“To create a little flower is the labor of ages.”
— William Blake.
The creation of a perfume is an amazing challenge. I tend to think of perfume creation as ‘problem solving.’ I know that does not sound very creative or romantic, but ultimately when creating a perfume, what works with what is truly at the base (no perfumery pun intended) of it. Never is this more so than when creating a soliflore perfume. Soliflore, as I mentioned in my previous post about Violets, is a perfume based on one particular note. The term soliflore can be loosely translated from the French as Single Flower. A perfume such as Fleur de Narcisse, by L’Artisan Parfumeur is an example of a solfilore. It is a perfume based on the Narcissus (Daffodil) flower.
One would think a perfume based on one flower should be a relatively easy task. Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth. Generally, a soliflore will contain many other scents in it, but all should complement the main note. So, a perfume based on a Rose flower will contain dozens of other ingredients other than Rose Absolute oil. And if the perfume is not an expensive one, the chances that it will contain actual Rose Absolute is almost null. Either way, whatever goes into that perfume will ultimately have to smell of roses. When working with perfumery, I like the idea of sometimes creating soliflores. Rather that creating a perfume based on meadow flowers or summer woods, which could be all over the place, creating a perfume based on just one flower gives me a direct focus. And the challenge of allowing that flower, that one focus, to shine through a small mound of aroma-chemicals and essential oils is a welcomed one.
Recently I created a soliflore perfume based on Lemon Verbena. My aim was to create a perfume in which Lemon Verbena would be the main note, but one whose scent would also actually last. This is not easy when working with some herbals or citrus oils, many generally considered a top note. Top notes are the most volatile of a perfume note, and the first you’ll notice in a perfume, which also means they evaporate relatively quickly leaving room for middle and base notes to come through. I have Lemon Verbena perfumes, such as Caswell Massey’s classic Verbena, in which the Lemon Verbena scent is gone within 10 minutes of putting it on, leading the way to musks and Oakmoss. So the challenge with a solifore such as Lemon Verbena is to create a perfume where the main note is immediately apparent, but it is complemented by other aroma-chemicals and essential oils that not only will accentuate the Verbena character, but will make it last by helping bridge top, heart and base notes. Lemon Verbena itself, a top note, would otherwise evaporate relatively quickly. In this case, the end result is a perfume containing 29 ingredients including Lemon Verbena, Lavender Absolute, Hedione, Eugenol, Bergamot, Dihydromyrcenol, Clary Sage Absolute, Oakmoss, Benzyl Acetate, and 20 others. In the end, the perfume remains unmistakably Lemon Verbena, but 3 hours on a smelling strip and the Lemon Verbena scent is still going strong. 6 Hours later, still going. The day after, I can still detect Lemon Verbena mixed with musks on the smelling strip. Challenge conquered.
With other soliflores that do not involve top notes, such as a flower, most which are middle notes, the task is a little simpler when it comes to lasting power. However, the task is not any easier when you want to retain the character of the one flower. Taking Rose as an example, one has to create a perfume that is strong, balanced, containing many aroma-chemicals and essential oils, and yet when a person sprays it on they can immediately go: “Roses!” It does not help matters much that the possibilities for such a perfume are endless, and it requires a skilled perfumer to create a Rose perfume different from the hundreds of Rose perfumes that have been in existence since the birth of modern perfumery. Sure, a Rose is a Rose, but did you know not all Roses smell the same? Some smell more citrusy, some greener, some fruity, some woodsy. There is Rosa Damascena, Centifolia, Grandiflora, Canina, Eglantine, Flodibunda…. Even the Rose Absolute Oils vary from Rose de Mai to Rose Bulgaria, Turkish Rose and some in between. Same goes for other flowers like Jasmin. There is Jamin Sambac and Jasmine Grandiflorum. There’s Jasmine from India, or from Egypt…. I am sure you are starting to get the point.
To make matters even more complicated, there are also fantasy scents. So, a Rose perfume can be anything the perfumer wants it to be, as long as it smells like Roses. It could be roses that smell like they have been touched by a sea breeze, or wild roses from a meadow, or a cottage rose. How about a Pineapple rose? This can make a soliflore unique among other soliflore perfumes on the market, yet still smell distinctively of its namesake. Lavender soliflores are a perfect example. There are many Lavender soliflore perfumes out there, but each is distinctive in its scent because of the perfumer who created it. So, Crabtree & Evelyn’s Classic Lavender will not smell the same as Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Lavande Velours — even though both are Lavender based soliflores.
However, while there are also many perfumes based on a flower, like Penhaligon’s Ostara, based on Daffodils, the perfume itself is not a soliflore because it is based on the concept of Spring flowers (a bunch of them), but with the main scent being that of Daffodils. To be a soliflore, the main scent should really be only that of Daffodils. Mind you, the perfume itself does not have to have Daffodils in the name to be a soliflore, but the scent needs to be unmistakably one of Daffodils. In the case of Ostara, the scent of Daffodils is apparent, but so are a few other things such as Vanilla, Hyacinths and Violets. This makes Ostara a floral rather than a soliflore.
Soliflores are beautiful perfumes that work by telling us the story of one flower. Sometimes we want something ‘simple’ (as if a perfume containing 29 ingredients could be called simple…) and that is what soliflores offer us. Sometimes Lemon Verbena, Lavender, Narcissus or Wisteria is just what we may need. If you feel weighed down by the pressures of a busy daily life, where most of us are bombarded by ads, phones, e-mails, loud music and cars, retreating to the simplicy of a soliflore can usher one into a calm place where you do not have to make a lot of choices — just a single flower.