Bulgari, after proposing a trio of carefully crafted Splendida Bulgari fragrances devoted to the classical floral scents of rose, jasmine and iris, has now turned to a more "secondary" flower in terms of cultural import, overall, in the world of fragrances. If rose is the queen of flowers in that universe, magnolia is more of a sideways bloom, albeit one which is known as one of the most alluring floral scents you can hope to experience this side of reality...
Perfumer Jacques Cavallier, who composed the perfume, said that he was struck by the combination of incandescence and freshness he saw in his vision of the magnolia flower, while being fascinated at the same time by the primeval character of the flower, which appeared on Earth before the bees, with Magnoliaceae species found which are as old as 95 millions of years. He stressed that,
"The innate femininity of this flower is quite unique. It is both fresh and incandescent. The freshness manifests itself in the midst of its great incandescence. Such is the personality, which I have sought to express in the fragrance." [Editor's translation]
"La féminité innée de cette fleur est tout à fait unique. Elle est fraîche et incandescente. La fraîcheur se manifeste au coeur de sa grande incandescence. C'est la personnalité que j'ai cherché à exprimer dans la fragrance. "
He describes the personality of the light floral chypré composition as being "luminous, mysterious, fragile and passionate,"
Underneath the fresh and woody wrappings of the composition, the orange and cream accents, there peeks through a true-to-nature magnolia scent, which seems to unfold gradually as if the bloom's petals were becoming more and more tangible and visible, but to the nose. Now, you can smell not only their presence but also the round, resistant edge of their petals, their plainly perceptible thickness and heft, their natural selves, all which slowly dissolve again into an ethereal form of themselves.
Nose Jacques Cavallier has restitued in a focused manner the archetypal lemon + flower scent of magnolias at peak dispensing moments. Those instants can be quite enveloping, but also fleeting. The perfume in nature, or in the city, floats in the air. You perceive it, but it also has an evanescent quality about it rather than a heady one. You have to trace back to the magnolia tree to smell it with more certainty. The floral range of notes within the composition is subtle, creamy, light-as-air, and feels wonderfully natural, especially the first time that you discover the composition. It is a portrait of the Chinese Magnolia as mostly a soliflore, with secondary notes serving as a frame for the beauty within.
The essence of Chinese Magnolia was extracted from flower buds; you need 5 tons of flowers to make a liter of essence. This varietal from China yields a multifaceted perfume, whose complexity Cavallier decided to harness (pun not intended, but welcome.)
The wonder doesn't cease for a while; the scent of this magnolia, instead of abating and leaving you with the all-too-common experience of dreaded commercial openings, the bane of perfumery, which guarantees alluring top notes quickly fading into flat, cheap-skate versions of themselves, blooms further with renewed vigor, now filling space and air with an abundant, rich, yet also airy presence. The subtlety remains throughout too.
A soft switch in mood reveals that the lemony floral cream has become slightly more solar - sand-like and skin-like - but this is done with much delicacy, never quite veering into a straighforward beach-headed scent, although hints of what smells like frangipani help suggest a tropical garden.
Always with a trick up its sleeve, it seems, Magnolia Sensuel takes on a new dewy tonality at one point, while a more complex tropical olfactive palette develops in the background softly evocative of green banana leaves, fresh coconut, ylang - rice even.
Magnolia Sensuel is an ode to the flower it borrows its name from. It aims to capture the delicate carnal quality of the scent, its cool, glacé lemon nuance together with its creamy - and here, sweet fondant-like aspect, thanks to Vanilla Tahitensis.
On further testing, we have to point out that the illusion is perhaps less completely convincing as you start detecting some sligtly more banal underpinnings made of a rather rough, scratchy musk. That musk is a bit jarring to the nose rather than beguiling making this otherwise quite perfect portrayal of the magnolia flower end on a more prosaic note, even pulling the composition in the direction of a more mainstream white floral bouquet, as if too much delicacy needed to be tempered with by-the-book, hard-nosed business acumen, after all. Perhaps, a subtler musk would have been better. We would have loved to see how ambrette seed could have added to the fruitiness, subtlety and delicacy of the overall composition.