Perfume Chat Room, May 26

Perfume Chat Room, May 26

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, May 26, and it is the start of the Memorial Day weekend here in America. While we all look forward to the long weekend and enjoy the sales that are popping up in email and on social media, I hope we will also remember the underlying meaning of Memorial Day, to commemorate the deaths of those who have served in our armed forces, and pause to appreciate their service. It’s also the week of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, which takes place on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a residence and facility for military pensioners. At the flower show, you can often see them walking around in their distinctive red uniforms. Nowadays, the Chelsea Pensioners include women as well as men; below is a photo I took of a pensioner admiring flowers, on my last visit to Chelsea — wish I was there this year! As you can imagine, the whole area is filled with wonderful fragrances from the many flowers and other plants.

We have been enjoying glorious weather this week: sunny but not too hot or humid. I plan to do a lot of gardening this weekend! My roses are putting out a second flush of blooms, and they smell just as wonderful as they did the first time. This may have been my best year yet for my roses in pots, I think because we got so much rain this spring and then the weather stayed sunny but cool.

Here in the US, Memorial Day is traditionally considered the start of summer. I will look over the clutter of fragrances now on my chest of drawers and try to reorganize with more of the fragrances that seem “summery” to me. Since I love florals so much, I have plenty of options!

Do you have any particular fragrances you prefer in the summer, or that you think give off a “summery” vibe? And what would be a summery vibe to you? I often think of citruses combined with floral notes as summer fragrances. Un Jardin sur le Nil is one of my seasonal favorites.

Perfume Chat Room, May 19

Perfume Chat Room, May 19

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, May 19, and we are back from our Bermuda holiday. Sigh. It was so beautiful and relaxing. Luckily, I had the foresight to take yesterday and today off work also, so I can ease back into regular routines and hold on to some of the vacation vibe a bit longer.

Photo by Andrea Powell on

Last weekend, we had a fabulous visit to The Bermuda Perfumery in St. George, home of Lili Bermuda fragrances, and we had tea with our friends in their garden. The next day, Mother’s Day, I was served a lovely breakfast by my family and was “given” the Lili Bermuda fragrance I had chosen the day before: Bermudiana. I had tried Mary Celestia, whose back story intrigued me, but the fragrance wasn’t as interesting as the story, and it didn’t seem to last on my skin.

I was able to do more reading than usual on this holiday, and I read more of Bermuda’s early history. I had known before that it was first inhabited by English sailors whose ship, the Sea Venture, on its way to re-supply the struggling English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, had been blown far off course by a hurricane and shipwrecked at Bermuda. Apparently the true story of this adventure provided Shakespeare with the inspiration for “The Tempest”. What I hadn’t fully realized before is just how desperate the conditions at Jamestown were, by contrast with the plentiful lushness, safety, and beauty of Bermuda. No wonder there were a few mutinous uprisings during the ten months that the crew and passengers of the Sea Venture were on Bermuda — many of them didn’t want to leave their newfound paradise for a settlement they already knew was in trouble — insufficient supplies, attacks from Native Americans, disease, etc.

On our way home, I picked up another Lili Bermuda fragrance in the duty-free shop: Pink. It is a very pretty floral, and I look forward to getting to know it better. I’m counting it as a supplemental Mother’s Day gift, lol! Speaking of Mother’s Day, I was very touched by the number of local people who wished me a happy Mother’s Day while just passing by on the lane that led to the beach. Bermudians are famous for their old-fashioned manners (you do NOT get on a bus or request help or information at a counter without first greeting the person with “Good morning”, or “Good afternoon”), but this was next-level courtesy.

I’m already planning some more “perfume tourism”; I will tag along with my husband on one of his work trips to London this fall, and we hope to take our family to France next summer, as a delayed graduation/anniversary trip (we were supposed to go in the summer of 2020). A new “Perfumer’s Garden” is about to open at Versailles, sponsored by Maison Francis Kurkdjian, and it looks gorgeous. Gardening AND fragrance — two of my loves, together!

