Tuberose: Ick

Tuberose, and white florals in general, are a turn-off for me. They do not smell sexy in the least. It’s not that they actually smell bad, or off, it’s just that the whole genre smells to me of little girls playing dress-up. When people say that Fracas smells sexy, I think of pedophiles. How could anyone find a second-grader sexy?

The topic of Celebuscents and the decline of civilization came up recently over at Bois de Jasmin, and Victoria sparked a conversation that coincides with one of my soapbox issues. To quote myself:

I think that this perfume trend, the candy-coated-hooker (! yes, I just said that!) is representative of an overall trend with women—though I can really only comment on American woman—refusing to age gracefully. Our culture is obsessed with youth, to the point that mature women still refer to themselves as “girls” and dress and act like girls. Emotional development has come to a stand-still for so many women, that they seem to think that hair-dye, candy-flavored perfume, and apparel fit only for women under 20, will trick observers into thinking that they are younger than they are. This whole trend offends me…

For me, tuberose fragrances epitomize this idea.

Anne-Marie poised this question recently:

Is it skin chemistry or perception makes the difference? I’d love to do a few experiments. You and I daub on some _______* and smell it on each other to see if we feel it smells the same or different. As a bonus, we get a third person to smell each of us, and tell us what they think. I accept that chemistry may play, but I also think that the way our brains process smell information may vary.

I don’t have an answer to this. It amazes me how differently we perceive smells.

My question for you is, can we teach our noses to overcome our native dislikes or preferences?

A few caveats:
I do like Nuit de Tuberose, but I’ve been informed that NdT is, to borrow a phrase from my friend Birgit, who borrowed it from Luca Turin, “Not Tuberose.” Additionally, Memoir Woman lists “white flowers” in the notes, and I do detect them. However, in this instance, they create the tiniest dissonance; just the right amount of discord which makes the perfume taken as a whole utterly perfect (for me)

*Fragrance identity kept private, because we can 😉

30 thoughts on “Tuberose: Ick

  1. Very interesting post!
    I do not like white flowers, tuberose especially, but my associations are totally different. I don’t find Fracas sexy in the least either, but because it makes me think of an old woman who doesn’t accept her age, like an opera diva whose prime is long over.
    Regarding your question: I have to ask a question back. Why should we? Those native perceptions are part of what we are and how we became what we are. There are so many great perfumes to love, that it is fine to just let some be, in my opinion.

    P.S. That Pears soap image is horrible in so many ways, I can’t even bring myself to talk about it.

    1. I had a recurring nightmare throughout my childhood, which for obvious reasons I won’t share here, which figured this little girl. It’s a sentimental image for me, because it’s lovely and familiar (and I do think meant innocently), but I cannot look at it without being profoundly disturbed.

      I used it here, a little uncomfortably, because it captures how I feel about tuberose and white flowers. They smell like sexualized little girls—horrible!

      “Those native perceptions are part of what we are and how we became what we are.” Well said! The reason I keep trying (white flowers) is that I feel like I should learn to appreciate the note as a material… it feels kind of like hating a color; does that make sense? Like, is it something I’m bringing to the table that I need to get over, or is it really just awful? 🙂

  2. Your little rant on All Things Big, White and Floral/Tuberose (which I do love if handled with a great deal of care), not to mention the “candy-coated girlie” phenomenon, got me thinking, and once I do…watch out!

    Strange, that a flower like tuberose, which is so heady Victorian ladies used to warn their daughters against ever smelling them lest they get “dangerous ideas”!, has such…child-like associations for you. There’s a story that Madame de Montespan, the maitresse en titre of Louis XIV had tuberoses planted along the terrace of the Grand Trianon for the King’s delectation. Apparently, they were so paralyzing nearly anyone who sat on that terrace – ministers, courtiers and the riffraff of the French court would swoon if they waited too long! 😉

