I was all set to do my usual geek thing and tell you all about carnations: their history of cultivation, how to grow them, the meaning behind the name, the meaning of the different colors in The Language of Flowers, yada yada, ad infinitum. Then I started to write it, and it was boring, so I trashed the geek thing and decided to just tell you the basics: I love carnations. The flowers are associated with January birthdays (who gets to decide that kind of thing? I want that job!), so of course I was predisposed to like them anyway, but I do truly love fresh carnations. Their cheerful colors, their outrageously jagged, ruffled, extravagant petals, their gorgeous spicy-fresh-floral scent… oh yes.
When I first got (re-)interested in perfume about four years ago, one of the first things I did was start an internet search for “carnation perfume.” I was unsuccessful, probably because I didn’t really know where to look, and I kept winding up at websites which promised me I could design my own perfume for $60 a bottle. I was skeptical (with good reason). However, one of the first houses that I really started exploring as a newbie fumehead was DSH Perfumes, back when Dawn Spencer Hurwitz maintained a sort of double-door site, with one door leading you to her Parfums de Beaux Arts collection and the other leading to the simpler, oil-based Essense Oils collection. Early on, I ordered a sample of every single carnation scent she offered, and there were many. I enjoyed them all, but sadly, the Essense Oil collection has been pared down, and there are now no carnation scents available at DSH other than the wonderful Oeillets Rouges.
I’ve continued to explore carnation scents, and I’m not finished yet, but I doubt very much that there will be a new carnation-centered fragrance that will woo me. Given that IFRA regulations strictly limit the use of eugenol, a clove-spicy material intrinsic to the smell of carnations, many carnation scents have been discontinued in the last few years. It’s an old-fashioned sort of note, too, so I’m not sure the general public misses carnation scents much. Another reason is that carnation absolute is wildly expensive; I’ve read that perfumers often mimic carnation fragrances with eugenol plus ylang and/or orange blossom, sometimes with a bit of rose added.
Here are the categories I’m using to classify carnation-prominent fragrances, since they can usually be described by one of the following phrases:
Spicy floral Oriental
Descriptions and notes lists, where possible, have been quoted directly from the appropriate perfume house. Perfume names in red have been sampled. See, I finished writing these 18 reviews/descriptions, looked at the remaining 30-some fragrances, and decided that I really ought to break the post up. It’s in danger of being a beast already, and I’m not anywhere near done!!
1) Ava Luxe Oeillet – (Spicy Carnation) “Rich and spicy carnation is enhanced with nutmeg for added fire. A hint of fresh rose buds, as well as a touch of lily, adds softness.” Ava Luxe used to sell an Oeillet Rouge as well as an Oeillet Blanc. Both are gone from the site now, and only Oeillet is listed for sale. I didn’t smell Oeillet Blanc, but Oeillet smells very similar to my older sample of Oeillet Rouge; it may be a tweak to that formula. Notes: carnation, rose buds, oriental lily, nutmeg, white musk. Sadly, this is one of the carnation fragrances that goes extremely bitter, like harsh soap, on me. I suspect it’s my skin, because on paper, this is pleasantly spicy-floral for quite a long time.
2) Caron Bellodgia – (Creamy Floral Blend) This fragrance is one of the Grande Dames of Caron perfumery, created in 1927 by Ernst Daltroff and still in production. “Caron was keen to immortalise the charm of Bellagio, the little Italian town perched high above Lake Como. The warm and lively Bellodgia fragrance is evocative of fields of carnations drenched in sunlight, punctuated here and there with roses, jasmine, violet and lily of the valley. Bellodgia, a shard of light stolen from the shimmering Italian sun, is a big favourite with Caron’s American customers.” Notes (Fragrantica): carnation, rose, lily of the valley, jasmine, violet, musk, clove, sandalwood, vanilla. It’s carnation, all right, but carnation in bouquet and surrounded with creamy, powdery notes more evocative of boudoir dressing tables than fields drenched in sunlight. Very pretty. Very indoorsy. The current version is unpleasantly soapy-bitter on me, but the vintage is lovely. I can’t even tell you how vintage my sample is, except that a kind friend sent it to me and the vial is labeled “parfum de cologne.”