Did you do anything special for Mother’s Day?

Counterpoint: Un Bois Vanille

Counterpoint: Un Bois Vanille

Happy Monday! Today is May 15, and this is another “Counterpoint” post from me and Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies.

This month’s Counterpoint fragrance is Un Bois Vanille, from Serge Lutens. Launched in 2003, the perfumer who created it is Christopher Sheldrake. It is one of several offspring of Feminité du Bois, created in 1992 for Shisheido by the team of Serge Lutens, Christopher Sheldrake, and Pierre Bourdon. It seems that after FdB, M. Sheldrake explored the innovative woody accords in different directions, including Un Bois Vanille, Bois de Violette, Bois et Musc, Bois et Fruits, Bois Oriental,  and Un Bois Sépia.

Bottle of Serge Lutens' Un Bois Vanille
Un Bois Vanille by Serge Lutens; image from Portia.

Un Bois Vanille is a complex scent that plays off the botanical origins of vanilla, most familiar to us as the sweet ingredient in so many baked goods. Vanilla extract comes from beans that grow in pods on vining orchids in tropical rain forests. The vines climb up trees in their natural habitats; in cultivation, they are often grown on wooden supports. Wood, then, is a suitable companion to vanilla, and they are well-partnered in Un Bois Vanille. The green aspect of vanilla vines is evoked by an anise accord; other notes include coconut milk, beeswax, sandalwood, tonka, almond, benzoin, guiac, and musk.

  1. How did you first encounter Un Bois Vanille, and what was your first impression?

Portia: I’m not sure exactly but it could have been while sniffing with friends in what was our most glamorous Sydney department store David Jones. It also might have been through an early Serge Lutens sampler from Posh Peasant. Maybe around 2010? Yeah, I came to you all quite late. It was a very solo perfume journey for me till finding the scent blogosphere. I liked it early on but it didn’t compete with some of the more outrageous scents in the line. At the time I was all about pushing boundaries, being daring, shocking and pushing every fragrant envelope to its farthest shore. Since those heady days I’ve come to love many of those outrageous perfumes but the ones i tend to wear are much more comfortable.

Old Herbaceous: I came into possession of Un Bois Vanille a couple of years ago, when I found a tester online at a very reasonable price. Since I was, and am still, in the process of educating my nose, I knew I wanted to try some of Serge Lutens’ fragrances, and I had read in many places that Un Bois Vanille was one of his most approachable fragrances, easier to appreciate and enjoy than some of his more innovative scents. So I bought the tester, and it was the start of a small Lutens cluster in my collection. My first impression was that it is a sophisticated vanilla while remaining sweet, but it is never sugary. The beeswax and coconut milk give it a smoothness that I find quite soothing, and I enjoy the anise accord.

2. How would you describe the development of Un Bois Vanille?

Old Herbaceous: To my nose, the vanilla is obvious right away, with a milky undertone. It remains dominant throughout, with anise emerging, followed by phases that smell woody (sandalwood, tonka, almond), then resinous and warm (guiac, benzoin, musk).

PortiaUn Bois Vanille doesn’t have an enormous range through its development when I wear it. It opens hot vanilla caramel bakery, fresh from the oven. As it moves through the heart the nuttiness dries it out but we don’t lose that warmth. Even in dry down when the woods have taken over vanilla heavy amber reigns supreme.

3. Do you or will you wear Un Bois Vanille regularly? For what occasions or seasons?

Portia: Honestly, I’m lucky if Un Bois Vanille gets a wear annually. Vanilla, woods and amber make up a large percentage of my perfume wardrobe. There are a few favourites that are in easy reach, on the grab tray or on my mind. Since my Serge Lutens bottles grab tray got repurposed in the revamp of the perfume/dressing/office room and they are all in a box their wear has reduced a lot. In the 10 years I’ve owned this bottle it has probably only had 10 wears. Hopefully us writing about Un Bois Vanille at the start of the cooler months here in Sydney will rejog my memory and I’ll give it a few more outings. Wearing it the last couple of days, once for bed and today for work, I’ve really enjoyed it. Though it’s not important a couple of people have asked what it is I’m wearing and if it’s still available. So that’s nice too.

