Fragrance Friday: Parfum et Vous

Last week, I was able to visit Nice, France, thanks to my husband’s work. He had to go for a business trip, I was able to take a few days off from my own job and tag along! During the day, he had meetings and I explored.

I have been to Nice before: once on our honeymoon, and again a few years ago when we took a family trip to the Cote d’Azur. But those trips were both before my perfumania, so I planned much of my week around fragrance. One thing I knew I’d like to try was a perfume-making workshop for beginners. Nice offers options; two different ones with an established perfume house, Molinard, and one with an independent perfumery, Parfum et Vous. I was leaning toward the latter, so when I contacted Megan in Sainte-Maxime to see if we might be able to meet (more about that in another post — such fun!), I asked her thoughts.  She enthusiastically recommended that choice, and she knows the owner, so I signed up. The price included a two-hour workshop to learn about perfume and then make our own scents, using pre-made accords, and one bottle of our own creation. The workshop would take place in a pretty old building in the heart of Nice, a short walk from the famous “Promenade des Anglais”, in the retail showroom of Parfum et Vous.

There were four of us taking the workshop, plus the lovely and vivacious Sasha, owner of Parfum et Vous, and her assistant. Sasha gave a brief introduction and overview about perfume, then had us walk around her small showroom filled with niche perfumes, smelling them and thinking about what genres and notes we might like to try in our own concoctions. Sasha’s wares are true artisan perfumes from niche houses, like Beaufort London, Nishane, NabuccoBarutiPaul Emilien and many others, so there was a wide range of fragrances to smell.

Then we went to a table where there were pre-mixed scents in eau de parfum strength representing categories of fragrance foundations, like “woody marine.” We talked about what we would try to create for our own eau de parfum, and sniffed all of the foundations. I wanted to create a unisex fragrance that would remind my husband and me of our trips to the South Carolina Lowcountry, the marshy coastland that borders the Atlantic Ocean in that state.

Next, we moved to a table that had 22 different accords in large bottles with droppers, divided among top notes, heart notes and base notes, and labeled with identifiers like “iris”, ‘chypre”, “citrus, “spice.” Each one also listed individual notes, e.g. “spice” included cinnamon, clove, and pepper. Sasha started each of us off with a formula to create a foundation for the category we had chosen, specifying how many mls of each accord we should add to our individual 30 ml bottles. I was starting with “woody marine”, so my beginning foundation included marine, citrus, green tea, “oriental woody”, and woody accords. Others wanted to create a gourmand, or a floral oriental, and there were foundations for those and other options.

Then the real fun began! Throughout the process, Sasha had us smell each stage as we added more accords in small amounts, tweaking our fragrances in the directions we wanted. I added notes of jasmine, cyclamen, wild rose, vetiver, and oak moss. As the other students and I added accords, Sasha would have us spray a bit on our skin and she would smell our progress and make suggestions. I got to a point where I wanted to add more heart notes. I was satisfied with the top notes, which by now included a citrus accord of mandarin, orange, and tangerine, the marine accord, and a tiny amount of a fruit accord (grapefruit and apple).

The heart note accords available were: neroli, spices, white flowers, rose, powdery (rice notes and white musk), iris, green tea, and cassis. We thought about adding neroli, but ruled that out. I asked about the powdery accord, and Sasha recommended against it, given the other accords I already had. We settled on slowly adding small amounts of the white flowers accord, which was a combination of jasmine and cyclamen. Then I thought about iris. Sasha was a little doubtful, but when I explained that I wanted that earthier, rooty aspect, she concurred but urged a light hand. In went .5 ml of the iris accord. Sniff, sniff. Wait. Another .5 ml. Sniff. Perfect!

Time to tweak the base notes. I already had accords that included notes of patchouli, vanilla, vetiver, tonka, cedar, and sandalwood. I wanted to add more of the “chypre” accord, with notes of vetiver and oak moss, and Sasha agreed but advised going slowly and adding 1 ml at a time, checking each time to see what I thought. Because of the nature of base notes, which emerge more slowly than the top and heart notes, one relies more on the formulas for base notes; even in a leisurely, unhurried workshop like this, there’s not time to wait for the full progression. Because I love chypre, I ended up adding more of that and no more of the other available base note accords, and I’m very happy with the outcome.

