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· Perfume Notes: JAR Diamond Water

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Perfume Notes: JAR Diamond Water
by Dain

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz, Juana La Loca (1877)

When first you approach fine fragrance in earnest, it may come as a surprise that the experience, the act of sniffing itself, does not measure up to descriptions. Mitsouko doesn't smell like peach, nor Bandit of leather whips—the association is looser, more conceptual. As it turns out, literalism isn't all that worth pursuing in a fragrance; it is nicer to wear Mitsouko than peach syrup after all. So, if you're put off the idea of carnation because of its reputation as a cheap filler in dowdy bouquets, give it a chance in perfume.

You might already have encountered carnation in a supporting role, everpresent but rarely conspicuous. The feminine equivalent to geranium, it mediates between rough, raw florals, whether in the melancholy Normandie or juxtaposed against leather and cigarette ashes in Tabac Blond. But I love carnation best when it's center stage. Hidden within its essence, not readily apparent from the real flower, lies the fiery molecule eugenol, the same heat that gives cloves and basil their characteristic spice. Perfumers frequently expose obscure facets in smell—the brine in lilies, the urine in jasmine, the chocolate in patchouli—and the humble carnation is full of surprises. The most aggressively marketed perfume in history, YSL Opium, is a carnation. Caron's Poivre (and the more attenuated eau de toilette, Coup de Fouet) crackles with a brighter, cleaner flame. For homey warmth, there's the powdery, mimosa-rich Divine Folie from Jean Patou. Even in Bellodgia's fresh-from-the-florist incarnation, it delivers a grand floral equal to Fracas and Paris, if far better behaved. Above and beyond other florals, carnation is a personal favorite, so I mourn the ravages of reformulation on the spicy carnations of yore, their fire all but extinguished.

Left behind in the carnage, perhaps because of its extreme rarity and expense, is JAR Diamond Water*. Every precious droplet sparkles on the skin, from the effervescent top notes to the quiet, pensive drydown of incense smoke. And at the heart of it all is a great carnation, in both its softly floral and brash spicy modes.

Diamond Water opens on a luminous accord of mandarin and peachy aldehydes, before transitioning seamlessly into rose and a dewy, fresh carnation. It holds there, among the tender petals, for several heartbeats, then a buttery, vanillic tuberose emerges, a discreet but decadent dose, for a richer texture. It sustains this floral disposition for the better part of an hour, as hints of spice peek through, shedding petals slowly, one by one. By the time the eugenol has mustered full intensity, with cloves and bay leaf as reinforcement, Diamond Water is a peppery, unapologetic oriental, ablaze on the skin. Eventually, it mellows into a smouldering base of sandalwood and sweet myrrh.

Both gourmands and orientals can be characterized by opacity, sometimes heavy and cloying; what's nice about a spicy carnation is that it can grow deeper, more meditative, without losing any of its radiance. Furthermore, it is quite modern in its appeal, with the potential to support a complex structure: were you to extract the carnation from Diamond Water, then split the remainder in half, the result is incongruous—L'Air du Temps and Avignon. A carnation revival might yield some interesting experiments; it is my fervent hope that the houses will look past its cultural status, and return their noses to it soon.

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* As of this review, my decant is some three or four years old.

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11/30/2012 [1]

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