Old Herbaceous: I don’t wear it regularly, though I like it whenever I do. Since I’m on the other side of the planet from Portia, we are entering our summer months, and the vanilla fragrance I like for summer is Vanira Moorea by Berdoues. I will try to remember to pull out Un Bois Vanille this fall, though, because I agree with Portia that it is very suitable for autumn and winter.

4. Who should/could wear Un Bois Vanille?

Old Herbaceous: Un Bois Vanille is definitely a unisex scent. Apparently, the genesis of its forebear Feminité du Bois was to show that a woody fragrance, traditionally associated with masculine fragrances, could be made more feminine. Almost every time I wear any vanilla-centric fragrance, I get more compliments than with almost any other scent, usually from men. So it clearly works well as a feminine scent! Conversely, I would find this very appealing on a man, and I need to find out what it smells like on my husband!

Portia: When I spritz Un Bois Vanille it always feels like a rich dessert or cocktail. A fountain of molten vanilla, caramel, coconut and nutty biscuit. Lavish, delicious and playful. It works from slouching in front of the TV to elegant awards nights. While cool weather is my preferred wear time, I can also imagine it working for spring weekends and sensual tropical evenings. Smelling good enough to eat, but in a sophisticated way, is always a winner. Unisex but leaning towards what society expects women to smell like. I say go for the subversive guys, wear against the grain. I can only imagine how amazing this would smell on some beefy hunk of a tradesman as he turns up to fix your power box.

If huge stories float your boat, then Un Bois Vanille might be a little boring for you. On the other hand, if you love to smell good. You like a hefty, rich, not too confectionary oriented gourmand that lasts all day and into the night then you might just have found a new grand love.

Please add your answers to one or more of the questions above, in the comments!

Perfume Chat Room, May 13

Perfume Chat Room, May 13

Welcome to the Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Saturday, May 13, and we are in Bermuda! Which is why I’m a day late posting. And in case you’re wondering, Lucy is safely boarding with her vet! A friend had kindly offered to watch her, but the trauma of her recent overnight disappearance moved me to put her in more official hands.

We have the happy coincidence of our oldest friends being here in Bermuda the exact same days as us, completely unplanned. We’ve been having dinner and some beach time together, and today, we are all going to visit the Bermuda Perfumery, home of the Lili Bermuda fragrances. One of my longtime favorites, from a prior visit, is Lily. One of my daughters loves Coral. I’m excited to try Mary Celestia, a re-creation of a 19th century perfume found in a sealed bottle in a shipwreck. Their new Island Rose sounds beautiful, too. Perfume tourism!

The Bermuda Perfumery in St. George's, Bermuda, with pastel houses
The Bermuda Perfumery. Photo:

Bermuda itself is marvelously fragrant. The cottage we are renting has a garden with jasmine, rosemary, and a shrub I think is a loquat tree, with waxy white blossoms like orange blossom, that have a similarly semi-narcotic scent. When we stroll down to the water, the air smells of the impossibly blue saltwater, which sparkles in all shades of turquoise and even purple. It is a clean, salty smell, with very little of seaweed about it.

Do you like the scent of tropical flowers, or the seaside? Any particular favorite scents that evoke them?

On Monday, Portia and I will be posting our monthly collaboration Counterpoint so,I hope you’ll come back here to read it and share your thoughts!

