With dismissive waves of the hand denoting "not another one" (there are at least 1840 of them and growing) and soured lips forming an inaudible "urgh" brought on by the sheer boredom of having to hear about the nth launch of yet another fruity floral, it's no wonder anyone seriously gnawing their teeth on perfumery is anxious to get to know other fragrance families instead; the smart chypre fragrances, the ladylike aldehydic florals, the opulent khol-eyed Orientals, even the succulent, "edible" gourmands (a sub-genre of the oriental family sprung out of marketing) promise more than the often unfortunate effect of the mix of shampoo & hard candy scents of the average humble fruity floral on the counter... Nevertheless, to dismiss a whole genre with the blanket characterisation of "dull" and "unexciting" is akin to discouraging a cinephile from watching Blade Runner or 2001 Space Odyssey because they don't like science fiction! Though the simile clearly suffers from fruity floral fragrances rarely reaching that iconic status of significance in their respective field, one can't deny that there are indeed interesting/stimulating examples among them, which merit further exploration from the discerning perfume lover. But what makes a fruity floral, which perfume was the first fruity floral and how fruity florals ended up taking the market prisoner and dominating it?
Definition of a Fruity Floral Perfume & Differentiation from Citrus Scents
The citruses and Eaux de Cologne sing gayly on their trip from the Mediterranean, fetching their joie de vivre and simple ~but never simplistic~ elegance to everyone they touch. One of the oldest essences in perfumery, exactly because contrary to other fruits they do yield an abundant essential oil (hard pressed or cold pressed from the thick rind of the citrus fruit, which you can test for yourself when squeezing an orange seeing the droplets spray on your hands), hesperidia/citruses are almost a universal pleaser, thanks to their uplifting, happy, fresh and zesty character. However, exactly because citruses have been such a classical component of fragrances for centuries (with the traditional Eau de Cologne "recipe" the prominent example where they shine, but also featured in Orientals, florals and chypres) their inclusion in a blend does not a fruity floral make!
Citruses are almost a genre unto themselves (certainly as classified by Michael Edwards in his Fragrances of the World, being part of the "fresh" segment which also comprises "green" and "water" arcs), sometimes called "the citrus family". Herein are included such light and uplifting fragrances as Guerlain Eau de Cologne Imperiale (1860), Acqua di Parma Colonia (1916), D'Orsay Etiquette Bleue (1830, relaunched 2008), Dior Eau Sauvage (1966), Annick Goutal Eau d'Hadrien (1981) or cK One (1994).
The fruity floral on the other hand is a fragrance based on a floral basic skeleton with a light woody/white musk underpinning for longevity and copious amounts of fruits OTHER than hespirides for succulent accents throughout. Patently a relatively recent trend, the trope was established in the last 20 years or so. In fact the first fruity floral came out in 1993; it was Chiffon Sorbet by Escada, the first limited edition summer fragrance by the German brand, which issued a new one each summer onwards. Chiffon Sorbet was based on a passion fruit accord, but it also evoked notes of mango, ripe fig, apples, raspberries and other summery delights, thanks to analytical chemistry and various spins on the Fructone molecule. Fruits, apart from citruses, cannot be expressed or distilled, due to their high water content, and only a synthesized replication in the laboratory can offer illusions of the fruit bowl. The rise in aromachemicals was also signaling the success of the fruity notes.
The timing of Chiffon Sorbet incidentally proves just how innovative the 1990s were in terms of perfumery horizons: not only it signaled the birth of the fruity floral, but also of the "aquatics/marines" (the innovator being New West in 1990, but the trend becoming identifiable with L'Eau d'Issey in 1992) and the "gourmands" (with the launch of Angel, also in 1992).
History of Fruity Florals: Innovators and Prototypes
Exactly because the fruity floral perfumes are such a recent trend it makes the search for percursors or a true classic in the genre a difficult task. Yet, the rich saturation of the fruity chypres hints at what can be considered the great grandmother of the little girls: the prune heft of Rochas Femme, the peach skin note of Guerlain's Mitsouko, the ripe melon impression in Roudnitska-authored* Diors (Diorella, Eau Fraiche) show the possibilities...Let's not forget the pineapple in Patou's 1930s Colony either! This historically important family is so delicious in its overripe fruity notes that it can almost confuse us, taking what are modern yet true "fruity chypres" (such as Deci-Delà by Ricci, or Champagne/Yvresse by Yves Saint Laurent) for fruity florals; they're not.
*I am again tempted to include Le Parfum de Thérèse (a Roudnitska-penned hymn to his wife, kept private for decades and only released by Editions des Parfums Frédéric Malle in 2000) because of the signature melon accord, but it could be argued that it is instead a proto-aquatic.
Early proto-fruity florals, with a tentative focus on the fruit but without the candied aspect or the intense freshness, include the pear-folded Petite Chérie and the blackcurrant jam notes of Eau de Charlotte, both by Annick Goutal. These are playful, innocent, childlike fragrances (indeed they were dedicated to Annick's own two daughters) that might suit certain body chemistries to a T. They're light and airy and lack the syrupy vulgarity of much of the contemporary forgettable crop. Mariella Burani's Il Bacio (1993) is an early and worthwhile fragrance which highlights the nectarous qualities of succulent fruits, but also shimmers with the sheen of a classic floriental; its texture is nuanced and never boring.
Berries are an especially pliant fruity note in perfumes; no less because a certain group of synthetic musks has a berry undertone. The classic Mûre et Musc by L'Artisan Parfumeur paved the way in as early as 1978. The passionfruit focus of Escada's own Chiffon Sorbet didn't come out of the blue either: Guerlain's Nahéma (1978) brought a saturated fruity mantle to the central rose lending sonorous timbre.
