Monday, June 27, 2011

Four Frangipanis

We’ve been having monsoon weather here. Yesterday, it rained as hard as I’ve ever seen rain, including Pacific storms and hurricanes. It could be that a recent desire to spray myself with several fragrances at once is a response to the dramatic weather. (Or maybe not.) I have been craving florals, though, tropical ones, like this.
Frangipani is stealthy. There never has been a flower named “Frangipani,” botanically. The Frangipanis were people, a notable patrician family in Italy, prominent from around 1000 to the 1600’s. The Marchese di Frangipani concocted (or, more likely, had concocted) a perfume used to scent gloves. The perfume featured orris, spices, civet and musk. The gloves became known as “Frangipani gloves.” That name became associated with the tropical flower Plumeria after French colonists in the West Indies noticed a flowering tree whose scent reminded them of the gloves. The variety shown here is P. bicolor. There are many others.
The blossom blooms at night to lure the enormous Sphinx moth, and other moths. It produces no nectar, though. In the act of poking around looking for nectar, the frustrated moths pollinate the flowers. 
There is much folklore and custom associated with frangipani. In Polynesia, a flower worn over the right ear means unattached and looking for, uh, love; over the left, the opposite. In Bangladesh,frangipani is associated with death; in the Phillippines, ghosts and graveyards. 
What I found interesting about this flower was the wide range of scents I smelled when trying four fragrances made with it; two upscale and two not. 
Chantecaille Frangipani:  A white-flower fragrance for sure; there’s some orange blossom here, too, possibly a bit of jasmine, and what I think is Tahitian vanilla in the drydown. It’s heady, but heavy -- must be difficult to do that -- and has slight green notes, but the overall effect is that of a perfect bridal perfume: pretty and sweet, frangipani’s high road.
Ormonde Jayne Frangipani EDP: This is a very different treatment of the flower from that of Chantecaille. It’s clear, fresh as morning, with a definite hint of green. I smell magnolia, too, and Ormonde Jayne’s characteristic iso-e-super, which makes it a little woody in the early stages. It dries down a bit sweeter, but is never sweet. I’d say this is more Ormonde Jayne and less frangipani, and could be unisex.
Hei Poa Frangipani: Hei Poa is a French company that makes scents of Polynesia. A friend had a bottle and decanted some for me. It’s pleasant, a little boozy at first, some spice peeks out, and then: wham! Here is the heavy tropical flower, with much less finesse than either of the above. I think this is sold in tourist areas and airports in the South Pacific, particularly Tahiti, for moderate prices. The bottle was great -- hand-painted flowers and a big cork dome on top. I’ve been wearing this at night lately.
Maggie’s Pharmacy Frangipani Oil: Maggie’s Pharmacy is a funky shop near downtown Memphis that sells oils, essences, teas, herbs, handcrafted jewelry -- you get the idea. I loved the place. I bought several things from them, and the proprietor gave me a big handful of dried oakmoss, gratis, which I’m tincturing now. Anyway, this frangipani oil is initially musty and a little lemony, and the flower appears only when heated by skin. Like the Hei Poa, it is heavy, unmistakably tropical, and somehow darker than any of these -- it is an oil, of course -- and eventually it turns a little soapy, although it retains the musty quality. 
In Nigel Groom’s “New Perfume Handbook” there is an old recipe for a frangipani perfume that doesn’t list frangipani at all! Instead, there are synthetics: jasmine, lilac, orange blossom, benzoin, musk ketone -- interesting. 
All of this made me want to search out some frangipani absolute. I’d like to smell the real thing, but am not planning a trip to the tropics anytime soon. It seems to lend itself well to other ingredients -- the Ormonde Jayne and the Chantecaille hardly seem made with the same flower, although the other two do. (Of course there are so many kinds. The plot thickens.)
I’ll look around for some absolute. 
Do you have a favorite frangipani? 
Photo ©Johnfoto, used under license from
Resource material from The New Perfume Handbook by Nigel Groom, ISBN 0 7514 0403 9.
Full disclosure time: The Ormond Jayne sample was given to me a couple of years ago by Ormonde Jayne. The Chantecaille sample was handed out to participants at SniffaPalooza, fall 2010. The Hei Poa came from a friend and the Frangipani Essential Oil was purchased by me at Maggie’s Pharmacy, Memphis, TN.


Melissa said...

I was lucky enough to live in Hawaii when I was a kid and even luckier when I was able to be married there a few years back, and I have to say, once you smell a Plumeria blossom, your nose will never be the same!
I remember the tree we had growing right next to our house where I spent many a day stretched out in the grass looking up through the branches getting high on that gorgeous scent. When we landed in Maui a few years ago, that was the first thing I looked for was a Plumeria tree. My memory hadn't failed me. It's similar to a Jasmine/Champaca blend but spicier. It really is like nothing I've ever smelled. Unfortunately, I don't think it's one of those flowers that easily gives up its fragrance so I'm not sure there actually is an absolute. None I've ever seen.

Olfacta said...

Hi Melissa -- I'm, well, green. Frangipani right next to the house! My grandmother in Florida had a tree, of the red variety, in the yard, but I remember more the visual than the olfactory aspect.

I did find a company that sells a frangipani oil, and ordered some today. We shall see.

Thanks for the interesting comment!

Perfumeshrine said...

Hi P!

Oh rainy monsoon weather! I couldn't possibly cope with it. Hope it's not too floody?

Frangipanis are wonderful, so fragrant, so lush, so beautiful, it's a crime not to plant some if the climate allows. Nothing comes exactly close to the real scent. I do like the OJ version though. Your oil sounds delicious!

Olfacta said...

Thanks, E, good to hear from you! Our severe winters make frangipanis impossible to grow here. I wish that wasn't so!

Anonymous said...

In Southeast Asia (home of the monsoon!), frangipanis are associated with death. They are often used in funeral wreaths and a whiff of the flowers at night, in places where there are no frangipani trees around, is supposedly indicative of the presence of malevolent spirits.

Vanessa said...

I do like the OJ one but my favourite frangipani scent has to be Ajne Calypso, which also has jasmine, vanilla and sandalwood. It is incredibly OTT going on but softens with time and is very sultry and feminine imho.

Olfacta said...

Hello poofterama -- That is so interesting. As I understand it, flowers in general came to be used at funerals because they freshened the air around an unembalmed body. Since frangipani has such a strong and heavy smell it makes sense that it would have been used in that way, so maybe that's why there are so many of these macabre-seeming folk stories about this flower in tropical Asia, where it grows.

Olfacta said...

Hi Vanessa -- That's one I haven't heard of but I haven't heard of lots of things. Will delve.