Lily fragrance collector gift set from Lili Bermuda
Perfume Chat Room, May 5

Perfume Chat Room, May 5

Welcome to the Friday Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, May 5 — happy Cinco de Mayo! We had drama a few days ago that has a happy ending. Our sweet dog Lucy slipped out of our back yard and went missing for the rest of that day and overnight. We searched the whole neighborhood and the next one over on foot and by car. Our three young adult children, several friends, and passersby joined in. Night fell, and still no sign of Lucy. She is 10 years old but in excellent health, so we worried on multiple fronts, including, has she gotten sick or injured and can’t get home; or, has she gone so far, given her good health, that she can’t safely find her way back? She has only ever gotten out of our fenced, gated, locked back garden a few times in her ten years, and has never gone further than a block or two away, at most. Once, she went to the end of our block; and once, she got to the sidewalk and then ran back up our driveway and into the back yard! We only knew she had been gone because friends of our had seen her on the sidewalk and came to our door to tell us.

So this overnight disappearance was very alarming, to say the least. Happily, our next door neighbor let us know early the next morning that he had found her, trapped in the small locked enclosure where his HVAC unit sits in their back yard. He had been away all day, didn’t see our email to neighbors until late that night, and didn’t see her until the next morning. We think she jumped down there (it’s on a slope) and then couldn’t get out. She’s not a big barker, and she wouldn’t have been able to hear us calling her with the unit’s fan running. So my husband rushed next door to get her, and the prodigal returned, safe and sound.

I need a calming scent this week! I think I’ll wear DSH’s Smudge Nebula, which isn’t, strictly speaking, a body fragrance but which works beautifully as one. We’re looking forward to our upcoming trip to Bermuda, when we’ll visit the Lili Bermuda perfumery, among other sites.

Now that it’s May, and we’ve had lots of “April showers”, do you have May flowers? Real, or perfume?

Notes on Notes: Narcissus

Notes on Notes: Narcissus

Welcome to another installment of Notes on Notes, a collaboration with Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies! This month’s note is narcissus.

As many of you know, I am not only a perfumista but an avid gardener. And of the many flowers I love, a favorite genus is Narcissus. Some of the common names for members of this family are daffodils, jonquils, narcissi, paperwhites, etc. Most have a fragrance that I find very alluring; and I love the succession of spring blossoms they provide over a long season.

The flower is often said to have been named after a Greek myth recounted by the Latin poet Ovid, in his “Metamorphoses.” The story tells of a remarkably beautiful youth, Narcissus, who scorns the love of the many people who become infatuated with him, including the nymph Echo. The gods decide to punish him by decreeing that he would never know love, but any love he felt for another would be unrequited and unattainable. One day, while he was out hunting, he went to a spring to drink water and saw his own reflection. He fell instantly in love, but of course he could not embrace or converse with his watery double. Consumed by this unrequited love, he stayed by the pool, gazing only at himself, until he wasted away and died. When the nymphs came to bury his body, in its place they found only a beautiful flower – the narcissus.

However, there is another origin story for the narcissus, told by Homer in a hymn to Demeter, which says that the flower was created to lure Persephone away from her friends and her mother Demeter, so that Hades, god of the underworld, could abduct her: “a marvelous, radiant flower. It was a thing of awe whether for deathless gods or mortal men to see: from its root grew a hundred blooms and it smelled most sweetly, so that all wide heaven above and the whole earth and the sea’s salt swell laughed for joy. And the girl was amazed and reached out with both hands to take the lovely toy.” (translated from the Greek by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Loeb Classical Library).

Narcissus absolute is extracted from real narcissus flowers, usually Narcissus poeticus, but sometimes Narcissus jonquilla or Narcissus tazetta, through a solvent method. It takes huge amounts of flowers to create a single kilogram of absolute, so it is an expensive ingredient. It is also very complex, with hints of its close cousins the lilies, but also echoes of jasmine, green notes, a touch of hay or tobacco, and even some animalic notes. Some people detect notes of leather in narcissus absolute. It is also possible to extract narcissus oil by using the traditional method of enfleurage.

Luckily, because natural narcissus absolute, concrete, and oil are all very expensive, there are excellent synthetic alternatives. Perfumer Sarah McCartney has a series of related fragrances in which she experimented with varying amounts of naturals and synthetics, the “Clouds” series, named after Joni Mitchell’s song “Both Sides Now.” The first two fragrances, Clouds and Clouds’ Illusion, were the same scent, crowd-funded by the Eau My Soul Facebook group, but Clouds used the more expensive naturals and Clouds’ Illusion used more synthetic versions of the same substances (with some of the less expensive naturals). Both Sides of Clouds is a remix, using both naturals and synthetics. I have and love all three, plus a later and darker sibling, Complicated Shadows.

The narcissus-based fragrances I like best are those that really evoke the flowers themselves, so I gravitate to the ones that combine green notes with the narcotic aspect of the blossoms that rely on indoles (like jasmine). Clouds’ Illusion fulfills that wish, and so does one of my all-time favorites, Penhaligon’s Ostara.

Penhaligon’s Ostara eau de parfum among daffodils

But I’ve written about both of them before, so today I’ll focus on Tom Ford’s Jonquille de Nuit. Launched in 2012, it was part of a group that included Ombre de Hyacinthe, Café Rose, and Lys Fumé. It was reissued in 2019 as part of Tom Ford’s “Private Blend Reserve Collection”. Jonquille de Nuit is a beautiful floral. The name deceives, however – it is not dark or sultry, as one might assume from “nuit” (night). TBH, it smells to me more like mimosa than jonquil, but it’s very pretty and sunny.

The opening notes are mimosa, violet leaf, angelica, cyclamen, bitter orange blossom; heart note is narcissus; and the base notes are orris and amber. The mimosa accord especially gives the impression of yellow pollen, somewhat like Ostara, which does not have mimosa listed as a note. Right from the start, Jonquille smells soapy, in a nice way, without smelling like aldehydes (I like aldehydes, but I don’t smell them here). The soapiness may be coming from the angelica accord.  There is a pleasant, understated greenness to the opening also, doubtless from the violet leaf accord. Overall, Jonquille smells quite synthetic, though not unpleasantly so.

To my nose, Jonquille de Nuit is a fragrance that evokes jonquils rather than representing them. Ostara, on the other hand, smells like an actual bouquet of daffodils. A favorite blogger and author, Neil Chapman of The Black Narcissus, calls it “frighteningly hyper-realistic” in his book “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent.” (I can’t write a post about narcissus without mentioning his eponymous blog which I highly recommend). I like Jonquille de Nuit and I’m glad I have a couple of decants from a scent subscription, but I wouldn’t pay the exorbitant prices I see for it.  Personally, for that amount of money, I would go buy another back-up bottle of Ostara! Or another bottle of the parfum version of Both Sides of Clouds, which I’ve been enjoying this spring and which I believe contains real narcissus absolute.

Speaking of insane prices, one of the fragrances I considered for this post was Narcisse, by Chloe, as I have a 30 ml bottle. It still has its price tag from a brick and mortar discount store: $14.99. Discontinued, it now lists online for three figures! While I like Narcisse, and it captures the narcotic, indolic aura of the flowers, it rests pretty far down my list of fragrances, so I’m glad I snagged my one small bottle when I did. I don’t feel the need for another.

Do you have any favorite fragrances named for, or containing, narcissus? Also, happy May Day – I won’t be doing a May Marathon on the blog this year as I’ll be traveling again this month, but do enjoy my “May Muguet Marathon” and “Roses de Mai Marathon” from prior years! Check out what Portia has to say about narcissus; and look for our next collaborative post, “Counterpoint“, where we choose a fragrance and each of us answers the same list of questions about it.

Notes on Notes logo
Notes on Notes; image by Portia Turbo.
Perfume Chat Room, April 28

Perfume Chat Room, April 28

Welcome to the Friday Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, April 28, and the “Now Smell This” blog community which I know many of you also enjoy, has had some sad news. On Wednesday, the blog’s founder, Robin, shared that her husband had died unexpectedly the night before. I feel so sad, although I’ve never met Robin. Robin loves teapots and often entertains us with photos of them, so in Robin’s honor, and with warm sympathy:

Teapot with tea cosy printed with robins
Tea cosy by Madeleine Floyd.

