"I will bring you cassie, if you still enjoy its perfume," wrote 19th-century French novelist Prosper Mérimée in Lettres à une inconnue (Letters to an Unknown). The “unknown” was Mademoiselle Jenny Dacquin, the daughter of a notary of Boulogne, with whom Mérimée corresponded for over 40 years. And what flower should his Carmen throw to Don José? A cassie blossom.
Cassie and mimosa are two closely related plants from the acacia family. The branches covered with masses of lemon-yellow pompoms not only look beautiful, they also have a rich scent valued in perfumery. Native to Australia, mimosas are believed to have been brought to France in the 18th century by the British explorer Captain James Cook, and they have flourished in the mild winters of the Mediterranean coast. Every February the Massif du Tanneron in Provence turns golden yellow as the mimosas come into bloom, a Fauvist painting come alive.
From these hills – as well as from South India and Egypt – come the floral essences for the perfumer’s palette. Mimosa has a pronounced aroma of cucumber peel, violet blossom and milky almonds, while cassie is similar but with a rich spicy accent. They are some of the most complex and expensive ingredients available to fragrance creators, and to unlock their full potential requires much skill and experience.
In contrast to the cheery loveliness of the yellow blossoms, both mimosa and cassie essences capture the flowers’ darker femme fatale side. One of the best examples of the genre is Frédéric Malle’s Une Fleur de Cassie (£170 for 100ml EDP) – it uses both mimosa and cassie for a seductive blend that starts cool and powdery and ends in suede and spice. Even so, Une Fleur de Cassie is an acquired taste, especially for those not familiar with the scent of mimosa. Caron’s Farnésiana (€174 for 100ml EDP) is likewise a temptress but its touch is more subtle. It pays homage to the complexity of cassie and mimosa, but it contrasts the dark richness of the flowers with almond meringues and candied violets.
Moving off the dark and smouldering spectrum, L’Artisan Parfumeur Mimosa Pour Moi (£87 for 100ml EDT) and Jo Malone Mimosa & Cardamom (£85 for 100ml cologne) are the fragrances that come closest to the experience of mimosa on a branch. Both are light floral colognes that have effervescent, bright characters – an uplifting experience on a late winter morning. Jo Malone also offers an excellent matching candle (£42) that fills the room with the perfume of spiced mimosas.
Notwithstanding my focus on fragrances conventionally marketed to women, I encourage men to try the aforementioned mimosa recommendations. Une Fleur de Cassie, for instance, makes an alluring masculine scent. Those with more classical tastes, men or women, might appreciate Thirdman Eau Monumentale ($180 for 250ml cologne). It is an elegant citrus cologne, but what makes it intriguing is a generous addition of mimosa. The contrast between the velvety floral heart and the peppery freshness of bergamot is as exhilarating as it is alluring.