Fragrance Friday: Clouds’ Illusion

Fragrance Friday: Clouds’ Illusion

In honor of this week’s move of English perfume-maker 4160 Tuesdays to another part of London, today I review Clouds’ Illusion eau de parfum, which 4160 Tuesdays perfumer and founder Sarah McCartney created for a crowdfunding project for the Eau My Soul Facebook group.

Sarah McCartney's 4160 Tuesdays perfumery studio, Ravenscourt, London.

New space for 4160 Tuesdays London; image from 4160 Tuesdays.

What a fun idea! This isn’t the first one, either — she and the group’s founder, Christi Long, collaborated previously on the eponymous fragrance Eau My Soul in 2017, with input from the members of the Facebook group. Here’s the tale of how it happened, in Sarah’s own words:

Clouds was an idea dreamed up by Christi Long. Christi runs Eau My Soul as a kind, encouraging forum for fragrance lovers, and one day she was wearing our crowdfunded fragrance from 2018, Take Me To The River. It crossed her mind that Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now would be a wonderful inspiration for a fragrance, looking at clouds from both sides, the grey, then the sunshine.

Between us, we dreamed up a plan: Christi sent me a list of notes: iris, narcissus, white chocolate, hay, sandalwood, papyrus, vanilla and others which I’ll keep secret. She’d named some of the most expensive materials that exist, but I also knew that would want it to be affordable to everyone in the group because she’s nice like that.

So I had a suggestion. How about we do Both Sides Now? I am going to make two versions, one with the natural materials and one with the synthetic recreations made by the genius chemists from the industry. That way we can make the most magnificent, fabulously luxurious fragrance this side of Ancient Rome, plus the affordable one.

Clouds, and Clouds’ Illusion.

My intention was that they should smell pretty much exactly the same, but whichever one you buy, you can have a sample of the other one too. I don’t think anyone has done this before. I’m keen to show that aromachemicals are just as beautiful as naturals, and that you’re not missing out if you don’t have the spare cash for expensive fragrances. (But if you do, don’t let us hold you back.)

We also both agreed that we wanted to give a proportion of the funds raised to our chosen causes – some sunshine in these grey times. Previously we used a crowdfunding platform which took a percentage of the funds for use of its tech and database, so we took  that and gave it to Hope Not Hate in the UK, and to the Looking Out Foundation in the US. We think we already know enough people to make this happen, and besides we don’t want to conquer the world, just to make a lovely fragrance.

“Both Sides Now” was written by legendary singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, and was first commercially released as a recording by folk singer Judy Collins, on her album Wildflowers. The latter is the version most of us recognize from the radios of our youth, haunting in its lyrical beauty. A year later, Joni Mitchell followed with her own recording, also beautiful, for her album Clouds.

Here are the song’s lyrics:

“Both Sides Now”, by Joni Mitchell
Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s clouds’ illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real, I’ve looked at love that way
But now it’s just another show, you leave ’em laughin’ when you go
And if you care don’t let them know, don’t give yourself away
I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all
Tears and fears and feeling proud, to say, “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange they shake their heads, they say
I’ve changed
Well, something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

 

The fragrance Clouds comes in two versions: one is based entirely on natural essences, and was made in parfum and eau de parfum concentrations. The other is Clouds’ Illusion, which replaces a number of those (very expensive) natural essences with fine aromachemicals, though it still contains some of the naturals. Sarah’s goal was to incorporate all the elements Christi requested, but also to create a version that would be more affordable for crowdfunders and, in addition, show how aromachemicals can be used judiciously to create a truly beautiful fragrance. Clouds’ Illusion also comes in parfum and eau de parfum concentrations.

I was thrilled to take part in the crowdfunding, and as a result, I now have a bottle of Clouds’ Illusion in eau de parfum. I also had the privilege of visiting Sarah in her studio in London this past spring, when she was still modifying her formulas after initial feedback from Christi.

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Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays

Sarah and Nick were kind enough to spend quite a bit of time with me, and this visit was a highlight of my London trip. I’m quite a fan of 4160 Tuesdays, having won a bottle of their White Queen in a draw on the excellent fragrance blog “CaFleureBon”, and I bought more of their fragrances on my visit, several that were hard to get in the US.

So what is Clouds’ Illusion like, and does it fulfill the creative intentions behind it? The answer is, yes, it does, magnificently, and it is very lovely. Sarah lists notes of iris, citrus, narcissus, white chocolate, hay, sandalwood, papyrus, vanilla, and other unnamed “secret ingredients.” I love the scent of narcissus, and iris is becoming one of my favorite notes in perfume. According to Sarah, the iris note, or orris, evokes the melancholy, blue, introverted facets of the song, while the lemony citrus notes in the opening and bright flower notes like narcissus evoke its sunnier aspects. The white chocolate, vanilla, and a touch of musks create the soft white clouds. The image Christi posted on Eau My Soul, featured above and below, perfectly captures the fragrance: a pensive, introverted artist in a green meadow dotted with yellow wildflowers, set against a blue sky layered with puffy white clouds from horizon to horizon.

Singer songwriter Joni Mitchell with clouds, wildflowers and guitar

Joni Mitchell and clouds; image from Eau My Soul.

The opening of Clouds’ Illusion is especially wonderful, with citrus notes sparkling against a blue background of iris. I can’t think of another fragrance with a similar opening phase. The citruses fade away, but the iris comes to the fore and persists throughout the development of Clouds’ Illusion, partnered with narcissus (which here smells to me, specifically, like yellow daffodils or jonquils) and dry hay. The drydown slowly becomes softer and warmer, with its notes of vanilla and sandalwood joining the iris as the narcissus and hay move offstage. The development of the fragrance mimics the development of the song’s lyrics: starting out brightly, optimistically, yellow sunshine pouring down from a blue sky, then becoming more melancholy and wistful, as the sunlight darkens and fades and the clouds take over. But then the clouds part, and the the songwriter reflects that “something’s lost, but something’s gained, in living every day,” comforting herself with that thought, just as the fragrance becomes warmer and comforts with base notes of vanilla and sandalwood. The iris is still there, but it has been warmed by the other base notes. I can still smell iris, vanilla and sandalwood on my wrist more than eight hours after applying it lightly, so Clouds’ Illusion has excellent longevity in the eau de parfum concentration (I haven’t tried the extrait).

How does Clouds’ Illusion compare with Clouds, the version that uses only natural ingredients? My order of Clouds’ Illusion came with a sample of the Clouds EDP, so I’ve been able to smell them side by side. To my non-expert nose, right away the opening of Clouds smells more strongly of lemon than the top notes of its counterpart, but it fades into the background more quickly than the lemony opening of Clouds’ Illusion. The iris takes center stage in the middle phase in both versions, but in Clouds, I smell more of the sandalwood, and sooner, as it dries down, and Clouds’ Illusion seems to retain a bit more of the greenness of the hay note. Otherwise, though, they are very similar and have comparable longevity (more than eight hours on each of my wrists). Sarah has succeeded in her goal of creating fragrance twins, one with the precious natural substances and the other with more affordable aromachemicals, both lovely.

Here is Christi’s own account of how she experienced Clouds:

As many of you know, there were two earlier mods for Clouds and neither felt right to me. While they were nice fragrances, one even quite unusual, they were not the “Clouds” I had in my mind. After I told Sarah the second one wasn’t quite it either, she said “I know now what you want” and said it with such confidence. I now see why she was so sure of it…because it’s perfect.

First, it’s somewhat ethereal, but fluffy, like passing through a cloud. There is no sadness, but there is introspection, and a slight bit of melancholy from the orris butter laid thick under happy lemon sunshine. There is a hay like quality coming from the narcissus that counters the sweetness of the powdery, creamy white chocolate, so that it’s never too sweet but also never quite overly gray either. There is a cozy blanket of mood lifting lemon that surrounds it all, like a ray of golden hope at all times. Clouds is the days when you feel a bit down but know you’re strong enough to make it and feel hopeful. This isn’t a fragrance about giving in to sadness, it’s about rising above it and finding the reminder that sunshine always comes again, you just have to be strong enough to wait for it.

This year has been a roller coaster for me. It started really difficult, got better, then the hardships of life brought me down again. And literally right as I’m fighting to find the sunshine again, Clouds shows up at my doorstep. I sprayed it on and so many emotions, memories and thoughts passed before me. And in Clouds, just like life, the sunshine always wins if we let it. But we keep our memories with it, as a reminder of why we need the light.

