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, 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
Perfume Chat Room, June 18

Perfume Chat Room, June 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 Saturday, June 18, and I’m posting a day late because of more travel! Within the US this time, for another wedding (which is what kept me from posting last weekend!). We are at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, which we haven’t visited in several years, since we brought our kids here. The weather has dawned bright, sunny, and 20 degrees cooler than yesterday. That’s not a typo. Much of the Eastern US is having a heatwave. Luckily for this bride and groom, some storms blew through Virginia last night and pushed the heatwave away temporarily. Apparently it will be back up to 100 later this week!

Do you wear fragrances during heatwaves? Which do you find refreshing, or at least tolerable? Probably my favorite hot weather fragrance is Hermes’ Un Jardin Sur le Nil, famously created by Jean-Claude Ellena, as documented by Chandler Burr in the book “The Perfect Scent.” I’m really enjoying Carthusia’s new release, A’mmare.

Stay cool, friends!

The Governor's Palace at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Colonial Williamsburg, the Governor’s Palace.
Perfume Chat Room, May 27

Perfume Chat Room, May 27

Back to our Friday schedule! 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 the start of the Memorial Day Weekend here in the US, which also marks the official start of summer for many people. I returned from my travels last Sunday, having spent a week in Northern Italy, five days in Spain, and a long weekend in New Jersey (college reunion). It was all great fun, but I’m glad to be home! I did get a chance to spend time in the fabulous TWA Hotel, in the repurposed landmark TWA terminal at JFK Airport, which I loved:

TWA Hotel
The Sunken Lounge at the TWA Hotel

Along the way, I did make a few fragrance purchases (I blame the favorable exchange rate): two private-label eaux de parfum at the garden island of Isola Bella, one centered on neroli and the other on roses; Prada’s La Femme and Carthusia’s new A’mmare in Milan; and Santa Eulalia’s Albis in Sitges (a beach resort outside Barcelona). There were a few traditional local perfumeries in Sitges and it was fun to explore them. One in particular, a tiny shop, had a very nice selection of niche perfumes (that’s where I got Albis). I look forward to really testing them now that I’m home. The only semi-blind buy was La Femme; I’ve tried it before and liked it, and I wanted to get something by Prada in Milan, so when I found that at a 50% discount …

Do you have any perfume purchases planned? Any plans for the holiday weekend, if you’re celebrating it?

Perfume Chat Room, May 24

Perfume Chat Room, May 24

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 actually Tuesday, May 24, and I’m late! My apologies — I just got back from two weeks of travel with my husband that included Milan, Lake Maggiore, Lake Como, and Sitges (Spain). I am SO HAPPY to travel overseas again! And yes, I sniffed and bought some perfume along the way. Details of my perfume tourism to follow!

It still feels weird to go through airports and sit on a plane with dozens of other people, but I’m getting re-acclimated to it. Mask and testing requirements differ from country to country, but we figured those out. And we didn’t bring back COVID as a souvenir, thank goodness.

Our remaining travel this summer will be by car, to go to family weddings and visit my father-in-law. None of those destinations will include perfume tourism, which is probably a good thing given that I made a few purchases in May. I’m looking forward to the family gatherings; events of the last two years have brought vivid reminders that a good life is about good relationships with other people.

I’m looking forward to tidying up my garden after two weeks away; right now, I have gardenias and “Confederate jasmine” in bloom, so it’s very fragrant. What is going on in your fragrant world?

Roses at Isola Bella

Perfume Chat Room, May 6

Perfume Chat Room, May 6

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, May 6, and my roses continue to flourish and bloom! I’ve added more photos to my Instagram account, if you’d like to see some of them up close. Most are “English Roses” by the late David Austin, an amazing hybridizer of roses who brought back the old-fashioned shapes and strong fragrance of older roses, but combined those with the range of colors and repeat-blooming habit of modern ones. One of the fascinating aspects of his roses is that many of them smell slightly different. All their scents are clearly “rose”, but some are more spicy, or fruity, or lemony. As you can tell, I love them.

Some of my English Roses

If you haven’t yet read this month’s “Scent Semantics” posts by the six participating bloggers, the word for May (chosen by Portia) is “brilliance.” You’ll find all the links here: Scent Semantics.

May is full of various celebrations: May Day, Star Wars Day, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day. I’ve just learned that in the Netherlands, May 5 is celebrated as Liberation Day, marking the end of Nazi occupation. May is the month of the annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which I’ve been able to visit twice and hope to visit again, maybe next year.

Chelsea Pensioner, at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

This year, Eid al Fitr (the end of Ramadan) was celebrated in the US in May; the dates change every year. Do you celebrate anything in particular in May?

Perfume Chat Room, March 25

Perfume Chat Room, March 25

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, March 25, and it is Spring with a capital S! Below is one of my most happy places, which my husband I visited last weekend:

Hillside covered with daffodils at Gibbs Gardens
Daffodils at Gibbs Gardens

Full disclosure: I didn’t take this photo last weekend, I think it is from last year and I didn’t take it. But this is what it looked like! Hillsides of daffodils in bloom — 20+ million of them. Yes, I did wear Ostara, again.

