Scent Sample Sunday: Profumo di Pioggia

Scent Sample Sunday: Profumo di Pioggia

Our recent trip to Italy included a few days in Florence, our first visit ever to that beautiful city filled with art. In addition to its essential role in all facets of the Renaissance, Florence also became a center for perfume-making, together with Venice — a craft that notably was imported to France by the Florentine princess who became Queen of France, Catherine de Medici. The world-renowned perfumeries of Grasse, France, have their origin in the fashion she inspired for leather gloves scented with perfumes to mask the odor of the animalic substances used to tan the leather. She brought that fashion with her from Florence.

A small perfumery in Florence, Spezierie Palazzo Vecchio, continues the tradition with what it describes as original formulas from the perfumers who served Catherine de Medici, rediscovered after the catastrophic 1966 flood of the River Arno that wreaked havoc in Florence, in a line called “I Profumi di Firenze.” I can’t speak to the foundations of that claim, but some of the magnificent places we visited, like the church of Santa Maria Novella, suffered extensive damage to the priceless works of art they housed as well as their structures, and their restorations include markers showing how destructively high the floodwaters rose. (A famous series of photographs of the flood can be viewed here).

Although the store in Piazza Signoria (location of the famous scene in the film “A Room With A View” where Lucy Honeychurch faints into the arms of George Emerson, setting in motion the rest of the film’s events) was closed when we first stopped by, I was lucky enough to find it open on our last afternoon in Florence.

Even better — they were having a sale! So of course I came home with several bottles; one scent in particular is quite special, as it won first place in a fragrance competition called “I Profumi di Boboli.” The fragrance is called Profumo di Pioggia, created by Luciana Liberati. The assigned theme for the 2018 contest was “the scent of rain”; the winning fragrance was produced in a limited edition of only 60 bottles, one of which, happily, now belongs to me.

Before anyone gasps at any assumed extravagance, however, I note that the prices of I Profumi di Firenze are much more reasonable in their home boutique than they are in the US, especially during their sale. The most I spent for any single bottle, including a 50 ml bottle of eau de parfum and a 12 ml bottle of extrait, was 25 euros. The others were 20 euros or less. On the other hand, you have to get yourself to Florence to take advantage of that — not exactly the worst option, but not inexpensive either!

Profumo di Pioggia is meant to evoke the smell of a gentle summer rain in the wooded hills above Florence. It includes notes of fig leaf, pomegranate, dew, jasmine, lavender, oud, violet leaf, cedar, and white musk. The perfumer describes it (English translation): “A delicate summer rain enlivens pomegranate flowers. I take refuge under the branches of a fig tree to smell the arrival of summer. The scent of violets and woods from the undergrowth returns to my mind.”

It opens with a gentle green note, which I think is a combination of the fig leaf and violet leaf. Given how much I love green fragrances, this immediately won me over! The floral notes emerge; I definitely smell the jasmine and lavender; I don’t know that I would recognize the smell of pomegranate flowers, so I can’t identify that. The dominant note in the heart phase, though, is rain, or “petrichor.” I love it! So what is petrichor?

The word petrichor was invented by two Australian scientists who introduced it in a 1964 paper on the Nature of Argillaceous Odor (pdf), an investigation into the scent of moistened clay, rock, and sediment. They combined the Greek word for stone, “petra,” and “ichor,” which means “the blood of gods”, to coin a name for the scent of rain.

The mineralogists posited that the scent released by rain isn’t that of water, which itself has no odor, but is actually the aroma of organic compounds accumulated in the atmosphere and on surfaces; these are released when rain falls. The compounds include bacteria called geosmin. These bacteria gives beets their earthy flavor and help make digging up soil in a garden so satisfying and soothing.

Rain also releases aromatic terpenes secreted by plants. Terpenes are hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants. They’re what makes a walk in greenery both fragrant and healing.

And when rain falls, geosmin and terpenes fly—or more precisely, they fizz.

One village in India famously has a long tradition of capturing the fragrance of monsoon rains in “mitti attar”, or “the perfume of the earth.” As noted by the author of the New York Times article about it, the scent of rain differs widely from place to place and from climate to climate; the remembered smell of rainfall in the woods of Maine will be very different from that of the rain in India, or the American South, or the hills of Tuscany, but they are equally pleasing. Profumo di Pioggia is a gentle green cross between an aromatic and a floral fragrance, with a softly woody drydown. The wood notes in the base are very subtle; I probably wouldn’t be able to detect oud if it hadn’t been listed among the notes. The cedar and white musk notes are very well blended, so that neither one dominates or “hits” my nose. I do smell something reminiscent of beets, which are rich in the geosmin that is known to be a major component of petrichor scents — a delicate, sweetly earthy smell that fits well with the fig leaf.

I feel very lucky to have visited Spezierie Palazzo Vecchio, where the staff were also delightful, helpful, knowledgeable, and kind. If you get a chance to go to Florence, I recommend a visit! The perfumery is on a side street right off the Piazza Signoria, facing the Palazzo Vecchio, and you won’t want to miss those landmarks or the nearby Uffizi Gallery and its priceless masterpieces.

The non-profit organization that sponsors the contest “I Profumi di Boboli” also offers a multi-month perfume-making course that sounds fascinating if you can return to Florence seven times for its regularly scheduled classes. What a great reason to do that!

Have you tried any Florentine perfumes? Many enthusiasts know and love the fragrances of Santa Maria Novella, which I also visited — to be shared in a future blog post! If you know them, which are your favorites?

Scent Sample Sunday: The Merchant of Venice

Scent Sample Sunday: The Merchant of Venice

I’m ba-a-a-a-ck! I’ve been in and out a lot this summer so haven’t posted as regularly here as I normally do, but summer is officially over in this part of the world. Just the leisure, not the weather! It still hits 90 degrees F daily; the humidity is, if not oppressive, onerous; and the sun is still so strong that lavish applications of sunscreen are still required for palefaces like me. But yes, summer is over. My oldest child has finished her theater apprenticeship and will move into her first independent apartment by the end of this week. My second child moves back into her campus apartment to start her senior year of college. And my “baby”, the young man who is taller than any of us, starts his senior year of high school this week. Orientation for new students at the university where I work begins tomorrow, and we have a new Dean I’ve only met in passing. So it’s the start of a big year for us, and yes — summer is over.

My university job is in administration, so I do work in my office all summer, unlike my faculty colleagues, but I’ve been able to go with my husband on two lovely trips he took for work, one to London in May, and the other, more recently, to Italy. After his work there, we took an extra week of actual holiday for him and visited Florence and Venice, neither of which we had seen before. It will take several posts to describe all the perfume-related activities I did in Florence, so I’ll start off with Venice, where I was a bit more restrained! Venice, however, was also where I was able to visit the perfume exhibit at the Palazzo Mocenigo.

Entrance hall of Palazzo Mocenigo, perfume museum in Venice, Italy

Palazzo Mocenigo entrance hall; image from http://www.veneziaautentica.com

 

This is a relatively new “itinerary” at the museum, and it is well worth visiting. The Palazzo Mocenigo itself is very interesting as an example of a Venice palazzo (short video tour here), and right now it also contains three temporary exhibits, one of which is part of the Venice Biennale: “Brigitte Niedermair: Me and Fashion.”  (For more information about Ms. Niedermair, there is a great article in Wallpaper).

The other two, smaller exhibits are related to perfume: one, “Leonardo: Genius and Beauty,” is described thus:

A little-known aspect of Leonardo da Vinci will come to light in this exhibition organised to mark the fifth centenary of his death: his work as a cosmetologist and perfumer, dedicated to the creation of fragrances and cosmetics. A reconstruction of the lively network of exchanges between the major Renaissance courts enables us to learn of the experiments and recipes for cosmetics that Leonardo shared with the most important female figures of the day. Also on show will be pioneering recipes for depilatory ointments, creams made from snail slime and hair dyes. Leonardo even influenced hairstyles: “Da Vinci knots” are found in many paintings in which hairstyles are embellished with jewels, nets and perfumed fabrics. At the court of Ludovico il Moro in Milan, Leonardo organised parties, designed clothes and costumes, as well as inventing fabrics, jewels and perfumes. The exhibition will highlight the link between Milan and Venice: two cities where the use of perfume was widespread and hairdressers commonly sold cosmetics and perfumes. A specific role in the service of the court was dedicated to a “magister of perfumes”, who procured for the ladies little phials of mixtures for bleaching the hair, a very popular fashion in Venice.

Leonardo: Genius and Beauty.

