Scent Sample Sunday: Black Flower Mexican Vanilla

Scent Sample Sunday: Black Flower Mexican Vanilla

In honor of American perfumer Jeffrey Dame’s generous giveaways last weekend and this one, on Facebook Fragrance Friends, today’s Scent Sample Sunday is devoted to one of the samples he sent me in addition to my freebie:  Black Flower Mexican Vanilla.

It is on my wrists as I write this, and wow, is it scrumptious! It’s not really gourmand, though; it has enough citrus, floral and other notes to prevent that. It is one of the “Artist Collection Perfumes”, described as creative collaborations between Jeffrey Dame and his father, artist Dave Dame. The artwork on the bottles’ labels is by Dame Pere. The fragrance is described as “a blend of vanilla absolute with touches of lemon, grapefruit, caramel, nutmeg, gardenia, jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, musk, and tonka.” It was launched in 2014. You can read more about Dame Perfumery and its three generations of Dames here.

Black Flower Mexican Vanilla is mesmerizing. It reminds me of the late, great Anne Klein II , a discontinued gem that I wore in the 1980s and which now commands outrageous prices online, if and when you can find it. Like AKII, it opens with a healthy dose of citrus, but the vanilla permeates top, heart and base. Like AKII, the floral notes emerge shortly after the opening and blend beautifully with the omnipresent vanilla. BFMV has gotten enthusiastic nods of approval from the two males in my household (husband and teenaged son), also reminiscent of AKII, which is the only fragrance I’ve ever worn that got me compliments from strangers on the New York subway.

I am especially enjoying BFMV because I’ve been looking for a vanilla-based fragrance I would like. My preferences lean heavily to greens, florals and chypres, with a special fondness for muguet and narcissus (yes, I have two bottles of Penhaligon’s Ostara). I haven’t been won over by any truly gourmand scents, and so many vanillas now are gourmand more than Oriental. BFMV is classified as an “Oriental Vanilla” while AKII is listed as an “Oriental Floral”, paying heed to the spice and woody notes each one includes.

Vanilla has a fascinating history, too; its orchid-flowered vines are native to Mexico and Guatemala, where it was first discovered by Europeans. National Geographic explains:

Vanilla is a member of the orchid family, a sprawling conglomeration of some 25,000 different species. Vanilla is a native of South and Central America and the Caribbean; and the first people to have cultivated it seem to have been the Totonacs of Mexico’s east coast. The Aztecs acquired vanilla when they conquered the Totonacs in the 15th Century; the Spanish, in turn, got it when they conquered the Aztecs.

Vanilla orchid vine and flowers by Dan Sams

Vanilla orchid flowers; image by Dan Sams via Getty Images

The Totonacs are supposed to have used vanilla pods as a sacred herb, using it in rituals, medicines, and perfumes. I find that the photograph on Dame Perfumery’s website, featured at the top of this post, is very evocative of that history and the actual scent, which is darker, spicier, drier and more beguiling than your standard vanilla. Nielsen-Massey, a purveyor of vanilla extract, points out:

Even after its discovery by Europeans, Mexico was still the sole grower of vanilla beans for another 300 years. That’s because of the symbiotic relationship between the vanilla orchid and an indigenous tiny bee called the Melipone. The bee was responsible for the pollination of the vanilla orchid flower, resulting in the production of the fruit… Vanilla from Mexico has a flavor that combines creamy and woody notes with a deep, spicy character, making it a delicious complement to chocolate, cinnamon, cloves and other warm spices. Even more, Mexican vanilla works wonderfully in tomato sauces and salsas, where it smooths out the heat and acidity of these dishes.

BFMV is very true to this heritage, as it tames the acidity of the citrus notes and brings its own creamy, woody, spicy smoothness and warmth to other notes like nutmeg, gardenia, jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli and vetiver.

As it dries down, I am finding that the vanilla intensifies while the floral notes slowly fade. Luckily for me, I love the notes that seem to be taking the stage with the vanilla during the drydown, especially sandalwood.

Black Flower Mexican Vanilla is a new love for me! It will be especially welcome now that autumn is here and the weather is cooling down. Thank you, Jeffrey Dame!

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!

Scent Sample Sunday: Lazy Sunday Morning

Scent Sample Sunday: Lazy Sunday Morning

Yes, I’m having one of those: a lazy Sunday morning. And this week, I also took part for the first time in a “freebiemeet” on Now Smell This, an amazing fragrance blog and community. So in honor of that, and with gratitude to kind NST member Katrina, who offered up a “mystery grab bag of samples; some mainstream and some niche. Absolutely no rhyme or reason in what’s in the mix!”, here are my thoughts on one of the several she sent me: Maison Martin Margiela’s Lazy Sunday Morning, one of the Replica line of fragrances. It was such a treat to open the package and discover what was inside — it really made my week, which was somewhat sad because of the unexpected news the week before of the death of a former student, and planning a memorial with his friends.

Lazy Sunday Morning is meant to evoke the sense of awakening on a sunny morning in a bed of white linen sheets, skin warm, in Florence, Italy. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting Florence, so I can’t speak to that, but the fragrance includes notes of iris, the quintessential Florentine flower. However, for me the dominant floral note is lily of the valley, or muguet, which I love. That is one of the top notes, with aldehydes and pear. The combination of a soft, light, fruity note with muguet reminds me a bit of Lily, by Lili Bermuda, which combines pear with lily of the valley among its heart notes.

The aldehydic opening is light but noticeable, then the scent moves quickly into floral fruitiness that stays light and fresh. It’s very pretty, but it doesn’t smell to me like Sunday morning in bed, unless one’s bedroom window opens onto a bed of lilies of the valley and one wakes up to a glass of fresh-squeezed juice. (Which, by the way, I wouldn’t object to finding by my bedside …). However, if I am spending a lazy Sunday morning in bed, I’m much more likely to have coffee by my side, as one Fragrantica commenter noted!

Lazy Sunday Morning also reminds me a bit of Jean-Claude Ellena’s last Hermessence fragrance for Hermes, Muguet Porcelaine. I would say that it is brighter, less of a subtle wash of watercolor, and with fewer nuances. In fact, the image that comes to mind is a set of bed linens by Lilly Pulitzer, the quintessential Floridian brand with its bright pops of citrus-inspired colors on its fabrics, which ties in nicely with the orange flower that is also a heart note in Lazy Sunday Morning.

Pillow cases and bed linens by Lilly Pulitzer with lily of the valley print in bright colors

Lily of the valley bed linens, by Lilly Pulitzer

I really don’t smell rose or iris at all, even as it dries down, although they are also listed as heart notes and other commenters have felt they come through strongly. The white musk that lends a “clean laundry” aura to Lazy Sunday Morning emerges during the drydown and is very soft. All in all, this is a very pleasant, fresh fragrance. It doesn’t remind me of my own Sunday mornings in bed, but it is very pretty, and I’m happy to have a sample of it! Thanks, Katrina and NST!

Any other thoughts on Maison Martin Margiela’s fragrances?

Perfume samples in glass vials

Perfume samples

Pencils and Perfumes

If a perfume can transport you to another place, another time – then imagine what that place would look like if it were a drawing. It was a sunny afternoon last month, when, I met perfumer Francesca Bianchi during a perfume event at the Annindriya perfume Lounge boutique in Amsterdam.In the beautiful garden behind the […]

Here is a fascinating exploration of how an artist interpreted three artisan fragrances without knowing anything about them other than who their creator was. Wonderful!

via Secret Scents: Drawing The unknown — Pencils & Perfumes : Where my drawings meet the olfactive world. 鉛筆と祈りと香水―香りの世界と出会う場所

Scent Sample Sunday: Bergamot

Scent Sample Sunday: Bergamot

It is still sunny and hot here, although we are now officially in the autumn season, so a good strong blast of citrus does not seem amiss. And oh, what a blast of citrus I get from Malin + Goetz’ Bergamot!  The top notes are all citruses except for a note of green pepper, which I don’t really smell, although I can sense it hovering around the edges. The citrus notes are: grapefruit, lime, mandarin orange and, of course, bergamot. The latter is by far the strongest opening note. I love it. I am a frequent drinker of Earl Grey tea, famously flavored with bergamot, and this perfume reminds me of it without smelling at all like tea.

