Some say ylang-ylang's name stems from the Tagalog for "rare". Others misinterpret it to mean "flower of flowers"-- true in spirit, if not in strict etymology. However you source it, it's a strange one.
A member of the Annonoceae family, ylang-ylang counts as its cousins a whole basket of fruits (atemoya, cherimoya, guanábana, sweetsop, pawpaw, biriba) with flesh like sweet, silky custard. Ylang-ylang alone bears fruit of less than ambrosial character-- unless you're a bird, in which case those shiny black, fibrous, sharp-tasting berries are the very diet of paradise.
While ylang-ylang may not provide sustenance for the stomach, it outdoes itself (and the rest of its tribe) in nourishing the nose. According to chemist Bo Jensen's Small Guide to Nature's Fragrances, "(t)he rest of the Annonacean family usually has flowers with a moldy or putrid smell, if they have any smell at all." But ylang-ylang emits a most unique and beautiful fragrance that more than compensates for its relatives' deficiencies. It's hard to describe this fragrance without name-checking a number of others. Banana, jasmine, saffron, shoe polish, plastic...
I TOLD you I was freaky, ylang-ylang says.
A touch of ylang-ylang imparts a moist, cool quality to a perfume, invoking images of Polynesian mountain rainforests. Effortlessly refined, it rounds off the edges of other scent elements and adds a high, smooth surface shine like a dappling of rain on a glossy taro leaf. As a auxiliary to leather, ylang-ylang lends a supple, delicate animalic quality reminiscent of blonde chamois suede. But served up neat, ylang-ylang is a wilder ride: tropical languor glimpsed through a caul of fiery fumes. For this reason, it strikes me as the most unisex of tropical blooms-- something men as well as women can enjoy. (And enjoy they have, for at least two centuries-- ylang-ylang was the principal aromatic agent in macassar hair oil, the Dippity-Do of Victorian manhood.)
Attar Bazaar's Ylang Ylang can most definitely count a volcanic slope in the Pacific as its birthplace. Sweet though it may seem, it will not let you forget that it hails from the Ring of Fire, where wisps of acrid smoke spiral up from cracks in the fertile earth. Smoky syrup, leather liqueur: this is the fragrance of neither fruit, nor flower, but fantasy. I reapply endlessly, savoring the everchanging nature of this nonpareil.
Scent Elements: Ylang-ylang, plain but not simple.