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?

Perfume Chat Room, April 22

Perfume Chat Room, April 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, April 22, and I’m delighted to say that my husband and I will be traveling overseas again next month, for the first time since 2020! We’ve just finalized our plans, and I’m so excited. My May blog posts may be a little spotty as a result — I doubt I’ll be able to do a daily marathon as I have in past Mays. I’ll be able to do a Scent Semantics post on time, though!

Our last international trip was to Jamaica, in the first week of March 2020, just before the world shut down. Our last trip to Europe was in the summer of 2019. Now I’m figuring out all the documentation rules; we’re fully vaccinated and boosted, and we’ll go get second boosters this weekend, but the paperwork for the EU is a bit daunting. And then there’s the requirement to be tested before returning to the US, although that seems to be in flux too. Luckily the second half of our trip is for my husband’s work, and so his office will make sure we have everything we need to comply with return requirements.

Have you started traveling between countries again?

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com
Perfume Chat Room, April 8

Perfume Chat Room, April 8

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 8, and we’ve gone from one weather extreme to another here. The week started out as gorgeous springtime, sunny and blooming. It was “Scent Semantics” Monday, and I got to choose the word this month, which was “vernal.” Then we had two days of violent storms, including a couple with extremely loud thunder and lots of lightning, accompanied by a 20-degree drop in temperatures. Our dog Lucy was NOT happy!

Lucy, not happy

Yesterday and today dawned bright and sunny again, and Lucy’s tail is wagging. She loves to lie in the sun outside in our garden (which is totally fenced, with a secured gate). We celebrated our wedding anniversary this week, which brought to mind the strange mix of weather we had on our wedding day: April snow, April showers, brilliant sunshine amid April flowers.

Le Jardin de Old Herbaceous

This weekend is Palm Sunday, soon to be followed by Easter. I love Easter, maybe even more than Christmas because it is so vernal (see what I did there?). I adore the many Easter flowers on display indoors and out. I love Easter food (we always have a traditional roast leg of lamb), and I love having our kids home for the holiday. I love the Easter music and services at our church

April this year is filled with important holidays: Passover, Ramadan, Easter. I enjoy learning about all the different traditions. I wish I’d had more opportunities to learn about them when I was in school, as my children have had, but better late than never.

I think my Easter fragrance will be vintage Dior Lily. It’s a lovely combination of spring florals, mostly Muguet and white lilies. As many of you know, though, I have SO many muguet fragrances that I won’t lack for choices!

Do you have any upcoming celebrations or favorite fragrances to match with holidays?

Perfume Chat Room, April 1

Perfume Chat Room, April 1

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 1 — Happy April Fools’ Day! I couldn’t think of an appropriate April Fools post for a fragrance blog, though my personal Facebook feed is blowing up with silly posts from friends. Also, “rabbit rabbit” for good luck this month, and don’t miss the April Scent Semantics posts from six bloggers next Monday! I got to choose the word for April, which is fun for me. But it’s a secret until Monday, so please check back!

This week, I had to attend a neighborhood meeting to discuss a proposal for designating our neighborhood as an official historic district, which would protect us from encroaching development, roadways, and demolitions of old houses. It has become a flashpoint of controversy, and a number of homeowners who don’t want additional restrictions on what they can do to their houses — if the houses were built before the 1960s — have become very angry, threatening to sue the neighborhood volunteers who lead our civic association. I didn’t want to go to the meeting, but went to support the beleaguered volunteers and to voice support for the historic designation. Whew! Glad the meeting is over, though the controversy continues! And yes, I wore Chanel No. 19 which is my fragrance armor.

Liv Tyler as Arwen, in The Fellowship of the Ring movie; New Line Cinema.
Liv Tyler as Arwen, in The Fellowship of the Ring movie; New Line Cinema.

Victoria at “Bois de Jasmin” has written very knowledgeably (as always) about Chanel No. 19. She discussed its reformulations, adding this historical insight:

A side note on galbanum, fragrance and politics. When Chanel No 19 was created in 1971, it was formulated with a superb grade of Iranian galbanum oil, which was sourced especially for it. However, when the Iranian Revolution broke out in 1979, the oil became unavailable. No 19 had to be reformulated, which was accomplished with much difficulty, because the original galbanum oil was of a particularly fine, rare caliber.

History. Always fascinating, sometimes enraging.

Do you have any thoughts on what fragrance to wear for April Fools’ Day? Or for “rabbit rabbit”? Or any fragrance-related history? Do share!

Perfume Chat Room, March 11

Perfume Chat Room, March 11

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 11, and it is the two-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s announcement that COVID-19 had become officially a pandemic. Reading those words today and their warning is sobering, given how many mistakes were made and how many millions have died. I feel like Neil at The Black Narcissus, who was recently wondering why he writes (and we read) about perfume when the war in Ukraine — that started two weeks ago today — is so appalling. I think the answers in the comments to his post respond quite well to his question — if we have done what little we can to address human needs, we need respite from the unrelenting tide of awfulness; we need to pause and remember how much beauty there is in the world, and how lucky we are to be able to enjoy it. Victoria at “Bois de Jasmin”, who is Ukrainian, is trying to achieve that balance by posting about aid resources, her family home in Ukraine, and her friends (to put faces on the crisis).

The Friday community project at “Now Smell This” is to wear a fragrance that somehow captures for you the official anniversary of the pandemic. I’ve been struggling with this all week, but last night, the right choice for me popped into my head. It is Gardener’s Glove, from artisan perfumer Diane St. Clair of St. Clair Scents. When my family went into lockdown by the end of March 2020 (it took my workplace until the end of the month to send most employees home), I decided to start a vegetable garden. It was both a distraction and a way to make sure my family could have fresh vegetables, given uncertainty about supply chains. Gardener’s Glove and First Cut, also by St. Clair Scents, reminded me of my late father’s vegetable garden.

And sometimes, as Voltaire once wrote, our individual response to the world’s disasters, war, and cruelty must be to “cultivate one’s garden.” Writers have argued for centuries about his intended meaning. Is it cynical advice to turn away from the world’s suffering and sorrow, and isolate oneself in a comfortable retreat? Or is it a call to create and nurture beauty and fruitfulness within one’s limited control?

I choose the latter. Candide has witnessed the world’s suffering and has not forgotten it. We too can bear witness, and respond as best we can, and also continue to create and nurture. So I will give to Ukrainian relief, and follow the news, and appreciate my many blessings, which include fragrance, and cultivate my garden. If creators cease creating, the war-mongers have won, and the world will become even more grim.

Backyard vegetable garden
Old Herbaceous’ vegetable garden, Winter 2021-22

Are you marking today’s anniversary in any way? Do you associate any particular fragrance with the last two years? Or, how do you cultivate your own “garden”?

Scent Semantics, March 7, 2022

Scent Semantics, March 7, 2022

Welcome to this next installment of Scent Semantics! This month’s word, supplied by Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass, is “nostalgia.”

The fragrance I chose to embody nostalgia for me is Molinard de Molinard. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was my first purchase of a “niche” fragrance, as I bought it while on our honeymoon in 1990 when we visited Grasse.

Scene of the city of Grasse, France
Grasse, France on September 10, 2021. Photograph by Bénédicte Desrus for NPR

On that trip, we first spent a week in Paris, which my husband had never visited, then we took the TGV from Paris to Marseille, which neither of us had ever visited. We spent a night with longtime friends of my parents, a family my father first met when he was stationed in Marseille with the US Army at the very end of World War II, then took our rental car and worked our way up the coastline, visiting the Riviera towns but mostly staying up in the hills of Provence. We’ve been back to Cannes and Nice, and some of the hilltop villages, but we haven’t returned to Grasse — yet!

Wearing Molinard de Molinard brings back many happy memories of our fabulous honeymoon, which was short on luxury but long on charm. It’s hard to envision pre-internet travel, but we had very few arrangements in place ahead of time — just the hotel in Paris, the TGV tickets, and the rental car. After our overnight in Marseille, we stayed in small, local hotels and inns, using a Michelin Green Guide and calling ahead a day or two in advance to make our reservations as we worked our way up the coast. Nowadays that seems so random, but we were in our 20s, footloose and fancy-free, and it was great fun! We still have a running joke about the “lacets”, those precipitous zigzagging roads that lead from the heights down to the Riviera coast, in a pattern that looks like shoelaces. So yes, Molinard de Molinard is a nostalgic fragrance for me, conjuring up a very happy time in our lives that was the prelude to the happy life we’ve built together.

Molinard is one of the three major existing Grasseois perfume houses, the others being Fragonard and Galimard. These are far from the only fragrance businesses in Grasse, however. The city is still known as the “perfume capital of the world” and is home to the world-renowned Grasse Institute of Perfumery, among many other fragrance industry connections (do read or listen to the NPR story; it includes comments from the founder and nose of 1000 Flowers, Jessica Buchanan). Its fields still supply jasmine and roses to the industry, although no longer the majority of the flowers used in modern fragrances.

I would have to retrieve a 30+ year-old photo album to confirm more details, but we visited at least one and maybe two of the perfume houses’ museums in their old factories in town. I think it may have been two, because I know we visited Molinard and I think we also visited Galimard. If we get the chance to visit Grasse again, I will be sure to round out the set by visiting Fragonard, which still makes and sells lovely fragrances, as does Molinard. Galimard seems to have remained more regional in character, though it is still creating and presenting new fragrances.

Molinard de Molinard was reissued in 2017; the new version was well-received, but sadly it was not reissued in the original bottle, with its molded frieze of classical figures (probably nymphs) based on a design by Lalique. I have one of those bottles, and it is beautiful. The 1979 version I have is a classic green fragrance. Per Fragrantica, its notes are: top — Green Notes, Asafoetida, Black Currant, Cassis, Fruity Notes, Lemon and Bergamot; middle — Narcissus, Lily-of-the-Valley, Jasmine, Bulgarian Rose and Ylang-Ylang; base — Vetiver, Labdanum, Incense, Musk, Amber and Patchouli. It reminds me of 1970’s Chanel No. 19 or 1978’s Silences, by Jacomo. The fruity notes don’t make the fragrance fruity or sweet; it is clearly dominated by the astringent “green notes”, asafoetida, bergamot, narcissus, vetiver, etc. It smells like a chypre, although the classic chypre base note of oakmoss is not listed. I haven’t tried the 2017 reformulation.

When my husband and I visited Nice in 2019, I went to the Molinard and Fragonard boutiques in town. Both are lovely, with friendly and knowledgeable staff. You won’t be able to buy the 1979 version of Molinard there, but you might find it at one of the outdoor marchés in the Old Town of Nice. I will enjoy and treasure what I have, which now includes an original tester bottle.

Fragrance is famously connected to our emotions and memories — do you have any that are particularly nostalgic for you?

And please read the other Scent Semantics posts:

Elena  https://theplumgirl.com

Sheila  https://thealembicatedgenie.com

Daisy  https://eaulalanyc.com 

Undina  https://undina.com

Old Herbaceous  https://scentsandsensibilities.co

Portia  https://abottledrose.com