Scent Sample Sunday: Mitsouko and Halston

Scent Sample Sunday: Mitsouko and Halston

What more can be said about Guerlain’s Mitsouko in this, its centennial year? Since its creation in 1919, it has attracted, confused, frustrated and even repelled those who smell it. Many great writers and blogs about fragrances have extolled its excellence and legendary status, as well as the challenge it poses to modern noses: Chandler Burr, Luca Turin, The Black Narcissus, Kafkaesque, Cafleurebon, Bois de Jasmin, Perfume Shrine, etc.

As part of my own process for trying to understand it, I began to educate myself about chypres, the fragrance family to which Mitsouko belongs. Along the way, I learned that several of my favorite fragrances fall in that group. One of them is Halston, now titled Halston Classic. I have a small bottle, with Halston’s signature on the bottle. As I read about them both on Fragrantica, I noticed that Mitsouko and Halston share many of the same notes. Halston: mint, melon, green leaves, peach, bergamot; carnation, orris root, jasmine, marigold, ylang-ylang, cedar, rose; sandalwood, amber, patchouli, musk, oak moss, vetiver, incense. Mitsouko: bergamot, lemon, mandarin, neroli; peach, ylang-ylang, rose, clove, cinnamon; labdanum, benzoin, patchouli, vetiver, oak moss.

How do they compare? The Mitsouko eau de parfum I have (first created in 2007 but listing the same notes as the original, reformulated in 2013 and supposedly quite close to the original) lasts much longer than my Halston, which I think is a cologne concentration (hard to read the tiny lettering on the bottom). The famous dry cinnamon note is strong, while none of Halston‘s notes come across as powerfully. In Halston, I think the carnation note adds the spice notes one finds in Mitsouko, while its sandalwood may provide some of the dry woodiness that Mitsouko gets from the cinnamon. On my skin, Mitsouko smells smokier than the Halston. Wearing one each on my hands, I can smell their kinship, and it seems entirely possible to me that perfumer Bernard Chant, who created Halston, may have had in mind the creation of a modern tribute to the legendary Mitsouko, especially with that peach opening. I doubt M. Chant would have missed the obvious reference to Mitsouko, famously the first fragrance to add a note of peach, by using a synthetic ingredient.

Halston is definitely easier to wear and easier on the modern nose, though still miles away from the fruity florals currently in favor. I especially love its marigold note. When I was trying out Mitsouko, however, my young adult daughter came to sit by me and declared “Never wear that perfume again, Mom!”. There is a dark side to Mitsouko, as many commenters have noted.

What do you think of Mitsouko or Halston Classic?

Scent Sample Sunday: SJP Covet

Scent Sample Sunday: SJP Covet

I find that the fragrances I choose to wear are highly influenced by the season and the weather. This year, in my part of the US, September and even the start of October felt more like late August. Temperatures were still in the 90s almost daily, and the humidity was high in spite of near-drought conditions and lack of rain. Finally, in the past week, fall arrived. Leaves are changing color and night temperatures are in the 40s. We even turned on the heat this week, though we don’t need it during the day, when the sun still warms the air into the balmy 70s. We haven’t had the weather we usually enjoy here in October, which resembles the “Indian summer” one sees in September in the Northeast, but it is pleasant. And we finally got lots of rain, which the trees desperately needed.

What fragrances work with this oddball weather and transitional season? One could do worse than Sarah Jessica Parker’s Covet, an oddball fragrance that combines apparently disparate notes like lemon, lavender, and chocolate. Wearable by both women and men, it combines a summery freshness with aromatic lavender, over a hum of dark cocoa.

On first application, Covet displays its lemon opening notes very clearly. Some commenters dislike the opening, comparing it to lemon floor cleaner and other functional sprays. I do see what they mean, though it doesn’t hit my nose as sharply as it seems to hit theirs. Luckily, the cocoa quickly starts making itself felt, and lavender arrives shortly after that. The lemon is persistent, but it does fade into the background after about 45 minutes or so on my skin. In the middle phase, to my nose the most prominent note is lavender. I can’t say that I sense any of the listed floral notes (honeysuckle, magnolia, and lily of the valley), which would have matched it more closely to my perceptions of spring. The cocoa is still faintly present and warms up the lavender. In the dry down, moving into base notes, Covet becomes more herbal and its warmth is woody rather than chocolatey, with an undertone of musk. Longevity is good but not extraordinary.

Covet was launched in 2007, after the huge success of Lovely, the first SJP fragrance. It has been discontinued as far as I can tell, though it is still widely available at bargain prices online. In line with its odd composition, the ad campaign for it is truly weird, portraying Sarah Jessica Parker in a ball gown, kicking in a plate glass window at night to get to a bottle of the fragrance and being taken away in handcuffs by Parisian gendarmes. “I had to have it”, she declares to the camera, with a somewhat demented expression on her face.

I find Covet to be a unisex fragrance, leaning neither traditionally feminine or masculine. Do I “have to have it”? No, but I’m glad to have a small bottle, because the fragrance is interesting. It’s a transition between the mainstream prettiness of Lovely (which is indeed lovely, though not groundbreaking) and the much more daring SJP Stash. Covet is much more quirky than Lovely, but Stash is in a category of its own among celebrity scents. As many commenters have noted, if Stash came with a niche label and price tag, it would hold its own among today’s niche fragrances.

Covet turns out to be a good fit with the transitional season and weather we’re having now. Soon enough, I will want more traditional fall fragrance notes, like amber, vanilla, spices. What are your favorite fall fragrances and notes? Have you tried Covet?

Scent Sample Sunday: Anne Klein II, Revisited

Scent Sample Sunday: Anne Klein II, Revisited

One of my regular fragrances in the 1980s was Anne Klein II, launched in 1985. That was the year I moved into New York City, sharing an apartment with my younger sister and two friends from college. It was exciting: New York was on the upswing after its near-bankruptcy and political troubles of the 1970s; Wall Street was on the rise; socialites were unabashedly socializing; and we were in our early 20s, enjoying being young in a great, vibrant city. Need I say more? We all had responsible jobs, but we also had plenty of energy to go out after work to places like The Bear Bar and King Tut’s Wawa Hut. We had fun!

I associate Anne Klein II with all of that; and it is indeed a warm, happy, floriental fragrance (also the only one that has ever prompted a total stranger to ask me, on the subway, what my perfume was). Its top notes were: bergamot, galbanum, peach, rosewood, and lemon; heart notes were jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, marigold, carnation, and orris root; base notes were vanilla, amber, sandalwood, musk, patchouli, benzoin, and civet. Victoria wrote a long post about it several years ago at her blog “Bois de Jasmin“, identifying the perfumer as Yves Tanguy, who also created another favorite of hers and mine, Jacomo Silences, as well as Lancome’s Magie Noire. Sadly, AKII was discontinued many years ago, although I continued to hoard my last bottle of eau de parfum. I was glad I had, since the price went through the roof on eBay, commanding ridiculous amounts far beyond the $19.99 on my original 50 ml bottle. This seems even more egregious when one recalls that “Anne Klein II” was the name of the design house’s “bridge line”, which offered less expensive options than the main designer collection to younger and less affluent women.

I was very happy to discover Jeffrey Dame’s JD Duality, which is not a dupe of AKII, but enough of an homage to it that it fulfills the wish for a semi-sheer, warm vanilla-based floriental. Its list of notes is somewhat different: artemisia, lemon, bergamot, cinnamon, coriander, cedar leaf, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, carnation, water lily, lily of the valley, vanilla absolute, vanilla, benzoin, cedar wood, patchouli, sandalwood, labdanum and musk. Duality is also a great value: high quality at Jeffrey Dame’s usual reasonable prices. It seems to be sold out right now on his website; let’s hope he makes more, because it’s great stuff!

Imagine my surprise, though, when on a recent visit to T.J. Maxx, I spotted a tall, 100 ml spray bottle of what looked like the original Anne Klein II! For $12.99! I realized it couldn’t possibly be the original, but the packaging was identical, and for that modest amount, it was worth making a blind buy. Reader, I bought it on the spot.

It turns out to be a relaunch of AKII by a company called Palm Beach Beaute, and it is a very respectable reissue, manufactured in China. Since I still have a half bottle of the original, I have been able to compare them directly, one on each arm. While the original is richer and deeper, the new version smells very similar, and lasts almost as long. It even goes through the same stages of drydown at about the same pace as the original, at least on my skin. I suspect that the differences I can smell are mainly due to changes in ingredients that were necessary to comply with newer regulations. To be fair, also, the richness and depth that I smell in my original bottle may be partly because it has aged well for 30 years. As it dries down on my skin, its basenotes keep getting richer and sweeter, more so than those of the reformulation.

