Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mary Chess Tuberose


I was shocked to learn in the last issue of Allure magazine that Frederic Malle Carnal Flower is based on headspace technology. It's such a luscious tuberose, it's hard to imagine it not being real. I feel like I just found out that the piano track I'd heard wasn't a real piano at all but a sampled sound on a synthesizer. I still feel grateful to find a scent I love, but like I said, I feel shocked. Well, that would explain the absence of truly animalic, indolic, musky stinkiness in Carnal Flower--although my sensitive nose still picks up on a trace of it, it's definitely cleaner compared to other tuberose blends: the original Chloe, Robert Piguet Fracas or Creed Tubereuse Indiana. It can be argued that those tuberoses smell animalic due to natural jasmine, but having smelled natural tuberose in all its intense, medicinal, animalic natural beauty, it's supposed to smell a bit dirty. The sweet, fleshy but clean white floral we've become accustomed to smelling, labeled "tuberose", is almost always a chemist, or a note designer's work, comparable to how digital music thrives on the creation of new and improved sounds that mimic nature but don't really exist.

Of all the tuberoses I've come across, I think Mary Chess Tuberose (1937) is by far the most natural and animalic I've had the privilege to smell. This is a rare scent, and I can only imagine that the newer version is missing all the natural essential oil that made up the vintage formula. Mary Chess Tuberose has a reputation for containing a high amount of real essential oils, and from testing it myself, I can stand by that. It would be costly to produce today in the form I've experienced. I was blessed by a perffriend who had generously shared a sample with me when I'd posted on a forum that I'd love to smell it once--I'd heard that it was Lana Turner's signature, and it sounded like the type of scent a tempestuous screen siren would take to.

Mary Chess Tuberose didn't disappoint in the least. In fact, I found it so outrageously animalic, I couldn't put it on my skin at first. If you can imagine Carolina Herrera only 10 times more animalic, you're close. It could match Schiaparelli Shocking! in the stank department. Natural perfumer Ayala Sender of Ayala Moriel has a tuberose called White Potion that comes close, but hers is a bit softer (although quite animalic) with the addition of sweet coconut. If you're one of the lucky ones and get to try vintage Mary Chess Tuberose before it's gone forever, be prepared for a very difficult bombshell--one that even I, a lover of all things tuberose, find brutally challenging, but also extraordinarily rewarding because no matter how the industry might tell us that chemistry is superior or equal to nature, we know there's really nothing like the real thing.

Long after sampled piano sounds replace real hammers on strings, there will be overtones that samples will miss, that we will not feel or be touched--or healed--by anymore.

(Image: Mary Chess ad, White Lilac perfume in the original queen bottle)