Today I’m wearing 4160 Tuesdays’ Scenthusiasm, another favorite fragrance with an oddball name. Do you have any favorite fragrances with names that may be a bit weird? Do you have any special spring happy places? Or, what fragrance(s) are you wearing for this transitional season?

Scent Semantics, March 7, 2022

Scent Semantics, March 7, 2022

Welcome to this next installment of Scent Semantics! This month’s word, supplied by Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass, is “nostalgia.”

The fragrance I chose to embody nostalgia for me is Molinard de Molinard. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was my first purchase of a “niche” fragrance, as I bought it while on our honeymoon in 1990 when we visited Grasse.

Scene of the city of Grasse, France
Grasse, France on September 10, 2021. Photograph by Bénédicte Desrus for NPR

On that trip, we first spent a week in Paris, which my husband had never visited, then we took the TGV from Paris to Marseille, which neither of us had ever visited. We spent a night with longtime friends of my parents, a family my father first met when he was stationed in Marseille with the US Army at the very end of World War II, then took our rental car and worked our way up the coastline, visiting the Riviera towns but mostly staying up in the hills of Provence. We’ve been back to Cannes and Nice, and some of the hilltop villages, but we haven’t returned to Grasse — yet!

Wearing Molinard de Molinard brings back many happy memories of our fabulous honeymoon, which was short on luxury but long on charm. It’s hard to envision pre-internet travel, but we had very few arrangements in place ahead of time — just the hotel in Paris, the TGV tickets, and the rental car. After our overnight in Marseille, we stayed in small, local hotels and inns, using a Michelin Green Guide and calling ahead a day or two in advance to make our reservations as we worked our way up the coast. Nowadays that seems so random, but we were in our 20s, footloose and fancy-free, and it was great fun! We still have a running joke about the “lacets”, those precipitous zigzagging roads that lead from the heights down to the Riviera coast, in a pattern that looks like shoelaces. So yes, Molinard de Molinard is a nostalgic fragrance for me, conjuring up a very happy time in our lives that was the prelude to the happy life we’ve built together.

Molinard is one of the three major existing Grasseois perfume houses, the others being Fragonard and Galimard. These are far from the only fragrance businesses in Grasse, however. The city is still known as the “perfume capital of the world” and is home to the world-renowned Grasse Institute of Perfumery, among many other fragrance industry connections (do read or listen to the NPR story; it includes comments from the founder and nose of 1000 Flowers, Jessica Buchanan). Its fields still supply jasmine and roses to the industry, although no longer the majority of the flowers used in modern fragrances.

I would have to retrieve a 30+ year-old photo album to confirm more details, but we visited at least one and maybe two of the perfume houses’ museums in their old factories in town. I think it may have been two, because I know we visited Molinard and I think we also visited Galimard. If we get the chance to visit Grasse again, I will be sure to round out the set by visiting Fragonard, which still makes and sells lovely fragrances, as does Molinard. Galimard seems to have remained more regional in character, though it is still creating and presenting new fragrances.

Molinard de Molinard was reissued in 2017; the new version was well-received, but sadly it was not reissued in the original bottle, with its molded frieze of classical figures (probably nymphs) based on a design by Lalique. I have one of those bottles, and it is beautiful. The 1979 version I have is a classic green fragrance. Per Fragrantica, its notes are: top — Green Notes, Asafoetida, Black Currant, Cassis, Fruity Notes, Lemon and Bergamot; middle — Narcissus, Lily-of-the-Valley, Jasmine, Bulgarian Rose and Ylang-Ylang; base — Vetiver, Labdanum, Incense, Musk, Amber and Patchouli. It reminds me of 1970’s Chanel No. 19 or 1978’s Silences, by Jacomo. The fruity notes don’t make the fragrance fruity or sweet; it is clearly dominated by the astringent “green notes”, asafoetida, bergamot, narcissus, vetiver, etc. It smells like a chypre, although the classic chypre base note of oakmoss is not listed. I haven’t tried the 2017 reformulation.

When my husband and I visited Nice in 2019, I went to the Molinard and Fragonard boutiques in town. Both are lovely, with friendly and knowledgeable staff. You won’t be able to buy the 1979 version of Molinard there, but you might find it at one of the outdoor marchés in the Old Town of Nice. I will enjoy and treasure what I have, which now includes an original tester bottle.

Fragrance is famously connected to our emotions and memories — do you have any that are particularly nostalgic for you?

