Scent Semantics, September 5

Scent Semantics, September 5

The word for this month’s Scent Semantics posts is “misanthrope.” If you haven’t read one of these posts before, “Scent Semantics” brings together a group of us fragrance bloggers in a collaborative project called “Scent Semantics“, the brainchild of Portia Turbo over at A Bottled Rose. On the first Monday of each month, we all take a word — the same word — as inspiration for a post that has some relationship to a fragrance, broadly interpreted. There are six participating blogs: Serenity Now Scents and Sensibilities (here), The Plum GirlThe Alembicated GenieEau La LaUndina’s Looking Glass, and A Bottled Rose. I hope you’ll all check out the Scent Semantics posts on each blog!

One definition of “misanthrope” is “someone who dislikes and avoids other people.” Now, I am not normally a misanthrope myself, although I am definitely an introvert (and if you’ve never seen author Susan Cain’s TED talk on the subject, click on that link — it’s a treat!). However, I think we’ve all become a bit misanthropic during the last two and a half years of a global pandemic — we were forced to avoid other people starting in March of 2020, then we disliked many people because of their varied responses to the pandemic. Layer on top of that the American elections of 2020 and their aftermath, so full of rage, and I think it’s safe to say that many of us, misanthropic by nature or not, have been slowly emerging from a phase of misanthropy.

My semantically matched fragrance this month is vintage Chanel No. 19 eau de toilette. I’ve been wearing it almost daily for the past week as my green armor at work, due to the difficulties I’ve encountered leading up to a long overdue personal leave (which started this weekend, yay!). No. 19 always makes me feel that I can be tougher than I actually am; it stiffens my backbone. Some might say that it helps me set and keep healthy boundaries, lol!

Why? I think it’s because of the hefty dose of galbanum that heralds its arrival: a bitter, green opening chord that announces, as the Chanel website says, a “daring, distinctive, uncompromising composition.” Perfect for setting boundaries! The other top notes reinforce the lack of compromise: astringent bergamot, assertive hyacinth, aromatic neroli. All have a distinctive tinge of green supporting the star of the show, the galbanum, which Fragrantica sums up as an “intense and persistent bitter green .” Indeed. If galbanum were a person, it would be Bette Davis playing Margo Channing in “All About Eve”:

“All About Eve”, 20th Century Fox.

If you’re not familiar with the movie, it is about a star actress who is turning forty, fears for her career, and is manipulated and ultimately upstaged by a much younger woman. Fittingly, No. 19 was the last Chanel fragrance created while Coco Chanel herself was still alive, in her 80s, though I don’t know that anyone ever succeeded in either manipulating or upstaging her. Master perfumer Henri Robert put the finishing touches on the formula in 1970, Chanel died in early 1971, and No. 19 was released the same year.

The blog “Olfactoria’s Travels” has a wonderful review of No. 19, referring to it as a “magic cloak”. The reviewer takes a more benevolent view of No. 19 than Tania Sanchez did in the guide to perfumes she co-wrote with Luca Turin, where she compared it to the wire mother monkey in a famous experiment about nurturing or the lack thereof. Blogger and author Neil Chapman, of “The Black Narcissus”, is famously a devotee of No. 19, scarfing up vintage bottles of it in all formats from second-hand stores in Japan, where he lives. You can read all about it in his amazing book, “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent”, available in the UK and the US, and elsewhere in other languages, which I highly recommend!

Luckily for me, since I adore green fragrances, on my skin the greenery lasts and lasts, joined in the heart phase by some of my favorite floral notes: iris, orris root, rose, lily-of-the-valley, narcissus, jasmine and ylang-ylang. The green astringency of the opening notes is carried forward by the lily-of-the-valley and narcissus, while orris root adds earthiness, iris adds powder, and jasmine and ylang-ylang add airiness, sexiness and warmth. My sense of No. 19 as “armor” is aided by my vintage spray, a refillable, silvery, aluminum canister that has protected its contents for many years.

