Thursday, September 01, 2011

Studying Narcissus

Narcissus by naruo0720
Narcissus, a photo by naruo0720 on Flickr.

Studying narcissus absolute leads to interesting conclusions... The absolute is very different from the fresh flower, which grows wild from bulbs in the Mediterranean region. Wild narcissus blooms in the coldest days of the winter, so living in the Northern Hemisphere, where daffodils and narcissus are associated with spring took a while to get used to for me...

Growing up in the little village in northern Israel, there was nothing more delightful than spotting narcissus flowers while puddle hopping. We would just follow our noses and find them hiding among thorny bushes with their delicate yolk centre and crisp white petals. But the closer you get - the stinkier, more indolic, animalic and revolting the scent is... Kind of like a narcissistic person - which is charismatic and attractive until you get to know them better and realize how much they stink!

The closest thing I smelled in terms of raw materials to living narcissus was a sample of para-cresyl acetate that my friend Laurie Erickson sent me a while back. The absolute, however, smells nothing like it at all, and brings very surprising notes and complexity that makes it a very intriguing raw material, which I would have happily used more often if it wasn't for its extremely prohibitive cost. It also makes me steer clear of the cliches for narcissus (i.e.: the young mythical lad staring at himself in the pond until drowning in his own superficial beauty...), and look at it in a new angle, that is more sensory and less cerebral.

Opening with surprisingly green, herbaceous notes, narcissus absolute (from Narcissus Poeticus) possesses creamy floralcy reminiscent of tuberose absolute, but layered with far more greenery reminiscent of mint, hay and tomato leaf absolute. There's something dirty and slightly repulsive about it - almost like a heap of rotting garden weeds. The dryout is reminiscent of hay, and is a tad powdery. Still bears a strong resemblance to tomato leaf absolute but softer.

In Arctander's words (p. 433): "The odor of narcissus absolute is strongly foliage-green, very sweet-herbaceous over a fainr, but quite persistent floral undertone". Arctander also distinguishes between two varieties of narcissus absolutes that are produced - "des plaines" from the Grasse area, which is "orange-colored, very viscous, and has a floral-sweet, mild and rich, but not very powerful odor"; and the "des montagnes" variety, which comes mainly from Esterel in Southern France and is "greenish-brown, viscous liquid of green and somewhat earthy type. The undertone is sweet and balsamic-spicy, reminiscent of carnation and hyacinth, but still carrying a strong, green-foliage note". It's hard for me to tell which specimen is the sample that I'm holding, as usually the location relates only to country, not exact region or city (and in this case - both varieties are from the south of France). If to guess by the appearance alone of the oil, it could very likely be the "des plaines" as it has an orange colour; but to judge by the smell - it fits the description of the "des montagnes", and is very tenacious.

Another type of narcissus is jonquil absolute - a cultivated variety (Narcissus Jonquilla) which is more rare and even more expensive than narcissus, and its scent is sweeter and more floral (tuberose-like) and honeyed with hay and green undertones very similar to that of the narcissus absolute, or as Arctander describes it "... heavy, honeylike, deep-sweet floral odor with a strong green undertone and a somewhat bitter, very tenacious dryout note. The odor bears great similarity to the fragrance of longoza and tuberose, and a remote resemblance to hyacinth".

I feel I will need to spend more time with this both of these absolutes to fully grasp their depth and complexities. They are by no means pretty or easy to work with. But that's exactly what I find intriguing and fascinating about them. And I've been deriving immense pleasure blending with them and bringing forward their animalic and floral characteristics while embracing their foliage and earthy aspects. Essences with such complexity and dichotomy unleash my imagination and take me to unexpected places.

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3 Comments:

At September 06, 2011 10:19 AM, Blogger JulienFromDijon said...

L'artisan parfumeur used "Laboratoires Monique Rémy's" narcissus, when they did a millesime edition of "Fleures de narcisse".
I didn't know there were 2 kinds of fragrant narcisse, I rely on "narcissus poeticus" for my mental image of narcisse : a kind of white jonquille with unbounded petals, oval and twisted petals.

This perfume was one of my first spending in perfume (even at -30%, still 166€).
Last june, there were a clearance sale by l'artisan parfumeur, and Iris pallida and Fleurs de narcisse were at 57€ instead of 240€, for 100ml, but people seemed not to notice the bargain. I scored few bottles.

