Announced this week: Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are updating their guide to perfume with a twice-yearly review roundup! See this post and thread on Basenotes. Welcome back, I can’t wait to read what you write!
I am predictably obsessed with a few things (fragrance being the newest obsession). One of those is gardens. Another is roses. Put together fragrance, and roses, and gardens, and I am in heaven. It should come as no surprise, then, that I adore David Austin’s English Roses. He has been carefully breeding them for decades and I am able to grow a few in my garden with its limited sunny spots, including two that are mentioned in the article: Lady of Shalott and The Generous Gardener. One of the key attributes for which David Austin selects seedlings for his breeding program is fragrance.
In The Romantic Quest of David Austin Roses, Victoria magazine shares some of the roses’ secrets with some lovely photographs. Michael Marriott, the “senior rosarian” at David Austin Roses, explained that “a rose’s fragrance may be the result of a mixture of up to three hundred various oils, but that two or three of these combine to create the dominant scent… ‘In David Austin’s English Roses,’ he explains, ‘the mix will include, variously, Old Rose, Tea, Musk, Myrrh or Fruit. Other oils add important subtle nuances that give different roses distinctive, evocative notes of cucumber, lemon, blackberry, honey, cedar wood, and more.’”
Three hundred different oils that go into creating a real rose’s natural fragrance! I swoon at the thought. No wonder my many rose-based fragrances all smell different. Mr. Marriott found it hard to pick a favorite among the real roses: “’A fresh memory of scent and off I’ll go in another direction.’ For fragrance, though, he favors the classic Old Rose scent of Gertrude Jekyll, and the Buttercup, he says, “for its elusive, truly delicious and rather exotic perfume.’”
Right now I am enjoying my sample spray of Jo Loves White Rose and Lemon Leaves, and it may be the finalist for the gift certificate I received at Christmas. It lasts longer than many other fragrances by Jo Malone (the company AND the perfumer) and it really does evoke a white rose as opposed to a red one (I also have Jo Malone Red Roses).
Which white rose? David Austin has a new one: Desdemona. If I could find another suitable spot in my small garden, I’d find one for her. As it is, I will have to make do with a much smaller bottle of perfume!
This week, I flew to Washington, D.C. for work, and on the plane I watched the movie “Jackie”, starring the beautiful Natalie Portman as the late First Lady. The movie imagines her reactions during the week of JFK’s assassination, including her thoughts about his legacy and her role in shaping it, and her famous interview with Life magazine, when she compared JFK’s White House to Camelot.
It is a powerful, moving film. Ms. Portman’s performance is wonderful, alternating between heartbreak, anger, shrewd calculation, and maternal protectiveness. In flashbacks, we see her work to support her husband’s administration, bringing youth, glamour and style to a White House that hadn’t see much of those under Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Truman and Eisenhower. We also see her fitting herself into Washington and taking her place as a leader there in society and the arts. That would have been no small task, as I was reminded on my recent visit; I am always struck by the aura of raw power that Washington projects, with its massive, monumental government buildings, the huge Capitol, the wide boulevards, the show of muscular strength, the many statues of powerful men, the many powerful living men who run the nation there. It is so ironic that Washington’s iconic flower associated with the city is the delicate, feminine, evanescent cherry blossom. I see a similar contrast between Jackie, the feminine lover of the arts and all beauty, and the city where she had to find her place.
One especially powerful scene shows Jackie showering, at last, upon her return to the White House as a new widow, right after the assassination. It shows her naked back, with her husband’s blood running down her back in the hot water as it washes out of her hair. We know that Mrs. Kennedy was splattered with blood, as close as she was to JFK when he was shot, and that she wore the same pink suit on the plane back to DC from Dallas. It is reasonable to surmise that the first shower she took washed away blood. Horrible to know this happened to any human being, but it is a very moving, vulnerable moment in the film.
The same scene shows, briefly, an array of fragrances on a shelf. Most appear to be Guerlain, in the fleeting glimpse I got. I think I spotted Shalimar, an unidentifed bee bottle, a bottle of either Mitsouko or L’Heure Bleue, and possibly one of Jicky. There was a clear view of Bal a Versailles, from Jean Desprez. Great product placement by Guerlain…
This got me wondering: what perfumes did Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis actually wear in real life? According to one source, she did wear Bal a Versailles and Jicky. She is also said to have worn Joy, and 1000, by Jean Patou, Fleurissimo, by Creed, Lovely Patchouli, by Krigler, and Jil Sander No. 4.
All of those fragrances have very different personalities. How interesting that a First Lady, whose outer image is consistent with, say, Joy and Fleurissimo, also wore sexy powerhouses like Jicky and Bal a Versailles. All floral fragrances, but oh so different in so many ways! Fleurissimo, said to have been created for Grace Kelly on the occasion of her wedding to the Prince of Monaco: delicate, virginal, a fragrance for a bride veiled in white.
Joy, a sophisticated, elegant “evening perfume”, made in France and said to be “the most expensive perfume in the world” when it was launched.
Her choice of Jicky and Bal a Versailles, however, suggest a more complex, assertive Jackie. Female, as opposed to feminine. Bold and confident when necessary, or desirable.
What a complicated, lovely woman she was. I’m glad to have been reminded of her this past week, and also glad to have been able to see the fleeting clouds of cherry blossoms. Let’s not forget that many of those fragile cherry trees have outlived the men who planted them and walked under their boughs. Maybe they are not as fragile as they look.
Re-posting this in honor of National Fragrance Day, as the Fragrance Foundation has suggested sharing one’s most poignant scent memories. My poor mother is still with us and still in her own home, but her condition has declined even further.
My mother is slowly dying. It is sad but acceptable, given that she is in her mid-80s and suffered a major stroke more than two years ago. She has been able to stay in her own home, cared for by a live-in aide who has become a much-appreciated member of the family “team.” Now my mother also gets hospice care in her home and she is bedridden. She is emaciated, as she only drinks protein shakes and water. Most of her medications have been discontinued, because trying to swallow pills came to cause her so much distress. She would be mortified to know her present condition, as she was always a proud woman who valued autonomy above almost anything else. She had always hoped that her unhealthy heart would fell her instantly, without any fuss, after she was no longer able to enjoy what she called her “adventures.” My mother loved to travel to exotic places, with or without my father (who died several years ago).
In her younger days, my mother also loved glamour, and parties, and dressing up. She had an eye for fashion and was a striking woman herself: tall, with white Irish skin and startling blue eyes under dark eyebrows and hair that was such a dark brown it looked black. An early memory of mine is of sitting on my parents’ bed, watching her do her hair and make up at a vanity, or what we called her “dressing table.” It was a ritual; and part of that ritual was the finishing flourish of Chanel No. 5.
My parents’ marriage was not always a happy one, though it lasted more than 50 years and only ended with my father’s death when he was almost 90. My mother was never cut out to be a suburban housewife, yet the part of her that craved security sought out that life and chose to stay in it. She was, indeed, very like the creation of Rudyard Kipling to which she frequently compared herself: The Cat that Walked by Himself, or as she said, “the Cat that walked alone.” She sought out creature comfort and made for herself (and us) a pleasing home, but there was always part of her that withheld itself. As a child, I often tried to make my mother feel happier, though I now realize that much of her unhappiness was due to exaggerated expectations on her part of how her life should have unfolded.
One way I tried to make her happy was to save my small allowance to offer her gifts: special gifts, the kind I thought my father should give her more often. More than once, that gift was some form of Chanel No. 5. I remember offering Chanel talcum powder; and once, the smallest size of spray cologne, as that was all I could afford. She was, in fact, delighted by these offerings and made a point of using them when I was around to see that she loved and appreciated them. My mother was in many ways a self-centered woman but she loved us as much as she was able to, given her own loveless childhood.
So now, as she lies slowly dying — a process that could sadly take many more weeks or even months — I occasionally “borrow” a spritz from her last spray bottle of Chanel No. 5 eau de toilette. I think I may have given it to her some time in the last decade; I just don’t remember. But I do remember the fragrance, and her bottle pre-dates the 2013 reformulation. It hasn’t been carefully preserved — it sat out on a shelf in her sunny bathroom for years. So the top notes are a little “off”, but it quickly settles onto one’s skin with powdery, warm, heady florals. Smelling it, I can recall the vibrant, restless, beautiful woman my mother once was. It really is a lovely scent, though I would never choose to wear it regularly as my own perfume, given its long association with my mother.
Sadly, she no longer enjoys it. On one of my visits during this latest phase of her long decline, I thought she might like to smell it again, as she was always hyper-alert to smells, so I applied a bit to my own wrist and held it close so she could smell it. She wrinkled her nose and said to the room, “What is that awful smell?”. So I haven’t offered it again; instead, I bring her pots of live hyacinths, which she has long loved and still enjoys. My father, an avid amateur gardener, used to please her by potting up dozens of hyacinth bulbs for forcing indoors every winter, when their perfume would fill entire rooms.
My mother slips in and out of awareness these days, and I’m not always sure she knows I am there, but when I brought her the latest hyacinths and held the pot of blossoms close to her, she inhaled their fragrance, smiled and said, “Lovely!”. It still matters to me to try to make my mother happy, even at this indeterminate, shadowy end.
Is there any season to compare with Christmas in the range and variety of lovely fragrances it evokes? From the balsam-scented boughs of wreaths, garlands and decorated trees to the delicious smells emanating from kitchens; from the incense of Midnight Mass to the smoke of fireplaces hung with stockings; from the spiced scents of oranges pierced with cloves and meat roasting with rosemary and garlic, to the narcotic perfume of paperwhite narcissi forced in pots — the fragrances are everywhere.
