Farnesiana was one of the first modern fragrances inspired by the mimosa flower, that notoriously difficult-to-replicate fluffy yellow bloom. According to Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg's volume on Caron, Farnesiana was created by perfumer Michel Morsetti in 1947; its composition includes notes of mimosa, black currant, bergamot, jasmine, violet, lily of the valley, lilac, vanilla, sandalwood, opopanax, hay, and musk (although the Caron website currently only lists mimosa, sandalwood, and hay). The name "Farnesiana" refers to acacia farnesiana, the botanical name for a particular variety of mimosa; it is also, Caron suggests, evocative of Rome's grand Farnese Palace.
That juxtaposition of a simple flower and a Renaissance palazzo seems appropriate to me, since I've always considered Farnesiana a sophisticated comfort scent, an unusual floral-gourmand (or "fleurmand," as I like to call this perfume sub-genre). To my nose, Farnesiana begins with a powdery, pollen-like mimosa note and with accords of sun-warmed hay and grass. Oddly enough, this green-tinged phase reminds me of certain fragrances from Santa Maria Novella, like Ginestra (Broom) or Fieno (Hay), that evoke meadow-like landscapes. Farnesiana's heart opens up to reveal the sweetly resinous opoponax — one of those notes that I might or might not love, depending on the context, but I do like it in Farnesiana. Then there's also a considerable amount of dusty almond with just a hint of fruitiness (the black currant) and a drop of vanilla. I also detect a cool lilac note, although some of the other listed florals are not as apparent to me. The base of the composition includes just enough soft musk to make Farnesiana's far dry-down a refined skin scent for me.
Of course, the issue that I've been skirting up to this point is the question of possible reformulation: has Farnesiana been altered over the years, and if so, for better or for worse? The sample I'm using right now was acquired directly from the Caron boutique in New York City just a few weeks ago, so I'm assuming it's the most recent version. I've only been familiar with Farnesiana for about six years; in my memory, it was a little plusher and more golden when I first sampled it, but the current Parfum still "feels" like Farnesiana to me. However, I haven't sampled any truly "vintage" Farnesiana. Erin, who has gone further back, regretfully calls today's Farnesiana "a pale non-entity"; in Perfumes: The Guide, Tania Sanchez finds little to love in the current fragrance after sampling a 1950s original.
On the other hand, Victoria of Bois de Jasmin thinks Farnesiana's current formulation is very well done, and I tend to side with her on this one. For me, Farnesiana is still an intriguing fragrance, something hard to define, somehow gentle yet moody and changeable. I'd recommend trying it if you usually enjoy soft almondy scents or meadowy-grassy florals, since it combines these two ideas. Of course, if you're already deeply in love with a much earlier bottle of Farnesiana, the current offering might disappoint you — heaven knows, I've had that experience with Caron's Bellodgia — but sometimes, a little ignorance can be bliss.
Caron Farnesiana Parfum Extrait is available in a range of sizes: 7.5 ml ($100), 15 ml ($150), 25 ml ($180), 50 ml ($240), 100 ml ($360), and 200 ml ($520), in glass stopper bottles. For purchasing information, see the listing for Caron under Perfume Houses.