Scent Sample Sunday: The Merchant of Venice

Scent Sample Sunday: The Merchant of Venice

I’m ba-a-a-a-ck! I’ve been in and out a lot this summer so haven’t posted as regularly here as I normally do, but summer is officially over in this part of the world. Just the leisure, not the weather! It still hits 90 degrees F daily; the humidity is, if not oppressive, onerous; and the sun is still so strong that lavish applications of sunscreen are still required for palefaces like me. But yes, summer is over. My oldest child has finished her theater apprenticeship and will move into her first independent apartment by the end of this week. My second child moves back into her campus apartment to start her senior year of college. And my “baby”, the young man who is taller than any of us, starts his senior year of high school this week. Orientation for new students at the university where I work begins tomorrow, and we have a new Dean I’ve only met in passing. So it’s the start of a big year for us, and yes — summer is over.

My university job is in administration, so I do work in my office all summer, unlike my faculty colleagues, but I’ve been able to go with my husband on two lovely trips he took for work, one to London in May, and the other, more recently, to Italy. After his work there, we took an extra week of actual holiday for him and visited Florence and Venice, neither of which we had seen before. It will take several posts to describe all the perfume-related activities I did in Florence, so I’ll start off with Venice, where I was a bit more restrained! Venice, however, was also where I was able to visit the perfume exhibit at the Palazzo Mocenigo.

Entrance hall of Palazzo Mocenigo, perfume museum in Venice, Italy

Palazzo Mocenigo entrance hall; image from http://www.veneziaautentica.com

 

This is a relatively new “itinerary” at the museum, and it is well worth visiting. The Palazzo Mocenigo itself is very interesting as an example of a Venice palazzo (short video tour here), and right now it also contains three temporary exhibits, one of which is part of the Venice Biennale: “Brigitte Niedermair: Me and Fashion.”  (For more information about Ms. Niedermair, there is a great article in Wallpaper).

The other two, smaller exhibits are related to perfume: one, “Leonardo: Genius and Beauty,” is described thus:

A little-known aspect of Leonardo da Vinci will come to light in this exhibition organised to mark the fifth centenary of his death: his work as a cosmetologist and perfumer, dedicated to the creation of fragrances and cosmetics. A reconstruction of the lively network of exchanges between the major Renaissance courts enables us to learn of the experiments and recipes for cosmetics that Leonardo shared with the most important female figures of the day. Also on show will be pioneering recipes for depilatory ointments, creams made from snail slime and hair dyes. Leonardo even influenced hairstyles: “Da Vinci knots” are found in many paintings in which hairstyles are embellished with jewels, nets and perfumed fabrics. At the court of Ludovico il Moro in Milan, Leonardo organised parties, designed clothes and costumes, as well as inventing fabrics, jewels and perfumes. The exhibition will highlight the link between Milan and Venice: two cities where the use of perfume was widespread and hairdressers commonly sold cosmetics and perfumes. A specific role in the service of the court was dedicated to a “magister of perfumes”, who procured for the ladies little phials of mixtures for bleaching the hair, a very popular fashion in Venice.

Leonardo: Genius and Beauty.

The other temporary exhibit related to perfume is “Carnet de Voyage: Illustrated Perfume.” It is sponsored by the fragrance line “The Merchant of Venice”, and it is a series of illustrated poems relating back to several of the line’s perfumes, imagining the voyages of an actual Venetian merchant seeking out rare substances to bring back to Venice for the creation of perfumes. Yes, it’s a bit of an infomercial, but a charming one, and I appreciate the support the company is giving to this small museum.

The main, and permanent, perfume exhibition at the palazzo is contained in several rooms upstairs. There is also a perfume laboratory on the ground floor, where one can take a perfume workshop.  The museum’s website includes a detailed description of the perfume exhibit.

I enjoyed all of it, but especially the room devoted to raw ingredients, many of which were beautifully displayed in glass containers on a huge table where one could actually smell them.

Another highlight was a 19th century Venetian perfumer’s organ, a beautiful piece of antique furniture in its own right, apart from its functional interest.

So of course — what does one need as a souvenir of this visit? Why, a fragrance from The Merchant of Venice, of course! On our day trip to the island of Murano, home of the famous glassblowers, we had lunch on a canal directly opposite The Merchant of Venice store. Sadly, it was closed and not due to open until after we planned to return to the city, but it’s a beautiful store with many of its striking Murano glass bottles displayed in its window.

Luckily for me, one of my favorite online fragrance discounters just happened to have some of the same bottles, in tester format, on sale, so when we returned home, I ordered Flower Fusion. It is part of the “Murano Collection” and comes in a really pretty glass bottle swirled with streamers of blue within the clear glass. Top notes are listed on the brand’s website as jasmine, freesia, and ylang-ylang; heart notes are vanilla, patchouli, and labdanum; base notes are damask rose, violet petals, and ginger. Fragrantica lists most of the same notes, but in a different order: top notes are said to be lemon, violet, and ginger; middle notes rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, freesia; base notes labdanum, patchouli, vanilla.

I definitely smell freesia as a strong top note, and since that is a lemony floral smell, I think that’s the source of the lemon note listed on Fragrantica. I do perceive that the jasmine and ylang-ylang follow close on its heels, and then the vanilla makes itself known in the middle stage. I would say that the rose and ginger are part of the middle stage, to my nose, with a hint of violet. The labdanum is also perceptible during the middle stage. This middle phase is very appealing if you like floral scents but don’t want something heavy. I can’t say that it smells quite like anything else I’ve tried recently. As it continues to dry down, the rose, vanilla, labdanum and ginger notes persist, and they combine beautifully. The patchouli emerges, but it does not dominate; it adds a green herbal note to the composition.

I like Flower Fusion very much, and it is perfect to wear on a balmy summer evening. The warmth and humidity suit it, although it might be a bit much at the height of the day, when something like Un Jardin Sur le Nil would probably be my preferred choice. The vanilla lends it a pleasant sweetness without turning it into a gourmand. It lasts well on my skin, perceptible even after several hours, and it would probably last longer if I sprayed more (I tend to spray pretty lightly).

Bottle of Merchant of Venice fragrance Flower Fusion with Murano glass earrings and Massimo Ravinale scarf based on Leonardo da Vinci

Flower Fusion with Murano glass earrings and “Leonardo” scarf by Massimo Ravinale.

Have you visited Venice? The Palazzo Mocenigo? Have you tried any of The Merchant of Venice fragrances? If so, what did you think? Or, have you been able to do any “perfume tourism” of your own this summer?

Scent Sample Sunday: Florence!

Scent Sample Sunday: Florence!

Hello, friends, I’m sorry for having been slightly AWOL recently. I’ve been in Florence, Italy, for my first visit ever, and I am in heaven. I think Tuscany is where good Americans go after they die, which was once said about Paris.

I’ve been able to visit the mothership of Santa Maria Novella fragrances, in its original location next to the cloister of Santa Maria Novella church. I’ve been to AquaFlor. I’ve been to Farmacia SS. Annunziata dal 1561. I have smelled many wonderful smells and I have eaten many wonderful meals! I’ll be writing about some of these once my life returns to a normal schedule!

Have you been to Florence? What was your favorite thing you did or smelled or ate?

Meeting a Unicorn: L’Iris de Fath

Meeting a Unicorn: L’Iris de Fath

I had a few fragrance adventures in London last month, but one of the best was a surprise encounter with 2018’s launch, L’Iris de Fath. Yes, THAT one — the award-winning reconstruction of the legendary Iris Gris fragrance from the house of Fath.

Other bloggers and authors have written at length about this project, including Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, who were involved with it. The Fath website offers this:

Jacques Fath’s Iris Gris is known as one of the greatest perfumes if not the greatest, unequalled since its creation. The balanced duo of Iris and Peach reflects perfumer Vincent Roubert’s exceptional know-how. The concentration of Iris of an unreached level made of Jacques Fath’s Iris Gris the most expensive perfume in the world. Launched in 1947, it disappeared the same year as Fath in 1954.  Often copied and certainly never equaled, it remains unique and timeless.