I make some holiday drinks mostly because of their wonderful smell, although they also taste terrific. One favorite is the Scandinavian mulled wine Glögg, a concoction of red wine, port, aquavit and brandy mixed with fresh ginger, orange zest, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, raisins and almonds. I make it in a slow cooker and let it simmer all day. Heaven! One must approach it with care, though — one mug makes you feel lovely and warm inside, with holiday goodwill toward all coursing through your veins, and a second mug will likely leave you on the floor, relying on others’ goodwill to take you home and put you to bed. There are many variations on recipes for Glögg, easily found online; I encourage you to try it. So easy and festive.
One of my favorite blogs, Bois de Jasmin, has had posts in which readers recommend various perfumes to wear on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and throughout the holiday season. So much fun to read what others recommend and enjoy! I decided to layer the gorgeous attar of Taif Rose that my husband brought me from Dubai with Aramis Calligraphy Rose, for the notes of rose, frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense and myrrh are obvious candidates for Christmas, but rose, you ask? “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” is my response.
On a more serious note, Victoria at Bois de Jasmin is again running an online fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders, an admirable and effective organization that provides medical care to civilians and refugees in some of the most dangerous, war-torn parts of the world. As the Christian world gathers to worship the homeless newborn of a refugee family, born at a time of armed strife and conflict, we should remember the children and families who today find themselves in similar danger. My teenaged son’s Christmas gift to me was an IOU for a gift of fragrance that I could choose; I will ask him to donate to Victoria’s fundraiser and Doctors Without Borders on my behalf — the fragrance connection being that each such gift enters one into a drawing for some marvelous fragrance-related prizes. Check it out! You can enter until January 15, 2017.
The weather here has been so unseasonably warm that we are running around outside doing errands and chores without coats! I plan to do some gardening this week while I am away from my office, which will surely bring more scents to my attention.
What does Christmas smell like to you? Or if you celebrate another holiday at this time of year, what are its most evocative scents?
I love a fragrance that is both lovely to smell and intriguing to consider. I also love floral fragrances, although I am branching out as I learn more about perfume. Laboratorio Olfattivo Nirmal is all three. I have previously declared my love for that house’s Decou-Vert. Nirmal is a new love, though I don’t see myself wearing it more than Decou-Vert, generally speaking — maybe in the fall, when I don’t crave the green notes of my beloved muguets.
The firm’s website describes it in terms of soft white fabric brushing against skin, sweetness, serenity, tranquility, a cloud of white notes. The top note is carrot, followed by heart notes of iris root and violet, drying down to a base of sweet suede, cedar and amber. The name is a Hindi or Sanskrit first name for boys, which means pure, innocent, tranquil. And yes, this is a fragrance that could easily be worn by a man. The iris note is really orris root, the violet is very hushed and the sweet notes in the base are well-balanced with the cedar.
The carrot top note is very clear and leaves no doubt that it is carrot. It is a fresh carrot, though, the kind one might buy at a farmer’s market, with its ferny green foliage intact as well as its fresh-from-the-earth sweetness, that vanishes before carrots reach the supermarket. The carrot slowly gives way to iris root, the two merging imperceptibly until you notice at some point that the carrot is gone and the iris has taken over, with a blush of violet. Then the iris slowly yields to the violet, and the undertones of cedar, “daim” and amber begin to appear softly.
Olfactoria’s Travels had a lovely review of Nirmal two years ago; the author did not perceive the carrot as strongly as I did, and she sensed the sweet “daim” notes more strongly, although they do get stronger and more candied as Nirmal dries down. She made a lovely comparison between Nirmal and the lone white iris in one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, noting that like the white iris, this scent is pale and delicate.
I agree — there are no grape notes, as one finds in some iris flowers; the only purplish fragrance note is the faint flush of violet, and maybe that’s a white violet, too.
Nirmal has good longevity on my skin; five hours or more. I would say that its sillage is moderate. As it dries down, the sweet “daim” notes do become stronger, but they are never cloying or too sugary. There is a warmth to the sweetness that probably comes from the amber note, and a nice balance from the light but woody cedar. After eight hours, most of what I still smell is the amber, which has come shyly out of the background to outlast the other notes.
I will be interested to try this next summer, when the weather is hot, to see how it fares. Right now, my favorite fragrances for the kind of hot, humid weather we get in the South are Ellena’s Un Jardin Sur le Nil and Un Jardin Apres La Mousson. Right now, the weather is cool and overcast but not chilly, and Nirmal feels just right.
Today has been christened “Small Business Saturday” in the retail world: a day during the long Thanksgiving weekend when shoppers can support local and small businesses. So I happily used a discount code to make my first purchase from PK Perfumes, a small independent niche perfumery. If you want to do likewise, the code is: PKFRIDAY40, for 40% off this whole weekend, on the whole website.