Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Perfume Primers: The Much Maligned Fruity Floral for Beginners & Beyond

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).

via ebay

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?

Charlize Theron for Dior J'Adore ~Source: via Katzenliebchen on Pinterest

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".


  1. I've not thought of Jungle l'Elephant as being fruity; I will look for that next time I wear it, it's one of my favorites. So over the top! I like Badgely Mischka for a big fruity scent, but I haven't worn it in ages. As always, thanks for the informative post! I learn so much from your blog.

  2. Anonymous14:48

    I'm among the many women in their 40s or older who find a lot of fruity florals repellant - kind of like fruity smelling toilet gel and, as you say, cheap shampoo. I was surprised to find I liked Missoni Missoni , a weird mix of chocolate, oranges and flowers, so much I bought 100mls of the perfume.

    Having said that, it's one of those perfumes I'd only wear for a fun night out - partying with friends for example, because it just doesn't seem to have a definite 'message' if you know what I mean. If it was a personality it would be a slightly manic hedonistic socialite - the type you wouldn't want to hang out with on a regular basis, but would always invite to a party because she adds a festive sparkle. Sometimes when I’m working from home and slogging away at the computer I put on a spritz or two as it’s quite revitalising

    Apart from that, being in my 40s I just don't feel I can 'work' the fruity florals so I must say I’m relieved there’s a 'retro' trend going on and a resurgence of chypres and orientals.

  3. I'm in my 40s as well, and always feel I have to justify my liking for certain fruity florals because so many of the fragrances in the genre ARE ditzy and brainless. I do love Rosine's Rose d'Ete, that pretty, summery apple-rose, and Hanae Mori Haute Couture (now discontinued), which is a greenish jasmine scent lightened by aldehydes and various fruits. Another favorite would be the first Ines de la Fressange, the octagonal bottle, a peachy champagne cocktail of a scent. And the original Tiffany, though very floral, is topped off with fruit.

    To my mind, there is a world of difference between fruit scents that bear some relation to fresh fruits, and fruit scents that smell like artificial candy flavors (which I like to call "froot"). Fruit can be good. Froot is usually ridiculous.

  4. As always, thanks for the informative post!

  5. What a great synopsis! Thanks for this, and although I'm not into (read: too mature for) fruity florals, I do see how some of my fragrances (Diorella, Mure et Musc) have a place in the origin!

  6. Anonymous02:18

    Since I started reading you, I'm acutely aware of how many perfumes I've owned in my lifetime. I just can't throwaway my Sublime (empty) bottle. I'm still grieving my Mariella Burani, my go to when I don't know exactly what suits the moment (or me). When you have a signature fragrance and it is not available any longer, you don't entirely feel like your self any longer. Still have a full bottle...I'm gradually saying goodbye.

  7. Miss Heliotrope07:12

    It is great how you make even fruity florals interesting. I'm not sure I'm totally convinced, though - which is mere personal taste.

  8. annemariec07:13

    This is a beautiful post and I especially appreciate your having traced the origins of the fruity floral (FF). For ages I have been meaning to try Hermes Amazone (1974), which has a fair bit of fruit in it, and was wondering where you regard it within the FF genre? Or is it a not a FF but a fruity chypre? Is it an overlooked classic, or overlooked because deserves to be?

  9. Astrid12:27

    Thank you for another thought-provoking article! The best FF's for me have a discernible "liquor" note that balances the sugar, along with a quality musk (as opposed to the "cashmere" variety) that seems to have disappeared from current perfumery.

    One of the best was Eau d'Eden: Eden's much better flanker and the only "watery" perfume I've sniffed that does not smell of chemicals to me. The musk was a very good quality white with no hint of scratchy chemical.

    And I'd second the love for the original Ines - it contains a peachy note but takes it to an abstract, summer breeze place with no hint of sugar.

  10. Thinking about my own collection, I tend to give anything fruity a wide berth. But I do enjoy a couple: Kenzo's Flower (melon) and Bond's Chinatown (peachy). I guess the fruit has to be drier and not a main attraction, just a minor supporting role.

