The Dutch garden and landscape architect Ronald van der Hilst asked Belgian fragrance artist Laura de Coninck to bottle the tulips in his garden as a perfume for those moments the tulips they are not blooming. The result is ‘Hortus Conclusus Tulipa’ an exceptional perfume (only 500 bottles available worldwide) that pays tribute to his three decades of work and residency in Antwerp but especially to the tulips from his Hortus Conclusus garden in the city centre. An amazing smelling niche perfume that transforms colour over time just like a flowergarden.
Tekst Anja Van Der Borght
Scent has always been central to the work of Ronald van der Hilst, and surprisingly, it was the humble, but unusual, tulip that so captured his heart. He was inspired by the as many as 6,000 existing tulip species, 350 varieties of which can be found in his Hortus Conclusus, an enclosed city garden at St Joris church (Mechelseplein). A beautiful enclosed city gem that touches with the special aromas of various flowers and plants. Today we associate tulips with The Netherlands. “But Antwerp was the home to tulips from where they got exported to Holland”, Ronald van der Hilst says. “Tulips themselves have a rich history in Antwerp and play a leading role in the work of painter Maerten de Vos and in the garden of the Rubenshuis. Maerten de Vos was the first artist to paint tulips”
Garden and landscape architect Ronald van der Hilst show us the white tulip species in his garden, named after him.
When in the spring of 2021 – during the Corona months – he surprised beauty journalist and perfume expert Sofie Albrecht with a box of fragrant tulips from his garden, she informed fragrance artist (olfactory artist) Laura de Coninck of the possibilities of these aromatic treasures. Laura went on a fragrance journey along the flowering tulips and plants of Ronald’s Hortus Conclusus and was surprised by the aromas of honey, floral nectar and elderflower emanating from the many tulips.
At Ronald’s invitation, Laura boarded the Thalys to Paris with a bunch of freshly picked Tulipa Sylvestris from the Hortus Conclusus garden, Ronald’s favourite scented tulip. “The goal was to develop a perfume that pays homage to the tulips from Ronald’s Hortus Conclusus masterpiece”, Laura says. “But when I arrived in Paris at the established Paris perfume laboratory Givaudan I work with, my mentor and master perfumer Sonia Constant was initially unconvinced of the tulip’s potential as a base for a perfume. I really had to convince her. Together we delved into the incredible fragrance archives of Givaudan, where we discovered a note that could represent Tulipa Sylvestris.”
Laura convinced everybody, including Sonia Constant, with a successful molecular reconstruction. The result is Hortus Conclusus Tulipa, a particularly layered perfume that takes us on a walk through Ronald van der Hilst’s garden. Naturally with tulips as the base, complemented by notes of elderflower, fig, orange blossom, sandalwood and amber for a creamy undertone, enveloped by the green aromas of vetiver and enhanced by patchouli for deep earthy scents. And to crown it all: a pronounced saffron note. “The latter is a translation of the sensual fragrance that characterises the Tulipa Sylvestris in the final stages of its bloom”, Laura says. “I remember how the tulips I brought with me in Paris over time as they wilted emitted a prominent scent that I most associated with saffron.”
This perfume (a limited edition of only 500 bottles worldwide) has some characteristics of natural wine too: Ronald and Laura have chosen not to fix the perfume, made with high-quality ingredients, as is usually done. This allows the perfume to mature and develop further in the bottle, by analogy with the life cycle of a garden, which becomes more and more beautiful as it matures. The green perfume in the bottle might turn blue after a while and maybe in another colour in a few months. Let it surprise you.
Limited edition of 500 bottles worldwide, €175