Scented Advent, December 4

Scented Advent, December 4

Even days of December are when I alternate my Guerlain samples with other samples, and I’m trying to make sure I reach into the box that has mostly independent perfumers’ fragrance. In this challenging economy, it continues to be important to support the independent and small businesses that already had a tough time during the pandemic. Besides, the independent perfumers often create the most interesting and innovative fragrances that we love to try.

Today’s sample is Andy Tauer‘s L’Air des Alpes Suisses, inspired by the Swiss Alps and launched in 2019, and I’m just delighted. First, it’s a beautiful fragrance. Second, I was able to visit Zurich and some of its perfumeries in the “before times” and one of them was Suskind, a small perfumery that only sells niche fragrances. Apparently its owner was an early supporter of Andy Tauer (who is based in Zurich), who is very well-liked in the perfume community for his approachability as well as his undoubted talents. When I visited Suskind and asked to sample some Tauer perfumes, the sales assistant confirmed that he stops by sometimes, and how nice he is.

So back to my sample: L’Air des Alpes Suisses is 100% unisex. It may lean a little masculine for some, because it is aromatic and woody, which many associate with masculine fragrances. Here is M. Tauer’s description on his website:

HEAD NOTESThe HEAD notes are fresh like a breeze from treeless mountain summits: rough granite ground, the cool air from the glacier, and bitter alpine herbs.
HEART NOTESThe HEART notes are fresh, green with hints of spices. Floral delicacies such as the red Alpine lily bloom on lush meadows, powdery, spicy, green.
BODY NOTESThe BODY notes are inspired by alpine forests on cliffy slopes: the woody warmth of timber, larch and beech, with the sweet amber perfume of dry earth in the sun. notes are inspired by alpine forests on cliffy slopes: the woody warmth of timber, larch and beech, with the sweet amber perfume of dry earth in the sun.
L’Air des Alpes Suisses notes list, from the Tauer Perfumes website

Fragrantica lists these specific notes, in no particular order: ambergris, lavender, fir, pine needles, tonka bean, lily, lemon balm, orchid, birch, palisander rosewood, basil, thyme, nutmeg. As others have noted since its launch, L’Air des Alpes Suisses is basically a fougère, a classic fragrance structure that uses citrus, lavender, coumarin (tonka), and a mossy or woody base, often oakmoss. An aromatic fougère, like this one, will also include notes of spices and herbs.

To my nose, the lemon balm accord is taking the place of a more traditional “citrus” opening, accompanied by lavender, green herbs like basil and thyme; personally, I would list chamomile instead of basil. So the opening is very green but not like galbanum, more herbal and less bitter. There is no sweetness at all, but it’s very pleasant and refreshing. The middle phase is very intriguing, with the herbal accords mingling with the floral notes of lily and orchid, and a hint of evergreen forests. M. Tauer’s handling of the accords that evoke fir and pine needles is masterful. Needless to say, there is nothing that smells at all like the ubiquitous pine-scented cleaning liquids. Nutmeg brings a woody spiciness to the party.

As L’Air dries down, it does get woodier, which adds warmth, but I think the star of the show is ambergris. There’s an earthy warmth that blends harmoniously with the warm woods but is distinct from them. Having had the privilege of smelling actual ambergris (kept in a vault!), I think that is what my nose detects. The tonka (or coumarin) evokes dry hay, as one would find in a summer meadow.

As you may know, the Swiss Alps are home to amazing alpine meadows, with unique, unusual plants and flowers. A beloved summer tradition of hiking and walking along trails to see the meadows in bloom has persisted in Switzerland, despite its sophisticated, urbane modernity. Andy Tauer has perfectly captured the atmosphere of an alpine ramble surrounded by meadows and flowers and fringed by evergreen forests, starting at the summit and slowly descending. I think I would love this on my husband, because I quite like it on myself!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Scented Advent, December 3

Scented Advent, December 3

Well, what a pleasant surprise! The Guerlain sample I pulled out of my bag today was Cruel Gardénia, which hadn’t previously interested me much, although of course I knew it would be of the highest quality. I live in the Southeastern US, so I can and do grow gardenias in my garden. Billie Holiday famously wore gardenias in her hair when she performed. I love them as garden plants, and I love the fragrance of their flowers outside, but most “gardenia” fragrances don’t do much for me. Too artificial, too sweet, too narcotic. Cruel Gardénia is none of those, and I’m so glad the nice Guerlain sales assistant included it in my package of samples.