  11. R,

    in fact Jungle isn't technically a fruity floral, though it has quite a bit of fruit (it's an oriental) and lots of spices. I just had to include it because -as you say- it's so over the top!
    Bagdley Mischka never made it to our shores, alas; I hear it's great.

    Glad you enjoyed the post!

  12. Rosestrang,

    it's rather difficult with fruity florals; so many are dull and repetitive and then one pops out and breaks the yawn with something special to say. But it's not that often... :/
    Missoni must smell really nice on you! Enjoy! I found that the Missoni Aqua was more my speed and received compliments on the days I was testing it out. But never bought a bottle, wonder if I should.

    As to your age and the fruity florals, bah, I don't think it has to do with age per se, as much as the general yawn-factor most commercial fruity florals generate these days and the demographic they're targeting via the communication of the scent to the public. But you're absolutely right that there is a resurgence of chypres and orientals, especially in niche, but also seeping into the mainstream! (In many ways the "nouveau chypres" for all their "youthfulness" are not a galaxy away from the proper old-school chypres, I find, just a few hundred kilometers. :D Spray them on a sweater, let it stand for a day, wear it the next and catch whiffs that will remind you of yore somewhat).

  13. Mel,

    see they're dumping down on the consumer because they always opt for the path of least resistance so the majority of FFs are dross, crude, cheap, dull...But there are some which are genuinely pretty and upbeat and really fun, as you point out. I think the communication of FFs as so "youthful" and a certain way (OK, let's call a spade a spade, as date-bait and "non offending") does the good ones among them a disservice. Because really, with maturity comes a certain insouciance as to how people perceive you and you're out to get rather than be got, right? :-)
    So, yes, it's a two-pronged approach; they're poorly communicated and because they're poorly communicated they're usually poorly executed as they don't aim high to begin with.

    I absolutely LOVE "froot" as a term, borrowing it (and crediting you) for all intended purposes from now on! Brilliant!!

  14. Π,

    thank you for saying so, my pleasure!

  15. Sb,

    you're welcome and oh, please, do read my comment above regarding the age-appropriatness of the FFs; I find it's all a vicious circle of poor communication and a desire to please everybody (thus ending pleasing no one that much).
    Your choices are smashing, love those two myself!

  16. C,

    high compliment indeed, thank you.
    Well, sounds like you haven't found the one to convince you otherwise yet. I think you might like a couple of those mentioned in the post, such as Birmane or OJ Frangipani. Not air-heads at all. Just delicious.
    But of course you don't HAVE to like anything. It's a free world :-)

  17. AMC,

    thank you so much for the compliment and glad you found the article enjoyable!
    Oh I do like Amazone and consider it quite worthwhile, especially as it was during the 90s when I first wore it. Like all Hermes scents it's refined and brainy, not a silly Barbie. I haven't smelled it lately and need to refresh my memory and compare to what I recall (see if there's a terrible reformulation or so, though I don't believe there would). Do try it! And I should add it to the article too, because exactly it's such an unsung one and a good one still in production.

  18. Astrid,

    you're welcome and thanks for your kind words and stopping by. An interesting thought there, the "liquor" aspect. There's something to it. I suppose something with ambrette seed has a more quirky character (I love this effect!), but Cashmeran is so ubiquitous these days, it can be in many different things, good or bad; usually it's the fault of the other things and the composition, rather than the molecule's, but I understand what you're saying. There's so much "sameness" in these "clean musk" florals.

    As to Eau d'Eden, EXACTLY!!! I thought I was the only one who liked this one. Probably my first choice of an aquatic floral as well, with a very discernible watermelon note as I recall. It smelled very fresh and as you say not chemical at all. I curse the day they discontinued it. WHY??? I never backed up sufficiently.

    I need to revisit Ines. (Love the woman too, such a personable human being)

  19. Annina,

    thanks for sharing!

    A ha! If I am to throw fuel to your fire, maybe I can add that Kenzo Flower leans more to floral than fruity floral and that Chinatown leans to oriental-chypre.


    Truly, these are well liked for a reason. Enjoy!

