Update on Diane St. Clair, of St. Clair Scents

Update on Diane St. Clair, of St. Clair Scents

As many of you know, perfumer Diane St. Clair first became known for making the country’s best butter, as determined (and bought) by the country’s best chefs. The New York Times just published a lovely article about how she has retired her dairy business by selling it to a local young couple of dairy farmers who want to follow in her footsteps: “America’s Most Luxurious Butter Lives to Churn Another Day.

What a happy “ending” to the dairy stage of Diane’s life! I look forward eagerly to her ongoing creation of fine artisan fragrances such as my personal faves so far, Gardener’s Glove and First Cut.

Diane St. Clair of St. Clair Scents sitting at perfumer's organ
Diane St. Clair of St. Clair Scents; image copyright Michael Heeney.
Perfume Chat Room, March 4

Perfume Chat Room, March 4

Welcome back to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, March 4, and I am officially on spring break! The coming week is when the university where I work will not hold classes; most students and faculty will leave town; so I’m at liberty to take a week-long vacation. Hurray! To be honest, I feel the need for it quite acutely this year. Spring break was the week when everything changed in 2020 due to the pandemic. It’s hard to believe that two years have elapsed since then. I feel so lucky, though, that our family remained safe and healthy.

The war in Ukraine continues. As this is a fragrance blog, I’ve tried to learn more about perfumery in Ukraine. I found this article; and this perfumer, Oleksandr Perevertaylo, listed on Fragrantica with his house Partisan Perfumes. One of his creations, Coven, was very favorably reviewed and awarded three starts by Luca Turin in “Perfumes: The Guide 2018.”

There is always joy in discovering new talent, and Aleksandr [sic] Perevertaylo is definitely one, possessed with the perfumery equivalent of that elusive things writers hanker after, a voice. He composes perfumes in Dnipro, recently renamed (for only the eighth time since its foundation) from Dnepropetrovsk. Coven is his most classical fragrance, and a very solid piece of work it is, in a buttery-floral manner that puts me in mind of a denser version of Molyneux’s Vivre, long discontinued.

M. Turin also praised M. Perevertaylo’s Porto de Rosa, putting it alongside Tocade and Galop as “a rose that makes you reconsider set ideas about that supposedly familiar flower.” Silky Way and Sugar Daddy also earned three stars, and Silly Love earned four stars and the praise that it was “brilliant work.” I haven’t had the opportunity to try any of these, or the 2021 release Partisan, but I hope to do so one day. Victoria at Bois de Jasmin has also written about a favorite niche perfumery in Kyiv, Le Flacon; I hope its owners and staff are safe.

I have been dipping into a fascinating book that covers part of the history of Russian perfumery, “The Scent of Empires: Chanel No.5 and Red Moscow”, by Karl Schlogel. Now that I’m on vacation, I plan to read it more thoroughly.

Do you have any experience with, or insights into, perfume in Ukraine or Russia? Or do you have any favorite books about perfume, whether fact or fiction or reviews?

Flowering branch of yellow mimosa
Mimosa in bloom; in honor of International Women’s Day, March 8
Perfume Chat Room, February 18

Perfume Chat Room, February 18

Welcome back to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, February 18, and I am the happy recipient of a full bottle of Maison Lancome’s Peut-Etre, a Valentine’s “gift” from my lovely husband. I put “gift” in quotation marks because, like many of us, I chose and ordered the fragrance so HE could give it to ME. He is a patient, lovely man! He also surprised me with a beautiful orchid plant; I made him a fancy dinner that included filet mignon and an excellent bottle of red wine. This may be the first Valentine’s Day we’ve had alone together since becoming parents. In 2020, we still had one child living at home; and in 2021, we had all three children living at home due to the pandemic!

Today, though, I’m wearing Maison Christian Dior’s Jasmin des Anges, from a decant that came in my monthly scent subscription. It’s really pretty! I’m a bit cautious around white flower scents, but this one is light and lovely. It has notes of peach, apricot, and osmanthus with the jasmine, which keep it fresh and airy. It reminds me a bit of a light white wine, even prosecco, but more floral.

