Diamonds and Pearls- 1831 Norma and 1904 Madama Butterfly Histoires de Parfums


If 1875 Carmen didn’t quite live up to its fiery name-sake, I am glad to say that today I look at two fragrances from the same collection which do.

I think I know no other opera which always makes me cry- it doesn’t matter which production or how good the singers. After having both done and watched Madama Butterfly more times than I can even begin to count, it still gets to me. If you’ve never been to the opera, Puccini is a great way to start, and I dare you to go un-touched by this particular drama…XJL208559

I LOVE iris, but I’m uneasy that slowly its potential as a main note has been fully explored, at least that’s what I feel when I think of all the new irises that I’ve smelled over the last years. ’It’s not you, it’s me’ as Pinkerton would have said to Madama Butterfly had this been anno 2014.

However, this one is stunning. It’s a pearly iris, sitting just between buttery-rooty and sweet-powdery, never too much one or the other. Starting off on a wonderful soft suede (leather bound book-) note, for the most of its life Madama Butterfly is a pale heliotrope and coumarin blended with buttery iris root and veiled violet. Discreet woods (sandalwood in particular) and musk are sensed more than actively smelled and towards the very end the bitter-sweet marzipan facets of heliotrope is what stays on the skin when all else has faded.

This iris is solemn, but smiling through tears hopeful that ’un bel di’ one beautiful day her Pinkerton will come back for her and her son. I don’t smell any hints at fake japonaiserie, and I am grateful for that. It’s not a shy fragrance but it’s a humble and contemplative one. Thankfully, in this version we’re spared the Hara-kiri though not the tears of longing.

Top Note : Italian Mandarin essence, Néroli
Heart Note : Absolu Orris of Florence, Heliotrope
Base Note : Cedar essence, Sandal, Musk


Norma 1 BELLININorma, the Bel Canto opera by Bellini with the main protagonist being the diva role over them all, comprising the great show piece aria Casta Diva (‘Chaste Goddess’).

This is a floral Aldehyde with a capital A. Gérald Ghislain has managed to tie together the two aspects of this opera; the diva status that the part of Norma enjoys, as well as the plot- the high priestess’ passion, the ‘antique’ of the setting and the pyre at which she and her lover end.

The aldehydes which open Norma are a fire-work akin to the bel canto style coloraturas. It is the aldehydes which this fragrance is about, they are retro-stylish and diva-like, and although there has been a revival of aldehydes of late, I have yet to encounter anything as sparkling and marble cold as these. No 5’s aldehydes as more fatty and rosé, they are closer to those of Vega but on steroids; Cat Woman sharp clawldehydes. Although I’m fine with my small amount of perfumes in this category, I have to admit, this opening blows me over, it’s frostbite and hellfire at the same time and a fitting pendant to the wild passions of the high Priestess Norma.tumblr_n9yztlgoNp1sr6ws1o1_500

The fragrance stays incredibly retro, by introducing what I perceive as a blunt civet-note. No civet mentioned anywhere, what’s mentioned is something about a forest with scents of rose and jasmine… yes, there are roses and jasmine too I’m sure, this is after all very much a floral aldehyde, they are just not very important. In fact, once both sparkling diamonds and civet cat have left the drama, the fragrance burns down to very quiet embers of musk, resins and patchouli.

Top Note: Aldehyde, Pink Pepper
Heart Note : Rose, Jasmin, Comorian Ylang essence, Cistus Labdanum
Base Note : Indonesian Heart Patchouli, Sumatran Resinoid Benzoin, Vanilla, Praline, Musk


*Samples bought by me

*Main pic by me, vintage posters of the operas found online. Callas and Marilyn enjoying a diva moment.

*The opera collection retails at 360€ from a.o. HdP site

14 thoughts on “Diamonds and Pearls- 1831 Norma and 1904 Madama Butterfly Histoires de Parfums

  1. Iris “smiling through the tears” and “frostbite and hellfire” are such great descriptions for these two. I don’t need to ever try them!

    I am somewhat relieved there’s heliotrope in the Madama Butterfly because otherwise I’d be crying too – at the price.

    Great facial expressions in your illustration and with just a few strokes.