    I used to hate Big Fat White Florals. Or almost any kind of floral. I’m not sure whether it was A La Nuit or some other Big Fat Floralthat pushed a few buttons, but I was swiped sideways by surprise when Estée Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia came out – flabbergasted I actually loved it. (It’s mostly a wintergreen tuberose on me). Since then, I do like tuberose in not-too-large quantities. I’m not up for Fracas yet, and I doubt I ever will be – it reminds me too much of one of my mother’s friends, who wore it by the bucket and scarred me for life! 😉

    I also hate, detest and loathe the original Dior’s Poison, another tuberose overdose. I know. I’m SO…unsophisticated. Carnal Flower would be perfect without the coconut, Datura Noir likewise. I love orange blossom anything, and I love Madonna lily anything, but that’s about…it.

    I don’t associate anything jailbait about white florals – certainly not tuberose, but I can bewail the sorry state of affairs as to what, in most perfume departments, constitutes “tuberose”, or even “white floral”. It’s not just a tuberose drowning in confectioner’s sugar, for one, even if sugar is mostly…white.

    But I dearly wish women – maybe American women in particular, but we Europeans aren’t so far behind – would get over the idea that youth is a question of…young clothes, sugar OD scents and loads of Botox. It’s not pretty past thirty. Deal with it, ladies!

    I take heart that one of the new trends these days is a polished, adult appearance, with an adult face – and perfume! – to match. We’ll never be 25 ever again – and I am….so glad. There’s a saying that at 50, you can be either a ruin or a monument, and I’m shooting for something along the lines of a female Mt. Rushmore – laugh lines and all! Trailing devastating sillage, wanting to grow old like Colette – with élan! Those wannabe twenty-somethings…what do they know? 😉

    Here’s what I know…that youth is overrated, that wisdom is forever, that laughter keeps you young at heart where it matters, that white florals can be hit-or-miss, and that if you don’t give up on life, then life will not give up on you!

    So tuberose doesn’t do ya? I’m sure that plenty else does! 😉

    1. **standing ovation, round two**


      I wish I understood why tuberose has such an effect on me, but as both you and B. pointed out, I can probably safely let it go at this point!

      As to aging… I read a post by a young woman the other day, lamenting how horrible it was to turn 26. It was a long post.
      And it repulsed me.

      At 30, I’m better than I’ve ever been before, and I honestly believe that at 40 (and 50) I’ll be better than I am now. And I mean that in every way—there is great beauty in the mature female, mind AND body.

  3. Wonderful discussion!

    I’m not that familiar with tuberose scents but I was fascinated the other day to try, on a whim, Cacharel’s Lou Lou, and realised that it is a tuberose fragrance. I had believed that Lou Lou was a marketed to quite young women and was surprised at how mature and lush it was. Kenzo’s Ca Sent Beau is the only tuberose fragrance I know well, but that is completely beyond classification! Poison, I don’t go near.

    I don’t think the quest eternal for youth is quite such a big deal for Australian women but what does annoy me intensely is that every time I have to buy new pyjamas I am confronted with racks of fluffy bunnies and kittens and love hearts and stuff. It is as if even mature women are expected to revert to their childhood as soon as they put their pyjamas on. Why …. ?!

    I’m with dee, I like to explore things I’m not sure I like. It’s the challenge of it!

    In haste (domestic crisis),


    1. I have never tried Lou Lou, but would still like to, even though I’m sworn off the white stuff 😉

      In my caveat, I mention Nuit de Tubereuse, which I find wonderful (capital “W”), and I feel like there is something really appealing there that I’d like more of. Maybe it’s the vegetal side of the flower that works for me—I like this aspect in orris-scents!

      Yes, there is something inherently wrong with pyjamas covered in bunnies, or kittens, or hearts… whatever happened to sensible? I mean, sexy, that’s not difficult, but just sensible pajamas… I can relate. I love men’s button-down ‘jamas, and so turn to my hubby’s drawer.

  4. Dee, a really interesting post and comments. Like you, I am not a fan of screechy white florals but agree with B that our likes and dislikes are part of who we are. Anway think how expensive it would be if we liked EVERY kind of perfume 🙂 I find indolic jasmine really sexy (*cringe* hate that word!) though. Or perhaps it’s just a matter of finding a rendition of the white floral that suits you?

