May Muguet Marathon: Soap

May Muguet Marathon: Soap

If you have ever visited the South of France and its open marketplaces, you will know that there are usually several stands selling fragranced soaps, with scents such as lavender, rose, violet, mimosa, and muguet (lily of the valley). Lily of the valley-scented soap may seem redundant, as many people perceive the smell of real lilies of the valley as “soapy”, but this isn’t a coincidence: the smell of lilies of the valley, which has to be artificially re-created, has been so popular in non-perfume, or functional, fragrances for items like soap that in Western culture, at least, we tend to merge them in our minds. That overuse in functional fragrances has been blamed for the relative dearth of muguet fragrances among modern scents; while I tend to agree with that, I also think that the note became associated in many people’s minds with older female relatives, because it was so popular among personal scents about 60-100 years ago.

Luckily for me, I still love a good lily of the valley in most formats, and actually there have been some very interesting muguet fragrances released in recent years, such as Kissing, from By Kilian, and the 2016 Muguet from Guerlain. On my January trip to Nice, I wandered through the market in the old part of the city and saw many lovely muguet soaps, so of course I brought some home as gifts and kept one for myself.

I also own a set of Crabtree & Evelyn “Lily” soaps, which I think have been discontinued. That is unfortunate, because they smell remarkably like the flowers, even more so than my bar of Muguet soap from the market in Nice. Do you have any favorite floral soaps, that smell like lily of the valley or other floral scents?

May Muguet Marathon: California Perfume Company

May Muguet Marathon: California Perfume Company

A nice little oddity in my collection of lily of the valley fragrances is a NIB bottle of “Lily of the Valley” by the California Perfume Company — predecessor of a favorite brand of Sam’s (of the blog “I Scent You a Day“), Avon. The California Perfume Company’s first five fragrances, in 1886, were all florals: Heliotrope, Hyacinth, Lily of the Valley, Violet, and White Rose. The bottle I have is a reissue by Avon, in a vintage-looking apothecary-style square bottle with a round glass stopper. Under the name on the label, in tiny type, are dates: “1886-1999.” So I believe this must have been a special edition reissued in 1999, but I can’t say for sure. There is an entire community of collectors dedicated to the original products of the California Perfume Company; I must say that the true vintage bottles and packaging are very charming, and the history of the company, the pioneer of direct selling by a female sales force, is fascinating.

The fragrance itself is very pretty but short-lived. I opened it to write this post, and the ball stopper popped open when released, so a bit spilled on my hand. It was more than I would usually dab from a bottle, so I got a good dose of it! It’s a very clean, light green muguet, but not soapy to my nose. Unfortunately, it is fading away rapidly as I write, but since it was quite a bargain, and still available for a low price on eBay, this isn’t tragic. It doesn’t seem to have any real base notes — what you get is basically top notes of lily of the valley, fading into more lily of the valley before fading away completely.  It is quite true to the flower, I think, with an almost lemony facet.

Have you tried any fragrances by the California Perfume Company? Have you seen any of their vintage products?

May Muguet Marathon: Chanel Paris-Biarritz

May Muguet Marathon: Chanel Paris-Biarritz

Last summer (2018), Chanel launched “Les Eaux de Chanel”, three eaux de toilette named after three destinations to which Chanel herself traveled from Paris. The destinations are Biarritz, Venise, and Deauville. Created by Olivier Polge, Chanel’s in-house perfumer, each of these fragrances opens with a strong medley of citrus notes. They are intended to be very fresh and lively, and so they are.

Paris-Biarritz is a tribute to the seaside resort in the southwest Basque region of France, which became fashionable during the time of Empress Eugenie and Napoleon III, who built a grand summer home there. Chanel opened her first true “salon de couture” here, in 1915, during World War I when many wealthy people sought refuge and distance from the war. The international clientele of Biarritz allowed her to earn enough that she became financially independent, and the town is thus integral to the history of her fashion house. Perfumer Olivier Polge describes the intent behind Les Eaux:

“This is a new sort of collection of perfumes, we call them Les Eaux because they’re fresh, fluid, sparkling. My source of inspiration came from Eau de cologne, those combinations of fresh citrus oils,” says Polge. Each scent was inspired and named after a destination vitally important to Coco Chanel’s life: Venice, Biarritz, and the beach town Deauville where she opened her very first boutique in 1913. “The three cities are really important in the history of Chanel. They became a part of our identity and source of inspiration,” he says.

