Saturday, January 30, 2021

Perfume Obsession, from Sweet Pea to Passion Flower

 In the summer of 1996, I went to France for summer school. Nice. I didn’t take advantage of any of the tours you could book for non-class days, but I did spend a fair amount of time shopping in Vieux Nice. I bought some perfume extracts there. Colorful liquid in mass-market bottles with the name on a band around the cap.


The scents weren’t complex. Violette, patchouli, lily. The liquid was a color to match the scent. The shops selling the scents were abundant. I bough several, although I only have one left. Years, moving and broken glass took care of the others. I didn’t ever wear them as perfume. I would just open them and smell them to bring back memories of my summer.

 Back in 2014, I went, by myself, on a trip to Europe, and made sure to include some time in Nice. I went to Vieux Nice and couldn’t find these same parfumiers there. But I did take tours. Two of those tours included visits to the parfumier Fragonard, in both Grasse and Eze. The tour each time ended in the giftshop. Can you believe it? And there I was, on tours with maybe 6 people in them, in the factory at the start of the off-season, in November.

 I fell in love. I fell in love with the aromas. I fell in love with the packaging. I fell in love with the history. I bought as many items in the giftshop as I could justify buying. And then a few more.

 Fragonard had already started making one flower the “flower of the year” by that time, although I wasn’t really aware of it. They didn’t emphasize it during the tours. The year I went, the flower of the year was sweet pea. Sweet pea also happens to be the flower of my birth month. I bought some. And because of their amazing packaging, I bought some remainders of the 2013 flower of the year, lily of the valley.


I’m someone who likes to wear perfume. If the perfume is too spicy, though, it can give me a migraine. I started using the sweet pea perfume, sometimes adding a spray of The Body Shop strawberry with it. I loved it. And I would get compliments on it. I decided to buy more. That’s when I found out what flower of the year meant.

 Flower of the year meant that after that year, they would still sell it only if they had stock remaining. Nothing else was being manufactured in sweet pea. And my timing was so bad that I bought it in November. The new flower of the year, jasmine, came out in January. I think I managed to buy one more bottle, but that was it.

 I was, however, so happy with the first flower of the year I had encountered, I was hopeful that the next flower of the year would be just as good. I might be one of the only people around, aside from those employed by Fragonard, who waits eagerly in early January to see what flower has been given the coveted title. It’s a bit like Pantone’s color of the year. There is no competition. The award is given by the people who invented the award, to a product they make. But it is still fun.

 Alas, jasmine did not live up to my expectations. But it did come with some lovely merchandise when you ordered it. An umbrella, a shopping bag, a small gift set with travel spray and soap, all with beautiful jasmine paintings. The flowers-of-the-year scents lacked the simplicity of the essences I bought years before, and the more complex “perfume” nature of them was missing the mark for me.

 So, jasmine had been an overall dud, but I was not deterred. I stuck with them through iris, peony, verbena, lavender and magnolia, each time thinking the perfume would be as good as the flower extract. Each year I was disappointed in the perfume, but happy to collect my umbrella and shopping bag with the beautiful artwork. I would also like to add that I am extremely frustrated by their website. They offer various products to different countries, and the US seems to have gotten the short end of the stick on what’s available. And being in California makes it even worse, because some products, like candles, are illegal to ship to California. Who knew? I didn’t until I tried to buy a candle.

 When I left the factory in Grasse, in 2014, they were having a contest/drawing for a big basket of products. I entered and did not win. But I was put on their mailing list. An actual, in-the-mail mailing list. Every few months I get the latest gift with purchase offer and some sample towelettes of their fragrances. This way, I did stumble upon another perfume of theirs that I really love, bigarade jasmine. Bigarade is bitter orange.


But the bigarade jasmine perfume is very heavy. It isn’t an everyday, go to work fragrance. The sweet pea had been.

 For 2021, the flower of the year is passion flower. And…so far I really like it. My sticking with them through thick and thin might have finally paid off. And I’ve learned to get the perfume early in the year, so there is plenty of time to stock up should it become a favorite. It is light and sweet, not sickly or overpowering. The other perfume elements of it work. And, as always, the packaging is beautiful.


I still have an alert on eBay to let me know if someone is selling their bottle of sweet pea. Unfortunately, the $25 (at the time bottle) now sells for $100 when one turns up. Too rich for me. Maybe one day they’ll look back on their best of the best flowers of the year and make it again.

1 comment:

  1. This is the most interesting post on perfume I've ever read. And it taught me something I didn't know about you, so that's cool, too. :)