The name of the fragrance reminded me that there is a lovely tropical jasmine called “Angel Wings jasmine”, or Jasminum nitidum, which then reminded me of this wonderful art project called the Global Angel Wings Project, by Colette Miller. She started it in Los Angeles, the “City of Angels”, with a street mural of painted angel wings, where passers-by could pose in front as if they themselves had sprouted wings. She has now painted angel wings all around the globe.

Painting of angel wings above water
Angel wings, by artist Colette Miller, for her Global Angel Wings Project.

How do you react to jasmine fragrances? Do you have any favorites?

Perfume Chat Room, July 23

Perfume Chat Room, July 23

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, July 23, and it is my late parents’ wedding anniversary. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have read this post before, My Mother’s Last Perfume, in which I wrote a bit about their long, but not always happy, marriage. Nevertheless, I honor this day because without it, my sisters and I wouldn’t exist! And because my parents made the effort to stay married until the ends of their lives and, in their own ways, they cared for each other. Their happiest times were when they traveled together, which they loved to do; and I too love to travel with my husband, though my marriage is a much more content one than my parents’, I think.

I also have some excitement to share — I’ve been asked by an accomplished playwright in my city to collaborate with her and a composer to create a “fragrance score” for a new experimental musical they are writing! I had taken part in a playwriting group she led over several weeks, pre-pandemic, and we had talked about how fragrance could and should be used more in theater. This is such an interesting creative project, I’m very excited about the possibilities. I will be the creative director for the fragrances, of course, not the actual perfumer. We are applying for a grant to develop the production, so I hope to include in the budget some modest funds to commission some scents from a perfumer eventually. For now, I think we’ll be able to use existing scents.

What are your thoughts on combining fragrance with other arts? I love reading about Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ collaborations with the Denver Art Museum. And the ways actors can use fragrance for their own performances are also fascinating: How Performers Use Perfume.

May Melange Marathon: White Peacock Lily

May Melange Marathon: White Peacock Lily

D.S. & Durga is a niche brand I haven’t experienced very much, partly because of their price point (high, even for samples). But when I had an opportunity to buy a reasonably priced decant of White Peacock Lily, I jumped at it, because it sounded so intriguing when it was launched in 2016. It is indeed a very lovely lily-focused fragrance. Its notes include: Top notes of Oleander, Cabreuva Rouge, and Grapefruit Pith; middle notes of White Lily, Egyptian Jasmine, Cream and “Alabaster Violet” (which I assume means white violet); base notes of Ambrette (Musk Mallow), Vanilla, and Fog. The perfumer, D.S. of D.S. & Durga, also mentions on the website that it has notes of bergamot, melon, and rose Otto.

One thing I like about the brand’s website is that each fragrance comes with detailed “liner notes”, describing the inspiration for it, with references to literature, music, etc. The liner notes for White Peacock Lily state:

The piece that inspired this perfume is called “The White Peacock” by Fiona Macleod — a Scottish woman famous throughout the highlands for her dreamy works—and set to music by Griffes. It is one of the few tone poems based on an actual poem. The music, scored for a small orchestra, takes direction from the words. Mercurial/magic harps, winding strings, quirky brass horns, and the comical buzz of clarinets describe the beautifully soft language: “cliffs of basalt, fronds of cactus, where the bulbul singeth, cream-white poppies.” In Griffes music, the listener can hear the cream white poppies, the sweeping seas of flowers, and most important the silent noble glide of the grand bird that floats above the fields of flowers.

The composer mentioned is unfamiliar to me: Charles Tomlinson Griffes. Sadly, he died of pneumonia at the age of 35, at the outset of a very promising career, in 1920 at the height of the last century’s global pandemic, influenza. Apparently one of a few of his works that are still performed is “The White Peacock”, inspiration for today’s “May Melange Marathon” fragrance.

