Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Oh, Tulip, Where is Thy Scent?

I have always loved tulips -- planting tulip bulbs in the fall is an act of faith, and when they bloom in the spring I always breathe a sigh of relief that another winter has been successfully weathered. Besides that, tulips are just so beautiful to look at! But where is their scent? These brightly-colored, proud, long-stemmed flowers tempt us with promises of a gorgeous fragrance in line with their physical beauty, but, alas, they emit just the faintest scent of green (which is probably coming from the leaves anyway)!

What would a tulip fragrance smell like? I think it would be cheerful, sunny and bright, with a touch of humor and grace. And this is not just a rhetorical question. Clever perfumers have been creating fragrances from scentless flowers for many years. New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr discusses this in a recent New York Times article, "Ghost Flowers."

He describes Flower by Kenzo as an example of a parfum based on the imaginary scent of the red poppy. The Kenzo website emphasizes this by stating, "The poppy is scentless, Kenzo invents its fragrance." Perfumer Alberto Morillas made the perfume using a natural violet leaf, essence of acacia flower, linalyl aetate, geraniol and citronellol (which are molecules found in rose and jasmine). He then made it smell "red" by adding synthetic and pure vanillas, heliotropin and benzyl acetate. The result, launched in 2000, is the beautiful Flower By Kenzo, a highly successful and popular fragrance.

Another beautiful flower having no smell is the camellia. Chanel's gifted perfumer, Jacques Polge, was assigned the task of making a perfume based on this flower, which was Coco's favorite. The result is the delightful Une Fleur de Chanel, based entirely on an imagined scent.

In light of that, shouldn't somebody be working on a lovely tulip eau de parfum?

Tulip Photo © 2007 The Perfume Bee


IrisLA said...

Chandler Burr's article was very informative for me. Not being a gardener, I didn't know which flowers have scent. I didn't realize that some "floral" fragrances were imaginary scents. Silly me!

christine said...

Hi Iris,

I found Chandler's article to be very eye-opening as well. It makes me appreciate the amazing alchemy that goes into making some (most) of my favorite fragrances.

Good to hear from you!


katiedid said...

Helena Rubenstein made a "Tulip" fragrance back in the 70s, and I've always been curious about it, though I've yet to find it. Fruits and Passion makes a tulip scented glass cleaner, though, and honestly, it smells so accurate to what a plucked bouquet of them is like that I wish they'd turn THAT into a personal fragrance. (The glass cleaner works brilliantly, I should add.) I dunno, I feel like tulips do have a smell, but they have to be in a big ol' bunch in a vase to really pick up on the aroma when you pass by them.

Flora said...

Oh, but one must smell the RIGHT tulips! Scent in tulips is linked to color, due to the species used in the development of the modern hybrids. A lemon-colored species called Tulipa sylvestris is very sweetly scented, somewhat like a good English primrose, if you know that flower, sometimes called cowslip. Its descendants of yellow and orange shades are often fragrant. The orange ones are sometimes particularly sweet. (Look for the ones tending toward bronze, mango or apricot, not scarlet-orange; that color is linked to scentlessness in many flowers.)

christine said...

Hi Katiedid,

A tulip-scented glass cleaner! That sounds fabulous!! Thanks for the tip. I'm not familiar with the Helena Rubenstein frag. I'd love to hear from anyone who has sniffed it.

Thanks for writing!


christine said...

Hi Flora,

I just happen to have a flowrerpot of yellow tulips and another flowerpot with yellow primroses . You are so right! I had NO IDEA primroses smelled so sweet and powdery. And the yellow tulips have a green, earthy scent. When I wrote my original post, I was sniffing cut (pink) tulips. These yellow living flowers smell completely different.

What you wrote about floral fragrance vs color is very interesting. It's almost like the scent is bred out in favor of color and vice-versa.

Thank you for writing!


HD said...

Ah, but Tulips do have a fragrance. I have grown tulips that had the most wonderfully elegant fragrance unlike any other flowers. While most Tulips have no scent, nevertheless some varieties of Tulips are, indeed, fragrant. For example some of the Single Early Tulips (such as Apricot Beauty, Bellona, Christmas Marvel, Couleur Cardinal, Generaal de Wet, Keizerskroon, Prince of Austria), the Double Early Tulips (such as Abba, Electra, Mr. van der Hoef, Monte Carlo, Montreux, Schoonord), the Double Late Tulips (such as Allegretto, Angelique), and some of the Darwin Hybrid Tulips (Ad Rem, Daydream, Holland's Glory, Oranjezon, Silverstream, Vivex) have a very pleasant fragrance.