I remember having dinner at my sister’s home when I was a kid (there’s a big age gap between us), and my brother-in-law brought out a very tiny dish of “something” from the kitchen and asked me to try it. I took a small piece, but immediately didn’t like the texture. I tried to be polite and said I liked it. He said, “it’s marinated duck tongues. If I had told you you would not eat it.” Really, they were not for me, and I thought I just had my lifetime quota of duck tongues filled.
I told my friend about this story and he definitely had a funny reaction. His sister owns a small “Chinese restaurant” mostly for take-outs in a small city next to Toronto, and a majority of her customers are white folks. The restaurant’s most popular dish is chicken balls, which basically are small pieces of chicken dipped in some batter and deep-fried to balloon-up the size. Of course, it is not chicken ball if it is not served with a heavy ladle of sweet “red sauce” poured on top. The red sauce is made with sugar, vinegar, corn starch, red food coloring and nothing else, and according to my friend, they drink it up.
Chicken ball is not really an authentic Chinese dish per se, but in the eyes of Westerners, I think it is now. In fact, I once suggested Chinese for dinner to a white friend and his first response was, “yeah, good idea, I haven’t had chicken balls for a long time.”
So what does this have to do with Tom Ford’s Fleur de Chine? Well, if Fleur de Chine were a Chinese dish, it’s chicken ball with an extra bowl of red sauce on the side – a scent for the Westerners. Really, I am not complaining, I dig this perfume. It does smell oriental to me (oriental as in Asian, not Middle Eastern or spicy), and even resembles a tiny-teeny bit of my favorite perfume, Arpege, but it is obviously a French interpretation of a Chinese perfume – if it exists. The scent is quite fleeting, and it’s the tea and mandarin orange note that tie the very light hyacinth, wisteria, magnolia, peonies and jasmine scents together in a small, intoxicating, smooth, floral package.
I sometimes wonder what American contestants would answer if they are asked to name the most common Chinese flowers in the game show “Family Feud.” I can name a few quite right off my head for I have seen countless generic watercolour paintings in Chinese restaurants with a flower subject – peonies, orchids, plum blossoms, chrysanthemum, lotus, rhododendron, etc. They are all pretty, but scent-wise, I think except peonies and lotus have a noticeable and distinct floral scent, not too many are particularly fragrant. If the perfumer of Fleur de Chine really sticks to using only “Chinese flowers”, the perfume might not be as good?