The story of Coco Chanel in Biarritz is best told by Chanel itself, in this short film:

Like its siblings, Paris-Biarritz opens with a burst of citruses, in this case orange, lemon, bergamot, grapefruit, and tangerine. The combination is very appealing; there is sweetness from the orange and tangerine, tartness from the lemon and grapefruit, and some greenness from the bergamot. It takes a while for any heart notes to show up, and the first one I perceive is the neroli, which seems fitting since it is the source of orange blossom absolute. The bergamot lingers the longest of all those citrus top notes, which leads nicely into the greener heart of the fragrance. The words used by Chanel to describe this fragrance include “exceptionally fresh”, “dynamic”, “vivacious”, and I would agree.

As the citruses settle down, the neroli shows up, then lily of the valley and unspecified green notes. This heart phase is floral, but lightly so. Given that both lily of the valley and neroli give off citrusy and green aromas, and bergamot is a very “green” citrus to my nose, the greenness of the middle stage works well and quite smoothly. I think the neroli takes precedence over the lily of the valley, however. The citrus notes last longer than I might have expected, which I appreciate. This is a truly unisex fragrance, very reminiscent of summer colognes but longer lasting.

That doesn’t mean it has great longevity, though, because it doesn’t. Not bad for a citrus-focused fragrance, but after just a few hours, it is gone. The base notes are, to my nose, skin scents, and I can’t even say that I smell any patchouli, just a lingering light note of white musk. Some will enjoy reapplying it often to enjoy the beautiful citrus top notes. If you are seeking a a true lily of the valley fragrance, this isn’t it, but it is very appealing.

Have you tried any of “Les Eaux de Chanel”? Did you like any?

May Muguet Marathon: Happy Mother’s Day!

May Muguet Marathon: Happy Mother’s Day!

I am slacking off a bit this weekend, as it is Mother’s Day and I’m allowed to do that! So no muguet post yesterday, and today I’ll just wish a happy Mother’s Day to all who are, have, or had, mothers.

I was given a surprise gift: the Le Labo discovery set, with 17 of their fragrances to try — oh happy day! And I ordered something very special with the go-ahead from my lovely spouse: Scenthusiasm from 4160 Tuesdays. Can’t wait for that one! We will pick it up at his company’s office when we go to London later this month, and I’m hoping to visit the 4160 Tuesdays studio too. Have you given or received any fragrant gifts for Mother’s Day this year?

Enjoy the weekend!

May Muguet Marathon: Neil Chapman’s “Perfume”

May Muguet Marathon: Neil Chapman’s “Perfume”

If you have read the excellent fragrance blog The Black Narcissus, you have already encountered the writing of Neil Chapman. Neil published, this spring, his first book, called “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent.” You can buy it on Amazon.com! It’s a great book, full of his unique insights, impressions, and life experiences, enriched by his knowledge not only of perfume but of the literature of various cultures. Case in point: his introduction of the section in his book that discusses lily of the valley as a fragrance note.

In Natsume Soseki’s 1909 novel Sore Kara (‘And then …’) the main protagonist, Daisuke — a fraught, pretence-addled, indolent ‘aesthete’ whose descent into madness forms the core of the novel — has a predilection for sleeping in the aroma of delicate flowers in order to negate life’s sordid realities. Overly affected by the ordinary physical world, this nervous book collector uses a faint, lightly sweet floral scent at night to reduce his contacts with the world to a minimum: snowy white lilies of the valley, with their stems not yet cut, flowers that form an important motif in the novel, but not only for their pristine beauty and virginal whiteness.

The muguet fragrances Neil reviews in his book are: Diorissimo, Muguet du Bonheur, Penhaligons’ Lily of the Valley, Don’t Get Me Wrong, Baby, I Don’t Swallow, Muguet Fleuri, Muguet Blanc, Quartana’s Lily of the Valley, and Muguet des Bois. His reviews of those are as distinctive and individually nuanced as his writing quoted above.

