Narcissus has been exciting perfumers for millennia. The Arabs used it in perfumery, then the Romans, who created a perfume called Narcissinum with the oil from what’s become one of our favourite modern flowers. In India, meanwhile, narcissus one of the oils applied to the body before prayer, along with jasmine, sandalwood and rose. (Nobody’s quite sure where the first flowers were grown; some believe it originated in Persia, and made its way to China via the Silk Route.)
There are hundreds of different species of Narcissi today – white, yellow, some with a touch of pink or orange (including our ‘everyday’ daffodil) – but not all are fragrant. The Pheasant’s Eye Narcissus (a.k.a. Poet’s Narcissus, or Narcissus poeticus) is native to Europe, and growers cultivate it in the Netherlands and the Grasse area of France, extracting an oil which smells like a blend of jasmine and hyacinth.
The scent can also be extracted from the so-pretty ‘bunched’ variety – Narcissus tazetta – is native to southern Europe and now also grown widely across Asia, the Middle East, north Africa, northern India, China and Japan. A third variety, Narcissus jonquil, can also be used, and in one form or another this beautiful ingredient is said to make its way into as much as 10% of modern fragrances – despite the fact that a staggering 500 kilos of flowers are needed to produce a kilo of ‘concrete’, or just 300 g of absolue, making it very pricy – and, therefore, many perfumers will create an ‘accord’ to recreate this stunning scent note.
It’s so powerful, though, that only a touch is needed – and perfumers must proceed with caution: the scent in a closed room can be overwhelming. (Narcissus actually gets its name from the Greek word ‘narke’, which made its way into Roman language as ‘narce’: that meant ‘to be numb’, and alludes to the effect the oil can have.)
The supposed Greek legend linked with the flower is well-known: Narcissus was a handsome youth who fell in love with his own reflection, on seeing it in a pool. Unable to leave behind the beauty of his image, Narcissus died – to be replaced by this flower…
Penhaligon’s The Revenge of Lady Blanche
Here, hyacinth and daffodil lure those around with wafts of what seems like whimsicality, before the true headiness kicks in with billowing verdancy and the bite of ginger flower beckons. Reflecting the character of Lady Blanche, who Penhaligon’s describe as ‘the darling of London Society’ who will ‘do anything to continue climbing the social ladder’ and revealing ‘her charmingly dangerous persona,’ – this is a narcissus-strewn scent that beautifully balances the beauty and intriguing green notes.
£235 for 75ml eau de parfum penhaligons.com
Sana Jardin Jaipur Chant
Sana Jardin have helped to put scent sustainability firmly on the agenda, a brand created primarily as a vehicle for social change, offering fragrances (by the esteemed Carlos Benaïm) which are exquisite enough to convert any eco-refusenik. They don’t launch newness every five minutes – au contraire – but introductions like this are worth waiting for, heady with tuberose, jasmine and French narcissus, freshened by lemon and ultimately smoothed by soft musks. Hypnotic, we’re finding.
Try a sample in the Sana Jardin Discovery Set £30 for 10 x 2ml samples In our shop
Frederic Malle Cologne Indélébile
Love the freshness – but weep over the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nature of Colognes…? This is the most surprising Cologne incarnations you can wrap your nose around, bursting out of the bottle on a surge of orange blossom and Calabrian bergamot, neroli and lemon. But wait. Literally, wait a couple of hours: the top notes still make their presence felt – joined by arm-fulls of headier narcissus, too, by now – but Cologne Indelebile develops an irresistible musky undertone that will still be seducing you (and who knows who else?), 24 hours in. Golly.
£240 for 100ml Cologne libertylondon.com
Shay & Blue Atropa Belladonna
Atropa Belladonna is inspired by deadly nightshade (yes, really!): the rare plant used by seventeenth century Venetians for hallucinogenic beauty, as the natural toxins is contains dilate the pupils. This rich and incredibly opulent scent was created by ‘nose’ Julie Massé. It is an utterly contemporary blend of ripe blackcurrant alongside narcotic white flowers by way of narcissus and jasmine. The mesmerising composition decadently dries down to a base of patchouli, sandalwood and Bourbon vanilla.
£65 for 100ml natural spray fragrance In our shop
PARLE MOI DE PARFUM Haute Provence / 89
Endless vistas of Provençal lavender fields and their ‘glorious explosion of purple, mauve, lilac and blue’ were the inspiration behind this wonderfully soothing, aromatic ‘memory of France in high summer.’ Until we can wander those fields first-hand, this cool, dry and immediately nostalgic scent spirits us there with every spritz. Refreshing watermelon and hypnotic narcissus only add to the bucolic charms, and once again we praise the nose of Michel Almairic. Mai oui!
£100 for 50ml eau de parfum lessenteurs.com
Written by Suzy Nightingale