Once we were satisfied with our creations, Sasha had us name and label them. Parfum et Vous keeps a record of our names, and the formula for the specific blend we had created, so one can reorder if one wants. I named mine “Lowcountry Spring”, and I find it charming!

As you can tell, I enjoyed this workshop thoroughly and heartily recommend it. Because of the pre-formulated foundations and accords, plus expert guidance from Sasha, one really can’t go too far astray. It would take deliberate effort to create something that wasn’t pleasing. The atmosphere was fun and informative. I enjoyed meeting my three fellow students; we all helped each other, sniffing each other’s formulas along the way (yes, there were little canisters of coffee beans to help reset our noses, although I find it sometimes works best, when I’m trying many scents, to reset by just putting my nose to my own shoulder). I also really enjoyed seeing and smelling the many interesting niche perfumes Sasha sells in her showroom, some of which I hadn’t encountered before, and others which I had read about but never had the chance to try. If you get a chance to visit Nice, go see Parfum et Vous! Whether or not you have the time or inclination to spend an afternoon in the workshop, it is well worth a visit for the showroom alone, and to meet Sasha.

Have you ever tried making your own fragrances? How did it go?

 

Some Final Bottles Available — Perfume in Progress

The last several months I have contacted many people who had written to me in Jan/Feb to request bottles. I’ve filled about as many of those requests as I can with what I had in stock (minus a few people that I couldn’t reach via email). I’m now listing the few remaining bottles here. These bottles have […]

via Some Final Bottles Available — Perfume in Progress

If you always wanted some fragrances from Sonoma Scent Studio, this is your last chance! Award-winning perfumer Laurie Erickson is retiring from the perfume business and may have a buyer for Sonoma Scent Studio. She has a small number of bottles of her fragrance creations still available for purchase. I’m sad to see such a gifted artisan perfumer leave the scene but I am confident Laurie will flourish in her next phase.

Independent Perfumery: Growth in an Increasingly Consolidated Market~ Seven Indies Speak Out!

CaFleureBon has published a fascinating piece with thoughts from seven independent perfumers on their position in a consolidating fragrance marketplace; it is well worth reading.

In any industry’s “ecosystem”, there will be a range of products and services from mass market to high-end artisan work. (I’ve been introduced to the series “Chef’s Table” and am stunned by the artistry that these chefs put into their food creations and restaurants). “High-end” often, but not always, means very expensive, which always limits the market for that product or service to those who can afford it.

Artisan chefs on Netflix series Chef's Table

Chef’s Table; image from http://www.netflix.com

What I dislike is when a large investor takes over a fragrance brand and amps up the hype, the marketing, and often the price, while watering down the original quality with cheaper ingredients to the point where it really isn’t the same fragrance. I appreciate the instances when a large company seems to have extended the reach of a formerly independent brand while providing its creatives with the stability and access to quality ingredients that allow them to extend their imaginations and vision, and reach more customers. It seems as if today’s independent perfumers may be more savvy about how to get that deal if they want it. I appreciate, too, when a large company has given its perfumers the resources and permission to update classic fragrances with respect and care, and without cutting corners.

I also really appreciate the vital role of independent perfumeries and retailers, which connect perfumers and customers as curated points of sale and information.. They too are small businesses with many of the same challenges, and yet they have an appeal that no department store will ever have, and a level of service and knowledge that you won’t find in most department stores or brand boutiques. I rely on online sellers of fragrance, including some of the perfumers’ own websites and online stores, to get access to these smaller brands that would otherwise be unattainable to most of us. This is how I have been able to buy fragrances by Laboratorio Olfattivo, Papillon, Parfums de Rosine, PK Perfumes, Solstice Scents, Sonoma Scent Studio, and others.

Scent bar retail store in Los Angeles, home of luckyscent.com online fragrance retailer

Scent Bar, Los Angeles

The internet and blogs like CaFleureBon have been such a gift to perfumers, perfumeries, and fans of perfume! We have been able to find and connect with each other in ways that would have been impossible thirty years ago. It is now possible for someone who lives in any area far from high-end retailers and trade shows to get access to these unique fragrance creations. And for that, all perfumistas should be grateful.

Source: Independent Perfumery: Growth in an Increasingly Consolidated Market~ Seven Indies Speak Out!

Everything’s Coming Up Roses: Rosier

Everything’s Coming Up Roses: Rosier

June is the month for roses and rose fragrances, so I have a few to review in coming days! On my recent trip to London, I was able to buy a bottle of an artisan perfume new to me, Nancy Meiland’s Rosier, from Rouillier White. (I cheated a bit — I didn’t go to the actual store, which is still on my to-do list; I ordered from their website and had it delivered to the serviced apartment where we were staying). The box has this to say:

Notes of Italian bergamot, tangerine and blackcurrant top ROSIER, denoting the moment a water droplet forms on a petal. A contemporary twist on the traditional rose scent, this is a soliflore, in which the whole flower is represented. Pink pepper acts for the thorns, while green galbanum is the leaves. Rose geranium, white pear, jasmine, peony, and violet are delicately strung together for the bud, and the endnotes evoke the image of a broken beaded necklace as the scent spreads beautifully on the skin. It is a landing both soft and reassuring, of buttery mimosa, tobacco, hay, and angelica seeds.

Notice that none of the notes listed include an actual rose note!  But the name is accurate: “rosier” means rosebush in French, and this scent evokes the whole rose, as described above. The opening notes are gorgeous, a lively blend of sparkling citrus and fruit that is not at all sweet. Next up, to my nose, is the galbanum, which I love. I like most green florals, and usually the greener the better. In fact, before I found Rosier, I had been idly wondering what fragrances truly combined sharp green galbanum with roses, so I was delighted to find this one.

The odd thing about Rosier is that I don’t get any traditional rose FLOWER notes at all. The heart notes are lovely, and they suggest a rose bud, as described, but there is no strong note of rose itself. That said, this is a truly lovely, different fragrance, rosy rather than rose-centric. The Perfume Society had an article about Nancy Meiland and her perfumes that noted:

It’s very much NOT your great-aunt’s rose – and Nancy observes: ‘I wanted to depict both the light and the dark shades of it, as opposed to this pretty, twee and girly rose that’s become slightly old-fashioned. I was interested in a soliflore of the rose depicting the whole flower including the very slightly “acid” moment the dew drop forms on the petal, the peppery thorns and hay-like buttery notes in the base. The result was something that turned out to have a touch of “bramble”, more reminiscent of a rose briar.

A longer article appeared in 2016 on the Scents and the City blog: Nature Girl: Interview with Perfumer Nancy Meiland. Nancy started out working for a bespoke perfumer in London and also taught perfumery courses. She is now based in East Sussex, and has released four fragrances of her own.

Perfumer Nancy Meiland testing fragrances

Perfumer Nancy Meiland; image from http://www.scentsandthecitylondon.com

Back to the fragrance! The blogger Persolaise commented that it is like a rose dipped in nitrogen, and he also noted the sharp green that I love. He also said that it dwindles into “soapiness” but the fragrance is “not without merit.” Here’s my take: I do get a period of soapiness in the middle of its progression, but it doesn’t last long on my skin. Then I get those beautiful base notes: mimosa, hay, tobacco, and angelica. I love the first stages so much, and find the end stage so soothing, that I am willing to live with a little soapiness in the middle. I do love traditional roses and rose fragrances, though; so I think I may try my precious Taif Roses attar layered with Rosier, just as an experiment.

Another interesting point to ponder: one of the most legendary hybridizers of roses in the world is the House of Meilland, based in France. The Meilland family has created hundreds of beautiful hybrid roses, including one of my all-time favorites, Eden. I don’t think Nancy Meiland is related to the French rose growers, but I enjoy linking her Rosier to their “rosiers”.

Collage images of Eden pink climbing roses, from the House of Meilland.

Collage of Eden roses; image from http://www.tovfone.com.

 

May Muguet Marathon: Maiglockchen and Mendelsohn

May Muguet Marathon: Maiglockchen and Mendelsohn

As another brief byway in a monthlong discussion of muguet, I have learned something new: not only does Germany celebrate muguet in May similarly to the French, they have their own charming name for lily of the valley: Maiglockchen. Loosely translated, that means “May’s little bells.” Not only that, but some of Germany’s most renowned authors and poets have written about “maiglockchen”, and Felix Mendelsohn set one of those poems to music, as part of a set of six “lieder”, or songs, in the form of duets. It is called “Maiglockchen und die Blumelein” (pardon the absence of umlauts; I haven’t mastered those yet).

Sheet music for "Maiglockchen und die Blumelein" by Felix Mendelsohn.

