If a perfume label has tuberose in the title, ten times out of ten, I will not pass up the opportunity to smell the bottle’s contents. I’m yet to pinpoint when and where this love affair with tuberose began and I would need to undergo some type of regressive therapy to figure it out. I do know that my first memories of flowers were daffodils and jasmine, which grew wild on my parent’s farm. With flowers and perfumes my inclination has always been towards the white floral category and it is an interest I still have today in my search for new perfumes. As my knowledge of perfumery has grown, my attention has turned towards the way in which different perfumers have recreated the scent of tuberose. Even though the flower’s scent can be extracted, the resulting absolute does not give a complete picture of the flower in nature and requires the perfumer’s imagination to fill in the gaps. Authentic tuberose absolute is actually quite a condensed, jammy smell; the extraction process loses the light buttery quality the living flower exudes. Still, without a minute dosage of the natural absolute, a tuberose composition can appear flat and soulless. To date my favourites include Mona di Orio’s Tubereuse and Frederic Malle’s Carnal Flower. Classics such as Robert Piguet’s Fracas and Annick Goutal’s Gardenia Passion are also perfumes I enjoy smelling even if I am less inclined to wear them. For me it is the flower’s jumble of white lactonic notes, green celery-like spiciness and slightly balsamic base, which make the smell of tuberose so complex and fun to mentally dissect.
Earlier this year, as per my typical response, my eyes were held hostage by a bottle of Le Labo’s Tubereuse 40 on a walk through the Lower Manhattan streets of Nolita. Here in Australia, Mecca Cosmetica carry the Le Labo range but the reason I have not seen Tubereuse 40 here is because it belongs to the City Exclusives collection, a range of perfumes Le Labo has created to be sold in one dedicated city. Tubereuse 40 is Le Labo’s perfume for New York and can only be purchased from the brand’s New York stockists including Le Labo’s original Nolita boutique at 233 Elizabeth Street. Choosing tuberose for New York makes sense to me. Its bulbous stems are not the prettiest, but the flower’s smell is gutsy, dominating and unrelenting, much like New York City.
I was curious to see how Le Labo co-founders Eddie Roschi and Fabrice Pernot, two very experienced perfume designers, would orchestrate a tuberose perfume with Master Perfumer Alberto Morillas, creator of Calvin Klein’s cKOne, Bvlgari’s BLV and Flower by Kenzo. Le Labo’s unique approach to perfumery is often underpinned by the pairing of modernity with classic perfumery; it’s New York meets Grasse. Tubereuse 40 is titled like every Le Labo perfume; the formula’s main ingredient provides the name, followed by the number of ingredients used to create the perfume. This often confuses newcomers to the brand because the highest quantity of raw material in the formula, which gives the perfume its name, is not always the raw material that writes the perfume’s signature. Tubereuse 40 has a little of this effect towards the start, but later as the perfume unfolds on skin, it is unmistakably tuberose.
Unlike linear perfumes, where the odour of the perfume’s initial release is unchanging, smelling virtually the same as the perfume fades, the scent of Tubereuse 40 evolves. This evolution is also unlike many classic perfume structures, which have a cascading effect of overlapping top, middle and base notes. If Tubereuse 40 were theatre, it would be performed in two very distinct acts. Act 1 is a romantic portrayal of the Eau de Cologne, a theme Alberto Morillas explored with his ivy-laced Mugler Cologne for designer Theirry Mugler. A covering of citrus peel and orange blossom envelops the senses; at this stage there is no indication of Grasse’s single stem tuberose. It is only when the curtains are drawn and Act 2 begins, a garden of flowering bulbs appears from nowhere. The segregation of these two different acts and the definitive way one act ends and the other begins is magical. It is as though two different perfumes exist on opposite sides of the same coin. If there is a mentionable link, it is the common molecules both tuberose and orange blossom share, which create a virtual bridge between both sides of the perfume. Tubereuse 40 finally settles on a soft cradle of woods and vegetal musk.
I’ve read of perfume fans using Eau de Cologne to refresh a favourite perfume throughout the day. Tubereuse 40 is like having 2 in 1. Although I’ve said I enjoy Annick Goutal’s Gardenia Passion but I prefer not to wear it, I make an exception some days and wear a touch of the eau de parfum with a spray of Hermes’ Eau d’Orange Verte. Maybe this is why Tubereuse 40 appealed to me when I discovered it for the first time this year. Above all I find it refreshing, energizing and a non-obtrusive way to wear tuberose, as Chandler Burr aptly describes it in relation to Piguet’s Fracas; “tuberose is a flower that almost has claws.”
Heads: Dityque L’eau de Neroli, Roja Dove Neroli
Tails: Diptyque Do Son, Keiko Mecheri Tuberose, Shalini Parfum, Frederic Malle Carnal Flower, Mona di Orio Tubereuse
Perfumer: Alberto Morillas
Release Date: 2006
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Floral