    As for getting older, I am nearing 40 but never really felt comfortable in my skin when I was young so don’t hark back to that. Though I do think it’s tough trying to navigate what’s appropriate for your age all of a sudden after all those years of never having to think about it. But you’re right, there’s great beauty in maturity and I guess the trick is to value what it brings rather than to be swayed by the “Cult of Youth” and reject it all out of hand.

    The great thing about perfume is that while you will always have the youth marketed candy floss/celebuscents there are so, so many wondeful sophisticated scents for grown-ups. Just think of that great new horsey Cartier – I don’t think that’s aimed to appearl to the tweens, even if they could afford it 🙂

    1. Tara, what I love about this is that you, and the other lovely ladies, are weighing in with such thoughtful responses.

      I will certainly save money by eliminating whole categories of fragrance, LOL!

      See that’s the thing— that you “never really felt comfortable in my skin when I was young so don’t hark back to that.”
      I wonder if all these women who hate the thought of maturing (physically and emotionally) because they have not found comfort with who they are? I know that I didn’t fall in love with myself until long after my perky buns started their downward descent.

      There is nothing sexier, or more appealing, than a woman who is comfortable with herself—whatever her age.

  5. I meant to add that though I am inclined more to brain perception than skin chemistry when trying to explain why we perceive scents differently, I dimly remember reading somewhere that vanilla is widely regarded across different cultures as a pleasant, comfort scent. Likewise surely most people are revolted by the smell of sewerage and garbage, and toxic things, and the reason for that must be that, as preservation thing, we don’t ingest them. So I suppose there must be some absolutes!

    I don’t know whether we can get over our native likes and dislikes. I reckon if they are formed early in life, probably not. But I guess many of us have come back to a perfume that we had earlier disliked, and found it okay after all.

    1. AM., I certainly agree on that—it seems reasonable that as a vestigial survival adaptation we would be drawn to, or repulsed by certain aromas.

      There’s some truth to the skin chemistry thing too: I remember early on thinking that this was silly (if we all had radically differing chemistry, aspirin wouldn’t work, right?), but then after simultaneously testing new acquisitions on both myself and the hubby, I can attest that there are occasionally significant differences.

      Also, there’s that whole anosmia/hypernosmia thing. Like, why don’t I smell that “medicinal” tang that people hate about oud? And apparently I don’t smell some of the synthetic moss notes either… so I just smell whatever is left in the composition.

      I know that there are people who won’t wear Blistex lip balm because the aroma deters them, but to me it has a creamy, slightly minty/metallic aroma that is lovely! (for example, it would smell nice —in my estimation—with Safran Troublant)

      RE: Native likes/dislikes
      We should organize some sort of experiment!

  6. I can’t decide of which popular movie scene this discussion reminds me more – an AA meeting (“My name is Undina and I’m an alcoho a tuberose hater”.) or a chain reaction confessions (“I do not like Fracas and I’m proud of it!”), but I’d like to join in.

    Only recently after trying and not liking (to put it mildly) L’Artisan’s Tubéreuse, Carnal Flower and By Kilian’s Beyond Love I realized that the common denominator for all of them was tuberose. I think I do not mind it in small doses but when it’s overpowering it gives me a headache (should I even elaborate on that being so opposite to sexy?)

    On the different topic, not arguing the existence of the eternal youth obsession, I disagree that an “outdated” addressing “girls” is a symptom of it: I grew up in (and luckily escaped from) the culture where a woman after 45 was often considered almost an old geezer and staying/acting younger than your age was rather an indecent behavior. And still a lot of women from my mother’s generation and older referred to themselves as “girls” (in local language of course). Couple of days ago I heard it from my grandma. Trust me, in her 90 she has no illusions whatsoever about her and her friends not being girls any more.