I highly recommend Neil’s book, whether you are new to the exploration of fragrances, or you are a perfumista with dozens (or hundreds!) of bottles of your own. There are eleven main chapters, named generally for scent groupings of his own, like “Green”, “Gourmand”, “Eros.” You will learn a lot, no matter where you are in your perfume journey; and even fragrances you know well get “The Black Narcissus” treatment, in which Neil weaves his own extensive knowledge with his personal observations, impressions, and experiences. His story of his close encounter with Japanese incense (he and his partner live in Japan) and the accompanying ceremony is hilarious and worth the price of the book for that alone.

But in line with the theme of this month, I especially recommend reading his thoughts on lilies of the valley and the fragrances listed above. And as a bonus, you can read the end of his summation of that Japanese novel! Have you read Neil’s blog The Black Narcissus?

Japanese woman wearing traditional garb with lily of the valley headpiece

Traditional Japanese outfit with ‘lily of the valley’ kanzashi; image from http://www.donatale.com

May Muguet Marathon: Something Blue

May Muguet Marathon: Something Blue

Although I really enjoy niche perfumes, and some pricey lines like Hermes, Chanel, Penhaligons, Jo Malone, etc., it’s wonderful to find and be able to recommend an affordable but pleasing fragrance — a bargain beauty, if you will. Oscar de la Renta’s Something Blue is one such beauty. It is readily available at discount stores and online for less than $20 for 100 ml, sometimes in a set with body lotion. Its name comes from the tradition of a bride wearing “something old, something new; something borrowed, something blue” on her wedding day, for good luck. The fragrance is meant to suggest exactly that: a sunny day smiling down on a beautiful young woman dressed in white.

Ad and bottle for Something Blue fragrance by Oscar de la Renta, with model in wedding dress

Oscar de la Renta’s Something Blue; image from http://www.oscardelarenta.com

The bottle, by the way, is very pretty and appealing. It has a nice weight in the hand, and the blue marblized cap is a delicate shade of sky blue with wisps of white across it like light clouds. The silver band around the neck, with the designer’s name, is meant to look like a wedding band, and it’s a nice touch. Something Blue was launched in 2013, the year before M. de la Renta died, and there are some delightful photos of him at its launch party:

Oscar+de+la+Renta+Something+Blue+Launches+z8vbBq8rPbEl

Designer Oscar de la Renta with his new fragrance

What does it smell like? The opening is based on notes of linden blossom, neroli, bergamot and mandarin. The mandarin offers sweetness, while the bergamot adds some tart greenness; this young lady is tender but spirited. Linden blossom and neroli evoke sunshine and summertime; not summertime at the beach, but a summertime garden wedding. More floral notes arrive, including lily of the valley (a traditional wedding bouquet flower), stephanotis (another bouquet favorite), and narcissus, with a touch of litchi to keep things sweet.  Of those notes, lily of the valley is most prominent, but this is not a muguet soliflore. The linden blossom continues to waft through the heart stage of the fragrance, and there is a nice balance between those two flowers.

The few fruity notes here are very well deployed to lift and sweeten the fragrance without being too sugary. The citruses provide the airiness and sunshine at the start to set the overall impression, while the litchi keeps the heart stage more sweet and less green than it might otherwise have been. I wouldn’t call this a “fruity floral”, it is mostly a light floral, but the fruit notes are important supporting players in Something Blue; they have been used masterfully, which is no surprise since the perfumers who created it were Ann Gottlieb and Frank Voelkl of Firmenich. There is no sense of “white flower” bomb, despite the presence of stephanotis and narcissus.

The final stage includes base notes of musk, vanilla, ambrette seed, ambergris and cashmere wood (which I assume means Cashmeran, especially as that base note seems to outlast the others after several hours). It is soft and warm, like glowing skin or the late afternoon’s golden sun. Here is the clever part: the progression of Something Blue emulates the unfolding of a summer garden wedding. The sunny, summery opening notes set the stage: the garden. The entrance of the lily of the valley and stephanotis notes evokes the entrance of the bride, bearing her bouquet of pure, white, virginal flowers. The gradual drydown to the warm golden notes of the base gives the impression of a late afternoon in the same garden, after the vows have been spoken, the ceremony performed, the refreshments had, the dances danced, the bride and groom departed for their honeymoon. Perhaps this is the hour when the few family members lingering can take a peaceful stroll through the garden, having said goodbye to their guests — it isn’t yet sunset, but the slanting rays of golden sun tell us that the day’s festivities are happily concluded, and it is time for quiet.

