That is, until September 2015, when I wandered into what seemed to be the Mr. Willy Wonka’s factory of exotic plants, owned by a man who I suspect to be an elf in human form growing no fewer than seven varieties of osmanthus. It turns out that his Japanese wife, homesick for her native land, had smuggled the plantlets home in a baby wrap. So here they were, little fragrant glimpses of Japan, thriving, if not shivering a little against the bite of the cold Irish breeze.
As I bent down to touch and sniff the tiny flowers, the man-elf talked my ear off about how special osmanthus was. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was distinctly whelmed. All I could smell was a gently apricotty fruitiness with a citric edge, subtle to the point that it would be easy to confuse it with any other lightly fruity floral, like cherry blossom or hibiscus. No saturnine drama, no pungent peach wine, no creamy suede. “No, no,”, he insisted, seeing my bafflement, “Smell the absolute. It’s a different animal.” He quickly looked around, as if anyone was lurking on this flat, scrubby piece of land, waiting to report him to the authorities. He had a vial of the absolute, he muttered, but it was so expensive that he couldn’t actually let me smell it.
Intrigued by a plant oil that could inspire this level of, well, weirdness, I began exploring. Thanks to the generosity of the wonderful Mumsy here on Basenotes, I was able to obtain two samples of osmanthus absolute from Eden Botanicals, one a 10% concentration in perfumer’s alcohol, and the other 1%.
And you know what? Man-elf was right. In absolute form, osmanthus smells like a pungent and creamy Laotian oud oil, with a greasy leather undertone and a winey, damascenone-rich fruitiness. Apparently, because osmanthus petals are so tiny, you have to collect a lot of them to fill the still, so the petals sit (and rot slightly) in water until enough petals have been gathered for distillation. This process, similar to the pre-soaking of oud wood chips for at least ten days before distilling, gives the resulting oil the animalic twang of (sour, fruity-leathery) fermentation that links it so closely to the aromas of black tea, oud oil, leather, and dried fruit skin.
But what is fascinating to me is how the impressive range of osmanthus offers perfumers room to play. Some osmanthus perfumes clearly smell like the flowers fresh off the shrub – tart, peach tea-like, almost citrusy - while others are designed to draw out the suede or leather aspects ‘cooked’ into the material at soaking stage. Some perfumers have even paired the osmanthus with cheesy oud oils or goaty labdanum absolutes in order to emphasize the more pungent facets of the material. Some just head for the apricot. All different, all fun to explore. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
The Osmanthus Bellwethers
And now I get why Luca Turin was so enthused. Miyako is as close to the pungent, slippery smell of osmanthus absolute that is possible to get. Stale, varnishy Hindi oud with lots of dusty old furniture and dried, rhino foreskins, dust motes, and the oud-adjacent funk of Époisses, membrillo paste that’s on the turn, and over-brewed black tea so fermented and leathery it makes the membranes in the back of your throat seize up. Miyako is initially less perfume than something like salted plum or beef jerky. It’s good. No, it’s great, actually, with the qualifier that you have to really love the feral, buttered-apricot intensity of the absolute.
It is also, and how can I say this politely, so intensely sweet, and so obnoxiously, unrelentingly jammy that my ladystache starts to sweat. All that peach jam business is backed up by a stonkingly smoky, resinous amber the size of an Amber Absolute. It is a tale of two halves – osmanthus absolute and labdanum absolute, which are in and of themselves two very complex naturals.
And that is my main complaint, really. In typical indie fashion, the perfumers lean on their starring raw materials to do all the heavy lifting. So, when you smell the funky apricot jam, the leather, the animalic aspects, the incense, the resin, the smoke, you think, my God, but this thing is a colossal feat of perfumery. Too bad, then, that the seams between the two mahoosive start materials are so apparent. It makes me wince to see so clearly past the curtain the Wizard of Oz is clutching. I want the smoke and mirrors. I don’t want – particularly – to see the joints and the architraves. Miyako smells undeniably great, but it is also pretty clumsy-blocky-fingerpainty in construction. It needs more air between its molecules to feel comfortable on the skin.
*You’ll notice, I’m sure, that some bitching leaked its way in anyway, but there is only so much equanimity one can achieve.