Because NST’s “community project” this week was to wear a fragrance whose name was a clever twist or a pun, I’ve been wearing a lot of 4160 Tuesdays fragrances! One, I love most of them; and two, Sarah McCartney does come up with very clever names! I especially like her “Clouds” series; and I think it’s very clever that she made one version with synthetics of the otherwise very costly naturals in the original formula, and called it Clouds’ Illusion. Then she made a version that combined the naturals and synthetics, and called it Both Sides of Clouds, just like the song lyrics. So I’ve been wearing those this week, plus another favorite, An Excess of Carelessness, referring to The Great Gatsby.

I know several of you have commented at Now Smell This to offer condolences to Robin, as have I; so let’s spare another thought for Robin and family on this last Friday of April. And take good care of yourselves, please!

Perfume Chat Room, April 21

Perfume Chat Room, April 21

Welcome to the Friday Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, April 21, and my roses continue to explode in bloom (’tis the season here in the Southeast, I know some of you haven’t even gotten all your spring blossoms yet). I’ve been enjoying sniffing each one and smelling the subtle differences in their scents. Some are more fruity, some are more musky, some are so strongly “rosy” that it’s all I smell.

David Austin English Rose "Fighting Temeraire"; image from
David Austin English Rose “Fighting Temeraire”; image from

This past Monday, I posted another “Counterpoint“, the collaboration between me and Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies. The mystery perfume we analyzed is Jean Patou’s Joy — the original, the one and only Joy. If you haven’t read it yet, please check it out! I really love these projects.

In other news, the community project at another favorite blog, “Now Smell This“, is to wear a spring floral fragrance or other fragrance that reminds you of spring. I’m ready, bring it! I have so many spring florals, it’s not even funny. Now I just have to decide which of many to wear today. I think I’ll go with a newer acquisition, 4160 Tuesdays’ Both Sides of Clouds in extrait strength, the one that earned me compliments from a checkout cashier last week!

What is your favorite spring floral fragrance if you have one?

Counterpoint: Jean Patou’s Joy

Counterpoint: Jean Patou’s Joy

Welcome to a monthly collaboration new for 2023! Portia Turbo of Australian Perfume Junkies and I had so much fun doing “Scent Semantics” with some other fragrance bloggers in 2022 that we decided to launch TWO regular features as a new collaboration this year. The first, which we plan to post on the first Monday of each month, is “Notes on Notes“, in which we choose one note and write about it however the spirit moves us; last month’s Note was on galbanum. This second feature is “Counterpoint“, in which we ask ourselves the same handful of questions about a single fragrance and post our separate thoughts on it, on the third Monday of each month. We’re still experimenting with format, so comments on that are welcome too!

This month’s Counterpoint fragrance is Jean Patou’s Joy (we shall ignore the imposter Dior launched in 2018 after acquiring the name and the brand). Jean Patou was one of the great designers and couturiers of pre World War 2 Europe, with his own couture house. Joy was launched in 1930 at the outset of the Great Depression, apparently so that M. Patou’s haute couture clients could still enjoy something created by him even if they couldn’t buy his dresses any more. The true creator, of course, was the perfumer; in this case, Henri Alméras.

Joy was famously promoted as the “costliest perfume in the world”, which was probably a marketing ploy but also reflected the high quality and cost of its ingredients, including absolutes made from jasmine and roses from Grasse. It was also meant to compete with Chanel No.5 as a luxury perfume. They share some qualities and notes, but each is distinct from the other, and instantly recognizable to many.

The fragrance "Joy" by Jean Patou
Jean Patou’s Joy; image from Portia at Australian Perfume Junkies

1. How did you first encounter Joy, and what was your first impression?

Old Herbaceous: I first tried Joy after I had gone down the rabbit-hole of this fragrance hobby. I knew it was one of the 20th century’s most legendary fragrances and that my perfume education would be incomplete if I didn’t try it. I found a tester of the eau de toilette at a very reasonable price, so I took the plunge and bought it blind.