And please read the other Scent Semantics posts:

Elena  https://theplumgirl.com

Sheila  https://thealembicatedgenie.com

Daisy  https://eaulalanyc.com 

Undina  https://undina.com

Old Herbaceous  https://scentsandsensibilities.co

Portia  https://abottledrose.com

Scented Advent, December 17

Scented Advent, December 17

Another pleasant surprise today for my Advent SOTD: Carner Barcelona’s El Born, which I’ve worn before and like very much. I’ve also stayed in the neighborhood El Born, for which the fragrance is named, and it is a completely charming, fascinating part of Barcelona.

Medieval street in El Born neighborhood, Barcelona
Street in El Born, Barcelona; image from barcelonaconnect.com.

So, first, the neighborhood. El Born is one of the medieval neighborhoods of Barcelona, full of tiny, narrow streets that barely fit one car or aren’t wide enough for any cars at all! It is now a trendy, funky city neighborhood full of art galleries, restaurants, boutiques, museums, but also very family-friendly, containing residential apartments, food stores, pastry shops, schools, and parks. Its most famous structures are the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, which signals its proximity to Barcelona’s waterfront (the waterfront is now in Barceloneta, ten minutes away; the church used to be on the actual waterfront before Barcelona was expanded, and its parish consisted largely of fishermen, dockworkers, and their families); the Picasso Museum, housed in five combined medieval palaces or large townhouses (like the “hotels particuliers” of medieval Paris); the El Born Centre Cultural, a fascinating museum about the neighborhood’s history, in a restored covered market; and the Parc de la Ciutadella, a park built on the site of a demolished citadel fort that had been built in 1714 by King Philip V of Spain to control Barcelona after conquering it during the War of Spanish Succession. The fort was a hated tool and symbol of conquest and military occupation, and it was demolished in the mid-19th century during a rare period of Barcelonan independence.

“El Born” is traditionally understood to be the medieval district south of the street Carrer de la Princesa and east of the “Barri Gotic”, or Gothic Quarter, starting at the Via Laietana. However, nowadays many use the name to refer to the area that is technically a neighborhood called “La Ribera”, between Carrer de la Princesa and Barcelona’s legendary Palau de la Musica (“Palace of Music”), which includes more residential streets as well as the Mercat de Santa Caterina, a restored covered food market full of Catalan epicurean delights. Can you tell that I love Barcelona? I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few times, thanks to my husband’s work that used to take him there once or twice a year, pre-pandemic, and it is now one of my favorite cities. It is also home to some very happy perfume hunting-grounds, by the way, where I have delighted in serious “perfume tourism” in niche boutiques and perfumeries.

Carner Barcelona is a fragrance brand that was launched in 2010 by Sara Carner. It aims to capture the spirit of Barcelona and Catalonia in its fragrances: “We are captivated by Barcelona’s Mediterranean soul; its architecture, culture and the unique way in which history merges with the contemporary lifestyle and the vitality of its people.” El Born is part of its original collection and was launched in 2014. It is described as an “amber floral”, and that’s accurate — I would say it is mostly amber, slightly floral. The notes listed on the brand website are: Sicilian Lemon, Calabrian Bergamot, Angelica, Honey (top); Fig, Heliotrope, Benzoin from Laos, Egyptian Jasmine (middle); and Madagascan Vanilla Absolute, Peru Balsam, Australian Sandalwood, Musk (base).

Right away, when I spray El Born on my skin, I smell the honey and angelica top notes. They provide a soft, warm, but slightly herbal sweetness: a bit like caramel but not sugary, if that makes sense. It is more like clover honey, i.e. honey from bees that have feasted on clover nectar. There is a brief spark of citrus at the start, but it doesn’t linger. As the middle phase develops, the sweetness is carried by the fig and benzoin, with heliotrope contributing a subtle floral dimension. I don’t really pick up the jasmine at all, and I’m okay with that! The other accords are very soft, and the honey lingers among them. The vanilla accord joins in pretty early in this fragrance’s progression, and it’s just the kind of vanilla I like — more botanical than gourmand. Balsam, sandalwood, and musk notes in the base carry forward the soft warmth that characterizes all stages of El Born.

El Born, the fragrance, is just as ingratiating as El Born, the neighborhood. I should note, however, that the actual El Born neighborhood does NOT smell as wonderful as this fragrance! It has that damp, stony smell that many medieval neighborhoods have, sometimes with a soupçon of sewer due to ancient drains. Never mind! It’s a truly delightful place to visit, with wonderful food, restaurants that serve meals until very late in the night (late per this appreciative American tourist’s POV), interesting things to see around every corner (and there are LOTS of corners in El Born).

The photo below isn’t specific to El Born, but it demonstrates (again) the incredible sense of style and color that characterizes Barcelona, and it comes from the city’s annual competition to design holiday lights for some of the major city streets (one of which is Via Laietana, the western edge of El Born). This shows lights in the Diagonal neighborhood:

Christmas lights in Barcelona
Barcelona. Christmas lights, Diagonal.

Now really, if those lights don’t put you in a holiday frame of mind, as we enter the last week of Advent, what will? Have you visited Barcelona, or tried any of Carner Barcelona’s scents?