How Performers Use Perfume

How Performers Use Perfume

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fragrance Friday: Les Saisons Automne

Fragrance Friday: Les Saisons Automne

Ah, fall. I love autumn. It kicks off with my birthday and showcases my favorite trees, the gorgeous Japanese maples in all their color and variety. I’ve always loved school, and fall is the season of new beginnings in school. The anticipation of a new school year, with new classmates and possibilities … Come to think of it, fall really is the season of anticipation for me. It leads us into Advent, another season I love, and the series of holidays I cherish in America: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. Anticipation also rises as I plant bulbs in the fall; they produce many of my favorite flowers, often fragrant, and each bulb is like a small gift wrapped in brown paper.

This fall, I am enjoying Van Cleef & Arpels’ Automne, from their series Les Saisons. The perfumer behind it is none other than Francis Kurkdjian, of MFK fame. According to Fragrantica:

Every perfume from the series is dedicated to a certain season of the year: the symbol of the series is a tree that changes, but stays the same. Automne is the scent of the fall; the scent of yellow leaves and moist branches; the scent of a golden autumn forest. Woody fragrance with mild spicy and floral notes warms you like a wool scarf. The composition opens with fresh notes of Italian lemon, black currant and red berries, developing into the heart of white sandalwood, lily and almond. The base is filled with heliotrope, cedar wood and musk.

One of the aspects I am enjoying most about Automne is that it differs from many “fall” fragrances in that it retains a predominantly floral aura while still offering the spicy and woody notes many of us want in an autumnal perfume. Other fragrances I enjoy in the fall are more boozy, more spicy, but I love this one because it reminds me that flowers are still blooming in autumn. My own garden still has a few late roses; my azaleas are throwing off some unseasonal blooms; the sasanqua camellias are blossoming in shades of pink and white. The lily notes in Automne remind me of the fragrance I anticipate from the bulbs I plant in this season, while the delicate warmth and wood notes evoke both the Japanese maples I love and the papery covering of spring bulbs.

The classic Easter lily, lilium longiflorum, is also native to Japan, as is Lilium auratum, the legendary “golden-rayed lily”.

Lilium auratum, or golden-rayed lily of Japan

Lilium auratum; image from http://www.gardenia.net.

I do not grow the golden-rayed lily, but I have a number of Easter lilies in my garden, usually planted out after I have bought them in bud for Easter adornment.

White trumpet Easter lily, or lilium longiflorum.

Lilium longiflorum; image from http://www.southeasternflora.com

Automne opens with a refreshing citrus accord, dominated by Italian lemon but including also black currant and red berries. It feels fresh and lively, not sweet. The scent quickly moves into a combination of floral and woody notes, specifically lily and sandalwood. The creamy almond note is present but it seems to function mostly as a way to soften the edges of the sandalwood and bridge that woody note to the softer floral note of the lily.  This stage lasts a while, though nothing about this scent lasts very long.

As it dries down, Automne gently fades into softer and softer floral notes (heliotrope) underlaid by cedar and some mild spices. In fact, the spice note smells like allspice to me: gentle but very much present. I don’t really notice the musk base note, which is fine. After about an hour, Automne is really a skin scent with little sillage, but I enjoy that. It is an excellent fragrance to wear to office, church, library, etc., as it won’t affront anyone’s nose and stays close to its wearer. I also like it because you can’t really overspray it. Its longevity improves if applied over moisturized skin; I’m looking forward to trying it over a light body oil, for example, SheaMoisture’s baby oil that contains traces of frankincense and myrrh. That seems like a very nice way to anticipate the arrival of Advent in this autumnal season of anticipation.

What do you like or dislike about this season? What are some favorite fall fragrances?

Scent Sample Sunday: Carla Fracci’s Giselle

Scent Sample Sunday: Carla Fracci’s Giselle

I knew I was fated to own this fragrance one day, once I found out it existed, because I actually saw Carla Fracci dance the role of Giselle live, in a production by American Ballet Theatre. She was unforgettable, her dark Romantic beauty and feminine grace the perfect match for this grand, 19th-century, tragic ballet.

Ballerina Carla Fracci as Giselle; American Ballet Theatre

Carla Fracci as Giselle

If you do not know it, the story is a classic one of seduction and betrayal of an innocent peasant girl, Giselle, by a local noble, Albrecht, who has disguised himself as a hunter. When she finds out his true identity, and that he is betrothed to a noblewoman, Giselle goes mad and dies of a broken heart. She is raised from her grave by the ghosts of other young women betrayed in love, the Wilis of legend, who are fated to avenge themselves by dancing to the death any young man who crosses their path during the times when they haunt the night. They lure Albrecht into their dance when he visits Giselle’s grave, conscience-stricken, but Giselle protects him by dancing with him herself until the dawn, when the Wilis disappear. Her act of love not only saves Albrecht’s life, but frees her from the Wilis’ fate and allows her to rest in eternal peace.

Ballerina Carla Fracci as Giselle with Erick Bruhn as Albrecht; American Ballet Theatre

Giselle and Albrecht

This weekend, I found a bottle of Giselle at a major discount in a local store, so I decided it was time. Giselle the fragrance did not disappoint! It is a very pretty, feminine, high-quality fragrance without being expensive or overbearing. The fragrance Giselle is clearly meant to evoke the sunny, happy days of Giselle’s first love, before she discovers the truth.

The listed notes of the fragrance are, in no particular order: ylang-ylang, vanilla, cinnamon, jasmine, tuberose, musk, freesia, coconut, caramel, honey. It is a sweet white/yellow floral, with a slight gourmand aspect without the cloying sweetness of today’s gourmand scents. Giselle was launched in 2004. (There are two versions: the one I have is the first, in a yellow box, which many reviewers and commenters find superior to the later edition in a pink box).

To me, the strongest notes are the ylang-ylang and vanilla, with the honey underlying them both with a golden sweetness; the white floral notes add depth, especially the freesia, more than the jasmine and tuberose. As it dries down over the course of several hours, the vanilla lingers. It is a light, sweet vanilla, nothing heavy or spicy. Like the character of Giselle, her fragrance namesake is innocent and charming.

Giselle ballet opening

 

 

Pencils and Perfumes

If a perfume can transport you to another place, another time – then imagine what that place would look like if it were a drawing. It was a sunny afternoon last month, when, I met perfumer Francesca Bianchi during a perfume event at the Annindriya perfume Lounge boutique in Amsterdam.In the beautiful garden behind the […]

Here is a fascinating exploration of how an artist interpreted three artisan fragrances without knowing anything about them other than who their creator was. Wonderful!

via Secret Scents: Drawing The unknown — Pencils & Perfumes : Where my drawings meet the olfactive world. 鉛筆と祈りと香水―香りの世界と出会う場所

Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson

Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson

Given the hurricanes we have recently endured here in my part of the world, and in honor of my dear friend who evacuated from Florida a week ago and is able, happily, to return to her intact home tomorrow, it’s time for me to comment on a favorite fragrance: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson, translated as “a garden after the monsoon.” Very apropos, especially considering that my friend is a landscape architect and designer of lovely gardens!

Un Jardin Apres La Mousson is, of course, one of the “Jardin” series of fragrances created for Hermes by Jean-Claude Ellena while he was their in-house perfumer. I love all five of them, but this one is high on my list. Hermes’ website describes it as a unisex fragrance meant to evoke the calm of a wet garden in India after the rain“A serene expression of nature’s rebirth after the monsoon rains.” Jean-Claude Ellena

Un Jardin après la Mousson explores unexpected aspects of India, when the monsoon gives back what the sun has taken from the earth, and drives away the scorching breath of drought. In this novella, ginger, cardamom, coriander, pepper and vetiver tell the story of nature’s rebirth, captured in Kerala in a world overflowing with water.

Mousson’s specific fragrance notes include: cardamom, coriander, pepper, ginger, ginger flower, vetiver, and unspecified citrus, floral and water notes (it seems that the citruses are lime and bergamot). The spices are not hot or warm or traditionally “spicy.” They present themselves as “cool” spices, after a refreshing initial gust of citrus on first application. Omitted from the official list of notes is melon, which clings to the whole composition; some wearers experience that note as more like cucumber. Its presence is confirmed by a later analysis revealing that the aromachemical Melonal is a key ingredient.

Both melons and cucumbers are members of the plant family Cucurbitaceae, the flowering gourds. Both are indigenous to India and have been cultivated there for thousands of years, possibly as long ago as 3000 years. Many varieties of each are cultivated in Kerala and are widely used in Indian cuisine, with cucumbers especially often combined with the spices listed as notes for Mousson. The cucurbits grown in Kerala are “rain-fed crops”, benefiting from the region’s monsoon rains.

Cultivation of gourds and melons hanging from vines in India

Melons and gourds cultivated in India; photo from asianetindia.com

I have never been to India, but I have read that Kerala is one of its most beautiful regions, with tropical beaches and islands, breathtaking waterfalls, tea and cardamom plantations in the hills, rivers, lakes and houseboats. Some travel writers say that monsoon season is an idyllic time there, as the rains are not incessant deluges as in other regions, but daily downpours that last a few hours and disperse every day, allowing sunshine to reveal a remarkably verdant, rain-washed landscape. The rains replenish the famous waterfalls, lakes and rivers and cool the air. Monsoon season is also the time for the harvest festival of Onam; and it is reputed to be the best time for the ayurvedic treatments for which the region is famous.

Kerala, India, waterfall and green mountains during monsoon rainy season.

