Fragrance Friday: Crepuscule des Ames

Fragrance Friday: Crepuscule des Ames

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

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

Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, “Gnawing Grief.”

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

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

Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, second panel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fragrance Friday: Neil’s Book “Perfume”

I am in awe of the fact that Neil Chapman, author of the blog The Black Narcissus, has written and had published an actual BOOK! It is called “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent”, and it just came out in the US (it came out a short time earlier, in March, in the UK). You can buy it on Amazon, where I had pre-ordered it; I came home from work earlier this week to find the package waiting on my doorstep. It is also available online and at booksellers such as Blackwell’s and Barnes & Noble.

As others have written, the book itself is beautiful, a hardcover volume with an Art Deco cover design in black, gold, and silver, and gold-edged pages. If you have ever read The Black Narcissus, you know that Neil is a wonderfully gifted writer with wide-ranging interests. His posts about fragrance include many cultural references and observations from his years living in several countries, from his childhood and youth in England, to his current home in Japan. He studied Italian and French literature at Cambridge University, and he now teaches English to Japanese secondary school students. His literary sensibilities suffuse his writing, but he also includes deeply personal reminiscences and a vast knowledge of perfume: history, ingredients, creators, etc.

Neil’s individual reviews of specific perfumes are grouped into categories such as “Green”, then by notes like “grasses, leaves and herbs.” (As a lover of green fragrances myself, I was thrilled that this is the first chapter!) It is a remarkably user-friendly format with an exhaustive index if one just wants to read one review of a specific fragrance. Neil has a poetic sensibility and lifelong love of perfume, both of which his writing reflects. As he says, “In its wordless abstraction, a beautifully made scent can encapsulate an emotion; smell, with its visceral link to the unconscious, is unique in its emotional immediacy.” His short reviews of individual fragrances combine information about their components and creation with his own reactions to wearing them, or memories of times when he wore them. Since his own perfume collection must number in the thousands, including many rare vintage perfumes, even the most profligate collectors of perfumes will find surprises and revelations. However, the book is also a very accessible guide for those who are just exploring fragrance, or, as he writes, “a guide through a world that can at times seem overwhelming.”

Bravo, Neil! I’m wearing Vol de Nuit in your honor today! To learn more about Neil, check out this interview on the blog “Olfactoria’s Travels.”

Happy National Fragrance Day!

Happy National Fragrance Day!

It’s National Fragrance Day in the UK! In fact, this whole week is National Fragrance Week. The Jasmine Awards have been announced, and if you’re in the UK, there seem to be many special offers, draws, etc., listed on the Fragrance Foundation’s website.

What will you wear today to celebrate fragrance? I’m thinking about Etat Libre d’Orange’s Vraie Blonde, which I just got in my Scentbird subscription, for its note of pink champagne. It’s sparkly and delightful!

Scent Sample Sunday: The Wearin’ O’ The Green

Scent Sample Sunday: The Wearin’ O’ The Green

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! In honor of the day, let us rejoice in the “wearing of the green” — green fragrances, that is. I love green fragrances, as you might expect from a blogger whose nom de plume is “Old Herbaceous“, and my most difficult fragrance choice today will be to decide which of the many I own I will wear. (Another option might be to wear one of the fragrances I brought home from Ireland last summer, including some from the small independent perfumer The Burren Perfumery, but today I’ll probably go with a classic green). Today will be a celebration of “The Wearin’ O’ The Green”!

Green nymph Fantasia

Image from Disney’s Fantasia 2000; http://www.disney.com

Fragrantica did one of its wonderful “Best in Show” columns last year on green fragrances, which you can read here: Best in Show: Green Fragrances (2018). As the editor notes, “green” can describe a wide range of fragrances and notes, which can include: galbanum, patchouli, vetiver, grasses, mosses, ivy, and leaves (especially tea and tomato), lime, basil, rosemary, mint, and cilantro, green mango and apple, conifer needles, bamboo, and more. Many of the muguet fragrances I love are quite green. As I’ve already written a lot about so many of those, and will again later this spring, I’ll pass over them as a category for now.

Some of the classic greens I own and love are Chanel No. 19, Chanel Cristalle, Annick Goutal Grand Amour, Gucci Envy, Balmain Vent Vert (the 1991 version, by Calice Becker), Jacomo Silences, Estee Lauder Azuree, Clinique Aromatics Elixir.

My newer green niche perfumes include (of course) Papillon’s Dryad, Beaufort London’s Fathom V, Amouage Bracken, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s The Pour Un Ete, Laboratorio Olfattivo’s Decou-Vert, DSH Perfumes Le Jardin Vert. There are others, but many of them I own only in small sample sizes, so I’m not counting them here!

Green fragrances: Chanel No. 19, Cristalle, Papillon Dryad, on Liberty shawl

Favorite green fragrances

While I know that “green” fragrances are said to be the least favored category of fragrance, I know many of you also love them. What are your favorites? Do you plan to wear a green fragrance today?

Outdoor sculpture of the Mud Maid, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

Mud Maid, The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Thunking Thursday: Exceptional?

If you’ve ever ordered from the website Fragrancenet, you have undoubtedly received at least one sample of their “exclusive” fragrances: Exceptional Because You Are and Simply Belle. They throw those into every order, often with the dinky little plastic purse mirror or the (more useful) emery board for nails.

I never wear those samples; sometimes I collect them with little travel supplies like shampoo, to donate to shelters or clothing banks. But today, in honor of Thunking Thursday, I am wearing and thunking Exceptional. I’ll thunk it even if the vial’s not empty, because it is just — meh. It’s only $35.74 for 100 ml with the usual Fragrancenet coupon, but I have better ways to spend $35.74. For example, for the exact same amount, one can buy a 3 oz. tester of Jicky eau de toilette on the Fragrancenet site. I rest my case.

What is Exceptional like? It’s not unpleasant. It has a synthetic citrusy opening, followed by what one commenter described as “a musky little floral.” That’s about all, but it’s okay. I wouldn’t be able to pick out any particular flower notes without prompting — maybe a little freesia? And then a light synthetic musk that fades away within a few hours. I wouldn’t go out of my way to wear or buy this, but if I wanted a fragrance and this was all I happened to have in my purse, or the other options were too strong for where I was or what I was doing, I’d wear it.

Thunk! Have you ever actually tried this one, or its sister Simply Belle? Did you thunk anything more interesting this week?

Fragrance Friday: Atelier des Ors and Bois Sikar

Fragrance Friday: Atelier des Ors and Bois Sikar

In late January, I had such a lovely blogger experience! I was in Nice for a week, taking a break from work to accompany my husband on his business trip, and free to do whatever I wished during the day. I reached out to a blogger whose fragrance blog I love, Megan in Sainte Maxime, and asked if she might like to get together for coffee or lunch. She said yes! She was working in Cannes, which is a short train ride from Nice, so I met her there. My very first blogger meet-up! And let me just tell you how much grief I got from my oldest daughter, who spent her teens being told “Don’t talk to strangers on the Internet! Never go meet someone you met online!” That child has been waiting for ten years to say that stuff back to me, even tongue in cheek.

Fragrance writer/blogger Megan in Sainte Maxime

Megan in Sainte Maxime; image from her Facebook page

Megan is as charming in person as she is in her blog. She graciously took me to a local coffee shop, then invited me to the offices of Atelier des Ors, where she has been doing some work for the line and its founder, Jean-Philippe Clermont. The two of them spent a generous amount of time showing me the house’s latest fragrances, also created by perfumer Marie Salamagne as are all the Atelier des Ors fragrances. Marie Salamagne is the perfumer behind Alaia and its flankers, Mugler’s Aura, Yves St. Laurent’s Black Opium and several flankers, and others you would recognize immediately, including several for Jo Malone. She is a great talent.

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Visit to Atelier des Ors, Cannes, France

The first five fragrances of Atelier des Ors were launched in 2015, joined by two more in 2017 and four new ones in 2018. Jean-Philippe wrote his own account of how he came to the creation of a perfume house for CaFleureBon, in 2016: CaFleureBon Creative Directors in Perfumery: Jean-Philippe Clermont. It seems he has been surrounded by interesting scents in exotic locations since his youth, including extensive travel in Asia and the Middle East. For some years, he ran a business dealing in fine cigars, and that experience sparked a passionate interest in fragrance and the materials that combine to create great fragrances, because of the variations among the cigars and the blends of tobacco that give rise to fragrant smoke.

Three of the four 2018 fragrances are the “White Collection”, inspired by Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze” in Vienna, Austria. Sergey Borisov wrote a lovely piece about the collection and its inspirations on Fragrantica. The fourth fragrance of 2018 is Bois Sikar, considered part of the “Black Collection.” It was inspired by Jean-Philippe’s cigar business, a very masculine scent, evocative of the scents one might find in a traditional London private gentlemen’s club:

A beguiling smoky tobacco scent with robust woody tonalities swirling against the heady vapours. The unique, smoky, peaty character of Islay’s single malt whisky is simultaneously conjured to create the essence of Bois Sikar. These addictive facets entwine with cedar leaf creating an intensely intoxicating fragrance.