Sheet music for “Maiglockchen und die Blumelein” by Felix Mendelsohn.

It is a duet for women’s voices, and musicologist John Palmer describes it thus:

The vivacious “Maiglöckchen und die Blümelein” (Lily of the Valley and the Little Flowers), setting a text by von Fallersleben, dates from January 23, 1844. Mendelssohn gives forward motion to the poem, about the coming of spring and the attendant round-dance, through a syncopated repeated note in the piano part. The voice parts and right hand of the piano form a melodic unit through most of the duet.

You can hear it for yourself here:

If you’d like to know more about the symbolism of the “Maiglockchen” in German culture, this blog has a nice summary. I was interested to read that the lily of the valley is associated with Ostara, the pagan goddess of spring and dawn (who also inspired one of my all-time favorite fragrances, Penhaligon’s Ostara). Do any readers know of more lily of the valley celebrations in other countries?

Scent Sample Sunday: Amouage Gold

Scent Sample Sunday: Amouage Gold

This weekend, my husband and I had a somewhat rare, formal “date night”. Our son was going to be out all evening at a fundraiser and I bought us tickets to see the ballet “Don Quixote”, which is one of the few classic, full-length story ballets I had never seen. So of course, this was an excuse to dress up more than usual — and to wear Amouage Gold for Woman.

What a gorgeous scent it is! Like the ballet, it is a full-blown classical creation and pulls off dazzling twists, turns, changes, and lifts with seemingly effortless grace. Luca Turin put it better than anyone in his five-star review in “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide”:

The whole thing is put together in a happy, slightly naive, manifestly handcrafted style, which reminds me of the few really valuable things Russia used to produce, like Red October chocolates, confirming my long-held opinion that Moscow is a big Damascus with snow… The fragrance? [Perfumer] Guy Robert describes it in the press pack as the crowning glory of his career, and I agree. Robert is perhaps the most symphonic of the old-school French perfumes still working today, and Gold is his Bruckner’s Ninth. This perfume is about texture rather than structure, a hundred flying carpets of scent overlapping each other. It’s as if Joy had eloped with Scheherezade for a thousand and one nights of illicit fun.

Fragrantica has this to say: “This is an intensive floral for evening wearing and special occasions.” The top notes are rose, lily of the valley, and frankincense. Middle notes are myrrh, orris, and jasmine; the base notes include ambergris, civet, musk, cedarwood, and sandalwood.

It was a great match for “Don Quixote”, which is also a huge, symphonic fairy tale with its roots in the 19th century. Unlike many other such major story ballets, however, “Don Quixote” is happy throughout and has a happy ending. And if you want naivete, you have it in the character of Don Quixote himself, the idealist who dreams of knights and fair maidens, and who has visions of the beautiful Dulcinea. In the ballet, his harmless delusions lead him to rescue a village girl, Kitri, from an arranged marriage with a wealthy fop, and make her father allow her to marry her true love, Basilio. The ballet is based on the original choreography by Marius Petipa, via the Kirov Ballet by way of Rudolf Nureyev and thus to American ballet companies. It has many set pieces and Spanish folk variations, with dozens of dancers flying across the stage in colorful costumes, doing spectacular lifts and showstoppers like Kitri’s 32 fouettes. (The audience last night gasped, cheered, and clapped its hands to the point of soreness. The ballerina received a well-deserved standing ovation and several curtain calls at the end of the ballet).

On my skin, Amouage Gold is a sophisticated blend of all those notes and probably more that aren’t listed. It is so well-blended that one doesn’t really pick out individual notes; as the perfume progresses, my experience is that I suddenly notice it has changed although it is still recognizably Gold. It is a tour-de-force of modern perfumery that harks back to classical French perfumery. Turin’s phrase “a hundred flying carpets of scent overlapping each other” is apt. Amouage is famously a perfume house that was meant to bridge the worlds of Middle Eastern and European perfume. Just so, Spain — the setting of Don Quixote — has been for centuries a bridge between the Middle East and Europe, with many Moorish influences on its art and culture. Gold and “Don Quixote” are both felicitous incarnations of that spirit of Spain at its best: gorgeous, charming, symphonic, airborne, magnificent.

Ballerina Natalia Osopova as Kitri in ballet Don Quixote

Natalia Osipova as Kitri; photo from http://www.nytimes.com

 

How Performers Use Perfume

How Performers Use Perfume

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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