Osmanthe Yunnan (Hermès)
Osmanthe Yunnan is, in a way, victim of its own press. While it is true that the central osmanthus-peach-tea accord is gently lactonic and smoky, it is never quite as milky or as smoky as its mythology makes it out to be. On the skin, there’s a thin, leathery sourness that is interesting, but almost never discussed. Osmanthe Yunnan is more about the tannins in suede and tea and fruit skin than it is about milk or smoke. Which is something I forget about entirely the next time my eyes alight on the bottle (“Ah, Osmanthe Yunnan! What an excellent milky, smoky thing you are!”).
Those facets are there, of course, but because they are drawing on subtler stuff like peach lactones or the hint of smoke lingering from the tea roasting process, they lie quietly just under the surface of the scent, causing barely a ripple. I suppose this is the point of the whole exercise – refinement, minimalism, the miles-deep cream carpet of luxury. Ellena didn’t need to call in the shouty, muscle-flexing chemical bonfire material pumped into By the Fireplace (Maison Martin Margiela), nor does he go for the smoked-ham pungency of the lapsang souchong Co2 used in Jeke (Slumberhouse). The smoke and milk are mere suggestions. Possibly even a figment of my overactive imagination. I love it, but for some reason, it plays out much better in my head than on my skin.
Osmanthus (The Different Company)
At first, it is all green, rustling leaves – the scent that blooms from a cup of loose green tea at the precise moment the stream of boiling water hits. The sunlit apricot skin and brown paper loveliness of osmanthus is there alright but curled shyly in the veins of the dried tea leaf, slightly unripe and waiting to take shape. A whisper of suede makes my ears perk up, and I listen carefully, but when focusing this hard, all I really pick up is the scent of hands that have been washed three or four times in a row by someone excessively concerned with hygiene.
If this is osmanthus – and by all accounts, this really is a true osmanthus – then osmanthus must be a flower carved from a piece of green guest room soap, the very hard, pure kind whose looks out-strip its function. I am positive this would have worked better as one of the Bvlgari tea series. As it stands, there’s not much to justify the price jump between this and something like Roger et Gallet Fleur d’Osmanthus, which I greatly prefer.
Osmanthus Fresh Off the Bush
I find this sort of TV compelling partly because it shows me a way of living, or culture, that is so different from my own and partly because because, regardless of the age of the woman involved (some are in their early twenties, others in their forties or even fifties), they all seem to be willingly ensconced in a bubble of what one feels that some men feel that Japanese or Korean women should be – ‘cute’ (kawai), feminine in an almost cartoonish manner, ensconced in a bubble of precocious 16-year-old virginity - preserved like butterflies pinned to a wall or wildflowers pressed between the pages of a book.
Memo Inle is like these cute YouTube girls in scent form. It contains the same starchy green tea signature that repeats on itself like a meal throughout the Memo catalogue, but where Eau de Memo, for example, frames this against a stiff, citric galbanum to form a green leather shape as sharp as a librarian’s ‘shhhh’, Inle simply uses it to give the fresh, apricotty florals something to lean against. The floral note is osmanthus as long as you are willing to squint your eyes and pretend that you’re smelling the petals fresh from the bush itself rather than the absolute – these, in this form, carry a fresh, cherry blossom-adjacent scent naturally high in tannins (which is why tea notes are often paired with osmanthus). Zero fat on its bones and therefore zero sexuality.
Adameku (Di Ser)
While most osmanthus-forward compositions focus on the leathery aspects of the flower, the Di Ser take focuses on the translucent, fruity-jellied scent of the small petals themselves when sniffed fresh from the bush. This gives Adameku a bright, uplifting character similar to Diptyque’s Oyedo, but a softly dirty, almost sour note in the background creates an odd chiaroscuro effect – cubes of delicate fruit jelly strewn across soil. If you are an osmanthus fan and looking for a fresh take, then Adameku’s half-Hello Kitty, half-Japanese botanical garden deserves to be on your radar.
Fleur d’Osmanthus (Roger et Gallet)
(Avoid the Fleur d’Osmanthus soap, though. That is pure disappointment.)