No. 19 has had many “faces”, my favorite being English model and iconoclast Jean Shrimpton. And guess what? Based on her own words, she may actually have been a misanthrope, having walked away from her superstar modeling career and life of celebrity in her 30s, becoming what she herself described as a recluse running a hotel in Cornwall. Although the photo of her below is not an ad for Chanel, to me it captures the spirit of No. 19‘s opening — inscrutable, distant, mingling shades of green, white, and earthy brown with the unexpected intrusion of purple:

Model Jean Shrimpton sitting on an ancient tree root.
Jean Shrimpton; image by Patrick Lichfield for Vogue, 1970.

As No. 19 dries down, to my nose the galbanum never leaves, though it recedes into the distance as the oakmoss enters the glade. Because I have the vintage EDT, the base includes oakmoss, leather, musk, sandalwood, and cedar. It is a true chypre, a genre I love. It reminds me of the Jackie Kennedy Onassis of the 1970s: elegant and even haughty upon first appearance, with a warmth that reveals itself over time to the patient; breaking free from the fashion conventions she mastered so skillfully and embodied in the 1950s and 1960s, and far from the cold “wire mother” of Tania Sanchez’ imagining while retaining an aura that commands respect.

I’m choosing to adopt Laura Bailey‘s interpretation of No. 19, which she described in Vogue at the height of pandemic lockdowns in 2020, as the scent of new beginnings and dreams of future adventure:

No 19, the ‘unexpected’ Chanel, the ‘outspoken’ Chanel, created at the height of the first wave of feminism in 1971, and named for Coco Chanel’s birthday – 19 August – is, for me, the fragrance of freedom, of optimism, of strength. (And of vintage campaign stars Ali MacGraw, Jean Shrimpton and Christie Brinkley.) The heady cocktail of rose-iris-vetiver-jasmine-lily-of-the-valley remains shockingly modern and original, bolder than any sweet fairy-tale fantasy.

If you had to relate a fragrance to the word “misanthrope”, which would you choose?

Ad with perfume bottle of Chanel No. 19
Chanel No. 19 ad; image from chanel.com.
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, January 7

Perfume Chat Room, January 7

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, January 7, and it is 2022! Earlier this week, my fellow bloggers and I posted our monthly “Scent Semantics” post for January, riffing off the word “luscious.” Check out the posts on six different fragrance blogs!

The numbers 2022 in fireworks
2022 in fireworks; image from parade.com

Like many other Americans, my work week began again post-holidays, but we’re back to remote work because of the massive surge in omicron variant COVID cases. I feel much less anxious about it this time.

Instead of “dry January”, I’m going to make a conscious effort to minimize fragrance purchases this month, since I took full advantage of many sales and discounts before, during, and after Christmas! Most of those were from small or independent perfumers or perfumeries, so I don’t feel bad about supporting them. This month, I’m enjoying the “January Joy Box” from 4160 Tuesdays, which is a box of 15 fragrances, most of them limited editions or not yet in the main 4160 Tuesdays line, to be opened one at a time, every other day, in numbered order. Sarah McCartney started this annual tradition a few years ago, and it is great fun! It’s like a January Advent calendar. Lots of chatter about each fragrance on 4160 Tuesdays’ Facebook pages!

So far, I’ve opened 1) Spellbinder; 2) Cherry Who?; and 3) Dawn to Dusk. Of those, so far my favorite is Spellbinder, which Sarah actually created for an independent US business called Haunted Saginaw (the fragrances are labeled “13th Floor Fragrance Co.”). Here’s the published description:

Rich and luxurious tonka beans infused with superior Madagascar vanilla, bursting with a citrus & slightly earthy opening (Bergamot, Mandarin, Tart Cranberry & ripened Rhubarb) intertwined with a dark forest of woods (Cedar, Sandalwood, Cashmere) into a slightly smokey veil ( Sweet Tobacco, Incense & Leather) sensually merging into a dark floral heart ( Jasmine, Violet, and exotic Ylang Ylang) surrounded by an array of arromatic spices ( Cardamom, Nutmeg & more).

