Monday 9 May 2011

Lalique Flora Bella: A Four Star Sleeper Bought With Eyes Wide Shut...

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 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, photo of surfer from, photo of Daphne flower from, photo of flight case from, photo of jug from, photo of Flora Bella bottle (blue) from, photo of full moon over water from, other photo my own


Anonymous said...

This sounds very, very good. Woman, you induced a major lemming in me. Now that I know we tend to like the same things, I feel a strong craving for Flora Bella. And it is a Duchaufour...*sprints off to look for this online*

lovethescents said...

Oh how curious! I think I'll have to give this a try too...great for you that you won on a blind buy. Your last one? Might it have been a Kenzo?

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

It is, it is, it is! If won't ship to Austria (they are the cheapest and most reliable source of bargain bottles), happy to act as scent mule. Or I could send you all a sample first, but that might spoil the fun of the blind epiphany!

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

I've remembered - it was Ajne Vanille at the start of 2010 - and it was a major thumbs down!

Anonymous said...

cheapsmells does ship to Austria, and cheaply too, but they do not have Flora Bella in stock any more. Maybe your post caused a buying frenzy?

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

Haha - that would be going it some in the short time my post has been up! Maybe they only had a couple of bottles in anyway. : - )

Best deal I could see now with free shipping worldwide was £28 from Strawberrynet. Had a look on Ebay but nothing comparable to our £17 deal. I wonder if Cheapsmells will restock, as they are the cheapest in my experience, having bought quite a few bottles from them in the past.

olenska said...

So incredibly happy to see this curious little beauty catching on-- coming out from behind the clouds of obscurity into its full power to make perfumistas mad! (in best Zeus voice:) RELEASE THE LEMMINGS! :D

Vanessa said...

Hi Fellow Cultie!

Lemmings duly least I opened the cage door, gave them a little poke and pointed towards the cliff. That should do it, hopefully.

Heidi said...

Hi Vanessa! Love the article. As you know from our recent correspondence, this was a blind buy for me, too. You've inspired me to embrace my "loony" side and wear Flora Bella tonight!

Vanessa said...

Hi Heidi!

Yes indeed - so let's see if we can recruit any more members to our "Eyes Wide Shut Blind Buy Cult". Who looks most like Nicole Kidman? Not me for sure!

Marie said...

Actually, I hadn't even finished reading your post before I was on Cheapsmells and came to the same result as B. But I'll keep this in the back of my head - not very far back - and find it later.

I rather like blind buys - the research online, the hunt and the kill! And the excitement when the package arrives and I tear the brown paper off and spritz: What's it like - what's the verdict??!!

Sounds like a boring life that can take pleasure from that, but there it is. Nicole Kidman, I'm not.

Vanessa said...

Hi Marie,

Booh! Sorry you got the same result. Yes, quite possibly worth hanging on for a bit to see if it pops up again.

Oh, we may not have boring lives necessarily - it could just be a throwback to the childhood lucky dip principle of the party/goody bag!

Anonymous said...

I bought a manufacturer's sample from... lessee, Beauty Encounter, maybe?... two years ago and immediately HATED IT.

It smelled, mostly, of patchouli.

Which I can't figure out, based on even the widely disparate note lists. Perhaps the sample had gone off.

Vanessa said...

Hi Muse,

Bizarre. I did get phantom lilies but no patchouli, never mind *all* patchouli! I incline to the "off" view and would love to get your take if you come across it again!

Judith said...

I tested it at Harrods and then bought online cheaply as Harrods had none left. If I know something is going to be discontinued, or has been discontinued, I head to Harrods to find the tester.

Vanessa said...

Hi Judith,

Good thinking - and how nice to be within striking distance of Harrods! I make a point of going whenever I come down to London, but wish it were closer. I wonder if all the fine perfume stores in the capital would consider moving to Salford, like the Beeb? That would be relatively more handy for me. : - )

Angela Cox said...

Alain has good taste ,my Flora Bella just arrived ! So he's from Santa Clara the most important battle of the Revolution was won there by a guy in a beret. I don't suppose he and Alain would have seen eye to eye so better Alain is somewhere he can enjoy his fragrance .

Vanessa said...

Hey Angela,

I am so happy for you, if you also went and blind bought it on Alain's tip off! He has been in touch several times now back channel and seems delighted and thrilled to have made such an impact on the perfumista public - both in store and out in the wider world!

I don't know much about politics, but if you say Alain is best living in the West (well, you know what I mean, as Cuba is west of Berlin, technically), I defer to your expert knowledge on these matters.