Fragrance Friday: St. Clair Scents’ Gardener’s Glove

Fragrance Friday: St. Clair Scents’ Gardener’s Glove

By now, regular readers know that I am a committed gardener as well as a lover of fragrance. One probably led to the other, as I favor scents with green, floral, or woody notes. I’ve had to educate myself about genres like gourmands, and they’re still not at the top of my list although I now know more of them. So many of my earliest memories involve the gardens of the houses where my family has lived, and the surrounding New England woods where my sisters and I played for hours. There were the small wildflower garden by the stream that ran through the back yard of the house where I spent my first seven years of life, and the bulbs my parents planted, and my father’s large vegetable garden. A large patch of lilies of the valley spread in the shade against one side of that first house. My American grandparents’ house had a small garden crammed with azaleas and dogwoods, and they owned a nearby plot that was my grandfather’s extensive vegetable garden, which provided bushels of food for them and others during the Great Depression. My grandmother was something of a “grande dame” of the local garden club and prided herself on her flower arranging, so there was also a cutting garden for the flowers she loved.

Later in my own childhood, at another house, there was a wide meadow between our house and that of the famous architect who sold my parents several acres of his woodland on which to build. There, my father’s vegetable gardening became more ambitious, as he fenced about 100 square feet against the predations of deer and woodchucks. I was his reluctant helpmeet in the vegetable patch, the obedient middle child who didn’t vanish when he headed outside, or who could be easily found reading a book in a tree (aka, “doing nothing”). So I learned to weed, pick beans that were ready, take up ripe tomatoes before the squirrels got them, pick raspberries without my hands getting shredded by thorns, and cut the gladioli my dad loved to plant along the edges of his beds when their buds were half open, so they could finish unfurling their parasols of bright colors indoors, in one of my mother’s vases. One year, I even had a little corner of my own in that garden, to grow herbs, after I became entranced with the idea from reading the books of Elizabeth Goudge, especially The White Witch.  The main character is an herbalist and healer, and the book has many descriptions of various herbs, their uses, and their fragrance. I took my blogger name and the name of my gardening blog from another book that inspired my love of gardening when I was a child: Old Herbaceous.

Illustration of vegetable garden

Vegetable garden; image from http://www.sitez.co

The meadow itself was full of native wildflowers like butterfly weed, which my father nurtured with a passion. Past the enclosed vegetable garden, a single pathway through the meadow was kept mowed, and it was the shortcut to the woods for us and other children, as well as the deer who gazed longingly through the enclosure at my father’s lettuces and other green delicacies. The rest of the meadow was mowed once a year, and only after the wildflowers’ seeds had ripened. This late summer mowing, which removes competing tree saplings and also helps spread the seeds, is also known in England as “the hay cut.” It was essential for a meadow like this, as the surrounding woods, including the native northern white cedar, did their best to encroach stealthily and steadily within its bounds.

Wildflower meadow with butterfly weed in Connecticut

Wildflower meadow with butterfly weed; image from www.vimeo.com

Gardener’s Glove evokes all of these memories, starting with its top note of tomato leaf absolute, a favorite of mine. As Diane St. Clair’s website for St. Clair Scents observes:

If you work amidst the thorn and bramble, you know that the gardener’s glove is a soft, pliable leather, worn down from work, in all the right places.

The scent carries the background fragrance of the glove—tanned, aged leather, woods and soil—along with the ambrosial elements of the garden—sumptuous jasmines, roses, green blossoms and ripe fruit.

Gardeners Glove artisanal fragrance by St. Clair Scents

Gardeners Glove, from St. Clair Scents; image from http://www.stclairscents.com

If you haven’t yet discovered St. Clair Scents, you are in for a treat. The scents are a small group (three, to date) of handcrafted artisanal fragrances made by Diane, who is a premier artisan of dairy products at her farm in Vermont. Diane became intrigued with perfume and embarked on a course of study with her mentor Eliza Douglas. These three fragrances are the result. Diane was kind enough to exchange a few emails with me, in which she said:

I am really trying to position myself as someone producing perfumes with the aroma and feel of nature, a sense (scents) of place, if you will, since I am lucky enough to live and work on a farm. I also try to give my scents a vintage feel, from the days when naturals made up the bulk of perfume formulas, rather than synthetics.

On the St. Clair Scents website, Diane writes:

As I have done in making artisanal, farmstead food, I am interested in creating scent in a similar fashion: producing it with an individual vision and in small batches using fine ingredients. My perfumes are bottled by hand, each one a work of art on its own.

And Gardener’s Glove is indeed a work of art. It opens with a bright, sunny, green burst of citrus (including bergamot, which smells green to me), tomato leaf, and galbanum. It smells like the sun on a vegetable garden, verdant with tomato plants and herbs. As it evolves, the floral notes emerge — linden, rose, lily, jasmine — but also more greenery, in the form of blackcurrant bud, and fruit via apricot. So this vegetable garden, like my father’s, includes flowers; it also has some flowering fruit trees, bushes, and vines, like a true French “potager”. If you’ve ever smelled a fresh, ripe apricot, warmed by the sun and just plucked, you will recognize the note, as light as it is here. A hint of roses in sunlight, a waft of jasmine, perhaps twining its way up a fence or a post, a breath of lilies, round out the heart. Those floral notes together with the linden also leave a strong impression of sweet honeysuckle.

The greenness continues into the drydown, with vetiver, patchouli, and fir needle, now mixing with the warmth lent by saffron and amber notes, but on my skin the dominant theme of the base is the soft, fragrant leather of a well-worn gardener’s glove. If you garden, you know that there is that one favorite pair of gloves, often leather or part leather, that just fits right, has worn well, is sturdy enough for any job. Such gloves often pick up the various scents of the garden: pruned clippings of green leaves and grass, juice from harvested fruits, fragrant blossoms trimmed from their stems and gathered for the house, sap  and resin from shrubs and tree branches, dark, fertile earth, well-aged compost; and those scents mingle with the softened leather of one’s favorite gloves.

Part leather garden gloves used to prune roses

Garden gloves; photo from http://www.nocry.com

That is what Gardener’s Glove smells like — heaven! Some of my favorite fragrance blogs have reviewed Gardener’s Glove very favorably. I especially liked this comment by Sam at “I Scent You A Day”:

Gardener’s Glove takes you on a tour of a garden: a true gardener’s garden, earth, twigs, leaves and all. It’s a wonderfully clever fragrance that reveals itself leaf by leaf.

Sam also pointed out that the fragrance contains “everything sappy, sharp and green that you can find in the garden”. Yes! Yes it does! And I love it. Kafkaesque, whom Diane consulted in the last stages of the scent’s development, offers her usual detailed description, and I agree with almost all of it, except that I don’t get the medicinal note that bothered her. Jessica, at “Now Smell This”, called Gardener’s Glove “a leathery floral, with a leather that’s soft and smooth rather than animalic or dirtied-up”, while acknowledging the earthiness brought by notes like vetiver and castoreum. Robert Hermann wrote, at “CaFleureBon”, that Gardener’s Glove “is a flat out masterpiece of a fragrance; a perfect marriage of the best of vintage perfumes shot through with a modern sensibility.”

I have to agree. I don’t think I’m qualified to say what fragrance is or isn’t a masterpiece, but Gardener’s Glove is wonderful, and a worthy companion to my beloved Dryad, with which it shares a number of notes, by another artisanal perfumer, Liz Moores of Papillon Artisan Perfumes. If Dryad is the wild woodland sprite, Gardener’s Glove is her more domesticated neighbor in the meadow adjoining the woods. I love them both.

Samples kindly provided by St. Clair Scents; views expressed are my own.

May Muguet Marathon: Queen

May Muguet Marathon: Queen

For such a modest looking plant, lily of the valley keeps some surprises up its green sleeves. For one thing, the power of its fragrance is surprising; its flowers are so small, often partly hidden behind its upright green leaves, that one wouldn’t necessarily expect them to send out such a strong scent. But they do, and it can waft across an entire garden, surprising the casual visitor with its presence, and not necessarily revealing its source without a search. The “pips” of the plant are unprepossessing; they look like a small bundle of tangled roots topped by a growing tip. One plants them in the faith that a green plant will emerge — and when it does emerge in the spring, it can do so overnight.

Town & Country magazine published some surprising facts about lilies of the valley a couple of years ago: 13 Things You Didn’t Know About Lily of the Valley. With another royal wedding in the offing this month, it is fun to note how many royal brides have carried lilies of the valley in their wedding bouquets: Queen Victoria, Princess Astrid of Sweden, Grace Kelly, and Kate Middleton, among others.

But here is the most surprising thing I learned from the Town & Country article: Freddie Mercury and Queen wrote and recorded a song titled “Lily of the Valley”! Who knew?

And there is a powerful story behind the song. Guitarist Brian May, a founder of Queen, told a British music magazine in 1999 (several years after Freddie Mercury’s death from AIDS): “Freddie’s stuff was so heavily cloaked, lyrically… But you could find out, just from little insights, that a lot of his private thoughts were in there, although a lot of the more meaningful stuff was not very accessible. Lily of the Valley was utterly heartfelt. It’s about looking at his girlfriend and realising that his body needed to be somewhere else. It’s a great piece of art, but it’s the last song that would ever be a hit.”

According to Wikipedia, that girlfriend was Mary Austin, to whom May had introduced him and with whom Mercury had a long live-in relationship in the early 1970s, until he began an affair with a male executive in the music industry.

Mercury told Austin of his sexuality, which ended their romantic relationship.[59][78] Mercury moved out of the flat they shared, into 12 Stafford Terrace in Kensington and bought Austin a place of her own nearby.[59] They remained close friends through the years, with Mercury often referring to her as his only true friend. In a 1985 interview, Mercury said of Austin, “All my lovers asked me why they couldn’t replace Mary [Austin], but it’s simply impossible. The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that’s enough for me.”[79] He also wrote several songs about Austin, the most notable of which is “Love of My Life“. Mercury’s final home, Garden Lodge, 1 Logan Place, a twenty-eight room Georgian mansion in Kensington set in a quarter-acre manicured garden surrounded by a high brick wall, had been picked out by Austin.[80] In his will, Mercury left his London home to Austin, rather than his partner Jim Hutton, saying to her, “You would have been my wife, and it would have been yours anyway.”[81] Mercury was also the godfather of Austin’s oldest son, Richard.[60]

The song “Lily of the Valley” has been recorded by other artists. Why the title “Lily of the Valley”? No one knows for sure, but one wonders if Mercury had in mind one of several other names for the flower, Mary’s Tears. Regardless, this surprising flower with its secrets seems like an appropriate metaphor for the dilemma of a sensitive, loving man, realizing what his true orientation was and struggling with how to tell a woman he clearly loved deeply Although at one point he had proposed marriage to Mary, they never married because he was honest with her about his sexuality. The flowers of lily of the valley seem to have had ongoing meaning to him; when he and actress Jane Seymour had a pretend “wedding” at Royal Albert Hall at the fundraiser Fashion Aid, she wore lilies of the valley in her wreath of flowers, like so many other queens and queens-to-be.

Queen's Freddie Mercury and Jane Seymour at Fashion Aid, 1985.

Freddie Mercury and Jane Seymour at Fashion Aid, 1985.

Featured image: Freddie Mercury and actress Jane Seymour, pretend wedding at Fashion Aid in 1985; photo from http://www.imgur.com.

The Perfume Professor Steps Out!

In a few weeks I’ll be doing my first event in Jersey City—a class called “Sensual Scents & Romantic Aromas,” held at the studio space of The Lucky Honeybee. I’ve been enjoying The Lucky Honeybee’s good-smelling handmade candles and soaps for the past five years, so I’m especially happy to be teaming up with one […]

via Upcoming Event: “Sensual Scents” at The Lucky Honeybee, Jersey City — Perfume Professor

This sounds like so much fun — if I lived in that area, I would be there! Check it out!

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!

Pencils and Perfumes

If a perfume can transport you to another place, another time – then imagine what that place would look like if it were a drawing. It was a sunny afternoon last month, when, I met perfumer Francesca Bianchi during a perfume event at the Annindriya perfume Lounge boutique in Amsterdam.In the beautiful garden behind the […]

Here is a fascinating exploration of how an artist interpreted three artisan fragrances without knowing anything about them other than who their creator was. Wonderful!

via Secret Scents: Drawing The unknown — Pencils & Perfumes : Where my drawings meet the olfactive world. 鉛筆と祈りと香水―香りの世界と出会う場所