If this sounds like something you must have, it can still be purchased at the Haunted Saginaw website. By the way, Sarah and fragrance blogger Sam Scriven from “I Scent You A Day” published their book this fall, “The Perfume Companion“, and it is great fun. I love that two bloggers I follow, Sam and Neil Chapman of “The Black Narcissus” have both published books in recent years. I love reading their insights, and both books are great for browsing.

On the topic of books, one of my Christmas gifts this year, which I’ve just started reading, is the book “The Scent of Empires: Chanel No.5 and Red Moscow“, by Karl Schlogel. Already it promises to be fascinating to this history nerd!

Have you started off your New Year in any new fragrances, or with any new books? Do tell!

Perfume Chat Room, July 30

Perfume Chat Room, July 30

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 30, and tomorrow is Harry Potter’s birthday! I still remember getting the first book in 1997 and reading it with delight, as a young mother. The books continued to arrive during the same era when my own children arrived. When they were older, we read the earlier books aloud to them and played the audiobooks on long car trips (the American audiobooks, narrated by British actor Jim Dale, are wonderful!). A couple of years ago, I posted about my thoughts on what fragrances various characters from the books might wear. I stand by my choices!

Did you know that Ulta released a “Harry Potter” collection of fragrances last year?? I’m not sure who thought “soothing raindrops” was appropriate for Slytherin. The fragrances chosen by Scentsy for their Hogwarts wax melts seems more apropos:

Gryffindor™: Bravery and Determination
Race through daring smoky woods, while amber and a touch of dapper cinnamon leaf bring warmth to your journey.

Slytherin™: Cunning and Ambition
Forest woods
 hide dark secrets in fresh oak moss and a sweetly sinister layer of deep blackberry.

Hufflepuff™: Just and Loyal
The Great Hall beckons with sweet and steadfast notes of golden applewhipped vanilla almond and cinnamon sugar.

Ravenclaw™: Wit and Wisdom
A clever concoction of suede and sandalwood is mellowed handsomely by a ribbon of smooth vanilla.

Do you have any favorite book characters? What fragrance(s) might they wear?

Featured image from Warner Bros.

May Melange Marathon: Mother’s Day and No. 5

May Melange Marathon: Mother’s Day and No. 5

Today is Mother’s Day in the US, and I’m thinking of my own late mother and the perfume I associate most with her, Chanel No.5. No.5 is 100 years old this year, having been launched by the house of Chanel in 1921, which hardly seems possible! Here is the wonderful video Chanel released this year to celebrate No.5‘s centennial:

The version I have is the eau de toilette; in fact, it is the last bottle of No.5 that my mother owned. I brought it home with me, with its few ml of fragrance left, after her funeral and clearing out her home. Wearing a few drops now on the back of my hand, I can still smell how beautiful it is, and think peacefully of my mom.

I wrote about her and No.5 five years ago, in “My Mother’s Last Perfume“. She died in May of 2017; if she were still alive, she would be turning 90 this year — only ten years younger than No.5! We held her memorial service in July of 2017, so that all members of the family could be there, and a memory I find very consoling is that I took charge of working with the florist for the church service. I used to help my mother arrange flowers as part of the church’s “Flower Guild”, a volunteer role that she took very seriously, albeit with some humor. She loved to recount how long it took her to win the approval of the older women in the Flower Guild when she first wanted to join, in spite of her being a member of the church’s vestry! They only let her cut off the ends of stems and hand them the flowers for months.

Because of those companionable times we spent together arranging flowers, I knew her strong likes and dislikes — I don’t think my mom had any likes or dislikes that were anything but strong. I remember telling the florist that we could not have gladioli under any circumstances, because my mom hated them with a passion and she would return from the grave to haunt us all if we had them at her memorial. I was so pleased with our final selections: the roses and lilies she loved; Bells of Ireland, to recall her Anglo-Irish roots and her beloved aunts and grandmother, with whom she spent school holidays; eucalyptus as a reference to her birthplace of New Zealand; and other fragrant flowers, some of which are notes in No.5.