Osmanthus (Ormonde Jayne)Osmanthus is not my favorite osmanthus-themed scent in the Ormonde Jayne stable (that would be Qi), but it is surely the prettiest. Osmanthus explores the softly soapy, ‘clean linen’ side of the bloom that marks it out more as vaguely cherry blossom than the pungent fruity apricot suede trope often plumbed in niche.
In fact, aside from a vaguely peachy or apricotty tinge in the topnotes, Osmanthus sidesteps its namesake ingredient and goes for pomelo peel and white petals plunged into ice water and polished to a high shine by radiant aquatic musks. It smells pleasantly cooling, like a tall glass of lemonade or the feel of fresh cotton on hot skin. Think of it this way; if Qi is an apricot-colored suede pouch filled with green tea, then Osmanthus is a white broderie anglaise sundress and a pair of straw espadrilles strung over one perfectly tan shoulder.
All very nice but running a little too close to one of those Atelier Cologne citrus-and-cotton-musk scents for comfort. I always thought that Osmanthus would smell more ‘at home’ in the form of a body care product than a perfume, and it turns out I was right - the Osmanthus Hair Mist is lovely. Warmer and peachier than the perfume, the pert, perfumey prettiness of Osmanthus makes more sense to me when spritzed through second day hair. It is still much girlier than I am, but at least in this form, it just creates the manifest lie impression that I am freshly bathed and impeccably groomed.
More Peach Than Osmanthus
Flower of Immortality (By Kilian)
Osmanthus Soliflore (Dame Perfumery)
Rich, Pungent Osmanthus
Black Osmanthus (Marina Barcenilla)
Passionate Love (Ormonde Jayne)
Soon, however, the fleshy assault of the osmanthus lightens up and dries out until you could (almost) call this fragrance airy or ethereal. Many osmanthus accords are accompanied by an undertone of black tea, a facet that is naturally present in osmanthus absolute (think dark, strongly brewed Chinese tea left to grow cold), and Passionate Love is no exception. The tangy, tannic tea in Passionate Love is not the milky-green tea or brown rice of Champaca, yet there is something similarly nutritious, like the wholesome cloudiness from washing pearl barley. Threaded throughout this singular accord is a nubbin of spice, perhaps something fiery and nutmeggy, like white pepper.
Passionate Love manages to hold up in this osmanthus soliflore track for most of its midsection, but unravels a bit in the drydown, flattening out into that mineralic vetiver-and-Iso E Super-woods base familiar to me from many classic freshies, most notably Terre d’Hermès (Hermès) and Grey Vetiver (Tom Ford). Don’t get me wrong – there’s definitely a time and a place for this grassy, earthy-salty accord, but when tacked onto the tail end of a glorious osmanthus soliflore, it feels a bit incongruous. But all in all, Passionate Love is great for about two thirds of the ride.
Absolue d’Osmanthe (Perris Monte Carlo)Absolue d’Osmanthe is a battle cry of a thing that makes me want to stand up and punch the air like a thug at a Red Star game. Its strange opening gambit lands right where I really want osmanthus to be, which is straddling the common ground between the wood-rot of oud chips left to soak for fourteen days and the (not dissimilar) fruit-rot of osmanthus petals as they ferment at the bottom of a barrel, waiting for a quorum of this itty bitty flower to be reached before one has enough to justify firing up the still.
The leather mood is strong - pungent, dry, and smoky, with a cured fruit edge to it that makes me think of a Black Perfecto stitched together with apricot skin. But it is also intensely warm and resinous. I often comb through Architectural Digest to find the photos of the intimate spaces women have set aside for themselves in otherwise grand, hulking structures – invariably calm, clutter-free spaces lit by low-slung ambient light sources. This is that crepuscular glow in perfume format.
My only complaint is that the osmanthus leaves the scene too quickly, leaving in its place a spicy 1980s floriental amber to hold its beer. It’s fine because I love amber, but it’s also not fine, because, at this price, osmanthus to amber is a switcheroo I sure didn’t sign up for. Can I get over my grumpiness at this for the sake of the glorious first half? Time will tell. The other I get, the more I dither on which of my high standards to drop and in what order. This might be worth the climb down.
