Meeting a Unicorn: L’Iris de Fath

Meeting a Unicorn: L’Iris de Fath

I had a few fragrance adventures in London last month, but one of the best was a surprise encounter with 2018’s launch, L’Iris de Fath. Yes, THAT one — the award-winning reconstruction of the legendary Iris Gris fragrance from the house of Fath.

Other bloggers and authors have written at length about this project, including Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, who were involved with it. The Fath website offers this:

Jacques Fath’s Iris Gris is known as one of the greatest perfumes if not the greatest, unequalled since its creation. The balanced duo of Iris and Peach reflects perfumer Vincent Roubert’s exceptional know-how. The concentration of Iris of an unreached level made of Jacques Fath’s Iris Gris the most expensive perfume in the world. Launched in 1947, it disappeared the same year as Fath in 1954.  Often copied and certainly never equaled, it remains unique and timeless.

It was unthinkable that this heritage remained prisoner of the limbo of the past. Under the supervision of Creative Director Rania Naim, Parfums Jacques Fath launched an international competition of perfumers, in order to reproduce as faithfully as possible this exceptional fragrance. The myth is reborn, thanks to two young talents unanimously chosen by a committee of experts:  Patrice Revillard, Perfumer and Yohan Cervi, Creative Director of Maelström.

Like a chrysalis turning into a butterfly, it is now known as :L’ IRIS de FATH

After all, no matter the name, no matter the color, as long as emotions remain intact.

So how did I manage to meet this mythical creature? I went to Jovoy Paris’ Mayfair store in London and met a young sorcerer’s apprentice (SA) named Khalid. Khalid is a very nice, knowledgeable sales assistant at Jovoy Mayfair, where I have had nothing but lovely experiences. The first time I ever visited, the owner, Francois, happened to be there. He gave me a personal tour of the store, pulled out many fragrances for me to try, and even showed me (and let me smell!) the precious chunks of ambergris they keep in a vault downstairs.

On this latest visit, I happened to be nearby at my favorite overall store in London, Liberty. I was planning to meet a friend for a late lunch, and had some time to spare, so I stopped in at Jovoy. It was a quiet time in the store, and I was warmly greeted by Khalid. Here’s what I love about Jovoy. I told him that I was really just browsing, that I write about fragrance as a hobby, and that I had visited the store before and really enjoyed its wide range of stock, but wasn’t there to buy anything in particular. He asked me nevertheless what I like in fragrance, I said florals, and he asked if he could show me some of their newer floral scents. Of course, I said, and out came the testers and the paper strips, so I could sniff some truly beautiful florals. After I oohed and aahed over one with a dominant iris note, he asked me, “Do you like iris?” and I assured him that yes, I love iris, and in fact it was becoming one of my favorite notes, close on the heels of the muguet I love so much.

Well, Khalid got a gleam in his eye and invited me to follow him downstairs to see the store’s most special iris fragrance. We approached the same vault where the ambergris is kept, and there it was — The Unicorn. L’Iris de Fath. Reader, I gasped.

 

Khalid opened the vault and carefully dripped one drop of the precious fluid on a paper test strip, which he then handed to me. One drop, and a cloud of iris richness filled my nose. I tell you, if I ever win Powerball millions, I will fly back to London, head straight to Jovoy Mayfair, and buy their entire stock of L’Iris de Fath from Khalid. And I hope he gets a whopping commission.

I don’t have enough of a trained nose to be able to describe L’Iris as well as others have done, so I’ll just record my own impressions in my own words. This is a remarkably elegant, lasting, classic iris perfume. It has the rootiness of traditional orris, which I love and which takes center stage right from the start, but the opening is brightened by neroli and petitgrain, and it smells of iris flowers as well as their roots. The iris has a warmth that one doesn’t often associate with that note, and it comes from a subtle peach that lends it a velvety, soft, suede-like texture. I live in a part of the USA where peaches are a major crop; even the street where I live is named for the peach orchards that used to grow where a turn-of-the-century city neighborhood now unfolds its charms. Summer peaches that have been allowed to grow to ripeness on the heavy branches of fruit trees, in the hot Southern sun, have a scent to their skins that is not fruity, yet speaks to us of fruit. Just as I found that the famous melon note in Un Jardin Apres La Mousson is really the scent of the rind of an intact, ripe fruit, not the inner flesh, the peach of L’Iris de Fath is to my nose the scent of ripe, sun-kissed peach skin, with a hint of fuzz, soft and warm. Brilliant work by perfumer Patrice Revillard.

