At Floom we like to challenge our audience a bit - the natural world is so vast, so full of beauty and mystery and delight and life and… Well you get the idea. Basically, it’s kind of crazy to think that the ever-wilting selection of supermarket bouquets could ever capture the full wonderment of all the flowers out there.
Whilst we tend to focus on the aesthetics for obvious reasons, the scent of a flower is almost as powerful - something that is nowhere more evident than in the multi-billion pound perfume industry. Ever since the world’s first recorded chemist (a woman named Taputti, Mesopotamia, circa 2nd millennium BC, since you asked) first decided to create fragrances for the skin, flowers have been an essential ingredient in the smelly water we splash on our skin before heading out for an evening of Trying To Get Laid.
Inevitably, trends in floral fragrances over the centuries have closely mirrored the fashion and ‘beauty’ ideals of their time. Inevitably the safest scents in this respect have tended to rise to the top (really, does anyone ever need to get a whiff of Chanel No. 5 ever again?).
However we’re lucky to be living in gloriously unconventional times right now, when it comes to methods of self-expression at least. Gender, sexuality… all those things that dictate the way we want to dress and smell: they’re more fluid than ever.
With that in mind, we take a look at our three favourite scents that manage to capture the glorious diversity of both the floral and human world, without ever resorting to tired cliches of prettiness.
Comme des Garçons’ debut on the Paris runway in 1981 saw Rei Kawakubo basking in a chorus of boos from the self-righteous fashion press of the day. Challenging, deconstructing and subverting notions of beauty since day one, the announcement that they would be releasing their first branded scent in 1994 drew a curious reaction. How would the fierce sensibility of Kawakubo translate into something so intrinsically dainty and grounded in the conventions of attractiveness?
The answer was, of course, zero compromise. The Comme ‘anti-perfumes’ became (in)famous for their playful goading of the accepted wisdom on what notes go into a pretty scent. We’ve chosen to highlight the second ‘anti-perfume’ the brand ever released, Odeur 71. As became the brand’s fragrance template, 71 (which is still available today from Dover Street Markets around the world) ‘clones inorganic smells from modern life and mixes them with natural ingredients. The ‘floral’ notes in this instance? Wood and moss, bay leaves and bamboo, hyacinth and - of course! - lettuce juice.
Founder Lyn Harris is arguably this sceptred isle’s most eminent perfumer - as well as previously being responsible for breakaway perfume success story Miller Harris, she is also the UK’s only classically trained female nose. Despite a formal background steeped in the grand traditions of archaic French practices however, her own ethos is simultaneously stripped back and uncompromisingly progressive.
A case in point is the Rain Cloud scent released earlier this year. A fragrance built around the same exotic ylang ylang that powers Chanel’s suffocating No.5, it also features notes of jasmine, iris root and orange flower. So far, so conventional for a ‘white floral’, right? The addition of angelica seed and vetiver puts paid to that idea however, complex smells that combine with the aforementioned ingredients to conjure something akin to that fresh, post-showering sensation. Or like stepping out from under the world’s most refreshing raincloud perhaps…
(It’s also the most beautifully packaged perfume I’ve ever come across, housed in handblown glass and purchasable from their incredible minimalist flagship in Marylebone.)
The first perfumes I ever bought were Le Labo’s Santal 33 and Rose 31. Whilst I probably wore the former more, it was the latter that really drew me in to the idea of actually wearing an expensive fragrance (or indeed any fragrance at all). Back then, I was working on the avant-garde fringes of the fashion industry whilst still trying to cling on to the northern council estates I grew up around, so the idea of a unisex floral scent that men could wear - that disrupted conventions whilst also somehow retaining this real masculine quality - felt just right. They always say your perfumes should be personal to you, right?
What the Rose 31 does so ingeniously is take the scent of the Grasse rose - the ultimate symbol of ‘voluptuousness and unqualified femininity’ as Le Labo themselves put it - and tweak and twist it into something so assertively virile that it can be worn by both men and women. The mysterious scent of the Centifolia rose combines with woody, spicy notes such as cumin, olibanum, cedar and amber to create something both disconcerting and alluring.