How Performers Use Perfume

How Performers Use Perfume

The Guardian has published an incredible article about how various actors and other performers use fragrance and perfume to get into their roles (hat tip to Now Smell This): The Spray’s The Thing: How Actors Use Perfume To Get Into Character. It was fascinating. I can’t help but wonder what Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole might have chosen to wear as they played cosmetics pioneers and queens Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden in the recent musical “War Paint”! In the Guardian article, I was particularly taken with the approach by one ballerina:

The ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson works with a perfumer, sometimes over months, to devise the perfect scent for her roles with the Royal Ballet. “I learn a lot when I work with her,” she once told me. “I talk it all through, from the beginning to the end of the ballet, while she asks many questions. There was a moment in act two of Giselle” – where the heroine appears as a spirit – “which she captured unbelievably. I’d said I wanted to feel like there was a veil or gauze over me, and she did it in scent.”

I had just written recently here about ballerina Carla Fracci’s fragrance Giselle, which I find captures the heroine in the happy first act of that ballet; how wonderful to know that a ballerina of today had a perfume created to capture the sense of the ghostly second act!

The same article reveals that a new book has been published which clearly I must get, if only for its title: “Scents and Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture”, by Catherine Maxwell; it includes descriptions of scents at the 19th century theater:

Catherine Maxwell quotes Oscar Wilde’s plan for mood-enhancing fragrance in Salome. He wanted “in place of an orchestra, braziers of perfume. Think – the scented clouds rising and partly veiling the stage from time to time – a new perfume for each emotion.” It never happened: how could you air the theatre between emotions?

However, Wilde’s fans ensured an aromatic premiere for The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895. Ada Leverson reported that “nearly all the pretty women wore sprays of lilies against their large puffed sleeves, while rows and rows of young elegants had buttonholes of the delicate bloom of lily of the valley.”

I love the idea of scented theater productions, something perfumer Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays has done in collaboration with directors:

She has scented productions, including Handel’s Acis and Galatea. The opening fragrance summoned cut grass and cucumber, “fresh, green and outdoors”. During the interval, as the plot darkened, she sprayed a muddy, leathery, mossy brew called Foreboding from bottles in the balcony.

I recently attended a production of “Twelfth Night” in a tavern-style theater that presents plays on a stage that resembles the Globe Theater, but smaller, and that encourages the audience to buy dinner and drinks to consume during the show, from a kitchen behind the seating area. Choices include Shepherd’s Pie, Cornish pasties, Guinness, Samuel Smith ales, etc. It’s a different means of “scenting” a production but remarkably fun when paired with a Shakespearean comedy. Not sure I’d enjoy it so much during “Romeo and Juliet”, though …

Fragrance Friday: Les Saisons Automne

Fragrance Friday: Les Saisons Automne

Ah, fall. I love autumn. It kicks off with my birthday and showcases my favorite trees, the gorgeous Japanese maples in all their color and variety. I’ve always loved school, and fall is the season of new beginnings in school. The anticipation of a new school year, with new classmates and possibilities … Come to think of it, fall really is the season of anticipation for me. It leads us into Advent, another season I love, and the series of holidays I cherish in America: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. Anticipation also rises as I plant bulbs in the fall; they produce many of my favorite flowers, often fragrant, and each bulb is like a small gift wrapped in brown paper.

This fall, I am enjoying Van Cleef & Arpels’ Automne, from their series Les Saisons. The perfumer behind it is none other than Francis Kurkdjian, of MFK fame. According to Fragrantica:

Every perfume from the series is dedicated to a certain season of the year: the symbol of the series is a tree that changes, but stays the same. Automne is the scent of the fall; the scent of yellow leaves and moist branches; the scent of a golden autumn forest. Woody fragrance with mild spicy and floral notes warms you like a wool scarf. The composition opens with fresh notes of Italian lemon, black currant and red berries, developing into the heart of white sandalwood, lily and almond. The base is filled with heliotrope, cedar wood and musk.