I have given a bottle of Something Blue to a young friend as one of her gifts at her bridal shower. She later told me that she did indeed wear it on her wedding day, and she likes it so much that she’s on her second or third bottle! A beauty indeed — both bride and fragrance.

Have you tried any of the many fragrances from Oscar de la Renta? What did you think?  I also like another fragrance from his house that features lily of the valley: Live in Love. Do you have any favorites from his brand?

 

May Muguet Marathon: No. 42 The Flower Shop

May Muguet Marathon: No. 42 The Flower Shop

Those of you who read fragrance blogs and articles know that the brand Jo Loves was started by Jo Malone, who sold her first, eponymous brand to Estee Lauder, worked for them for some time, then launched a new brand of her own, Jo Loves, several years later. She also has a store at 42 Elizabeth Street in London. No. 42 The Flower Shop is named after the coincidence that when she was a teenager, Jo worked as a florist on the same street where her store now stands. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting it, and I highly recommend that if you are in London! It’s a lovely store, and it is close to Les Senteurs, a long-established niche perfumery with a wide selection of fragrances by independent brands.

Jo Loves fragrance boutique at 42 Elizabeth Street, London.

Jo Loves boutique

No. 42 The Flower Shop smells exactly like its name. It is the smell that greets you when you walk into a florist’s shop, a mix of cut flower and leaf fragrances, very green and fresh. While the brand’s website describes it only as “fresh blooms and crushed green leaves”, Fragrantica describes it in more detail: “top notes are green leaves, mandarin orange and peony; middle notes are lily-of-the-valley, freesia, jasmine and narcissus; base notes are iris, white musk, moss and patchouli.” Lily of the valley is listed with green notes as one of the top two notes perceived by commenters.

The opening is indeed very green, which I like very much. There is a slight sweetness and juiciness that reflects the mandarin orange note, but the citrus fades away quickly and what remains at first are green, green leaves. Then the floral notes enter, including the lily of the valley. I think that lily of the valley and freesia are evenly matched in No. 42 The Flower Shop. Both are evident, but they are blended together very nicely; at some moments in this middle stage, the freesia is more dominant to my nose, but at other times, the lily of the valley takes precedence. No. 42 The Flower Shop evokes a very specific memory for me: the florist buckets and potted plants outside my favorite store in the world: Liberty London.  I love everything about Liberty: first and foremost, its signature fabrics and fabric designs; but also its fabulous building in Great Marlborough Street, its tearoom, its amazing fragrance department — everything.

Flowers and buckets outside Liberty London florist store

Flower shop at Liberty London

The green notes persist during the middle stage of No. 42 The Flower Shop; that and the other floral notes make the fragrance a bouquet, and by no means a soliflore, as befits a florist shop. The narcissus note is evident, though not as strong as the lily of the valley and freesia, but it adds a nicely astringent tone to the sweeter flowers (it is not one of those heady, “narcotic” narcissus notes, it too is very green). The fragrance retains its greenness throughout, including in its base notes of moss and patchouli. The moss note is especially clever, as it is so common for lilies of the valley and spring bulbs like narcissus to be forced in pots and potted with green moss.

Forced lilies of the valley potted with green moss

Lilies of the valley planted with moss

Sadly, No. 42 The Flower Shop does show its kinship with some of the original Jo Malone fragrances in that it doesn’t last as long as I would like. It is so pretty, though, that I’m glad I own a bottle; and I’m looking forward to visiting Jo Loves’ boutique later this month to try her new fragrance, Rose Petal 25.

Have you tried any of the Jo Loves fragrances? I’m also very partial to White Rose and Lemon Leaves. If you’re interested and you haven’t tried any but you’re pretty sure you may want one, Jo Loves has a discovery “experience” where you pay the price of a full bottle (50 ml or 100 ml) and get a discovery set with a certificate for the full bottle of your size and choice; I believe that includes shipping.