What I loved the most with narcisse, is to spray 8-10 times on fabric, for example the hole of my sleeve (warmth spot).
Because 2 hours later, all the perfume has recieded, and what is left is a choir of white flowers. The same white flower multiplied by 100, otherwordly, like a field of flower singing in unisson.
I don't like that much the greeny aspect, neither the vinegar tinged, neither the "soaked" feelling of narcisse, neither the hay like or the dry herb tone.
It is its pseudo-jasmine quality that I crave for. Actually I don't wear the perfume that offen, but I can't imagine not having it.

Narcisse is said to be the natural material with the more different olfactive molecule (~4000).
What I fond the most enthralling is how it does many thing "as if", in its own fashon, it's not jasmine, it's not greae, or that balsamic, or hay. As a perfumer it is like a special extra touch on a piano.

A good symbolic clue, is too remembrance that Aedes abducted Persephone with the smell of a huge lily-like flower. One blogger once said one could relate narcissus to the "asphodele", when botanic did not exist, it could have been this flower, grown by mourner on graves, and an underworld flower as well.
(because somehow, the actual asphodele has no smell, when litteracy mentions one)

Vol de nuit is said to include jonquil material. The actual extrait has this jasmine raspy tone that say "I'll be back", so I think they're still jonguil in it.
The lovely "Le temps d'une fête (new actual version)" include some daffodil too, a hint, behind the yland galbanum and jasmine-feeling. It gives the feeling of a forest river flowing.
"Havanah vanille" (l'artisan parfumeur) has some narcisse, it makes a junction between the whiskey-pastry accord of the perfume, and the rhum-like natural vanilla in the drydown.
Boucheron Boucheron in extrait may have had some. But arochemical comed by here, there is an imititation of it, Octavian quote such bases existed already on the begin of XXth century.
And "La XIII heure" has some, well hidden, but I don't think it sings the way I'd like it. It's again a junction role, between the cigar-tabacco (and bergamotte, a nod to habanita) in the opening, and the smoked tea (a bit chypre) lapsang souchong of the drydown. Narcissus is the crispness in between.

It reminds me of the use of true Osmanthus : a perfume by itself. Osmanthus is a very rich material. Pseudo-peechy (when narcissus is pseudo-jasmine), leather and hay. And perfumers have problems to do something good with it, and use its crispness, which is not the best part to my nose.

 
At November 11, 2011 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arctander says everything smells like tuberose from german chamomile to golden champa to gardenia. They should each be appreciated in their own right.

There is nothing like narcissus to me, a lover of green florals and incense. Too bad I missed that sale on Fleur de Narcisse, because it's rather close to my ideal. I love Chamade and Vol de Nuit, and I've satisfied myself with Le Temps d'Une Fete, which has a double wallop of the narcotic narcissus, or rather narcissus as a topnote and jonquille as a heart note. I love the vintage Chamade parfum, but you miss the pollen-like almost baking bread scent in the newer issue. Fleur de Narcisse accomplishes this with its beautiful use of iris. But Le Temps d'Une Fete is a totally different creature with all that opoponax. I've seen it compared to Habit Rouge. That's on point.

 
At November 13, 2011 12:53 PM, Blogger JulienFromDijon said...

How could I forgot Chamade, that's my favorite perfume!
I crave for the "parfum de toilette" version, it's really the one perfume I'm making stock of it.

Le temps d'une fête compared to "habit rouge"?
Habit rouge is an oppoponax made fresh and raspy with neroli.
Now that you say it, "Le temps d'une fête" comes near. It is oppoponax made fresh and raspy, but it differs, maybe because it is not paired with neroli.

Recentlay I got my hand on vintage "miss dior" edt. Gosh, how that stink! I spent 2 hours wondering if I had been fooled. It actually is the real thing, I compared with another sealed bottle, but you have to let the perfume get the wind.
It contains an accord very near to habit rouge, it contains a few drops of oppoponax, and with its fresh galbanum-like overture, you got this raspy accord. This, and aldehyde, and vetiver, and many gaps in the composition due maybe to the age.
And on fabric, you get the feeling it contains narcissus. The old Dior were of great quality, were...
So maybe yes, habit rouge took back this idea (galbanum, neroli, oppoponax), with narcissus somewhere in it.

 

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