Fragrance Friday: Excellent Customer Service

Fragrance Friday: Excellent Customer Service

Facebook Fragrance Friends recently posted the question: where have members received excellent customer service when trying/buying fragrance? I thought that was a great question and it offers the opportunity to articulate the positive instead of dwelling on the negative. While I appreciate comments that warn about particularly bad experiences, I also value (maybe even more) fellow fragrance-lovers’ input on particularly good ones; and I also like to give a shout-out to the folks who extend themselves to make a customer’s experience as pleasant as possible. So here is my random list, in no particular order, and I apologize in advance if I’ve left anyone or any place out! I’ll do another post on customer service online, and outside the US.

In-person experiences in the US:

Neiman Marcus. It may be partly because I live in the South, though I’m not a native Southerner, and it really is true that Southerners seem to take a little more time and extend a little more warmth and courtesy with customers. Not all of them, and not all the time, but overall this is true to my experience, including at a large store like Neiman Marcus. I go to the one in my city occasionally; without exception, the sales associates in their large, top-of-the line fragrance department have been courteous, helpful, enthusiastic but never pushy about offering various fragrances to try even when I have said candidly that I was just browsing, or they didn’t have what I originally wanted. Several have been very knowledgeable, not just about a couple of the brands they carry, but about fragrance generally. All have been kind, and usually able and willing to offer small samples. If I were wholly devoted to a high-end house that is rarely available online, I would absolutely develop a relationship with one of its sales associates at NM.

Scent Bar. Such a fun boutique to visit! On my one and only visit to LA, a few years ago, I sought it out with a friend, at their first location in Hollywood. I understand they now have two locations in addition to their website LuckyScent. The store has a delightful set-up, with fragrances displayed by categories on open shelves along all the walls (floral, green, spicy, etc.), fronted by a long bar-like counter. The sales associate responded knowledgeably to my interest in florals, especially lily of the valley, pulling out a wide range of fragrances for me to try, including some I had not heard of before. I ended up buying a terrific Byredo sampler and was also given several samples of the other suggestions she made. I love supporting an independent business like this, btw.

Nordstrom. This department store chain is famed for its customer service, and our local store fits the claim. It has open containers throughout the fragrance department with small, empty sample atomizers that one is invited/encouraged to fill oneself from the many testers on display. Now THAT is nice. Sales associates there have been less expert than those at NM or ScentBar, but still very helpful and courteous.

Sephora. Although service can be hit or miss, depending on the store you visit and who’s on duty that day, I have had several excellent experiences at Sephora, with enthusiastic young sales associates. What they might lack in detailed knowledge, they have compensated for by their willingness to suggest and offer samples of various fragrances, in sincere attempts to help. As a result, I’ve bought more at Sephora than I otherwise might have, because most of what’s in its stores just isn’t “me” — I don’t really experiment with make up, or use most of the products they carry.

What have others experienced that counts as excellent customer service? Praise and compliments only, please, we are dwelling on the positive in this post!

Fragrance Friday: Hair Spray/Colette

Fragrance Friday: Hair Spray/Colette

I’ve now tried something that has tempted me for a while: fragrance for one’s hair, which seems to be a lasting trend. It makes sense, because many people think that fragrance lasts longer on hair than on skin, hair won’t react to allergens as skin might, and most of us are used to scented shampoos. Hair fragrance is a logical next step, and probably more effective than shampoo that gets rinsed out.

When I found two of Tocca’s hair mist fragrances on sale locally, and they happened to be two of their scents that I have previously liked, Liliana and Colette, I pounced. The first one I’ve used is Colette, and I’m happy to say that it is delightful! Fragrantica describes the EDP as “the natural scent of a woman”, a “warm, spicy and sweet” fragrance, with  notes of “bergamot, mandarin, lemon, juniper berry, pink peppercorn, jasmine, violet, cyclamen, incense, sandalwood, musk, amber, vanilla and cedar.” The hair fragrance seems to have the same notes, but it is based on a light, sheer oil instead of alcohol. I don’t detect any oiliness on my hair after I spray it on.

The hair mist definitely opens with a nice light burst of citrus notes, then it quickly moves into a more floral middle stage. None of the flower notes are strong or overpowering, including the jasmine. The vanilla note emerges soon after that, and remains as the base note most evident to my nose, while the other warm base notes gently support and enhance it. It’s a little powdery, and very pretty. It is a peaceful kind of fragrance; it would work well for a quiet afternoon reading at home, or a walk in the park with a friend, or a cuddle session with someone you like — romantic partner or child. I have worn it to bed a couple of times, and it is a soft, serene scent to waft one to sleep. The bottle is really pretty too, heavy with an ornate top. This design may have been discontinued, however; I saw smaller, simpler bottles on the Tocca website, in other scents.

If you like soft, feminine scents and want to try something in your hair, I can recommend this one. Have you tried any other hair fragrances, from Tocca or other brands? Has anyone tried the Chanel No. 5 hair mist?

Bottles of Tocca hair fragrances

Hair fragrances from Tocca; photo from Fragrantica.

 

 

Fragrance Friday: Incense

Fragrance Friday: Incense

A little over a week ago, I had started writing a post about fragrance gifts, in particular how to give someone a fragrance when you’re not sure what that person might like, or whether the recipient might want to try something new. Then on Friday, December 15, we found out that my beloved mother-in-law had died early that morning. My post about holiday gifts suddenly seemed frivolous, and I didn’t have the heart to post anything that day or in the week since; we scrambled to get to her funeral, which was held in another state on Tuesday.

We have just returned home, and I’m trying to resume normal routines, as I know she would want us to do. So for this Fragrance Friday, I’ll write about the beautiful service that celebrated her life a few days ago. My mother-in-law was a devout Roman Catholic; church, faith, and family were central to her life. She and my father-in-law were married for 60 years. He knew exactly what she wanted for her memorial service: a mass, attended mostly by her large extended family and close friends. It was perfect. My mother-in-law loved Christmas and was one of those enthusiasts who decorated every surface with Christmas-themed items starting in mid-November. She often left them up until late January, which we loved, and she made us all many Christmas-themed items, like a handknit Christmas stocking for every grandchild, which are hanging right now from our mantel, and beautiful pieces of needlework like the birth samplers she also made for all her grandchildren. The church where her funeral service was held was filled with evergreens, including several simple trees, bare of all decoration except a few pine cones on their branches and bouquets of scented white flowers — lilies, roses, delphiniums — at their base. She would have loved that, as well as the snow that had fallen the day before, leaving a soft white blanket over the ground.

The priest led this traditional service very capably, including his use of a thurible to cense her casket. This is an ancient tradition in the Roman Catholic church; the fragrant smoke of the incense symbolizes the prayers of the faithful rising up to heaven, as in Psalm 141 (140), verse 2: “Let my prayer be directed as incense in thy sight: the lifting up of my hands, as evening sacrifice.”  It can also symbolize the soul rising to God. The priest swings the thurible, which is a type of censer used to contain burning incense, always in multiples of three times to stand for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The incense is often made with frankincensebenzoinmyrrhstyraxcopal or other aromatics. These are associated in many cultures with sacrifices, gifts to divinities, and purification, leading to the tradition that the Magi who came to find the newborn Jesus brought him those as gifts, recognizing that he was divine and also that he came to sacrifice himself to save and purify us.

The sadness of the funeral service was gentled by the music and beautiful surroundings, by the loving family gathered to honor my husband’s mother, and by traditions like the use of incense. Its fragrant smoke lingered in the air, sweet and aromatic, as we bade her goodbye. It seems impossible to understand that we won’t see her again in this life; but we are glad she is released from illness and suffering, and we pray we will see her in the next.

Pope Francis, incense, Mary, and Christ Child

Pope Francis, incense, Mary, and Christ Child

Fragrance Friday: Cranberry Chutney

Fragrance Friday: Cranberry Chutney

Like many of you, I’m sure, I spent most of yesterday (Thanksgiving) in the kitchen, happily cooking my way through a number of favorite recipes. One of them is a fragrant chutney I discovered a few years ago, made with cranberries and an excellent replacement for the ubiquitous cranberry sauce that lingers, uneaten, on too many Thanksgiving tables.

Cranberries are considered one of the quintessential Thanksgiving foods, probably because cranberries are native to North America and were known to have been eaten by the Native Americans, and by English settlers in North America as early as the first half of the seventeenth century, according to Martha Stewart. They are highly nutritious, a true superfood with a lot of nutrient bang for the caloric buck as they are low in sugar. However, traditional cranberry sauce recipes tend to add a lot of sugar to this otherwise healthy fruit. As a lover of Indian food, I was happy to find several different recipes for cranberry-based savory chutney; the version I make includes much less sugar, and one of my favorite spices/fragrances, cardamom.

Cranberry Chutney recipe (adapted from Food and Style):

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Fragrance Friday: Les Saisons Automne

Fragrance Friday: Les Saisons Automne

Ah, fall. I love autumn. It kicks off with my birthday and showcases my favorite trees, the gorgeous Japanese maples in all their color and variety. I’ve always loved school, and fall is the season of new beginnings in school. The anticipation of a new school year, with new classmates and possibilities … Come to think of it, fall really is the season of anticipation for me. It leads us into Advent, another season I love, and the series of holidays I cherish in America: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. Anticipation also rises as I plant bulbs in the fall; they produce many of my favorite flowers, often fragrant, and each bulb is like a small gift wrapped in brown paper.

This fall, I am enjoying Van Cleef & Arpels’ Automne, from their series Les Saisons. The perfumer behind it is none other than Francis Kurkdjian, of MFK fame. According to Fragrantica:

Every perfume from the series is dedicated to a certain season of the year: the symbol of the series is a tree that changes, but stays the same. Automne is the scent of the fall; the scent of yellow leaves and moist branches; the scent of a golden autumn forest. Woody fragrance with mild spicy and floral notes warms you like a wool scarf. The composition opens with fresh notes of Italian lemon, black currant and red berries, developing into the heart of white sandalwood, lily and almond. The base is filled with heliotrope, cedar wood and musk.

One of the aspects I am enjoying most about Automne is that it differs from many “fall” fragrances in that it retains a predominantly floral aura while still offering the spicy and woody notes many of us want in an autumnal perfume. Other fragrances I enjoy in the fall are more boozy, more spicy, but I love this one because it reminds me that flowers are still blooming in autumn. My own garden still has a few late roses; my azaleas are throwing off some unseasonal blooms; the sasanqua camellias are blossoming in shades of pink and white. The lily notes in Automne remind me of the fragrance I anticipate from the bulbs I plant in this season, while the delicate warmth and wood notes evoke both the Japanese maples I love and the papery covering of spring bulbs.

The classic Easter lily, lilium longiflorum, is also native to Japan, as is Lilium auratum, the legendary “golden-rayed lily”.

Lilium auratum, or golden-rayed lily of Japan

Lilium auratum; image from http://www.gardenia.net.

I do not grow the golden-rayed lily, but I have a number of Easter lilies in my garden, usually planted out after I have bought them in bud for Easter adornment.

White trumpet Easter lily, or lilium longiflorum.

Lilium longiflorum; image from http://www.southeasternflora.com

Automne opens with a refreshing citrus accord, dominated by Italian lemon but including also black currant and red berries. It feels fresh and lively, not sweet. The scent quickly moves into a combination of floral and woody notes, specifically lily and sandalwood. The creamy almond note is present but it seems to function mostly as a way to soften the edges of the sandalwood and bridge that woody note to the softer floral note of the lily.  This stage lasts a while, though nothing about this scent lasts very long.

As it dries down, Automne gently fades into softer and softer floral notes (heliotrope) underlaid by cedar and some mild spices. In fact, the spice note smells like allspice to me: gentle but very much present. I don’t really notice the musk base note, which is fine. After about an hour, Automne is really a skin scent with little sillage, but I enjoy that. It is an excellent fragrance to wear to office, church, library, etc., as it won’t affront anyone’s nose and stays close to its wearer. I also like it because you can’t really overspray it. Its longevity improves if applied over moisturized skin; I’m looking forward to trying it over a light body oil, for example, SheaMoisture’s baby oil that contains traces of frankincense and myrrh. That seems like a very nice way to anticipate the arrival of Advent in this autumnal season of anticipation.

What do you like or dislike about this season? What are some favorite fall fragrances?

Fragrance Friday: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

Fragrance Friday: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

I love carnations. Not in floral arrangements, where they have been sadly overused as inexpensive filler, but in the garden and even in a vase if they are left on their own as a simple bunch of pretty, scented flowers. I love the scent of carnations — the hint of spiciness with more than a suggestion of cloves, combined with the green freshness of a florist’s refrigerator. And so I really like L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Oeillet Sauvage.

There is nothing savage about it, but perhaps “sauvage” should rather be translated as “wild”, as in “wildflower”. Oeillet Sauvage is a soft, fresh floral, with the same delightful, gentle spiciness of the flowers and a hint of freshness. It is not a duplicate of real carnations’ scent, but it is true to their essence, with nuances from other floral notes. Fragrantica lists its notes as: pink pepper, rose, carnation, ylang-ylang, lily, wallflower, morning glory, resin and vanilla. And those reminded me of a long-favorite painting: John Singer Sargent’s Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose:

Painting by American artist John Singer Sargent; Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

John Singer Sargent; Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

I have read that while Sargent was painting this twilight scene, in which the special, evanescent quality of that hour’s light is as much a subject as the children, the flowers and the paper lanterns, he would set up his easel outside for just the brief time every day when the light was exactly right, and he would run back and forth, back and forth, between the subjects and his easel, to capture just the right shades of color. Now THAT is dedication to one’s art.

He also painted it during the early autumn months of 1885, in September, October and November, resuming work the next summer and finishing it in October of 1886. I have loved this painting since I first saw it, with its crepuscular glow, peaceful children with faces lit by the gentle candlelight of the paper lanterns, with the fragrant, late summer flowers seeming to float in the air around them. According to Wikipedia, the title comes from the refrain of a popular 19th century song, “Ye Shepherds Tell Me”, which describes Flora, goddess of flowers, wearing “a wreath around her head, around her head she wore, carnation, lily, lily, rose”.

I have read others’ comments about Oeillet Sauvage in which they express disappointment that it is not the same as a pre-reformulation version and it is not as spicy as they would like. I can’t speak to the concern about reformulation, not having smelled an earlier version. I don’t think this version suffers from a lack of spiciness, in my view, as I am enjoying the softer, powdery impression it leaves. To me, that is evocative of the soft, pink-tinged light in Sargent’s painting. Now that I have made that association, I am not yearning after more spice. The painting even includes the slight greenness that greets me when I first spray Oeillet Sauvage, in the grass beneath the children’s feet. Fragrantica commenter Angeldaisy wrote: “it has an airiness, a lightness, like a billowing floral print diaphanous chiffon frock in a meadow on a summers day.” Or like the white lawn dresses of Sargent’s subjects.

As it dries down, I get less carnation and more lily, which I like. The greenness disappears, while resins and vanilla warm up the scent like the glow of the candles in Sargent’s Japanese lanterns. I’m not sure what the notes of wallflowers and morning glories are meant to smell like, but they are old-fashioned flowers that would have fit in perfectly in Sargent’s Cotswolds garden.

If you like soft, gentle, feminine, floral fragrances, this may be one for you! It is readily available online for reasonable prices. Have you tried this, or other carnation-based fragrances? What did you think? And happy Fragrance Friday!

Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson

Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson

Given the hurricanes we have recently endured here in my part of the world, and in honor of my dear friend who evacuated from Florida a week ago and is able, happily, to return to her intact home tomorrow, it’s time for me to comment on a favorite fragrance: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson, translated as “a garden after the monsoon.” Very apropos, especially considering that my friend is a landscape architect and designer of lovely gardens!

Un Jardin Apres La Mousson is, of course, one of the “Jardin” series of fragrances created for Hermes by Jean-Claude Ellena while he was their in-house perfumer. I love all five of them, but this one is high on my list. Hermes’ website describes it as a unisex fragrance meant to evoke the calm of a wet garden in India after the rain“A serene expression of nature’s rebirth after the monsoon rains.” Jean-Claude Ellena

Un Jardin après la Mousson explores unexpected aspects of India, when the monsoon gives back what the sun has taken from the earth, and drives away the scorching breath of drought. In this novella, ginger, cardamom, coriander, pepper and vetiver tell the story of nature’s rebirth, captured in Kerala in a world overflowing with water.

Mousson’s specific fragrance notes include: cardamom, coriander, pepper, ginger, ginger flower, vetiver, and unspecified citrus, floral and water notes (it seems that the citruses are lime and bergamot). The spices are not hot or warm or traditionally “spicy.” They present themselves as “cool” spices, after a refreshing initial gust of citrus on first application. Omitted from the official list of notes is melon, which clings to the whole composition; some wearers experience that note as more like cucumber. Its presence is confirmed by a later analysis revealing that the aromachemical Melonal is a key ingredient.

Both melons and cucumbers are members of the plant family Cucurbitaceae, the flowering gourds. Both are indigenous to India and have been cultivated there for thousands of years, possibly as long ago as 3000 years. Many varieties of each are cultivated in Kerala and are widely used in Indian cuisine, with cucumbers especially often combined with the spices listed as notes for Mousson. The cucurbits grown in Kerala are “rain-fed crops”, benefiting from the region’s monsoon rains.

Cultivation of gourds and melons hanging from vines in India

Melons and gourds cultivated in India; photo from asianetindia.com

I have never been to India, but I have read that Kerala is one of its most beautiful regions, with tropical beaches and islands, breathtaking waterfalls, tea and cardamom plantations in the hills, rivers, lakes and houseboats. Some travel writers say that monsoon season is an idyllic time there, as the rains are not incessant deluges as in other regions, but daily downpours that last a few hours and disperse every day, allowing sunshine to reveal a remarkably verdant, rain-washed landscape. The rains replenish the famous waterfalls, lakes and rivers and cool the air. Monsoon season is also the time for the harvest festival of Onam; and it is reputed to be the best time for the ayurvedic treatments for which the region is famous.

Kerala, India, waterfall and green mountains during monsoon rainy season.

Kerala waterfall in monsoon season; photo from iryas/wikipedia.

Jean-Claude Ellena visited Kerala more than once during his work on Mousson. One of his trips is described by Phoebe Eaton in Liquid Assets:

In coastal Kerala, spices have been trafficked since the Romans rode in on the winds of the monsoons seeking cardamom and pepper: black gold. Women wear their saris differently here than they do up north, draping them like togas. And when the first monsoon blows in from the Arabian Sea — and it always seems to arrive during the first week of June, extinguishing the scorching rays of the summer sun and ushering in a joyful verdant renewal — the modest women of Kerala rush out into the rain, and the saris cling close to the body.

Chant Wagner wrote a lovingly detailed review of Mousson when it was released in 2008, at www.mimifroufrou.com. She’s a fan, as is Luca Turin; Chandler Burr was not. The latter’s review is puzzling; he spends more than a few sentences on his hypothesis that Ellena’s new creation would present a new experience of the aromachemical Calone, then he expresses outrage that it turns out not to be among the ingredients and calls Mousson a failure. Turin, on the other hand, praises the “core accord” as a “combination of melon, capsicum, and peppercorns” with an “incongruously fruity” effect. His review also notes the watery effects which Chant Wagner describes so well:

From the vantage point of the watery motif, it offers a notable variation on it by introducing a lactic, milky sensation that makes the perfume feel both aqueous, transparent and cloud-like. The fruit that is showcased here – a green cantaloupe going at times in the direction of a buttery watermelon – is [as] fluidly delineated as an impressionistic fruit can be.

Aqueous, transparent and cloud-like. Those words perfectly describe some of the lovely photographs I’ve seen of Kerala during monsoon season:

Clouds over mountains in Kerala, India, during monsoon season.

Kerala in monsoon season; photo sreetours.com

Mousson’s bottle is also lovely; it matches all the bottles of the other Jardin fragrances and, like them, is tinted with ombre shades of green, blue, or both (here, green is combined with blue). The bottle has a pleasing weight in the hand. The outer box is printed with a charming Hermes print of fanciful elephants, monkeys and parrots, cavorting amid flowers with tiny parasols in their grasp.

Print for outer box of Hermes' eau de toilette Un Jardin Apres La Mousson

Un Jardin Apres La Mousson print; hermes.com

I find Un Jardin Apres La Mousson intriguing, delightful, and different. I especially enjoy it during the summers here, which are hot and humid. As an admitted fan of all the Jardin fragrances, and a gardener myself, I may be biased! Have you tried this, or any of the others, and what did you think?

un-jardin-apres-la-mousson-boat

Un Jardin Apres La Mousson; image from Hermes, perfumista.vn