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?

 

Scent Sample Sunday: What to Try, What to Buy?

Scent Sample Sunday: What to Try, What to Buy?

Hello friends — this week, I am seeking your advice! I will be in the South of France, and I’d love to know your thoughts on any particular fragrances that are easier or less expensive to get in France than in the US, or any special fragrance “explorations” I should pursue. I am already signed up for a perfume workshop at Parfum et Vous, and I can’t wait! I’ve been to Grasse before and have done one of the factory tours at Molinard (great fun and very instructive). Our group will be visiting Saint-Paul de Vence and Nice. I’ve visited Nice before and plan to wander in the markets there; I’ll probably bring home some of those lovely soaps. Any other suggestions? P.S. We will have one transfer in Charles de Gaulle airport, coming and going, but I don’t know how much time we’ll have there.

white square ceramic ornament

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Fragrance Friday: RIP, David Austin

Fragrance Friday: RIP, David Austin

One of the giants of horticulture died this week: David Austin, OBE, creator of the “English Roses.” What does this have to do with fragrance, you ask? One of Mr. Austin’s major goals in hybridizing roses was to reinstate the powerful fragrances of “old roses” into modern roses with some of the best traits of newer rose hybrids: disease resistance, repeat bloom, a wider range of colors. And he succeeded, probably even beyond his own dreams, in creating “the perfect garden worthy rose that combines beauty, fragrance, repeat-flowering ability and good disease resistance with great charm – the quality his English Roses are most renowned for.” As he wrote in his book The English Roses, he had one preeminent objective, “… that we should strive to develop the rose’s beauty in flower, growth and leaf.” Of fragrance: “[It] may be said to be the other half of the beauty of a rose”.

Mr. Austin’s English Roses won 24 gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the greatest flower show on earth. I’ve been privileged to visit that show twice, and the David Austin Roses display was always glorious!

David Austin Roses display at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, 2018

David Austin Roses display at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, 2018

When he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2007 for his services to horticulture, he said “Every day, I marvel at my good fortune to have been able to make a life out of breeding roses. My greatest satisfaction is to see the pleasure my roses give to gardeners and rose lovers around the world”. What a legacy to leave! Legions of lovers of the English Roses included H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, who visited his displays at Chelsea:

David Austin and Queen Elizabeth II, display of English Roses at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

David Austin showing Queen Elizabeth his English Roses at Chelsea; image http://www.davidaustinroses.com.

I grow some of his roses, although I have to choose carefully which ones, as my gardening climate is more hot and humid than they prefer. But I have had some gorgeous blossoms from them, and whenever I cut a few and bring them indoors, they scent an entire room with true, beautiful rose fragrance. The company’s website says:

The English Roses are famous for the diversity and strength of their fragrances, with many varieties having won awards, both nationally and internationally, for their delicious fragrances which can be Old Rose, Tea, fruity, myrrh, musky or almost any mixture of these elements.

The website and catalog describe each rose’s fragrance in specific detail: one has a scent that is a mix of “tea, myrrh, and fruit”; another has a “strong, delicious Old Rose fragrance, often with overtones of strawberry.” There is an entire chapter in his book devoted to fragrance.

Nearly all the basic scents of the rose are to be found somewhere among English Roses and, as a rose of one scent is hybridised with a rose of another, new scent combinations become evident. So it is that we find one scent merging into another, as we move through the varieties of English Roses. I regard this as one of the greatest pleasures they have to offer us. One problem arising out of this great diversity of fragrances is the difficulty in describing them. It is rather like writing about wines; in fact, taste is, as we all know, very close to the sense of smell. We can but do our best, by means of classification and reference to other scents that most of us know. As with wines, there is the danger of sounding pretentious.

