Autumn’s hottest perfumery ingredient offers a potent sensual impact. Beth Anderson reports on this very alluring flower.
Much like fashion and colour trends in makeup, perfumers tend to favour certain notes and ingredients at key periods. Five years ago, every master perfumer was incorporating rose notes in all the major fragrance launches. This past spring, rhubarb and violet leaf had starring roles in perfumery. These scent ingredient trends have much to do with advances in technology and plant biology. Scientists will find new ways of distilling or manipulating a flower or note which inspires perfumers to play with the new technology. Such is the case with frosted effects recently. Perfume chemists developed a way to create a frosted effect on fruit like raspberries and citrus – a perfect ingredient for summer scents. Many of the summer eau de toilettes did have a cooling mood or feel.
For autumn 2018, tuberose is riding a wave of popularity. The tiny white flower appears in almost half of all the major women’s launches. Here’s some background information on the sensual and alluring floral note.
The Tuberose flower comes from a plant called polianthes tuberosa which was originally native to Mexico and Central America. The Aztecs were growing the flowers 600 years ago for use in religious rituals. Medicinally, they valued the plant for its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties.
When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they took the fragrant plant back to Europe with them where it gained popularity in Spain. It is now grown in France, Hawaii, Africa, India and China. In traditional Hawaiian weddings, it is customary for the bride to wear a Tuberose wreath. And in Indian weddings tuberose is widely used as a decorative flower and for its intoxicating scent.
Despite its name, Tuberose has nothing to do with roses. It is actually a member of the Agave family. The plant grows to about three feet tall with eight sword-shaped, slender leaves. The tuberose was named because it forms a thick, bulb-like underground stem called a tuber. The plant grows elongated spikes up to 18” long that produce fragrant, waxy white blooms.
A night-blooming plant, tuberose is prized for its heady, exotic floral aroma and highly concentrated scent. A couple of the flowers can scent an entire room. Tuberose was used extensively during Victorian times as a funeral flower and in “moon gardens” where fashionable ladies could walk at night to preserve their pale skin. Although, at the time, it was suggested that young girls should be forbidden to inhale the powerful tuberose scent for fear of inciting sexual impulses!
In perfumery, tuberose is known as a decadent ingredient with a creamy, rich, fruity and slightly animal personality. Master perfumer Roja Dove called it “the harlot of perfumery”, likely referring to its sometimes polarizing, yet aphrodisiac properties.
The first modern fragrance that prominently featured tuberose was Robert Piguet’s Fracas. Launched in 1948, it became a favourite of Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and Marlene Dietrich. Fracas is a sexy and classic perfume which has stood the test of time. Madonna, Kate Beckinsale, Kim Bassinger and Courtney Love are among its modern-day fans.
Tuberose is an expensive ingredient — it takes 3,600 kilos of handpicked blossoms to produce one kilo of “absolute”. The flowers can be harvested year-round, but the main season is October/November when the yield can be twice as high as at other times.
The original extraction method was to press freshly picked tuberose flowers into clean tallow that had been spread on glass sheets. The waxy substance was dark, red-amber with a floral, earthy and fatty scent. Nowadays tuberose is processed by solvent extraction. Tuberose essential oil is used to treat insomnia and anxiety.
In perfume compositions, tuberose shines when combined with other rich ingredients like white flowers, fruit, vanilla and coconut.
Some recent fragrances that showcase tuberose include Ralph Lauren Woman, Carolina Herrera Good Girl, Gucci Bloom, Estée Lauder Tuberose Gardenia, Oui Juicy Couture, Chloé, Christian Dior Poison, Givenchy Amarige, Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiore and Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion.