If I asked you to think of a floral note used in perfumery just off the top of your head, you would most likely say jasmine, tuberose or gardenia. You may even answer with orchid, rose, iris or violet, but I can be fairly confident that your first answer would not be magnolia. But out of all the flowers used within perfumery, magnolia is one of the most magnificent – it’s the shining diamond in the flower crown of perfumery and it’s a truly versatile note that lends itself to many different interpretations, from the voluptuous to the effervescent, and all that’s in between.
So magnolia may not be the first floral you think of when it comes to the ever-expanding flower market of perfumery, but it is one you absolutely should know in more detail. The magnolia is reportedly an ancient flower – a Jurassic plant that bloomed at the time of the dinosaurs and long before humans existed. It has a complex odour profile that ranges from fresh and zesty, to warm and animalic. On the fresher side of the spectrum, magnolia smells like lemons, with a zesty, dewy and refreshing nature. It can also smell crunchy and green with a metallic brightness. On the warmer side, magnolia has all of the waxiness of petals and the sweet, creamy intimacy of a hedonistic white flower. It’s a complex, radiant and enveloping flower that sings with scented beauty.
Now, it’s important to state that when we refer to ‘magnolia’ in perfumery, we actually make reference to a number of materials. The flower itself does yield oil, however, as is the case with many essences obtained from the heart of flowers, the oil doesn’t smell much like the flower. Even magnolia leaf extract, as beautiful as it is, is more redolent of greenery than the bloom itself, so often what we smell as magnolia is a construct – a puzzle pieced together by talented perfumers who use other materials, both natural and synthetic, to create a familiar image: that of the magnolia flower in bloom.
In this guide, I’m going to introduce you to the note of magnolia through three fragrances, each of which features the note, but does so in a different way. We’ll sniff a magnolia that presents a photorealistic snapshot of the flower in bloom, whilst looking at others that use the note in the background or in a more abstract way. By the end, I can guarantee that you will be marvelled by magnolia and you may also have fallen in love with it too.
Magnolia as the Main Event
If you want to smell a true magnolia, as in a magnolia fragrance that accurately captures the scent of the flower on the tree, then Magnolia Nobile by Acqua di Parma is perhaps the best out there. It is at first, a symphony of citrus, but as if the orchestra from which it is played is made purely out of flowers. There’s a crispness to Magnolia Nobile – a sharp bite of fizzy lemon and freshly cut greenery that perfectly recreates the freshness of magnolia. But the warmer, more heady side of the flower is showcased too in a heart of white floralcy that feels completely alive and vivid. The base is all patchouli and vetiver, cutting further into the sharpness and giving the whole thing a resplendent, chypre-like feel. It is simply the very best – a classic magnolia that you need to know.
Magnolia as a Supporting Act
Magnolia is a bold note but it’s not always the star in a fragrance’s composition, and sometimes it can step aside from centre stage firmly into part of the chorus. A good example of a magnolia note as a supporting act is GUERLAIN’s L’Instant De Guerlain (The GUERLAIN Moment – i.e. that moment when one falls in love). L’Instant is a sexy oriental (a style that GUERLAIN does very well) where honey, magnolia and amber are blended so seamlessly that each of these disparate parts becomes one new whole entity – a warm, spicy and sweet glow with hints of creamy flowers. L’Instant De Guerlain is a magnolia moment to cherish.
Magnolia as a Modern Blend
Some magnolia fragrances manage to catch all of the olfactory beauty the flower has to offer, sporting endless freshness and floral warmth aplenty. Magnolia Sensuel, the latest addition to the BVLGARI Splendida collection, is one such fragrance and it feels like an incredibly modern take on magnolia that has quite a bit of va va voom. Magnolia Sensuel accents its creamy, tropical magnolia heart with a glistening sheen of neroli and mandarin, underpinning it all with an exotic vanilla base that is spicy and inviting. The result is a sexy, modern fragrance that doesn’t shout ‘magnolia’ – instead, it softly whispers the word.