One of the aspects I am enjoying most about Automne is that it differs from many “fall” fragrances in that it retains a predominantly floral aura while still offering the spicy and woody notes many of us want in an autumnal perfume. Other fragrances I enjoy in the fall are more boozy, more spicy, but I love this one because it reminds me that flowers are still blooming in autumn. My own garden still has a few late roses; my azaleas are throwing off some unseasonal blooms; the sasanqua camellias are blossoming in shades of pink and white. The lily notes in Automne remind me of the fragrance I anticipate from the bulbs I plant in this season, while the delicate warmth and wood notes evoke both the Japanese maples I love and the papery covering of spring bulbs.

The classic Easter lily, lilium longiflorum, is also native to Japan, as is Lilium auratum, the legendary “golden-rayed lily”.

Lilium auratum, or golden-rayed lily of Japan

Lilium auratum; image from http://www.gardenia.net.

I do not grow the golden-rayed lily, but I have a number of Easter lilies in my garden, usually planted out after I have bought them in bud for Easter adornment.

White trumpet Easter lily, or lilium longiflorum.

Lilium longiflorum; image from http://www.southeasternflora.com

Automne opens with a refreshing citrus accord, dominated by Italian lemon but including also black currant and red berries. It feels fresh and lively, not sweet. The scent quickly moves into a combination of floral and woody notes, specifically lily and sandalwood. The creamy almond note is present but it seems to function mostly as a way to soften the edges of the sandalwood and bridge that woody note to the softer floral note of the lily.  This stage lasts a while, though nothing about this scent lasts very long.

As it dries down, Automne gently fades into softer and softer floral notes (heliotrope) underlaid by cedar and some mild spices. In fact, the spice note smells like allspice to me: gentle but very much present. I don’t really notice the musk base note, which is fine. After about an hour, Automne is really a skin scent with little sillage, but I enjoy that. It is an excellent fragrance to wear to office, church, library, etc., as it won’t affront anyone’s nose and stays close to its wearer. I also like it because you can’t really overspray it. Its longevity improves if applied over moisturized skin; I’m looking forward to trying it over a light body oil, for example, SheaMoisture’s baby oil that contains traces of frankincense and myrrh. That seems like a very nice way to anticipate the arrival of Advent in this autumnal season of anticipation.

What do you like or dislike about this season? What are some favorite fall fragrances?

Scent Sample Sunday: Carla Fracci’s Giselle

Scent Sample Sunday: Carla Fracci’s Giselle

I knew I was fated to own this fragrance one day, once I found out it existed, because I actually saw Carla Fracci dance the role of Giselle live, in a production by American Ballet Theatre. She was unforgettable, her dark Romantic beauty and feminine grace the perfect match for this grand, 19th-century, tragic ballet.

Ballerina Carla Fracci as Giselle; American Ballet Theatre

Carla Fracci as Giselle

If you do not know it, the story is a classic one of seduction and betrayal of an innocent peasant girl, Giselle, by a local noble, Albrecht, who has disguised himself as a hunter. When she finds out his true identity, and that he is betrothed to a noblewoman, Giselle goes mad and dies of a broken heart. She is raised from her grave by the ghosts of other young women betrayed in love, the Wilis of legend, who are fated to avenge themselves by dancing to the death any young man who crosses their path during the times when they haunt the night. They lure Albrecht into their dance when he visits Giselle’s grave, conscience-stricken, but Giselle protects him by dancing with him herself until the dawn, when the Wilis disappear. Her act of love not only saves Albrecht’s life, but frees her from the Wilis’ fate and allows her to rest in eternal peace.

Ballerina Carla Fracci as Giselle with Erick Bruhn as Albrecht; American Ballet Theatre

Giselle and Albrecht

This weekend, I found a bottle of Giselle at a major discount in a local store, so I decided it was time. Giselle the fragrance did not disappoint! It is a very pretty, feminine, high-quality fragrance without being expensive or overbearing. The fragrance Giselle is clearly meant to evoke the sunny, happy days of Giselle’s first love, before she discovers the truth.

The listed notes of the fragrance are, in no particular order: ylang-ylang, vanilla, cinnamon, jasmine, tuberose, musk, freesia, coconut, caramel, honey. It is a sweet white/yellow floral, with a slight gourmand aspect without the cloying sweetness of today’s gourmand scents. Giselle was launched in 2004. (There are two versions: the one I have is the first, in a yellow box, which many reviewers and commenters find superior to the later edition in a pink box).

