Wistaria , one of the most mysterious and less known creation from Houbigant, is a fragrance you could hardly forget once you have smelled it. Introduced in 1940 as a "Eau Florale Concentrée" only for the American market, this is the closest wisteria scent you could ever imagine, a romantic, true-to-the-flower reproduction of an incredible character.
Last spring I spent several weeks investigating the scent of wisteria flowers in Paris, memorizing their facets and details from the first buds to the opulent grapes that come in so many shades. The perfume from Houbigant belongs to a time when the only highly sophisticated tool used by perfumers was their nose and the sensibility to understand the scents of nature. There was no GC, no headspace. But this fragrance "c'est la fleur même" and from the very first seconds I felt immediately surrounded by the perfume of blooming wisterias with all the spiciness combined with honeyed, sharp green notes and the very important orange flower accord. There is not a single note that doesn't smell like the heavy scented grape and I'm totally impressed by the perfumer who imagined this scent. This is certainly not an interpretation, but the closest reproduction of the natural scent and its spicy dry woody aspect suggests several Lucien Lelong creations from the same era. It feels as if a "wisteria concrete" was used for the perfume, though there was no such product available during the war.
The perfume is dominated by the unmistakable burnt spiciness found in the natural flowers, an accord created by a very intelligent blend of different types of eugenols. Under the spicy thunder we can find a very beautiful lilac note, combined with a lactonic Gardenia C18. But another important element, introducing the sweet honeyed aspect of the flower, is an accord built around jonquille-genêt-salicylate showing a similar facet with Je Reviens (Worth). 2 specific green-anisic-sweet molecules introduce the peculiar mimosa-linden blossom aspect, rather unusual in that flower, creating with an aldehyde the suggestion of a green hyacinth on top. Small doses of jasmine absolute and a classic lily of the valley are softening the harshness and the violence of the dominant spicy theme with its clove-bay-non sweet dianthine direction. The drydown, though dominated by the blend of spices (that curiously avoid the carnation aspect), has a certain floral delicacy supported by orris and a light balsamic touch that recalls the refinement found in the drydown of l'Aimant (Coty). Maybe the closest in spiciness is Poivre (Caron), but Wistaria (Houbigant) gave a totally new interpretation of this theme. Unfortunately, this perfume had no legacy and I did not found any other example built on the same idea, as if the true wisteria soliflore was an extinct branch in the evolutionary tree of perfumes.
There were not many wisteria perfumes before WWII maybe because the flower itself has a very strong character. But as a decorative item, this flower was extensively used in the Art Nouveau and Art Deco period. For Houbigant it was quite important and it was used in its famous "boutique" created for the 1900 Paris exhibition, when Le Parfum Idéal made its triumphal debut. In Le Figaro of 23 May 1900, Jean de la Tour wrote: "The display room of the Houbigant company was decorated by Maestro Mucha who created a flowery apotheosis of a perfumery: frames over which climb cobaea, wisteria and mimosa." This is maybe the perfect description of this forgotten perfume, an apotheosis of wisteria with an unusual and arrogant dry spiciness ending with a light opopanax effect and bitter burnt wood.
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Fragrance is the 8th Art - Octavian Coifan - Le Parfum est le 8ème Art