May Melange Marathon: Eve

May Melange Marathon: Eve

One of the joys of this fragrance hobby is discovering independent perfumers and their work. One of my favorites is Diane St. Clair, of St. Clair Scents. I’ve loved her earliest creations, like Gardener’s Glove and First Cut. My SOTD is Eve, one of the “Audacious Innocence” collection, which was a finalist for the 2020 Art & Olfaction Awards in the artisan/independent category.

The other fragrance in the collection, Pandora, is a “sister” to Eve. According to the brand’s website, they share most of the same notes, but Pandora shows a darker side, with added base notes of labdanum and opoponax. Eve‘s notes, without those added base notes, are: Top notes of Lemon, Tomato Leaf, Apple, Bergamot and Mandarin Orange; middle notes of Orris, Lilac, Bulgarian Rose, Turkish Rose, Ylang-Ylang, Carrot Seeds and Jasmine Sambac; base notes of Oakmoss, Tonka Bean, Woods, Vetiver, Musk. Both scents come in a parfum extrait concentration of 35%.

Pre-Raphaelite painting of Pandora opening the box
Pandora, by John William Waterhouse

Diane St. Clair sees Eve and Pandora as similar:

The stories of Pandora and Eve, who reached for the forbidden apple, have much in common. Both came to symbolize women who were punished for disobeying orders and acting on their impulses towards curiosity. We believe that women who challenge the rules and follow their curiosity are striving towards creativity, innovation and independence.

The opening of Eve is as lush as the painting that inspired it, above. It smells of all the fruits listed as top notes, bound together by the astringent greenness of tomato leaf and bergamot. This seems so appropriate, since the Garden of Eden, where Eve was tempted to eat the apple, was more of an orchard than a garden. (In fact, I’ve learned that the word “paradise”, often used to refer to the Garden of Eden, comes from an ancient Persian word that means a walled orchard garden). I love green scents, so the tomato leaf especially appeals to me. A good thing, since it is quite strong! As the top notes retreat, the scent becomes more and more floral, with orris taking the lead, though ylang-ylang and roses are right behind it. This stage is rich and lush — almost creamy, but not gourmand at all.

I smell the oakmoss almost from the start, and certainly in the “heart” phase. This is some serious oakmoss, friends. It evokes the shadowy, green darkness under the dense branches of trees. That impression only grows stronger as the floral notes fade away and the other base notes anchor the whole scent to the earth, with their woods, musk, vetiver. I can’t say that I smell tonka much at all. Eve lasts a long time on my skin, several hours.

Sillage is moderate, as one would expect from an extrait, but I would say that a little goes a long way! I dabbed tiny spots of Eve on my wrists, and their scent carries easily and clearly up to my nose. Longevity is excellent. Eve just feels like a high-quality perfume all around; one senses the quality of the ingredients right from the start. Even though it is supposed to be the “yin” scent to Pandora‘s darker “yang”, this is not a light or frivolous fragrance. It is not to be trifled with! Which is why I used the gorgeous Pre-Raphaelite painting as this post’s featured image; it shows Lilith, said in Jewish folklore to have been the first wife of Adam (yes, that Adam), who was replaced by Eve because she was too rebellious. The painting beautifully captures a lush, flowering garden, and I think that’s a perfume bottle by the mirror!

Pre-Raphaelite painting of Lilith, first wife of Adam
Lady Lilith, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Have you had the chance to try any of St. Clair Scents’ fragrances? Do you have any favorite artisan or independent perfumers?

May Melange Marathon: Toujours Espoir

May Melange Marathon: Toujours Espoir

Another sample sent by a generous reader! Toujours Espoir (which means Always Hope) was launched in 2018 by a firm called “Villa des Parfums.” They have the most fascinating story, which I encourage you to read in full on their website, but in summary, the firm began as an offshoot of a local business and non-profit in Grasse, birthplace of French perfumery. The story began when a couple bought an old mansion, former home of a perfumer, and renovated it to be partly family home, partly a vacation rental (which it still is, and now I’m dying to go there for some “perfume tourism”). The non-profit is called “Parfums de Vie” and it works with impoverished children in Grasse in areas like education, character development, conflict resolution, etc.