  20. anon,

    both lovely choices. sublime is so golden isn't it?
    sympathies for losing a sig, it hurts... :/

  21. Merlin21:36

    I know its not official terminology but I do think of some citrus fragrances as fruity: for instance Aqua Allegoria, Pampelune is about grapefruit - but its the kind of juicy citrus that makes my mouth water! I think of this as different, in type, to the citrus-cologne effect. So Orange-Verte which I also love has orange in it, but not the fruity mouth-watering type.
    What I like about Fruity-Florals is their simple and joyful mood. They don't brood, they don't introspect and they don't smoulder (well most of them). And sometimes one does want a scent which is simply happy. Philosykos, for instance is a happy-holiday smell for me.
    I'v only tried Juicy Coutre Viva La Juicy twice and I liked it both times because it seemed full, well-rounded and happy.
    A more sophisticated fruity-floral is Amarinthine with its ylang-ylang banana note.
    Also, I have to say that I just love fruit (as a food-group) so this may well have something to do with it!

  22. M,

    very interesting observations!
    There's something to Pamplelune that is beyond the citrus-coogne, you're right. Still citrus, but more than that too in a way. Orange Verte on the other hand is a prime example of the citrus genre, great mention!

    I happen to love Amaranthine, a full bottle has been on my wishlist for ever. When my decants run out I suppose I should take the leap before it's too late and they change it or something. *knock on wood* Excellent choice; in fact ylang often has a banana note which -though I don't really love bananas- I do love in a perfume.
    Pjilosykos (and almost all fig scents) I'd put into the fruity woody category to be honest; they're not built on a floral skeleton, so technically can't be called a fruity floral, but they do boast some of the loveliest fruity nuance (especially since they're usually a tiny bit bitterish and creamy at the same time).

    It's refreshing to see that some fragrances are not out there to smolder, though I'm bummed to see some fruity florals being advertised as man-bait. I want to take them from the shoulders and yank them and yell "what the hell are you talking about? this is for one's own mood lifting and nothing else". *OK, rant over*


  23. I don't usually think of fruity florals as being my favorite genre, mostly because of the ubiquity of what mais86 so aptly describes as "froot". Thus, I was somewhat surprised after mulling over your as always interesting post to realize how many fruity florals I really do like. I guess I like a bit of an edge in them since Diorama, vintage Amazone, Mary Greenwell Plum are all exist at the border of fruity chypres and may even cross over that line. And it turns out that I really like the smell of mangos. I think that Neela Vermeires Bombay Bling and Pierre Guillaumes Manguier Mettisse are both delicious.

  24. So happy that you mentioned Cacharel's Eden here, a much overlooked and truly original piece of work though one which many people find difficult to wear.
    I've never felt that and it makes a great early morning spritz, though I like to replace it with something a little more substantial after exercise and the day is properly underway.
    Certainly I would concur with the view that 'citrus' should denote a separate category, one where this note permeates every part of the perfume, persisting beyond the opening a major note.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  25. Kathryn,

    "froot" is a wonderful, bull's eye descriptor and I'm stealing it as we speak. :-D
    You are setting the tone for the fruity initiation for more serious perfume lovers: the fruity chypres are indeed a good place to start for those. And vice versa, people with a keen interest in fruit might find themselves treading darker alleys by trying the fruity chypres.
    Mango is such a delicious flavorful fruit in itself, that I'm not surprised it graces everything it permeates.

  26. PD,

    welcome to the Shrine!

    Glad you found a reference to your particular proclivity, I find that because Cacharel is mostly fluff these days one tends to forget that they were issuing pretty good stuff back in the 1980s and early 1990s (I also find Eau d'Eden smashing; probably the only aquatic that wasn't at all chemical-smelling).
    Citrus is a time-honored category. Difficult to do well, exactly because in its "simplicity" it poses technical problems.

  27. Anonymous21:45

    I must say that I am slightly surprised gthat Yves Saint Laurent´s "Baby Doll" isn´t mentioned here. It came out in 2000 so it was by no means anything new at the time. Yet it is WAY better than most fruity-florals out there. It´s extremely well balanced and never cloying.

  28. Anon,

    thanks for the comment.
    Well, agree to disagree on that one. It was always stuck oddly to my perception; I prefer In Love Again which is similar but much better made.


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