“Bring the Garden Here” (Formosa Perfume)

In one of the more intense scenes (wait, does that really narrow it down?) of the series “Versailles,” Henriette, the mistress of King Louis XIV, is seen writhing in acute illness before her death from poisoning (a popular method of murder in this show). Her last wish is to smell the flowers from the gardens of Versailles: “Is there a breeze today? Is there anything more beautiful than the scent of blossom?”

But in her condition, she cannot be moved from the bed on which she lays. His Majesty therefore orders, “Bring the garden here,” and the flowers are brought in to surround Henriette in her final moments.

For various reasons, I have not been back to visit Taiwan, which was “home” for a time and where I have family, for longer than I want to admit. However, Taiwan seems to be coming to me recently in a small way.

I had told myself that I’ve learned my lessons (yes, plural) about buying any perfume before giving it a proper wear, so I thought I was safe from making any scent-unsniffed purchases. However, when I learned about Formosa perfume, developed by a Taiwanese brand creator to showcase the island through its indigenous flowers, fruits, and spices, I decided to go for it. Taiwan is not well represented in niche perfumery, so I was happy to support this effort.

I pre-ordered Formosa from Bergdorf Goodman (where it will be exclusive for the first 6 months of its release) online a day before it became available. I had no illusory expectations of it being groundbreaking or even niche in olfactory profile—at this point, I have basically bought it for its symbolism.

The first moments upon opening the box did remind me a bit of Taiwan—maybe it’s the power of suggestion, but it recalled the scent of polished and polite department stores. Floral in a bright and slightly harsh register, but in a way that suggests clean and tidy.

Taiwan retained quite a bit of influence from the brief period of Japanese reign in the early part of the 20th century, and younger generations later developed a fandom of Japanese culture from manga, food, and fashion. Some successful department stores in Taiwan (eg, SOGO) were also Japanese in origin, and these would demonstrate superior customer service in ways including having impeccably dressed uniformed elevator staff, wearing hats and gloves, pressing the buttons for riders, announcing each floor on arrival, and holding the doors open. (Said riders, on the other hand, could be wearing T-shirts and flip-flops…)

My first impression of the scent was that it smelled like a designer fragrance. Not that I can articulate the description of any specific designer fragrance, mind you. Fruity floral with a slightly sweet, light woody-ambery base? Fragrantica calls Formosa, by perfumer Honorine Blanc, a “Chypre Fruity” fragrance. The prominent note is supposed to be plum blossom. This is the national flower of Taiwan, and used to be on the coins before those were revised; a symmetric, five-petaled blossom… sadly, I never realized it had a smell. Happily, this is perhaps not my fault, as plum blossom is described as “a fantasy floral note with a fruity nuance.”

A floral note does stand out from the beginning, although I am not sure what it is. Listed notes include (from the brand):

  • Florals: White Peony, Plum Blossom, Rose Petals, Jasmine Sambac, Lily, Tiger Orchid
  • Nectars: Sweet Mandarin, Black Currant, Candied Lemons
  • Background Notes: Sheer Amber, Labdanum, Patchouli, Musks, Cedar

I am glad that “nectar” is an apt description, as though the fruity notes are concentrated and the lily is contributing some of its pollen that, I have found by personal experience, has staining power. The citrus maintains the veneer of formality even as the sweeter—but not too sweet—notes imply a degree of comfort that comes from settling into a temporal experience (such as department store shopping or a leisurely meal). The drydown is cozy, although longevity is moderate.

During my first proper wear of Formosa, I realized that it reminded me of my memory of Calvin Klein Euphoria, another perfume that is close to my heart. Euphoria was my last signature scent at the time that I fell down the perfumery rabbit hole, and I put away my bottle with just several milliliters left in a display case as I started exploring niche brands. To verify my association, I took it out to smell it again—it’s not that similar, as Euphoria is sweeter, darker, and somehow… nuttier? (It’s different from how I remember it…) But it could be an older cousin, or something.

They do have some overlap in purported notes. Euphoria claims “black orchid” as a prominent note. I find orchid flowers to be pretty bland in both smell and taste (having eaten some, I don’t recommend it). Once again, it’s not me, it’s it—orchid is another fantasy note. Both of these fragrances are constructed on a woody-ambery base.

Perhaps Formosa links more to my even-more-distant memory of Mugler Angel? That is apparently a kitchen-sink sort of fragrance, but it does include mandarin orange, jasmine, orchid (!), rose, patchouli, amber, and musk… which isn’t really saying much, but it doesn’t refute my association.

I am now curious about this “orchid” fantasy note and what it’s meant to smell like on its own.

Now let’s talk about the bottle. The heavy glass and slice-of-fruit design is all good. I did not have high expectations of the faux jade cap, because I have seen enough plastic jade replicas to know that they usually look cheap and unconvincing. However, I had somewhat hoped they would prove me wrong. Well, the carving pattern is nice. Unfortunately, some parts of it are scuffed, and it is quite obviously plastic looking.

The nozzle is crooked and the straw—which is not even shown in most depictions of the bottle in the press video—at least on my bottle is way too short to capture the last several milliliters, if I ever get that far with usage. The other major difference between the real deal and all the press imagery is the color of the liquid—theirs is yellow, while mine is completely clear. I don’t really mind this as I wasn’t a fan of the yellow, but I kind of do mind the misleading aspect of it.

The verdict: I am happy to have Formosa in my collection because I am biased toward the inspiration, and it’s a nice perfume; but, ultimately, the story is the strongest element.

Another way Taiwan has come to me recently is via a lovely gift that a close childhood friend got for me from her hometown, which was truly a wonderful surprise. A new textile museum had opened, with a focus on natural dyes and fabric materials. My friend said she saw this scarf and just thought of me. It was dyed using indigo and cochineal.

I’m not sure how many of you follow Pantone and the Color of the Year, which is supposed to reflect the zeitgeist, but this year’s Viva Magenta is a personal favorite. I’ve always gravitated to the red and orange end of the color spectrum, and Viva Magenta is vibrant without being too sharp. According to Pantone:

Viva Magenta’s organic origins hail from the cochineal beetle. This insect produces carmine dye, one of the most precious, strongest, and brightest of the natural dye family. The red tone of Viva Magenta connects us to original matter, imbibing us with a primordial signal of strength.

It took me a few days to realize that this scarf is my first Viva Magenta item.

I look forward to scenting it.

Viva la vida!

[Update: Shortly after posting this, I contacted Bergdorf Goodman about the short straw and their customer service got back to me quickly (on a Friday night!) with a very polite email offering me a partial credit if I keep the bottle or a full refund or exchange if I return it. I have not decided just yet, but wanted to acknowledge their excellent service. ]

[Next-day update: This shouldn’t be a surprise… I have decided to keep the bottle.]

6 thoughts on ““Bring the Garden Here” (Formosa Perfume)

  1. If the notes were an actual garden it would be stunning. Please tell us more about Taiwan. I’m sure many others know little of the Island too.
    The only thing I know is that Taiwan is strategically important, is a gambling paradise & politically & financially coveted by China.


    1. Yes, I would love to smell that garden too. I have been away for some time so I’m sure many things have changed, but the natural scenery is always beautiful and the political climate is always tense. Taiwan has strict laws against gambling, though—perhaps you were thinking of Macau?


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