Cuir de Chine (Les Indémodables)
But not so fast, lady! A surprisingly gamey leather accord quickly elbows its way past the pretty apricot, and lest we make any mistake about it, this is the pungent odor of raw leather rather than the smoothly-shaved and powdered pudenda of Tom Ford lore. For a while there – an hour tops – Cuir de Chine lurches between peach shampoo and grimy chaps until I feel like I’m Faye Dunaway in Chinatown (‘She’s my sister’ *Slap* ‘She’s my daughter’ *Slap* ‘She’s my sister…’ *Slap*).
The scent eventually gentles itself, the pungency of the leather burning off into a soft suede accent that might be mistaken as a naturally occurring feature of osmanthus oil, whittling down into a tandem of equal parts suede and osmanthus (‘She’s my sister and my daughter’). I like Cuir de Chine a lot; it adds something new to the genre. I do wish it lasted longer, though (this is the case for most of the Les Indémodables line, by the way, apart from Vanille Havane and Chypre Azural).
Les Nombres d’Or Oudh Osmanthus (Mona di Orio)Oudh Osmanthus is both rich and dry, two qualities that are rarely found together these days. After years of puzzling over what makes this perfume tick, I think the secret to its three-dimensional richness lies in its triadic composition of a) the smoky, dried-up husk of a vanilla pod swiped from Mona di Orio Vanille, which contributes a dark, almost liquor-ish background that one might call sweet until you get close enough to see what it is, b), a midsection (borrowed from the brand’s own Musc) of blurred, indistinct floral notes desiccated to a fine white talc, which gives the scent its tinder-box dryness and soapy, dandified air, and c) a lascivious civet note that twists the florals into a grimy, almost fecal leather note à la Jicky.
Here’s the clever bit. Though there is likely some quantity of real osmanthus and oud oil in the composition, their shape is carved out not by the raw materials themselves but by little olfactory nudges laid down by the perfumer herself, like a trail of breadcrumbs in the forest. Hence, the faintly cheesy fruitiness of osmanthus is suggested obliquely by an odd but genius herbal note that smells quite like fresh dill, while the cheesey ferment of oud is brought to life by the leathery civet.
In many ways, Oudh Osmanthus is the analog to my other favorite oud-themed fragrance, Nawab of Oudh (Ormonde Jayne). Both are Western abstractions of an Eastern raw material, rendered in a haute luxe style that elevates them far beyond their source material. But they arrive there from two utterly different directions – Nawab of Oudh via the light cast by crisp linen tablecloths, the brass moldings of a posh London hotel, and freshly-peeled citrus fruits, Oudh Osmanthus via the chartreuse gloom of a velvet-covered room.
Both are eye-wateringly expensive. Adding insult to injury, Oudh Osmanthus was reformulated when the bottles were changed from the wine screw bottles to the golden disc bottle. It still smells great, of course, but its smoky dryness has been toned down and made less confrontational, which has in turn subtracted much from its previously three-dimensional quality. However, if I were forced to choose just two Western oud-themed fragrances to take with me into the apocalypse, it would be Nawab of Oudh and Oudh Osmanthus, and that, for a perennial flip-flopper like me, is said with not even a hint of equivocation.
Delicate Sueded Osmanthus
Evening Edged in Gold (Ineke)
A very sweet, insistent musk brings up the rear. Very pretty, and the nostalgia factor gives my heart a quick tug, but realistically, if I want something like this (soft, fruity suede), I can turn to several fragrances already in my collection, such as Daim Blond (Serge Lutens) or Bottega Veneta EDP (Bottega Veneta). It does have me hankering for a new bottle of Champs-Elysées, though.
Belles Rives (La Parfumerie Moderne)
Orris and osmanthus share a soft suede note, which is what has been emphasized in this fragrance. The iris gives off that faintly bitter, velvety facet of suede, specifically the plushy, brushed surface of the material, while osmanthus has a more rubbery, warm aroma reminiscent of bare skin underneath. In the drydown, although they are quite different fragrances, I spot a kinship with Osmanthe Yunnan by Hermes, especially in the delicately thin (worn) suede aspect.