Because I started buying her No.5 in the 1970s, as a child, the version I recall most has the original notes (though I think by then the civet was synthetic): top notes of Aldehydes, Ylang-Ylang, Neroli, Amalfi Lemon and Bergamot; middle notes of Iris, Jasmine, Rose, Orris Root and Lily-of-the-Valley; base notes of Civet, Sandalwood, Musk, Oakmoss, Vetiver, Amber, Vanilla and Patchouli. I’m not sure of the date of the eau de toilette of hers I now have, but it’s probably from the early 2000s. And after an initial “off” opening, it is just lovely.

The aldehydes have survived the passage of time, as have the ylang-ylang and much of the neroli. Lemon and bergamot are no longer detectable. The notes of jasmine and rose are most prominent to my nose in the heart phase, with a gorgeous powdery softness provided by the iris and orris root. I can detect the lily-of-the-valley faintly, but just barely. The drydown is also lovely: it just keeps getting warmer, softer, and sexier, with those beautiful base notes. As many have noted, No. 5 is so well-blended, it is almost abstract. While it is possible to detect single notes, the overall impression is not of a particular flower, which is what perfumer Ernest Beaux and Mme. Chanel intended. No.5 is simply itself, and it is unmistakable to this day.

I don’t often wear No.5, as beautiful as it is, because I do associate it so much with my mom; but I use and love No.5 Eau Premiere as well as No.5 L’Eau. Blogger Neil Chapman of The Black Narcissus described the trio so well in his book “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent” (which I highly, highly recommend!):

Chanel’s enduring, glamorous icon is a scintillation of aldehydes, rose de mai, ylang ylang, orris, jasmine and vanilla (among many other ingredients) — a caress of timeless, confident femininity…. Successful recent reiterations of the No.5 brand that aim to appeal to the younger consumer include Eau Premiere (2007) — which I like for its streamlined primness and muted, statuesque lightness that works convincingly as a chilled, contemporary flanker of the original — and No.5 L’Eau in 2016, which smells as peachy and rosy as the dawn.

I can’t think of another perfume that has had the famous Any Warhol portrait treatment, can you? Do you like No.5, in any of its current versions or flankers? And happy Mother’s Day to all who are celebrating it today!

Bottles of Chanel No.5 perfume by Andy Warhol
Chanel No.5 portraits by Andy Warhol; image from Fragrantica.com.
Scent Sample Sunday: Le Jardin de Monsieur McGregor

Scent Sample Sunday: Le Jardin de Monsieur McGregor

Given how much gardening is on my mind (and under my fingernails) these days, it seems fitting to write about one of 4160 Tuesday’s quirkier scents, Le Jardin de Monsieur McGregor. Yes, it is named for the antagonist gardener in the Peter Rabbit stories, and also in homage to Jean-Claude Ellena’s Jardin series of scents for Hermes (all of which I own and enjoy). Perfumer Sarah McCartney writes that it was created during one of her perfume-making workshops, with a focus on the aroma molecule Hedione, which creates an impression of freshness and floralcy, with notes of jasmine and greenness. The goal was for the class to create the scent of a cottage garden in the Lake District.

For those who may not know, the famous author and illustrator of the Peter Rabbit books and many others, Beatrix Potter, played a key role in preserving thousands of acres in the Lake District, including leaving 4000 acres of countryside and 14 farms she owned to the National Trust. She was, of course, a marvelous illustrator, but she was also a gifted botanist, naturalist, gardener, and farmer, and the plants in her illustrations for her children’s books are botanically accurate down to the last details. They include many of the plants mentioned in the notes and materials list for Le Jardin de Monsieur McGregor.

Mr. McGregor in his garden, by Beatrix Potter
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How To Make Sense of Scents

How To Make Sense of Scents

The New Yorker magazine, renowned home of literary legends, has published a piece called “How To Make Sense of Scents”, by staff writer Rachel Syme. She reads Fragrantica! Like many fragheads, she traces her interest in perfume back to childhood and her mother’s favorite scents, which included Anais Anais and Poison. She became a hoarder of perfume samples from Surrender to Chance and The Perfumed Court, like many of us.

