Grandiflora Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine & Magnolia Grandiflora Michel ~ fragrance reviews

magnolia blossoms

I grew up in Virginia, and I wonder if there’s a state with more magnolia grandiflora trees? (Mississippi...Alabama...Louisiana...South Carolina...I know you have your share!) When I think back, it seems every house, regal or modest, every college campus, farm, mall, gas station, had its own magnolia tree…or trees. Magnolia grandifloras are from an ancient family — they were Earth's first flowering plants; magnolias are beautiful in many ways: they produce heavy/stiff leaves, ‘lacquered’ dark green on one side, suede-like, sometimes "furry" and brown, on the other; gem-like fruits; noble seed heads — not to mention their huge, glorious-looking (and heavenly scented) flowers. No matter their location, parking lot or plantation, magnolia grandifloras are grand.

I’m betting one of the first floral smells to imprint itself on me was magnolia. How else to explain my writing a piano composition in seventh grade titled Magnolia Whispers? (My piano teacher made all her students write an original piece of music for our annual recital.) I even illustrated the sheet music with tiny drawings of magnolia blossoms. (I wish I could attach a soundtrack to this article so you could get a good laugh.) I never wrote a musical ode to other favorites — gardenias, roses, poppies or marigolds…magnolia reigned supreme.

No matter how many magnolias I encounter, in Virginia, California, Italy, Mexico, wherever, I pay attention to them, and if they are in bloom I sniff their blossoms. The first thing my partner and I did when we bought our own piece of land was to plant several magnolia trees, including one magnolia grandiflora; we enjoy it year round because it keeps its leaves in winter and produces months of flowers.

All this prelude leads to the fugue: I. Know. What. Magnolia. Grandiflora. Smells. Like. I also know I've never smelled a perfume that replicates its aroma. So, I wasn't excited to hear Australian florist Saskia Havekes had released two magnolia gandiflora perfumes under her Grandiflora company name: Magnolia Grandiflora Michel and Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine. But, as often happens, perfume samples arrived and I wore both fragrances.

Perfumer Michel Roudnitska developed Magnolia Grandiflora Michel,1 and upon sniffing this perfume, I realized either A. Roudnitska has never smelled a magnolia grandiflora, unlikely, or has confused it with another magnolia species (the magnolia family, Magnoliaceae, has seven genera and approximately 223 species2) or B. he phoned this one in. Maybe he doesn't like the scent of magnolia grandiflora, because Magnolia Grandiflora Michel is a jasmine fragrance, and a jasmine fragrance with nothing new to say. When I wear Magnolia Grandiflora Michel, I detect sweet jasmine, sandwiched between citrus and light versions of other florals (not terribly distinctive but rose-y, and with a mild "tropical" twist — ylang-ylang?) This type of sweet floral fragrance (with little development after the first 15 minutes) using non-indolic jasmine does not appeal to me; I find Magnolia Grandiflora Michel cloying and rather dull to wear. Magnolia Grandiflora Michel may appeal to those who love what I don't, so give it a sniff if you enjoy jasmine perfumes; this one has good lasting power and sillage.

Grandiflora Magnolia fragrance bottle

After wearing the “Michel” version of magnolia grandiflora, I approached perfumer Sandrine Videault’s interpretation3 warily (well, not really…I popped the sample vial’s cap and boldly applied half the contents on my arms). By “warily” I mean: with the idea it would be no better at bringing to nose magnolia grandiflora than Roudnitska’s fragrance had been. I was wrong.

From my first sniff of Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine, I imagined Videault spent much time and energy thoughtfully experiencing the scent of magnolia grandiflora blossoms.4 Many of the flower's scent traits are present, especially its cheerful, fresh-as-can-be lemon aroma (grapefruit is also there in Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine, clear and sparkling). Along with the "fresh" elements of a newly opened magnolia grandiflora blossom is the essential "creaminess" at its center...still smelling of citrus but citrus whipped into a froth (this is a "midday" magnolia blossom). Also present are hints of tea, acidic rose, melon rind (no doubt supplied by the "fresh garden" or "marine" notes).  Smelling the opening of Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine was great fun for a southern boy who has had his nose buried in magnolia flowers since (almost) birth.

Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine becomes quieter (and less magnolia-like) the longer you wear it but keeps the floral-fruit notes "active" throughout its development. There are two things missing from this magnolia grandiflora interpretation — both are detectable in a "late afternoon" blossom: the scent of rubber eraser and, most importantly, a fecal element (which heightens the beauty of the other smells). In Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine, a musk, on the mild side, substitutes for the latrine. I wish Videault could have taken her composition to another level of development and added some "decay" in the base notes. But that would have required working with a really nerve-y partner...maybe the OLD Comme des Garçons?

I would describe Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine, using art, not as a black and white photo of a magnolia, nor a digital, full-color image, but as an instant Polaroid snapshot — the essential elements are present...but not all the details. I really enjoy this perfume (and at times it reminds me of a higher-quality Barney's Route du Thé); I might have even bought a bottle if it came in a smaller size. Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine is unisex, but veers towards the feminine; it has mild sillage but good lasting power.

Though magnolia grandiflora blossoms barely last one day, my tree blooms here in Seattle from April through October, and sometimes into early November. Thankfully, my year is full of magnolia grandiflora scent...and the four or five months I have to wait each year to smell the blossoms again whet my appetite for the flowers' complex aromas. And when I want to relive a moment from my past, I sit next to, or lay under, my tree when the wind is blowing and listen to it "whisper." 

Grandiflora Magnolia Grandiflora Michel and Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine are available in 100 ml Eau de Parfum, $185. In the US, they can be found at Luckyscent or Indigo Perfumery.

1. Listed notes for Michel: lemon, bergamot, grapefruit, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, magnolia, vetiver, patchouli and musk.

2. Magnolias: A Care Manual, by Graham Rankin, Laurel Glen, 1999.

3. Listed notes for Sandrine: citrus, grapefruit, dry woods, pepper, fresh garden accord, marine notes and musk.

4. Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine was Videault's valedictory perfume creation; she died last July.

Note: top image [cropped and altered] via Wikimedia Commons.

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25 Comments

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  1. Rappleyea says:

    Interesting review, Kevin. Thanks! Magnolia and gardenia just aren’t going to be successfully replicated with chemicals. Too bad as they are both gorgeous scents. There is a massive magnolia tree outside of my office (a converted, historic home). I’ve stolen many leaves over the years for Christmas decorations!

    Love the name of your one and only musical composition! Say…that would also make a great name for a magnolia perfume!

    • Kevin says:

      Rappleyea: You’re welcome…I also bring in the magnolia leaves for décor…even in summer.

      • james1051 says:

        The branches make great Holiday wreaths

  2. mals86 says:

    I’m too far up into the Virginia mountains to be intimately familiar with M. grandiflora – the variety that grows around here is the sweet bay magnolia, which is nice enough but not that utter decadence of grandiflora (which I’ve only smelled on vacation in Georgia and SC, but with great delight).

    I did have a sample of the Michel version, and I would agree – it’s pleasant. I’m not a big jasmine fan, but I do better with the friendly types, so in that sense it was successful.

    I’m a little surprised that the Sandrine version was lacking in “difficult” notes, given that Manoumalia was such a shocking (to me) exhibition of earthy and bloody aspects.

    • Kevin says:

      Mals…nothing shocking in the Sandrine, but perhaps Grandiflora didn’t want anything ‘but’ a beautiful, fresh floral…I miss wearing it!

  3. Janice says:

    I grew up in the desert and don’t even remember encountering magnolia grandiflora as a child, but I have been curious about these two perfumes. I wonder if, not having that early “scent imprint” that you have, I would be satisfied with the Polaroid version in Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine? (What a great way to describe it, btw.) Sounds like it’s worth sampling, at least.

    • Kevin says:

      Janice…yes, do sniff it.

  4. snowcrocus says:

    Kevin,
    Any other magnolias you find more true? I’ve only smelled it once or twice (and I’m not sure whether it was grandiflora), but I’ve tried Magazine Street and it was not a simple soliflore at all.
    Thanks!

    • Kevin says:

      snowcrocus: nope…no other “magnolia” perfumes on the radar. Haven’t tried SIP Magazine Street though….

  5. nozknoz says:

    I did buy Grandiflora Sandrine, partly because it’s her last creation, and also because this light, soft, lemony perfume will be perfect for the DC area’s hot and humid summers.