I love Belles Rives. I love the equanimity between the two main notes, namely, the iris and the osmanthus. Nothing too much has been added in to distract from the wholesome beauty of the main accord. There is no distracting powder, no smoke, no incense (that I can smell), and crucially, no potent woody ambers to make Belles Rives one of those tiresome things that drone on for 24 hours or outlast a shower. Just osmanthus and iris, pared back, chiseled to perfection, and, still smelling naturally of themselves, set inside a simple framework to shine. I hope enough people buy Belles Rives to show support for the idea that perfumer Guy Robert’s mantra that “un parfum doit avant tout sent bon”, or in English, that a perfume must, above all, smell good, is still the only principle that matters.
Daim Blond (Serge Lutens)Serge Lutens Daim Blond is a simple pleasure done right. It is a dusty suede lightly decorated with the scent of apricots – not the juicy, sweet flesh of ripe apricots but the desiccated husk of skin when shriveled up to almost nothing. Iris provides the bitter, gray powder, and osmanthus the delicate tannin of apricots and black tea.
It is not in the least bit animalic but there is a lightly musky undertone that conjures up a ghostly image of female skin. When I wear Daim Blond, I imagine Newland Archer peeling back the fine-grained Italian leather glove from Countess Olenska’s wrist and pressing his mouth to her quivering flesh. She’s on the cusp of allowing herself to be ruined. It’s a moment of sensuality written on a such a tiny scale so as not to register to anyone but them, but somehow the restrained, pulled-in nature of the moment and its capacity to unleash the hounds of hell is far sexier than anything more explicit.
Daim Blond smells like a woman’s wrist and the tipping point of desire.
Osmanthe Joyeux (Maison Rebatchi)Osmanthe Joyeux, by Maurice Roucel, is an interesting take on osmanthus. It features a suede heart so clean and rubbery you can hear it squeak but processed through a white floral filter (mostly tuberose) that blurs the image. We all know how difficult it is to subdue tuberose, but Roucel obviously runs a tight ship. The tuberose is here strictly as a modulating agent rather than as star (it is furiously writing letters to the editor as we speak).
There are two main movements to Osmanthe Joyeux. The first is that dusty-rubbery suede accord, which smells like your hands after you’ve just taken off a pair of yellow rubber cleaning gloves (faintly powdered, latexy skin). The second occurs when the white floral accord moves in. The tuberose adds a very interesting milk powder staleness, like spilled full-fat milk drying out on the concrete floor of a hot milking stall. I have smelled this odd dairy-dust note before, once in Blu (Bruno Acampora), which is also a tuberose fragrance, and again in Cuir d’Iris (Pierre Guillaume), which absolutely is not. This aspect adds a pleasantly animalic fullness to the suede, fleshing it out. Call this osmanthus with a twist.
Mystique Musk (Al Haramain)Mystique Musk is a fruity white musk with a topnote of candied violets. Adding to the scent’s preppy demeanor is an undercurrent of eraser rubber that smells slightly – just slightly – like the inside of a My Little Pony. I have noticed this sweet, doll’s head rubber in other osmanthus-focused scents that loop in sweet vanilla or heliotrope (for example, Vahina by Sylvaine Delacourt), so it must be a natural feature of osmanthus that a perfumer chooses to emphasize by way of other materials. Though the notes for Mystique Musk specify leather, take my word for it – it is the softer, doughier suede side of osmanthus that has entered the chat here.
Sunshine Woman (Amouage)
Sunshine Woman, on the other hand, employs such a heavy hand with the Maltol and Fructol that the edible apricot quality of osmanthus is soon squashed down into the flatter, simpler taste of those soft white fruit candies you buy for the piñata at kids’ parties. As if realizing that this much syrup cannot go unchecked, the perfumer seems to have panicked and over-compensated with a heavy pour of a slightly dirty, smoky cade, a material that smells kind of like if you stuffed your gumboots with grass and fir clippings and threw it on a fire.
The result is a scent that doesn’t know if it wants to be a happy-go-lucky, body spray-ish thing a teenage girl might pick up at Victoria’s Secret or the kind of chemical bonfire stuff that niche edgelords find so compelling. Ultimately, though, I don’t think this is half as bad or as cheap-smelling as Luca Turin makes it out to be. Maybe because there is a big space in my heart for ‘eggnog’ florals so rich you feel they might give you gout, like Amaranthine (Penhaligon’s), Alien Absolue (Thierry Mugler), Songes (Annick Goutal), Remember Me (Jovoy), and Addict (Dior).
