Monday, March 29, 2010

In the White Room

There is something about the phrase “white flowers” which sounds so pure and innocent to the uninitiated. I certainly didn’t know what these sweet white flowers were really about until I began to explore perfumery, but now I do: they’re a drug.
If you were to visualize yourself in a white-walled room with big vases full of jasmine, and orange blossom and tuberose and oh, gardenia, stretched out on a comfortable bed dressed in white cotton, more white drapery at the window, a slow-turning ceiling fan, a gentle breeze and the kind of light that only reflects off water, where would you be?
Physically, maybe in a beach house somewhere. Psychologically, you might be in as ordinary a place as I am now: sitting in an armchair in my living room, in my bathrobe, drinking coffee, lifting my hand to my nose every now and then for another white-flower hit.
Some scents have this power to transport. The more challenging ones, the concepts, the oudhs, the reflections on dirt, roots, sweat or wet concrete excite the intellect, the power of analysis, push the boundaries of the word “perfume.” Not these. They are nature’s. Their targets, of course, are not us; they’re insects, without whose endless poking and flitting these flowers, and the bushes, trees or vines on which they grow, could not exist.
These are the perfumes I smell and wear when I want to be transported, lifted, to some other place. To my own white room.
I chose three scents: Serge Lutens’ “A la Nuit” for jasmine, Estee Lauder Private Collection “Tuberose Gardenia” for, well, tuberose and gardenia, and Bourbon French’s “Orange Blossom” perfume. 
What I would do, if I had unlimited amounts of these three, is to spray them all on my white sheets, put on a white cotton floor-length nightgown, spritz that with them and  into my hair. I’d then lie down for a midday nap, or an afternoon siesta, both big no-no’s in the modern culture of busyness. What a delightful sin that would be: silence, indolence, nobody around. No cellphone, no iPhone, no computer beeping in the next room, no demands, just solitude. The initials form an acronym: silence, indolence, nobody: SIN. Which, incidentally, in Spanish means “without.”
When I think about the real reasons we wear perfumes at a time in which we don’t need them to mask odors, I keep returning to a phrase from some forgotten poem: “she walks in beauty…” The advertising, the marketing for modern fragrances have got it so wrong. Kate Moss writhing around in the back seat of a limo, holding a bottle of...what was it? I’ve already forgotten. 
We live in a crass time. Wearing perfume is about walking in beauty. And, if you are, the rest of it is easier to take.
So I’m glad that these white flowers cast a spell. They bewitch in ways that the “c’mere you’!” musks and cumin-y skanksters can’t. In an orange grove in the spring, you can see bumblebees, their bodies heavy with pollen, drunkenly somersaulting from flower to flower in utter euphoria. I think that we can do that, too.
I think that’s another reason why the white flower scents exist.
White Room Photo © Olfacta, all rights reserved.
The perfumes I used for this post are “a la Nuit,” by by Serge Lutens Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido, a jasmine floral with jasmines from Egypt, India, and Morocco, and white honey, benzoin and musk. The perfumer was Christopher Sheldrake. There is talk of IFRA-compliant reformulation of this scent. I believe that the decant I have, a gift,  was from an older bottle.
Estee Lauder Private Collection “Tuberose Gardenia” is part of their niche-like higher end line. The notes include neroli, lilac, rosewood, tuberose, gardenia, orange flower, jasmine, white lily, carnation and vanilla bourbon. The perfumer was Harry Fremont. My decant was purchased from The Perfumed Court.
Bourbon French “Orange Blossom” is from the venerated perfumery, founded in 1748, in New Orleans. All of their perfumes are compounded in-house. This one is perfume strength, and while there is no official list of “notes” that I could find, I smell honey and a bit of spice in the darkish drydown. I purchased this very grown-up orange blossom scent from Bourbon French.
For further explorations of Orange Blossom scents, go here.
For another look at New Orleans, go to this post.


The Left Coast Nose said...

This is a simply stunning post-- one of my favs on the subject of perfume so far. I'll be thinking about it some more, but what I wanted to tell you right now was

1) "silence, indolence, nobody"-- that is just simply wonderful, and deserves to become the slogan of a major movement.

2) You painted for the reader a portrait of your own interior place of calm, of beauty, of contemplation. That beautiful sacred space gets highjacked daily to sell laundry soap, but so few of us ever really achieve it in our daily lives. Thank you for a glimpse into that *real* place for you-- it serves as an inspiration to find it for the rest of us.

BitterGrace said...

I second everything LCN said.

White florals do always seem to resonate on a spiritual plane, though people interpret that so differently--as innocence, as refined eroticism, and (this is very 19th century) as a memento mori. When I did a perfume presentation for an art class last year, I gave the instructor a vial of Madini Nardo to sniff and his first utterance was "Funereal."

Anonymous said...

In the 80's I wore Chloe (the original) ALL the time-- I did think of it of creating a world of my own to which I could retreat with a sniff of the wrist. Though Chloe is too associated with a particular period of my life to be anything other than nostalgic for me, I still love the white flower scents. Silence, indolence, nobody: just what I want.

As it happens I'm wearing Chanel no.22 right now.
-- Gretchen

Ines said...

Oh yes, white flowers are the ones I find most transporting as well. And very addictive - the siesta you so woderfully described would really feel like a delightful sin (one you wouldn't be able to get enough of)...

Flora said...

Wow! What a wonderful evocation of the "trance state" that white flowers can induce, and I concur completely. As a "white floral queen" myself, I am always looking for the ultimate scents in this category. Thank you for this lovely mood piece.

I really, really hope that A La Nuit has not been reformulated, it is/was perfect just the way it is, the Platonic ideal of a jasmine perfume.

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