    I also keep thinking it’s an odd twist of fate: if Grandifloras smelled as dramatic and tropical as they look, they might smell just like Manoumalia. ;-)

    • Kevin says:

      Noz: that will be perfect for DC summers…I grew up right ‘down the road’ from DC…sweltering days and nights.

  6. james1051 says:

    M Grandiflora is one of the great garden scents. Yup, they grow just fine in the Philly area too. At least, certain cultivars.

    Delighted to read about Sandrine!

    The precocious Asian species and hybrids are also beautifully fragrant. Try Iris Ukiyoe’ to smell m stellata and m kobus in bloom.

    • Kevin says:

      James, yes…right now so many magnolias are in bloom and scenting the air — magnolia denudata Forrest’s Pink in the back yard…growing like a weed! Ha!

    • nozknoz says:

      James, that’s a fascinating observation re Iris Ukiyoe, which I think is a bit underrated. It doesn’t smell like the irises around here, but I always thought it did smell like a real flower – now I know it’s a magnolia! :-)

  7. Zazie says:

    I fear I never experienced the smell of the magnolia grandiflora… but your description makes my nose tingle in excitement. it must be glorious. Do you know if the FM candle “jurassic flower” comes close?

    Having no expectations set for the real flowers, I am very intrigued by your description of both perfumes… Should they ever stumble on my way…
    The magnolias I know are of the japonica variety. I wanted to link to the twin trees standing ouside the apse of the duomo di Milano, because they make for an arresting view in spring, as their butterfly shaped flowers seem to flutter over the lace-like white marble of the church. However pictures fall so short of the real thing, I’ll let you imagine the scene…;)
    Unfortunaly, no arresting scent there!
    p.s. like Rappleyea above, I vote for a “Magnolia Whispers” perfume! ;)

    • Kevin says:

      Zazie: I’ll look for those trees in Milan! Also, I stay away from FM candles; I have NO self control!

  8. Kevin, keep an eye out for the new Frederic Malle fragrance out this summer :) I’d be interested to hear your take on it given your expertise on magnolia. I’m not that familiar with it, given that we don’t have an abundance of where I live in London. And it’s composed by the same perfumer who worked on FM Jurassic Flower who seems to have an affinity with magnolia.

    • Kevin says:

      Konglish: something to look forward to! Thanks.

  9. Dilana says:

    Eau D’Italie’s Au Lac has a nice under note of magnolia. I’m not sure exactly what kind of magnolia and its an evocation rather than a soliflore.

    • Kevin says:

      Dilana: love lots of Eau d’Italie scents…but that one didn’t do a thing for me

  10. alyssa says:

    Wow, Kevin, your Sandrine Magnolia smells a whole lot better than mine. I got the lemon and then everything was drowned in a harsh detergent note. I didn’t blame the perfumer–it smelled underbudgeted and over-committeed to me. Will have to give it a second round to see if I can get what you got.

    • Kevin says:

      Alyssa…wish I could find some detergent that smelled like MG Sandrine! Ha!

    • nozknoz says:

      It seems like a great problem of modern perfumery that these chemical musks smell so different to each person. The same musk may be invisible to one person and unbearably strong for another. Another example is Guerlain Vetiver pour Elle. To Luca Turin, the musk note is just a modern touch for a beautiful floral vetiver perfume, while my nose has difficulty finding the floral vetiver notes behind the wall of white musk.

    • Sarah K says:

      I got something like detergent in Sandrine too. The scent was all grapefruit and starch, and I actually quite enjoyed it, but the chemical musk in there also felt like a whack on the nose. It’s the only perfume that’s actually managed to make me dizzy!

  11. akimon says:

    I have always loved the scent of magnolia, ever since I started sniffing them as a kid, and I think there is one scent that comes close enough to capturing some of the magic, and that is Yves Rocher aptly named “Magnolia”. Of course they had to go and discontinue it, but I have an old bottle with plenty of juice left. Highly recommended, if you can find a sample..
    Right now, the Washington DC area is all about cherry blossoms, but I am eagerly awaiting the flowering time of the giant and strongly lemony scented magnolias which I believe are of Magnolia Virginiana variety, and are sometimes found around the federal offices buildings.

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