Top notes are peach, rose, and neroli. Heart notes are violet, ylang-ylang, and musk, combining to create an imagined gardenia. Base notes are tonka, musk, vanilla, and sandalwood. The opening has an alluring peachiness, supported by rose and brightened by neroli. The neroli also adds just a touch of bitter greenness, which cuts any tendency toward sweetness. As the top notes recede, the violet, ylang-ylang, and musk accords bring a pillowy, floral softness to the fore. The note I smell the most at this stage is the ylang-ylang, which I did not expect from a fragrance named for the gardenia. Here’s what the Guerlain website has to say:

Gardenia is a powerful, sensual white flower with fruity accents. Yet, paradoxically, it stays mute in the world of Perfumery, unable to offer up its fragrance through the traditional techniques of distillation or extraction. It must be written as an accord, as if composing a poem. For Cruel Gardénia, notes of rose, neroli, ylang ylang and peach recreate its trail.

How ironic, to claim that gardenias are mute, when they are so closely associated with one of the 20th century’s greatest voices!

Singer Billie Holiday with white gardenias in hair
Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday, of course, had a tragic life in spite of her legendary artistry. But what a great beauty she was, with the white gardenias in her hair. She has been a perpetual figure of fascination, inspiring movies and plays based on her life.

Singer Billie Holiday with gardenias in her hair
Andra Day as Billie Holiday; image from vogue.com

I am so happy to have finally tried Cruel Gardénia. It is a warm, sensuous, musky floral that dries down to a warm, musky sandalwood tinged with tonka. My husband liked it too! It just goes to show you that we should keep trying even the fragrances that don’t initially draw us. Have you had that experience?

Scented Advent, December 2

Scented Advent, December 2

Today’s sample for Advent is Amberama, by 4160 Tuesdays. I’m really enjoying it! It comes in parfum strength, which I have sparingly sprayed on my wrists. Perfumer Sarah McCartney lists these notes on her website:

Top Notes: bergamot, black pepper

Heart Notes: raspberry, iris, sandalwood

Base Notes: amber, labdanum, woods, musks

I don’t get a lot of bergamot in the opening, just enough to convey a certain brightness, which suits Amberama. This is not a dark, moody, woody amber. It’s quite light for a fragrance that so clearly smells of amber, labdanum, and various woods including sandalwood. I think the raspberry accord keeps it bright and lively, while the iris softens its edges. Amber fragrances usually smell warm to me, like a cuddly cashmere throw over one’s shoulders. Amberama is still warm and cozy, but it is so light that to me it evokes one of those beautiful, lace-stitched mohair shawls that I’d love to learn how to knit.

Pale pink lace mohair shawl
Lace Mohair Wedding Shawl, pattern by Dana Young, image from Ravelry.

Knitting is one of those skills I yearn to master but doubt I ever will. I’ve tried, but I’m too much of a perfectionist and when my stitches don’t look right, I undo them and start over. Needless to say, I haven’t ever finished a knitting project! Maybe when I retire … (One of the many things I love about fragrance as a hobby is that I don’t have to master the skills myself — just learn to pay close attention to a fragrance and keep educating my nose, including by reading a lot.)

Sarah has also written a brief explanation of Amberama’s name: “We partly named it in honour of a certain 1980s girl group, as it’s got the characteristic 4160 Tuesdays raspberry heart, full of fruity fun (but absolutely no banana). Its unusual notes are black pepper on top and iris in the centre.”

Who else remembers Bananarama? Like the pop group, Amberama doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is a light-hearted, youthful amber that dances on the skin, warm and sensual yet playful. Apparently it originated in a combination of two trials that were part of a project to create a woody amber scent for a client, then the combined fragrance proved popular. Although they are listed among the base notes, I smell the sandalwood, amber, and labdanum accords right from the start, albeit more faintly than later in the scent’s development. I really, really like the iris in the middle. And who knew that bergamot and black pepper would combine so nicely as an opening accord? It’s almost as if someone sprinkled pepper into their Earl Grey tea!

