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.
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: Profumo di Pioggia

Scent Sample Sunday: Profumo di Pioggia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scent Sample Sunday: 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?

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

Scent Sample Sunday: Choeur des Anges

Scent Sample Sunday: Choeur des Anges

The third fragrance in the triptych of Atelier des Ors’ “White Collection” is Choeur des Anges. Like the other two (Nuda Veritas and Crepuscule des Ames), it is inspired by Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze” and was created by perfumer Marie Salamagne, with direction by the house’s founder, Jean-Philippe Clermont. The brand’s description follows:

Choeur des Anges is a poetic celebration of colour, scent and joie de vivre fused with blood orange, carrot seeds, radiant fruits and flowers. A symphonic creation inspired by the harmonious voices of angels. An ambrosia like golden nectar of osmanthus and honey that sings in harmony to the gods. A fragrance that connects to the primal desire for happiness, where salvation is found in lyrical ambered tones. A radiant and joyous experience. A cocooned embrace. A kiss to the whole world.

Choeur des Anges means “choir of angels”, and that angelic chorus is vividly shown in the last panel of the frieze that inspired Atelier des Ors’ White Collection.

Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, with choir of angels and human happiness

Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze

The golden thread of citrus that links all three fragrances continues in Choeur des Anges, with a gorgeous opening note of sweet blood orange. It is very beautiful — sweet in the way a real, ripe orange is sweet, not cloying or sticky. I’m a sucker for a great opening note, and this is one of the best among recent fragrances. Very quickly, the blackcurrant chimes in with its tangy yet herbal undertones. I don’t really smell the pear that is supposed to be part of the opening, but it is likely part of what softens the edges of the blackcurrant.

The last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth contains its most famous section, the “Ode to Joy” which many of us know well and which continues to inspire modern performances in unexpected places, from this flash mob in Europe to YouTube videos. I have a special warmth toward this piece, because it was adapted for use as a hymn in the 19th century by one of my grandfather’s favorite authors, Henry van Dyke. He is often overlooked today, but many Americans know his short novel “The Other Wise Man”  and this hymn, known by its first line, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” We and our guests sang it at our springtime wedding, in the same chapel where Prof. van Dyke worshipped, one week before Easter. Its first verse is the best known:

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,

God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the Sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day

As with many fragrances, the middle stage of Choeur des Anges is mostly floral, the heart notes of orange flower and osmanthus stealing imperceptibly at first into the citrus opening, then taking center stage like flowers opening to the sun, as described in the hymn. These are sunny, happy flowers, appropriate to evoke the triumphant conclusion of humankind’s quest for joy. I smell the honey base note early; to my nose, it arrives not long after the flowers and lends them a polleny sweetness reminiscent of Easter and spring. The carrot seed note blends a rooty, earthy note into this middle stage, keeping the whole composition grounded, as this panel of the frieze reminds us that human joy is to be found on earth, as symbolized by the last, embracing figures, when love unites with art. Klimt apparently intended to convey that the arts are humankind’s salvation; but I choose to remember that today is Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate the triumph of love over death, through the resurrection of Jesus, the Lord who took upon himself human form and human suffering on earth, thereby winning salvation for those of us still on earth. Easter Sunday is a day for flowers, celebration, singing, and rejoicing, as in the words of the hymn’s second verse:

All Thy works with joy surround Thee
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays;
Stars and angels sing around Thee,
center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
singing bird and flowing fountain
call us to rejoice in Thee.

The final stage of Choeur des Anges is warm with amber and cedar, while the honey continues  to sweeten the drydown. I can still smell hints of the blood orange. No heavy musk, no spices. The ending of Choeur des Anges is warm, soft and gentle, like the embrace of the golden couple at the end of the Beethoven Frieze. Happiness, at last. Again, in this fragrance, Ms. Salamagne beautifully captures the spirit and symbolism of the masterpieces that inspired the White Collection, like its scent siblings Nuda Veritas and Crepuscule des Ames.

Of all the White Collection, Choeur des Anges is my favorite, though Nuda Veritas is close behind.  On my skin, it has good longevity, though not for longer than about six hours (not surprising, given the important role of citrus in its composition and the softness of its base notes, not to mention my dry skin). I don’t mind reapplying from my sample, because I do love the opening notes of sweet blood orange, and reapplying allows me to enjoy those again.

In honor of Beethoven’s music, Klimt’s artwork, and this lovely fragrance collection, I decided to post this on Easter Sunday, a day on which the “Ode to Joy” and the hymn it inspired are particularly relevant, and I’ll leave you with this image:

Altar and reredos with flowers for Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

Have you tried any of the White Collection, or other fragrances by Atelier des Ors? Do you love any other fragrances with links to other forms of art, such as music or painting?

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