While orange blossom seems like it would be more appropriate for the summer months, the truth is that they´re often too heady in our summer heat and humidity, and they tend to attract bees. This isn´t a problem in February, when I´m looking for a little ray of sunshine in a bottle (perfume, not liquor, although sometimes that works almost as well). I adore orange fragrances. You could release a scent called Orange Crap and I´d be first in line to try it.
The term “orange” implies something of the fruit, fragrance-wise – a little of the tartness, while “neroli” and “orange blossom” suggest the sweeter flower, but I think the perfumers play pretty fast and loose with that distinction, so I tend to ignore it. Fruit or flower – I´m in. My regular rotation includes Annick Goutal Neroli and a tiny, precious bottle of I Profumi de Firenze´s Arancia Dolce in a perfume concentrate, which I´m pretty sure is only sold (along with 30 others) at one of their pharmacies in Florence for the purpose of scenting their creams and lotions. I warmed up to Laura Tonatto´s far-from-universally-loved Fior d´Arancio, which is like orange soap on the skin but behaves itself beautifully sprayed on clothing. I catch cheerful remnants of it days (weeks?) later on my sweaters. There is even room on my shelf (dare I write this?) for a bottle of Spun Orange Blossom cologne from the clearance table at the Gap, which is not going to win any perfume awards but is a light, girly nuthin´-but-orange – no soap, no dope, a rainy-day giggle of a smell. My newest orange love is S-ex Perfume Sloth, a delicious orange/industrial complex that smells enthralling.
Today, however, I´m exploring two orange blossom scents that in some ways are polar opposites: L´Artisan Fleur d´Oranger 2005 and Serge Lutens Fleurs d´Oranger.
L´Artisan begs the philosophical question: can a perfume be too real? It is, simply, the magnificent smell of the orange blossom. This limited edition scent ($250 per bottle for 100 ml, more than twice the usual cost for the line) features the 2004 harvest of orange blossom from Nabeul in Tunisia and has generated a lot of discussion regarding the wisdom and purpose of “harvest” editions in perfume. Hype? Sure. The notes are listed as: orange bigarade, petitgrain, neroli, honey, orange blossom, beeswax.
This is a perfume-flower of such perfection you´d think God made it. It is stunning, a marvel of a smell. The lasting power is surprising for an orange soliflore, generally a fairly short-lived performer in fragrance. L’Artisan Fleur d´Oranger is an absolutely photo-realistic journey inside an orange blossom. It´s so real that the first time I wore it, it generated an entirely new mental/olfactory sensation in me: the perfume creeps. I started to feel like a bee – my skin felt furry, I heard buzzing, I kept checking to make sure my hands weren´t turning into legs and feelers. The second time I wore it I moved past that sensation and reveled in its unadorned, almost freakish beauty. If you are a big fan of orange in fragrances, you owe it to yourself to try it, period. Ignore the hype; there is simply nothing else like it.
For a completely different take on orange, which rather than a soliflore includes some of the other plants riding out the cold months in an orangery, I turn to Serge Lutens Fleurs d´Oranger– Orange blossom, white jasmine and tuberose from India, white rose, a zesty green note, hibiscus seed, cumin, nutmeg.
Of course, being Serge, it starts off with one of those confusing, French-farce practical jokes – a gagging blast of cumin, and separate from a blast of skunk (or camphor) I can´t think of anything offhand I´d like to smell less in a perfume top note. But take deep, cleansing breaths. Try to ignore the foolishness for half an hour, which is what I did the first time I wore it, and only because I was leaving the house and literally had no time to wash it off. You will be rewarded for your patience with a langorous ode to l´orange, a sensual stroke of jasmine, resting on a delicious mouthful of the quintessential Lutens base – this version less amber-y, more creme caramel, on a late spring afternoon in Paris, with you lying wrapped in a towel on the divan, gazing out the window at the rain, and the smell of from the orangery of your childhood in Tuscany is suddenly, unaccountably, there in your room. This scent is not the photorealism of l´Artisan; it is the complex fiction of the orange blossom of memory, like Proust and his madeleines. The first time this happened, I burst out in giddy laughter, in public. Let them stare, the joy you will feel at that moment is worth it.