There are some scents that I will always love, and the eponymous Antonia’s Flowers is one of them. It’s a beautiful floral, with a top note of freesia interspersed with jasmine, magnolia and lily. It avoids smelling cheap or heady, as so many florals can, and just resembles the most glorious spring bouquet. And, whilst we are stuck in this Narnia-esque cold, I very much like the idea of wrapping myself in an olfactory springtime heaven
Although it was designed in 1984, I always think of Antonia’s Flowers as a quintessential 90s scent, as it was one of the first fragrances which wasn’t from a venerable perfume house that really captured the British public imagination as the idea of boutique perfumeries caught on, thanks to both the clever finds of Liberty’s fragrance buyer and the sterling work of Nicky Kinnaird of Space NK in that decade, who trawled the world, looking for efficacious and wonderful beauty products.
In Antonia’s Flowers’ case, I think it was Liberty that first stocked it and, for a while, it was *the* scent. But unlike so many flash in the pan PR exercises, Antonia’s Flowers has remained a classic: Along with Floret which was introduced in 1995 and Tiempe Passate in 1999, Antonia’s Flowers has ranked in the top ten of both Barneys and Bergdorf’s since its original launch.
The scent has a lovely back story too, which I have taken from her website. As a student, Antonia Bellanca-Mahoney studied art in Boston and then in France. It was in France, in the markets of Aix and Paris, that she discovered all the wonderful varieties of flowers that she had up until then only seen in pictures – anemones, poppies, mimosa, freesia, and many more. These, too, left an impression on her so that when Antonia moved to New York City, a flower shop on Madison Avenue caught her eye. “They always had lush, painterly flower arrangements in the window.”
She later found out that, in fact, all the flowers had been imported from Europe and the inspiration for the bouquets came directly from Flemish flower paintings. “The connection between art and flowers became suddenly clear to me. I knew that this was exactly the kind of art related work I was looking for.”
After working for others in their shops, in 1981 she opened her own in East Hampton, Long Island, a village on the ocean. She named it “Antonia’s Flowers” and “it was a tribute to all the special gardens of my life.” Remembered for its dramatic and original arrangements, Antonia’s Flowers adorned the parties, garden weddings and restaurants of the Hampton’s elite.
“Being immersed in flowers so much of the time had a ‘sensitizing’ effect on me. I became very aware of the different floral scents – and to me, freesia was and is by far the prettiest. I looked for a perfume for myself that truly captured the essence of freesia in harmony with other flowers and found that there simply wasn’t one. Then, I imagined a perfume that would evoke the experience of entering my flower shop. That’s when I knew I had to create my own.”
In 1982, Antonia began working with the chief perfumer of one of the country’s finest essential oil houses. “It had to be a fresh, feminine bouquet…with a signature note of freesia”, and Antonia’s Flowers was first introduced as an Eau de Toilette in 1985.