It’s just that, well, it’s Amouage, innit? I feel like many of us were reared on an Amouage output that was consistently luxurious and exotic, perhaps even worthy of the princely cost. Sunshine Woman feels like the first step on the brand’s inexorable slide into mainstream dreck pitched at an audience for whom smelling ‘attractive’ and ‘pleasing to the opposite sex’ takes precedence over the intrinsic artistic merits of the scent itself. The upshot is that it’s not entirely bad, but I wouldn’t dream of spending Amouage money on it.
Tyrian Purple (Sultan Pasha Attars)
Good Girl Gone Bad (By Kilian)Good Girl Gone Bad is osmanthus in that full on ‘eat me mode’ that works so well on the dating circuit (I’d imagine). It does that peachy, coconutty, tuberose-y thing that reminds me a of Chinatown (Bond No. 9) but with the volume turned down by about 70%. The unctuousness of the flowers approaches the scent of buttered popcorn, which makes me hungry. For a while there, the tuberose threatens to become the maneater it is frequently accused of being, but it eventually subsides, leaving gentle poofs of fruity osmanthus to carry the scent the rest of the way.
Journey Woman (Amouage)Journey Woman opens with a radiant osmanthus, smelling of apricots and other delicate stone fruit, like peaches or plums, lightly dusted with nutmeg and cardamom. And if it had stayed there, I would have probably loved it. However, an unwelcome guest in the form of a whole pot of honey shows up to spoil the party. Anything delicate captured in the opening minutes of the fragrance – the gentle osmanthus, the apricots, the light spices – is immediately shouted down by the honey onslaught.
Funnily enough (although probably not so funny for Amouage), once the jasmine had joined in with the other florals and the honey in the mid-section, Journey Woman reminds me strongly of Elie Saab Le Parfum, which does a similar thing with jasmine and honey, but at a fraction of the cost. Fruity-florals are a dangerous area for niche firms because the designer market has acclimatized us all to fruity-floral smells and thus the danger is that consumers will associate that smell with something far less prestigious and expensive. Therefore, Journey Woman comes off – to me – as simply an upmarket version of something that already exists in the department stores. I am sure that serious fragrance wearers would be able to tell which is which, but less sure that anyone else would.
Vahina (Sylvaine Delacourt)
Crimes Against Osmanthus
Good Lord. Listen, I am familiar with Japanese incense. I understand that clove, benzoin, camphor, and aloeswood (agarwood) are the main recurring ‘flavor’ motifs in these delicate, coreless sticks. I also own a bit of zukoh powder. I do understand, therefore, the general aroma-scape of Kimonanthe. But the unfortunate thing that Diptyque failed to consider is that, when you put camphor, syrupy apricots (osmanthus) and benzoin together, it is almost impossible to not end up with cherry-flavored antibiotic syrup, the type you give to small children. Each time I pick up my bottle of Kimonanthe, I hope that my nose has gotten more sophisticated in the meantime and that I will now be able to smell the tart osmanthus leather, incense, and sandalwood power as intended. And each time, I run into that thick wall of cherry antibiotic syrup.
Kimonanthe is undeniably a striking osmanthus perfume. It is strong, rich, and with that camphor-cherry syrup opening, unique. I admire it, study it, contemplate it - but do not like it. Not even one little bit. I keep wishing that I did because I spent upwards of €175 to get it. I wish I understood better what the perfumer had been going for, so that I might unlock its appeal. I know enough about the behavior of raw materials to be able to pick out benzoin, camphor, clove. But I cannot understand why someone would put them together in this way to produce an olfactory effect that is so jarring. Yes, the drydown is better, but hardly more special than any other incensey sandalwood thing you might already own, like Samsara (Guerlain).
Nuit de Cellophane (Serge Lutens)
Listen, I’m usually happy to slum it with the B sides of the Serge Lutens back catalogue – they are usually easier to wear and have a surprising amount to say once removed from the company of their overbearing, talky brethren (Arabie, Chergui, et al) – but even I will go so far as to call this one a waste of space. Serge was always going to do something painfully ignoble to the osmanthus. We were all licking our chops for it, remembering the cheap suntan oil treatment of datura in Datura Noir, or the rub of schweddy ballz against the sunny face of orange blossom in Fleurs d’Oranger, but, but. Why take such a complex-smelling flower and jump through what must have been a series of hoops to embalm it in such a simple sugar syrup? Jesus, Serge, why do you always have to be so weird?
