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).

 

Magnolia

 

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.

 

Magnolia

 

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.

 

Magnolia

 

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

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Visiting Three Monarchies, Part 1: London

London is one of my top three favorite cities in the World, so I dreamed of going back there since my last visit 7 years ago. And since from this city my travel down the niche perfume rabbit hole has started, perfumes played a big part in this vacation.

Tara (A Bottled Rose) with whom I finally met and Vanessa (Bonkers about Perfume) who managed to get to London to spend time with us described our excursions in great details (see here, here and here), so I won’t repeat their wonderful reports but add to them some of my perfumed stories.

Accommodations

After the last visit’s fiasco with a “studio apartment” that turned out to be a tiny hot mansard shoe-box, I paid an extra attention to choosing a place to stay. We got a very nice and quiet flat, 2-minutes’ walk from the underground station and 4-minutes’ walk to the Hyde Park. On arrival we’d got a little scare from the nearby church clock’s Westminster Quarters chiming. But, as we discovered to my vSO’s relief, they would go silent during night. So we got as much sleep as jet lag would allow.

Flat in London

Perfumes I took with me

How does one choose, which perfumes to bring on a vacation? Any criteria are good – as long as they make sense to the wearer. This time I had an idea that I should bring only perfumes from the brands local for the countries on my itinerary. Also, since I ran out of decanting supplies, my choice was limited by perfumes, for which I had decants, travel bottles or at least samples. For the U.K., I brought English Pear & Freesia and White Lilac & Rhubarb from Jo Malone and Ta’if, Ormonde Woman, Vanille d’Iris and Sampaquita from Ormonde Jayne. I enjoyed wearing the first three (especially Ta’if, my love to which was born 7 years ago in London); Ormonde Woman unexpectedly didn’t work for me (though it might have been a side-effect of the sudden allergy attack I suffered that day); Vanille d’Iris was very pleasant but not enough to warrant a bottle purchase (determining that was the reason for bringing the sample with me); and Sampaquita was a straight-forward scrubber (initially I thought that the sample was off but on return I checked my notes and discovered that I had the same thoughts when I tested it on the previous occasion – and that time it was a different sample vial).

Perfumes I tested

Having visited Liberty, Harrods (including Salon de Parfums), Selfridges, Les Senteurs and Ormonde Jayne, I smelled at least a couple of hundred fragrances. Of course, for most of them it was a quick “sprayer sniff”: I know that it is far from ideal but while on a testing spree, you need some approach to discriminating between perfumes that warrant a paper test or even your valuable skin “real estate” and those that should stay safely in their original vessels. So I want to mention just several perfumes that attracted my attention enough to get at least on signed blotters.

Salon de Parfums in Harrods

Out of all Ormonde Jayne perfumes I tested this time, I thought I liked Ambre Royal and Jardin d’Ombre but both happened to be more interesting and lasing on paper than on my skin. Tauer’s Amber Flash, which is times less expensive (and less exclusive!) than Ambre Royal, was so much more pleasant and unique that I almost feel obligated to buy a bottle of it. White Gold caught my attention, mostly, because it was Selfridges’ exclusive. But I wasn’t even tempted to try it on skin.

As I discovered when I returned home, I have previously tried Caron Parfum Sacré and didn’t like it then. But when I tested it this time, prompted by Vanessa who loves it, I liked it. I should probably dig out my sample and try it again.

I also tried a couple of Parfums de Marly fragrances, the names of which I kept reading in male-dominant perfume swap group on FB – Layton and Pegasus. I liked them very much, and I see this brand in my vSO’s future.

Perfumes tested in London

Perfumes I didn’t buy

Strictly speaking, I haven’t bought all those 200+ perfumes that I tested. What I mean is that since I had a plan to bring back with me perfume from each of my trip’s destinations, while sniffing and testing, I narrowed down the list of the favorites that I considered as candidates to accompany me back to the U.S. In the end I decided not to buy them – for different reasons.

By Killian’s Black Phantom – Memento Mori caught me by surprise: I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. Lucas in his review of this perfume mentioned that he disliked “the presentation with a skull on a lacquered case.” That made me thinking about why it didn’t affect me the same way; and if I were to venture a guess, the answer lies in where I encountered Black Phantom for the first time: it looked quite àpropos amid exaggerated luxury of the Harrod’s Salon de Parfum. And it was presented by Kilian’s replica (if you haven’t yet, take a look at the picture in Tara’s post linked above). Though I liked Black Phantom, I decided to test it more first since it is kind of available where I live. Besides, By Kilian isn’t the U.K. brand.

By Kilian Black Phantom

Partially for the same reason (not a local brand) I decided not to buy Isabey Fleur Nocturne. But I liked that floral chypre (with the stress on “floral”), and I plan to spend more time testing it since I got a sample from Les Senteurs.

By Kilian’s Midnight in London, which I liked a lot from the first sniff on paper and through its development on my wrist, could have probably fit the bill despite the brand’s origin: it is a limited edition perfume, specific to the place. But Midnight in London takes the notion of “limited” to the extreme: according to Kilian’s double, there is just a single set of that perfume created (see the picture below), and once it is sold, there will be no more produced. In the conversation I heard the price as £50,000. Later Tara assuaged me that the price was mere £15,000 – had I but known!

By Kilian Midnight In London

Compared to that, Roja Dove’s semi-bespoke chypre No 5, which I unexpectedly liked after dismissing most of the brand’s creations as “not me,” seems almost a bargain. And it is a real British brand. But even if I had rumored £1,000 to spend on perfume, that commitment would have required more than just a cursory sniff. Since I didn’t plan on spending that much, I didn’t even go for a skin test for this No 5 (about which I slightly regret now).

Ormonde Jayne Rose Gold would have been a perfect choice: perfume from the brand that played such an important role in my perfume life! I think I tried to persuade myself that I liked Rose Gold. But the truth was: while I liked it probably the most of all the new perfumes from the line that I’ve tried, after wearing it a couple of times, I realized that it wasn’t perfume I needed. It’s with sadness that I have to conclude that Ormonde Jayne’s  new “luxury” undertakings leave me cold.

Ormonde Jayne Rose Gold

Tom Daxon Magnolia Heights stayed on my list for the longest time. I knew nothing about the brand until Vanessa and I discovered it at Les Senteurs with the perfume in question, as Vanessa had noticed and commented, placed appropriately on the top shelf in the store. I liked it, tested several times and seriously considered finding space for it in my suitcase: I have a soft spot for floral perfumes, if you haven’t noticed it; Tom Daxton is a brand from the U.K; and to get it I wouldn’t have to part with any of my extremities. Magnolia Heights seemed to tick all the boxes but in the end I decided not to buy it. Why? It might sound strange but that was what happened: at some point I thought that it smelled similar to my other favorite – Guerlain Cruel Gardenia, so I went to the store to do the comparison. While I proved to myself that I was wrong: Magnolia Heights gave me a similar vibe but it smelled different, at the same time I realized that I liked Cruel Gardenia so much more that it didn’t make any sense to buy Magnolia Heights when I could just wear Cruel Gardenia more often.

Tom Daxon Magnolia Heights

It was a great trip, and I enjoyed it immensely. Tara and Vanessa made it even more special than it was shaping out on its own. My vSO and I love London even more now, and we’ll be back there, hopefully soon. Oh, and if you were wondering, I did buy perfume in London. But it won’t be fair to it to introduce it in the end of the long post – so I’ll do it in a separate post after I finish with the other two stops on my trip.

 

Images: my own