So what I get from Amberama is a warm, slightly spicy, bright opening, followed by a softer middle stage whose iris is kept from being melancholy by the cheerful raspberry accord and that continues to be warmed first by sandalwood and then by the growing presence of amber and labdanum. This isn’t a blue or purple iris, to my nose; it is pink, or peach, or apricot.

Peachy pink bearded iris
Iris “Pink Attraction”; image from gardenia.net

Really, this is a very charming, appealing scent that one could enjoy year-round. It’s already a great value at 127.50 GBP for 100 ml of parfum; go to 4160 Tuesdays’ Facebook page where you will read about their current upgrade offer through December 10 (e.g., buy 30 ml of any fragrance, get a 50 ml bottle; buy a 50 ml bottle, get 100 ml). I don’t have any affiliation with 4160 Tuesdays, nor do I get any compensation if you click through; I just want to support small independent perfumers and also alert readers here to a good deal.

Tomorrow I’ll take another random Guerlain sample out of my goodie bag and write about that! Please come back, and join in the comments!

Three pop singers from group Bananarama
Bananarama pop group; image from redferns.
Scented Advent, December 1

Scented Advent, December 1

Happy start of Advent, perfumistas! Even if you don’t celebrate Advent, you can still enjoy the festivities. Here at Serenity Now: Scents and Sensibilities, we love Advent, and we love a good Advent calendar, with all the little drawers or doors that hide surprises or treats. I continue to be astonished by the many high-end luxury Advent calendars now available in the beauty world, from brands like Chanel and Jo Malone London, as well as calendars with assorted teas, or jams, or other goodies. (Note: while some are now sold out, others are now on sale).

As I did last year, I am using fragrance samples I already have to do my own homemade Advent calendar, and I’ll try to post about them daily as a “Scented Advent” feature through December 24. This year, I am the happy recipient of a dozen samples of Guerlain fragrances from my autumn visit to the Guerlain boutique in Las Vegas, so I’ll alternate those with other samples. I’ll preserve some element of surprise by reaching into my Guerlain goodie bag every other day and pulling out whatever comes to hand.

My first Guerlain sample is Oeillet Pourpre, which means “purple carnation”. It is described as a new fragrance that was launched in 2021 as part of the collection “L’Art et la Matière”, created by Thierry Wasser and Delphine Jelk. However, several close observers of Guerlain, including Neil Chapman of The Black Narcissus blog, have noted that it is a slight reformulation of Guerlain’s 2017 Lui. (I”m actually glad to know this, because I had thought I’d like to try Lui, which has been discontinued, and now I won’t feel I should seek it out). Fragrantica lists these notes: Top: Clove and Pear; middle: Benzoin and Carnation; base: Smoke, Vanilla, Leather, Woody Notes and Musk.

One thing about Oeillet Pourpre that intrigues me is that it has smelled slightly different on me each time I’ve tried it. The first time, it reminded me a lot of two carnation-centric fragrances I have and like: L’Artisan’s Oeillet Sauvage, and Lutens’ Vitriol d’Oeillet. Today, it smells smokier than either of those, in a good way. I don’t usually gravitate to smoky fragrances, though there are some I like, so that’s a pleasant surprise. I do like carnation in fragrance, which I know some people dislike, and I like it here. Oeillet Sauvage is more floral, but it shares Oeillet Pourpre’s notes of resin (benzoin) and vanilla as well as carnation.

Much as I do like Oeillet Pourpre, and it lasts and develops well on my skin, its retail price means I won’t be buying a full bottle, especially as I already have full bottles of Oeillet Sauvage and Vitriol d’Oeillet. Fragrantica comments are full of frustration that the more reasonably priced Lui was renamed and moved into the L’Art et la Matière collection, where it is priced at $360 for 100 ml and smaller sizes are not available. I’m very happy to have received this sample, though, as it has allowed me to try it on different days and see how each wearing differs.

Do you have any thoughts to share about these fragrances, or L’Art et la Matière? Do you have an Advent calendar this year?

Refillable wooden Advent calendar
My fragrance Advent calendar
Perfume Chat Room, November 18

Perfume Chat Room, November 18

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, November 18, and I am awaiting the results of a COVID test! We had a family birthday dinner with our three young adult children on Sunday, and two of them felt sick and tested positive for COVID on Monday and Tuesday. Then I started having symptoms on Tuesday night. Honestly, I would have assumed it was just a nasty head cold pre-pandemic, but here we are. Took a home test, which was negative, yay! Then I went for a PCR test yesterday, because I still had symptoms. I do feel better today, regardless. Both kids are taking anti-viral medication, which I hope will speed their recovery and reduce any chance of “long COVID.”