    • Dear Tara, you always make the sweetest compliments, thank you. Yes, I was thinking about you with the heliotrope, how you should be (almost) happy that it’s in there, it might otherwise be just what you’re after… And Norma is really great to test, it seems a true blast from the past, and then exactly because of it, quite modern 🙂

  2. Hi Asali – I really enjoyed reading this review. So far I haven’t had the best of luck with HdPs – 2 were astoundingly horrible on my skin, one was kind of alright, and I like (but don’t love) Moulin Rouge. Nonetheless, your review for 1904 Madama Butterfly is so striking and beautiful that I really want to try it. I will have to get a sample, and hope that the tides will change for my luck. Thank you.

    • Hi Sun Mi, thank you. I read your reply about Tubereuse 1 at OT, so I know the HdP normally don’t work for you. Odd isn’t it, I definitely have those lines too, not just meeh or boring, but ‘doesn’t work’. I’d say if you like iris, this soli-floral really is striking. I know most of them out there, the closest I could come in comparison is vintage Après l’Ondée, because of the sadness and the focus in the pairing of heliotrope-iris. But obviously Al’O, is its own as is Madama Butterfly. If you still dare to try the HdP this one is definitely not a typical HdP I’d say. I also think that with the lines that we keep trying to get to love it’s because we know there’s something in there, which is so much better than the ones we just give up on. What a long reply, I clearly had something to say on that subject 😀

  3. What a beautiful review, Asali. I haven’t tried either of the perfumes but now I’d love to have a good sniff of them, especially Madama Butterfly. I absolutely love this opera; the beauty of the sounds always gets to me. If this perfume is as beautiful as the compositios of Puccini, I would definitely love it. <3

    • Thank you Magpie. Hm, I think you ask the wrong person, I’d choose music over perfume anytime 😉 but MB the fragrance is very worthy of it’s operactic inspiration- I hope you get to try it, and would love to know your thoughts.

  4. “…this one is stunning. It’s a pearly iris, sitting just between buttery-rooty and sweet-powdery, never too much one or the other.”

    Ooh, that is precisely my kind of iris, and I’m one who does love heliotrope, so its addition here makes this perfume sound really good. Beautiful review (beautiful watercolor you made for it), and I enjoyed the one for Norma, too, which is my kind of perfume as well. And I got a kick out of the photo you chose for Norma, because years ago I wrote a review of vintage Chanel No. 5 and used photos of Marilyn in that dress. It’s a very aldehydic dress (and vintage No 5 is naughty, so goes very well with it). Would the scent of HdP Norma be like a cross between Maria Callas and Marilyn Monroe (with the claws coming from Callas)?

    • Yes, mine too Suzanne, perhaps with a little more sillage than what it has, but that’s being fussy 😉 I thought about you for Norma, what fun that you used a Marilyn picture dressed like that for your no 5 review. I didn’t remember, but perhaps subconsiously I did? I think you’re spot on, it’s Callas claws and dedication and Marilyns sparkle. I can completely see what you mean by the sexy vibe coming from vintage no 5 and pairing it to Marilyn in that dress, and it’s true, Norma is a colder than that, lacking that incredible Marilyn-sweetness and vulnerability.
      Thank you for your kind words.

  5. Your review is as ever sharp as a tack, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t care for either of these scents, so I shall content myself with savouring your exquisite imagery. (Madama Butterfly would be wrong because of the heliotrope and coumarin, and Norma for reasons too numerous to mention(!), not least the fact that the image of that name to British sensibilities is irrevocably linked with homely ladies such as former PM John Major’s wife etc …;)

    • Hahaa, wonderful! You know, once again you proove to me that it’s possible to describe so that people can know for themselves whether they will like something or not, I am grateful, and I could have known from the moment I sniffed them that they weren’t for you. At some point I must do a more Vanessa-appropriate post 😉 I actually think, with your new found love of lighter orientals, you might enjoy the last two in the series, Pique Dame and Turandot, but I will take an operatic break, before writing about them. As always I’m glad that you can enjoy the posts still. I don’t even remember John Major’s wife, was she that awful?

  6. These are amazing reviews. 🙂
    Shame on me for not seeing Madame Butterfly.

    Unfortunately for me, I did not manage to try that one. 🙁 Sounds great though.

    • Thank you Ines <3 Yes, I wonder how you would like that one... I could imagine that sniffing all five at the same time, it might not stick out but be overwhelmed by some of the other stronger and more unusual fragrances in the line-up, so perhaps not so sad you didn't try it afterall 🙂

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