Primordial Magnolia. You are one of the first to announce Spring when other flowers are still lolling in the comfort of their bud. Your magnificence is on par with the magic of your fragrance. In spite of being one of the most ancient flowers known on our planet Earth, your beauty is still unaltered after almost one million years. Primordial Magnolia, is your early bloom in Spring the success of your longevity?
Magnolia is a prehistoric genus of more than 200 flowering species, originated in East Asia and the Americas. Can you believe that the plant was existing on earth before bees and that its pollination was first ensured by beetles, explaining its shape, its rigid petals, and tough carpel? Magnolia was named after the renown French botanist Pierre Magnol in 1703, in homage to his work on classifying plants into distinct families. Today, magnolias are found worldwide as ornamental plants and appreciated for the beauty and fragrance of their flowers.
Magnolia essential oil is rare and expensive, as the yield obtained from the steam distillation is very low. Magnolias of the genus Michelia are mostly used for this purpose. EO of Michelia x Alba, a hybrid of Michelia Champaca and Michelia Montana, also known as White Champaca, is perhaps the most widely found. This plant is actually a large tree producing yellowish elongated small flowers also called Yu Lan Hua in Chinese. These flowers are sold in garland or by piece in China, Taiwan and South-East Asia to embalm homes and cars, and as offerings in temples, or even to flavor teas. Magnolia essential oil is recognized in aromatherapy as having many health benefits such as being an antimicrobial and antiseptic agent, useful for calming the nerves and stimulating awareness and even acting as an aphrodisiac.
In perfumery, an expensive absolute of magnolia, extracted by petroleum ether, is available for a small batch production of exclusive perfumes. More generally, the magnolia note is produced by a blend of aroma chemicals and some citrus essential oils. A typical magnolia compound will be composed in large part of bergamot oil and hydroxycitronellal. Rose and jasmine absolutes, or their synthetic versions, increase the floral aspect of the compound, and lime or other citruses add some freshness. Our great aroma chemical companies have developed a myriad of molecules that can add some depth and effects to the basic compounds described above. Today, every perfumer has its own recipes for the magnolia note which differ as widely as the genus of this plant.
In the past, some soliflore fragrances of magnolia were popular. Magnolia from Chanel, released in 1929, was perhaps the most popular among them. Today, magnolia still inspires our noses and one can find many creations bearing its name and featuring its note in the heart of the composition. My picks of the week are:
Bottega Veneta Parco Palladiano I, launched last year, was created by Michel Almairac, the nose behind many of the best Bonds No.9, Burberry and many other great fragrances. Parco Palladiano I is a soliflore of Magnolia flowers and bark. The fragrance opens with soft citrus notes and soon evolves in a creamy-waxy floral, then fades gradually into a woody accord. I never really found a perfect replica of the natural scent of magnolia yet, but this one is perhaps the closest I ever tried. The sillage is moderate and the longevity as well, but this is expected, as the components of such floral composition are highly volatile.
Another star of fragrance making, Carlos Benaim, master perfumer for IFF, gave us his version of a magnolia soliflore in the latest collection-fragrance Magnolia by Ralph Lauren. Carlos made the magnolia note central and added some fresh notes of lemon for the opening and a woody base of patchouli. We will surely find as many apostles than detractors for this version of magnolia, but I am rather in the first category.
I can’t ignore L’Instant de Guerlain for women, made in 2003 by Maurice Roucel. In the words of Guerlain, the citrus honey accord leads into a second accord of Chinese magnolia, exalted by sambac jasmine and ylang-ylang, which lights up the amber accord. These three dominant accords fuse together to create a fragrance of sensation and light. It is for me difficult to recognize the note of magnolia in this fragrance, but it is, without a doubt, a beautiful feminine juice, with some freshness in the opening and long-lasting floral notes.
I already mentioned in some previous post my interest for the Bulgari Le Gemme collection, for their very simple yet unique composition. Irinia and Splendia, the ivory and jade-green colored bottles, both use a magnolia note but in a very different way. Irinia is a musky version of magnolia reinforced by jasmine, and Splendia is more grounded with oakmoss and some sparkling narcotic notes of narcissus. I like both, with a slight preference for Splendia, maybe cause it is a more unisex declination of magnolia. The longevity of these fragrances is probably not in line with their price, but again, molecules do not care about economics and evaporate based on other criteria.
I am gonna spend some time now in my garden, to enjoy the sublime fragrance of our gardenia tree. Nature is still a few steps ahead of our best perfumers and chemists.
I wish you a fragrant week my friends.