So it’s January, and it’s dreary outside, and I want flowers. Big ones. Big smelly ones. I keep hearing perfume friends talking about “picking up a couple of stems of tuberose at the market” with which to scent their houses, but I don’t live in a big city with a well-stocked flower market, so that’s out. (I could special order them… at a minimum $75 order, so THAT ain’t gonna happen.)
The Big White Floral, or BWF, is one of the most polarizing genres of perfume available. People either love it or they haaaaaate it, and they bring out the cross and the garlic to defend themselves (sort of the way I get with dusty tolu/patchouli orientals). I, of course, love me a BWF.
BWFs can range from soliflores to mixed florals to floral orientals (and possibly even white-floral chypres, depending how strong a floral presence there is), but quite often, the operative word in the sentence is “BIG,” like Andre-the-Giant BIG, and that might be part of the issue. I’m not generally fond of potent sillage, and I prefer to keep my waft within a couple of feet of my person, but I’ll break that rule for a beautiful BWF.
I’m going to list a few of my favorites, just the tip of the iceberg, today, and will follow it up with more detailed listings, organized by central note, over the next couple of weeks. Here are some fragrances that come immediately to mind when I think of BWFs:
Karl Lagerfeld Chloë, the original. It’s still being produced (now by Parfums Chloe), but it’s strictly an online-stock thing now, and it’s had the heart sucked out of it long ago. If you loved it in the late 1970s, don’t bother smelling a new version now, it’ll break your heart. The vintage is still available on eBay, and the three samples I’ve smelled of 80s Chloë all smelled wonderful. This is a big, generous, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink floral on a bed of woods and moss, with peach and citrus and a tiny flourish of aldehydes up top for sparkle. Carnation and rose are also present, as are muguet, jasmine, and honeysuckle but it is, first and always, a BWF centered on tuberose.
Christian Dior Poison. Yep, the Beast That Ate My College Dorm. It’s tuberose and orange blossom, plus resins and a few spices and a jammy plum so overwhelming you could swim in it. Definitely a white floral and a huge one (the sillage on this, even the reformulated stuff, is monster), but I can only think of it in terms of deep amethyst. Is that marketing, or is it truly a purple smell? I don’t like big sillage, I don’t even like purple, and I still don’t know why this stuff is so addictive.
Frederic Malle Editions des Parfums Carnal Flower. Centered on tuberose, with a lush, fresh jasmine backing it up, it is nonetheless somehow green, with menthol and green leaves up top. I first smelled it on a winter day so cold that warm breath turned to frost, and it was perfect. I’ve worn it on muggy summer days, too, and it was perfect. It’s never been not-perfect for me.
Robert Piguet Fracas. A ton of virtual ink has been spilt over Fracas, the first widely-popular tuberose-centered fragrance, created by Germaine Cellier to serve as the femme-est, pinkest, bombshelliest fragrance evarrrrr. Despite assertions of it being THE Tuberose Fragrance, it is also completely and utterly jam-packed full of orange blossom, jasmine, gardenia, lilac, peach, and a zillion other things. The orange blossom is particularly prominent to my nose, and Fracas smells like nothing so much as it does a starlet’s dressing table, complete with lipsticks and cold cream and swansdown powder puffs and lavish bouquets.
Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. Big bad Black Orchid’s ingenue sister, this EdT version is discontinued. It centers on tuberose and ylang-ylang, with a milky, peppery veil over them. There is a light but persistent oriental base under it, with benzoin and woody notes. I can’t find the right text color for it, but it’s a sunsetty orange-pink color, pretty but vivid.
More BWFs to come.