The heart stage is thoroughly immersed in iris and orris notes, but you can tell that other flowers are there too, because the fragrance is multi-layered and far from simple. I can pick up some violet, rose, jasmine, and carnation; none of them compete with the iris, although I think the violet adds a soft sheen of mauve powder at this stage. The base is warm and sensual, but reserved. The oakmoss, sandalwood, vetiver, and musk are apparent but they are so well-blended that one doesn’t smell them as separate notes. Sillage is elusive; one minute you think the scent isn’t carrying much further than one’s immediate vicinity, the next minute someone comes into the room and exclaims, “What is that wonderful smell?”

I found myself trying to imagine what famous beauty best embodies L’Iris de Fath and I think that must be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. This perfume is warm, yet reserved. It beckons you in the way she is famously said to have used her soft, breathy voice to speak so quietly and intimately to a companion that her interlocutor would be forced to lean in closer, closer, to hear her; and thus she conveyed the sense that she and her listener were alone in a private conversation, a little world of their own, even in the midst of a crowded party. She bewitched people, yet she was also reserved, dignified, impeccable, even with wind-tousled hair.

Jackie Kennedy in yellow iris sheath dress

Jacqueline Kennedy in iris sheath

L’Iris de Fath does not speak loudly, but it is very clearly itself: a warm iris-peach, elegant and classic. Its progression is fairly linear, and I mean that as a compliment. The orris especially wafts up for several hours and is present from start to finish. It is brighter at the start, warmer and less distinct at the end, but nevertheless fully present. It is one of those perfumes that would make one’s skin smell like the perfect, fragrant, warm, skin we’d all like to inhabit. Like our own skin, but so very much better.

Thank you for this lovely experience, Jovoy and Khalid!

Featured image: Iris “Alabaster Unicorn”.

May Muguet Marathon: Tocca Liliana Hair Mist

May Muguet Marathon: Tocca Liliana Hair Mist

I am quite taken with hair mists these days, though I don’t use them often. The first two I bought came from Tocca: Colette and Liliana. I’ve enjoyed them both; lily of the valley is a prominent note in Liliana, while jasmine is the dominant floral in Colette. When Liliana was launched, it was described thus by the brand:

A lush, green, rolling lawn is the setting for a roaring 20s party in full swing. Liliana conjures a reveler in the bloom of youth dancing the Charleston amidst flowing bottles of champagne and a spirited jazz band. The lowering sun casts a golden sparkle as an intoxicating bouquet of muguet, gardenia and peony wafts from the gardens, filling the night with joie de vivre.

Sounds a lot like “The Great Gatsby”, doesn’t it? The notes for the eau de parfum are listed as: top notes are bergamot, neroli and peach; middle notes are lily-of-the-valley, gardenia and peony; base notes are sandalwood, musk, benzoin and patchouli. The hair mist is a bit different. I think it has less peach, and a more pronounced combination of lily of the valley and peony, with not as much gardenia. The base does have sandalwood and musk, but I don’t smell benzoin or patchouli. The opening starts with a burst of bergamot and neroli, very bright and refreshing, then the fragrance moves quickly into green floral territory. The muguet note is present but not dominant. John Reasinger decribed his impression on CaFleureBon when it first came out:

Liliana, however, is a young carefree girl and this perfume captures her essence. It has a delicate tenacity much like a young girl growing up in that era would. It radiates innocence, but also lively warmth…and just a hint of naughtiness. She is no flapper, yet that is; but she is most certainly eyeing them closely and seeing how much fun they are having.

Given that the hair mist is softer and gentler, less sultry, than the description of the eau de parfum, it doesn’t evoke a jazz age flapper or a roaring 20s party complete with jazz and the Charleston. Perhaps,  like the description above, it is more like the younger Daisy, before she lost Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan swept into her life.

Actress Carey Mulligan as the young Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Carey Mulligan as young Daisy; The Great Gatsby (2013).

Fragrance Friday: Crepuscule des Ames

Fragrance Friday: Crepuscule des Ames

The second of the three “White Collection” fragrances by Atelier des Ors is Crepuscule des Ames, which means “twilight of the souls.” It represents the second, or center, panel of Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze, a masterpiece of the Vienna Secession movement. That panel actually consists of two halves: the more famous one, featured above, and this one:

Center panel of Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, Gnawing Grief

Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, “Gnawing Grief.”

One description of these center panels notes that they represent the forces that stand in opposition to human happiness:

The giant Typhoeus (the monster with mother-of-pearl eyes extending across the entire front wall with his blue wings and snake-like appendages); his daughters, the three gorgons (the three women standing to the left of Typhoeus). Sickness, madness, death (the mask-like female heads above the gorgon heads). Lasciviousness, wantonness, intemperance (the group of three women to the right of Typhoeus. Intemperance wears a conspicuously ornamented blue skirt with applications of mother-of-pearl, bronze rings, etc.). Gnawing grief (the woman cowering on the right in the picture). The yearnings and desires of humankind fly past them. (Suites Culturelles)

Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, second panel

Left side of middle section, Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze.

Perfumer Marie Salamagne and creative director Jean-Philippe Clermont have chosen to represent these hostile forces in a more benevolent light for purposes of fragrance — a wise choice! Here is Atelier des Ors’ own description of Crepuscule des Ames:

Crépuscule Des Âmes is the twilight of the souls and a perfume to enslave the senses with fine spices and a warm golden glow. A second skin to wear in the dusky hours while the souls are at play, when we feel deep desires and the duality inherent in our consciousness. A radiating warmth that speaks to carnal pleasure and desire imbued with the furry warmth of Typhoeus. Incense, patchouli and hyraceum heat the primitive, animalic aura. For moments when we seek the truth, to find a way through temptation. An addictive, empowering fragrance with an element of intrigue.

The opening of Crepuscule is a strong, sweet note of mandarin orange, warmed by the spice of cardamom and the herbal tones of clary sage. The orange note is one of three citrus notes that unite the three fragrances (Nuda Veritas, Crepuscule des Ames, and Choeur des Anges). They are all based on the orange tree (neroli, mandarin, and blood orange with orange blossom) and they connect the three fragrances like a golden thread running through a complex tapestry of scent. In his excellent review for Fragrantica, Sergey Borisov pointed out that in the frieze, this center panel represents the “human sins and passions we have to overcome in order to reach happiness in life,” which is why this scent is designed to evoke the animal side of human nature, portrayed so vividly in the frieze.

As Crepuscule dries down, it becomes more animalic and smokier, with the addition of incense, hyrax, pimento pepper, and patchouli. As described by the brand, these notes are intended to symbolize warmth, carnality, desire, the dark side of the human spirit, the temptations through which we must progress in order to find happiness. The hyrax note is especially interesting. In its natural form, it comes from hyraceum, which is basically crystallized urine of the animal called hyrax. It is used in perfumery as an animalic substance whose collection does not harm any animals, but which “gives an animalistic, sensual and deep note that feels like a combination of musk, civet, castoreum, tobacco and agarwood.” Hyraceum also contains pheromones, complex airborne scent molecules, generated by animals, that are thought to cause behavioral responses in others of their species, including sexual response.

My nose can definitely sense the animalic undertones of Crepuscule, though I wouldn’t have known it came from hyraceum without guidance from a list of notes. I believe it is this complex note that makes Crepuscule feel to me more like a masculine-leaning fragrance than Nuda Veritas, although they and Choeur des Anges are all presented as unisex fragrances. Its use here is very clever (all of Ms. Salamagne’s creations for Atelier des Ors are designed with high intelligence and layers of meaning), especially combined with incense and hyssop.

Why those two notes in particular? Incense is most famously used in Western cultures as part of Christian religious worship, especially in the more ancient rites of the Roman Catholic church. To many lovers of fragrance, incense will immediately evoke memories of church rituals and ancient places of worship: the very passages through which, in the Christian faith, sinners must pass in order to withstand temptation and progress to the ultimate spiritual joy and salvation. I chose deliberately to write about Crepuscule today, which is Good Friday, the day on which Christians believe that Jesus allowed himself to be sacrificed by the darker impulses of humanity in order to win all of humankind our salvation, because I think the symbolism of Klimt’s frieze — and thus this scent — lends itself to such an analogy. Even the female figure of “Gnawing Grief” recalls so many artworks that show the agony of Mary, mother of Jesus, at the Crucifixion.

Hyssop also has religious significance. It is an aromatic herb used ritually “in the Catholic ceremonies where the priest puts the hyssop into the ceremonial aspergillum, which he dips into a bowl of holy water” and uses to sprinkle the mixture onto congregants as a blessing. But there is more to hyssop than this benign use — according to Fragrantica, it is also used to make the liqueur Chartreuse (after which the shade of green is named) and to color the famous spirit “absinthe”, widely used and also widely criticized in the 19th century as the notorious “green fairy” that “makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant,” according to one writer. And there, right in the  Beethoven Frieze’s center panel, is a “ferocious beast”, Typhoeus. In this perfume, hyssop may stand for the “duality” the brand means to evoke: dark and light, sinful and blessed, together.

In its final phase, Crepuscule lingers on the skin with the incense most dominant to my nose, followed by patchouli. It lasts for several hours even on my dry skin. At this stage, the hyrax is less noticeable as “animalic” but acts more as a fixative base that still lends warmth. After all, even when we succumb to temptation but struggle to resist sin, we are still human!

Like the others in the triptych, Crepuscule des Ames is an intelligent work of perfume art, with many possible meanings, interpretations, and effects unique to the individual who wears it. It does indeed grow on one, although I don’t find it as addictive as the brand’s copy suggests. I have a feeling this is another scent that I would like very much on my husband, although it is clearly suitable for women to wear also. I am enjoying wearing it and thinking about it even as I look forward to the triumph of Easter and the last of the White Collection, Choeur des Anges.

Sample kindly offered by Atelier des Ors; opinions my own.

 

Fragrance Friday: Neil’s Book “Perfume”

I am in awe of the fact that Neil Chapman, author of the blog The Black Narcissus, has written and had published an actual BOOK! It is called “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent”, and it just came out in the US (it came out a short time earlier, in March, in the UK). You can buy it on Amazon, where I had pre-ordered it; I came home from work earlier this week to find the package waiting on my doorstep. It is also available online and at booksellers such as Blackwell’s and Barnes & Noble.

As others have written, the book itself is beautiful, a hardcover volume with an Art Deco cover design in black, gold, and silver, and gold-edged pages. If you have ever read The Black Narcissus, you know that Neil is a wonderfully gifted writer with wide-ranging interests. His posts about fragrance include many cultural references and observations from his years living in several countries, from his childhood and youth in England, to his current home in Japan. He studied Italian and French literature at Cambridge University, and he now teaches English to Japanese secondary school students. His literary sensibilities suffuse his writing, but he also includes deeply personal reminiscences and a vast knowledge of perfume: history, ingredients, creators, etc.

Neil’s individual reviews of specific perfumes are grouped into categories such as “Green”, then by notes like “grasses, leaves and herbs.” (As a lover of green fragrances myself, I was thrilled that this is the first chapter!) It is a remarkably user-friendly format with an exhaustive index if one just wants to read one review of a specific fragrance. Neil has a poetic sensibility and lifelong love of perfume, both of which his writing reflects. As he says, “In its wordless abstraction, a beautifully made scent can encapsulate an emotion; smell, with its visceral link to the unconscious, is unique in its emotional immediacy.” His short reviews of individual fragrances combine information about their components and creation with his own reactions to wearing them, or memories of times when he wore them. Since his own perfume collection must number in the thousands, including many rare vintage perfumes, even the most profligate collectors of perfumes will find surprises and revelations. However, the book is also a very accessible guide for those who are just exploring fragrance, or, as he writes, “a guide through a world that can at times seem overwhelming.”

Bravo, Neil! I’m wearing Vol de Nuit in your honor today! To learn more about Neil, check out this interview on the blog “Olfactoria’s Travels.”

Fragrance Friday: Perfumers Who Are Women

Fragrance Friday: Perfumers Who Are Women

Happy International Women’s Day! In honor of the day, Fragrantica published a very nice article highlighting several celebrated perfumers who are women, and some of their creations: Perfumery: Women Creators. In the comments section, readers have started adding their own suggestions. In no particular order, suggested additions include:

Olivia Giacobetti, Liz Moores, Anne Flipo, Sidonie Lancesseur, Nathalie Feisthauer, Daphne Bugey, Vero Kern, Josephine Catapano, Shelley Waddington, Shyamala Maisondieu, Nathalie Gracia-Cetto, Sonia Constant, Christine Nagel, Mathilde Laurent, Sarah McCartney, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Mandy Aftel, Ayala Moriel, Laurie Erickson, Charna Ethier, Diane St. Clair, Claire Baxter, Marie Salamagne, Lyn Harris, Nathalie Lorson.

Do you have any favorite perfumers who are women? Any favorites among their creations?

Here are some of mine:

Liz Moores: Dryad; Christine Nagel: Twilly; Mathilde Laurent: Cartier Carat; Sarah McCartney: White Queen; Diane St. Clair: Gardener’s Glove; Marie Salamagne: Alaia; Lyn Harris: Terre d’Iris; Nathalie Lorson: Shiseido Zen 2000; Jo Malone (the person): White Rose & Lemon Leaves; Marie-Helene Rogeon, Clair Matin.

Featured image: Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, from www.denverartmuseum.org.

 

 

Fragrance Friday: Atelier des Ors and Bois Sikar

Fragrance Friday: Atelier des Ors and Bois Sikar

In late January, I had such a lovely blogger experience! I was in Nice for a week, taking a break from work to accompany my husband on his business trip, and free to do whatever I wished during the day. I reached out to a blogger whose fragrance blog I love, Megan in Sainte Maxime, and asked if she might like to get together for coffee or lunch. She said yes! She was working in Cannes, which is a short train ride from Nice, so I met her there. My very first blogger meet-up! And let me just tell you how much grief I got from my oldest daughter, who spent her teens being told “Don’t talk to strangers on the Internet! Never go meet someone you met online!” That child has been waiting for ten years to say that stuff back to me, even tongue in cheek.

Fragrance writer/blogger Megan in Sainte Maxime

Megan in Sainte Maxime; image from her Facebook page

Megan is as charming in person as she is in her blog. She graciously took me to a local coffee shop, then invited me to the offices of Atelier des Ors, where she has been doing some work for the line and its founder, Jean-Philippe Clermont. The two of them spent a generous amount of time showing me the house’s latest fragrances, also created by perfumer Marie Salamagne as are all the Atelier des Ors fragrances. Marie Salamagne is the perfumer behind Alaia and its flankers, Mugler’s Aura, Yves St. Laurent’s Black Opium and several flankers, and others you would recognize immediately, including several for Jo Malone. She is a great talent.

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Visit to Atelier des Ors, Cannes, France

The first five fragrances of Atelier des Ors were launched in 2015, joined by two more in 2017 and four new ones in 2018. Jean-Philippe wrote his own account of how he came to the creation of a perfume house for CaFleureBon, in 2016: CaFleureBon Creative Directors in Perfumery: Jean-Philippe Clermont. It seems he has been surrounded by interesting scents in exotic locations since his youth, including extensive travel in Asia and the Middle East. For some years, he ran a business dealing in fine cigars, and that experience sparked a passionate interest in fragrance and the materials that combine to create great fragrances, because of the variations among the cigars and the blends of tobacco that give rise to fragrant smoke.

Three of the four 2018 fragrances are the “White Collection”, inspired by Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze” in Vienna, Austria. Sergey Borisov wrote a lovely piece about the collection and its inspirations on Fragrantica. The fourth fragrance of 2018 is Bois Sikar, considered part of the “Black Collection.” It was inspired by Jean-Philippe’s cigar business, a very masculine scent, evocative of the scents one might find in a traditional London private gentlemen’s club:

A beguiling smoky tobacco scent with robust woody tonalities swirling against the heady vapours. The unique, smoky, peaty character of Islay’s single malt whisky is simultaneously conjured to create the essence of Bois Sikar. These addictive facets entwine with cedar leaf creating an intensely intoxicating fragrance.

Bois Sikar eau de parfum by Atelier des Ors, with whisky and cigar

Atelier des Ors’ Bois Sikar

Bois Sikar is powerful stuff and not for the faint of heart, but it’s brilliant. A little goes a LONG way. The opening is woodsmoke and it is strong. It mellows slowly on the skin, as I imagine an Islay whisky mellows on the tongue after a rough start. Not that I’ve had any Islay whisky myself — I don’t care for Scotch, although it was my father’s drink. I have read that Islay whiskies are especially strong and have an intense flavor of peat smoke, which is used on that Scottish island — known as the “Queen of the Hebrides” and the “burning heart of smoky whiskies” — to smoke the malted barley that is used to make this distinctive local whisky. One writer describes this process: “The peat fuels the fires that roast the barley used in whisky-making, and it gives the finished product a robust flavor that recalls a campfire by the sea: smoky, earthy, a little salty, slightly medicinal.” Big, powerful, fierce, distinctive, super-smoky — these are the descriptors used for Islay whisky.

Peat kiln used in Scotch whisky distillery, Highland Park, Orkney

Peat kiln at Highland Park distillery, Orkney; image from www.whiskyadvocate.com

Commenters on Fragrantica are polarized about Bois Sikar, and their reactions are really all about the smoke. Either they love it, or they hate it. Several refer to it as smelling like a campfire; some who dislike it even use the word “barbecue.” It doesn’t smell to me at all like anything related to barbecue, as there are no food or meaty notes, but “campfire” is accurate. However, this campfire is stoked with fragrant wood, like the apple, mesquite, and cedar wood chips one can buy to add to regular logs in a firepit. This makes sense, given the deliberate evocation of peat fires; I suspect that some of the commenters have as little direct experience with Islay whiskies as I do!

Let us not forget the cigars. Here too, my firsthand knowledge is sadly lacking, although cigars were another pleasure my father enjoyed occasionally. It is interesting that, like whiskies, fragrances, wine, cigars are said to vary widely in their flavors or notes. Like fragrance writers, those who write about cigars review them and post “Best of” lists, such as Havana Insider’s Best Cuban Cigars of 2018.  After the initial blast of woodsmoke fades away, I do smell the tobacco in Bois Sikar. I’ve never smoked myself, but I do like the scent of good tobacco, and that is what I smell here.

Tobacco barn Windsor CT

Tobacco drying in shed, Windsor, CT; image from http://www.connecticutbarns.org

As Bois Sikar dries down, the smoke slowly dissipates and one is left with a pleasantly woody, dry, tobacco scent, reminiscent of an old tobacco shed, or barn, in the middle of a dry field, after harvest. (I do have personal knowledge of those, as I grew up in Connecticut, where a tobacco industry was established in the early 1600s and continues to this day). The drydown and base note stages are  warm, woody, complex, and quite alluring. I applied two small sprays of Bois Sikar on my wrists last night, and this morning it was still fragrant on my skin when I woke up.

Old tobacco shed, barn, in Connecticut River Valley.

Connecticut tobacco shed; image from http://www.connecticutbarns.org.

I think the dryness of the base comes from the vetiver that is listed. I like Bois Sikar a lot, though it’s not my style of fragrance for myself and you have to be ready for that powerful opening. Although I believe that anyone who likes a fragrance can wear it, Bois Sikar is definitely a fragrance at the far end of the traditionally masculine spectrum. It lasts a long time, and the opening is intensely smoky. For those who want to wear it on social occasions, I recommend spraying it in small amounts a good hour before you leave home, as the powerhouse opening may overwhelm bystanders! If you want to wear it to work, proceed with caution and apply very lightly, allowing even more time for it to dry down before you go to your workplace.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Cannes, my meet-up with Megan and Jean-Philippe, and my introduction to Atelier des Ors! The “White Collection” is much more my personal vibe, and will be the subject of a separate post, as its three scents warrant closer attention on their own.

What traditionally “masculine” fragrances do you enjoy, on yourself or on others? What do you think of strongly smoky fragrances? Any favorites?

Review based on a sample provided by Atelier des Ors, opinions my own.

Fragrance Friday: Parfum et Vous

Last week, I was able to visit Nice, France, thanks to my husband’s work. He had to go for a business trip, I was able to take a few days off from my own job and tag along! During the day, he had meetings and I explored.

I have been to Nice before: once on our honeymoon, and again a few years ago when we took a family trip to the Cote d’Azur. But those trips were both before my perfumania, so I planned much of my week around fragrance. One thing I knew I’d like to try was a perfume-making workshop for beginners. Nice offers options; two different ones with an established perfume house, Molinard, and one with an independent perfumery, Parfum et Vous. I was leaning toward the latter, so when I contacted Megan in Sainte-Maxime to see if we might be able to meet (more about that in another post — such fun!), I asked her thoughts.  She enthusiastically recommended that choice, and she knows the owner, so I signed up. The price included a two-hour workshop to learn about perfume and then make our own scents, using pre-made accords, and one bottle of our own creation. The workshop would take place in a pretty old building in the heart of Nice, a short walk from the famous “Promenade des Anglais”, in the retail showroom of Parfum et Vous.

There were four of us taking the workshop, plus the lovely and vivacious Sasha, owner of Parfum et Vous, and her assistant. Sasha gave a brief introduction and overview about perfume, then had us walk around her small showroom filled with niche perfumes, smelling them and thinking about what genres and notes we might like to try in our own concoctions. Sasha’s wares are true artisan perfumes from niche houses, like Beaufort London, Nishane, NabuccoBarutiPaul Emilien and many others, so there was a wide range of fragrances to smell.

Then we went to a table where there were pre-mixed scents in eau de parfum strength representing categories of fragrance foundations, like “woody marine.” We talked about what we would try to create for our own eau de parfum, and sniffed all of the foundations. I wanted to create a unisex fragrance that would remind my husband and me of our trips to the South Carolina Lowcountry, the marshy coastland that borders the Atlantic Ocean in that state.

Next, we moved to a table that had 22 different accords in large bottles with droppers, divided among top notes, heart notes and base notes, and labeled with identifiers like “iris”, ‘chypre”, “citrus, “spice.” Each one also listed individual notes, e.g. “spice” included cinnamon, clove, and pepper. Sasha started each of us off with a formula to create a foundation for the category we had chosen, specifying how many mls of each accord we should add to our individual 30 ml bottles. I was starting with “woody marine”, so my beginning foundation included marine, citrus, green tea, “oriental woody”, and woody accords. Others wanted to create a gourmand, or a floral oriental, and there were foundations for those and other options.

Then the real fun began! Throughout the process, Sasha had us smell each stage as we added more accords in small amounts, tweaking our fragrances in the directions we wanted. I added notes of jasmine, cyclamen, wild rose, vetiver, and oak moss. As the other students and I added accords, Sasha would have us spray a bit on our skin and she would smell our progress and make suggestions. I got to a point where I wanted to add more heart notes. I was satisfied with the top notes, which by now included a citrus accord of mandarin, orange, and tangerine, the marine accord, and a tiny amount of a fruit accord (grapefruit and apple).

The heart note accords available were: neroli, spices, white flowers, rose, powdery (rice notes and white musk), iris, green tea, and cassis. We thought about adding neroli, but ruled that out. I asked about the powdery accord, and Sasha recommended against it, given the other accords I already had. We settled on slowly adding small amounts of the white flowers accord, which was a combination of jasmine and cyclamen. Then I thought about iris. Sasha was a little doubtful, but when I explained that I wanted that earthier, rooty aspect, she concurred but urged a light hand. In went .5 ml of the iris accord. Sniff, sniff. Wait. Another .5 ml. Sniff. Perfect!

Time to tweak the base notes. I already had accords that included notes of patchouli, vanilla, vetiver, tonka, cedar, and sandalwood. I wanted to add more of the “chypre” accord, with notes of vetiver and oak moss, and Sasha agreed but advised going slowly and adding 1 ml at a time, checking each time to see what I thought. Because of the nature of base notes, which emerge more slowly than the top and heart notes, one relies more on the formulas for base notes; even in a leisurely, unhurried workshop like this, there’s not time to wait for the full progression. Because I love chypre, I ended up adding more of that and no more of the other available base note accords, and I’m very happy with the outcome.

Once we were satisfied with our creations, Sasha had us name and label them. Parfum et Vous keeps a record of our names, and the formula for the specific blend we had created, so one can reorder if one wants. I named mine “Lowcountry Spring”, and I find it charming!

As you can tell, I enjoyed this workshop thoroughly and heartily recommend it. Because of the pre-formulated foundations and accords, plus expert guidance from Sasha, one really can’t go too far astray. It would take deliberate effort to create something that wasn’t pleasing. The atmosphere was fun and informative. I enjoyed meeting my three fellow students; we all helped each other, sniffing each other’s formulas along the way (yes, there were little canisters of coffee beans to help reset our noses, although I find it sometimes works best, when I’m trying many scents, to reset by just putting my nose to my own shoulder). I also really enjoyed seeing and smelling the many interesting niche perfumes Sasha sells in her showroom, some of which I hadn’t encountered before, and others which I had read about but never had the chance to try. If you get a chance to visit Nice, go see Parfum et Vous! Whether or not you have the time or inclination to spend an afternoon in the workshop, it is well worth a visit for the showroom alone, and to meet Sasha.

Have you ever tried making your own fragrances? How did it go?