Thank you, Sarah, for making this perfume for all of us who need a ray of hope sometimes. It reminds me that I’m human, I make mistakes, but with hope & forgiveness, life goes on and the sun still shines.

Thank you both, Sarah and Christi, for making this possible! I can’t wait for the next crowdfunding fragrance from 4160 Tuesdays, and I can’t wait to visit the new studio!

Readers, do you have a favorite 4160 Tuesdays fragrance? Have you ever taken part in a crowdfunding creative project, whether perfume or something else?

Featured image of Joni Mitchell from Eau My Soul.
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?

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?

May Muguet Marathon: Odalisque

May Muguet Marathon: Odalisque

Odalisque by Parfums de Nicolai is an eau de parfum with a strong floral heart of lily of the valley, jasmine, and iris, heralded by top notes of bergamot and mandarin, and resting on a base of oakmoss and musk. The brand calls it “a unique fragrance for strong personalities”, and on the website, its listing highlights, through graphics, the notes of mandarin, muguet, and oakmoss.

“Odalisque” is a word whose meaning has evolved over time. One author explains:

The English and French term odalisque (rarely odalique) derives from the Turkish ‘oda’, meaning “chamber”; thus an odalisque originally meant a chamber girl or attendant. In western usage, the term has come to refer specifically to the harem concubine. By the eighteenth century the term odalisque referred to the eroticized artistic genre in which a nominally eastern woman lies on her side on display for the spectator. (Joan DelPlato)

Patricia de Nicolai created the fragrance Odalisque in 1989. It is a very French perfume, as befits its creation by a member of the Guerlain family (her uncle is Jean-Paul Guerlain). It is not an Oriental fragrance by any means, or even a French version of an Oriental, as one might expect from a perfume that refers to a harem.  No, this Odalisque is a woody green chypre with a classic chypre structure, but using muguet as the featured floral note instead of the more commonly used rose and jasmine (Odalisque’s heart notes include jasmine blended with iris, together with the lily of the valley). So why the name?

Some of the most famous paintings of “odalisques” were by French painters, from Boucher to Matisse. In fact, right now the Norton Simon museum in Pasadena, California has an exhibit of paintings called “Matisse/Odalique”. Matisse himself candidly admitted that he used the theme of the “odalisque” as a reason to paint female nudes, and it is clear that many Western painters adopted the subject because it allowed them to paint titillating scenes of naked women, offering themselves to the male gaze (and, one is meant to assume, sexual availability), while also allowing the artists to distance themselves and deflect criticism by making the women and the scenes “exotic.”

Oil painting of odalisques playing checkers, by Henri Matisse

Odalisques Jouant Aux Dames; Henri Matisse

The heady flowers of rose and jasmine suit our traditional vision of the Ottoman Empire, but lily of the valley is quintessentially a Northern European flower, native to the cooler, temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere, its preferred habitat being in shaded woodlands. Its prominence in Odalisque means that the fragrance is not exotic at all, although it is mysterious and beguiling. To my nose, the citrus opening leaves the stage very quickly, while I smell the oakmoss “base” right from the start. As the citrus notes fade, the greenness of the muguet takes over, the pure white lily of the valley flanked by rose and iris, as the odalisques in the paintings, frequently portrayed as white European women, are often shown attended by exotic Middle Eastern servants.

Painting of an odalisque in a harem with slave and eunuch, by Jean August Dominique Ingres; Fogg Art Museum.

Odalisque a l’Esclave; Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres; Fogg Art Museum.

As it happens, one of the most famous French paintings using the trope of the “odalisque” also portrays a quintessentially European setting, green and woody like the chypre structure of Odalisque: Edouard Manet’s “Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe.” That it refers to the figure of an “odalisque” is indisputable: the female model’s nudity, her pose with her body turned partly away from the viewer but displaying most of her naked body, her direct gaze, and the figure of another woman bathing at a distance, all evoke more traditional images of a concubine in a “Turkish bath” setting. One of the male figures wears an Ottoman-style flat cap with a tassel, reminiscent of a traditional Turkish fez.

Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, painting by Edouard Manet, from Musee de l

Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, by Edouard Manet; Musee d’Orsay.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that a perfumer as intelligent as Patricia de Nicolai created a fragrance like Odalisque that so readily lends itself to an evocation of one of France’s most famous, treasured masterpieces.

Luca Turin regarded the original Odalisque itself as something of a masterwork. He commented thus about its original formulation:

Odalisque’s superbly judged floral accord of jasmine and iris, both abstract and very stable, allied to a saline note of oakmoss, initially feels delicate, but in use is both sturdy and radiant. It is as if the perfumer had skillfully shaved off material from a classic chypre accord until a marmoreal light shone through it.

What, exactly, is a “marmoreal light”? According to Merriam-Webster, “marmoreal” means “suggestive of marble or a marble statue, especially in coldness or aloofness.” There you have it. I defy anyone to look at Manet’s painting and not see a marmoreal light on the key figure of the naked woman.

By making the muguet the most prominent floral note in Odalisque, Mme. de Nicolai has emphasized the cool, white, marmoreal aspect of the fragrance, but she sets it against a powerful base of oakmoss and musk, just as Manet’s odalisque is highlighted against the dark green, woody background of the setting he chose so deliberately (and radically). Odalisque was reformulated after IFRA imposed new restrictions on the use of oakmoss in fragrance, but I can attest to the continuing power of its oakmoss base.  As much as I love the muguet heart note of Odalisque, ultimately the story it tells is one of oakmoss. I can smell it from the very opening of Odalisque, and it persists for hours, taking its place on the olfactory center stage after about an hour of the fragrance’s progression. On my skin, the oakmoss and musk last for at least 10-12 hours; I’ve applied Odalisque at night and I can still clearly smell those base notes the next morning.

The combination of oakmoss and musk is very sensual without being “sexy”, as Caitlin points out in her blog “This Side of Perfume.” The accord is too classic and elegant to warrant such a trite phrase. Like Manet’s model, this sensual accord is direct without titillating. It simply presents itself, unconcerned. It also lends a retro, vintage feel to Odalisque without making it dowdy. In sum, if you are looking for a classic, French, high-quality perfume that features muguet, this one should be on your list. It differs significantly from the ultimate French muguet fragrance, Diorissimo, and others like Guerlain’s Muguet; it is darker, mossier, woodier. It is also glorious. Have you tried it?

Lilies of the valley, green moss, and ferns in woodland garden

Lilies of the valley in woodland garden; image from Pinterest

Fragrance Friday: Crepuscule des Ames

Fragrance Friday: Crepuscule des Ames

The second of the three “White Collection” fragrances by Atelier des Ors is Crepuscule des Ames, which means “twilight of the souls.” It represents the second, or center, panel of Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze, a masterpiece of the Vienna Secession movement. That panel actually consists of two halves: the more famous one, featured above, and this one:

Center panel of Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, Gnawing Grief

Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, “Gnawing Grief.”

One description of these center panels notes that they represent the forces that stand in opposition to human happiness:

The giant Typhoeus (the monster with mother-of-pearl eyes extending across the entire front wall with his blue wings and snake-like appendages); his daughters, the three gorgons (the three women standing to the left of Typhoeus). Sickness, madness, death (the mask-like female heads above the gorgon heads). Lasciviousness, wantonness, intemperance (the group of three women to the right of Typhoeus. Intemperance wears a conspicuously ornamented blue skirt with applications of mother-of-pearl, bronze rings, etc.). Gnawing grief (the woman cowering on the right in the picture). The yearnings and desires of humankind fly past them. (Suites Culturelles)

Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, second panel

Left side of middle section, Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze.

Perfumer Marie Salamagne and creative director Jean-Philippe Clermont have chosen to represent these hostile forces in a more benevolent light for purposes of fragrance — a wise choice! Here is Atelier des Ors’ own description of Crepuscule des Ames:

Crépuscule Des Âmes is the twilight of the souls and a perfume to enslave the senses with fine spices and a warm golden glow. A second skin to wear in the dusky hours while the souls are at play, when we feel deep desires and the duality inherent in our consciousness. A radiating warmth that speaks to carnal pleasure and desire imbued with the furry warmth of Typhoeus. Incense, patchouli and hyraceum heat the primitive, animalic aura. For moments when we seek the truth, to find a way through temptation. An addictive, empowering fragrance with an element of intrigue.

The opening of Crepuscule is a strong, sweet note of mandarin orange, warmed by the spice of cardamom and the herbal tones of clary sage. The orange note is one of three citrus notes that unite the three fragrances (Nuda Veritas, Crepuscule des Ames, and Choeur des Anges). They are all based on the orange tree (neroli, mandarin, and blood orange with orange blossom) and they connect the three fragrances like a golden thread running through a complex tapestry of scent. In his excellent review for Fragrantica, Sergey Borisov pointed out that in the frieze, this center panel represents the “human sins and passions we have to overcome in order to reach happiness in life,” which is why this scent is designed to evoke the animal side of human nature, portrayed so vividly in the frieze.

As Crepuscule dries down, it becomes more animalic and smokier, with the addition of incense, hyrax, pimento pepper, and patchouli. As described by the brand, these notes are intended to symbolize warmth, carnality, desire, the dark side of the human spirit, the temptations through which we must progress in order to find happiness. The hyrax note is especially interesting. In its natural form, it comes from hyraceum, which is basically crystallized urine of the animal called hyrax. It is used in perfumery as an animalic substance whose collection does not harm any animals, but which “gives an animalistic, sensual and deep note that feels like a combination of musk, civet, castoreum, tobacco and agarwood.” Hyraceum also contains pheromones, complex airborne scent molecules, generated by animals, that are thought to cause behavioral responses in others of their species, including sexual response.

My nose can definitely sense the animalic undertones of Crepuscule, though I wouldn’t have known it came from hyraceum without guidance from a list of notes. I believe it is this complex note that makes Crepuscule feel to me more like a masculine-leaning fragrance than Nuda Veritas, although they and Choeur des Anges are all presented as unisex fragrances. Its use here is very clever (all of Ms. Salamagne’s creations for Atelier des Ors are designed with high intelligence and layers of meaning), especially combined with incense and hyssop.

Why those two notes in particular? Incense is most famously used in Western cultures as part of Christian religious worship, especially in the more ancient rites of the Roman Catholic church. To many lovers of fragrance, incense will immediately evoke memories of church rituals and ancient places of worship: the very passages through which, in the Christian faith, sinners must pass in order to withstand temptation and progress to the ultimate spiritual joy and salvation. I chose deliberately to write about Crepuscule today, which is Good Friday, the day on which Christians believe that Jesus allowed himself to be sacrificed by the darker impulses of humanity in order to win all of humankind our salvation, because I think the symbolism of Klimt’s frieze — and thus this scent — lends itself to such an analogy. Even the female figure of “Gnawing Grief” recalls so many artworks that show the agony of Mary, mother of Jesus, at the Crucifixion.

Hyssop also has religious significance. It is an aromatic herb used ritually “in the Catholic ceremonies where the priest puts the hyssop into the ceremonial aspergillum, which he dips into a bowl of holy water” and uses to sprinkle the mixture onto congregants as a blessing. But there is more to hyssop than this benign use — according to Fragrantica, it is also used to make the liqueur Chartreuse (after which the shade of green is named) and to color the famous spirit “absinthe”, widely used and also widely criticized in the 19th century as the notorious “green fairy” that “makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant,” according to one writer. And there, right in the  Beethoven Frieze’s center panel, is a “ferocious beast”, Typhoeus. In this perfume, hyssop may stand for the “duality” the brand means to evoke: dark and light, sinful and blessed, together.

In its final phase, Crepuscule lingers on the skin with the incense most dominant to my nose, followed by patchouli. It lasts for several hours even on my dry skin. At this stage, the hyrax is less noticeable as “animalic” but acts more as a fixative base that still lends warmth. After all, even when we succumb to temptation but struggle to resist sin, we are still human!

Like the others in the triptych, Crepuscule des Ames is an intelligent work of perfume art, with many possible meanings, interpretations, and effects unique to the individual who wears it. It does indeed grow on one, although I don’t find it as addictive as the brand’s copy suggests. I have a feeling this is another scent that I would like very much on my husband, although it is clearly suitable for women to wear also. I am enjoying wearing it and thinking about it even as I look forward to the triumph of Easter and the last of the White Collection, Choeur des Anges.

Sample kindly offered by Atelier des Ors; opinions my own.

 

Scent Sample Sunday: White Queen

Scent Sample Sunday: White Queen

Oh, how I love literary references! Put them together with a great niche perfume, and I am a happy perfumista! Today’s Sunday scent is White Queen, by 4160 Tuesdays, a collaborative creation with Michelyn Camen of the blog CaFleureBon to mark the blog’s eighth anniversary in 2018. 4160 Tuesdays founder and perfumer Sarah McCartney wrote at length about how this joint project came to be, and her inspirations, at CaFleureBon, here: New Perfume: 4160 Tuesdays White Queen. I won a bottle of White Queen in one of CaFleureBon’s generous giveaway draws and it was sent directly from Sarah with a personal note; thank you, Michelyn and Sarah! Look carefully at Sarah’s stationery — it’s so clever.