3) Caron Poivre – (Spicy Carnation) “In 1954, Caron creates a sensation with Poivre, whose explosive scent remains unparalleled on today’s market. It took particular daring to make this spicy, peppery departure, held together with an ultra-rich floral heart note, typical of Caron, and woody base notes.” Notes (Fragrantica): spices, pepper, clove, carnation, red (hot) pepper, floral notes, geranium, rose, jasmine, ylang, tuberose, woody notes, opoponax, vetiver, sandalwood, oakmoss. I like Poivre very much; it is as much about the spices as it is about the flowers, and it carries that dry, sophisticated Caron base with it. It’s not particularly “daring” and “explosive,” as Caron tries to intimate, but it is unusual and attractive. I’d think a man could carry off Poivre pretty well.
4) Caron Coup de Fouet – (Spicy Carnation) “In 1957, given the popularity achieved by Poivre with clients all over the world, Caron launches Coup de Fouet – Eau de Cologne Poivrée. A refreshing fragrance on a base of rose, enhanced with peppery undertones.” Notes exactly the same as Poivre, but weighted toward the floral and away from the dry oriental base. It’s lighter than Poivre, leans more feminine, and is pretty, but it’s not a favorite because it, too, eventually pulls up that soapy bitterness I dislike so much.
5) Caron Tabac Blond – (Leather with floral and smoky-tobacco accents) “To mark the dawn of feminine liberation, Caron made the bold move in 1919 of dedicating a deliberately provocative perfume to the beautiful androgynous women of the era, with their long ivory and mother-of-pearl cigarette holders poised nonchalantly between their lips. Tabac Blond: a subtly ambiguous fragrance that borrows the leathery head notes from the world of masculine fragrance, and combines them with Caron’s inimitable floral bouquet.” Notes (Fragrantica): carnation, leather, linden, vetiver, iris, ylang, musk, patchouli, cedar, vanilla. This is another Caron I haven’t managed to try yet, and I was dubious about including it on a list of carnation fragrances. Some perfume fans insist it belongs here, as being a carnationy leather.
6) Cartier Les Heures II L’Heure Convoitée – (Powdery carnation) “The time is ripe for displays of affection. This is the time to dust rouge onto your cheeks, paint your lips, and strike a flirtatious, vaporous, sensual pose. This is L’Heure Convoitée, introducing notes of carnation, strawberry flesh, and iris.” The Coveted Hour does sound like something I’d like, with powdery notes and carnation. A friend will be sending me a sample, and I’ll report back. Edit: mini-review will be available on Part II post.
7) Comme des Garçons Series Red: Carnation – (Spicy carnation) “Comme des Garçons likes red, the red of the sun, the red of fire, the red energy of blood. We have created 5 fragrances using red flowers, red woods, red fruits and red spices. CARNATION: Red Carnation, Red Pepper, Red Rose, Cloves, Absolute Jasmine, Absolute Red Pepper.” This is another carnation fragrance I find very beautiful on paper, and horrible on my skin. Spicy-floral, with an exhilarating rush of excitement, it’s even spicier than Poivre, but after a few hours, it turns bitter and acrid on my skin the way several carnation scents do.
8 ) Coty Paris (d/c) – (Powdery carnation/floral blend) “All the splendour and verve of colourful PARIS – scintillating, sophisticated, of infinite fascination – is embodied in Coty’s Parfum PARIS. It expresses the woman of gayety and daring, of exquisite contrasts, ever challenging.” (Magazine ad, Nov. 1923) “Have more Paris in your life! Because youth shimmers through Paris perfume like cool spring sun through budding leaves… because you return to it again and again with new delight…” (Magazine ad, 1939) “Nothing makes a woman feel more feminine.” (Magazine ad, 1953) “Paris… the double-note fragrance.” (Magazine ads, 1950s, but I notice that they never actually mention what the double notes are.)
