Is there one particular note in fragrance that you find yourself seeking out time and again? A flower, resin or fruit that you know will bring you instant joy and comfort? For me it is Neroli; the absolute obtained from the tiny white flowers of the bitter Seville orange tree, using steam distillation.
It has been a love affair that began when I started to experiment with essential oils as a teenager. The aromatic properties of neroli are said to soothe chronic anxiety and bring feelings of peace and euphoria. The beautiful white blooms are also used traditionally in wedding bouquets as a symbol of innocence and undying love. I find the scent of neroli exquisitely haunting, it is so much more than a simple citrus floral. There are multifaceted depths within it that are at once sharp and soft, green yet plump and lush, bright but also somehow slightly bitter and smoky.
As a popular ingredient in perfumery, there is a plethora of fragrances that feature neroli somewhere in the blend. My scent collection is heavily biased toward citrus, yet my olfactory appetite for neroli is insatiable. My two most recent favourites are Neroli Blanc Eau de Parfum from Au Pays de la Fleur d’Oranger and Grand Neroli from Atelier Cologne. Both encapsulate everything I love about the delicate white flower, in very different ways…
Grand Neroli, created by Cecile Krakower, is part of The Cologne Absolue collection and as such has all the splashy beginnings of the best cologne. It has sharp and brightly bitter notes of bergamot and petitgrain (also derived from the orange tree) which sparkle and fizz upon the skin during its opening moments. Deeper beneath are stirrings of galbanum, oakmoss and birch, which emphasises the perfumes’ shady green character. When the neroli arrives it is like a ray of sunlight, casting the shadows into sharper contrast and dominating the rest of the development. I love the razor edge that cuts through any sweetness here, how the scent only alludes to the sugary qualities citruses can have, rather than dissolving into orange soda after ten minutes. This is not a floral arrangement of neroli. Rather Grand Neroli is a portrait of bitter fruits and crisp leaves, chopped upon a wooden board in the morning sun. The flowers stand in a vase nearby, fluttering white petals in the gentle breeze.
Neroli Blanc is a collection of three fragrances, based around the different qualities of bitter orange, depending on the process by which the scent is extracted. I’m head over heels for all three and I particularly enjoy the gourmand deliciousness of the Eau de Parfum Intense. However the Eau de Parfum, created by Jean Claude Gigodot, features that true neroli that I crave, alongside petitgrain and a big floral bouquet of jasmine and rose. The opening of Neroli Blanc is, for a few seconds, similar to that of Grand Neroli. The petitgrain has the same sharp, green effect in both fragrances. However very quickly Neroli Blanc becomes an altogether softer perfume, the jasmine instantly blurring crisp edges with indolic voluptuousness. There is also a far more pronounced sweetness that is reminiscent of honeycomb, a little waxy and oozing with golden nectar. A woody base of cedar and benzoin keep the scent from becoming overly floral and the neroli is truly beautiful, a superb balance of delicate blooms and bitter bark. The rose becomes pronounced as slightly dry, bringing the perfume to a close in a very different place to Grand Neroli. It is a bridal bouquet left among the hay bales at the end of the day, the grass beginning to collect dew as the evening closes in.
I don’t believe I will ever tire of the multitudinous ways in which perfumers use neroli. It is a constant journey of discovery and one that I would happily continue to explore into infinity. If you adore neroli and orange blossom as much as I do, please seek these fragrances out, you won’t be disappointed. At the cusp of springtime, what better way is there to welcome the sunshine?