Hannah Betts chooses five of the best floral fragrances of all time and explores their history. Dating from 1906 to 2012, there's one for everyone...
Quelques Fleurs L’Original by Houbigant, 1912
Sometimes there is nothing more winning than a brilliant bunch of flowers. Houbigant’s Quelques Fleurs was perfume’s first bouquet: a glorious confection of orange flower, rose and jasmine, bolstered by ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, tuberose, orchid, heliotrope, carnation and a creamy expanse of orris.
Quelques Fleurs was my first proper perfume, given to me the Christmas I was eight, along with a hairbrush with my name on it, financed by my Victorian great-grandmother (“A girl needs a decent brush for her hundred strokes a day”). Reworked in 1987, it lost some of its Georgian demureness in favour of a robust amber base that renders it imposingly grand dame.
From £45, Harrods 020 7893 8797
See also Je Reviens, 1932; Nina Ricci, L’Air du Temps, 1948; Cacharel, AnaïsAnaïs, 1978; Floris, Royal Arms Diamond Edition, 2012
Joy by Jean Patou
For those who harbour the prejudice that floral spells vapid, some of perfumery’s most magnificent and idiosyncratic creations fall into this genre. Patou’s Joy is one such aberration.
The flappers’ couturier, Jean Patou sought a fragrant, two-fingered riposte to the stock market crash of 1929. In Henri Almeras’s narcotically heady blend of Bulgarian rose, tuberose and Grasse jasmine, Patou found his aroma; the marketing world found the claim: “The costliest perfume in the world.”
My own favourite Patou is 1,000 (“Mille”, 1972), an almost perversely opulent fusion of rose, Chinese osmanthus, orris, violet and sandalwood. In its advertisement, a beautiful miscreant confided in her priest: “Father, I have sinned.” “How many times?” A rapturous expression: “ Mille.”
More recently, a department store realised it was selling a flacon a week to a Saudi princess who was using it during her daily swim to perfume the very waves.
£51 for 30ml, Selfridges 0800 123 400
See also Chanel No 5, 1921; Lanvin Arpège, 1927; Piguet, Fracas, 1948; Frédéric Malle, Parfum de Thérèse 2000
A singular sensation
Diorissimo by Christian Dior
So-called “single flower florals” are exercises in olfactory trompe l’oeil. Thus, the ultimate lone bloom creation, Edmond Roudnitska’s immortal Diorissimo, contains not merely lily of the valley, but bergamot, rosewood, boronia, ylang-ylang, jasmine, sandalwood and civet. Yet the effect is pure spring lily of the valley: bud, calyx, stalk and bloom.
Diorissimo’s appeal rests in a certain lavish clarity. Today, it is something of a Marmite scent, with some finding its effusions too overwhelming – not unlike its last great poster girl, Diana, Princess of Wales. The Duchess of Cambridge proved that she was a chip off the old block by similarly donning simple white blossoms for her nuptials in the form of Illuminum’s White Gardenia Petals (2010).
See also: Givenchy, L’Interdit, 1957; Van Cleef & Arpels, First, 1976; Guerlain, Nahéma, 1979; Antonia’s Flowers, Antonia’s Flowers, 1984
For the woman who doesn’t do florals
Après L’Ondée by Guerlain, £73.50, Houseoffraser.co.uk
Sophisticated, vaguely disturbing, this is a perfume a Hitchcock brunette might sport. Its backbone is orris: the velvet paste cultivated out of the iris root’s rhizome, rendering it as dry as a banknote.
Yet in Après L’Ondée (After the Shower) dryness is juxtaposed with drench, the coolness of a cloudburst with earthy, underlying warmth.
See also Serge Lutens, Iris Silver Mist; Hermès Hiris; Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile
The fashionista flower
Stella by Stella McCartney, £47, Boots 0845 070 8090
This 2003 scent is of a rose on the turn, experiencing one final fertile flourish. “I wanted to capture the fragility of the high summer rose when the petals are just about to fall off,” said the designer. Authored by Jacques (L’Eau d’Issey/Bvlgari) Cavallier, the scent is subtle, late summery, with an unbrushed-hair insouciance – a dewy start with a vaguely musky finish.
See also Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey, Chanel Allure; Parfums de Rosine Diabolo Rose