Perfume Chat Room, September 30

Perfume Chat Room, September 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, September 30, and I have been to perfume Mecca, i.e. the Guerlain boutique in Las Vegas. Shout-out also to the Chanel boutique in the Encore hotel, where a very nice, knowledgeable sales assistant called Yannis chatted with me about Chanel fragrances and where they had the whole Exclusifs line. I’ll write more about that later!

Shalimar, at the Guerlain boutique

This is only my second visit ever to Las Vegas; as I’ve written before, it’s not really my kind of scene as I dislike crowds and noise, and I don’t gamble. But on this trip, I didn’t feel any need to visit or see most of the Strip; instead, I focused on doing a few specific things, including a “field trip” outside the city to Red Rock Canyon, culminating in sunset over the desert — just beautiful. The Guerlain boutique was top of my list of destinations, but I also checked out a number of other fragrance retailers so I could write an updated, longer post about perfume tourism in Las Vegas. Stay tuned!

I can’t believe September is over as of today. It is probably my favorite month, but I’m looking forward to the rest of the fall too. One reason I like the fall is that in my climate, that is the best season for planting in my garden; and it’s the season to plant the spring bulbs I love so much. Of course, it is also hurricane season, and my thoughts are with those who have already been so badly affected, as well as those who will be.

It has become a joke, but “pumpkin spice” season is in full swing here in the US! Everywhere I turn, there are pumpkin spice drinks, desserts, and room fragrances. Luckily, our hotel’s signature fragrance in all the bathrooms and associated products is Byredo’s Mojave Ghost, which I greatly enjoyed. Very apropos, since Las Vegas is in the Mojave Desert — and not a pumpkin in sight.

Hotel toiletries

Do you have any particular plans for October? I plan to keep clearing clutter from our house; and if I get really motivated, to bring some order to my fragrance collection.

Perfume Chat Room, September 23

Perfume Chat Room, September 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, September 23, and I am planning a trip to Las Vegas! My husband is going for work, and I will go with him. Vegas isn’t really my scene, and I’ve only been there once before, but I’m really looking forward to it — for three reasons. One, spending several days in a nice hotel with my nice husband is a treat in itself. Two, we have tickets to see the Cirque du Soleil show The Beatles Love, which we saw on my only prior trip and thought was fabulous. Three, I plan to visit the Guerlain boutique, which I’ve never done before!

Poster for the Cirque du Soleil show "The Beatles Love"
The Beatles Love; Cirque du Soleil.

One my last trip to Las Vegas, I hadn’t yet gone down the perfume rabbit-hole, so Guerlain wasn’t on my must-see list. When I did get interested in Guerlain fragrances, I used to be able to try them at a Guerlain counter at nearby department stores, but then Guerlain closed those. I’ve visited mini-boutiques in duty-free areas of airports. But this will be my first visit to an actual Guerlain Boutique, and I’ve heard that some of the new versions of the classic fragrances are big improvements over the prior reformulations.

So, fragrance friends, what do you recommend I try, and possibly buy??

Perfume Chat Room, September 9

Perfume Chat Room, September 9

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 9, and the news is full of yesterday’s passing of Queen Elizabeth II, at the age of 96. There are many other places to debate the future of the monarchy, the British Empire’s impact, etc. This is not that place, as I know how widely opinions vary on those subjects. Today, I am focusing on Her late Majesty as a unique human being, who was born to privilege but also to lifelong service, including her unexpected ascension to the throne at the age of 25. At her birth, she was not expected to become the monarch but was thrust into the role of royal heir when her uncle abdicated, leaving her father to become King. He and her mother were models of duty and service — before, during and after World War II — and the young Elizabeth absorbed those lessons fully, performing official duties from her childhood until two days before her death, when she welcomed and appointed the UK’s new Prime Minister, Liz Truss. Extraordinary. (Ok, one political side note: I’m glad she lived long enough to see the changes in leadership in the USA and the UK, given the markedly poor manners of the two former leaders).

Full disclosure: I was raised by an English mother who, although she chose to leave England and its post-war constraints when she herself was in her early 20s, kept a high regard for Queen Elizabeth, her contemporary, and even identified with her as the older of two sisters, engrained with that sense of responsibility and duty. Her younger sister, my late aunt, had a personality more like Princess Margaret’s, but they were devoted to each other until my aunt’s early death from cancer in her 40s.

Bringing it back to fragrance, I’ve read that Queen Elizabeth’s favorite fragrances were Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue and Floris’ White Rose. I haven’t tried the latter, but I have and love L’Heure Bleue. I also have a new fragrance that had already reminded me of Elizabeth, and will now be forever linked to her in my mind: Miller Harris’ Violet Ida. I received it earlier this month as a birthday gift, and it is lovely! As regular readers here know, Miller Harris is an English brand founded by London perfumer Lyn Harris. Violet Ida is actually based on iris and heliotrope, with top notes of bergamot and carrot seed, and base notes of vanilla and amber. It was inspired by the heroine of an English novel, whose name was Ida, whom the Miller Harris says “represents goodness, tenacity and morality.” That does seem appropriate for the late Queen as a person; and the pale violet color of Violet Ida‘s bottle evokes one of the pastel shades she favored in her public outfits.

Queen Elizabeth II in lavender
Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

It always made me foolishly happy that the Queen had such a lovely meeting with the late rosarian David Austin, the year they both turned 90, at the Chelsea Flower Show and the display of his gorgeous English Roses, my favorites. I will think of this great lady when I wear Violet Ida. Rest in peace, Elizabeth, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Queen Elizabeth II and David Austin at the Chelsea Flower Show
Perfume Chat Room, July 22

Perfume Chat Room, July 22

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 22, and it is HOT! It’s abnormally hot almost everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, apparently. We have had days and days of thunderstorms and torrential downpours of rain, which barely cool the ambient temperatures at all. I’m tempted to make Un Jardin Aprés La Mousson and Aprés L’Ondée my only fragrances right now! I’m also enjoying a new fragrance, Carthusia’s A’mmare, a salty, aromatic fragrance that will suit men and women equally well. It’s very refreshing. I found it in a Carthusia boutique in Milan when we were there in May (our first trip outside the US since 2019!). Yay, perfume tourism is back!

Speaking of perfume tourism, my husband and I will be going to Las Vegas this fall, on a business trip for him. It looks as if there is still at least one Guerlain boutique open there, and I plan to visit it! Have any of you been to it? I know Undina has! Any suggestions, anyone? I’m eager to try some of the 2021 versions of the classic Guerlain fragrances like L’Heure Bleue, Vol de Nuit, and Mitsouko, I’ve read good things about them. Thoughts?

Las Vegas sign; Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m also excited that we have tickets to see the Cirque du Soleil show “The Beatles Love”. We’ve seen it once before, on my one and only trip to Las Vegas, and I’ve often said that it might be the only thing that could bring me back to that city. (I should say that I thoroughly enjoyed that trip, but a lot of what many people love about Las Vegas just isn’t my vibe, no offense intended, as I generally don’t like heat, crowds, or casinos). The show was absolutely fantastic and you don’t have to be a lifelong, diehard Beatles fan like me to enjoy it. I can’t wait to see it again!

Scent Semantics, July 4

Scent Semantics, July 4

Welcome to this month’s Scent Semantics! This word for July is “cornucopia”, which warms the cockles of my classicist’s heart (I majored in Classics at university, meaning in Classical Languages & Literature). In Greek and Roman mythology, the cornucopia was a “horn of plenty”, often portrayed nowadays as a basket shaped like a curving horn overflowing with fruits and flowers. It is a symbol of the harvest, frequently seen as a decorative item or symbol of the American Thanksgiving holiday. (Happy Fourth of July, by the way, to all who are celebrating it today).

The cornucopia was associated with a number of Greek or Roman deities, especially those associated with harvests or abundance. The most prominent (or familiar to us) of them was Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and harvest. Sister to Zeus, she was the mother of Persephone, who was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld. The myth tells that Demeter was so grief-stricken and spent so much time searching for her lost daughter, that she neglected her oversight of the fertile earth, and everything stopped growing, which resulted in the death of crops and ensuing famine. Zeus ordered Hades to return Persephone to earth and to her mother, but because she had eaten food while in the underworld, she was obliged to spend only half of each year above ground with her mother. During those months, the earth’s fertility flourished, producing an abundance of flowers, crops, and fruits.

