Narcissus

Rich, floral, green, heady:  like burying your nose in springtime itself.  Or as perfumer Julie Massé explains to The Perfume Society: ‘An opulent sensation of green-leaf, or the hissing of hot, wet summer lawns – a strangely intense and yet cool floral.’

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.

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…

Smell narcissus in:

Boucheron Boucheron
Chanel Coco Noir
Chanel No. 19
Creed White Flowers
Dior Miss Dior
Donna Karan DKNY
Givenchy Ysatis
Guerlain Samsara
Lancôme Magie Noire
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumière Noire Pour Femme
Miller Harris Jasmin Vert
Van Cleef & Arpels First

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