Wonderful! Mr. Austin also wrote with gratitude of benefiting from the expertise of Robert Calkin as a fragrance consultant. Mr. Calkin is the author of a classic text on perfumery, Perfumery: Practice and Principles, and apparently “a great lover of roses.” With his guidance, the English Roses are loosely grouped into these categories of fragrance: Old Rose, Tea Rose, Myrrh, Musk, Fruit, and “Myriad.” The latter prompted the following description:

Sometimes it seems as though the fragrance of all the flowers are to be found somewhere in English Roses. The scent of lilac is found in ‘Heather Austin’ and ‘Barbara Austin’; that of lily of the valley in ‘Miss Alice.’ The scent of peach blossom is found in a number of roses. Sometimes, as we cast hither and thither for a name for our fragrances, we refer to them in terms of the bouquet of wine or the fragrance of honey. Clove scent occurs in certain varieties, as, for example, in ‘Heritage’. Seldom are these comparisons exact. Not always can any two people agree on the right term, but this only adds to the many charms of English Roses.

Mr. Austin was clearly a gifted writer, and some of the tributes to him have noted his deep love of books. I’ve always been charmed by the names of the English Roses, so many drawn from English literature (“William Shakespeare”), places (“Winchester Cathedral”), history (“Fighting Temeraire”), and even horticulture (“Gertrude Jekyll”).

Online tributes are flooding in; this obituary aptly describes his contributions. I will just say that although I never had the pleasure of meeting him or being in communication with him, Mr. David Austin brought much joy to me through the beauty AND fragrance of his lovely roses. I hope that heaven had bouquets of them awaiting his arrival. May “flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” Mr. Austin.

Beds of English Roses at David Austin Roses display, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018.

David Austin English Roses at Chelsea, 2018.

 

 

Scent Sample Sunday: Gin and Juniper Sling

Scent Sample Sunday: Gin and Juniper Sling

As some may recall, I went to Ireland in August with part of my family, on our first extended trip there (we had previously visited Northern Ireland and Dublin, briefly). We just loved it and can’t wait to go back! One of the things we discovered while there was Irish artisanal GIN. We aren’t much for cocktails in our house; we don’t go out very often, and our usual tipples are wine and an occasional beer. Part of this trip included a few days of a work retreat for my husband, and his colleague who organizes these had a different “tasting” dinner of one kind or another every night. One night, the tasting included small-batch gin, made into different summery cocktails. These included Shortcross gin, and Jawbox gin, both made in Northern Ireland. They were combined with different Fever-Tree tonics, and different garnishes, which brought out their different herbal notes. After we left Northern Ireland and during our stay at Powerscourt in County Wicklow, we sampled cocktails made with Glendalough Wild Botanical Gin, and the Scottish gin Hendrick’s, which we had previously discovered. (And which we used to invent our own gin cocktail two summers ago, combined with Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade). Ireland is producing dozens of terrific small-batch gins, which you can read about here and in other publications.

Why am I carrying on about gin in a perfume blog, you may ask? It’s all Sam’s fault. The author of the I Scent You A Day blog wrote a wonderful post this past week about the limited edition 4160 Tuesdays fragrance Scenthusiasm, which was created for a Hendrick’s event, and can now be bought from the 4160 Tuesdays website.

4160 Tuesdays fragrance Scenthusiasm

4160 Tuesdays Scenthusiam; image from http://www.iscentyouaday.com.

It sounds marvelous, with many of the floral and herbal notes I adore. Here is Sarah McCartney’s description:

It’s ever so slightly gorgeous. It isn’t the same as our first ever gin fragrance but this one is made with natural orris (iris) butter, rose absolute, lemon and orange essential oils, cucumber extract, juniper absolute (of course) and coriander essential oil.

To make it last, boost the scents of the naturals and too smooth them out, we blended it with our special musk, fresh air and white woods accord.

It’s inspired by gin, and has gin notes but mostly it’s a floral at heart: rose and iris, with the herbs dancing around it.

Want!! But the price is a bit steep, even before UK shipping costs, and I haven’t found it being sold in the US by the brand’s regular stockists, so I’ve had to cast about for other options. Enter Penhaligon’s Juniper Sling, which I have in a mini size from a gift set.

Penhaligon's gift coffret of five mini fragrances.