Okay, you know I love those old Coty fragrances, but I was surprised when someone recently mentioned this one as being “carnationy,” because what I had noticed was the powdery rose-violet. I had to go back and revisit the sample I have, looking for carnations, and there they were. I still wouldn’t call this one “a carnation scent,” but it’s a bouquet, and a very lovely one. It was so long gone that Yves St. Laurent had no trouble using its abandoned name for its famous, enormous rose fragrance nearly 15 years after it was discontinued, in the year of my birth, 1968. Notes, according to Octavian of 1000 Fragrances, who says it was inspired by Houbigant’s floral fragrance Quelques Fleurs: aldehydes, hyacinth, carnation, heliotrope, ylang, lilac, musk, civet, vanilla.
Other reviews/articles concerning Coty Paris: 1000Fragrances, The Non-Blonde, Parfumieren. (I hope you can access this lovely review by Olenska; she’s had to make Parfumieren private due to recent content theft. If you can’t see it, please let me know. I feel certain she’d welcome readers who ask permission to access the blog.)
9) Demeter Christmas Bouquet – (Fresh carnation) “A swirl of Holiday flowers without even a touch of green. The heart of this fragrance is made from natural carnations, which give it a unique spiciness and creaminess. Flowers are always a popular part of any Christmas celebration, but they are usually chosen for color, to add a ‘look’ to the celebration. Not surprisingly, we at Demeter wanted to make sure we chose our flowers for scent, and created the kind of irresistible Holiday bouquet only Demeter can.” Notes (Fragrantica): carnation, green notes. Huh. Demeter says “without a touch of green,” but Fragrantica lists green notes. Wonder if Demeter just means “no piney greens.”
10) Demeter Funeral Home – (Fresh carnation/floral blend) “Funeral Home is a blend of classic white flowers: lilies, carnations, gladiolus, chrysanthemums with stems and leaves, with a hint of mahogany and oriental carpet. This scent actually started out to be Flower Show. Now our founding perfumer personally did NOT like most white flowers so this was a tough fragrance for him to develop. When a friend first smelled this one and exclaimed, ‘It smells like my Grandfather’s funeral… call it Funeral Home!’, so we did.” My personal feeling on funerals is that there can sometimes be positive aspects to them – seeing family is one of them, and flowers is another. I’m tempted by this one.
11) DSH Perfumes Oeillets Rouges – (Fresh-spicy carnation) “PASSION, POWER, LUST, RAGE, ECSTASY… such are our associations with RED; our wildest emotions and greatest HEAT are bound to this primal color. Inspired by the radiance and intensity of RED. Les Rouges No. 2; scarlet red: A charming and playful perfume of red carnations in full bloom…joyful as a day in May.” Notes (Fragrantica, DSH): Bergamot, nutmeg, pepper, carnation absolute, honey beeswax, amber, ambergris, myrrh, vanilla. I love this thing. The early stage is very fresh, and it slides from fresh floral into spicy carnation into a lovely warm spicy-vanilla-myrrh trio that I adore. I recently picked up my bottle of PdN Vanille Tonka after having worn Oeillets Rouges (I only own a dram bottle of OR, and I space out my wearings because it’s expensive and delightful), and realized that the two scents have much in common.
12) DSH Fleuriste (duplicate of JAR Golconda, d/c) – (Fresh carnation). This one was offered on the Essense Oils portion of the DSH website before it was reorganized, and like all the “Designer Duplicates” scents, it’s gone. I loved Oeillet Rouges very much, and ordered a tiny bottle of it rather than Fleuriste, but Fleuriste is very lovely. My sample is oil format. Green notes up top, a hint of rose, a hint of some other fresh floral like freesia or green jasmine, and lots of carnation. It’s beautiful. I have no idea how close Fleuriste is (was, since it’s gone?) to Golconda.