The good news is that I haven’t lost my sense of smell or taste although my head still feels stuffy and I’m still coughing. Last night’s supper was Chinese hot and sour soup, which does wonders for stuffed up noses, with its peppery flavor and heat. This week’s community project at Now Smell This is to wear scents with a pepper note, but I’ve mostly just worn scents I find soothing, like L’Heure Attendue. I may branch out today, though, and wear one of my samples of Atelier des Ors; Lune Féline has a pink pepper note, and Crépuscule des Âmes has a pimento note.

I can’t believe Thanksgiving is next week! We almost always celebrate it at home, with just the immediate family, because most of our family live in New England and I hate to travel over those short holiday weekends. I enjoy making a big Thanksgiving feast, with all the side dishes. If you celebrate Thanksgiving, do you have any favorite recipes to share? Regardless, I hope your Thanksgiving is a happy one!

Who knew that Bath & BodyWorks has a room fragrance plug-in called “Golden Turkey”?? Have any of you smelled it?

Bottle of fragrance with turkey-shaped top
Golden Turkey Wallflower; Bath & BodyWorks.
Perfume Chat Room, November 11

Perfume Chat Room, November 11

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, November 11, the day on which many Western countries mark Veterans’ Day and Armistice Day (it is Remembrance Day in Canada). The commemoration began after WWI ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, with the declaration of peace. After WWII, the name was changed in the US to Veterans’ Day to honor all who have served in the military. Unlike Memorial Day, which is dedicated to honoring the dead and whose date changes every year, Veterans’ Day honors the living and is always celebrated on November 11.

What fragrance to wear on such a day? I chose Jean Patou’s L’Heure Attendue, translated as “the long-awaited hour”, which was launched in 1946. Elena Vosnaki wrote a wonderful piece about it and other post-war legendary fragrances here: “The Senses on Alert: The Smell of War.” The impulse to celebrate and create beauty when long-awaited peace arrives goes deep. My favorite commemoration of Armistice Day was the art installation of hundreds of thousands of red poppies at the Tower of London in 2014.

Installation of 900,000 red poppies at Tower of London to commemorate World War I
World War I memorial ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’; poppies at Tower of London, 2014; image from TimeOut London.

It is such a poignant reminder of the lives lost, just in Britain, during that dreadful conflict. Both of my grandfathers served during World War I, thankfully not in the horrendous trenches of Europe. My English grandfather was a midshipman in the Royal Navy; my American grandfather served in the U.S. Army at the Mexican border, during the Border War between Mexico and the US.

While I deplore war in all its forms, and I am praying for peace in Ukraine and elsewhere, I am grateful for the service and sacrifice of so many.

Perfume Chat Room, November 4

Perfume Chat Room, November 4

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, November 4, and I am pondering my newly acquired Guerlain samples, from my visit to the Las Vegas boutique. I think I’ll use them to do another Scented Advent calendar series in December. I have samples of 13 different Guerlain fragrances that are new to me, from the collection L’Art et La Matière. I also bought three bottles of EDT from the collection Les Légendaires (Après L’Ondée, L’Heure Bleue, Vol de Nuit), but to put those in my Advent calendar, I would have to make my own samples, a prospect I find somewhat daunting. Yes, I am a perfectionist. If I figure out how to do that, though, I also have other Guerlain fragrances in my collection that I could add. Or I could alternate samples of Guerlain with other samples I have, which seems more likely because 1) I have many samples I need to review, including ones that some of you have so kindly sent me; and 2) then I don’t have to worry about spilling, if I try to make my own!

What do you think? And are you starting to make any holiday fragrance wish lists? If yes, what’s on your list?

Refillable wooden Advent calendar
My fragrance Advent calendar
Perfume Chat Room, October 28

Perfume Chat Room, October 28

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 NOT Friday, October 28, because I am a day late in posting! We have just wrapped up a week-long visit to New Hampshire, to see my father-in-law who will turn 92 next month. He is doing well, sharp as ever, and we’ve had a lovely week spending every afternoon with him, going right after lunch and staying until his dinner arrives. We’ve enjoyed a week spent in the gorgeous New England fall, though the fall foliage was just past its peak. The reddest leaves tend to fall earliest, from the maples, but there was still plenty of breathtaking orange, gold, yellow and brown to admire. We went on some good walks including a lakeside trail that follows the shoreline and an old railway track.