Penhaligon’s gift coffret; image from http://www.penhaligons.com.

Named after an old mixed drink called a “gin sling”, this fragrance’s strongest note is juniper berries, which give the beverage gin its distinctive odor and taste. Created in 2011, it is a woody aromatic fragrance, unisex, created by Olivier Cresp. Top notes are angelica, cinnamon, orange brandy, and juniper berries; middle notes are cardamom, orris root, leather and pepper; base notes are vetiver, cherry, sugar and amber. Penhaligon’s has even kindly shared its own recipe for an actual “Juniper Sling” cocktail, made with Hendrick’s gin! When the scent was launched, they also released an entertaining fictional short film about its supposed origins, linked to on Now Smell This.

The opening smells a lot like one of the gin cocktails we recently sampled, with a burst of juniper berries, the most characteristic odor of real gin. The opening is herbal and slightly spicy too — definitely aromatic, but not green. In the middle, I can clearly smell the cardamom, which I appreciate; cardamom is one of my favorite smells, but often I find that even fragrances that list it as a note don’t really smell like cardamom. It doesn’t last very long in the progression of Juniper Sling, but it is definitely there. The orris root and leather are less discernible but there is a smoothness and woodiness in the middle stage that I think they add. I can’t say that I detect the separate notes listed among the base notes, but I also haven’t applied a decent-sized spray to my skin, as the mini splash bottle is so small.

All in all, while I still yearn to try Scenthusiasm, I was happy to scratch that itch with a gin-evoking fragrance I already own. Have you tried Juniper Sling, or Scenthusiasm, or any other gin-related fragrances? What did you think? Do you have any favorites?

Bottle of Penhaligon's Juniper Sling eau de toilette

Penhaligon’s Juniper Sling Eau de Toilette; image from http://www.penhaligons.com.

Fragrance Friday: Fragrances of Ireland

Fragrance Friday: Fragrances of Ireland

I have recently returned from a vacation in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — what beautiful places they are! I had visited Northern Ireland before and Dublin only for two days, but had not previously seen the rest of the Republic of Ireland although one of my grandmothers was born there. When my husband’s work took him back to Northern Ireland, I again went with him but this time, we took an extra week of vacation and used it to circumnavigate the Northern and West Coasts, then down to Cork and back up toward Dublin. We saw so many lovely places that I can’t wait to visit again. Of course, it helped that the weather in Ireland this summer was the sunniest summer they’ve had in years; while the lack of rain has caused problems in some areas, the dry, sunny days were a tourist’s dream.

I usually try to discover and bring home a few fragrances that are specific to whatever region I visit as a tourist. On our last trip to Ireland, I came home with Innisfreea light-hearted fruity floral scent that captures nicely the freshness of Irish gardens without being too sweet (side note: on this trip, we were able to visit the fabulous gardens of Mount Stewart and Powerscourt, which were magnificent). On this trip, I bought small sizes of other scents by the company “Fragrances of Ireland“, which created Innisfree as its first fragrance. The ones I bought were Inis, Inis Arose, and Connemara. I had tried Connemara before, in the airport on our last trip, and liked it then, but felt that as I hadn’t visited or seen Connemara yet, it was premature to bring home a souvenir named for it!

Inis (the Energy of the Sea) is a unisex cologne, an aromatic aquatic scent launched in 1998. Top notes are neroli, bergamot, sicilian lemon and sea notes; middle notes are lily-of-the-valley and geranium; base notes are nutmeg, sandalwood, musk, cloves and oakmoss. People who like ozonic, aquatic fragrances will likely enjoy this; it is pleasant without being particularly memorable, but it is a nice, light, fresh summer scent with a slight spiciness to go with its citrus and aquatic notes. I do not smell any oakmoss as it dries down. This is truly unisex; I can see it working for both men and women who want something light.