To me, the strongest notes are the ylang-ylang and vanilla, with the honey underlying them both with a golden sweetness; the white floral notes add depth, especially the freesia, more than the jasmine and tuberose. As it dries down over the course of several hours, the vanilla lingers. It is a light, sweet vanilla, nothing heavy or spicy. Like the character of Giselle, her fragrance namesake is innocent and charming.

Giselle ballet opening

 

 

A Fall Giveaway from Now Smell This!

What is it: Juice Box, a Fall 2017 sample pack from Twisted Lily in collaboration with The Dry Down and Racked. Rachel Syme and Helena Fitzgerald, creators of the new perfume newsletter The Dry Down and hosts of the perfume salon Dry Down Live have combined their powers with the fashion and shopping site Racked…

via Up for grabs: Fall 2017 Juice Box — Now Smell This

Scent Sample Sunday: Solstice Scents

Scent Sample Sunday: Solstice Scents

What could be more fitting, two days before Halloween, than to discuss the sample set I recently ordered from Solstice Scents? (Read to the end to find out about their international Halloween giveaway!). Solstice Scents is a family-owned small-batch perfumery based in North Florida. The nose, co-founder and owner is Angela St. John; CaFleureBon did a lovely profile of her two years ago. The line has scents with wonderfully evocative names like Witch’s Cottage, Tenebrous Mist, Night Watcher, Conjure, Scrying Smoke, Runestone, Seance, and Jack and the Devil. Lest you think it’s all witchy, however, there are also cozy-sounding scents like, yes, Pumpkin Spice Latte, Riverside Hayride, Maine Moon, Maplewood Inn, Owl Creek Aleworks, Sycamore Chai, and Cardamom Rose Sugar. Solstice Scents has many gourmand fragrances in addition to the resins, woods, and attars that Angela loves, and even Witch’s Cottage is described thus:

Upon entering the Witch’s Cottage you are greeted with fresh and dried herbs, chamomile flowers, rosemary sprigs, Sweet Annie, Davana and a hint of crisp apples. A warm undercurrent of luscious baked goods, sweet buns and candied pralines emerges and is followed by mild fragrant woods and sweet hearth smoke. Witch’s Cottage fragrance is a true journey with loads of atmosphere.

On initial application the herbs emerge with the sweet baked goods hovering just below. The apple and herbal top notes (namely the chamomile and Sweet Annie) retreat within a few minutes to make way for brown sugar and caramel heavy baked goods. The sweet note is a collection of a variety of different sugary treats but the overall scent is not cloying – rather a vague, well blended impression of baked goods that adds a rich warmth to the blend.

Further journeying into the cottage will take you to the warmest, most fragrant and exotic soft woods touched by a wisp of divine incense and sweet hearth smoke. The long term dry down is that of the woods and sweet smoke and is a very warm, comforting and alluring fragrance. A definite morpher that is also very interesting, unique and complex scent. It wears close to the skin and encourages snuggling into the couch in front of a blazing fire with a great book and a mug of hot cider!

Clearly, this Witch is a white witch. Solstice Scents’ art and graphics are equally evocative, featuring what look like reproductions or re-creations of old woodcuts with subjects like astronomy, alchemy, mythology, etc. Their fragrance labels have the same vibe, and are hand-lettered. Angela’s husband Greg is an accomplished artist and she cites his work as an inspiration.

Labels and artwork from Solstice Scents

Solstice Scents labels

The samples I ordered were: Sea of Gray, Heart of the Night, Night Watcher, Tenebrous Mist, Cardamom Rose Sugar, Riverside Hayride, Winter Dove, and Nightgown. Today I’ll just touch on Riverside Hayride. It has notes of soil tincture, white carnation, woody notes, hay and apple. On first application, what jumps out at me first are the apple and woody notes, and there is also a note like a spice which isn’t listed but is quite strong; it quickly turns into a smoky wood. The Solstice Scents website describes the scent here:

Riverside Hayride opens with a potent blend of moss, wet dirt, stone and fallen leaves. White carnations, bare branches and hay quickly follow. A very subtle trace of pressed apples carried on the breeze from Corvin’s apple orchard arrives after a few minutes of wear. As the blend settles on the skin, the strong earthy outdoors notes are tamed a bit, allowing for the white carnation, wood and hay notes to become more apparent. The apple top note disappears. A thin line of woodsmoke permeates the blend on the dry down.