Ms. Syme’s piece discusses the way that most of us lack the vocabulary to describe scents accurately and consistently. She also highlights a recently published book (October 2020), Harold McGee’s “Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells” (Penguin Press). McGee is actually a food scientist, so his observations range from the molecular to deviled eggs, with many stops between.

Another 2020 book Ms. Syme discusses is “Smells: A Cultural History of Odours in Early Modern Times” (Polity), by French professor and historian Robert Muchembled. She sums up their different approaches:

Where McGee seeks a common vocabulary for exploring the osmocosm, Muchembled reminds us that the variables of time and place may defy a truly shared language. What we smell depends on what’s in vogue and what’s valued—on what cultural forces happen to be swirling in the air.

She ties Muchembled’s discussion of the impact of plague epidemics of the Middle Ages on the populaces’ relationship to the sense of smell, to the current pandemic in which we face a deadly virus that spreads largely through aerosolized forms and can also deprive sufferers of their sense of smell, temporarily or permanently.

I will have to seek out more of Ms. Syme’s writing! I’ve already bought the Kindle version of McGee’s book and will likely do the same with Muchembled’s tome (as an incorrigible book hoarder, I try to buy most books in digital form these days). After all, who doesn’t love a writer who voices these scentiments:

I also have a new appreciation for the elusive quest to track down smells: while there is an undeniable appeal to pursuing a “proper language” for discussing the osmocosm, there is also something to be gained by accepting that much of the pleasure of nasal perception is untranslatable. When we are at last able to swoon together again, unmasked and unmoored, over lilacs or hot brioche, what we will really be sharing is secret reverie.

Featured image: Photograph by Delaney Allen for The New Yorker.

Perfume Chat Room, September 18

Perfume Chat Room, September 18

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, September 18, and it’s been raining a LOT this week, with Hurricane Sally landing on the Gulf Coast and moving across the Southeast. We’ve only gotten the fringe of the rain and wind, so we’re lucky. In honor of the weather, I am wearing Guerlain’s Apres L’Ondee. My other option could have been Hermes’ Un Jardin Apres La Mousson, a favorite. Other pleasant distractions this week were my husband’s birthday, and the baking and cooking our oldest daughter did in honor of it. She made him Mary Berry’s pineapple/coconut/carrot cake from scratch — yummy! One of his gifts was a new book about Winston Churchill called “The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larson. It’s the story of Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister, from May 1940 to May 1941, which encompassed Dunkirk, the London Blitz, and the Battle of Britain, as well as his negotiations with U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt for Lend-Lease and future cooperation.

What’s your SOTD? Or, have you been reading anything of special interest?

Featured image from http://www.AmericanHistoryinLondon.com

Fragrance Friday: Harry Potter?

Fragrance Friday: Harry Potter?

Another blog, “Book Riot”, recently posted the most amusing game: guessing what fragrances the leading characters in the Harry Potter series would wear: The Perfect Fragrances for Harry Potter Characters. Here are some of the author’s choices: Gucci Pour Homme II for Sirius Black; Coco Mademoiselle for Fleur Delacour; Reserve Smoked Vetiver for Dumbledore; Demeter’s Paperback for Hermione; Demeter’s Christmas Tree for Hagrid; Bonbon for Luna Lovegood; Tobacco Vanille for Remus Lupin; Spicebomb for Draco Malfoy; Mr. Burberry for Ron Weasley; and D&G’s Light Blue Pour Homme for our hero, Harry Potter.

I love this game but I don’t love her choices (although in matters of fragrance, chacun a son gout!). In my opinion, Fleur Delacour would definitely wear Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. (Gabrielle would be ideal for her little sister). Hermione deserves something more notable and longer lasting than Paperback. Solstice Scents has a fragrance called Library, but it sounds smokier than I would think suitable for Hermione. Remembering her triumphant arrival at the Yule Ball, on the arm of Victor Krum, I’m giving her Caron’s Nuit de Noel. Yes, it’s a mature fragrance, but it’s very elegant and well-suited to a formal evening dance in the Great Hall at Hogwarts.