Inis Arose is a fresh floral. Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: “aromas of sunny Sicilian lemon, bergamot, geranium, lily of the valley and cyclamen. A heart includes pink May rose of Grasse, white rose, Damask rose absolute, with a trail of Turkish rose attar. Base notes give depth to this fragrance with accords of patchouli, sandalwood, Madagascar vanilla, incense, musk and Atlas cedar.” This one is a pretty, light, summery rose combined with other flowers. I like the way it has many of the same notes as Inis, introduced and combined in different ways, while also adding some new notes and subtracting others. Given my inclination toward florals, it will not surprise anyone to read that I prefer it to Inis. It is just a really nice, light rose. I’ve smelled better, and this one has some synthetic undertones, but it is a refreshing floral that I will enjoy! It doesn’t last for hours; it feels more like an eau de toilette than eau de parfum. I can’t detect many of the notes listed as its base notes, but it dries down to a pleasant, slightly musky, slightly woody skin scent. I don’t pick up any vanilla or incense. We saw many gorgeous roses in full bloom in Ireland, thanks to the hot, sunny weather and the tireless watering of devoted gardeners, so Inis Arose will bring back happy memories, including of the lovely Ballyduff House where we stayed briefly.

Connemara comes as an eau de toilette and is a green floral, as befits a scent named for one of the greenest areas of the Emerald Isle. Its top notes are freesia, lily of the valley, and violet; middle notes are rose, carnation, and mimosa; base notes are peach, sandalwood, orris, musk, and vanilla. Having now seen the spectacular  Connemara National Park, I can attest to the majesty and beauty of the Connemara Mountains. They are majestic. The fragrance is not majestic, but like its siblings, it is very pretty. The packaging itself evokes the Books of Kells and its intricate, colorful designs, but the website states that the scent was “inspired by the beauty and majesty of the Connemara countryside, which is home to some of the most breathtaking views of islands, oceans and mountains.”

Connemara Mountains, Ireland

Connemara Mountains; photo from http://www.galwaytourism.ie

To me, Connemara is more reminiscent of our visit to Powerscourt’s gardens. They too have a stunning view of mountains (the Wicklow Mountains) and are not far from the coast, but their atmosphere is far less wild than Connemara. Their beautiful Italian and perennial gardens contain the flowers listed among Connemara’s notes; there is even a walled orchard filled with fruiting trees like peach trees. (I was lucky enough to find one of the gardeners at work there and he was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the heirloom fruit varieties they grow). When I first apply Connemara, I get a very pleasing burst of freesia and its lemony sweetness. This persists nicely as the scent segues into rose, carnation, and mimosa. I can tell that the lily of the valley is lurking in the background, but it is not dominant. Rather, it lends a fresh greenness that brightens the other floral notes. The rose is definitely present, but it does not dominate either; it partners politely with the carnation, a note I like a lot, and the gentle mimosa.

Herbaceous borders at gardens of Powerscourt, Ireland

Herbaceous borders at Powerscourt; photo from http://www.powerscourt.com

I’m happy to own some of the Fragrances of Ireland line as souvenirs of a wonderful vacation to a beautiful country. I am truly eager to return to see more of Ireland and explore some of the areas we visited in more depth.

Fragrance Friday: First Cut

Fragrance Friday: First Cut

Diane St. Clair is a dairy farmer and artisan maker of butter so good that she supplies it to the legendary French Laundry restaurant, among others. She is also now an artisan perfumer, having launched her first three scents earlier this year under the name St. Clair Scents. I’ve already written about Gardener’s Glove; today, I’ll take a look (or sniff!) at First Cut.

The name refers to the first mowing of a hayfield, in late summer. This is an important time at a dairy farm, as the mown hay will provide fodder for the cows during the winter. Here is the description of First Cut from St. Clair Scents’ website:

The hay harvest is the focus of every dairy farmer’s summer, keeping the fields regenerating and providing hay for the cows in winter.

The mowing and drying of native grasses, clovers, wild flowers, and legumes takes three days of sunshine and many hours of hard work.

This scent is of meadows, herbaceous and green, with wild flowers strewn throughout and splashed with radiant sunshine.