The other temporary exhibit related to perfume is “Carnet de Voyage: Illustrated Perfume.” It is sponsored by the fragrance line “The Merchant of Venice”, and it is a series of illustrated poems relating back to several of the line’s perfumes, imagining the voyages of an actual Venetian merchant seeking out rare substances to bring back to Venice for the creation of perfumes. Yes, it’s a bit of an infomercial, but a charming one, and I appreciate the support the company is giving to this small museum.

The main, and permanent, perfume exhibition at the palazzo is contained in several rooms upstairs. There is also a perfume laboratory on the ground floor, where one can take a perfume workshop.  The museum’s website includes a detailed description of the perfume exhibit.

I enjoyed all of it, but especially the room devoted to raw ingredients, many of which were beautifully displayed in glass containers on a huge table where one could actually smell them.

Another highlight was a 19th century Venetian perfumer’s organ, a beautiful piece of antique furniture in its own right, apart from its functional interest.

So of course — what does one need as a souvenir of this visit? Why, a fragrance from The Merchant of Venice, of course! On our day trip to the island of Murano, home of the famous glassblowers, we had lunch on a canal directly opposite The Merchant of Venice store. Sadly, it was closed and not due to open until after we planned to return to the city, but it’s a beautiful store with many of its striking Murano glass bottles displayed in its window.

Luckily for me, one of my favorite online fragrance discounters just happened to have some of the same bottles, in tester format, on sale, so when we returned home, I ordered Flower Fusion. It is part of the “Murano Collection” and comes in a really pretty glass bottle swirled with streamers of blue within the clear glass. Top notes are listed on the brand’s website as jasmine, freesia, and ylang-ylang; heart notes are vanilla, patchouli, and labdanum; base notes are damask rose, violet petals, and ginger. Fragrantica lists most of the same notes, but in a different order: top notes are said to be lemon, violet, and ginger; middle notes rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, freesia; base notes labdanum, patchouli, vanilla.

I definitely smell freesia as a strong top note, and since that is a lemony floral smell, I think that’s the source of the lemon note listed on Fragrantica. I do perceive that the jasmine and ylang-ylang follow close on its heels, and then the vanilla makes itself known in the middle stage. I would say that the rose and ginger are part of the middle stage, to my nose, with a hint of violet. The labdanum is also perceptible during the middle stage. This middle phase is very appealing if you like floral scents but don’t want something heavy. I can’t say that it smells quite like anything else I’ve tried recently. As it continues to dry down, the rose, vanilla, labdanum and ginger notes persist, and they combine beautifully. The patchouli emerges, but it does not dominate; it adds a green herbal note to the composition.

I like Flower Fusion very much, and it is perfect to wear on a balmy summer evening. The warmth and humidity suit it, although it might be a bit much at the height of the day, when something like Un Jardin Sur le Nil would probably be my preferred choice. The vanilla lends it a pleasant sweetness without turning it into a gourmand. It lasts well on my skin, perceptible even after several hours, and it would probably last longer if I sprayed more (I tend to spray pretty lightly).

Bottle of Merchant of Venice fragrance Flower Fusion with Murano glass earrings and Massimo Ravinale scarf based on Leonardo da Vinci

Flower Fusion with Murano glass earrings and “Leonardo” scarf by Massimo Ravinale.

Have you visited Venice? The Palazzo Mocenigo? Have you tried any of The Merchant of Venice fragrances? If so, what did you think? Or, have you been able to do any “perfume tourism” of your own this summer?

Scent Sample Sunday: Florence!

Scent Sample Sunday: Florence!

Hello, friends, I’m sorry for having been slightly AWOL recently. I’ve been in Florence, Italy, for my first visit ever, and I am in heaven. I think Tuscany is where good Americans go after they die, which was once said about Paris.

I’ve been able to visit the mothership of Santa Maria Novella fragrances, in its original location next to the cloister of Santa Maria Novella church. I’ve been to AquaFlor. I’ve been to Farmacia SS. Annunziata dal 1561. I have smelled many wonderful smells and I have eaten many wonderful meals! I’ll be writing about some of these once my life returns to a normal schedule!

Have you been to Florence? What was your favorite thing you did or smelled or ate?

Happy Anniversary to Serenity Now!

Happy Anniversary to Serenity Now!

WordPress has just reminded me that I started blogging four years ago today and thus my blog was born! Wow, it doesn’t seem as if it has been that long — probably because I’ve had so much fun doing it and tumbling down the fragrance rabbit hole. Thank you, to all of you who read my meanderings, whether you comment or not. Knowing that you’re out there (and now having met a couple of you in person!) and hearing from you are the parts that make this the most fun.

Stay fragrant, friends!

Fragrance Friday: Harry Potter?

Fragrance Friday: Harry Potter?

Another blog, “Book Riot”, recently posted the most amusing game: guessing what fragrances the leading characters in the Harry Potter series would wear: The Perfect Fragrances for Harry Potter Characters. Here are some of the author’s choices: Gucci Pour Homme II for Sirius Black; Coco Mademoiselle for Fleur Delacour; Reserve Smoked Vetiver for Dumbledore; Demeter’s Paperback for Hermione; Demeter’s Christmas Tree for Hagrid; Bonbon for Luna Lovegood; Tobacco Vanille for Remus Lupin; Spicebomb for Draco Malfoy; Mr. Burberry for Ron Weasley; and D&G’s Light Blue Pour Homme for our hero, Harry Potter.

I love this game but I don’t love her choices (although in matters of fragrance, chacun a son gout!). In my opinion, Fleur Delacour would definitely wear Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. (Gabrielle would be ideal for her little sister). Hermione deserves something more notable and longer lasting than Paperback. Solstice Scents has a fragrance called Library, but it sounds smokier than I would think suitable for Hermione. Remembering her triumphant arrival at the Yule Ball, on the arm of Victor Krum, I’m giving her Caron’s Nuit de Noel. Yes, it’s a mature fragrance, but it’s very elegant and well-suited to a formal evening dance in the Great Hall at Hogwarts.

Hermione Granger and Victor Krum dancing at Yule Ball

Hermione and Victor at the Yule Ball.

What about Luna Lovegood? Bonbon seems too mainstream and girly. Given her habit of making weird accessories for herself from odds and ends, I will give her ELDO’s I am Trash. The brand’s description is as eccentric as Luna herself: “There is a jumble of romantic and titanic science fiction poetry that emerges from the slow, sure, and inevitable rocking of wastewaters in the industrial cycle. We want to make this perfume a messenger, in service not only to the survival of the species which results from seduction, but above all in service to the planet where our own miasmas must reflect beauty.”

Luna Lovegood wearing Spectre Specs

Luna Lovegood

Prof. McGonagall needs a fragrance: something as direct, honest, and no-nonsense as she is. I’ll assign her Caldey Island Lavender for regular use — and Vol de Nuit for more notable occasions. What about Molly Weasley? I’m thinking Creamy Vanilla Crumble from 4160 Tuesdays, since I always associate Mrs. Weasley with comfort food, although she proved her mettle many times.

Molly Weasley in her kitchen at The Burrow

Molly Weasley

Red-headed Mr. Weasley would, of course, wear the ultimate “Dad” scent: Old Spice, the original vintage version. I’m not as familiar with men’s fragrances — what do you think of the choices the blog author made for the male characters, and what might you suggest instead? And what about any of the characters I’ve listed, or any others you like? Or maybe some you don’t like, such as Vernon Dursley!

All characters by J.K. Rowling; images from Warner Bros.

Scent Sample Sunday: Like This

Scent Sample Sunday: Like This

Lately, I’ve been really enjoying Etat Libre d’Orange’s Like This, the scent created by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui in collaboration with actress Tilda Swinton, in 2010. It must still sell well, as it still has its own page on the ELDO website. It isn’t necessarily a fragrance I would have associated with Ms. Swinton, a brilliant actress who is known for playing eccentric, complicated characters and for her striking, almost androgynous looks. ELDO’s website calls it ” cozy, skin-hugging sweetness nestled with soft florals and unique, orange citrus notes.” Here is the longer description from ELDO, which sound as if it was written by Tilda:

I have never been a one for scents in bottles.

The great Sufi poet Rumi wrote:

“If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is, or what “God’s fragrance” means, lean your head toward him or her. Keep your face there close.

Like this.”