Fragrantica lists the heart notes as: spicy mint, lily of the valley, ginger, cardamom and black pepper. I do pick up on the spicy mint and maybe some of the ginger. Not really smelling LOTV, cardamom or black pepper, probably because the bergamot is still going strong. Although cedar is listed as a base notes, I smell hints of it from the very start. Base notes also include amber, woody notes, and musk. The drydown is very pleasant and not too musky. I like wood notes, so I enjoy the longevity of the cedar note throughout.

This is a very refreshing fragrance and is truly unisex; I could absolutely see men using it as an aftershave, but it is not so “masculine” that it wouldn’t suit a woman.

Featured image from fashionforlunch.net

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

Scent Sample Sunday: Gabrielle

Scent Sample Sunday: Gabrielle

Today I tried my sample of the new fragrance from Chanel, Gabrielle.  It is meant to evoke a youthful Chanel, the woman whose given name was Gabrielle before she became known as Coco Chanel and then, as befits a legend, just Chanel. However, this scent is SO youthful that I can’t imagine the real Coco Chanel ever having been as innocent as this after the age of, say, ten. Fragrantica commenter andrewatic put it perfectly:

This doesn’t automatically mean that the fragrance is bad, by any means. It should just be called something else, such as: “butterfly frolicking on tuberose flower in paradise” for instance, with an under title: “made for sweet, cute 15 yo girls, dressed in pretty immaculate-white, flower-decorated, frilly dresses” and then I would get it!

Actually, though, where my mind immediately went was to the “lovely ladies of Beauxbatons”, the French wizarding girls’ school whose students’ chic blue uniforms and fluttering entrance — accompanied by, yes, butterflies — swept the hearts of Hogwarts’ male students, led by Fleur Delacour and her little sister: Gabrielle.

Beauxbatons students entering Hogwarts in blue uniforms with butterflies

Entrance of Beauxbatons students at Hogwarts; photo Warner Bros.

Fragrantica lists its notes as:

Top notes: mandarin, grapefruit, black currant
Heart: tuberose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, orange blossom
Base: sandalwood, musk.

For me, the fragrance Gabrielle is too sweet and fruity. Even the floral notes are very sweet across the board: orange blossom most prominent to my nose, followed by tuberose, jasmine and ylang-ylang. Even the grapefruit and blackcurrant notes, which are often tangy enough to counter too much sweetness, smell sugary to me. It’s not offensive, it’s not overpowering, it is just very girlish. And not very Chanel-ish. While some commenters don’t like the bottle, I do. I think the faceted front is a creative play on the classic Chanel bottle shape, and I like the color. It feels good in the hand, too. The fragrance itself is not as memorable, though it isn’t bad. Dior has done better, in my opinion, with its fruity floral Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet.

I do understand, I think, what the Chanel perfumers and executives are trying to do. They must maintain contact and an image with a new generation of young women, who will be future customers and who have been flocking to sweet, fruity floral scents. They must also woo the growing number of fragrance customers in Asia, where I understand the taste tends more toward the light, sweet and inoffensive. And I am not that demographic on any level: not young, not Asian. I think the company’s quest to appeal to a younger customer is much better fulfilled by the new Chanel No. 5 L’Eau.  I thought that was a delightful, youthful take on the classic No. 5, without giving up any of the spirit of Chanel. I could see Fleur Delacour wearing L’Eau very well, with her undoubted chic in addition to her undoubted skill and spirit well-matched to the fizz, lightness and underlying classical structure of L’Eau.

Beauxbatons student and TriWizard champion Fleur Delacour

Fleur Delacour; photo Warner Bros.

The drydown of Gabrielle is quite pleasant, with sandalwood and musk, but again, it doesn’t stand out as special. I can still smell it on my skin five hours after application, so longevity is good for a fragrance like this. I can see many girls loving this, and that is, after all, the whole point. But I would steer my own daughters toward L’Eau.

Gabrielle Delacour, Beauxbatons students and little sister of Fleur Delacour

Gabrielle Delacour; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire