Perfume Chat Room, January 13

Perfume Chat Room, January 13

The Perfume Chat Room is back! After a brief hiatus for December’s Scented Advent, then my new collaboration with Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies, “Notes on Notes” (first Mondays of the month), I’m ready to chat again and I hope you are too.

So, if you’re new to this blog, welcome to the Friday Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, January 13 (yes, it’s Friday the 13th), and here in the USA we are looking forward to our three-day weekend in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. This year, the holiday falls on Monday, January 16. I don’t have any special plans other than perhaps a lunch with the other volunteers who take part in a prize program to recognize high school students who make positive contributions to race relations in their schools or communities. I helped launch this program many years ago, and it is now nationwide. We’ve met so many wonderful teenagers who are doing great work. I love it.

Heads up — I spent last weekend visiting one of my closest friends in West Palm Beach, and I was able to go to the Guerlain boutique in The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach. Yes, I came home with a bottle (the “new” Mitsouko). Yes, that means I made it one whole week into 2023 before buying a new fragrance. Yes, I’ll do a separate post with photos!

Are you attempting a no-buy or low-buy for 2023? I am going to try a “low-buy” but I’m not exactly off to a good start, lol. Or do you have any particular fragrances on your 2023 wishlist?

What Went Well, 2022 Edition

What Went Well, 2022 Edition

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! Undina over at Undina’s Looking Glass has reminded me, with her Saturday Question, that I haven’t yet posted here about “What Went Well” in 2022.

  1. Two of our three young adult children solidified and continued romantic relationships that started in the fall of 2021 and make them very happy. Whatever happens, they’ve had a lovely year, and I love that.
  2. The third young adult child was able to move into her own small apartment, after a happy year of sharing a house with friends, and the apartment is much closer to our home, which makes us very happy. She and her sister (who also lives nearby) still have their own keys to our house and come and go quite often.
  3. I had a long overdue leave from my job this fall and was able to travel to see family, especially the two trips to New Hampshire in 2022 to see my FIL, one of which included all three kids, who hadn’t seen him since 2020.
  4. My leave this fall has shown me that yes, I’m ready to retire, which I will do later this year after the spring semester.
  5. My dear husband and I also began a more structured routine for better fitness and strength, and we’re enjoying it!
  6. Three of us had COVID right around Thanksgiving, but we all recovered quickly and well — and we were all able to quarantine together here in our house.

My list reminds me, again, that what really makes my life go well is when I achieve a balance of happy, healthy family; happy, healthy marriage; maintaining healthy boundaries between my life and my job; and taking better care of myself and my physical health. In many ways, 2022 was a difficult year for me, at least the first three quarters, due to workplace politics and shifts. The leave I took in the fall was long overdue, after two years of doing a LOT of extra COVID-related work for my university employer starting in March 2020, on top of my regular duties which did not lessen. The return to being onsite full-time, with all students onsite, for the 21-22 academic year, was very challenging for everyone, and many valued colleagues left in 2022, leaving jobs vacant with the same workload needing to get done by fewer people. The new boss I acquired, the third in three years (academia is notoriously poorly managed) proved to be much more difficult than I had expected, and mismanaged my staff while I was on leave, leading to more resignations.

But now that 2022 approaches its end, I have a plan in place to retire in 2023, ending my third career on a positive note for my students and colleagues. I’m looking forward to what comes next! Stay tuned for some new collaboration with Portia Turbo of Australian Perfume Junkies and A Bottled Rose, coming soon to a blog near you!

Happy New Year, everyone, and let’s hope that 2023 brings more peace, health, hope, and wellbeing to as many people as possible. Thank you for joining me and other readers here; I love the online perfume community that has been so welcoming and positive! If you drop in periodically but haven’t commented, I encourage you to do that if you wish — the more, the merrier!

Hands holding numerals for New Year 2023.
2023; image from the UK Daily News.
Scented Advent, December 23 and 24

Scented Advent, December 23 and 24

Happy Christmas Eve! I never got around to posting yesterday because I was so busy creating the first of several family feasts for last night and the next few days. I love to cook, and I love having our kids and their friends around, so this is a great time of year for me!

For December 23, my Advent SOTD was Guerlain’s Embruns d’Ylang, created by Thierry Wasser and launched in 2019. I like it much more than I expected to! Not that I dislike ylang-ylang, but it’s not high on my list of favorite floral notes. I like it a lot as a supporting character in many beautiful fragrances, but I wouldn’t normally seek out a fragrance where it has the starring role.

According to Fragrantica, the notes included are: top notes, Salt and Bergamot; middle notes, Ylang-Ylang, Cloves and Jasmine Sambac; base notes, Iris, Patchouli and Vanilla. I never know how to identify “salt” as a fragrance accord, except as a sort of mineral smell; and Embruns d’Ylang definitely has that in its opening, with a tangy bergamot. Believe it or not, the combination of salt and a bitter citrus has a long history, though mostly involving grapefruit: “Grapefruit and Salt: The Science Behind This Unlikely Power Couple.”

After the opening, ylang-ylang is the dominant accord, and it is very lovely. Interestingly, although I often think of ylang-ylang as falling on the sweeter end of the yellow flower spectrum, here it doesn’t come across as very sweet. It certainly isn’t cloying at all, and it is a ylang-ylang that would work well for all, truly unisex if that is a concern. I don’t smell cloves at all, though given the above article’s explanation of how our taste sensors can cancel each other out, I wonder if cloves are helping to reduce the sweetness of the ylang-ylang. I do pick up the jasmine sambac, but here it is a supporting player.

The ylang-ylang persists into the drydown and the base, which makes for a very interesting combination of yellow floral, powdery iris, soft warm vanilla, and earthy patchouli. I find it quite unique, and very pleasing. It also lasts on my skin for several hours, including overnight.

Yellow ylang-ylang flowers held in hands
Ylang-ylang flowers; image from beezly.com

I find this to be a thoroughly unisex yellow floral fragrance with a unique combination of notes. Its name has a poetic meaning: seafoam of ylang, which takes into account the salt accord. This is different enough that I would suggest trying before you buy it, if you are so inclined, but it is well worth sampling.

Now I have to decide what to wear for Christmas Eve! Truthfully, I have many nice options, so I might have more than one SOTD. Happy Christmas Eve, everyone who celebrates it! Advent officially ends tonight, so I’ll wish you also a very happy Christmas; and to everyone everywhere, a happy, healthy holiday season. Thanks for joining me and other readers here on Serenity Now: Scents and Sensibilities; I look forward to hearing more from you all in 2023!

Scented Advent, December 22

Scented Advent, December 22

Today’s Advent scent, by independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, is Sugar Plums. Every year, her house DSH Perfumes releases a new, limited issue holiday fragrance. (Fear not, you can still buy the prior years’ fragrances in her holiday sample sets). Sugar Plums is number 22, this year’s holiday fragrance, also particularly apropos on December 22.

Ms. Hurwitz says that Sugar Plums was inspired by her love for the ballet “The Nutcracker”, and especially the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Her description:

A dancing, celebratory plum chypre fragrance with a frangipani heart bouquet, soft cardamom & ginger spices, touches of incense, and delicious gourmand elements in the drydown. How beautiful and festive! This year’s inspiration comes from a perennial holiday favorite “The Nutcracker”. I have long loved this dreamy ballet; especially the dance of the sugar plum fairies. I have to admit that I have long considered this theme (it’s been in my notebook of ideas for years) for the dancing, dreamlike quality that the concept invokes. Sugar Plums is not really all that sweet… instead it is a celebratory swirl of rich plum, delicate spices, warming incense, and a surprising combination of gourmand elements in a classical chypre structure in the drydown. This may sound like a cacophony of elements, but it comes together beautifully to make a true holiday classic.

DSH Perfumes and Now Smell This
The Nutcracker ballet, Atlanta Ballet
Atlanta Ballet Nutcracker, 2014, Waltz of the Flowers with the Sugar Plum Fairy; image from Atlanta Ballet

Finally, a fragrance in which I can really smell the cardamom! Sometimes I see it listed as a note or accord and I just can’t detect it; that makes me sad because I love the smell of cardamom. Sugar Plums is a very beautiful fragrance, with just the right level of spice and incense. I think the gourmand aspects of the drydown, mentioned about, come from tonka bean; it seems to be combined with some patchouli, giving this modern chypre its base note that in a prior era might have been oakmoss.

Sugar Plums has a spiced fruit opening, which I believe is a combination of a plum accord with the cardamom. The incense slowly appears and rises; it is a soft, gentle incense. I’ll have to take Ms. Hurwitz’ word for it that the floral heart is frangipani; it’s beautiful but I don’t think I could have picked out frangipani as the floral accord. The cardamom and incense persist after the floral notes have receded, and they carry on right into the base notes, two of which I think are tonka and patchouli. This isn’t a sweet fragrance, though it has some sweet accords. My sample is the Voile de Parfum formulation, which is oil-based, and it lasts well on my skin, still very detectable several hours after application. I like it very much! Now I’m eager to try the rest of DSH Perfumes’ holiday fragrances.

My favorite version of The Nutcracker is the former production by the Atlanta Ballet, choreographed by John McFall, in which our daughters appeared as children for several years. I always loved the sets and costumes, which looked more Russian than Victorian, and the choreography was spectacular (ignore the advert for ticket sales, this production ended 4 years ago!):

Is going to The Nutcracker, or watching it on film, a tradition in your family? Do you have a favorite version?

Scented Advent, December 21

Scented Advent, December 21

Today is the winter solstice, the turning point from dark to light, or at least lighter. We still have much winter to come, and December 21 is considered the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, but the days will start getting longer and the nights shorter.

Stonehenge with winter sun
Stonehenge at the winter solstice; image from BBC Science

In England, the group that owns and manages Stonehenge is English Heritage. They will stream winter solstice celebrations taking place at Stonehenge tomorrow, December 22.

And — surprise! My stash of Guerlain samples had a couple of duplicates, so today’s Advent sample is Angelique Noire, again! This time, the caraway seed accord was a bit more forward. I still don’t perceive this fragrance as “noire” at all.

Angelica plant in bloom
Photo by PrathSnap on Pexels.com

As before, Angelique Noire has good longevity on my skin. I’m going to try it side by side with some other vanillas, like the vanilla discovery set from Sylvaine Delacourte. Mme. Delacourte was the Creative Director for Guerlain fragrances for 15 years, and Angelique Noire was created under her supervision, so I think that will provide some interesting comparisons.

Happy winter solstice! And all of you in the Southern Hemisphere, enjoy your own seasonal changes!

Scented Advent, December 19

Scented Advent, December 19

My Guerlain Advent scent today is Néroli Outrenoir, another “citrus aromatic”, created by Thierry Wasser and Delphine Jelk and launched in 2016. It’s very, very appealing. Per Fragrantica, top notes are Petitgrain, Bergamot, Tangerine, Lemon and Grapefruit; middle notes are Tea, Neroli, Orange Blossom, Smoke and Earthy Notes; base notes are Myrrh, Vanilla, Benzoin, Ambrette (Musk Mallow) and Oakmoss.

That citrusy opening is very uplifting, a mix of greenness and, well, citrus. It reminds me a bit of Miller Harris’ Tangerine Vert. To my nose, the most prominent notes are the petitgrain, tangerine, and lemon, but I definitely smell the bergamot, and a whiff of the grapefruit. Very soon, tea is served, and it is a black tea with lemon in it. It does have a floralcy that comes from the néroli and orange blossom, but to me the strongest impression is of black tea and lemon, with a tinge of smokiness. Almost like a lapsang souchong tea, but not as smoky or tarry.

This scent is like chiaroscuro, the painting technique that famously contrasts light and dark, the leading examples being the paintings of the great Caravaggio. It starts out very bright and sunny, with all the citrus notes in the opening. Then the brightness dims a bit, and softens and blurs, with the arrival of accords of tea and flowers. As it dries down, it gets gradually darker but also warmer, with the base notes especially of benzoin, ambrette and oakmoss. Myrrh and vanilla accords are present, but to a lesser degree.

Neroli Outrenoir has decent longevity on my skin, though nothing like Épices Volèes. It’s also a different kind of citrus/tea fragrance, one with more depth. I think it’s totally unisex and it would smell wonderful in warm weather, especially warm summer evenings. It’s fresh enough for hot weather but sophisticated enough for evening wear.

Very nice! Do you have any fragrances that contrast light and dark this way?

Oil painting of the Nativity, by Caravaggio
Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence, by Caravaggio; image from Photo Scala
Scented Advent, December 18

Scented Advent, December 18

Today’s Advent scent is Incense Flash, from Andy Tauer’s “Tauerville” line. The “Flash” series were meant to be less expensive than his main line of fragrances, but no less interesting (Rose Flash is a favorite of mine). Incense Flash has an abbreviated notes list: incense, woody notes, leather, musk. That’s a little deceiving, because incense itself can contain different notes, and who knows how many notes are included under the single term “woody notes”? Anyway, incense is what I smell, right away. It is smoky but not harsh.

Incense sticks, one burning
Incense sticks; image from Epicurious.com

I used to associate incense with a sort of hippie mentality, but I find it so interesting in perfume. It seems to have gone more mainstream in recent years, with people buying sticks to burn at home. And of course, Advent is a great time to be wearing an incense-based scent, given various church traditions. I find myself really enjoying Incense Flash. I don’t really smell leather, but I think the musk accord is softening the whole impression.

I would say that the development of Incense Flash is somewhat linear. The lead actor is the incense, and everything else revolves around that, coming and going. I like it, as a straightforward incense fragrance.

Do you use incense in your home? Do you have any favorite Tauerville scents?

Scented Advent, December 16

Scented Advent, December 16

Today I cheated on the Advent calendar process. I needed a sample from an independent perfumer, to alternate with my Guerlain samples, but I also wanted to take part in Now Smell This’ Friday community project, which was to name your favorite work by, or inspired by, Jane Austen. So I grabbed the discovery set of Francesca Bianchi fragrances, which I hadn’t yet opened, and chose one that I thought might do. My favorite Jane Austen-inspired work is the movie “Sense and Sensibility”, which is why my blog is named, in part, Scents and Sensibilities (full name is Serenity Now: Scents and Sensibilities).

Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet in "Sense and Sensibility"
The heroines of “Sense and Sensibility”; image from Encyclopedia Brittanica.

The sample I chose was one I’ve never tried, called The Lover’s Tale. After all, Jane Austen’s books are all tales about lovers. But when I read more about it on Fragrantica — bingo! Here’s what Francesca Bianchi said about it herself:

This is a story of by-gone times about a secret encounter of lovers. It represents the contradictions between sense and sensibility, pruderie and passion. The lovers are full of desire but their education holds them back.

Francesca Bianchi

Launched in 2018, The Lover’s Tale has top notes of Honey, Mimosa, Aldehydes and Bergamot; middle notes of Orris, Peach, Heliotrope, Egyptian Jasmine and Bulgarian Rose; and base notes of Leather, Castoreum, Musk, Labdanum, Oakmoss, Vetiver and Sandalwood. It is considered a leather fragrance, as that note is a main player. Given its partnering with castoreum, musk, oakmoss, and vetiver, I venture to say that this is a more stereotypically masculine leather. However, the earlier notes are all very stereotypically feminine, with their profusion of florals. In a way, The Lover’s Tale is a combination of two characters from “Sense and Sensibility”: Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood, who fall in love after various trials and tribulations.

I read somewhere that while it is understood that the title “Sense and Sensibility” refers to the two sisters, Elinor Dashwood who has common sense and intelligence, and the younger Marianne, who has a Romantic sensibility and passion, it can also be read as referring to Brandon and Marianne. He is the older, experienced man who commits himself to solving problems and addressing crises, including Marianne’s. He is practical — but he also has a wide streak of Romanticism himself, with his love of music and his infatuation with the emotional, musical Marianne.

Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood, from "Sense and Sensibility"
Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood; image from Columbia Pictures.

Colonel Brandon also spends much of the movie throwing himself into the saddle and riding off to save the day, so a leather fragrance is well suited to him. The honey in the opening notes can be a nice reference to what Emma Thompson, who wrote and starred in the movie, called the “extraordinary sweetness [of Brandon’s] nature.” The aldehydes and floral notes evoke Marianne’s love of beauty that can sometimes be a bit flighty; by the time The Lover’s Tale is in the final stage of drydown, the floral notes, the leather, and the warm animalic notes of the base have reconciled, and combine with labdanum and sandalwood in a beautiful marriage of scent.

Colonel Brandon and Marianne's wedding, "Sense and Sensibility"
Wedding of Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood; image from Columbia Pictures

Do you have a favorite work by, or inspired by, Jane Austen? Any fragrance you might associate with it?

Scented Advent, December 15

Scented Advent, December 15

The Guerlain sample I pulled today was one that I tried and liked in the Las Vegas boutique, Frenchy Lavande. This version was launched under that name in 2021, but it is basically the same as Le Frenchy, which was launched in 2017. Like a few others, it was renamed and moved into the collection “L’Art et la Matière”. It is called an “aromatic fougère”, so classified largely because of the central role that lavender plays, but others have called it a citrusy aromatic. Fragrantica lists its notes as: Top notes, Lemon Verbena, Lemon and Bergamot; middle notes, Petitgrain, Lavender, Citron, Sage and Neroli; base notes, Ambergris, Vetiver and Tonka Bean. Eddie Bulliqi reviewed it and Herbes Troublantes recently for Fragrantica: “Herbs for Winter; Guerlain’s Frenchy Lavande and Herbes Troublantes.”

The opening is lovely, and even my nearby husband looked up and commented, “That’s really nice, what is it?”. While the opening notes are in fact very citrusy, I also smell lavender right away. The lemon and lemon verbena are more prominent than the bergamot, and the lemon verbena adds a distinctly herbal tint to the lemon and lavender. I can’t pinpoint the moment when lemon gives way to citron, but I can say that the partnership of citrus and lavender continues in the middle phase. I only get glimmers of sage, and the neroli is a latecomer to this stage, at least to my nose. It gradually replaces the lavender, as the fragrance moves toward its base notes. Vetiver continues the aromatic, herbal aspect of Frenchy Lavande. I can’t really distinguish the ambergris and tonka bean accords, just that the base slowly becomes warmer and less herbal.

Believe it or not, there is actually a blog called “The Traveling Frenchy” by a young woman named Alex, and in it she has posted a guide to visiting the lavender fields in Provence. I highly recommend it if you are thinking of seeking out French lavender fields; she gives very specific information on the locales she prefers, and even lists particular villages and roads.

French girl in field of French lavender in Provence
The Traveling Frenchy blog’s Ultimate Guide to the Lavender Fields in Provence

Ultimately, though I like Frenchy Lavande very much, it is a bit like Herbes Troublantes in reminding one of a cologne, although it is in a eau de parfum format. I wouldn’t say that it is much nicer than my Jicky eau de toilette or even that it lasts longer; and it certainly costs a lot more. Bottom line: if you want a Guerlain lavender, I recommend Jicky. In fact, that may be my next Guerlain purchase, from its reissue of several Guerlain classics in the collection “Les Legendaires”.

Do you have a favorite lavender-centric fragrance?

Scented Advent, December 14

Scented Advent, December 14

The independent perfumer’s sample for today’s Advent scent is 1805, later renamed as 1805 Tonnerre, by Beaufort London. It is one of the first three fragrances released by this niche house upon its debut in 2015, as part of the “Come Hell Or High Water” collection. Fragrantica explains:

This collection brings together elements of Britain’s history, both imagined and real, to create collages of scent embodying themes of warfare, trade and exploration.

Crabtree’s lifelong love of fragrance and a preoccupation with the darker elements of British history served as the collection’s impetus. 

Fragrantica

The brand’s packaging mentions the significance of the year 1805: the same year when Admiral Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar but lost his life; and the year when the “wind force scale” was invented by Sir Francis Beaufort. The scent’s composition is described as follows:

The scent imagines moments within the battle itself. Powerful accords of smoke, gunpowder, blood and brandy combine with sea spray and a penetrating citrus note.

Beaufort London

More prosaically, Fragrantica lists its notes as: Top notes are lime, smoke and gunpowder; middle notes are blood, brandy and sea water; base notes are amber, balsam fir and cedar.

This is definitely a unique scent but it’s not unpleasant. Much more masculine than unisex to my nose, but is that mostly because we have learned to associate non-floral odors with men more than women? Be that as it may, I smell the top notes of smoke and gunpowder, and there is a sharp note right at the beginning that may be the “lime”. The sample I have is the actual 2015 launch 1805, not the renamed, later version, and I think that citrus top note may have gone off a bit. Blood? Brandy? There is a metallic tang in the middle phase that I think is meant to represent “blood”, but mostly what I smell is the continuing smoke, now merging with sea water. I don’t smell anything I could identify as brandy.

The opening and middle stages are challenging, but the final stage is calmer and warmer, perhaps in the way there is calm after a great naval battle or storm. The base notes are very woody; accords of fir and cedar dominate over amber. Unfortunately, this is also the stage where 1805 smells more generic, like a woody aftershave. Again, not unpleasant, but now not as interesting. Whenever the gunpowder accord wafts through, though, as it regularly does, it rekindles my nose’s interest.

Painting of the naval battle of Trafalgar
The Battle of Trafalgar, by William Clarkson Stanfield

I was introduced to Beaufort London at Bloom perfumery in London, several years ago, at which time they had released a couple more fragrances to join the original three. One of those, Fathom V, is actually a fragrance I like a lot, on its own merits. If you like smoky scents that are different, you may like 1805 and its other siblings, but this is definitely a fragrance where one must proceed with caution.

What scents do you find very intriguing and artistic, but you might not choose to wear them yourself or at least to wear them less often?