This is possibly my favorite poem of all time. It restores me like the smoke/rain/gingerbread/greenhouse my scent sense is fed by. It is a poem about simplicity, about human-scaled miracles. About trust. About home. In my fantasy there is a lost chapter of Alice in Wonderland – after the drink saying Drink Me, after the cake pleading Eat Me – where the adventuring, alien Alice, way down the rabbit hole, far from the familiar and maybe somewhat homesick – comes upon a modest glass with a ginger stem reaching down into a pale golden scent that humbly suggests: Like This

Smoke/rain/gingerbread/greenhouse. Yes, Like This evokes all of those.  The listed notes are ginger, pumpkin, tangerine, immortal flower, Moroccan neroli, rose, spicy notes, vetiver, woody notes, musk, heliotrope. When I first spray it, the opening is pleasantly tangy with ginger and tangerine — lightly spicy and citrusy, not sweet. If this ginger is gingerbread, it is not the sugary kind — it’s more like a ginger snap (one of my favorite cookies). The combination of tangerine notes and neroli reminds me of a very particular kind of greenhouse: an orangery, a glass enclosure where Europeans in cooler climates could grow trees in huge pots, that produced prized citrus fruits like oranges and lemons. At “Now Smell This“, reviewer Angela wrote:

I imagine Bijaoui looking at the Etat Libre brief, trying to come up with some common theme between the redheaded Swinton and Rumi and hitting on Orange. Orange hair, the orange of the sun, saffron monastic robes, fading day. Then, with this visual inspiration she found a way to connect orange scents: pumpkin, neroli, mandarin, immortelle, and ginger. The crazy thing is, it works.

I’ve read elsewhere that Ms. Swinton had just dyed her hair orange for her role in the movie “I Am Love” when the fragrance collaboration began, and may have actually requested the references to orange. How fascinating the creative process is! Like This is warm and beautiful, like the image of Swinton’s character in that movie, Emma, the midlife spouse of a rich Italian aristocrat, who falls in love with a much younger man.

Tilda Swinton in I Am Love

Tilda Swinton in “I Am Love”, 2010.

Given the powerful roles Ms. Swinton has played in the movies about Narnia and the Avengers, coziness, warmth, and home might not come immediately to mind in relation to her, but a cozy scent is what she asked ELDO to create:

My favourite smells are the smells of home, the experience of the reliable recognisable after the exotic adventure: the regular – natural – turn of the seasons, simplicity and softness after the duck and dive of definition in the wide, wide world.

When Mathilde Bijaoui first asked me what my own favourite scent in a bottle might contain, I described a magic potion that I could carry with me wherever I went that would hold for me the fragrance – the spirit – of home. The warm ginger of new baking on a wood table, the immortelle of a fresh spring afternoon, the lazy sunshine of my grandfather’s summer greenhouse, woodsmoke and the whisky peat of the Scottish Highlands after rain.

The floral notes take over from the citrus, but the ginger continues like a glowing thread through the composition, and the floral notes are well-balanced with spices, woody notes, vetiver, all of which keep the fragrance dry and vivid. This would smell lovely on either men or women, it is truly unisex.

Kafkaesque reviewed Like This when it was released and concluded it is “definitely intriguing and it also really grows on you!”, although she didn’t see herself buying a full bottle. Her review includes more details about the creative process behind the fragrance. Victoria at “Bois de Jasmin” gave it four stars out of five; she found it darker and smokier than I do, calling it “a strange and unconventional blend … a cross between the woody richness of Serge Lutens Douce Amère and the smoldering darkness of Donna Karan Chaos, with plenty of its own surprising elements.”

I agree with Kafkaesque that Like This is intriguing and that it grows on you. I hadn’t really planned to wear it three days in a row this week, but I did, and I enjoyed it every time. It lasts well on my skin, enough that I can spray it on in the evening and still smell its warm base notes on my wrist the next morning. It is the kind of fragrance that other people won’t recognize but most will find very pleasing, especially up close.

Have you been pleasantly surprised by a fragrance that wasn’t what you expected in one way or another?

Saturday Snippet: A Fragrant Feast

Saturday Snippet: A Fragrant Feast

Old Herbaceous

Doesn’t this look and sound delicious? It is a fragrant salad devised by perfumer Ezra Woods, whose brand is “Regime des Fleurs.” The recipe is in this article from the NY Times’ “T” Magazine: A  Perfumer’s Fragrant Flower Salad.

Flower-based salad and recipe by perfumer Ezra Woods. Fragrant flower salad; images from http://www.nytimes.com, by Julia Stotz.

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