During the past three years that I have been writing about the perfumes I have collected, one of things I enjoy about the process of writing a review is the search for perfume notes that go unmentioned. When perfumes are launched, an olfactory pyramid is released by the perfume house or its marketing department. This is designed to guide the nose through the experience of the new scent’s prominent top, middle and base notes but the triangular diagram omits any mention of the perfume’s minor notes, perhaps to maintain a simple description and to avoid creating confusion. Beyond the pyramid, perfumers use additional notes that discretely shape the more prominent ones. A rose might be given radiance with an overdose of Hedione or given sparkle with a miniature cocktail of aliphatic aldehydes. These less perceivable “modifiers”, in turn, create uniqueness, making one perfumer’s interpretation of a flower, fruit or wood, different from another’s. When it comes to soliflores – French perfumery jargon for a perfume composed around a singular floral theme, I find that close inspection of the minor notes will often reveal a complex structure that parallels the complexity of any other multi-note perfume, debunking the myth that soliflores are simple perfumes containing a single note. At one time in history, a soliflore may have been a simple, short formula but in today’s fast-paced, sales-focused perfume industry, I question whether such simple products could remain competitive and this is why modern soliflores are now more complex than their predecessors. This and the fact that the ever-growing palette of new raw materials, both natural and synthetic must tempt perfumers to explore new ways of expressing old themes. And this idea is primarily the raison d’être for Mona di Orio’s Les Nombres d’Or collection. In a 2011 interview, given months before her sad and unexpected passing, the pupil of legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska spoke to Extrait TV about her new collection. Inspired to explore some of perfumery’s most influential themes of the past, the perfumer created a number of perfumes around classic notes such as tuberose, leather, amber and vanilla. In her interview, Mona discussed this different approach, which resulted in Les Nombres d’Or. Instead of beginning her creative process with an idea or story that she wanted to translate into scent, a Les Nombres d’Or perfume could only take form once she had encountered her perfect raw material. Not only do natural essences come in many different grades or qualities, their appellation and process of odour extraction also have an effect on the resulting odour. It is not uncommon for perfumers to travel the world in search of their perfect vanilla, spice or flower extract, which was a journey Mona embarked on to locate her perfect tuberose, which would form the building block of her own Tubereuse. In her Youtube interview with Extrait TV the French perfumer elaborated on her process:
“I was studying with Edmond and he gave me tuberose in a pot. And I brought it to my home and I put it in my bedroom and in the middle of the night I was forgetting and I was like, what is this smell? And I have to go and see that the tuberose as you know that they call it the Queen of the Night. And it is not a coincidence believe me. Because it was smelling so intensively in my bedroom I was not able to sleep anymore so I had to bring the tuberose on the balcony to let me breathe in my bedroom. So the tuberose is going to smell when the sun begins to go down, so when the night arrives. And more and more it will be darker, so the tuberose is going really to smell intensively and just very animal smell, very carnal, very intoxicating. But I noticed that when the tuberose is going to smell at the beginning of the night, just what we call twilight, the smell is a little bit different. It is less intoxicating, less overpowerful, less overwhelming, a little bit fresher with a little note of green leaves, more green. And when I found this absolute of tuberose from India and I smelt it and I was thinking about the real plant and the smell is a little bit different, it is not what you expect because the absolute tuberose is maybe more gourmand, more green and floral and with a little facet of water coco. Not coconut, not milky but a very subtle and very discreet little facet. So I was thinking OK I am going to bring a twilight tuberose. So when the sun goes down it will be the beginning of my tuberose. So I was looking for an ingredient to introduce it at the time and I was thinking about pink pepper just to give a little kind of twist of freshness and lightly spicy and round and a little bit of green leaves also. After, you are going to enter, little by little into the absolute tuberose and I just try to work also to show the little facet of this kind of water coco and a little bit of heliotrope.” 2011 Extrait TV interview
Tubereuse is a linear perfume drawn on a crooked line. The flower’s natural complexity allows Mona’s interpretation to make a number of small detours along its linear path from start to finish. These detours are managed with a beautiful finesse. In nature, tuberose is a cacophonous mix of notes and perfumers often overdose its more diffusive qualities to emphasise the flower’s boisterous personality. Mona’s soft and muted flower results in a powdery bloom that has a painterly quality. Tubereuse begins with the sparkle of acidic bergamot and spicy pink pepper. Both ingredients give the fragrance freshness and energy. Within seconds the carnal flower begins to break through. First the green mulch-like notes, characteristic of the natural absolute appear, followed by the prettier floral notes often used to express both jasmine and tuberose. Transparent lactones give Mona’s tuberose, the coconut water quality she described in her interview. This satin-like milky quality turns into a sweet, spicy custard as the warm, gourmand base notes come into focus with what I suspect is a touch of nutmeg. Two thirds of the way through the fragrance’s evolution, a veil of heliotrope wraps itself around the fragrance, bringing warmth and a powdery glow. For me, heliotrope has a classic, slightly old-fashioned quality about it, which makes me think of Grasse, and the tuberose that was cultivated there in the early 20th century; their odours extracted using the now extinct, more subtle form of odour extraction called enfleurage.
Capturing the flower in the infancy of its bloom, Mona’s tuberose is a subtle rendering of perfumery’s most polarising flower. With its formidable odour, it is easy to see why tuberose is loved by some and loathed by many. I like to think that this subtler twilight-tuberose makes the flower more accessible for people less inclined to wear such a bold flower. Often associated with women’s perfumes it is less common to find men wearing fragrances built around this white flower and I doubt it will ever feature as a popular note in men’s perfumery but for men who wish to try something more challenging, Mona di Orio’s Tubereuse is worth the exploration.
Alternatives: Le Labo Tubereuse 40, Frederic Malle Carnal Flower, Diptyque Do Son, Profvmvm Tvberosa
Perfumer: Mona di Orio
Release Date: 2011
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Floral