When I think of carnations, the associations I have aren't particularly appealing. I think of them being the "cheap" flower you get when you can't afford anything else; I think of them affixed to 1970s polyester prom suits; or I think of them in awful dyed colors you'd never see in nature, like pastel green, purple, and...blue.
A lot of readers mentioned that Blue Carnation was a perfume their mothers wore, and eBay auctions priced it out of my curiosity sampling range, so I was excited to find a dram of it at a flea market recently, in pristine condition, for 3 bucks. (You can see it in the top row, in the middle of the photo of my perfume booty below, just one of many perfumes I nabbed at the market that day.)
When I first dabbed Blue Carnation on, its sharp and herbal opening salvo was so unfamiliar and harsh (with a prominent anise note) that by the time its predominant, dense clove cigarette accord arrived, I was truly baffled and put off. This stuff is strong!
But I love acquiring tastes, and it didn't take long for me to cozy up to Blue Carnation. Or, rather, it cozied up to me. Round, velvety, spicy-sweet clove is a comforting note, not one you encounter a lot in modern perfumes in this strong an incarnation (see what I did there?), but I could totally see getting hooked on this very dated smelling perfume.
Bellodgia is another famous carnation scent, one I will review next, and it is much more nuanced, light, and floral than Blue Carnation, which sings in a lower register than Bellodgia's higher pitched, more recognizably feminine voice.
Victoria from Bois de Jasmin tells us that eugenol gives both carnations and cloves their sweet heavy scents, and I would love to smell carnation absolute to be able untangle the nuances between the two, so clove-like is Blue Carnation.*
Like perfumes with prominent violet notes, carnation's exotic unfamiliarity takes us back to a different era. It would smell on a modern woman as vintage as alligator pumps and a square-shouldered suit would look on a teenager at the mall.
One of my favorite perfume interlocutors, Anne-Marie from Down Under, sent me the same link I sent her last night from (again!) Bois de Jasmin, which included wonderful quotes from perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena's book Le Parfum. The quote she sent me seems most apt for this post: "'Perfume," he writes, "is a product of society and, in this sense, is condemned to die if its myth and its memory are not maintained..."
I like to think that I and my vintage perfume-lovers-in-arms (noses?) are doing our best, one drop and dram at a time, to halt perfume's death sentence the best we can.
*More from Bois de Jasmin: "Produced mostly in France and Holland, carnation absolute is rare, with a heavy, spicy floral aroma tinged by sweet dark honey notes. It is a blend of clove, black pepper and exotic sweetness of ylang ylang, which incidentally are often used to reproduce carnation scents...In perfumery, it is common to employ synthetic substances like eugenol, isoeugenol and eugenyl acetate to accentuate floral character and to lend a clove and carnation-like scent."
** Roger & Gallet is a Parisian perfume house that's been around since 1862. Cleopatra's Boudoir perfume expert lists those perfumes some of which, in contradiction to that date, start on her list in 1806.