Painting of classical nymphs filling cornucopia with fruits and flowers in a wood
Nymphs filling cornucopia; image from Mauritshuis, The Hague.

When Persephone had to return to Hades every year, renewing her mother’s grief, the growing season would end with harvest and the earth would be dormant through the winter until Persephone returned, in the spring, to Demeter.

And as many of you know, there is actually a fragrance house called “Demeter” Fragrance Library! From the brand’s website: “Demeter was conceived in 1996, with a unique and ever expanding perspective on fragrance.  The original mission was to capture the beautiful smells of the garden and nature in wearable form. The Demeter name itself was inspired by the Greek Goddess of Agriculture. The first three fragrances were DirtGrass and Tomato, and were sold in a few stores in NYC. Today, with fragrances from Baby Powder and Pure Soap to Gin & TonicPlay-DohVanilla Cake Batter and even Pizza, we have radically expanded our olfactory goals and geographic reach.  Not only can you now buy Demeter fragrances from Apple Blossom to Zombie, but you can buy them from New York to Beijing, and from Moscow to London.”

Demeter now makes over 300 fragrances, almost all of them linear re-creations of actual scents. They are not designed with that classical pyramid structure of top notes, middle or heart notes and base notes that many of have learned is fundamental to the perfumer’s art. They come in a cologne concentration as fragrance, but also as body lotions, shower gels, oils, etc. The company was founded by Christopher Gable and Christopher Brosius, the latter of whom has won numerous awards for his fragrances and went on to found another house, CB I Hate Perfume, after leaving Demeter in 2004.

Here is some of what Mr. Brosius wrote about Demeter’s beginnings:

I have always loved the smell of things – particularly growing things. I decided to try to capture some of these smells & my first real breakthrough was Dirt. One of my greatest pleasures was digging among the vegetables, herbs & flowers in my small garden on the farm. I loved the smell of the fresh clean earth and decided to bottle it. It was a far greater success than I’d ever dreamed & I suppose the rest is History.

So what does Dirt smell like? Easy. It smells like damp potting soil, but better! Potting soil itself smells quite nice, as it is a sterile mix of shredded sphagnum peat moss, bark, and minerals like vermiculite or perlite. When it’s damp, it gives off a lightly woody, dry, mossy scent. Many gardeners like myself love the smell, partly because opening that bag of potting soil is the prelude to a favorite activity, potting up a desired plant. As some of you know, I have a passion for David Austin’s English Roses, and I grow several varieties, mostly in large pots. This allows me to position them in the best spot for sun and also to give them the best soil I can, free from interference from other plants’ roots. I enrich the potting soil with organic plant food and the microbes that support healthy plant growth, and the roses do quite well!

So I’m very familiar with the smell of potting soil, which Dirt captures so well; but Dirt does smell better, more like something one would actually apply to skin. Like most of Demeter’s scents, it doesn’t last very long, but the whole point of Demeter’s fragrances is to use them as a “pick-me-up cologne.” They’re not supposed to last long, so caveat emptor — but they’re also very inexpensive, and they’re fun. There are so many of them that yes, the website is a veritable cornucopia of options such as Laundromat, Baby Shampoo, Cannabis Flower, Fireplace, even one that smells like those fuzzy yellow tennis balls. It is very entertaining to mix them, and Demeter encourages this by selling sets of “Blending Trios” and bottles in which to combine them.

What’s not to love, in a fragrance house that encourages one to play with its products? Have you tried any? Do you have any favorites? And remember to check out the Scent Semantics posts by my fellow bloggers?

Perfume Chat Room, June 24

Perfume Chat Room, June 24

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.

This week in the New York Times: “When Did Perfume Stop Being About Sex?”. From the article: “Smaller, independent brands are often more creative in their approach to perfume making, highlighting individual ingredients and notes or using a story to attract customers. Fragrances are often stronger, bolder and more expensive than department store stalwarts synonymous with a ‘free gift with purchase.’”

The article is interesting although I doubt it says anything that you readers don’t already know. If you’re here, you have more than the average interest in fragrance! I thought it was interesting that it mentions more people turning to fragrance during the pandemic.

Turning this article on its head: what is the most seductive fragrance you own? And what makes it seductive? Right now, I would say my choice would be the Shalimar Philtre de Parfum I bought earlier this summer (available online these days for a very reasonable price, btw). Its listed notes are lemon, bergamot, lavender, iris, jasmine, rose, vanilla, tolu balsam and patchouli. Philtre is a summery Shalimar, but it has that warm vanilla that many people find irresistible and that in my experience often attracts compliments from strangers.

Illustration of perfume and perceptions of gender
Image by Miki Kim for the New York Times
Update on Diane St. Clair, of St. Clair Scents

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

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

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

Diane St. Clair of St. Clair Scents sitting at perfumer's organ
Diane St. Clair of St. Clair Scents; image copyright Michael Heeney.
Scent Semantics, June 6

Scent Semantics, June 6

Welcome to this month’s Scent Semantics! This word for June is “vivacious”, which seems appropriate for the start of summer. One dictionary gives the following definition and example: “attractively lively and animated (typically used of a woman).” E.g.,”her vivacious and elegant mother.” It feels like a slightly old-fashioned word to me, an impression that is reinforced by the name of one fragrance I considered writing about this month, Diana Vreeland Vivaciously Bold. Diana Vreeland was the legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine in the 1960s, and before that a columnist and the fashion editor at rival magazine Harper’s Bazaar. A famous style-setter, her distinctive, breezy writing style included a vocabulary straight from the 1920 and 30s, her own heyday as a young socialite, often combined into pairs of adverbs and adjectives, and she loved to make pronouncements like ”lettuce is divine, although I’m not sure it’s really food.” D.V., as she was known, was a fascinating, larger-than-life figure in the world of fashion, her career culminating in her 70s when she became the first consultant to the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute. There, she initiated not only its famously quirky, brilliant exhibitions of fashion, but its even more famous annual Met Gala, a benefit ball marking the opening of exhibitions, which has become the fashion and social event of the year for many celebrities.

Lilly Singh in purple-shaded ball gown
Lilly Singh, Met Gala, 2019; Getty Images

However, just as I was settling down to write this post, a discovery set of Hiram Green’s fragrances arrived in the mail, and it included his 2020 scent Vivacious. I’ve been wanting to try the range of his fragrances, and this seemed like the perfect time to start! So D.V. will have to wait; Hiram Green it is.

Vivacious is presented as an updated violet-focused fragrance: “a violet-themed perfume that takes its cue from those prim Victorians who adored this precious flower so much. Updated for the 21st century, this scent has a happy and carefree flair…  an exuberant and joyful perfume. Perfect to zing your life.” And you know, it actually is exuberant and joyful, but not because of the violet accord. It opens with bright bergamot, and it includes one of my favorite scents, that of carnations, and it is the floral spiciness of that carnation accord that makes my nose crinkle in pleasure. Carnations also evoke summer for me, probably because of Sargent’s famous painting “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose“, one of my favorite works of art and itself evocative of a fragrance I love, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Oeillet Sauvage.

Carnation fragrances seemed for a while to have fallen out of favor, but Vivacious was launched in 2020, so maybe they will make a comeback, just as Diana Vreeland had several comebacks in her long career! I don’t want to overlook the lovely violet accord in Vivacious, though, because it is very special and lovely. Violet fragrances became popular at the very end of the 19th century and start of the 20th century because chemists developed synthetic ionones, which allowed for much less expensive perfumes that smelled like violets. Two of the most famous fragrances of the early 20th century, Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue and Aprés L’Ondée, used synthetic ionones to great effect to evoke the nostalgic scent of violets.

Clump of wild purple violets
Wild violets; image from New Jersey Native Plant Society

They and many other “violet” fragrances tend toward the sweet and powdery, but in Vivacious, Hiram Green has given us a lively violet, true to its name — less candied or powdery, with a freshness and lift from a juicy bergamot opening. As the brand’s website notes, “The fragrance opens with bright and joyful bergamot that seamlessly merges into a floral bouquet of flirty violet and spicy carnation. Waxy orris smoothly anchors this boisterous heart and soft, powdery amber adds a warm and luxurious finish.”

Whenever I think of violet bouquets, I think of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady”, selling her bunches of violets outside the opera house in London, then being slowly transformed into someone who looks like the perfect lady but retains her Cockney sass. Vivacious would be a perfect scent for her, once she could afford to buy fragrance later in the story, with its bright bergamot, nostalgic violets, and sassy carnation.

I was interested to learn, while doing a little research for this post, that the chemists who first synthesized ionones apparently did so in part by studying orris root oil, which also contains natural ionones but was less expensive than natural violet absolute. Which brings us back to Hiram Green, who has famously made all-natural fragrances his hallmark, eschewing the use of synthetics. This makes Vivacious a mischievous reference to the start of modern perfumery with the synthesization of ionones, which I find charming. Given the inclusion of orris as a note in Vivacious‘s pyramid structure, I must conclude that he used the natural ionones in orris root to create a vision of violets, which then fades away to reveal iris. If you like floral scents, especially if you like notes of violet and iris, this is one you must try.

As it dries down, Vivacious becomes less lively and more serene. Usually I find lavender scents to be the most calming, but the later stages of Vivacious, still dominated by orris, are just as soothing. There is still a lingering spiciness from the carnation accord, which of course I enjoy, and which I think must be based at least partly on clove oil. I love the way Hiram Green has enfolded the soft violet accord within the bright bergamot opening, the spicy carnation accord, and the warm amber base.

Do you have any favorite violet scents? Or any others that evoke vivacity (def.: ” the quality of being attractively lively and animated; ex.: he was struck by her vivacity, humor and charm”)? Please check out the other Scent Semantics posts from my fellow bloggers!

Perfume Chat Room, May 13

Perfume Chat Room, May 13

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, May 13, and my nose is full of the fragrance of rose gardens. Plus many other choice blossoms and plants such as wisteria, osmanthus, even eucalyptus. What a wonderful month May is, for garden flowers and fragrance! I have many new photos of flowers, mostly roses, which I’ll share soon on my Instagram account once I’ve tidied them up a bit.

We’ve had a sad loss since my post last Friday — a close friend of my son’s from high school died last weekend after two months of surgery and intensive care following an abdominal injury. My son and his friends have handled this pretty well, though they are very sad. They have really rallied around the bereaved family and supported them as well as each other. I’m very proud of the maturity my son has shown, but I still have concerns about how he and his friends will feel the impact of this grief. However, they all have great families and overlapping communities to help them. Most of them will be home for the summer, having returned from college, and they will be a comfort to each other as well as to the family of their friend.

I’m glad the semester is over at the university where I work, and the summer will be much quieter, so I can focus on my son, and his sisters who have been remarkable in how they have come forward to support him. I spend much of the academic year tending to the needs of other people’s young adult children, aka my students; I’ll be glad to put that aside for a while and tend to my own.

Will your summer be busy or quiet?

Bouquet of garden roses by David Austin, including Teasing Georgia, Lady of Shalott, Carding Mill, Olivia Rose Austin, Munstead Wood.
An assortment of David Austin’s English Roses, including the dark crimson “Munstead Wood.”
Perfume Chat Room, May 6

Perfume Chat Room, May 6

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, May 6, and my roses continue to flourish and bloom! I’ve added more photos to my Instagram account, if you’d like to see some of them up close. Most are “English Roses” by the late David Austin, an amazing hybridizer of roses who brought back the old-fashioned shapes and strong fragrance of older roses, but combined those with the range of colors and repeat-blooming habit of modern ones. One of the fascinating aspects of his roses is that many of them smell slightly different. All their scents are clearly “rose”, but some are more spicy, or fruity, or lemony. As you can tell, I love them.

Some of my English Roses

If you haven’t yet read this month’s “Scent Semantics” posts by the six participating bloggers, the word for May (chosen by Portia) is “brilliance.” You’ll find all the links here: Scent Semantics.

May is full of various celebrations: May Day, Star Wars Day, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day. I’ve just learned that in the Netherlands, May 5 is celebrated as Liberation Day, marking the end of Nazi occupation. May is the month of the annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which I’ve been able to visit twice and hope to visit again, maybe next year.

Chelsea Pensioner, at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

This year, Eid al Fitr (the end of Ramadan) was celebrated in the US in May; the dates change every year. Do you celebrate anything in particular in May?