The owners, Nicole and Vincent, decided to create a perfume brand that they hoped would generate additional revenue for their children’s programs. They founded “Villa des Parfums” and worked with the perfume house of Molinard, one of a handful of heritage perfume houses in France, which began in Grasse and still has a strong presence there. The collaboration resulted in two perfumes, Toujours Espoir and Etoile Celeste, both eaux de parfum.

Both fragrances are influenced by their Mediterranean garden, in which grow many of the plants that have traditionally inspired French perfumers: rose, jasmine, aromatic herbs, citruses, flowering perennials. The brand says:

A declaration of modern femininity audaciously revisiting the classic blend of jasmine and rose, two undisputed queens of perfumery traditionally cultivated in Grasse, the world’s perfume capital. A sensual chypre fragrance embracing the skin in an irresistible veil of intriguing mystery. An original signature for the woman who believes anything is possible.

More prosaically, Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: Top notes of Peony, Citruses and Pink Pepper; middle notes of Gardenia, Rose and Jasmine; base notes of Musk, Sandalwood and Patchouli. I found the opening to be just delightful. The citrus notes are more sweet than bitter; I don’t pick up bergamot. Maybe tangerine? The peony is present right away. In this fragrance, unlike many that list “pink pepper” as a note, I can actually smell it and it really adds to the charm of the opening.

The heart phase gets more and more floral, with rose and jasmine equally present. I don’t pick up much gardenia (which is very present in my garden, as my own gardenias have started blooming). There’s a touch of powder at this stage too, which enhances the softness of the fragrance; I actually think it comes from the musk base note emerging. As it dries down further, the patchouli and sandalwood notes add warmth and a tint of earthiness. I would barely call this a chypre, it is so gentle.

The rose in Toujours Espoir is based on rose absolute from the local Grasse “Rose de Mai”, Rosa centifolia. Nicole has written about her love for these roses and how she connects their beauty to her own values and beliefs. Today was a perfect day for me to sample this beautiful, gentle, hopeful fragrance. I named this blog “Serenity Now” originally, because I began writing it as a mindfulness exercise, to regain serenity during a stressful period, and remember to count my blessings. Then, of course, due to another writing project, I fell down the fragrance rabbit-hole and my blog became “Serenity Now: Scents and Sensibilities.”

This week was also more hectic and stressful than I had expected, though nothing like the turmoil I had in 2015, so I’m thankful for that. But at the end of my workday, as I was deciding which scent to feature in today’s post, Toujours Espoir felt just right, especially as my youngest child got his second vaccine shot today — the last of the family to do so. Hope is emerging this spring and summer, as many of us are emerging from the past year of pandemic. I’m grateful for that, and for all of you, kind readers!

Perfumer's mansion in Grasse
Hotel Villa des Parfums, Grasse, France; image from http://www.villadesparfums.com
May Melange Marathon: No. 22

May Melange Marathon: No. 22

Today was crazy busy, so I won’t have much to say right now, except that my second daughter got her long-delayed college graduation ceremony (she graduated in May 2020), and we were so happy for her! I wore my longtime favorite, the first Chanel I ever bought for myself, No. 22 in the eau de toilette formulation. I have worn it off and on, to greater or lesser degrees, since my own 20s. It is like a familiar scarf at this point — but an elegant silk one with Parisian flair.

No. 22 is a sumptuous Chanel floral with plenty of aldehydes, white flowers, and iris. Top notes are Aldehydes, Neroli, Lily, Tuberose, Lily-of-the-Valley and Orange Blossom; middle notes are Ylang-Ylang, Jasmine, White Rose and Nutmeg; base notes are iris, Vanilla and Vetiver.

I’ll say more about it tomorrow!