My first impression was kind of “meh.” It was okay but I didn’t like it as much as the Chanels I already had, for example, or some of the more exciting new fragrances I was trying. It felt a bit old-fashioned, more than the Chanels did, and I couldn’t recognize its separate notes. As my nose became more educated, though, and I was trying more different kinds of fragrances, I came to like Joy better.

Portia: Honestly I have no memory of first smelling Joy by Patou. It seemed to be around in my childhood. It was definitely work by my Mum at some point and by various Aunts and friends Mums. There is no one specific image or memory I can conjure of my early encounters though. 

When I started buying vintages I was so unaware of exactly how it should smell I sent a couple of samples around the world for confirmation and bought samples from Posh Peasant for comparison. So I’m taking my first vintage splash bottle as if it was the first time I smelled it. The only memory I have of that was being overwhelmed by this extraordinary scent. Eye-rollingly gorgeous stuff, I think I bought about a dozen bottles so I’d never be without it again, mainly vintage parfums and a couple of those 45ml EdT or EdP.

2. How would you describe the development of Joy?

Portia: Today I’m wearing both the vintage EdP and vintage parfum. I’m not sure exactly the years but the picture might give you an idea.

Opening is sharp white flowers, aldehydes and a swirl of ylang. It’s rich, plush and sumptuous. I know Joy is supposed to be rose and white floweer but the roses take a far back seat on the bus for ages before they start to become a serious contender. Even when they do make their play it’s only as a backup not the main event.

What I do smell as we hit the heart is fruit. Not that modern super sweet candy-ised fruit but that vintage tinned fruit salad. Yeah, it’s sweet but more robust, less headache inducing.

There is also a lovely, stemmy green note that could be hyacinth and it borders on torn twig. It’s verdant but also bitter and gives a lovely counterpoint to the bouquet and fruit.

Hiding deep below is also a little growly tiger and breathy, sweet jasmine.

As the fragrance heads towards dry down, the woods and animalics become more pronounced. Not dirty or ass-ish but smoothly skin-like, me but so much better.

Old Herbaceous: The notes listed for the original Joy are: tuberose, rose, ylang-ylang, aldehydes, pear, and green notes. The heart notes include jasmine and iris root. The base has notes of musk, sandalwood, and, in the vintage, civet. The version I have is the eau de toilette and it dates to 2016. Fragrantica lists this version’s notes as: Top notes — Bulgarian Rose, Ylang-Ylang and Tuberose; middle notes — Jasmine and May Rose; base notes — Musk and Sandalwood.

I think there are still some aldehydes in the opening, even if no longer listed, to give it some lift. There’s a pleasant soapiness to Joy that I associate with aldehydes; and I think they are the cause of so many people feeling that Joy is old-fashioned. I smell the ylang-ylang more than I do the other floral top notes, and then the jasmine arrives. It isn’t overpowering but it is very evident, much more so than the rose notes. I don’t smell any iris, root or bloom, at all, so that may not have become part of the modern EDT. It’s not quite as abstract a flower as Chanel No.5, but it is in that same vein. Even in EDT format, Joy has good longevity and sillage. A little goes a long way, given how dominant jasmine is. The final stage of this modern Joy on my skin is all soft sandalwood and white musk, like expensive soap.

Jean Patou’s Joy eau de toilette

3. Do you or will you wear Joy regularly? For what occasions or seasons?

Old Herbaceous: I don’t think I’ll wear Joy regularly, but that’s mostly because I now have such a large collection of fragrances that there are only a few I would say I “wear regularly.” Joy definitely gets more love from me than it used to, and it’s in a convenient location, so I do reach for it occasionally. It’s great for church or the office, because if you don’t overspray, it’s quite subtle and ladylike. It’s one of those fragrances that doesn’t jump out at anyone, it just smells very nice. By the same token, if you want your fragrance to make more of an impression, Joy may not be the one to choose that day (or night), unless the parfum has more impact (I haven’t tried that version).

