It's hard not to make a connection between Michel Roudnitska's Magnolia Grandiflora and his late father Edmond's unsurpassed Diorissimo. Before it became a victim of repeated reformulations, the latter was one of the finest olfactory creations of all time, a divinely orchestrated lily of the valley, exuding passion and artistry from every single drop. The very same attention to detail and unashamed enjoyment of the natural world are to be found in Monsieur Roudnitska Jr's presentation of the magnolia (created for the Australia-based florist, Grandiflora). Indeed, the precision with which the flower's attributes have been bottled almost makes the creation come across as a riposte to the juice which Dior currently sell under the Diorissimo name, a juice which, for the record, is more than acceptable as an allergen-conscious-era lily of the valley, but which is depressingly unsatisfying when compared to older incarnations.
Then again, 'riposte' is too aggressive a word for this beneficent piece of work. Roudnitska was probably more concerned about staying true to the central premise of his project here than he was with scoring points against the key-holders of his father's heritage, and the results of his commitment are evident. With its lucidity and integrity, his Magnolia comes close to creating a world unto itself, a space in which all of its complexities flourish and complement each other. Within its make-up, heady, white petals are prominent, of course - shades of gardenia frequently slide into the bouquet - but they're contrasted with butteriness, a barely-there banana edge, a lactonic smoothness and a finely-judged soapy note. These blooms are ripe, large, brimming with vitality and entirely convincing.
What's more, they move. The best soliflores are those which evoke not just their subject but also their subject's context, and here, there's a generous breeze causing the flowers to sway... which brings us to the equally wind-caressed counterpart to Roudnitska's composition: Magnolia Grandiflora by the late Sandrine Videault. This sensitivity to the action taking place behind a flower's more ostensible features is no coincidence: Videault was partly trained by Roudnitska Sr. But her interpretation of the magnolia flower is markedly different from that of her mentor's son.
Her blossoms are reticent, almost frightened of venturing forth into a new spring; more than once, as they unfurl and catch the vernal currents, they echo T S Eliot's line about April being the cruellest month. Their base displays the milky soapiness evident in Roudnitska's version, but here, the effect is paired with an intriguing burnt note, part tobacco and part leaves perishing on a bonfire. Whereas Roudnitska offers us the flowers at their most glorious, Videault attempts to encapsulate the entirety of their lives, from reluctant birth to mossy, earthy burial. It's a beautiful, heart-breaking tale. And it's made all the more poignant by the awareness that we'll never hear any more scented stories from its talented author.
[Reviews based on samples of eau de parfum obtained in 2014]