Solstice Scents' fragrance Riverside Hayride perfume

Solstice Scents’ Riverside Hayride

I don’t really smell soil or fallen leaves, but the moss lurks from the start; I smell it as dry and oaky, not green and damp. The spiciness mellows into carnation and hay, and the apple note does fade away but it periodically peeks through again during the drydown. The smokiness persists, which I enjoy. Note: this is strong stuff! One small smear from a sample vial on my wrist is plenty to experience the whole fragrance, and caution is advisable if wearing outside the house as a personal fragrance! I will definitely enjoy exploring more of this intriguing line of scents and I look forward to seeing what they offer as a Winter Collection!

Solstice Scents is currently taking entries for a Halloween giveaway of more than $200 worth of their fall perfume line, whipped soap, bath salts and select Eau de Parfum sample sprays. Follow the instructions at the link, also on their Facebook page. Happy Halloween!

Solstice Scents perfume oil Riverside Hayride

Riverside Hayride perfume oil from Solstice Scents

Images from www.solsticescents.com.

Scent Sample Sunday: Black Flower Mexican Vanilla

Scent Sample Sunday: Black Flower Mexican Vanilla

In honor of American perfumer Jeffrey Dame’s generous giveaways last weekend and this one, on Facebook Fragrance Friends, today’s Scent Sample Sunday is devoted to one of the samples he sent me in addition to my freebie:  Black Flower Mexican Vanilla.

It is on my wrists as I write this, and wow, is it scrumptious! It’s not really gourmand, though; it has enough citrus, floral and other notes to prevent that. It is one of the “Artist Collection Perfumes”, described as creative collaborations between Jeffrey Dame and his father, artist Dave Dame. The artwork on the bottles’ labels is by Dame Pere. The fragrance is described as “a blend of vanilla absolute with touches of lemon, grapefruit, caramel, nutmeg, gardenia, jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, musk, and tonka.” It was launched in 2014. You can read more about Dame Perfumery and its three generations of Dames here.

Black Flower Mexican Vanilla is mesmerizing. It reminds me of the late, great Anne Klein II , a discontinued gem that I wore in the 1980s and which now commands outrageous prices online, if and when you can find it. Like AKII, it opens with a healthy dose of citrus, but the vanilla permeates top, heart and base. Like AKII, the floral notes emerge shortly after the opening and blend beautifully with the omnipresent vanilla. BFMV has gotten enthusiastic nods of approval from the two males in my household (husband and teenaged son), also reminiscent of AKII, which is the only fragrance I’ve ever worn that got me compliments from strangers on the New York subway.

I am especially enjoying BFMV because I’ve been looking for a vanilla-based fragrance I would like. My preferences lean heavily to greens, florals and chypres, with a special fondness for muguet and narcissus (yes, I have two bottles of Penhaligon’s Ostara). I haven’t been won over by any truly gourmand scents, and so many vanillas now are gourmand more than Oriental. BFMV is classified as an “Oriental Vanilla” while AKII is listed as an “Oriental Floral”, paying heed to the spice and woody notes each one includes.

Vanilla has a fascinating history, too; its orchid-flowered vines are native to Mexico and Guatemala, where it was first discovered by Europeans. National Geographic explains:

Vanilla is a member of the orchid family, a sprawling conglomeration of some 25,000 different species. Vanilla is a native of South and Central America and the Caribbean; and the first people to have cultivated it seem to have been the Totonacs of Mexico’s east coast. The Aztecs acquired vanilla when they conquered the Totonacs in the 15th Century; the Spanish, in turn, got it when they conquered the Aztecs.

Vanilla orchid vine and flowers by Dan Sams

Vanilla orchid flowers; image by Dan Sams via Getty Images

The Totonacs are supposed to have used vanilla pods as a sacred herb, using it in rituals, medicines, and perfumes. I find that the photograph on Dame Perfumery’s website, featured at the top of this post, is very evocative of that history and the actual scent, which is darker, spicier, drier and more beguiling than your standard vanilla. Nielsen-Massey, a purveyor of vanilla extract, points out:

Even after its discovery by Europeans, Mexico was still the sole grower of vanilla beans for another 300 years. That’s because of the symbiotic relationship between the vanilla orchid and an indigenous tiny bee called the Melipone. The bee was responsible for the pollination of the vanilla orchid flower, resulting in the production of the fruit… Vanilla from Mexico has a flavor that combines creamy and woody notes with a deep, spicy character, making it a delicious complement to chocolate, cinnamon, cloves and other warm spices. Even more, Mexican vanilla works wonderfully in tomato sauces and salsas, where it smooths out the heat and acidity of these dishes.

