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.