The literary reference is to the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The character of the White Queen makes some of the most-quoted statements from Carroll’s works, such as the advice to “believe six impossible things before breakfast” and the offer of “jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.”

In the book, the White Queen is an elderly lady, but in Tim Burton’s 2010 movie “Alice in Wonderland”, he reimagines her as a beautiful young (or ageless) woman, played by Anne Hathaway.

Anne Hathaway in Disney Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland movie.

Anne Hathaway as the White Queen; http://www.disney.com.

As many have noted, this White Queen is far from being all sweetness and light, and so is her namesake perfume, alluring as they both are. Sarah McCartney describes the fragrance’s notes as: incense, hazelnut, citrus fruits, raspberry, jasmine (which some call the Queen of Flowers, although the rose might disagree), cream, opoponax, vetivert, patchouli, and musk.  The goal was to create a modern gourmand without evoking candy, while also referring to the phrase “falling down the rabbit-hole”, which many people use to refer to their own response in discovering how much more there is to perfume than a single signature scent.

The modern gourmand aspect is fulfilled by using methyl laitone, which creates what Ms. McCartney describes as “clouds of whipped cream and white fluffy marshmallows.” However, on my skin, the incense note is more pronounced and very long-lasting. Fragrantica’s perfume pyramid lists it and the cream note only among the top notes, but they persist throughout the fragrance’s life and should be included with the heart and base notes. (Fragrantica also lists notes that Ms. McCartney does not, and omits notes she describes; I’m going with her on this one!). On me, these marshmallows are toasted.

Tray of toasted marshmallows

Toasted marshmallows; http://www.maplestreetcandle.com

I love incense as a note in perfume, but I tend to prefer less smoky incense notes, so this is perfect for me. Ms. McCartney’s post makes it clear that her incense note comes from frankincense, or Boswellia Carteri. This incense is also inflected with opoponax, a type of myrrh known as “sweet myrrh”, which brings warm, balsamic, honeyed notes to a fragrance. On my skin, these come even more to the forefront as White Queen dries down, and they are lovely. The combination of frankincense and opoponax makes White Queen‘s incense note more like a lovely vapor.

incense vapor

Incense; image from Fragrantica.

I can’t pick out separate notes of raspberry or citrus, but I can tell that they are present because of the brightness they lend; I think they help lift White Queen and add to its airiness. Similarly, I wouldn’t be able to tell you on a blind sniff that there is any jasmine, but it makes sense once that is revealed — jasmine is one of the sweeter floral notes, though to my nose it is less sweet than tuberose. As White Queen dries down, I do pick up the patchouli, but it does not overwhelm as that note sometimes can; nor am I overcome by gourmand sweetness, which I can only take in limited doses (not a fan of Angel, sorry). The combination of patchouli, vetiver, and musk is meant to evoke the “rabbit-hole” and its earthiness, and I think it succeeds.

Mia Waskikowska in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, by Disney, falling into rabbit-hole

Alice and the rabbit-hole; http://www.disney.com

As much as I love floral and green notes, White Queen is a winner for me! It is especially appealing on these cool February days, when we alternate between warmth when the sun is out, and chill when our climate remembers that it is not yet spring. When the extremes swing too far here in the Southeast, the season is called a “false spring” and, like the White Queen, it can be dangerously deceiving. (I am a gardener as well as a lover of perfume, and these false springs make it quite challenging to time rose-pruning).

This White Queen displays all the warmth and none of the chill of our false spring, so it wears well in cool weather; given the presence of frankincense and myrrh, it would also make a great Christmas-themed scent, and I’ll try that next year! Do you have any favorite cool-weather fragrances you are wearing right now? Any favorites from 4160 Tuesdays?

Featured image: http://www.disney.com.

Fragrance Friday: La Belle et L’Ocelot

Fragrance Friday: La Belle et L’Ocelot

In the growing world of niche and “exclusive” perfumes, there are not many bargains. Prices seem to go up and up, into the realm of the ridiculous. And, may I say, some of the most expensive bottles of fragrance are also — if not hideous, tacky. House of Sillage, I’m looking at you, and Clive Christian, you’re not far behind (apologies to any readers who love those bottles, this is imho only!). The House of Sillage bottles look to me like demented cupcakes. I’m sorry, they do.

By contrast, some of my favorite bottles contain inexpensive but enjoyable fragrances. For instance, one of the first fragrances I blind-bought when I went down the perfume rabbit-hole was Vicky Tiel’s Sirene. Its frosted glass bottle, with a bas-relief of caryatids, is just gorgeous; and I like the scent itself very much. It is a rosy floral with a sharp opening and  soft drydown. At about $20 for 100 ml, why not take a chance on it? The bottle alone makes it worth the price.

At Christmas, my kids now ask me what fragrance I’d like them to get me that’s within their price range. I try to keep that under $25, and luckily there are some bargain fragrances out there to be had for that price. This year, my two daughters gave me Salvador Dali’s La Belle et l’Ocelot, in both the eau de toilette and eau de parfum formats. Friends, these are two of the prettiest bottles I own!

 

Bottle and box of Salvador Dali's La Belle et l'Ocelot eau de parfum.

La Belle et l’Ocelot eau de parfum; http://www.parfums-salvadordali.com

Bottle and box of Salvador Dali's La Belle et l'Ocelot eau de toilette

La Belle et l’Ocelot eau de toilette; http://www.parfums-salvadordali.com

And the fragrances themselves aren’t bad either — not strong loves for me, but definitely likeable and wearable. The EDP (2014) is a warm, balsamic, slightly spicy scent, with top notes of Sicilian bitter orange, davana (artemisia), and elemi (a resin), heart notes of osmanthus, rose, night-blooming jasmine, and tonka, and base notes of patchouli, benzoin, and incense. It reminds me a bit of a lighter, less complex Opium or Obsession. Believe it or not, many of its notes are the same as those of Chanel’s Coromandel, which was launched two years later, in 2016. It’s very appealing in this season’s colder weather, and it is light enough that I think it will still appeal even in the summer, especially on warm, balmy evenings.

The EDT is a completely different fragrance from the EDP — not, as the website says, a softer version of it. The EDT’s top notes are apple blossom, nashi pear and grapefruit; heart notes are iris, Turkish rose and Egyptian jasmine, base notes are cedar and musk. Really, the only thing these two have in common is the beautiful design of their bottles. One intriguing fact is that both fragrances are meant to evoke an olfactory recreation of Beauty and the Beast, according to the website, but one can also perceive the EDP as more animalic (“beastly”) and the EDT as more floral (“beauty”). The EDT is a light, soft floral, with some fruitiness but not so much as to make it overly sweet. I think it would wear best in late spring and throughout the summer. I tend to prefer sharper, greener florals generally but especially in the spring, so this would be more of a summer scent for me.

Salvador Dali was well-known for his eccentricities, in his life as well as his art, one of which was that he kept a pet ocelot (which is a kind of tiny leopard) named Babou. He took Babou to many places and was often photographed with the animal:

Artist Salvador Dali with pet ocelot Babou

Dali with Babou

Another fun fact is that the popular culture we most associate now with “Beauty and the Beast” is the Disney Company’s animated film — but in real life, Walt Disney and Salvador Dali not only knew each other, but collaborated briefly on a short film called “Destino.” It was shelved during WWII, and revived in the 21st century by Walt Disney’s nephew, Roy Disney.

I got interested in Dali fragrances first by reading Luca Turin’s review of the original Dali, created in 1983 by Alberto Morillas, which he gave four stars. I have a mini of the parfum, and it is beautiful as a fragrance; its bottle is also lovely, as are all the Dali perfume bottles that are based on the sculptured lips and nose of Dali’s Aphrodite in his work Apparition of the Face of Aphrodite of Knidos. (I must say, though, I think the bottles for La Belle et l’Ocelot are even more lovely). Some well-know perfumers in addition to M. Morillas have created Dali fragrances: Mark Buxton created Laguna (also awarded four stars by M. Turin) early in his career, in 1991, and Francis Kurkdjian created Purplelight in 2007. Have you tried any of the Salvador Dali fragrances? Do you think any are “discount diamonds”?

Featured image: model Donyale Luna with Dali’s pet ocelot Babou.