Continuation: One of the things that puzzles me about No.22 is how often other commenters talk about an incense note. I don’t smell any incense at all! And I remember when I bought it, the sales associate told me it was based on white roses. I was thankful to see white roses listed among its notes! I don’t, however, think the white roses are dominant, certainly not the way they are in Jo Loves’ White Rose & Lemon Leaves. Nor is incense listed among its notes.

I do smell something sort of woody, sort of spicy, and I think it’s the nutmeg listed as part of the heart phase of No.22. It’s an unusual note to combine with all the white flowers in No.22. Aldehydes dominate the opening notes, an overdose for which No. 22. is famous. It was created by Ernest Beaux at the same time as the legendary No.5, and was one of the finalists presented to Coco Chanel for her house’s first fragrance. She chose No.5 instead, which launched in 1921; No.22 launched the next year (1922). The aldehydes and iris have led my daughter to declare that it smells like baby powder. Sure, honey, the world’s most elegant and expensive baby powder!

I know some of the regulars here share my love for No.22, such as Kathleen and Portia. Anyone else? Care to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments?

May Melange Marathon: Jeunesse Il Giorno e La Notte

May Melange Marathon: Jeunesse Il Giorno e La Notte

One of my greatest pleasures is to travel with my husband, and until 2020, his work required him to travel a LOT. I couldn’t go on most trips during the academic year, due to my own job, but I was able to go with him usually at least once a year. 2019 was a banner year for such trips — I was able to go with him on business trips to Nice, then London, then Tuscany. The Tuscany trip happened in the summer, so we extended it for a real vacation and spent several days in Florence and Venice, which we had never seen before.

Florence, as it turns out, has a long tradition, centuries old, of perfumery, and is the perfect city to indulge in “perfume tourism.” We visited Santa Maria Novella, Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561, and the boutique of I Profumi di Firenze, Spezierie Palazzo Vecchio, among others. I acquired perfume souvenirs at each of them.

Profumo di Pioggia, winner of award from I Profumi di Boboli
I Profumi di Firenze perfume souvenirs

One of the bottles from the latter that came home with me was Jeunesse Il Giorno e La Notte, which is formulated as an eau de parfum. The notes list from the brand’s website includes Citrus, Italian Bergamot, Lily Of The Valley, Lavender, Floral Notes. Fragrantica adds that the base notes are white musk, and musk.

I should start this mini-review by noting that my 19 year-old son, who is usually pretty oblivious to his mom’s fragrance habits and applications, walked over to me today around noon to ask about yardwork, and immediately said, “You smell so nice!”. Music to a mother’s ears.

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May Melange Marathon: Fragrances That Changed the Field

May Melange Marathon: Fragrances That Changed the Field

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming, because the following New York Times Style Magazine article popped up in my news feed, and I got totally distracted by it! It is called The Fragrances That Changed the Field, by Aatish Taseer. It starts with a childhood memory, from India, of a first encounter with oudh, and travels a winding path from there through the “Orientalism” of fragrances in the 1970s, to the power statement fragrances of the 1980s, circling back to previous centuries and the use of florals and musks in fragrances. It includes insight from several modern perfumers.

I highly recommend this article! You’ll want to set aside a good block of time to read it. The opening paragraph:

I REMEMBER AS IF it were yesterday that distant afternoon on which I first smelled oudh. I was in my grandmother’s house in Delhi. I was 13, maybe 14. We had a family perfumer, or attarwallah, a man of some refinement, who came to us from Lucknow — a city that is a metonym for high Indo-Islamic culture. We didn’t know the attarwallah’s name, or how he knew to follow us from address to change of address. But he came without fail two or three times a year. A slim, gliding figure, with a mouth reddened from paan, or betel leaf and areca nut, the attarwallah produced his wares from carved bottles of colored glass that he carried in a black leather doctor’s bag. He showed us scents according to which season we were in. So in winter, musk and patchouli; in summer, white-flowered varieties of jasmine — of which there are some 40 odd in India — as well as rose and vetiver. In the monsoon, he brought us mitti attar, which imitates the smell of parched earth exhaling after the first rain (“mitti” means “mud” in Hindi). The perfumes came from the medieval Indian town of Kannauj, which is a 75-mile drive west of Lucknow and which, like its French counterpart, Grasse, has a tradition of perfume manufacturing several centuries old. Once he had drawn his perfume out on white cotton buds at the tips of long, thin sticks, the attarwallah lingered over his customers, telling stories of the various scents and reciting the odd romantic couplet of Urdu poetry.

If that doesn’t intrigue you, as a person interested in fragrance, I don’t know what will! Enjoy. BTW, my scent of the day today was Cristalle, and I’ll write about it tomorrow instead.

Featured image from baystreetex.com.

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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Perfume Chat Room, April 23

Perfume Chat Room, April 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, April 23, and I have a new, fragrant tree to plant! It is called a “buckwheat tree”, it is native to the Southeast, and this particular variety has pink flowers. They’re very fragrant, and I’m having fun deciding where to plant it so we can enjoy its fragrance. Luckily, it doesn’t get very large, so I have options.

I’ve been on a bit of a vintage kick lately; I just got a small bottle of Paco Rabanne’s Metal, which I quite like. It’s a green chypre floral that launched in 1979. Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: top notes are Hyacinth, Aldehydes, Green Notes, Basil and Lemon; middle notes are Lily-of-the-Valley, iris, Jasmine, Cyclamen, Rose, Ylang-Ylang and Tuberose; base notes are Oakmoss, Vetiver, Musk, Amber and Sandalwood.

I have some new green fragrances to review and also a couple of new LOTV/muguet fragrances, so my “May Marathon” will probably be a melange. Maybe that’s what I’ll call it: “May Melange Marathon”! What do you think?

Featured image: Paco Rabanne dress, 1967, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Perfume Chat Room, April 16

Perfume Chat Room, April 16

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, April 16, and spring flowers are slowly giving way to summer blossoms in my garden. I have several roses that have started to bloom; they are almost all very fragrant, as most of the ones I grow are David Austin English Roses, which he hybridized over decades to regain the strong scent and old-fashioned form of the Old Roses. In the 20th century, many hybridizers bred for color and shape, which gave us so many beautiful, classic hybrid tea roses like Chrysler, John F. Kennedy, Peace, etc., but they weren’t as fragrant as their forebears. Other hybridizers bred roses for large-scale landscaping, like the Knockout Roses, but they are barely fragrant at all. So Mr. Austin’s goal was to take some of the best qualities of 20th century roses, like disease resistance, innovative colors, and repeat blooming periods, and marry them to the shapes and scents of old classics like the “Old Roses”.

This week, I was delighted to get in the mail my long-awaited sample of a new, soon-to-be-released perfume from Parfums Dusita, which is the subject currently of a naming contest! Perfumer and brand founder Pissara Umavijani invited members of the Eau My Soul group on Facebook to suggest perfume notes we’d like to see combined, then she chose from among those and created a fragrance. Now members who took part in suggesting the notes have been sent a generous sample of the unnamed fragrance and we get to submit up to three suggestions for names! The winner will get a large bottle of the fragrance.

I just love this project. Ms. Umavijani has done something like it before in 2019, when she launched what became Splendiris, a name I love and a very beautiful fragrance. I think that fragrance was the subject of a similar contest for readers of Fragrantica, if I recall correctly.

This new scent has notes of: petit grain, Rose Damascena, tuberose absolute, white freesia, Jasmine Grandiflora, oak wood, oakmoss absolute, sandalwood, vanilla absolute, and patchouli. I haven’t tried it yet as I wanted to wait until the weekend when I could focus more on it and less on work. Don’t those notes sound gorgeous, especially if (like me) you like florals?

P.S. WordPress has just informed me that this is my 500th post on Serenity Now: Scents & Sensibilities! Wow, that feels like a lot, but it has been so much fun and still is. Thanks for joining me on this blogging journey!