Hermione Granger and Victor Krum dancing at Yule Ball

Hermione and Victor at the Yule Ball.

What about Luna Lovegood? Bonbon seems too mainstream and girly. Given her habit of making weird accessories for herself from odds and ends, I will give her ELDO’s I am Trash. The brand’s description is as eccentric as Luna herself: “There is a jumble of romantic and titanic science fiction poetry that emerges from the slow, sure, and inevitable rocking of wastewaters in the industrial cycle. We want to make this perfume a messenger, in service not only to the survival of the species which results from seduction, but above all in service to the planet where our own miasmas must reflect beauty.”

Luna Lovegood wearing Spectre Specs

Luna Lovegood

Prof. McGonagall needs a fragrance: something as direct, honest, and no-nonsense as she is. I’ll assign her Caldey Island Lavender for regular use — and Vol de Nuit for more notable occasions. What about Molly Weasley? I’m thinking Creamy Vanilla Crumble from 4160 Tuesdays, since I always associate Mrs. Weasley with comfort food, although she proved her mettle many times.

Molly Weasley in her kitchen at The Burrow

Molly Weasley

Red-headed Mr. Weasley would, of course, wear the ultimate “Dad” scent: Old Spice, the original vintage version. I’m not as familiar with men’s fragrances — what do you think of the choices the blog author made for the male characters, and what might you suggest instead? And what about any of the characters I’ve listed, or any others you like? Or maybe some you don’t like, such as Vernon Dursley!

All characters by J.K. Rowling; images from Warner Bros.

May Muguet Marathon: Neil Chapman’s “Perfume”

May Muguet Marathon: Neil Chapman’s “Perfume”

If you have read the excellent fragrance blog The Black Narcissus, you have already encountered the writing of Neil Chapman. Neil published, this spring, his first book, called “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent.” You can buy it on Amazon.com! It’s a great book, full of his unique insights, impressions, and life experiences, enriched by his knowledge not only of perfume but of the literature of various cultures. Case in point: his introduction of the section in his book that discusses lily of the valley as a fragrance note.

In Natsume Soseki’s 1909 novel Sore Kara (‘And then …’) the main protagonist, Daisuke — a fraught, pretence-addled, indolent ‘aesthete’ whose descent into madness forms the core of the novel — has a predilection for sleeping in the aroma of delicate flowers in order to negate life’s sordid realities. Overly affected by the ordinary physical world, this nervous book collector uses a faint, lightly sweet floral scent at night to reduce his contacts with the world to a minimum: snowy white lilies of the valley, with their stems not yet cut, flowers that form an important motif in the novel, but not only for their pristine beauty and virginal whiteness.

The muguet fragrances Neil reviews in his book are: Diorissimo, Muguet du Bonheur, Penhaligons’ Lily of the Valley, Don’t Get Me Wrong, Baby, I Don’t Swallow, Muguet Fleuri, Muguet Blanc, Quartana’s Lily of the Valley, and Muguet des Bois. His reviews of those are as distinctive and individually nuanced as his writing quoted above.

I highly recommend Neil’s book, whether you are new to the exploration of fragrances, or you are a perfumista with dozens (or hundreds!) of bottles of your own. There are eleven main chapters, named generally for scent groupings of his own, like “Green”, “Gourmand”, “Eros.” You will learn a lot, no matter where you are in your perfume journey; and even fragrances you know well get “The Black Narcissus” treatment, in which Neil weaves his own extensive knowledge with his personal observations, impressions, and experiences. His story of his close encounter with Japanese incense (he and his partner live in Japan) and the accompanying ceremony is hilarious and worth the price of the book for that alone.

But in line with the theme of this month, I especially recommend reading his thoughts on lilies of the valley and the fragrances listed above. And as a bonus, you can read the end of his summation of that Japanese novel! Have you read Neil’s blog The Black Narcissus?

Japanese woman wearing traditional garb with lily of the valley headpiece

Traditional Japanese outfit with ‘lily of the valley’ kanzashi; image from http://www.donatale.com