Bois Sikar eau de parfum by Atelier des Ors, with whisky and cigar

Atelier des Ors’ Bois Sikar

Bois Sikar is powerful stuff and not for the faint of heart, but it’s brilliant. A little goes a LONG way. The opening is woodsmoke and it is strong. It mellows slowly on the skin, as I imagine an Islay whisky mellows on the tongue after a rough start. Not that I’ve had any Islay whisky myself — I don’t care for Scotch, although it was my father’s drink. I have read that Islay whiskies are especially strong and have an intense flavor of peat smoke, which is used on that Scottish island — known as the “Queen of the Hebrides” and the “burning heart of smoky whiskies” — to smoke the malted barley that is used to make this distinctive local whisky. One writer describes this process: “The peat fuels the fires that roast the barley used in whisky-making, and it gives the finished product a robust flavor that recalls a campfire by the sea: smoky, earthy, a little salty, slightly medicinal.” Big, powerful, fierce, distinctive, super-smoky — these are the descriptors used for Islay whisky.

Peat kiln used in Scotch whisky distillery, Highland Park, Orkney

Peat kiln at Highland Park distillery, Orkney; image from www.whiskyadvocate.com

Commenters on Fragrantica are polarized about Bois Sikar, and their reactions are really all about the smoke. Either they love it, or they hate it. Several refer to it as smelling like a campfire; some who dislike it even use the word “barbecue.” It doesn’t smell to me at all like anything related to barbecue, as there are no food or meaty notes, but “campfire” is accurate. However, this campfire is stoked with fragrant wood, like the apple, mesquite, and cedar wood chips one can buy to add to regular logs in a firepit. This makes sense, given the deliberate evocation of peat fires; I suspect that some of the commenters have as little direct experience with Islay whiskies as I do!

Let us not forget the cigars. Here too, my firsthand knowledge is sadly lacking, although cigars were another pleasure my father enjoyed occasionally. It is interesting that, like whiskies, fragrances, wine, cigars are said to vary widely in their flavors or notes. Like fragrance writers, those who write about cigars review them and post “Best of” lists, such as Havana Insider’s Best Cuban Cigars of 2018.  After the initial blast of woodsmoke fades away, I do smell the tobacco in Bois Sikar. I’ve never smoked myself, but I do like the scent of good tobacco, and that is what I smell here.

Tobacco barn Windsor CT

Tobacco drying in shed, Windsor, CT; image from http://www.connecticutbarns.org

As Bois Sikar dries down, the smoke slowly dissipates and one is left with a pleasantly woody, dry, tobacco scent, reminiscent of an old tobacco shed, or barn, in the middle of a dry field, after harvest. (I do have personal knowledge of those, as I grew up in Connecticut, where a tobacco industry was established in the early 1600s and continues to this day). The drydown and base note stages are  warm, woody, complex, and quite alluring. I applied two small sprays of Bois Sikar on my wrists last night, and this morning it was still fragrant on my skin when I woke up.

Old tobacco shed, barn, in Connecticut River Valley.

Connecticut tobacco shed; image from http://www.connecticutbarns.org.

I think the dryness of the base comes from the vetiver that is listed. I like Bois Sikar a lot, though it’s not my style of fragrance for myself and you have to be ready for that powerful opening. Although I believe that anyone who likes a fragrance can wear it, Bois Sikar is definitely a fragrance at the far end of the traditionally masculine spectrum. It lasts a long time, and the opening is intensely smoky. For those who want to wear it on social occasions, I recommend spraying it in small amounts a good hour before you leave home, as the powerhouse opening may overwhelm bystanders! If you want to wear it to work, proceed with caution and apply very lightly, allowing even more time for it to dry down before you go to your workplace.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Cannes, my meet-up with Megan and Jean-Philippe, and my introduction to Atelier des Ors! The “White Collection” is much more my personal vibe, and will be the subject of a separate post, as its three scents warrant closer attention on their own.

What traditionally “masculine” fragrances do you enjoy, on yourself or on others? What do you think of strongly smoky fragrances? Any favorites?

Review based on a sample provided by Atelier des Ors, opinions my own.

Thunking Thursday: Vitriol d’Oeillet

Thunking Thursday: Vitriol d’Oeillet

Happy Thursday! This week I thunked my sample of Serge Lutens’ Vitriol d’Oeillet. Full disclosure: I don’t mind at all thunking it, because I bought a full bottle for my husband, who has so often bought lovely fragrances for me. And it smells marvelous! Lots of carnation, just like the classic original Old Spice. I love a good carnation fragrance, like L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Oeillet Sauvage. Do you like carnations in fragrances? Which are your favorites?

Red carnation boutonnieres on gentlemen's white dinner jackets or tuxedoes

Red carnation boutonnieres; image from A Gentleman’s Row