Late summer and early fall are the season in the South for white ginger lilies, hedychium coronarium. They are tall, tender perennials with long, sword-like green leaves topped by fluttering white flowers whose large petals inspire the plant’s other common name: white butterfly lily. Our next-door neighbor has a magnificent clump, which sends its perfume floating over both of our gardens. I have tried to grow it myself, mere yards from his thriving specimen, without success. The white ginger lily is fickle by nature. But oh, that perfume! Many scents have been called intoxicating; the ginger lily’s fragrance truly is. Designed to lure pollinating insects at night, the white flowers’ scent intensifies in the dark humidity of Southern summer nights.
Imagine my anticipation, then, when I learned that Jo Malone has a cologne named Dark Amber and Ginger Lily. I looked it up on Fragrantica.com and realized that it has notes of ginger, and water lily, but it has nothing to do with ginger lilies. It sounded lovely, though, and I had a sample from a purchase of Tudor Rose, so on my wrists it went. Mmmm. I don’t often like Oriental spicy perfumes, but when I do, I really do. And I really like this one. Warm, soft, a whisper of cardamom with the ginger top note, a floral bouquet for a heart, a touch of glove leather in the base notes. Definitely on my wish list. But nothing to do with actual ginger lilies.
My curiosity piqued, I decided to explore further. And voila! I found a perfume that claimed to be the first to capture the essence of ginger lilies! Made by Parfums Gres, no less, a noted perfume house that originated with the haute couture of Mme. Gres in post-war Paris, whose fashions were worn by ladies like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Greta Garbo. It must be wonderful, I thought. So I looked it up: Cabotine de Gres.
OMG. Reading about Cabotine online was like stumbling unwittingly into a perfumista firefight. Opinions vary, shall we say. And I’ve only just learned the term “perfumista”, so you can imagine this newbie’s surprise. Serious artillery seems to have entered the fray when Luca Turin pronounced it to be a “nasty floral” with notes worthy of being banned under the Geneva Convention. Mortar fire!
But then there’s the Fifth Column of secret Cabotine lovers: In which I Admit to Loving Cabotine de Gres. Now I’m really intrigued. And I love this part of its description: “The composition is created around the ginger lily, also known as a butterfly lily, a Himalayan large-petalled white flower. Growing in harsh high mountains climate, this plant blooms for only a few weeks in the spring time, and each flower lives only for a few hours, what makes it difficult, almost impossible, to extract the oil. An IFF pioneering researcher, Dr. Braja Mookherjee, found a way to analyse the oil structure using the ‘living-flower’ technique, and to copy the fragrance of the ginger lily.” Well. If that doesn’t whet your curiosity, I don’t know what will.
So it looks as if I’m going to have to find some Cabotine to try for myself. It’s not expensive but I really don’t want to buy some huge 3.4 oz. bottle only to find that I hate it and it will just take up space. Maybe Target has a tester. I’ll let you know.