’t think much about the notes. Usually I paid attention to whether the perfume reminds me of any other perfume I know (I still do that) but unless it was what we now know as a “soliflore”, I rarely thought twice about the composition of perfumes I tested or wore.

When I first smelled Estee Lauder Pleasures Intense soon after it was released, I immediately said that it smelled of peonies. I liked it and planned to eventually buy a bottle but it never came to it. And only a couple of days ago, when I started thinking about this post, I remembered Pleasures Intense and decided to check the notes. Peony is the first one mentioned in the Fragrantica’s list. I haven’t smelled Pleasures Intense in about 10 years so I don’t know how badly it was reformulated since then. But in 2002 it was unmistakably peony perfume. And so far it is the only one that I recognize as such.

Pink Peopny

When I was growing up, peonies were very popular flowers for summer bouquets. By my recollections they weren’t romantic flowers (that place was taken by roses, tulips or lily of the valley), but they weren’t too formal or official either (for that we had carnations, gladioli and calla lilies). Peonies were more in the home décor or hostess gifts category. But thanks to their great aroma, they were liked and appreciated.

In the Northern California peonies are rare: I don’t think I’ve ever seen them growing here and in the last several years I would occasionally come across peony bouquets at a store or somebody’s house. So the flower wasn’t on my mind too often, and I wasn’t purposefully looking for perfume with peony in a leading role. But I would try those that happen to come into my orbit.

Vert Pivoine by Histoires de Parfums was supposed to be all about peony: as little as one can trust a list of notes, when you see the same “peony” mentioned three times – once for each position of the pyramid – it is hard not to expect to get at least some recognizable scent. But no. The closest it gets to peony is by being awfully soap-y – exactly the way some rose perfumes turn out on my skin (and peony are said to have a sweet rose-like scent). I’ll give them the “green” part thought.

Peony & Blush Suede by Jo Malone got into my perfume wardrobe by chance. I find it rather pleasant and wear from time to time but to some extent it was a disappointment: before I tested it for the first time I expected it would be more like Blackberry & Bay or English Pear & Freesia (in terms of intensity) than one of those evanescent blooms that the brand releases every year. I think I hoped for a love child of the original Bottega Veneta and Cacharel‘s Noa fleur. Unfortunately, Peony & Blush Suede is rather a delicate whisper than an assertive statement. Jessica (NST) in her review says that it “might not win over anyone who was really looking forward to a fruity fragrance, or who likes her florals to be very airy and clean, but it will probably appeal to wearers of feminine florals who have just browsed the Chloé and Balenciaga counters and not found anything quite to their liking,” and I completely agree with her, especially after testing perfume I’m covering next.

Peonies

Nobody will accuse Pivoine Suzhou from Armani Prive line of not being fruity enough. On application it feels like it’s dripping with juice. Pivoine Suzhou is young, bright and uncomplicated. Compared to it, Peony & Blush Suede seems like a very adult perfume. Interestingly, while both perfumes smell nothing like peonies I know, about an hour into the development, when Pivoine Suzhou‘s fruitiness subsides a little, for a while these two smell very similar, which makes me think that either they use the same artificial ingredient that is supposed to convey “peony” note, or they recreate the same peony cultivar, with which I’m not familiar. I would recommend this perfume for those who like the fruity-floral genre. Read Steve’s (The Scented Hound) review: his take on this perfume is very close to how I feel about Pivoine Suzhou.

Though I haven’t found perfume with a perfect peony note, the search wasn’t completely in vain: I discovered perfume that I liked very much. Peony Angel by Thierry Mugler. I had the sample of this limited edition perfume for many years but, discouraged by my experience with Violet Angel, I kept this one classified “One day when I have absolutely nothing to test” (it is an actual category in my perfume database, if you were wondering). I tested it for this post and discovered that I like it very much. While having many facets in common with the original Angel (which I love), it’s softer, less gourmand and more floral (the Mugler’s “not-a-single-flower-has-been-harmed” type of floral, I mean). Oh, and it doesn’t smell of peony either.

White Peony

Images: my own

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How Do You Take Your Amber?

We had a really strange winter this year*: it has never actually got cold. When I say “cold” I mean, of course, our Californian cold – something like 10C/50F. Instead of it the average high temperature in February, for example, was 16C/60F. I’m not really complaining especially after hearing about record levels of snow and cold weather all over the world. After all, no matter how much I realize that warm weather in absence of rain makes our drought situation even worse, objectively if feels nice.

But there was one serious negative consequence for me: this past winter I couldn’t wear almost any of my favorite amber perfumes. Even though I do not do a conscious season rotation of perfumes, my wearing habits gravitate towards the commonly accepted practice of lighter scents in summer and heavier members of my collection in winter. So the only amber I wear in hot weather is my amber necklace.

Amber Necklace

As winter approached I was eager to start wearing my favorite ambers again. The first disappointment came when I put on Ambre Russe by Parfum d’Empire. This perfume was on my “to buy” list for a couple of years so I decided to finish the sample I had and finally buy a bottle. Actually, I would have bought it not waiting for the last drop to leave the sample vial if it weren’t for an unavailability of more reasonable 50 ml bottles. Now I think that maybe it was a sign: the last time I wore it from the sample I felt almost like washing it off. Now I’m not sure any more if I even want it.

After that I was very careful approaching the rest of the usual suspects: Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens, Ambre Fetishe by Annick Gotal, Amber Absolute by Tom Ford and Mitzah by Dior – each got just one wear, if that. I didn’t dislike them but I didn’t get the same warm feeling I used to get from them before. Even L’eau d’Ambre Extreme by L’Artisan Parfumeur felt too heavy for the weather.

There were just a couple of ambers that worked better and didn’t scare me. Unexpectedly, two of those were Ambre Orient by Armani Prive and Amber Oud from By Kilian. I am surprised because both have agarwood – the note that is difficult for me. But this time amber + agarwood combination seemed exactly what I needed. One more perfume that suddenly came into favor was Calamity J by Juliette Has A Gun. After I deplete the decant I will consider adding a bottle to my collection.

Despite all that I had more amber in my life this winter than ever before: last New Year I’ve got a gift from my vSO – Black Orchid Diffuser Set from my favorite designer Michael Aram. I’ve never had a diffuser before but was glad to get this one since I have some other items from this collection. Official notes are citrus, floral notes, tropical fruits, cedar, sandalwood and musk but for my nose it smells like a light amber perfume. And for a while, until I realized from where that wonderful scent was coming, I tried to figure out which of my perfumes left those traces and, which was even more important, where?!

Michael Aram Black Orchid Diffuser

So this year I take my amber light or very light. And, it seems, with agarwood. But I really hope that next year I’ll be able to enjoy the “heavy hitters” (© Olfactoria, Queen of Amber) again.

 

How do you take your amber nowadays?

* Ines recently started her post with the exact phrase but I swear I had this part already written by the time I read her post.

 

Images: my own