Osmanthus Absolute (Clive Christian)Osmanthus Absolute comes with an overdose of woody aromachemicals that obscures the delicate beauty of the osmanthus, making it virtually impossible to evaluate on the skin. On paper, however, there are hints of what I feel I am missing – apricot jam, buttery leather, and sappy green leaf notes that inject a mood of brightness into the entire affair. Those who are less sensitive to woody ambers will probably enjoy this in full on their skin.
Osmanthus Tea (Olive)
Qi (Ormonde Jayne)Qi is constructed to make no great statement thus offending no one. Lest you think I’m being bitchy, that sentence comes from the Ormonde Jayne official copy. Normally, my shackles rise when I hear anyone describing a perfume as ‘inoffensive’ or, worse (shudder), ‘mass-pleasing’, because if that’s the end goal, then there’s no need to spend $425+ on a bottle of perfume when you can spend $5 on a bottle of that chocolatey, oudy Axe spray my husband is invariably wearing whenever I complement him on his lovely smell.
But honestly, Ormonde Jayne is onto something here. Osmanthus shares a rudely pungent quality with Hindi oud oil, black tea, and leather, all materials that have undergone some kind of process like soaking in water, tanning, or smoking that lend them a distinctly fermented facet. I’m a fan of the fermented, but the uninitiated might find this particular floral note a challenge. The trick is to trim back the ruder, earthier facets of osmanthus absolute, and to capture only the fresh, pretty notes of the flower smelled straight from the plant.
And that is exactly what Qi does. It is a super clean, bright take on osmanthus – a glowy little pop of apricot over soapy musks and fresh green tea (maté) that create enough of an illusion of leather to catch at the back of your throat. The osmanthus note is sustained for a remarkably long time, the fresh tea and soft leather notes soaked in an indelible peach or apricot ink. There is also a whiff of clean rubber tubing – a pleasant inevitability whenever tea and osmanthus share the same space.
Despite the complex array of notes, though, Qi smells charmingly simple and ‘honest’. I can see this elegant glass of green tea, aromatized gently with a slice of apricot, appealing to many people. Ormonde Jayne is a rare house that knows what to do with osmanthus, and for me, Qi is its shining example.
Osmanthé (Le Cercle des Parfumeurs Créateurs)
And that is also the case for Osmanthé. Composed by Jean-Christophe Herault, Osmanthé captures the bright, fresh appeal of osmanthus blooms floating on the surface of a cup of green tea. The scent emphasizes the tender, apricotty goodness of osmanthus, but uses a soapy-sweet Grasse jasmine to keep it from veering off into a suede or leather direction. Tea tannins running underneath the florals add a faintly acerbic tone. The result is a pleasant albeit nondescript tea floral not a million miles away from something Le Couvent or L’Occitane might turn out, complete with a whole line of body creams and shower gels. Don’t get me wrong. The price – around €35 for 30mls at the time – is more than fair for a solid osmanthus tea floral. But let’s just say that Osmanthé itself wouldn’t have particularly inspired me to invest in the €750 osmanthus master class being sold by Herault alongside the perfume in the IndieGoGo campaign.
1000 Kisses Deep (Lush)
Naja (Vero Profumo)
There is also a sharp spice to Naja that is immensely appealing, something hot, slightly smoky, and carnation-like, but although I can understand the frequent references, in reviews, to Tabac Blond (Caron) and Habanita (Molinard), Naja is far stranger and more modern than either – in other words, a creature of its own time. I sense a dusty, pollen-ish honey texture here too, unsweet and slightly floral, which I conclude is coming from the lime blossom. I don’t know if the effect is deliberate or not, but it is this slightly bitter, dusty honey that links Naja to both Onda and Rozy.
