In the very early days of Bonkers, I wrote a review of Jasper Conran Woman, a super cheap citrussy chypre of which you can still pick up gift sets (with body lotion!) for under a tenner in UK supermarkets. Tania Sanchez gave it four stars in Perfumes: The Guide, and likened it to Chanel pour Monsieur, yet it remains lost in obscurity and condemned to a slow death languishing in the bargain bins of Asda.
While I was over in Berlin recently, I had a good old chat with the male sales assistant at Sahling best of beauty in Galeries Lafayette, whose unbridled enthusiasm for Lalique Flora Bella (which he didn't stock, sadly) made a major impression on me. It prompted him to dream of a tropical paradise, where a handsome, raven-haired surfer dude with violet eyes crests the waves and flits in and out of view like a tantalising chimera.
You won't therefore be surprised to learn that one of the first things I did when I got home from Germany (after the usual suspects of unpacking, washing, emergency plant rescue and placating the cat, who always pretends not to recognise me if I have been away for more than a couple of days), was to get onto the Cheapsmells website and snag a bottle of this for under £17, including shipping. As I said in my Berlin Sniffathon report, it was well worth that amount just to see what all the fuss was about - or wasn't...And of course Flora Bella was created by Bertrand Duchaufour, who surely must be incapable of having an off day and creating a duffer.
Now I haven't blind bought anything for a very long time - in fact, I can't remember what the last bottle was, it is so long ago - but sometimes the thrill of the gamble is worth the risk, and if you do end up liking the scent in question, you really are quids in. Well, I have now worn Flora Bella a few times and what can I say? I thought I had smelt it all...but then this lactonic beauty came along. Hmm, I can't seem to find two note listings that agree, but here are a couple to kick us off:
Top Notes: mandarin, bergamot, baie rose
Middle Notes: Daphne flower, frangipani blossom, vanilla, sweet almond
Base Notes: amber, vanilla, white musk
Notes: mandarin, bergamot, rose, violet, frangipani, freesia, cassia flower, mimosa, tuberose, carnation, orchid, tiare flower, white musk, vanilla and spices
I had to google Daphne flower and came across an authoritative article on the subject by Octavian of 1000 Fragrances, of which this extract seemed the most relevant:
"Daphne mezereum is maybe the best known type, but there are other scented Daphne flowers like Daphne alpina, Daphne cneorum, Daphne striata, Daphne philippi, Daphne blagayana, Daphne laureola, etc. They are all scented, covering many types of notes: rather strong, heavy, vanilla-like around an aromatic spicy concept, and there is even one that has a violet note."
That's assuming there is Daphne flower in here, of course, and the lack of congruence in note listings suggests that the jury is not only "out", but has long since dispersed and toddled off home. I have just googled a few more note lists and found sporadic additional references to lilac and blackcurrant! What an olfactory shapeshifter this scent is turning out to be...it definitely has a "pick your own" style of note list, so I am going to keep Daphne flower for starters.
A word on the packaging next: for example, the box is a rather nasty shade of mauve - I say nasty, though that is in fact the colour of the bedroom carpet in the spare room, which is also picked out in the curtains, so I must have liked it at one point. As for the bottle, it has those pleasingly square and chunky Lalique "house" contours, with hobnail studs on the edges, not unlike a musician's flight case, or the milk jug pictured further down. (I will come back presently to these twin themes of metal rivets and dairy products...)
Now here's another shapeshifting dimension to this scent - if you google pictures of the bottle, 90% of the images you find show the juice to be blue or mauve! How mad is that? I found just one or two where the perfume looks its actual colour, which is in fact a sort of washed out plum. Why should that be, I wonder?
On to the smell of the fragrance - not before time, I hear you clamour! The first thing that struck me is its lush, enveloping warmth. Texturally, I was reminded of Puredistance 1, another ambery-musky scent, but this struck me as a much airier version - and I said Puredistance 1 was airy in my recent review of it!
And I am of course assuming that Flora Bella does have amber in it, which it seems to to me, so I'm going to appropriate amber too in my pick 'n' mix note list. Oh and on my friend at the weekend - who also fell in love with this one and has probably bought her own bottle by now from the same site - it smelt remarkably similar to DKNY Gold. Once again it seemed lighter and airier than Gold, while still managing to be potent and lush. Now for sure, that is a clever stunt to pull all right - to be simultaneously full-bodied and airy - but Flora Bella is that contradictory chameleon!
Notes: patchouli, balsam, acacia flowers, jasmine, Casablanca lily, clove, amber
Okay, so those notes looks nothing like Flora Bella on paper, but they share a beguiling sensuality, and even in the absence of lily in Flora Bella, the similarity was compelling on my friend's arm. I don't get any particular development with Flora Bella, just this initial big whoosh of gorgeous sweet florals, suspended in an airy, milky cloud over a musky, amber base. And for the record, my friend doesn't care for overtly vanilla-y scents, so this manages to be milky without straying into Yankee vanilla candle territory.
In a Facebook exchange, Olenska of Parfumieren drew my attention to the fact that Tania Sanchez also gives this scent four stars in Perfumes: The Guide. Which was an additional source of "post-purchase cognitive assonance", not that any was needed by this point, as I was well and truly smitten.
Tania's overall caption for this scent is "milky metallic", and she goes on to speak of its "dreamy, dense, milky note, which reminds me of a Filipino dessert of sweetened condensed milk poured over shaved ice", later summing Flora Bella up as "Silver, chilled cream, and a far-reaching transparent glow: it should have been called Luna Piena instead".
So now of course I had to google "Luna Piena", whose preeminent incarnation in Google seems to be an Italian restaurant in Whitby. I don't suppose Tania had that in mind at all. I have now quickly consulted an online dictionary and confirmed that this phrase is simply the Italian for "full moon". : - )
I had already formed my thoughts before reading this review, but I totally agree with the dessert-y aspect. And there is definitely a steely, flinty edge to Flora Bella too (cue rivets and milk jug!). Alain in Sahling spoke of a saltiness counterbalancing the lush tropical flowers, but it may well be this helional-"sucked spoon" note Luca Turin has identified, and to which Tania makes reference in her review.
Olenska picks up the lunar theme in her own review of Flora Bella, describing it as: "truly a lunar phenomenon, unsettling and alien."
Now that I have lived with Flora Bella for a while, I can totally see why Alain the SA is captivated by it, and why it is his favourite scent of all. I would also urge anyone who normally shies away from blind buys to take the plunge on this one. It is dreamy and creamy, and it is a bit metallic, though I personally find it warm rather than chilled. Maybe it's my age - a lot of things feel warm to me these days!
But anyway, my advice is simple: "There's a full moon, so do something a little lunar/loony - close your eyes and hit "Add to cart"...
Photo of island from capacitacionvirtual.net, photo of surfer from blog.holidayparkhols.co.uk, photo of Daphne flower from slice-heaven.com, photo of flight case from ranedj0.co.cc, photo of jug from trocadero.com, photo of Flora Bella bottle (blue) from perfumezilla.com, photo of full moon over water from chicks-beach.com, other photo my own