Legends of the Narcissus Flower

As we saw in our fragrant bouquet of narcissus-infused perfume recommendations, the sunny, soul-brightening flowers have been inspiring perfumers for centuries. But do you know the full story of the intriguing myth behind the naming of the narcissus?

This fascinating tale is told beautifully on the blog of chelseaflower.co.uk:

 

‘Like many stories in Greek mythology, Narcissus was burdened early on by prophesy. A wise, blind seer by the name of Tiresias warned him that he’d live a very long time, so long as he never admired his reflection. Avoiding mirrors was difficult in an appearance-centric culture, but Narcissus managed to for a great deal of his life. However, he peered down into a pool of water as an adult, became captivated by his own reflection, and – depending on the version of the myth – he either wasted away while staring or slid into the pool and drowned. Either way, not exactly a happy ending to the story.’

 

 

 

The Flower and the Fable

‘So what does this surprisingly bleak story have to do with such a sunny flower? Daffodils, particularly wild ones, are often found at the edges of ponds, rivers, and streams, looking down into the waters below. As they age, wither, and die, the bowed head of the flower droops closer to its stem, appearing to look even more intently at the ground or the water near its roots.’

 

 

 

‘This subtle nod to Narcissus’ end caused the ancient Greeks to believe the Narcissus flower was the incarnation of the man himself, a beautiful but stark reminder to avoid vanity and stay focused on the world and people around you instead. In some versions of the myth, this cautionary hero gets a little more benefit-of-the-doubt, too: alternate versions indicate that he actually pined away missing his lost twin sister, and looked at his own reflection to see her features. This slightly sunnier version casts the bright flower in a better light: that of the enduring love for family, and the beauty of cherished memories.’

 

 

 

 

‘No matter which version of Narcissus’ tale the flower of the same name brings to mind, there’s one undeniable truth: it’s a beautiful bloom. Planted in spring gardens or presented as a fresh floral arrangement, the gorgeous mix of creamy white and yellow-red centres make a joyful bouquet for any gift-giving occasion. Plant narcissus bulbs before spring, and you’ll be able to enjoy a colourful show emerging as the snow and ice melt away…’

However you decide to celebrate this gorgeously cheering flower – wearing a fragrance that wafts the scent of it all day, or filling your home with happy-making vases of the blooms – we hope you find some sunshine that will keep us going until spring properly appears!

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Dreaming of Spring with Narcissus Scents

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 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