The bitter orange tree – Citrus aurantium var. amara – is one of the wonders of the fragrant world. (You might better know it as the Seville orange tree.) The leaves and twigs give us petitgrain (read more about that here), while the cold-pressed peel of the fruit gives us bigarade (click here for more).
But it’s the orgy of white neroli blossoms which get ‘noses’ really excited: airy, citrussy, green, but with whispers of honey and orange bubbling subtly underneath. It’s extracted by steam distillation of freshly-picked flowers, which must be a gorgeous task.
The name ‘neroli’ comes from a small Italian town near Rome, and a princess who lived there. Anne Marie Orsini (also known as Anna Maria de la Tremoille, and originally French), fell in love with the scent of neroli, which fragranced the air in spring. She was the first person to distil orange flowers to make essential oil, which she used to scent her clothes, baths and gloves. (Gloves and perfumery are inextricably linked, which you can read about in our Perfume History section, here.) It seems to have been something of an aphrodisiac, and kickstarted a craze among the local residents for this seductive oil, which is said to have been blended with flowery sweet notes and musk.
Long before that, though, the bitter orange tree is thought to have been brought to Europe by the Arabs from the Middle East, when the trade routes opened up. Nowadays, it’s widely cultivated: orange groves flourish from North Africa to North America, France and Italy. (The best oil, though, is said to come from Tunisia, where Jean-Paul Guerlain has his own bitter orange grove…) During the distillation process, a beautifully scented water’s also produced, which makes its way into floral waters and flavourings. And if you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself standing in a grove of these trees, it’s an unbelievably delicious, sense-drenching experience.
Neroli’s perfect in white florals, or in Colognes, which accent its citrus edge – and it’s popular in fragrances for men, as well as for women.
Smell neroli in:
Atelier Cologne Grand Neroli
Chanel No. 5
Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere
Chanel No. 19 Poudré
Creed Orange Spice
Diptyque L’Eau de Neroli
Evody Fleur d’Oranger
Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio
Jennifer Lopez Glow
Jo Malone London Orange Blossom
Laura Mercier Neroli Eau de Parfum
Le Labo Perfume Neroli 36
Lush Orange Blossom
L’Occitane en Provence Neroli eau de parfum
Ortigia Sicilia Orange Blossom
Paco Rabanne Lady Million
Penhaligon’s Eau de Cologne
Prada Infusion de Fleur d’Oranger
Serge Lutens Fleur d’Oranger