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May Melange Marathon: La Colle Noire

May Melange Marathon: La Colle Noire

Happy May Day, and welcome to the May Melange Marathon! In previous years, I have written blogging marathons in the month of May, celebrating the lovely lily of the valley in a “May Muguet Marathon“, and my beloved roses in a “Roses de Mai Marathon.” This year, I wanted to write about a number of the green fragrances I love, but I didn’t think I had enough to post about one daily for 31 days. Also, I have some new (to me) muguet and rose fragrances. So the solution is to go with the theme of “April showers bring May flowers” and write about a melange of scents that evoke different aspects of a garden, with a mix of florals and greens.

First up: Christian Dior’s La Colle Noire. Launched in 2016, it is named for the Provence estate of designer Christian Dior, outside the legendary perfume city of Grasse. One of the reasons that Grasse became so important in perfumery is the abundance and quality of the roses that are grown there for their essential oil, especially the “Rose de Mai”, or centifolia rose, also known as the Provence rose. Perfumer Francois Demachy wrote of La Colle Noire:

“In the springtime, the Centifolia Rose takes over the garden of La Colle Noire, Christian Dior’s beloved home in the Grasse region. It is an extraordinary time, when the flower’s plump, honeyed and fruity scent lingers in the air. This fragrance is an ode to that magical place and the unique rose that grows in the land of my childhood.”

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Fleeting — Scents in Colour

Fleeting — Scents in Colour

One of my favorite fragrance blogs, Now Smell This, posted a brief mention of an upcoming art exhibit at the Mauritshuis museum in Holland. It is called “Fleeting — Scents in Colour”, and it will pair artworks with the imagined scents of what is portrayed. Apparently, some of those scents will be pleasant, and others — not so much. But what a great idea!

I think fragrance is under-utilized as a partner to other arts, but I understand why — it is hard to use in live performance spaces, for example, unless one decided to have one dominant smell, because how do you clear one out of the air to make room for another? And some people could be allergic, even if it just makes them sneeze. Pairing more static artworks like paintings with fragrance one can smell in limited space seems more feasible, though I wonder how this will work in the ongoing pandemic of airborne COVID-19.

Kudos to the Mauritshuis for even trying! Here is their description:

Fleeting – Scents in Colour

11 February 2021 – 6 June 2021 – Scented flowers and perfumes, foul-smelling canals and unpleasant body odours, smell and well-being, new aromas from far-away lands (spices, tobacco, coffee and tea), the disappearing smells of the bleaching fields, old crafts and more. Can life in the seventeenth century be captured in smell? How are smell (and scent) portrayed? What significance did people attach to smell? And what aromatic connotations do artworks have? In this exhibition, the Mauritshuis will undertake smell-historical research. In the vicinity of the art, various historic scents will be prepared to bring the paintings in the exhibition to life.

This effort reminds me of my 2019 trip to Venice (sigh — no travel for me in 2020), specifically my visit to that city’s Palazzo Mocenigo, which houses a perfume museum. I miss traveling, and I miss my “perfume tourism”, but I was so lucky to have been able to take more than one lovely trip with my husband in 2019. While 2020 was a lost year for travel, other than one much-needed week at a beach to which we could drive, my fingers are crossed for at least the second half of 2021. And since he won’t be traveling for work much this year, and who knows what international restrictions will be in place, we’ll probably get more creative in our travels and explore more of our own large and beautiful country.

Do you engage in “perfume tourism”, by which I mean seeking out perfume-related sites and stores in places you visit, and maybe bringing back perfume souvenirs?

Scent Sample Sunday: Miss Dior

Scent Sample Sunday: Miss Dior

I always love a good chypre, and I love seriously green fragrances, and those two traits often travel together. So I admit, it’s a little odd that I hadn’t yet tried vintage Miss Dior, given that its vintage formula includes many of my favorite notes and it is most certain a green floral chypre. Well, I was able to get my hands on one of the houndstooth bottles of Miss Dior eau de toilette, and this is love.

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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.

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Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays

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

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

Singer songwriter Joni Mitchell with clouds, wildflowers and guitar

Joni Mitchell and clouds; image from Eau My Soul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image of Joni Mitchell from Eau My Soul.