And of course, I’ve enjoyed smelling the fresh New England fall air, which to my nose is a blend of wet leaves, soil, pine and balsam, damp moss, ferns, chrysanthemums, and lake (I would include sea water if we were on the coast). Probably some petrichor too, as we had a few showers this week.

Rainbow over New England lake

I’ve also been enjoying some of the Guerlain samples I was sent with my order from the Guerlain boutique in Las Vegas. A few I’ve really liked: Oeillet Pourpre, Herbes Troublantes, and Frenchy Lavande. They blend well with the fall air. I like Oeillet Pourpre very much, but I don’t think it is significanty better, to my nose, than L’Artisan’s Oeillet Sauvage, which I love. I might prefer it slightly to Lutens’ Vitriol d’Oeillet, which I also like very much.

I can’t believe that Halloween is upon us! Do you have any special Halloween plans or traditions? Ours, to the detriment of our waistlines, is that I go out and buy far too much candy in hopes of many little trick-or-treaters, then we don’t get as many as I had hoped, and we “have to” eat all the candy. I’m trying to do better this year!

Perfume Chat Room, October 21

Perfume Chat Room, October 21

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, October 21, and the gathering at our house last night, for which we have been scrubbing, tidying, and cleaning all month, was a big success! It was the first large group of people we’ve had over since December 2019, though we’ve had a friend or two over for drinks or dinner periodically. Now that the house is in good order (at least the main floor and front porch, lol!), and the holiday season is upon us, maybe we’ll do some entertaining. We don’t often do that, but last night was really fun.

In other news, a new precioussss has joined my collection. I rarely do this any more, focusing more on discovery sets and samples, and enjoying the bottles I already have, but I succumbed instantly to the charm of Hiram Green’s Arbolé, upon trying a sample from his discovery set; and having found a bottle online for a very good price, I ordered it. I did wait to experience the whole progression of my fragrance test, to make sure I wasn’t just falling for a great opening! Not to worry — I do love its opening but the whole sequence was delightful.

The official list of notes on the brand’s website is very short: patchouli, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla, tonka bean. This is deceptively simple; there is much more going on here, to my nose. I suspect it is because Hiram Green uses only non-synthetic materials, and natural materials are very complex in themselves and can shape-shift. In addition to the listed notes, I smell anise and heliotrope, for example.

My experience with Arbolé illustrates the value of discovery sets. Its notes list is not one that would have caught my attention in itself. I don’t dislike any of those notes, but the list doesn’t include any florals, for instance, or the strongly green notes that usually lure me in. I had previously tried Slowdive from Hiram Green and while I appreciated its quality and excellence, it didn’t transport me. But I was intrigued enough by the brand to get its discovery set, and voilà! I’m now the happy owner of Arbolé. I think part of the allure is exactly that it doesn’t fit within my usual categories, so it was more surprising to my nose, if that makes sense. Also, anise and heliotrope are notes I like a lot, so the fact that I picked them up in spite of their absences from the notes list was also appealing.

Have you tried anything lately that surprised you, or spoke to you?

Clean house, fragrant flowers, Arbolé
Perfume Chat Room, October 14

Perfume Chat Room, October 14

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, October 14, and we are having all our windows hand-washed, inside and out, top to bottom! Can you tell that I’m very excited about this? Between procrastination and the pandemic, it has been YEARS since we got this done, and I was lucky enough to find a great company, recommended by other people in old houses (important because old window glass is fragile), and available this week! Timing matters because we are hosting a program at our house next Thursday — the first time we’ve had more than just a couple of friends over since pre-pandemic. So we’re getting the house spiffed up.

I’ve been enjoying this week’s community project at Now Smell This, which is to wear fragrances by independent perfume houses. So I’ve worn Musc Intense, by Patricia de Nicolai, Violet Ida, by Miller Harris, Ormonde Jayne Privé, and today, Futur, by Robert Piguet, which is green and fabulous!

Have you been wearing any perfumes by particular favorite independent perfume houses?

Window washer on ladder
Sunshine Window Cleaning