    1. Thanks for weighing in Undina,

      When I think of the term “girls” I’m think of the “I’m just a girl” mindset–an emotional growth stunting. I know what you are saying, with your granny, and I should have been more careful to differentiate!

      I don’t specifically hate the note—I dislike it, but it’s more for the images that it conjures. They say that scent goes straight to the limbic area of the brain, bypassing the thinking part, and straight to the emotional/memory part.

      I probably just need to spend some time with a therapist!! 🙂

  7. I think I should join the discussion as a serious tuberose lover. 🙂
    I don’t have any of the connotations you mentioned (thankfully, otherwise I might have a problem as well).
    Regarding your question, I believe that our noses eventually teach us that not everything we thought bad is actually bad and might end up liking some of those things. At least, that is what happens on occasion to me.

    And I see this turned into a discussion on aging – I’m with Tarleisio on all points. 🙂
    Honestly, I feel younger now than I did in my 20s and I can’t help it but feel more at ease with the world around me, happy and content which only makes me wonder how will I feel 10 or 15 years from now. It can only get better. 😀

    1. Yay, a tuberose lover! I’m glad you’re speaking up Ines 🙂

      It sounds like we’re in a similar place, re: aging. I think we’re close in age, too! Yes, being at ease with the world—and, as you say, the happiness and contentment of that outlook—brings out confidence that is truly beautiful.

      On a side note, didn’t you just have a birthday Ines???

      1. I think you’re a year younger than I am. Which is basically the same age. 🙂
        And you’re right, my birthday is around sometime now -this Thursday I’ll be 32.

  8. I think that it is a matter of perception. In France, orange blossom evokes children and everything child-like. Here, it has more mature associations.
    As for tuberose, it is very similar. The main note that gives tuberose its scent smells of Concord grapes, a native American variety, which is associated with Welch’s grape juice and grape jelly sandwiches for many of us who grew up here. Childhood and such memories…
    Personally, I do not find that tuberose smells girly to me at all. Even in its cleaner versions like Juicy Couture, it has rather more sophisticated associations to me.

    1. Victoria, you are a genius! I think you may have partially solved my bizarre fixation: I grew up in Massachusetts (grape-country) and at our family home are vines… everywhere the vines. From and early age, I was part of the wine-making process, gathering the grapes, crushing them, smelling them… eating them too.

      This might actually help me deal with the dissonance. 🙂

  9. oh my lord! i hate smelling the white florals on women(of any age.)
    the smell absolutely sends me running the other way.
    maybe i am one of the only men in the world that does not find the sent of Madame de Montespan’s terrace to be paralyzing.

    1. I rarely wear them, because of my aversion (obviously), but when I was testing Michael Kors Very Hollywood (with tuberose), Matt offered up a rare un-asked for, “You smell good.”

      It would be interesting to poll the men-folk about their feelings towards white flowers—the non-‘fumies, I mean 🙂

      For some reason, I always thought that they liked them!

      1. nope. i like the smell of herbs and dirt, like a good little heathen. perhaps i have only smelled the cheap stuff…

      2. It’s always interesting to note what elicits un-asked compliments from our men-folk. I was wearing Olympic Orchid’s Gujarat the other evening. It’s a very dark, woodsy Indian-smelling affair (unsurprisingly, with that name) that I was not enjoying much, to be honest. I leaned over my 12 y. o. son to close a window behind him and he said, ‘Oh, that perfume smells good.’

        Er … right, I thought. Maybe I’d better not ban that one to outer darkness just yet, if he likes it.

        1. “banned to outer darkness.”

          Love that! That’s where Fracas lives in my cabinet–the outer darkness shelf! LOL!

          Yesterday I got another unasked for compliment: Dior Mitzah. The one that I wrote off as smelling “familiar,” and “like the waft that greets me in the morning when I open my perfume cabinet, not FBW.”

          I could learn to make concessions.

          I don’t have any OO Gujarat… but it sounds like something I’d like. If it has cumin, or coriander, or other curry spices, it’s up my alley! I’m going to have to acquire some…


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