Fragrance Friday: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

Fragrance Friday: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

I love carnations. Not in floral arrangements, where they have been sadly overused as inexpensive filler, but in the garden and even in a vase if they are left on their own as a simple bunch of pretty, scented flowers. I love the scent of carnations — the hint of spiciness with more than a suggestion of cloves, combined with the green freshness of a florist’s refrigerator. And so I really like L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Oeillet Sauvage.

There is nothing savage about it, but perhaps “sauvage” should rather be translated as “wild”, as in “wildflower”. Oeillet Sauvage is a soft, fresh floral, with the same delightful, gentle spiciness of the flowers and a hint of freshness. It is not a duplicate of real carnations’ scent, but it is true to their essence, with nuances from other floral notes. Fragrantica lists its notes as: pink pepper, rose, carnation, ylang-ylang, lily, wallflower, morning glory, resin and vanilla. And those reminded me of a long-favorite painting: John Singer Sargent’s Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose:

Painting by American artist John Singer Sargent; Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

John Singer Sargent; Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

I have read that while Sargent was painting this twilight scene, in which the special, evanescent quality of that hour’s light is as much a subject as the children, the flowers and the paper lanterns, he would set up his easel outside for just the brief time every day when the light was exactly right, and he would run back and forth, back and forth, between the subjects and his easel, to capture just the right shades of color. Now THAT is dedication to one’s art.

He also painted it during the early autumn months of 1885, in September, October and November, resuming work the next summer and finishing it in October of 1886. I have loved this painting since I first saw it, with its crepuscular glow, peaceful children with faces lit by the gentle candlelight of the paper lanterns, with the fragrant, late summer flowers seeming to float in the air around them. According to Wikipedia, the title comes from the refrain of a popular 19th century song, “Ye Shepherds Tell Me”, which describes Flora, goddess of flowers, wearing “a wreath around her head, around her head she wore, carnation, lily, lily, rose”.

I have read others’ comments about Oeillet Sauvage in which they express disappointment that it is not the same as a pre-reformulation version and it is not as spicy as they would like. I can’t speak to the concern about reformulation, not having smelled an earlier version. I don’t think this version suffers from a lack of spiciness, in my view, as I am enjoying the softer, powdery impression it leaves. To me, that is evocative of the soft, pink-tinged light in Sargent’s painting. Now that I have made that association, I am not yearning after more spice. The painting even includes the slight greenness that greets me when I first spray Oeillet Sauvage, in the grass beneath the children’s feet. Fragrantica commenter Angeldaisy wrote: “it has an airiness, a lightness, like a billowing floral print diaphanous chiffon frock in a meadow on a summers day.” Or like the white lawn dresses of Sargent’s subjects.

As it dries down, I get less carnation and more lily, which I like. The greenness disappears, while resins and vanilla warm up the scent like the glow of the candles in Sargent’s Japanese lanterns. I’m not sure what the notes of wallflowers and morning glories are meant to smell like, but they are old-fashioned flowers that would have fit in perfectly in Sargent’s Cotswolds garden.

If you like soft, gentle, feminine, floral fragrances, this may be one for you! It is readily available online for reasonable prices. Have you tried this, or other carnation-based fragrances? What did you think? And happy Fragrance Friday!

Scent Sample Sunday: Vitriol d’Oeillet

Scent Sample Sunday: Vitriol d’Oeillet

I have a sample of Serge Lutens’ Vitriol d’Oeillet that I finally got around to trying this weekend, for one simple reason: it was available online as a full bottle for a reasonable price, and I wanted to decide whether or not to get it. Luckily, I’ve been wondering about it for a while and already had a sample from Surrender to Chance, so I was able to make an informed decision!

I had been intrigued by Vitriol d’Oeillet because I really do like the scent of carnations and other dianthus flowers like Sweet William. Vitriol d’Oeillet has often been translated into English as “angry carnation” but I don’t think that is quite right. Vitriol can refer to anger or fury, but it has a nuance of acidity, and can also refer specifically to a sulfate of various metals. “Oil of vitriol” is concentrated sulfuric acid, according to Merriam-Webster.  Maybe a better translation of “vitriol d’oeillet” would be “sulfate of carnation”. The blog CaFleureBon review of Vitriol d’Oeillet plays off this contrast between the naturally fresh, floral spiciness of carnations and the suggestion of sulphurous fumes.

Luckily for me, from my sample I get mostly flowers and spice, and no sulfur (usually described as the smell of rotten eggs). The notes are listed as: nutmeg, clove, pink pepper, pepper, paprika, carnation, wallflower, lily and ylang-ylang. Here is the description on the Serge Lutens website:

 – “What is it, Doctor Jekyll?”

Listen, my child, and I will tell you everything. Take a carnation and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper. Firmly drive it into the very center, using the “nails” of a clove. Before committing the final act of violence, let wallflower throw in a few punches.

Yes, our collective leg is being pulled. Vitriol d’Oeillet is neither hellish, nor acidic, nor sulfurous, nor violent. It is a warm, spicy, fresh carnation, and it reminds me of the original Old Spice aftershave and cologne. I like it very much, but not for myself; I think I would love it on my husband! Have I mentioned yet that I ADORED the ad campaign for Old Spice that featured the tag line “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” and actor Isaiah Mustafa:

On my own skin, Vitriol d’Oeillet opens with a blast of spice, most prominently cayenne pepper and clove, but with a sweet floral note underneath right from the start. As it dries down, the spice lightens up and it becomes a bit soapy as the florals become more evident. It is very appealing! I think many of the traditional men who wear Old Spice because their fathers and grandfathers did may not realize that the scent they (and we women) often associate with solid, old-school masculinity contains some of the notes traditionally included in women’s fragrances: heliotrope, aldehydes, even jasmine. They are not the dominant notes, though; they provide a background for the more dominant spices, wood notes and base notes like ambergris and musk. The dominant floral in Old Spice, and in Vitriol, is carnation — a flower associated with gentlemen since the dawn of the boutonniere.

Red carnation boutonnieres on gentlemen's white dinner jackets or tuxedoes

Red carnation boutonnieres; image from A Gentleman’s Row

In fact, the association of carnations with distinguished men goes back centuries, as portrayed in many Renaissance paintings like this one:

Renaissance portrait of nobleman holding carnation by Andrea Solario

Portrait of Man with Carnation by Andrea Solario

As Vitriol d’Oeillet dries down even more, the floral notes fade and the spices come back to the fore, including pink pepper. I happen to like the scent of pink pepper, although I know others do not, so I welcome its return together with the cloves, Cayenne pepper, paprika and nutmeg. At this stage, the nutmeg is more prominent than it was at the start, so Vitriol closes with a certain dry sweetness.

In sum, I like Vitriol d’Oeillet a lot, based on this sample. I won’t be buying a full bottle for myself — but I might get one eventually for my husband!

Pink pepper or baie de rose berries

Pink pepper; image from CaFleureBon