A Florist Explains the Secret Meanings Behind Our Favourite Perfumes
Every season has its perks, but I’m a sucker for spring. What can I say—fair weather, baby animals, and pastels are a perfect combination. My favourite aspect of spring, though, has to be the flowers. Even though Sydney is currently in the throes of winter, it's still sometimes possible to catch a whiff of jasmine or orange blossom walking down a city street. And, while the chilly season isn't exactly known for encouraging flowers to spring up all round us, I do have a veritable garden of seasonal scents to rely on.
I was shocked when I recently learned that my favourite fragrance might reflect more than just my fondness for florals. According to floriography, the centuries-old study of the “language of flowers,” each blossom has its own distinct meaning. Combining flowers in bouquets—or eaux de toillete—was a way for Victorian lovers to clandestinely convey secret messages to one another; Basically, it was an old-timey way to slide into someone’s DMs.
While I don’t plan on conveying my relationship status with a nosegay anytime soon, I had to know what my favourite scents were saying about me. After all, choosing a fragrance based on its mystical messages seems like a very chic way to set intentions for the day. To get the scoop on what messages I might be unintentionally sending into the universe every time I spritz, I went straight to the source and consulted a Victorian flower dictionary. (If you, like me, suspect that you would have aced herbology at Hogwarts, then this will be a fascinating read.) Of course, I’m a modern girl, and I know times change— to explore the contemporary ways we express ourselves through our choice in blooms, I spoke with Heather Williams, designer and owner of Los Angeles-based florist Twig & Twine. “Nowadays, flowers seem to be much more about look than hidden meanings,” notes Williams. “[In addition to their meanings] I'm intrigued with their colour, shape, and texture.” Keep scrolling to discover the hidden meanings behind some of our favourite floral fragrances.
Chloe Chloe Eau de Parfum ($140)
No surprises here: Rose is the universal symbol for love. That being said, there are as many colour roses as there are types of relationship, and there’s a different meaning to correspond with each: deep crimson blooms signified “unconscious beauty,” for example, while coral petals translated to modesty. There’s more to roses—and romance— than Bachelor-style long stemmed reds for contemporary florists, too. “The more traditional rose tends to get a bad rap,” says Williams “I have a lot of clients say they ‘hate’ them. But garden roses are a different story, with their soft feel and fragrant smell. They’re a good option for lovers.” Whether it’s a first date or an anniversary celebration, Chloe’s namesake Eau de Parfum offers plenty of robust, rose-forward romance, with musky cedarwood to keep the scent from feeling too powdery.
Aerin Ikat Jasmine ($175)
Evoking hot nights in exotic locales, Jasmine’s scent is almost obscene when unexpected; more than once, I’ve been mindlessly walking my dog and suddenly found myself in a cloud of sultry daydreams, thanks to my neighbours’ gardens. Part of the flower’s appeal, Williams explains, is in its short lifespan: “Jasmine is a very seasonal thing. It's quite a feminine smell.” According to the Victorian language of flowers, jasmine can mean both “separation” and “attachment.” Basically, jasmine is a commitment-phobe’s dream bloom, and the perfect spirit scent (is that a thing?) as for flirty flings. Aerin’s take on the must-have fragrance is updated with distinctly modern infusions of sandalwood and tuberose
“I don't know anyone that doesn't love that smell,” Williams says of orange blossoms, and we heartily agree. These dainty white blossoms are bright and honey-sweet without smelling cloying. She adds of the scent, “It's sweet and seems a bit more friendly in nature, while jasmine is more romantic.” While orange blossoms were traditionally worn by Victorian brides, and thus signify purity, commitment, and marriage, the twenty-first century take on these pungent spring buds is decidedly more casual. Jo Malone’s heady Orange Blossom Cologne is basically summer in a bottle; consider spritzing it on before brunch with pals, or use a few dabs as a mood-booster when you’re working inside on a rainy day.
One of spring’s greatest gifts, fresh sweet peas are basically candy that’s good for you. What you might not know is that pea tendrils are also having a moment in florists’ shops. “Soft, aromatic, fluffy and feminine, I love them in a hand-tied bouquet,” says Williams. “Offer sweet pea as a sweet gift to a new lover, or they are perfect to celebrate the arrival of a newborn.” According to my flower dictionary, sweet peas connote “delicate pleasure”—today, that translates to leisurely weekend afternoons of window-shopping, naps, and ample glasses of wine. Burberry’s My Burberry compliments sweet pea with notes of geranium and bergamot, for a scent that’s fresh and effortless.
Classic but in no way cut-and-paste, orchids are grown-up enough for work without feeling stodgy. For arrangements, Williams notes that “classic moth orchids feel right for an older clientele, while some of the younger folks may like the more colourful cattleya orchids. There are so many different types it's hard to name one [favourite].” In Victorian times, when orchids had recently come to Europe via Eastern trade, having these blooms in your home signified “refined beauty” and “unparalleled elegance.” Williams adds that orchids’ timeless appeal may have to do with the blooms’ longevity: “Orchids tend to last a long time whether in plant form or cut, so there must be something to be said about that.” Tom Ford is the king of all that is sexy but sophisticated, and his classic Black Orchid Eau de Parfum has earned nearly 800 positive reviews on Sephora for its upscale bouquet.