I recently had the pleasure of discussing flowers and perfume with internationally acclaimed florist, Saskia Havekes, at her flagship Grandiflora store in Sydney. A Grandiflora project can range from a bouquet of flowers for visiting British royalty to composing floral arrangements for the pages of Vogue or Harpers Bazaar. Last year Saskia and her team decorated Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall stage with flowers for a special dinner party hosted by Italian jeweler Bulgari. Regardless of the project size, flowers are at the heart of every Grandiflora creation. Saskia talks passionately about her medium in the same way people talk about family members and close friends. She describes the personalities of her flowers in great detail, the way they open, their silhouettes and textures. In 2013, Saskia launched her debut perfumes Sandrine and Michel, two different interpretations of the Magnolia grandiflora flower. During our first meeting in 2014 we talked about her new adventure into perfumery and the challenges she faced, not only as a newcomer to the industry but also because one of the perfumers she was working with, Sandrine Videault, sadly passed away. Saskia named their creation Sandrine, in honour of the perfumer. Since that meeting, Saskia has been busy at work, finishing her latest book called Flower Addict, and a new perfume.
For her third fragrance, Saskia wanted to recreate the scent of Stephanotis floribunda or Madagascan jasmine. She says, “I’ve always known that Madagascar has unusual plants and animals. It’s got the weirdness of Australia so I’ve had it on the map to try and get there one day in life.” Saskia was introduced to the exotic island’s jasmine as a florist. “We use it for bridal work. A lot of bouquets are made using it, especially the more old-fashioned bouquets. It has a lovely trailing movement and it has really big waxy leaves and flowers. It’s a luxurious jasmine.” These starry white blossoms open for a few short days before they expire. Saskia has always been fascinated by these types of transient flowers. They have to work hard to attract a pollinator in a short space of time so they are usually very fragrant. “Whenever we get it in the shop, it doesn’t last very long at all. We’ll often buy it on a plant and we’ll cut from the plant so that we can recycle the plant by giving it back to the grower.”
For Madagascan Jasmine, Saskia worked once more with French perfumer Michel Roudnitska, who has a reputation for being very selective of the projects he agrees to be involved with. The pair had a pragmatic approach to their work and with no elaborate marketing brief, Saskia simply arranged for Michel to receive his own Madagascan jasmine plant. Once it began flowering, the plant became a key reference point. Michel worked from his studio in the South of France and the pair exchanged ideas over email and post. “The other day somebody asked me if it is like having a pen pal because you get these little things in the post you get to unveil. It’s so exhilarating to see what he has come up with.” The creative chemistry between a creative director and perfumer is critical. Commenting on the way the pair collaborated, Saskia says, “I think he has such a huge reputation in the world. Who am I to predict anything like that to him? I really wanted to let him make his creation. Because that is how I work. Of course there were a few little adjustments but I felt so confident and I knew when I first smelt it that it was very close to the flower. I didn’t think that this smells like frangipani or oh my god! It’s not even near any flower that I know. I think he really likes the fact too that we acknowledge him in our packaging and in our press. To give him that recognition means a lot to him and is really important in that relationship.”
Michel wanted to steer clear of using top notes such as citrus, which perfumers often pair with jasmine. Instead, Madagascan Jasmine begins with a flash of tropical fruitiness. Behind this is a theme of green foliage; dark green leaves at first, then gradually giving way to watery tones of jade and emerald green. These aqueous tones bring a sense of fluidity to the powerful jasmine heart note, which is radiant white. Saskia acknowledges, “it’s got a bit of smoke in it too, which is not always detected by everybody but when you know, you can really feel that deep smoke coming through.” This aspect is not a major theme of Madagascan Jasmine and it adds a subtle but grounding earthiness to the fragrance. Madagascan Jasmine does not reveal any new facets from this point on and is a soliflore in the purist sense. With the help of a modern musk accord, it only increases in power, extending its aura outward like unfolding jasmine petals.
Saskia and Michel describe Madagascan Jasmine as being a spiritual fragrance. Michel shared the fragrance with people he did meditation and yoga with and many of them described the fragrance as something that spoke to the heart. Flowers have a calming influence on the human psyche and this true-to-nature perfume has a similar effect. I’ve enjoyed wearing Madagascan Jasmine as a relaxation fragrance in the evening and for me its a non-distracting scent I can wear during yoga. I’m often cautious about wearing heady floral perfumes, which traditionally smell better on women but I’ve been surprised at some of the comments I’ve received when wearing (a discreet amount of) Madagascan Jasmine, particularly from other men who were curious about my choice of scent. Although people don’t always have the vocabulary to describe what they smell, these men were obviously intrigued by mine.
Listed below are other jasmine perfumes I enjoy. There is no direct comparison for Madagascan Jasmine because most jasmine perfumes reference other varietals. Jasminum grandiflora and Jasminum sambac are more commonly used in perfumery. I didn’t add Frederic Malle’s En Passant as a suggestion because I thought it was a stretch of the imagination but I do think there is a connection between Madagascan Jasmine’s aquatic greenery and Olivia Giacobetti’s scenic lilacs along the Seine, which the perfumer composed for En Passant.
Acqua di Parma Gelsomino Nobile, The Different Company Jasmin de Nuit, Tom Ford Jasmin Rouge, Aerin Ikat Jasmine, Serge Lutens A la Nuit
Olfactive Direction: Saskia Havekes
Perfumer: Michel Roudnitska
Bottle Designer: Grandiflora Studio
Release Date: 2015
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Classical Floral