Scent Sample Sunday: DSH Heirloom Elixirs

Scent Sample Sunday: DSH Heirloom Elixirs

My Valentine’s Day gift to myself was a subscription to Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Heirloom Elixir subscription for this year, all six releases. Dawn describes the origins of the idea:

Over the past few years we’ve had multiple requests for a “Subscription Service”… one that would automatically introduce you to a new DSH Perfume on a regular basis, filled with surprise and excitement.  With our creative new collection of Limited Editions, Heirloom Elixir, we felt that this was the perfect pairing of ideas to make that request a reality.

At the end of 2019, I took advantage of her end-of-year sale and bought the 2019 Complete Collection of six fragrances she released that year. They are, in order: Continue reading

Fragrance Friday: Clouds’ Illusion

Fragrance Friday: Clouds’ Illusion

Because the third fragrance in the 4160 Tuesdays “January Joy Box” is Clouds, I am reposting what I wrote this past fall about Clouds’ Illusion, while I think about how the two versions compare! (One uses mostly synthetics, the other natural essences).

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.

img_8670

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: Meet Me On The Corner

Scent Sample Sunday: Meet Me On The Corner

There are times when I am reminded that there is SO MUCH about English experience that is completely unfamiliar to me, in spite of having had an English mother. Of course, she came to America in the early 1950s, married my father and stayed, so much of her actual English experience predates 1960, and after that it was secondhand, mostly via her younger sister who was a model and actress during the era of “London Swings” (in fact, the second wife of Bernard Lewis, of “Chelsea Girl” fame). I bring this up because I am a devotee of the fragrances created by Sarah McCartney under her brand “4160 Tuesdays“, and was recently intrigued by her latest crowdfunding project, Meet Me On The Corner.

According to Sarah, this fragrance was inspired by a song of the same name that reached number 1 in the UK pop charts in 1972, by a folk rock group named Lindisfarne. I had never heard of the group, or the song, but Sarah’s story of how they reunited annually for many years for a Christmas concert in Newcastle, starting in 1976, and the inspiration she drew from their best-known song, were so charming that I took part in this year’s crowdfunding of the scent. Sarah has been thinking about this fragrance for a long time, as noted in this 2014 interview with CaFleureBon. Her latest commentary about it is here:

And now I have my very own bottle of Meet Me On The Corner, and I love it! (I also got the seasonal scent she mentions in the video, Christmas Concert, and will review that later this week after I attend an actual Christmas concert).

Meet Me On The Corner is a citrus chypre meant to evoke the fragrances that were popular in the 1970s like Sarah’s favorite Diorella, before the Blitzkrieg of 1980s powerhouses like Giorgio Beverly Hills — comparable to folk rock giving way to glam rock and its 1980s offspring. The 1971 song itself, which I hadn’t heard before, is a sweet, self-consciously folksy derivative of Bob Dylan’s 1965 Mr. Tambourine Man; of the versions on YouTube, I prefer the 2003 edition:

This is the refrain that inspired Sarah:

Meet me on the corner,
When the lights are coming on,
And I’ll be there.
I promise I’ll be there.
Down the empty streets,
We’ll disappear into the dawn,
If you have dreams enough to share.

So what is the fragrance like? It opens with a really pretty citrus, very lemony but not only lemon. There is another, less sweet citrus note which seems to be bergamot, but I clearly smell lemon too — not so much the fruit, but more like lemon zest and lemon tree. Maybe citron or petitgrain? Sarah says that the fragrance includes a peach lactone (a key ingredient of Edmond Roudnitska’s 1972 Diorella as well as Guerlain’s legendary ur-chypre, Mitsouko), flowery hedione (central to another Roudnitska masterpiece, the 1966 Eau Sauvage), and magnolia leaf. Here is what one producer says about the latter: it “exudes an aroma that is greener, more crisp and woody than the sweet scent of Magnolia Flower. The aroma of this rare Magnolia grandiflora leaf essential oil is clean and refined. Magnolia leaf is quite intriguing with hints of fig, bergamot and myrtle.”

As an official “notes list” isn’t yet available, I will offer a layperson’s guess and say that top notes include bergamot, citron, petitgrain; heart notes include peach, jasmine, fig, magnolia leaf, green notes (myrtle?); base notes include musk, woody and resinous notes (labdanum?), vetiver or oakmoss. I hope someone will issue a correct list! Meet Me At The Corner is a unisex fragrance, as befits the sometimes androgynous 1970s. It neatly combines aspects of Diorella and Eau Sauvage; this might be their love-child. It is bright and sunny, youthful without being sweet. It is, as Sarah has written, a fragrance to be “worn by women in jeans and men with long hair who scandalised our Edwardian grandparents.”

As I learned more about the song, the era, and Lindisfarne’s Christmas concerts, begun to raise funds for Newcastle City Hall, a concert venue, I also learned about the deep poverty that still afflicted Newcastle upon Tyne and its Dickensian slums in the 1970s, so well documented by photographer Nick Hedges for the UK charity Shelter. I also found this marvelous photo of the Pilgrim Street fire station in Newcastle in 1972, and I am guessing this may be the one that Sarah describes frequenting with her friends as teenagers:

Fire station on Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, UK, 1972, with pedestrians

Newcastle Fire Station 1972; image from Newcastle Chronicle.

Sarah has said on the 4160 Tuesdays website that Meet Me On The Corner will likely return as a regular offering in 2020, so keep an eye out for it; you can keep up with news on the 4160 Tuesdays Facebook page. It will be worth the wait!

Teenaged girls wearing tie-dyed clothing, 1970s, Doreen Spooner

Tye-dye girls, Doreen Spooner/Getty Images

 

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.

img_8670

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