Facing another lineup of soliflores, it’s easy to be dismissive. Everyone from Van Cleef & Arpels and Roger Vivier to Marc Jacobs and Chloé seems to be churning out single note fragrances. Add that to the established soliflores on the market from everyone from Serge Lutens to Annick Goutal, and you have to ask if we really need another take on lily, iris, or amber. Recently Mona di Orio jumped into the soliflore game with her Les Nombres d’Or. Do we really need more soliflores, especially those that retail for $220 for a 100 ml bottle?
Before tackling that question, let’s first consider the soliflore, then look at the latest Les Nombres d’Or offerings: Tubéreuse, Vétyver, and Vanille.
A soliflore fragrance focuses on one note. It’s the sort of fragrance you can sniff and quickly say, “Oh, that’s lily of the valley,” or “That’s incense.” But it doesn’t mean Edmond Roudnitska made Christian Dior Diorissimo, an ode to the lily of the valley, by squeezing a bunch of lilies of the valley into a bottle, and if you smell Diorissimo next to a real lily of the valley you’ll appreciate that the fragrance isn’t a slavish imitation of the flower, either. I’m not an expert, but from what I understand, to create a soliflore a perfumer must draw from a variety of materials to summon the green, crisp, soft, watery, lush, sharp, earthy, or other aspects of the fragrance she is creating.
For instance, take the rose. A rose can feel candied, dried, or wet and freshly unfurled. It can play up the velvet petals, dirt-caked root, or tart hip. A hint of purple fruit or peach brings out the rose’s fruit. A grounding of patchouli or civet emphasizes the flower’s carnal side. With apologies to Gertrude Stein, a rose is not a rose is not a rose. Just ask the folks at Les Parfums de Rosine who have made a career out of unmasking the rose’s multiple personalities. A painting of a woman can be anything from Rubens to Picasso and still be art. A rose-centered perfume can be almost as varied, and, also, still art.
With Les Nombres d’Or, Mona di Orio hasn’t yet tackled the rose, but last year she released musk, amber, and leather fragrances, and now tuberose, vetiver, and vanilla.
Les Nombres d’Or Tubéreuse Eau de Parfum (pink pepper, bergamot, tuberose, benzoin, cashmeran, and heliotrope) captures the fragrance of tuberose, but from the lawn where a summer warm breeze wafts by. To me, Tubéreuse is more about texture than a clever angle on the flower’s scent. Unlike many tuberose fragrances that are room-hogging divas, Tubéreuse is diffuse and airy, a chiffon-like veil of narcotic tuberose fragrance. I have a lot of trouble with tuberose perfumes trying to turn me into Ava Gardner and coming up with laughable results. This one is easy to wear. It’s quiet, slightly peppery, barely vanillic, and I can smell salty skin in it. Or is it my own skin I smell through it? It’s hard to tell, and that’s the beauty of this fragrance. It lasts about four hours.
To me, Vétyver Eau de Parfum (blue ginger, grapefruit, nutmeg, vetiver, labdanum, musk, patchouli, and sage) is more a trio than a vetiver solo. Along with a dirty, rooty vetiver is a strip of fresh grapefruit peel and a breath of patchouli. Before I read Vétyver’s list of notes, I figured the grapefruit for lime peel. The patchouli sometimes comes out loud and clear (I first wore it to the supermarket and announced in the checkout line that “somebody is wearing patchouli” before figuring out it was me) and sometimes fades into the background. Vétyver is elegantly butch. I see it on Marlene Dietrich or Cary Grant, in evening clothes or linen shirts, but always with an expensive, old watch on a worn leather wristband. It has moderate sillage and lasts about six hours.
Vanille Eau de Parfum (bitter orange, rum, petitgrain, clove, vanilla, tolu balsam, gaiac wood, vetiver, sandalwood, ylang ylang, tonka bean, leather, musk, and amber) was the fragrance I feared most. Who needs another bottle of custard? Instead, Vanille reminds me that the vanilla bean is a plant. Vanille rejects the texture I expect — creamy and sweet — and delivers instead a green, spicy, toasted take on the bean. Sure, it’s definitely vanilla, but it’s also peppery clove, sandalwood, and boots in a cool, green field. To my surprise, Vanille ended up being my favorite of the trio. It stays in my personal space and wears about six hours.
So, does the world have room for more soliflores, and expensive ones at that? As long as a perfumer continues to explore a single note in a way that invites us see fresh, intriguing aspects of that note, I welcome them.
Mona di Orio Les Nombres d’Or Tubéreuse, Vétyver, and Vanille Eaux de Parfum come in 100 ml bottles. For information on where to buy them, see Mona di Orio under Perfume Houses.
This was wonderfully witten and very informative.
Thank you! I’m glad you liked it.
Great article! This may not be the place to ask, but I have noticed that many rose soliflores have this off-putting metallic note on my skin. Examples include TDC’s rose poivree, ELdO’s Rossy de Palma, and L’artisan’s Voleur de Rose. Even Andy Taur’s incense rose (not a soliflore) is a bit metallic on me.
Two that do not have this effect are S.L. Sa Majeste la Rose, and Paul Smith’s rose.
Any possible explanations?
That’s a good question, and I’m sorry I don’t have a good answer for it. Jessica is the in-house NST rose expert. She might have some clues.
I’v just been snooping round a site called perfumersworld and it seems like several ‘rose’ aromachemicals do have a metallic edge, so it could be that my skin brings that out. Well, its been frustrating, but the frustration has turned into curiosity! Thanks for the reply, my question was a non-sequiter!
Interesting! Maybe you do better with the absolute.
Merlin, if it helps, ELdO’s Rossy de Palma is probably metallic on purpose. Smells like rose and citronella…
The back story of that one has a drop of blood on the thorn – or something like that. So the ‘metallic’ there is more explicable. I didn’t realise citronella was responsible though!
I am scared of the Vanille Eau de Parfum now too Angela but for different reasons. I am scared I will LOVE it and of course, it’s pricey!
I know! I like this trio, but I won’t buy any of them for just that reason. If I have a couple of hundred dollars to spend on a bottle, it will be something at the very top of my list.
Great reviews, Angela, although I must be firmly planted in Stage 5 of perfumista-hood – I’m not moved to sample. It could be the triple digit heat though….
I totally understand. If samples hadn’t fallen into my lap, I probably wouldn’t sample them, either. Although I’m glad I’ve tried them and glad I have a couple ml of each around.
I love your little supermarket faux pas.
Excellent and intriguing reviews as always. I have been on the lookout for a non-custard vanilla, so this one sounds like a must-try. Hopefully I’ll forget all about it in the pantheon of perfume news, since I really have to curb my spending.
I hear you on the spending! I’m sure another avalanche of releases will let you forget all about it if that’s what you need to do.
Tama, IMO Atelier Vanille Insensee is not custard at all. There’s a refreshing aspect to it, then a lovely, comforting incense feel. I recommend it if you haven’t tried it yet!
Vanille Insensee is loaded with amber, too, so you really need to like amber, but it’s much cheaper at $60 (I think) for 30 ml.
The Ateliers all do something funny on me, unfortunately. I am looking hard at Diptyque Eau Duelle, though.
Or what about Hermes Vanilla Galante? I almost forgot about that one.
I agree! That one surprised me. The drydown is especially wonderful, and no custard in sight!
This the second or third comment I have read on a perfume blog in which a supermarket clerk commented about a fragrance.
Where are these grocery workers who can identify a note?
At the various grocery stores (including the “gourmet” ones in my neighborhood, the clerks have trouble identifying leeks and turnips. I don’t mean that they have trouble identifying rootsy or gourmand notes in my fragrance. I mean that they can not identify the basic vegetables in my grocery cart.
In fact, yesterday, I selected a bunch of mint, green leafy mint, very minty mint, the type that gets put into iced tea. The clerk picked up the bunch, held it to his face, and said “this is basil, right.”
In this case, I was the one who identified the note. But confusing mint for basil? Not knowing a leek or a turnip? That’s pretty sad. What are these people eating? Not leeks, turnips, mint, or basil, I guess.
Yeah, don’t think the big mac contains any of those…
Sad but true.
Now, now. With the cost of produce and the low salaries of service workers, I am not surprised employees cannot identify fresh herbs. Even the lowly turnip used to be far cheaper!
Even a good head of cabbage is pricy. Good vegetables, grown without spray, are worth it, I think.
I regularly shop at a local supermarket with an absolutely epic selection of produce, some varieties of which I have never seen for sale anywhere else. There aren’t just (for example) nectarines and peaches; there are at least five different kinds of nectarines and five different kinds of peaches, and within those categories, the small, medium, and large varieties often vary in price. Even with minimal distinguishing markings or labeling, I have never had a cashier enter the wrong price (and have rarely seen one have to look up a code). I am in awe.
That truly is amazing. Those cashiers must go to sleep with numbers flying through their minds.
Sounds like the Berkeley Bowl – amazing selection.
Indeed it is the Berkeley Bowl! I used to live five minutes away, but I still make the 30-minute trek from my current neighborhood.
I’m doubly thrilled and eager now to get my little decants! Can’t wait to try these following your delightful review. Thank you!
Let me know what you think of them!
Uh, thanks, I thought I did not need to sample these, and now I think I might.
At least, I will not turn down a sample even if I won’t seek it.
Thanks, it was a very interesting article!
I think they’re definitely worth trying if samples come your way or if you’re somewhere they’re sold.
I don’t know much about vetiver, or any soliflore note really because I don’t wear them much, but I’ve noticed before vetiver being paired with grapefruit. Is that a classic combination, like rose and jasmine, or rose and violet? Thanks, and tanks Angela for the reviews.
It does smell classic to me–classic and a little masculine. Maybe that’s a more common pairing with masculine fragrances.
Almost all vetivers smell like grapefruit on my skin…
Then they must be a natural combo!
…or I have alien skin…
Dude, I want that vanilla. I have a love-hate relationship with vanilla; love the basic note, hate the way it’s usually interpreted (sugary, custard-y, cloying, Yankee Candle-like junk; I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate). More of the “green, spicy, toasted” stuff, please. Thanks for the great review, not that I have $220 to blow …
Who does have the extra cash? But you never know. Maybe you’ll be able to swap for some someday. Or try a decant.
Consider the small bottle of Vanilla Insensee (which happens to be on my arm as I type). At first it is like an actual vanilla bean, before the sugar and milk and other sweet stuff gets added, then it sort of is just subtle.
And ambery. Am I the only person who gets a lot of amber in it? I’m starting to think I am. Maybe my patchouli-amplifying skin does the same thing with amber.
Thanks, Dilana, I’ll check that out. And Angela, I do love me some amber.
Loved this review Angela. These sound like new, artful takes on the soliflore genre. All of these sounded tempting. Darn it.
As nice as it is to smell something good, it’s kind of a bummer, too, I know.
SOMEBODY is wearing patchouli. lol
Yep, that would be me. Looking a little stupid.
Silly, then. But mighty fragrant.
I just have to say~Angela…..you’re a hell of a writer!! What an enjoyable read. Thank you!
I’m really glad you enjoyed it! Thank you.
Hi Angela! Excuse my ignorance, but is the term soliflore referring to a single *floral* note or any single note in general? I know the term is etymologically self-explanatory but I was thinking maybe its meaning has evolved in the perfume-hood that any single fragrance note (e.g. amber, and others not necessarily originating from a plant or flower) is called as such.
Perfumers might not agree, but I think of a soliflore as a fragrance featuring one note distinctly, and that note doesn’t always have to be a flower. Maybe there’s a better term out there for non-floral one-note fragrances, though. I don’t know if any perfume professionals read the blog, but if they do, I’d love to know if I’m getting “soliflore” all wrong!
Happy New Year and I hope 2013 brings good tidings to you and your loved ones.
More than a year after I wrote that comment on soliflore and after reading hundreds of blog entries on perfumes, I noticed many people who share the same interest as ours called it solinote, i.e. those perfume with single note, not necessarily from flower or plant). I am not sure though if it is the right term but it makes sense, no? Anyway, soliflore or solinote, does it really matter? As long as we enjoy this thing called perfume and we appreciate its beauty other than the words we use to describe them, I think it does not matter.
Have a great day ahead!
“Solinote” is a very useful term. Thank you for coming back after all this time to add your comment!
Great article, Angela. And I nearly fell over when I read your paragraph on roses, as I wrote a very similar one, right down to the Gertrude Stein, a month ago for a project I’ve been working on for some time (was thinking, in part, about my previous rose articles on NST). Great minds and all that. Though it is probably just Gertrude, laughing at us…
(And dang it, the tuberose one sounds great. But have you tried Dawn Hurwitz’s version? Similar feel for less $$)
Funny! I guess poor old Gertrude (and Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet) get their rose quotes tossed around a fair amount.
I haven’t tried the DSH. Thanks for the recommendation.