To my nose, there is none of the citric brightness of that listed lime, just the slightly green floral tang of linden honey and that salty, wet fruit note that is too blurry to define as either a melon, an apple, or anything else specific. What I love the most about Naja is its surprising sturdiness, its sense of substance. I visualize Naja as a dense square of osmanthus-tobacco lokhoum, striated with saltwater and dusted with an inch-deep layer of green pollen. Like MEM (Bogue), Naja is an El Bulli meal full of little trade-offs between texture and taste that will prick your saliva buds and fire up all five of your senses. And like its creator, Naja is as elegant and fierce as a single slash of Russian Red across an otherwise unmade-up face.
Times Square (Masque Milano)
Not a bit of it. Times Square is a violet-osmanthus loukhoum-and-lipstick scent that actually smells quite a lot like I Miss Violet (The Different Company), Niral (Neela Vermeire) and Traversée du Bosphore (L’Artisan Parfumeur), only a lot stronger, muskier, and frooty-tooty-er. Sure, it smells a bit trashy, but only because loukhoum and lipstick can themselves be a little cheap-smelling (waxes, gelatin, rosewater, powdered sugar), rather than smelling literally of trash. This is a fun, offbeat scent – think cubes of osmanthus-flavored lokhoum, rosy, off-brand lipstick, and sugared violets. A thick suede accord shows up later, to support all the lovely silliness up top.
Aromatic, Chypre-ish, Brown-Study Osmanthus
Maybe by the time Kerléo got to it, “1000” was just sitting there, a big, bloated sack of expensive ingredients so ludicrously rich and complex that it was impossible to edit for clarity. Maybe the best he could do was give it a coherent beginning, middle, and end to hold it all together. I also kind of like to think that some board member at Patou just said, “F&*k it. Just release the damn thing already.”
“1000” boasts whole acreages of roses and jasmine from Grasse, as well as fields’ worth of osmanthus in China that Patou allegedly had to buy in order to secure enough osmanthus for the formula. But far from being the orgasmic cornucopia of flowers you might expect – hot and glowing like the nuclear Ubar, let’s say – the effect here is muted and shady, as if all the flowers cancel each other out leaving only the sense of their richness rising to the surface like oil on water.
Despite “1000” being advertized as an osmanthus chypre, its topnotes are all about the humble violet leaf. Fresh and metallic, this shimmers so brightly in the top of the composition that I can’t help my mind flicking to Fahrenheit and Cuir Pleine Fleur. Interspersed with starched-white-shirt aldehydes and a bitter, crushed-herbs effect of the artemisia, the violet leaf opening is bold and completely out of step with the trends in modern perfumery.
In the heart, an orchestra of expensive flowers – rose, jasmine, powdery iris, osmanthus – raise their voice to the ceiling as one, but the effect remains soft, sottovoce. There is a vague hint of apricots and suede from the osmanthus, dusky soap from the iris, a thrilling flicker of indoles from the jasmine. But not one flower makes a break for it. Chanel No. 5 and Arpège strike me as much the same, a chorus of dark florals and powder and ambery fruits swirled together so that no one note is distinct. A faint prickle of civet licks around the edges of the florals, spiking the composition with the warm glow of animal, like raw honey or stale saliva from licked skin. This golden, mossy drydown compresses the osmanthus and all the other flowers into a sepia-tinted mud that adds to that abstract floral chypre feel. A study in brown, therefore, rather than the modern apricot brightness of an osmanthus soliflore.
Lijiang (Molton Brown)
Osmanthe Kõdoshãn (Maison Crivelli)
The cleansing rinse of camphor or eucalyptus up top, coupled with the brown, earth-toned notes, is what makes Osmanthe Kõdoshãn such an interesting take on osmanthus. It carries the same sort of attractively mossy dankness as Moena 12 | 69 (Carta) or Bohea Bohème (Mona di Orio), where the matted base materials offer a rich undergrowth from which the brighter notes are eventually sprung free. And this is what eventually happens with Osmanthe Kõdoshãn too. In time, a tangy, almost sour tea note, like black tea brewed twice over with dried orange peel and strained through a damp linen cloth, breaks free of the sturdier base materials. The result is a brackish fruit tea, quite weak and watery, but with enough starch in it to stand your shirt collar up straight. Really wonderful.
Have I forgotten an osmanthus favorite of yours? Do you violently disagree with my categorization or description of any of these? Or could you care less about osmanthus as a note? Do tell.