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Bombay Duck London

Antonia's Flowers (Eau de Toilette)

Most of us have probably at some point fantasised, romantically, about working in a florist’s shop.  For me, Antonia’s Flowers has always been the florist’s shop without the freezing cold trips to the market, the heinously early morning starts or the stress (I have done several lots of wedding flowers in my time for loved ones, and my adrenals are still recovering).  Technically, it’s not a single note fragrance – but freesias, freesias, freesias come to dominate Antonia’s Flowers after the initial intoxicating airy overture has abated.  (There’s something extraordinary about Antonia’s Flowers:  it actually seems as if there’s more ‘air’ in an in-breath, as it zooshes up your nostrils.  This is, of course, contrary to the laws of physics.  Maybe it’s just the quirkiness of the fragrance itself that just makes me breathe more deeply when I splash it on.)

So:  obviously, if you don’t adore that delicate, short-lived and sweet-scented flower, the freesia, chances are you won’t love Antonia’s Flowers.  If you’re a freesia fanatic, and you don’t yet know this niche fragrance, then – well, what cave have you been living in, exactly…?

I first met Antonia Bellanca – the East Hampton florist whose debut creation this was – in the late 80s, a few years after she unveiled Antonia’s Flowers.  She’s as exuberant, as airy, as sparkling as the scent that perfumer Bernard Chant bottled for her here (though he didn’t quite capture Antonia’s kookiness, but that’s another story).  And you have to take your (large, straw) hat off to her because nothing before or since has ever smelled quite like this.  She wanted something that conjured up her shop, and this is as close to a ‘florist’ fragrance as I’ve ever encountered (although Parisian floral star Christian Tortu’s original candle was a darned good try, too).  Unstopper this and for me it is literally like stepping into the cool, slightly damp and mossy interior of Kenneth Turner in his Avery Row heyday, or my current fave florist rave the glorious Absolute Flowers in Maida Vale.  (And almost certainly Antonia Bellanca’s own Long Island store, though despite the best intentions, I never quite made it out of the concrete jungle of Manhattan for a personal pilgrimage, and it’s no longer there now she’s a scent magnate.)

Then the flowers hit you.  Freesia, wham!  But also an airy touch of lily and the slightly headier jasmine – or actually, for me, Trachelospermum jasminoides, a shiny-leaved jasmine-like climber that I first enountered frothing over walls on the Ile de Ré, and which I now have swoonworthily framing a gate in my own garden.  (There’s also meant to be magnolia in this scent – but I don’t get close enough to most magnolias in real life to be able to make the mental link.)  As it dries down, a lavender element takes over, for me:  dry, aromatic, a bit laundry-on-the-line-on-a-breezy-day.  It’s somehow sweet, green and ‘crisp’, all at the same time – as pure and fresh as a starched white shirt, or a freshly-ironed linen pillowcase, or a broderie Anglaise christening gown.  And I will say that it does, to me, smell very ‘American’:  there’s a voile-like sheerness and cleanliness to a lot of the fragrances created on that side of the Atlantic that I swear I can detect blindfold (anyone who can identify a Karyn Khoury creation for Estée Lauder will know what I mean).  It has great staying power, for your info:  on a hot day I wore it to the beach, went swimming for a good 15 minutes, and could still smell those freesias much later in the evening without a top-up.

Now I am not, personally, a florals person:  out of choice I like my fragrances down-and-dirty, exotic, naughty, with an O.D. of base notes.  However, if I was a floralista, I’d probably have this as my signature scent. (Antonia’s Flowers is very much a trademark scent, for those who wear it, which explains why it’s become such a bestseller at Bergdorf and Space NK.)  Meanwhile, it’s good for the florist-manquée in me to re-encounter it every now and then.  Not just for the beautiful freesia gusting through it, but as a reminder not to be crazy enough to give up the day job and wreck my hands, nails (and social life) to take up flower arranging, for a living.

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