13) DSH Soft Carnation (Essense Oil, d/c) – (Soft carnation) Another discontinued Essense Oil, this one a gentle, less-spicy, more-floral carnation scent with, I think, jasmine sambac (?) and a bit of vanilla and sweet musk.
14) DSH Spicy Carnation(Essense Oil, d/c) – (Spicy carnation) Yet another one of the simple but natural-smelling Essense Oils. This one is quite close to Oeillets Rouges, with some citrus and spices up top, without the myrrh and ambergris notes. I almost chose a bottle of it.
15) DSH Cimabue – (Spicy floral-oriental with chypre leanings) This fragrance has won the hearts of a number of perfume fans with its golden aura and its combination of creamy, spicy, and woody notes. I don’t find it particularly carnationy, but it is nice. “Opulent. Enigmatic. Beguiling. My Italian Journey no.8; a journey of time and space, rather than a physical one. Cimabue (pronounced chim-ah-boo-ey) was the artist to bridge the opulence of Byzantium with the insight, knowledge and brilliance of the Florentine Renaissance. Our ‘saffron étude’; Cimabue is a softly spiced, saffron perfume with a rich vanillic sandalwood basenote.”Notes (Fragrantica): neroli, bergamot, bitter orange, clemetine, nutmeg, cardamom, carnation, jasmine, geranium, tuberose, honey, saffron, clove, cinnamon, rose, labdanum, sandalwood, opoponax, benzoin, vanilla.
16) Dolce et Gabbana D&G original (red cap) for women – (Aldehydic floral blend) This scent was released in 1992, and I’m not sure of its current status. Since D&G has recently released a fragrance called Dolce Et Gabbana pour femme, I can’t quite figure out if the original one has been discontinued or not. Described by some as “’Jersey Shore’ in a bottle,” and by others as “soapy nothing,” I can’t tell you what to expect from it, either. For me, it was harsh and bitter once the first aldehydic blast wore off. Notes (Fragrantica): Aldehydes, citruses, mandarin, ivy, freesia, mint, bergamot, coriander, orange blossom, lily, carnation, jasmine, rose, marigold, lily of the valley, sandalwood, musk, vanilla, tonka bean.
17) D&G Velvet Love – (Spicy woody floral) I’d thought this one along with the other five “Velvet” fragrances were limited-edition, but it’s still for sale. From the Saks Fifth Avenue website: “The inspiration for Velvet Love is the carnations of Lake Como. Velvet Love’s redolent carnation flowers envelop oriental notes, giving in to an exhilarating rush of ylang ylang and pepper.” Waaaaitaminnit… I think I’ve heard that “carnations of Lake Como” line before… From reviews, it sounds as if Velvet Love is a creamy, soft floral. I haven’t smelled it. The only notes I can find for it are carnation, ylang, pepper, musk, and vanilla. Victoria at Bois de Jasmin liked it and gave it three stars, mentioning that it would have warranted a fourth star if it hadn’t been so quiet.
18) Etro Dianthus – (Soft carnation) “Going by the name of Carnation, Dianthus is the symbol of passionate love that originates from outer Zanzibar. This intense and sunny scent preserves a memory of a faraway place dripping in warmth and sunlight, from which the fragrance takes it’s feminine essence without becoming overly sweet. Energetic and sparkling, this striking perfume awakens the senses and livens the atmosphere, naturally taking the centre stage.”
Notes (Fragrantica): orange, lemon, geranium, rose, pink pepper, carnation, clove, ginger, musk, cedar, vanilla. Despite the citrus and spices in the notes list, this one smells mainly to me of carnation, cedar, and vanilla. I can just barely pick out the ginger, but it’s not a strong presence. The whole fragrance, in fact, isn’t particularly strong, but it does last on me better than I’d imagined it would after reading multiple reviews complaining about its reticence. It’s pretty and girly and soft, and if you were looking for something to replace Malmaison, this is not it. That said, I like it a lot.
Look for Part II of Carnation Fragrances!