It was unthinkable that this heritage remained prisoner of the limbo of the past. Under the supervision of Creative Director Rania Naim, Parfums Jacques Fath launched an international competition of perfumers, in order to reproduce as faithfully as possible this exceptional fragrance. The myth is reborn, thanks to two young talents unanimously chosen by a committee of experts:  Patrice Revillard, Perfumer and Yohan Cervi, Creative Director of Maelström.

Like a chrysalis turning into a butterfly, it is now known as :L’ IRIS de FATH

After all, no matter the name, no matter the color, as long as emotions remain intact.

So how did I manage to meet this mythical creature? I went to Jovoy Paris’ Mayfair store in London and met a young sorcerer’s apprentice (SA) named Khalid. Khalid is a very nice, knowledgeable sales assistant at Jovoy Mayfair, where I have had nothing but lovely experiences. The first time I ever visited, the owner, Francois, happened to be there. He gave me a personal tour of the store, pulled out many fragrances for me to try, and even showed me (and let me smell!) the precious chunks of ambergris they keep in a vault downstairs.

On this latest visit, I happened to be nearby at my favorite overall store in London, Liberty. I was planning to meet a friend for a late lunch, and had some time to spare, so I stopped in at Jovoy. It was a quiet time in the store, and I was warmly greeted by Khalid. Here’s what I love about Jovoy. I told him that I was really just browsing, that I write about fragrance as a hobby, and that I had visited the store before and really enjoyed its wide range of stock, but wasn’t there to buy anything in particular. He asked me nevertheless what I like in fragrance, I said florals, and he asked if he could show me some of their newer floral scents. Of course, I said, and out came the testers and the paper strips, so I could sniff some truly beautiful florals. After I oohed and aahed over one with a dominant iris note, he asked me, “Do you like iris?” and I assured him that yes, I love iris, and in fact it was becoming one of my favorite notes, close on the heels of the muguet I love so much.

Well, Khalid got a gleam in his eye and invited me to follow him downstairs to see the store’s most special iris fragrance. We approached the same vault where the ambergris is kept, and there it was — The Unicorn. L’Iris de Fath. Reader, I gasped.

 

Khalid opened the vault and carefully dripped one drop of the precious fluid on a paper test strip, which he then handed to me. One drop, and a cloud of iris richness filled my nose. I tell you, if I ever win Powerball millions, I will fly back to London, head straight to Jovoy Mayfair, and buy their entire stock of L’Iris de Fath from Khalid. And I hope he gets a whopping commission.

I don’t have enough of a trained nose to be able to describe L’Iris as well as others have done, so I’ll just record my own impressions in my own words. This is a remarkably elegant, lasting, classic iris perfume. It has the rootiness of traditional orris, which I love and which takes center stage right from the start, but the opening is brightened by neroli and petitgrain, and it smells of iris flowers as well as their roots. The iris has a warmth that one doesn’t often associate with that note, and it comes from a subtle peach that lends it a velvety, soft, suede-like texture. I live in a part of the USA where peaches are a major crop; even the street where I live is named for the peach orchards that used to grow where a turn-of-the-century city neighborhood now unfolds its charms. Summer peaches that have been allowed to grow to ripeness on the heavy branches of fruit trees, in the hot Southern sun, have a scent to their skins that is not fruity, yet speaks to us of fruit. Just as I found that the famous melon note in Un Jardin Apres La Mousson is really the scent of the rind of an intact, ripe fruit, not the inner flesh, the peach of L’Iris de Fath is to my nose the scent of ripe, sun-kissed peach skin, with a hint of fuzz, soft and warm. Brilliant work by perfumer Patrice Revillard.

The heart stage is thoroughly immersed in iris and orris notes, but you can tell that other flowers are there too, because the fragrance is multi-layered and far from simple. I can pick up some violet, rose, jasmine, and carnation; none of them compete with the iris, although I think the violet adds a soft sheen of mauve powder at this stage. The base is warm and sensual, but reserved. The oakmoss, sandalwood, vetiver, and musk are apparent but they are so well-blended that one doesn’t smell them as separate notes. Sillage is elusive; one minute you think the scent isn’t carrying much further than one’s immediate vicinity, the next minute someone comes into the room and exclaims, “What is that wonderful smell?”

