Building the Lily:
Floral Fragrances Reimagined
It all started with the blue lotus, Nymphaea caerulea: a fragrant water lily beloved by the ancient Egyptians, who saw in its sky-hued petals and sunny center a symbol of rebirth. A few centuries later, in Los Angeles, Alia Raza and Ezra Woods were similarly entranced by this sacred lily of the Nile. The flower-obsessed friends’ experiments with the blue lotus soon bloomed into Régime des Fleurs, a line of innovative perfumes introduced earlier this year.
“We based our first perfume around a rare, highly purified extraction of blue lotus. We studied that along with other blue lotus extractions and fresh blue lotuses,” says Woods, 30, who comes from a family of florists. “We took a lot of time to understand what the impression of the scent was—we found a honey quality, a woodiness, a floralcy, a blueness, a wateriness—and created individual ‘accords,’ almost like mini-perfumes.” More complex than typical fragrance notes, those accords added up to Nymphaea Caerulea, a perfume that Woods describes as “a singing iridescent floral that dances on the skin.”
Raza and Woods weren’t sure if their creation was a one-off project or the beginning of something bigger until they slipped a sample to Luca Turin, the renowned olfactory scientist known for his incisive, ruthless fragrance critiques. “We gave him a little vial of Nymphaea Caerulea at a book signing, thinking maybe he would e-mail us and tell us if it’s any good,” says Raza, 36. Weeks went by with no word from Turin. The two went on with their lives and careers, she as a filmmaker and video artist and he as a fashion stylist, and then an e-mail arrived. Turin had found the vial in his coat pocket and was impressed. He pronounced their blend “mysterious and beguiling,” dubbing it “a winner” and encouraging them to continue working together. “It was one of the most creatively validating things that has ever happened to me,” notes Woods. “At that point, we started to take making perfume super-seriously.”
Ezra’s Floral Favorites
With voluptuous petals and a “dangerous-looking” center, magnolia’s complex scent has “a bitter limey zestiness,” says Woods. “There is also this bizarre, earthy mushroom note, and I perceive a chalky element to the scent as well, which is the most uncanny part.”
“For me it's a very emotional flower and scent, with a bright, sparkling, citrus quality combined with a hypnotic, deep, oily powderiness.”
Perfume is decidedly not about two things: it isn’t about memory and it isn’t about sex. Perfume is about beauty and intellect. A perfume is a message in a bottle—not a smell—and the message is written by the perfumer and read by the person who smells it. Biophysicist, writer, and fragrance industry legend Luca Turin
They chose the name Régime des Fleurs for its ability to evoke military precision, the crumbling grandeur of Europe, and, of course, flowers. And yet Raza and Woods are just as inspired by the glass-and-steel modernity of Mies van der Rohe and the theatrical, hybrid forms of the Memphis group, particularly as filtered through neon-accented American pop culture of the late 1980s and 1990s. Tucked inside pale grey packaging, Régime des Fleurs flacons come bearing not only a signature crest but also bold, hand-painted hues.
“Each one was a different impression that we got from the blue lotus,” says Raza. “We changed the balance and turned them into more complex things.” They smoothed out the watery, woody accord, adding scents of pale herbs, pine needles, and myrrh to create a fragrance that is both tranquil and bracing, while Turquoise, born as a honey accord, imagines “Marie Antoinette on an exuberant springtime tour of India,” with the help of rosebuds and turmeric. Nitesurf finds the exotic Nile bloom surfing the waves of Venice Beach. “It came out of what we called the ‘blue tide’ accord, and we later added a lot of orange blossom,” says Woods. “It’s wild. I was at a party last night and someone was wearing Nitesurf and I thought, wow, it really smells like the ocean!”
Alia’s Floral Favorites
In perfumes, tuberose is usually made super sweet, but I like the smell of the real absolute,” says Raza. “It’s challenging, bitter, and green, with an iron-like quality that turns into the smell of warm butter on skin. The fresh flowers are just as strange and addictive, with an undeniable feminine power.”
“When I was growing up, my mother lined the staircase that led to my bedroom with this tropical green vine, and every summer there were dozens of clusters of trumpet-shaped, waxy flowers. They smelled like spicy white gumballs, creamy star jasmine, and fresh hyacinth all at once.”
Explore another chapter in The Stories:
On Henri Cartier-Bresson: A Conversation with Peter Galassi