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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