Kerala waterfall in monsoon season; photo from iryas/wikipedia.

Jean-Claude Ellena visited Kerala more than once during his work on Mousson. One of his trips is described by Phoebe Eaton in Liquid Assets:

In coastal Kerala, spices have been trafficked since the Romans rode in on the winds of the monsoons seeking cardamom and pepper: black gold. Women wear their saris differently here than they do up north, draping them like togas. And when the first monsoon blows in from the Arabian Sea — and it always seems to arrive during the first week of June, extinguishing the scorching rays of the summer sun and ushering in a joyful verdant renewal — the modest women of Kerala rush out into the rain, and the saris cling close to the body.

Chant Wagner wrote a lovingly detailed review of Mousson when it was released in 2008, at www.mimifroufrou.com. She’s a fan, as is Luca Turin; Chandler Burr was not. The latter’s review is puzzling; he spends more than a few sentences on his hypothesis that Ellena’s new creation would present a new experience of the aromachemical Calone, then he expresses outrage that it turns out not to be among the ingredients and calls Mousson a failure. Turin, on the other hand, praises the “core accord” as a “combination of melon, capsicum, and peppercorns” with an “incongruously fruity” effect. His review also notes the watery effects which Chant Wagner describes so well:

From the vantage point of the watery motif, it offers a notable variation on it by introducing a lactic, milky sensation that makes the perfume feel both aqueous, transparent and cloud-like. The fruit that is showcased here – a green cantaloupe going at times in the direction of a buttery watermelon – is [as] fluidly delineated as an impressionistic fruit can be.

Aqueous, transparent and cloud-like. Those words perfectly describe some of the lovely photographs I’ve seen of Kerala during monsoon season:

Clouds over mountains in Kerala, India, during monsoon season.

Kerala in monsoon season; photo sreetours.com

Mousson’s bottle is also lovely; it matches all the bottles of the other Jardin fragrances and, like them, is tinted with ombre shades of green, blue, or both (here, green is combined with blue). The bottle has a pleasing weight in the hand. The outer box is printed with a charming Hermes print of fanciful elephants, monkeys and parrots, cavorting amid flowers with tiny parasols in their grasp.

Print for outer box of Hermes' eau de toilette Un Jardin Apres La Mousson

Un Jardin Apres La Mousson print; hermes.com

I find Un Jardin Apres La Mousson intriguing, delightful, and different. I especially enjoy it during the summers here, which are hot and humid. As an admitted fan of all the Jardin fragrances, and a gardener myself, I may be biased! Have you tried this, or any of the others, and what did you think?

un-jardin-apres-la-mousson-boat

Un Jardin Apres La Mousson; image from Hermes, perfumista.vn

Scent Sample Sunday: Gabrielle

Scent Sample Sunday: Gabrielle

Today I tried my sample of the new fragrance from Chanel, Gabrielle.  It is meant to evoke a youthful Chanel, the woman whose given name was Gabrielle before she became known as Coco Chanel and then, as befits a legend, just Chanel. However, this scent is SO youthful that I can’t imagine the real Coco Chanel ever having been as innocent as this after the age of, say, ten. Fragrantica commenter andrewatic put it perfectly:

This doesn’t automatically mean that the fragrance is bad, by any means. It should just be called something else, such as: “butterfly frolicking on tuberose flower in paradise” for instance, with an under title: “made for sweet, cute 15 yo girls, dressed in pretty immaculate-white, flower-decorated, frilly dresses” and then I would get it!

Actually, though, where my mind immediately went was to the “lovely ladies of Beauxbatons”, the French wizarding girls’ school whose students’ chic blue uniforms and fluttering entrance — accompanied by, yes, butterflies — swept the hearts of Hogwarts’ male students, led by Fleur Delacour and her little sister: Gabrielle.

Beauxbatons students entering Hogwarts in blue uniforms with butterflies

Entrance of Beauxbatons students at Hogwarts; photo Warner Bros.

Fragrantica lists its notes as:

Top notes: mandarin, grapefruit, black currant
Heart: tuberose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, orange blossom
Base: sandalwood, musk.

For me, the fragrance Gabrielle is too sweet and fruity. Even the floral notes are very sweet across the board: orange blossom most prominent to my nose, followed by tuberose, jasmine and ylang-ylang. Even the grapefruit and blackcurrant notes, which are often tangy enough to counter too much sweetness, smell sugary to me. It’s not offensive, it’s not overpowering, it is just very girlish. And not very Chanel-ish. While some commenters don’t like the bottle, I do. I think the faceted front is a creative play on the classic Chanel bottle shape, and I like the color. It feels good in the hand, too. The fragrance itself is not as memorable, though it isn’t bad. Dior has done better, in my opinion, with its fruity floral Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet.

I do understand, I think, what the Chanel perfumers and executives are trying to do. They must maintain contact and an image with a new generation of young women, who will be future customers and who have been flocking to sweet, fruity floral scents. They must also woo the growing number of fragrance customers in Asia, where I understand the taste tends more toward the light, sweet and inoffensive. And I am not that demographic on any level: not young, not Asian. I think the company’s quest to appeal to a younger customer is much better fulfilled by the new Chanel No. 5 L’Eau.  I thought that was a delightful, youthful take on the classic No. 5, without giving up any of the spirit of Chanel. I could see Fleur Delacour wearing L’Eau very well, with her undoubted chic in addition to her undoubted skill and spirit well-matched to the fizz, lightness and underlying classical structure of L’Eau.

Beauxbatons student and TriWizard champion Fleur Delacour

Fleur Delacour; photo Warner Bros.

The drydown of Gabrielle is quite pleasant, with sandalwood and musk, but again, it doesn’t stand out as special. I can still smell it on my skin five hours after application, so longevity is good for a fragrance like this. I can see many girls loving this, and that is, after all, the whole point. But I would steer my own daughters toward L’Eau.

Gabrielle Delacour, Beauxbatons students and little sister of Fleur Delacour

Gabrielle Delacour; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Scent Sample Sunday: Vitriol d’Oeillet

Scent Sample Sunday: Vitriol d’Oeillet

I have a sample of Serge Lutens’ Vitriol d’Oeillet that I finally got around to trying this weekend, for one simple reason: it was available online as a full bottle for a reasonable price, and I wanted to decide whether or not to get it. Luckily, I’ve been wondering about it for a while and already had a sample from Surrender to Chance, so I was able to make an informed decision!

I had been intrigued by Vitriol d’Oeillet because I really do like the scent of carnations and other dianthus flowers like Sweet William. Vitriol d’Oeillet has often been translated into English as “angry carnation” but I don’t think that is quite right. Vitriol can refer to anger or fury, but it has a nuance of acidity, and can also refer specifically to a sulfate of various metals. “Oil of vitriol” is concentrated sulfuric acid, according to Merriam-Webster.  Maybe a better translation of “vitriol d’oeillet” would be “sulfate of carnation”. The blog CaFleureBon review of Vitriol d’Oeillet plays off this contrast between the naturally fresh, floral spiciness of carnations and the suggestion of sulphurous fumes.

Luckily for me, from my sample I get mostly flowers and spice, and no sulfur (usually described as the smell of rotten eggs). The notes are listed as: nutmeg, clove, pink pepper, pepper, paprika, carnation, wallflower, lily and ylang-ylang. Here is the description on the Serge Lutens website:

 – “What is it, Doctor Jekyll?”

Listen, my child, and I will tell you everything. Take a carnation and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper. Firmly drive it into the very center, using the “nails” of a clove. Before committing the final act of violence, let wallflower throw in a few punches.

Yes, our collective leg is being pulled. Vitriol d’Oeillet is neither hellish, nor acidic, nor sulfurous, nor violent. It is a warm, spicy, fresh carnation, and it reminds me of the original Old Spice aftershave and cologne. I like it very much, but not for myself; I think I would love it on my husband! Have I mentioned yet that I ADORED the ad campaign for Old Spice that featured the tag line “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” and actor Isaiah Mustafa:

On my own skin, Vitriol d’Oeillet opens with a blast of spice, most prominently cayenne pepper and clove, but with a sweet floral note underneath right from the start. As it dries down, the spice lightens up and it becomes a bit soapy as the florals become more evident. It is very appealing! I think many of the traditional men who wear Old Spice because their fathers and grandfathers did may not realize that the scent they (and we women) often associate with solid, old-school masculinity contains some of the notes traditionally included in women’s fragrances: heliotrope, aldehydes, even jasmine. They are not the dominant notes, though; they provide a background for the more dominant spices, wood notes and base notes like ambergris and musk. The dominant floral in Old Spice, and in Vitriol, is carnation — a flower associated with gentlemen since the dawn of the boutonniere.

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

Red carnation boutonnieres; image from A Gentleman’s Row

In fact, the association of carnations with distinguished men goes back centuries, as portrayed in many Renaissance paintings like this one:

Renaissance portrait of nobleman holding carnation by Andrea Solario

Portrait of Man with Carnation by Andrea Solario

As Vitriol d’Oeillet dries down even more, the floral notes fade and the spices come back to the fore, including pink pepper. I happen to like the scent of pink pepper, although I know others do not, so I welcome its return together with the cloves, Cayenne pepper, paprika and nutmeg. At this stage, the nutmeg is more prominent than it was at the start, so Vitriol closes with a certain dry sweetness.

In sum, I like Vitriol d’Oeillet a lot, based on this sample. I won’t be buying a full bottle for myself — but I might get one eventually for my husband!

Pink pepper or baie de rose berries

Pink pepper; image from CaFleureBon