  • Top Notes: Bergamot, Yuzu, Rosemary, Basil, Tomato Leaf Absolute
  • Middle Notes: Lavender Absolute, Rose De Mai, Rose Geranium, Immortelle Absolute
  • Base Notes: Hay Absolute, Tobacco Absolute, Oakmoss, Vanilla Absolute

The opening is strong and appealing — so much so, that my husband suddenly asked, after I had dabbed some on my wrist, “What smells so good?” The bergamot and yuzu really pop. I don’t normally like yuzu in fragrance, but here it really works, as it is dominated by the bergamot I prefer, and accompanied by the herbal notes of rosemary, basil, and tomato leaf. I can’t really pick out the rosemary and basil separately, but all the top notes blend harmoniously into a bright, herbal announcement that something special has arrived.

Kafkaesque offers her usual in-depth, insightful analysis, noting that First Cut merges aspects of both a traditional “fougere” fragrance and a “chypre”. As fougere scents more traditionally appear in men’s fragrances, I’m not as familiar with them, so I’ll share some of what I have learned. Most notably, the classic fougere includes a strong presence of lavender combined with oakmoss and coumarin, the latter widely considered to evoke the scent of sweet hay. And no wonder, based on this information from Fragrantica:

Coumarin … is a synthesized material in most perfumes, but it’s also found in abundance in natural products, such as tonka beans (Dipteryx odorata) where it is the principle aromatic constituent (1-3%). In fact the name derives from “cumaru”, an Amazonian dialect name for the Tonka bean tree. But that’s not all: apart from tonka beans, coumarin also occurs naturally in “vanilla grass” (Anthoxanthum odoratum), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), sweet clover (Meliotus L.), sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata) and cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum) among other species.

First Cut is all about hay, and there among the base notes is “hay absolute”, so we see the relationship to a classic fougere, together with the traditional lavender, oakmoss, and tobacco notes. Unlike a traditional fougere, though, here the lavender is clearly present but not dominant, which I prefer.

In my review of St. Clair Scents’ Gardener’s Glove, I described the meadow that bordered my father’s vegetable garden, the garden that Gardener’s Glove evoked for me. First Cut evokes that meadow and the same sense of a French potager, an enclosed garden that includes vegetables, flowers, fruits, and herbs. This potager, however, is not in New England but in the South of France, with its classic Mediterranean notes of lavender, rosemary, basil, rose de Mai, and citruses. It is on a farm, bordered by hay meadows and lavender fields which figure as much in this fragrance as the kitchen garden.

Filed of lavender and hay meadow on French farm in Provence

Lavender field in Provence; image from https://birdshooter.smugmug.com/

One of the many interesting things about First Cut is that it dries down in a way that mimics the maturing of a hayfield! The initial phase is very fresh, herbal and green, especially with those green herbs and tomato leaf absolute, like the fresh greenness of early summer. The middle stage is more floral, but in the way that midsummer clover is “floral”, nothing like the Big White Flowers. I think it is the immortelle that starts making the fragrance feel drier, as the middle stage leads into a base of dry tobacco, dry hay, dry oakmoss (and vanilla, which adds the creaminess and sweetness that Kafkaesque noted, and balances the dry notes). I love this creative progression and how it summons up the months from early summer through the peak of summer, ending with the late summer hay harvest known as the “first cut.” Brilliant! Even the lingering sweetness in the base is reminiscent of late summer honey from bees that have gorged on meadow flowers. I wonder if Diane St. Clair keeps honeybees?

Wooden beehives in multi-colored wildflower meadow.

Beehives in wildflower meadow; image from http://www.apiplanet.lt.

I like First Cut very, very much — and if you are a man, or have a man in your life, who loves fougeres, try this!  So far, of the two St. Clair Scents I have really tested, my heart still belongs to Gardener’s Glove, but First Cut is beautiful, pleasing, and clever all at once. As the late great perfumer Guy Robert is said to have told many people:  “Un parfum doit avant tout sent bon (A perfume must above all smell good).” First Cut smells very, very good.

Samples kindly provided by St. Clair Scents; opinions are my own.