New materials create spikes in the market. Witness the glut of Cool-Watery perfumes using dihydromyrcenol, ‘radiant woods’ of the iso-E super school and the ongoing norlimbanol-heavy ‘dry woods’ craze. Better still, look at the explosion of violet, lilac, heliotrope perfumes from the turn of the 20th century. These early soliflors were hugely popular and traces of their style resurface cyclicly. Dandy-style violets, lavenders and roses have a nostalgic appeal and pop up periodically as conservative options to trendy markets.
So what happened to heliotrope fragrances? They were all the rage in the 1910s-1920s. There are a few that have survived from back in the day, like Molinard Heliotrope, Piver Heliotrope Blanc and Santa Maria Novela Eliotropio. The handful of contemporary heliotrope perfumes like Etro Heliotrope and Oriza Legrand Heliotrope Blanc tend to have a conservative appeal. Heliotrope soliflors haven’t made deep inroads into contemporary perfumery, though the note is still present in both classic and contemporary perfumes such as Guerlain l’Heure Bleue, Kenzo Amour, Frédéric Malle l’Eau d’Hiver and Serge Lutens Rahat Loukoum.
Heliotropin, the inexpensive material traditionally used to create heliotrope perfumes, has been heavily restricted by regulation and heliotrope fragrances have simply fallen out of fashion. The powdery, milky-almond scent of heliotropin hasn’t resurfaced as a retro-trend like violet, iris and rose. It smells anachronistic. It smells old.
Heliotrope is so uncommon as a dominant note that it also smells curiously novel. Crown Heliotrope takes advantage of heliotrope’s off-beat appeal and creates a solifor that smells old-school yet distinctive. The composition is classical, using a tart citric note to offset a matte sweetness. Heliotropin has a sweet, cherry-almond note that runs parallel to a pasty, glue-like, back-of-your-mouth quality. It keeps an arm’s-length from gourmand territory, but the suggestion of edibility is always at the corner of your perception. The vanillic side of the material is prominent into the drydown and gives the floral note a resinous feel.
While the material itself might smell unusual, the composition is recognizable. The tart bergamot topnote counterbalances the resinousous base just as it does the labdanum-oakmoss base of chypres or the vanillic base of traditional amber-oriental perfumes. The juxtaposition gives Crown Heliotrope a richness and saturation that follows a satisfying if predictable course.
The original Crown Heliotrope was released in 1939, the year that the original Crown Perfumery closed its doors. The perfume I have is the 1993 version from the company’s relaunch, which is purportedly formulated as close to the original as materials of the time allowed.
The pale cherry-marzipan note I recognize from Parfums de Nicolai Kiss me Tender and l’Artisan Parfumeurs Jour de Fete is assertive in Crown Heliotrope. There is nothing vague or light about it. The perfume was made before limits on heliotropin gutted Guerlain Après l’Ondée and made the soliflor-style of the early 20th century impractical. The forcefulness of the concentration gives the perfume a lavishness miles away from the ambivalence and shyness often associated with heliotropin perfumes.
Photo, Peter Allen. “Everything Old is New Again”