I found myself trying to imagine what famous beauty best embodies L’Iris de Fath and I think that must be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. This perfume is warm, yet reserved. It beckons you in the way she is famously said to have used her soft, breathy voice to speak so quietly and intimately to a companion that her interlocutor would be forced to lean in closer, closer, to hear her; and thus she conveyed the sense that she and her listener were alone in a private conversation, a little world of their own, even in the midst of a crowded party. She bewitched people, yet she was also reserved, dignified, impeccable, even with wind-tousled hair.

Jackie Kennedy in yellow iris sheath dress

Jacqueline Kennedy in iris sheath

L’Iris de Fath does not speak loudly, but it is very clearly itself: a warm iris-peach, elegant and classic. Its progression is fairly linear, and I mean that as a compliment. The orris especially wafts up for several hours and is present from start to finish. It is brighter at the start, warmer and less distinct at the end, but nevertheless fully present. It is one of those perfumes that would make one’s skin smell like the perfect, fragrant, warm, skin we’d all like to inhabit. Like our own skin, but so very much better.

Thank you for this lovely experience, Jovoy and Khalid!

Featured image: Iris “Alabaster Unicorn”.

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: 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.

Scent Sample Sunday: Nuda Veritas

Scent Sample Sunday: Nuda Veritas

One year ago today, Cafleurebon published this announcement of Atelier des Ors’ new releases: the White Collection, and Bois Sikar, which I have previously reviewed. The White Collection consists of three linked fragrances based on Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze”, which itself was inspired by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Like all the Atelier des Ors fragrances, the perfumer who created them is Marie Salamagne.

I was lucky enough to visit the office of Atelier des Ors in Cannes this past January, thanks to an invitation from Megan of the blog Megan in Sainte Maxime. I met her for the first time in person, and I also met Jean-Philippe Clermont, creative director and founder of the brand, and was introduced to some of Atelier des Ors’ beautiful scents.

M. Clermont has himself written about finding his inspiration for his White Collection in Klimt’s masterpiece. Like the frieze, the three scents are meant to evoke the human spiritual quest for joy and its stages, as Sergey Borisov described so well in the piece he wrote about the collection for Fragrantica. Miguel Matos also wrote an excellent review of the White Collection for Fragrantica, here.

Nuda Veritas represents the first stage of that journey. Its top notes are bergamot, an aquatic scent molecule called Transluzone, and neroli. Heart notes are osmanthus, Jasmine Sambac, Chinese jasmine, and tiare flower. Base notes are patchouli, marigold, the scent molecules Ambroxan and Helvetolide, and moss.

The impression Nuda Veritas gives is that of shimmering, early dawn light, at the break of day when the dew still refreshes the landscape. It evokes the hopes of humankind, as does the first panel of the Beethoven Frieze, whose figures symbolize humanity pleading for rescue by a knight who represents strength. Behind him are female figures symbolizing Compassion and Ambition, the two motives that might inspire such a knight to take up arms in defense of others. Above them all float female “Genii”, celestial spirits who are searching, seeking, as hope looks ahead, seeking for a happier destiny, portrayed in shades of white and gold.

Panel, Gustav Klimt's Vienna Secession Beethoven Frieze

First panel, Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze”.

Detail of panel of Gustav Klimt's Beethoven frieze, female Genii

Detail of panel, Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt

Of all the figures on this panel, Nuda Veritas most clearly evokes these female Genii, with its floating, shimmering, golden tones. It opens with a clear citrus note from bergamot, coupled with the aquatic notes and the brightness of neroli. The opening is very lovely, reminiscent of dawn light over a tranquil sea, horizon glimmering in the distance. It moves gently into the jasmine heart notes, partnered with osmanthus and tiare. Although these are all white flowers, they are used here with a subtle touch; there is no “BWF” explosion or dominance. Just as dawn’s golden light slowly shifts to a whiter daylight, so Nuda Veritas’ tone shifts from the clarity of its citrusy aquatic opening to a whiter, slightly creamier, more floral heart phase.