What Gave Wings to the Fruity Florals
I would venture the theory that the best-selling status of Lancome's Trésor (1990, a fragrance minimalistically composed by perfumer Sophia Grojsman to maximalistic effect) was the Rubicon in the rising popularity of the fruity floral in the 1990s: the lactonic density and creaminess of the apricot note allied to her favourite rose, underscored with tons of Galaxolide (a synth musk) made for a huge commercial hit. Even simple shower gels, hairsprays, shampoos and functional products lost their former "perfumey" odour profile (invariably either aldehydic soapy/powdery smelling à la Chanel No.5 or musky-deep Poison-reminiscent) ; these functional products turned into fuzzy, peachy things that sang in pop tunes in the scale of Fruit.
Dior's Poison was an interesting cultural "bridge": although built as a musky oriental with an intense tuberose heart, it also boasted a very discernible grape Kool Aid "accord" that was hard to miss; one can argue it paved the way with its mega-popularity during the 1980s. By the mid-90s the die was cast: the fruity floral was the way to go! Maybe Baby by Benefit and Exclamation! (by Grojsman herself) showed that the peachy/apricoty floral especially had legs.
Grojsman later put a spin onto plum and locust and there came Boucheron's Jaipur for women, arguably a less influential release. Prescriptives Calyx is a lasting, bracing grapefruit with helpings of mango and passionfruit to good effect. It came out much earlier, in 1986. It's also another Grojsman creation. Modern fragrances sometimes exhibit merit in the genre. Gucci II Eau de Parfum by Gucci is the modern equivalent of a decent "berry fruity" as introduced by the L'Artisan "mure": tangy berries on top, clean yet skin-friendly musk, no big sweetness, all around wearability. Raspberry and strawberry make the top note of Hot Couture by Givenchy such a playful little minx while berries are the fruity tanginess in Guerlain Insolence, modernising a classic violet floral structure.
But it took another huge best-seller, the influential Dior J'Adore, coming out in 1999 composed by Calice Becker, to cement the trend; Calyx was launched by a makeup brand with a specific demographic, Chiffon Sorbet was all too brief a launch to register at the time, Trésor was influential true, but still, it took a major luxury fashion house such as Dior to imprint it to collective memory. From then on everything was game: the contemporary Azzura (Azzaro), Be Delicious by DKNY, Pleasures Exotic (Lauder), Burberry Brit, Cacharel Amor Amor....they're countless!
Coupled with the maturing of the "gourmand" trend (fragrances inspired by edible smells, usually desserts with a sweet vanillic undercurrent), which tipped the scales to an increasingly sweet spectrum, the fruity floral became bolder & bolder in its "freshness" and increasingly sugared, reminiscent of Life Savers in various shades. Escada, the unsung "designer" innovator, seems to have excelled into producing a pleiad of limited editions to follow the discontinued Chiffon Sorbet, forever identifying the fragrance group with the mood for flip flops and sundresses. Bath & Body Works and Victoria's Secret also made the trend their bread & butter, starting at the 1990s with "single fruit" evocations in alcohol form, ultimately vulgarising the trend. Celebrity scents were the nail on the coffin of sophistication, opting for the hugely commercialised category, sealing the deal: Fruity florals were everywhere by the late-2000s; and we haven't seen the last of them! Or have we?
Un-sung Fruity Florals: Niche and Mainstream
Modern niche houses are understandably reluctant to offer fruity florals; it's all a matter of appealing to connoisseurs and differentiating from the mainstream. Still they can surprise us sometimes with their artistry amidst the tired genre: Breath of God has been hailed by the most difficult critics as a quality product. Pêche Cardinal by MCDI is chokeful of peach over flowers, but the peachiness is singing in a non straining soprano. Maître Parfumeur & Gantier has Fraiche Passiflore with raspberry, peach and passionfruit giving a tropical touch to the naturally banana-faceted jasmine (and the brand had several experimental fruity mixes in their line in the 1980s). Frangipani by Ormonde Jayne takes on fruity nuances of lime and plum to compliment the naturally fruity facets of the tropical white flower that is the frangipani blossom. Patricia de Nicolai's Cococabana takes things to the tropical max: nothing less than coconut. Even all-naturals-perfumery can indulge in the joyful, playful nature of the fruity floral via illusion: Anya's Garden Riverside (later renamed River Cali) and Ayala Moriel's Altruism are such cases.
Amongst the tide of fruity florals I need to point out some that are unfaily unsung despite their exuberant mood packaged in elegant deportment: Patou's Sublime -at least- used to be a sunny, happy smell with a balanced heart of gold, leaning into chypre, something that his Sira des Indes with its gorgeous banana note is not. Birmane by Van Cleef & Arpels takes the unusual note of kumquat (an opening like the sugared bitter peel of this small fruit prepared in Corfu, Greece) and folds it in chocolaty warmth and flowers. Byblos by Byblos (1990) has a helping of strawberry and mimosa sprinkled with pepper; it's delicious and unusual, composed by Elias Ermenidis, a Greek perfumer with more briefs won under his belt than he can count. Jungle L'Eléphant by Kenzo is a rich spicy fruity floral: the cornucopia including mandarin, prune, pineapple, and mango is accented with exotic spices resulting in a very individual scent which flopped commercially; perhaps it was too much for the tastes of 1996; it could stand in any niche house's portfolio just fine nowadays. Eden by Cacharel infused fruits (pineapple, mandarin, melon) and flowers (hawthorn and mimosa) into an aquatic environment with water lily and broke new ground in 1994. Personally I especially love the unripeness of the mango in Un Jardin sur le Nil by Hermès: it gives the impression of grapefruit, such is the tanginess and elegant bitter aftertaste, though it leans into the woody more than the floral.
But the gist is, as they say, "never say never again".