Portia: Joy is so fabulous but rarely gets the spritz, splash ot swipe here. Every so often I get out the Patou box and grab Joy. I’ll wear it and put it back. Then I won’t think of it for months. That doesn’t lessen my love for it but it seems to fit only rarely. 

I’m hoping that enjoying wearing it so much today and yesterday that it might inspire me to wear it more often.

4. Who should/could wear Joy?

Portia: Joy needs a certain amount of preparation if you’re not a regular wearer. It’s big, bold and makes a statement. It’s tenacity is also legendary, so you have to be ready to smell of this iconic beauty for at least half a day. Anyone who chooses Joy is choosing to smell of a fragrance that will not be easily available for us to buy when the bottle runs out. So they are wearing something precious and on it’s way to extinction. That alone tells you something of the wearer. Either they are so wealthy that they can stockpile or such a hedonist that wearing it to the dregs and enjoying every second is better than having it forever. No, I check myself. There are other reasons. Wearing it as a memory scent, to mark special occasions, as a lure or any number of wonderful reasons. 

Really though, anyone who wants to smell spectacular and relive the joy of wearing Joy by Patou before it’s gone forever.

Old Herbaceous: As always, I say anyone who wants to can wear Joy or any other fragrance! Joy does give off a certain demure, ladylike air, at least in EDT form, but that could be deployed to great effect if the wearer isn’t, in fact, demure, ladylike, or even a lady. For myself, I prefer some of the reissued “Collection Heritage” fragrances created by Thomas Fontaine when he was Jean Patou’s head perfumer, especially Chaldée and L’Heure Attendue.

If you want to experience this legendary fragrance, I recommend getting some soon. Dior’s Joy is a pallid successor at best, but all the Jean Patou fragrances are now out of production, since LVMH bought the brand (to the howls of the faithful) and changed its name to just “Patou”. The fragrances are still widely available online and I’m told that Joy was so popular among ladies of my mother’s generation and even beyond that it is often found at estate sales. In fact, when a FiFi award was given in 2000 to the “perfume of the century”, it was given to Joy and NOT to its competitor No.5. So now really is the time to get yourself this small exemplar of 20th century fashion and creativity. I’ll be keeping my eye out for vintage parfum, since that’s the version that has gotten the most rave reviews (including from Luca Turin, who gave it his rare five-star rating) and that Portia finds so alluring.

Have you experienced Joy? What did you think? Has your opinion changed over time, as mine did?

Counter/Point, a monthly blog collaboration
Perfume Chat Room, April 14

Perfume Chat Room, April 14

Welcome to the Friday Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, April 14, and we had a lovely Easter. All three kids were here, and I cooked and cooked to my heart’s content. We had salmon en croute on Saturday night, and roast lamb for a mid-afternoon Sunday dinner, with the obligatory (at least in my family) asparagus with hollandaise sauce. This week, my upcoming retirement at the end of this summer was finally announced to all my colleagues, and I’ve been getting lots of very nice emails from them.

My beloved David Austin roses are in fine form, with more blossoms popping open every day in spite of the ongoing variability in our weather. We’ve returned to chilly and rainy, with periods of sunshine in between but still very moderate temperatures. Luckily, the roses seem to be happy — they are English roses, after all!

We’re looking forward to a quiet weekend with no scheduled obligations. And yes, we filed our taxes months ago, so the upcoming US deadline isn’t an issue.

Please remember to check in on Monday, when Portia and I will post another “Counterpoint” post about a specific fragrance and our different experiences and perceptions of it.

Unlabeled decants of mystery perfume
Mystery perfume; image from

I got a lovely compliment on my perfume today — I stopped at a supermarket on my way to work, to get cupcakes for the class I teach on Fridays, and as I was stepping away from the checkout line, the young woman called to me “Ma’am! Ma’am!” I turned around thinking I had left something, and she smiled and said, “You smell so nice!”. Made my whole day. Have you gotten any fragrance compliments lately?