As it dries down, Nuda Veritas fades away, leaving earthy, herbal notes of patchouli, marigold, and moss, warmed by the smooth and slightly fruity musk of Helvetolide, and the depth of Ambroxan. I love the marigold, or tagetes, note in the base, as I enjoy both the flowers and their scent in real life; they smell like a mix of floral, aromatic, and slightly musky green, which works well in Nuda Veritas. I can’t describe the Ambroxan note any better than The Candy Perfume Boy, did here:

I perceive it as a very silky, silvery material. It’s immediately evocative of the ocean but in a purely mineral way – it doesn’t posses an aquatic character, but one does get the impression of salt and wet stones. There’s also a sweetness to Ambroxan – a transparent, glittering and crystalline feel, as well as a soft, skin-like woodiness. It’s a fascinating, multi-faceted material that can be pulled in many directions, but it’s also tremendously diffusive, adding an expanse to fragrances, creating space, in which beautiful nuances can dance.

One thing I find interesting about his description is how well it also describes part of the overall artistic purpose of the White Collection, which is to “pay homage to the white space; the page, canvas, or an idea before its conception, at the point of materialising.” The use of Ambroxan in Nuda Veritas does add “white space” to the fragrance, in which its many nuances dance. This also recalls a key aspect of Japanese aesthetics, in which the space between objects or lines, or “ma“, is as important as the lines or objects themselves. Klimt is known to have been much influenced by Japanese art and methods, so here again are a lovely connection and consistency between the art that inspired these scents and their composition. (In fact, one of Klimt’s most famous and controversial paintings is called “Nuda Veritas”, or “Naked Truth”, and its composition is also consistent with its namesake perfume).

The entire triptych of scents in the White Collection offers layer after layer of hidden meanings, using perfume as the evocative art to express them. Like Bois SikarNuda Veritas is a highly intelligent work of perfume art. Marie Salamagne’s brilliant creation evokes dawn, morning, and springtime, all symbolic of hope and new awakenings. For me, it is a scent that perfectly suits Palm Sunday, which Christians around the world celebrate today. Palm Sunday traditionally celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and marks the start of Holy Week. As we know, the joy of that day will soon give way to Judas’ betrayal and the cross at Golgotha. But on that first Palm Sunday, the people who were present believed that their Savior had come, in response to the pleas of suffering humanity, and hope was in the air.

Sample kindly offered by Atelier des Ors, independent opinion my own.

Fragrance Friday: Parfum et Vous

Last week, I was able to visit Nice, France, thanks to my husband’s work. He had to go for a business trip, I was able to take a few days off from my own job and tag along! During the day, he had meetings and I explored.

I have been to Nice before: once on our honeymoon, and again a few years ago when we took a family trip to the Cote d’Azur. But those trips were both before my perfumania, so I planned much of my week around fragrance. One thing I knew I’d like to try was a perfume-making workshop for beginners. Nice offers options; two different ones with an established perfume house, Molinard, and one with an independent perfumery, Parfum et Vous. I was leaning toward the latter, so when I contacted Megan in Sainte-Maxime to see if we might be able to meet (more about that in another post — such fun!), I asked her thoughts.  She enthusiastically recommended that choice, and she knows the owner, so I signed up. The price included a two-hour workshop to learn about perfume and then make our own scents, using pre-made accords, and one bottle of our own creation. The workshop would take place in a pretty old building in the heart of Nice, a short walk from the famous “Promenade des Anglais”, in the retail showroom of Parfum et Vous.

There were four of us taking the workshop, plus the lovely and vivacious Sasha, owner of Parfum et Vous, and her assistant. Sasha gave a brief introduction and overview about perfume, then had us walk around her small showroom filled with niche perfumes, smelling them and thinking about what genres and notes we might like to try in our own concoctions. Sasha’s wares are true artisan perfumes from niche houses, like Beaufort London, Nishane, NabuccoBarutiPaul Emilien and many others, so there was a wide range of fragrances to smell.

