Thursday, April 26, 2007

Orange blossom week: part 3 - rich nuances

"A disturbing wind blows from the east, saturating the city of Seville with the scent of orange. Juan Antonios dark hair flies off his shoulder and whips against his face. The seductive aroma of the orange blossom surrounds him and the perfumed wind wafts past his ears, whispering secrets only he can hear.

Can you smell the orange blossom? murmurs the wind. I love that scent. Do you remember? The wind blows stronger over the Guadalquivir River, lifting with it the raw reminder of a time when spring smelled sweet.
Juan Antonio looks up sharply and stares out over the river, his hand tensing around the fret board of his flamenco guitar. He feels the wind crawling around his neck, blowing past his face. He brushes a strand of hair from his eyes, but the fragrant wind only blows it back.
I can still feel you, whispers the wind. Smell you . . . taste you. The wind tosses a burst of citrus his way. Your hands smell of horses and leather, your lips of chocolate. I will never forget your delicious scent. But, I fear you have forgotten mine.

An angry cloud of orange swirls over Juan Antonio, threatening to engulf him. He yanks a scrap of cloth from his pocket and ties his hair back with the tattered fabric. Then he shouts to the perfumed wind. Dejame! Leave me alone! Frantically, he clamps the back of his hand against his nose to block out the opressive sweetness, but it is impossible to block the scent that the wind lifts. The seductive aroma of the azahar, the orange blossom, lives inside of him . . . tormenting him . . . robbing him of the peace he longs to find."

The above is an excerpt from the novel in progress Azahar by Susan Nadathur.
It captures well the ambience that a rich orange blossom perfume evokes in me: the south, its passions, its over the top sensualism, bravado, cheesiness even, yet also familiarity, tenderness, childhood memories of car hops across country, blossoms that die slowly in my lap under the heavy sun, cut too soon from the tree.
The intense sweetness of a lush orange blossom that has peaked, in its prime, with honeyied tones and is ready to yield fruit is trully unforgettable.

If we try to deconstruct the etymology and nuanced meanings of the word "richness" we come up against:
1.Possessing great material wealth
2.Having great worth or value: a rich harvest of grain.
3.Magnificent; sumptuous: a rich brocade.
4. a. Having an abundant supply: rich in ideas.
b. Abounding, especially in natural resources: rich land.
5. Meaningful and significant
6. Very productive and therefore financially profitable
7. a. Containing a large amount of choice ingredients, such as butter,sugar, or eggs, and therefore unusually heavy or sweet.
b. Having or exuding a strong or pungent aroma.
8. a. Pleasantly full and mellow.
b. Warm and strong in color.
9. Containing a large proportion of fuel to air: a rich gas mixture.
and 10. Informal, highly amusing.
All this according to The Free Dictonary by Farlex.

I think for our purposes, all of those terms and definitions apply.
A "rich" orange blossom perfume can be wealthy in that it exudes luxury, costly, sumptuous because of its magnificent aroma, mellow and full, strong and abundant, suggesting lushness and opulence, sweet yet also amusing, playful and warm. It can be all these things. And it performs these tasks admirably.
This is why my heart aches a bit whenever I catch a whiff of the abundance of orange blossom in strangers' passing-by-scent. The trail of opulence...

So, to evoke those memories and associations I chose the following perfumes that smell as rich and sweet as orange blossom in Andalucia does in spring:
Zohar by Ayala Moriel, 24 Faubourg by Hermes, Poeme by Lancome and Boucheron Femme by Boucheron.

Ayala's Moriel Zohar uses the hebrew word for enlightment and brilliance to render a very fine, luxurious soliflore that sprakles like a fine jewel under a hot glaring sun. Centered around Orange blossom absolute garlanded with tuberose and jasmine that add to its white floral theme without veering it into the excessive headache producing effect that some other heavy "whities" produce, it is a true gem. The top notes of fresh citrus essences like the japanese fruit yuzu and the divine cleaner neroli note pierce your nostrils playfully giving way to the abundant heart of the nucleus that intermingles warm amber and honey in an arabesque worthy of Alcazar. The slight rubberiness of true, natural tuberose plays hide and seek all along with alluring results, much lighter than that featured in Fleurs d'Oranger by Lutens, like a princess hidden under a veil in one of the corridors of the palace.

You can sample or order clicking here.

24 Faubourg by Hermès , named after the eponymous address of the House, reminds me of a wealthy protagonist in a classic old Hollywood movie: dressed in a light beige belted trenchcoat, impecably coiffed hair under a heavy silk scarf bearing a prestigious signature, wrapped on her precious little head, lipstic in deep coral, complexion of peaches and cream, out in a sports convertible driving on the slopes of Monaco without a care in the world but always in control of herself. The brilliance of the sun and the warmth of late spring in the air, cinemascope colours melting in amber as the afternoon approaches. If ever there was a trace of the essence of wealth and opulence rolled into one this would be it.
Do not opt for the version Eau Délicate though: the above effect can only be achieved by the Eau de parfum or better yet pure parfum/extrait.

Poême by Lancôme was launched with the darling sensitive face of Juilette Binoche and with verse by Baudelaire which would make it endearing despite its smell to my artistic heart. However an overindulegence by women in their 30s all along the 90s along with the bestseller Trésor by the same house left me with apprehension and tentative in ever owning a full bottle. Touted to be centered on datura flower (a flower of the desert) and Tibetan blue poppy (a very rare blossom), it smells of neither particularly; instead it launches on wild, unmistakable orange blossom arpeggios that are supported by potent cassis and amber notes, further sweetened by the -needless in my opinion- addition of vanilla and tonka bean. This is certainly a rich smell; not however in the manner in which Lancôme intended it to be. Too sweet, maybe too strong, Poême appears to be a little heavy handed and suffers as a result from it, despite its lushful heart. Is it any wonder that Juliette Binoche is in reality a Cristalle fan?

Boucheron Femme by the jeweler Boucheron is last but not least on our list of rich orange blossom scents. Althouth this one is much more of a floriental with all that entails, it has such a sublime, sunny and warm presence that it yelled in french (these were no crude yells, tu comprends) to be included in this line up, like the usual suspect of wealth purveyor that it is. Balanced and poised on the beauty of benzoin and olibanum on a powdery base rich in sandalwood it infuses its rich aroma from afar and entices its victims to fall prey to your guiles, tasting apricots and mandarins and lapping their greedy fingers in delicately hushed licks. In a gold bottle topped with a sapphire top like the gems Boucheron is famous for, it evokes luxury the Parisian way: old style, top clarity, lots of carats, but never ostentatious.

Next post will be in yet a different vein.

Pic of Baños de Doña María de Padilla in Alcazar, Seville, Spain courtesy of

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