We may think we know what flowers smell like, but most of us are more familiar with the near-scentless bouquets at flower shops. Imagine a tuberose, all by itself. Have you ever seen one growing outdoors, let alone inhaled its sweet aroma, which starts out airy and green then turns intoxicating and animalic? With a mix of science and art, perfumers are hoping to take us back to that unspoiled version of nature. And, boy, do we need it.

This year the urge to get outside as the weather warms is more intense than ever, says Arnaud Guggenbuhl, the head of global marketing at the fragrance house Givaudan. After the anxiety of the past two years, we’re subconsciously seeking nature because it represents endurance and optimism, and flowers are a symbol of those things, says Guggenbuhl. “Think about the blooms that grow in arid climates or on mountains—they exemplify survival,” he says.

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The aroma of flowers may have a metaphorical pull, but there are practical benefits, too. Flowers can be nature’s anti-anxiety medicine; it’s been well-documented that their scent has the ability to calm and relax. Brown Girl Jane’s Wanderlust collection features essential oils that were shown in fMRI tests to trigger brain-activation patterns associated with relaxation. Its Bahia Peace Eau de Parfum, for example, features jasmine, a floral note often used in aromatherapy for its calming effect. Blossoms of jasmine sambac are at the heart of Estée Lauder’s Radiant Mirage, a perfume that’s also a scientifically proven mood booster; the company tracked and measured the scent’s effect on a group of wearers and was able to show that it increased feelings of optimism and positivity.

Ironically, the aromas of real flowers in the wild are hard to create with only natural ingredients. Consider the rose: Picking a bloom, then pressing or distilling its essential oil, or chemically extracting its essence (called the absolute), may capture only certain facets of the scent. Rose oil can be quite herbaceous, while the absolute is more intensely floral. Neither smells like a rose in the field. So perfumers have been playing with their ingredient palettes, combining different aspects of the flower to give us new takes on a classic. Diptyque Eau Rose Eau de Parfum, for example, has a mix of rose oils, extracts, and firad (an upcycled rose) that’s vegetal and complex, with hints of earthy artichoke and sweet chamomile. And TomFord just released three rose perfumes that evoke landscapes abroad: Rose D’Amalfi, Rose De Chine, and Rose De Russie.

Lilacs and lilies are even more difficult to bottle than roses. They’re called “silent flowers” because they don’t produce natural extracts, explains Firmenich perfumer Daphné Bugey. To capture their essences, perfumers increasingly rely on headspace technology, which involves analyzing the air around a growing flower to detect all the aroma molecules present and then painstakingly rebuilding the scent, molecule by molecule, in a lab. A Drop D’Issey, by Issey Miyake, has headspace versions of lilac, while Guerlain Muguet uses dewy floral and green, vegetal notes to evoke the scent of a lily in early spring.

Perfumers are hoping to take us back to an unspoiled version of nature. And, boy, do we need it.

While a lab re-creation may not sound romantic, it’s often better for the environment. The process of extracting and transporting raw materials can cause pollution, so to make their wares more sustainable, brands are experimenting with perfumery’s by-products. Givenchy Irresistible Eau de Toilette Fraiche features a note produced with upcycled Damascena rose water. And Mugler Angel Nova blends an upcycled rose note with Akigalawood, an ingredient made from patchouli parts that previously had gone unused.

In the end, all are exactly the type of revelation the best new perfumes deliver. “We may have forgotten that real flowers in the field are stunning on their own,” Guggenbuhl says. “But thanks to new ingredients and perfumery techniques, people will be able to rediscover that experience.”

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