Then we went to a table where there were pre-mixed scents in eau de parfum strength representing categories of fragrance foundations, like “woody marine.” We talked about what we would try to create for our own eau de parfum, and sniffed all of the foundations. I wanted to create a unisex fragrance that would remind my husband and me of our trips to the South Carolina Lowcountry, the marshy coastland that borders the Atlantic Ocean in that state.

Next, we moved to a table that had 22 different accords in large bottles with droppers, divided among top notes, heart notes and base notes, and labeled with identifiers like “iris”, ‘chypre”, “citrus, “spice.” Each one also listed individual notes, e.g. “spice” included cinnamon, clove, and pepper. Sasha started each of us off with a formula to create a foundation for the category we had chosen, specifying how many mls of each accord we should add to our individual 30 ml bottles. I was starting with “woody marine”, so my beginning foundation included marine, citrus, green tea, “oriental woody”, and woody accords. Others wanted to create a gourmand, or a floral oriental, and there were foundations for those and other options.

Then the real fun began! Throughout the process, Sasha had us smell each stage as we added more accords in small amounts, tweaking our fragrances in the directions we wanted. I added notes of jasmine, cyclamen, wild rose, vetiver, and oak moss. As the other students and I added accords, Sasha would have us spray a bit on our skin and she would smell our progress and make suggestions. I got to a point where I wanted to add more heart notes. I was satisfied with the top notes, which by now included a citrus accord of mandarin, orange, and tangerine, the marine accord, and a tiny amount of a fruit accord (grapefruit and apple).

The heart note accords available were: neroli, spices, white flowers, rose, powdery (rice notes and white musk), iris, green tea, and cassis. We thought about adding neroli, but ruled that out. I asked about the powdery accord, and Sasha recommended against it, given the other accords I already had. We settled on slowly adding small amounts of the white flowers accord, which was a combination of jasmine and cyclamen. Then I thought about iris. Sasha was a little doubtful, but when I explained that I wanted that earthier, rooty aspect, she concurred but urged a light hand. In went .5 ml of the iris accord. Sniff, sniff. Wait. Another .5 ml. Sniff. Perfect!

Time to tweak the base notes. I already had accords that included notes of patchouli, vanilla, vetiver, tonka, cedar, and sandalwood. I wanted to add more of the “chypre” accord, with notes of vetiver and oak moss, and Sasha agreed but advised going slowly and adding 1 ml at a time, checking each time to see what I thought. Because of the nature of base notes, which emerge more slowly than the top and heart notes, one relies more on the formulas for base notes; even in a leisurely, unhurried workshop like this, there’s not time to wait for the full progression. Because I love chypre, I ended up adding more of that and no more of the other available base note accords, and I’m very happy with the outcome.

Once we were satisfied with our creations, Sasha had us name and label them. Parfum et Vous keeps a record of our names, and the formula for the specific blend we had created, so one can reorder if one wants. I named mine “Lowcountry Spring”, and I find it charming!

As you can tell, I enjoyed this workshop thoroughly and heartily recommend it. Because of the pre-formulated foundations and accords, plus expert guidance from Sasha, one really can’t go too far astray. It would take deliberate effort to create something that wasn’t pleasing. The atmosphere was fun and informative. I enjoyed meeting my three fellow students; we all helped each other, sniffing each other’s formulas along the way (yes, there were little canisters of coffee beans to help reset our noses, although I find it sometimes works best, when I’m trying many scents, to reset by just putting my nose to my own shoulder). I also really enjoyed seeing and smelling the many interesting niche perfumes Sasha sells in her showroom, some of which I hadn’t encountered before, and others which I had read about but never had the chance to try. If you get a chance to visit Nice, go see Parfum et Vous! Whether or not you have the time or inclination to spend an afternoon in the workshop, it is well worth a visit for the showroom alone, and to meet Sasha.

Have you ever tried making your own fragrances? How did it go?