Spring is not spring for me unless it has hyacinths. I buy the forced bulbs and leave them around the apartment to wait for the moment when the flowers open up and fill the air with their perfume. The scent of hyacinth is not as delicate as that of many other spring blossoms; it’s rather heady and sweet, with an earthy note. It can sometimes be overwhelming, but the contrast is the reason why the fragrance appeals to me – and to other perfumers. Its complexity is an endless source of inspiration.
Hyacinth, like lily-of-the-valley, lilac and gardenia, can’t be processed for essence, so perfumers have to create their own interpretation. Some emphasise its green, succulent facets, as did Jean-Paul Guerlain in the legendary Chamade (£216 for 30ml parfum). Guerlain’s hyacinths are framed by the freshness of coriander and violet and the plushness of patchouli. The delicate sweetness of vanilla, an important note in all classics by the house, offsets the earthy darkness of hyacinth without obscuring it completely. The effect of Chamade is airy and vibrant, yet enveloping and warm.
The green accent of hyacinth is often used in both masculine and feminine fragrances, even if the hyacinth itself plays a secondary role. Its verdant, crisp note brightens up the unripe mango in Hermès Un Jardin sur le Nil (£89 for 100ml EDT), adds depth to the fig accord in Marc Jacobs for Men (£68.50 for 125ml EDT) and softens the sharpness of leather and galbanum in Chanel No 19 (£113 for 100ml EDP). In each case, hyacinth blends smoothly into the composition, buttressing the elements with an aroma that recalls crushed fresh leaves.
Chanel Cristalle has been among my favourite scents for years, and every time I put it on I marvel at the skilful way in which the mosaic of its notes fits together. It explores the floral sweetness of hyacinth, but depending on the concentration, the effect varies. Chanel Cristalle Eau Verte (£91 for 100ml EDT) is greener – with its explosion of lemon, bergamot and dewy petals like a citrus cologne, and I treat it as such, reaching for it on warm days or whenever I need a boost. Chanel Cristalle Eau de Parfum (£65 for 50ml EDP), on the other hand, has a more substantial presence: languid and suave, with the icy hyacinth joined by jasmine, ylang-ylang and peach – a satin dress to the EDT’s silk camisole.
If I crave an even more opulent hyacinth, then I look no further than Annick Goutal Grand Amour (€150 for 100ml EDP), a fragrance that makes the petals of this spring flower seem velvety and warm. Wrapped in amber and vanilla, its sweetness is boosted by roses and jasmine. In an unexpected twist, a note of myrrh resurfaces under the floral layers. Its sombre darkness provides an intriguing counterpoint to the brightness of the composition, mirroring how love always retains a touch of mystery.
Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog boisdejasmin.com since 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three prestigious Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving her professional perfumery training, has also been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher.