Scent Semantics, October 3

This is the end of our year of “Scent Semantics”, monthly posts by several bloggers around the world when we choose a single word and write about a fragrance that it evokes for us. This month’s word is “Serenity”! The full name of this blog is “Serenity Now: Scents and Sensibilities”, and I got to choose this month’s word. So “serenity” it is!

One definition of “serenity” is: “the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.” After a recent trip to Las Vegas and a side visit to the Mojave Desert, the scent I’ve chosen to evoke serenity is Byredo’s Mojave Ghost. This is partly because our hotel’s toiletries were all Mojave Ghost, so I was immersed in that fragrance for several days. The other reason, though, is that I was so moved by the serenity of the desert. We went in the afternoon so we could see the sunset, in an area called Red Rock Canyon. It did not disappoint.

Mojave Desert sunset

Our small group was driven in a van by a local guide, whose passion for the landscape was infectious, along a 13-mile scenic loop route. We made several stops along the way, to see some special places and take photos. It’s a cliché to say this, but it is remarkable to this East Coaster how much life and fertility exists — thrives — in the desert. And it is indeed a very serene setting, especially around sunset. The air cools, the breeze quickens, the shadows gradually lengthen, and for a brief moment, even the atmosphere takes on a rosy hue to match the clouds that hover over the horizon. At that moment, the desert feels like one of the “thin places” on earth, where the gap between heaven and earth dwindles and time pauses to catch its breath.

Byredo captured this perfectly in Mojave Ghost. From the brand’s website:

Mojave Ghost is a woody composition inspired by the soulful beauty of the Mojave Desert. In this xeric wilderness, rare are the plants that dare to blossom. With a light and graceful character, top notes of musky Ambrette combine with fresh Jamaican Nesberry. Powdery Violet then unfurls to reveal Sandalwood. Finally warm Chantilly Musk rounds out a base of crisp Amber and Cedar wood, leaving the raw spirit of Mojave Ghost to linger on the skin.

Colognoisseur Mark Behnke wrote about Mojave Ghost in 2014, when it was launched, and explained that part of the perfumer’s brief was to capture the scent of a flower that survives in this desert, the Ghost Flower (Mohavea Confertiflora). One of the notes listed, though, is actually a plant from the tropics, the Jamaican naseberry or sapodilla plant. Mark explains the role it plays in Mojave Ghost, which is to create the slightly sweet, lightly spicy odor of the desert in bloom. Perfumer Jerome Epinette also brings notes of ambrette, violet, magnolia, sandalwood, amber, and cedar into his composition. The dryness of the woody notes evokes the dryness of the desert, while the floral notes, although based on non-desert flora, communicate that there are indeed plants that bloom there.

Mojave Desert flora

My own experience with Mojave Ghost is colored by the fact that for several days, I literally bathed (or showered) in it, via the hotel supplies. Hand wash, body wash, shower gel, body lotion, shampoo, conditioner! I’ve never been so immersed in a single fragrance, honestly. While I’ve certainly stayed in hotels that had lovely, scented, coordinated toiletries, I don’t normally use all of them and I don’t use them lavishly for several days in a row. But on this trip, I slathered myself with lotion twice a day to stave off the dryness of the air; and this hotel had the large, pump containers attached to the wall instead of those itty bitty plastic bottles, so I indulged freely. Back home, I pulled out a sample of Mojave Ghost eau de parfum to confirm my impressions.

Mojave Ghost toiletries

The sapodilla note is very evident at the opening, with the ambrette adding a gentle muskiness that suggests both the landscape and the presence of small, unseen creatures, like those that inhabit the desert. Mark Behnke finds that the sapodilla smells like cinnamon and fruit. I wouldn’t say I picked up cinnamon, but definitely something lightly spicy, a bit like the clove one smells in carnations. The fruitiness is also light, not overly sweet. The floral notes waft in as if on a breeze, supported by dry, woody sandalwood. Finally, the florals fade into amber, and sandalwood gives way to cedar, leaving a warm, transparent wash of fragrance on the skin.

This is not a difficult or demanding fragrance, and it does convey serenity, just as the desert sunset can induce a meditative frame of mind. Some commenters on Fragrantica have found it boring, but others cherish it. I find it peaceful. It doesn’t implicitly hold its wearer to any standard of costume or makeup, unlike some. Mojave Ghost would never remind you to wear lipstick, or stilettos.

Do I want a full bottle? No. But I could see springing for the hair perfume; I think that format would suit the warm yet sheer impression Mojave Ghost leaves.

What fragrance do you find serene? And please check out the posts by my fellow Scent Semantics bloggers:

Perfume Chat Room, September 30

Perfume Chat Room, September 30

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

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

Shalimar, at the Guerlain boutique

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

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

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

Hotel toiletries

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

Perfume Chat Room, September 23

Perfume Chat Room, September 23

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

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

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

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

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

Perfume Chat Room, September 16

Perfume Chat Room, September 16

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

Today is Friday, September 16, and the weather has finally broken in my part of the world, meaning that we are finally getting cooler nights and less humid days. So I’ve been spending a lot of time in my garden, cleaning up the weedy mess it had become during July and August, when it really was too unpleasant to spend much time outside. We had so much rain this summer that the mosquitoes were just unbearable, no matter what I used for protection (including a fabulous coverup of hooded jacket and drawstring pants made entirely of mosquito netting!).

Anti-mosquito bug jacket, pants, and gloves

The rain also turbo-charged the weeds, which became jungle-like, and when it wasn’t raining, the humidity was almost intolerable, resulting in my being drenched in sweat after only minutes outside. Ugh!

The good part of all the rain was that the lavender and creeping rosemary I planted all along a new berm, that was created as part of a “dry creek” drainage system along the back of our house, have also flourished, and they smell wonderful! They also make the local pollinators very happy. I haven’t had much luck with lavender before, but this elevated berm in full sun is exactly what it likes and mimics the technique used in cultivated fields of lavender.

I used to think I didn’t care for lavender in fragrances, but my Jicky eau de toilette has converted me. I just love it (the EDT more than the eau de parfum, though both are beautiful). Do you have a favorite fragrance that features lavender?

Sprigs of lavender and rosemary
Lavender and rosemary; image by Cora Mueller for Getty Images
Perfume Chat Room, September 9

Perfume Chat Room, September 9

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

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

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

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

Queen Elizabeth II in lavender
Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

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

Queen Elizabeth II and David Austin at the Chelsea Flower Show
Scent Semantics, September 5

Scent Semantics, September 5

The word for this month’s Scent Semantics posts is “misanthrope.” If you haven’t read one of these posts before, “Scent Semantics” brings together a group of us fragrance bloggers in a collaborative project called “Scent Semantics“, the brainchild of Portia Turbo over at A Bottled Rose. On the first Monday of each month, we all take a word — the same word — as inspiration for a post that has some relationship to a fragrance, broadly interpreted. There are six participating blogs: Serenity Now Scents and Sensibilities (here), The Plum GirlThe Alembicated GenieEau La LaUndina’s Looking Glass, and A Bottled Rose. I hope you’ll all check out the Scent Semantics posts on each blog!

One definition of “misanthrope” is “someone who dislikes and avoids other people.” Now, I am not normally a misanthrope myself, although I am definitely an introvert (and if you’ve never seen author Susan Cain’s TED talk on the subject, click on that link — it’s a treat!). However, I think we’ve all become a bit misanthropic during the last two and a half years of a global pandemic — we were forced to avoid other people starting in March of 2020, then we disliked many people because of their varied responses to the pandemic. Layer on top of that the American elections of 2020 and their aftermath, so full of rage, and I think it’s safe to say that many of us, misanthropic by nature or not, have been slowly emerging from a phase of misanthropy.

My semantically matched fragrance this month is vintage Chanel No. 19 eau de toilette. I’ve been wearing it almost daily for the past week as my green armor at work, due to the difficulties I’ve encountered leading up to a long overdue personal leave (which started this weekend, yay!). No. 19 always makes me feel that I can be tougher than I actually am; it stiffens my backbone. Some might say that it helps me set and keep healthy boundaries, lol!

Why? I think it’s because of the hefty dose of galbanum that heralds its arrival: a bitter, green opening chord that announces, as the Chanel website says, a “daring, distinctive, uncompromising composition.” Perfect for setting boundaries! The other top notes reinforce the lack of compromise: astringent bergamot, assertive hyacinth, aromatic neroli. All have a distinctive tinge of green supporting the star of the show, the galbanum, which Fragrantica sums up as an “intense and persistent bitter green .” Indeed. If galbanum were a person, it would be Bette Davis playing Margo Channing in “All About Eve”:

“All About Eve”, 20th Century Fox.

If you’re not familiar with the movie, it is about a star actress who is turning forty, fears for her career, and is manipulated and ultimately upstaged by a much younger woman. Fittingly, No. 19 was the last Chanel fragrance created while Coco Chanel herself was still alive, in her 80s, though I don’t know that anyone ever succeeded in either manipulating or upstaging her. Master perfumer Henri Robert put the finishing touches on the formula in 1970, Chanel died in early 1971, and No. 19 was released the same year.

The blog “Olfactoria’s Travels” has a wonderful review of No. 19, referring to it as a “magic cloak”. The reviewer takes a more benevolent view of No. 19 than Tania Sanchez did in the guide to perfumes she co-wrote with Luca Turin, where she compared it to the wire mother monkey in a famous experiment about nurturing or the lack thereof. Blogger and author Neil Chapman, of “The Black Narcissus”, is famously a devotee of No. 19, scarfing up vintage bottles of it in all formats from second-hand stores in Japan, where he lives. You can read all about it in his amazing book, “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent”, available in the UK and the US, and elsewhere in other languages, which I highly recommend!

Luckily for me, since I adore green fragrances, on my skin the greenery lasts and lasts, joined in the heart phase by some of my favorite floral notes: iris, orris root, rose, lily-of-the-valley, narcissus, jasmine and ylang-ylang. The green astringency of the opening notes is carried forward by the lily-of-the-valley and narcissus, while orris root adds earthiness, iris adds powder, and jasmine and ylang-ylang add airiness, sexiness and warmth. My sense of No. 19 as “armor” is aided by my vintage spray, a refillable, silvery, aluminum canister that has protected its contents for many years.

No. 19 has had many “faces”, my favorite being English model and iconoclast Jean Shrimpton. And guess what? Based on her own words, she may actually have been a misanthrope, having walked away from her superstar modeling career and life of celebrity in her 30s, becoming what she herself described as a recluse running a hotel in Cornwall. Although the photo of her below is not an ad for Chanel, to me it captures the spirit of No. 19‘s opening — inscrutable, distant, mingling shades of green, white, and earthy brown with the unexpected intrusion of purple:

Model Jean Shrimpton sitting on an ancient tree root.
Jean Shrimpton; image by Patrick Lichfield for Vogue, 1970.

As No. 19 dries down, to my nose the galbanum never leaves, though it recedes into the distance as the oakmoss enters the glade. Because I have the vintage EDT, the base includes oakmoss, leather, musk, sandalwood, and cedar. It is a true chypre, a genre I love. It reminds me of the Jackie Kennedy Onassis of the 1970s: elegant and even haughty upon first appearance, with a warmth that reveals itself over time to the patient; breaking free from the fashion conventions she mastered so skillfully and embodied in the 1950s and 1960s, and far from the cold “wire mother” of Tania Sanchez’ imagining while retaining an aura that commands respect.

I’m choosing to adopt Laura Bailey‘s interpretation of No. 19, which she described in Vogue at the height of pandemic lockdowns in 2020, as the scent of new beginnings and dreams of future adventure:

No 19, the ‘unexpected’ Chanel, the ‘outspoken’ Chanel, created at the height of the first wave of feminism in 1971, and named for Coco Chanel’s birthday – 19 August – is, for me, the fragrance of freedom, of optimism, of strength. (And of vintage campaign stars Ali MacGraw, Jean Shrimpton and Christie Brinkley.) The heady cocktail of rose-iris-vetiver-jasmine-lily-of-the-valley remains shockingly modern and original, bolder than any sweet fairy-tale fantasy.

If you had to relate a fragrance to the word “misanthrope”, which would you choose?

Ad with perfume bottle of Chanel No. 19
Chanel No. 19 ad; image from chanel.com.
Perfume Chat Room, August 26

Perfume Chat Room, August 26

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, August 26, and I am choosing to focus on perfume rather than the multiple crazinesses that seem to be hovering about me this week: in the news, in my neighborhood, and at my job. Serenity now!!! Lately I’ve been regularly wearing Tzigana, a beautiful fragrance that I bought with Rosae in Florence, Italy, at Aquaflor, back in 2019. From the website:

Grapefruit and pink pepper tell the story of the first sun on the skin after a long winter. A flowery heart, the most precious absolutes of narcissus, jasmine and rose reveal themselves in their maximum splendor and seduce the sense of smell with magnetism. The impalpable sweet aftertaste reveals notes of heliotrope and vanilla, all accentuated by the unmistakable powdery touch of ambrette seeds. 

It is just lovely! I loved it when I tried it in their Florence store (which my nice husband had to find for me), but I hadn’t really been wearing it, focusing more on Rosae. But in the current state of affairs, Tzigana is both beautiful and comforting.

What are your comfort scents? Have you needed them lately?

Aquaflor Firenze
Perfume Chat Room, August 19

Perfume Chat Room, August 19

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, August 19, and here comes the rain again! Luckily the guys who come once a month to help with my yard and garden came yesterday and pulled up tons of weeds that grew like a jungle during the rainy weeks when we were in New Hampshire. I’ll be doing more of that this weekend, weather permitting!

In honor of Coco Chanel’s birthday, Now Smell This has a community project to wear a Chanel fragrance. So of course, I’m wearing Chanel No. 19, which was named for her birthdate (August 19). Double NST community points for me! And it is VERY green, which I love. No. 19 is one of my perennial (pun intended) fragrance loves. I have it in the vintage eau de toilette formulation, and it’s just wonderful.

Image from Disney’s Fantasia 2000; http://www.disney.com

How about you? Do you have a favorite Chanel fragrance? Are you being taken over by plants of any kind, fragrant or not?

Perfume Chat Room, August 12

Perfume Chat Room, August 12

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, August 12, and our summer travels are over. We had a great trip to New England to see my FIL. Along the way, we had our three kids with us on a beautiful lake for several days, saw both of my sisters and three of their kids, also saw my husband’s sister and her family, met our great-nieces for the first time when our nephew came to see my FIL with them, and met both the newish puppy and the young ocicat in my younger sister’s house. Whew! Unlike last summer, we didn’t digress to other destinations but drove straight up the Eastern seaboard, with one stop in Richmond and one in Connecticut, both on the way up and the way down.

We stayed in the most fabulous bed-and-breakfast inn in Richmond, called the Boulevard Inn. It’s a 1914 townhouse in a historic neighborhood called the “Fan” (due to its shape on a map) that is full of cute restaurants and beautiful houses. Our hosts, Mitch and Roni, couldn’t have been nicer or more hospitable. I highly recommend it!

Victorian room in bed and breakfast inn
Bon Air room in the Boulevard Inn, Richmond VA.
Streetscape in Richmond, VA, showing inn.
The Boulevard Inn, Richmond VA.

Have you been able to stay anywhere special this summer? I kind of can’t believe summer is really over, but it is. Our son moves back to campus today, and I return to the office. The weather, however, is still very hot and steamy. How about you?

Perfume Chat Room, August 5

Perfume Chat Room, August 5

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, August 5, and I have family on my mind. This is mostly because we have gone to New Hampshire with our young adult children for the specific purpose of seeing my elderly father-in-law, who is their only remaining grandparent. We’re having a great time! We have had some fabulous weather, although today is overcast after some heavy rain last night. As hoped, we have seen and heard several loons. Their calls are so distinctive, and instantly bring back memories of past vacations in New England.

The other reason family is on my mind is that the “Scent Semantics” blogging crew, of which I am one thanks to Portia, posted this week about the word “family.” I wrote about the family of fragrances launched by one of my favorite perfumers, Liz Moores, and her independent brand Papillon Artisan Perfumes. Please check it out, as well as the other Scent Semantics blog posts!

It feels as if summer is coming to a close, and I’m not quite ready for that. How about you?

New England lake with loons
Loons on lake in Maine