BFMV is very true to this heritage, as it tames the acidity of the citrus notes and brings its own creamy, woody, spicy smoothness and warmth to other notes like nutmeg, gardenia, jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli and vetiver.

As it dries down, I am finding that the vanilla intensifies while the floral notes slowly fade. Luckily for me, I love the notes that seem to be taking the stage with the vanilla during the drydown, especially sandalwood.

Black Flower Mexican Vanilla is a new love for me! It will be especially welcome now that autumn is here and the weather is cooling down. Thank you, Jeffrey Dame!

Fragrance Friday: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

Fragrance Friday: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

I love carnations. Not in floral arrangements, where they have been sadly overused as inexpensive filler, but in the garden and even in a vase if they are left on their own as a simple bunch of pretty, scented flowers. I love the scent of carnations — the hint of spiciness with more than a suggestion of cloves, combined with the green freshness of a florist’s refrigerator. And so I really like L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Oeillet Sauvage.

There is nothing savage about it, but perhaps “sauvage” should rather be translated as “wild”, as in “wildflower”. Oeillet Sauvage is a soft, fresh floral, with the same delightful, gentle spiciness of the flowers and a hint of freshness. It is not a duplicate of real carnations’ scent, but it is true to their essence, with nuances from other floral notes. Fragrantica lists its notes as: pink pepper, rose, carnation, ylang-ylang, lily, wallflower, morning glory, resin and vanilla. And those reminded me of a long-favorite painting: John Singer Sargent’s Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose:

Painting by American artist John Singer Sargent; Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

John Singer Sargent; Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

I have read that while Sargent was painting this twilight scene, in which the special, evanescent quality of that hour’s light is as much a subject as the children, the flowers and the paper lanterns, he would set up his easel outside for just the brief time every day when the light was exactly right, and he would run back and forth, back and forth, between the subjects and his easel, to capture just the right shades of color. Now THAT is dedication to one’s art.

He also painted it during the early autumn months of 1885, in September, October and November, resuming work the next summer and finishing it in October of 1886. I have loved this painting since I first saw it, with its crepuscular glow, peaceful children with faces lit by the gentle candlelight of the paper lanterns, with the fragrant, late summer flowers seeming to float in the air around them. According to Wikipedia, the title comes from the refrain of a popular 19th century song, “Ye Shepherds Tell Me”, which describes Flora, goddess of flowers, wearing “a wreath around her head, around her head she wore, carnation, lily, lily, rose”.

I have read others’ comments about Oeillet Sauvage in which they express disappointment that it is not the same as a pre-reformulation version and it is not as spicy as they would like. I can’t speak to the concern about reformulation, not having smelled an earlier version. I don’t think this version suffers from a lack of spiciness, in my view, as I am enjoying the softer, powdery impression it leaves. To me, that is evocative of the soft, pink-tinged light in Sargent’s painting. Now that I have made that association, I am not yearning after more spice. The painting even includes the slight greenness that greets me when I first spray Oeillet Sauvage, in the grass beneath the children’s feet. Fragrantica commenter Angeldaisy wrote: “it has an airiness, a lightness, like a billowing floral print diaphanous chiffon frock in a meadow on a summers day.” Or like the white lawn dresses of Sargent’s subjects.

As it dries down, I get less carnation and more lily, which I like. The greenness disappears, while resins and vanilla warm up the scent like the glow of the candles in Sargent’s Japanese lanterns. I’m not sure what the notes of wallflowers and morning glories are meant to smell like, but they are old-fashioned flowers that would have fit in perfectly in Sargent’s Cotswolds garden.

If you like soft, gentle, feminine, floral fragrances, this may be one for you! It is readily available online for reasonable prices. Have you tried this, or other carnation-based fragrances? What did you think? And happy Fragrance Friday!