If you miss Anne Klein II and can’t wait for more JD Duality to arrive, look for this reissue! Like the original, it is a semi-sheer, vanilla-based floriental, not too heavy but with a warmth that is very alluring, especially in autumn. Some commenters on Fragrantica have not cared for it, but many have. If you buy online, it will be important to know the difference between the original and the reissue, as the packaging is so similar but the prices so different. The original was made in France by Parlux, and it will say so on the bottom of the box. The reissue lists many more detailed ingredients on the back of its box, as is now required, and it will say “Designed in the United States, Made in China” on the back, with the company name of Palm Beach Beaute LLC and its website, palmbeachbeaute.com.

It seems to be rare that a relaunch or reformulation satisfies fans of the original fragrance, but I am very pleased with this one, especially at the bargain price of $13-15 for 100 ml. Did you ever wear Anne Klein II? Have you tried the reissue? Or have you found any other reformulations or relaunches of favorite fragrances that you found acceptable?

Scent Sample Sunday: A Pop-Up, Anat Fritz Tzor’a, and Berdoues’ Trefle & Vetiver

Scent Sample Sunday: A Pop-Up, Anat Fritz Tzor’a, and Berdoues’ Trefle & Vetiver

Last weekend, I visited a pop-up store presented by a new niche perfume retailer in my area: IndieHouse. I met its owner, Carrie Hadley, sniffed her small but thoughtfully chosen selection of fragrances for this event, and ended up buying an eau de toilette, Berdoues’ Trefle & Vetiver, from their 1902 line. With my purchase, I received a sample of Anat Fritz’ Tzor’a, another green scent, in eau de parfum.

Anat Fritz is a clothing and accessories designer who started in Berlin and is now based in New York. She has two fragrances, the second of which, Tzor’a, was created by perfumer Geza Schoen, who may be best known for his creations for Escentric Molecules and Ormonde Jayne. The website describes Tzor’a as “a bright, peppery unisex fragrance, featuring a zingy mix of warm citrus, pepper, earth, moss, and woods.” The composition is a pyramid structure: top notes of black currant, clary sage, bergamot, pepper; heart notes of magnolia, osmanthus, jasmine; base notes of cedarwood, vetiver, patchouli, musk, moss. If you are thinking this all sounds quite green, you are right! I love green fragrances, which is what attracted me to Tzor’a after sniffing the clever samples of fragrances that Carrie had created out of paper flowers sprayed with each fragrance and placed under glass funnels.

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The opening of Tzor’a is the “zingy” part. It is in fact very bright and peppery, thanks to the black current, sage, bergamot, and pepper. Users beware: a little of Tzor’a goes a long way! One spritz on the inside of my elbow lasted for hours and had great sillage — not so strong that it would repel anyone, but definitely radiating for a few feet. As it dries down, I must say that I don’t smell any of the flowers listed as heart notes; on my skin, Tzor’a goes straight into the woody base notes after the bright opening. The Non-Blonde blog’s review made a similar comment about the floral notes. Most prominent is the cedarwood, followed by vetiver. Some Fragrantica commenters have compared it to Terre d’Hermes.  Although it is unisex, it probably inclines more toward the masculine than the traditionally feminine. It is a very dry scent, which makes sense based on the brand’s description of what inspired it:

An ancient piece of land near Jerusalem, where the biblical story of Samson and Delilah begins. On a hill – with a breathtaking view over the whole landscape – lies Kibbutz TZOR Á between pomegranate, olive- and citrus trees. Luscious fruit trees wherever you look. A paradise place.

My imaginary home. The place I refer to when asked for the most beautiful place in the world. TZOR Á is an ode to this piece of nature, which emanates freedom, authenticity and self-confidence. Fresh and clear.

The place Tzor’a is home to a noted winery and series of vineyards in the Judean Hills. Interesting historical note: excavations near this kibbutz in 2011 uncovered a Jewish ritual bath structure dating back to the “Second Temple Period” (first century BC through first century CE). It was the first archaeological site to confirm that the area had Jewish inhabitants as long as 2000 years ago, likely until about the year 70 CE, when the Temple  (and most of ancient Jerusalem) was destroyed by the Romans to put down a rebellion, in one of the more brutal episodes of the Roman Empire.

Tzor’a comes in a unique bottle: the bottle itself is a simple shape, a rounded rectangle of glass, but it is encased in a handknit net of sage green yarn, invoking Anat Fritz’ interest in textiles and knits. It is a very appealing presentation.

Anat Fritz perfumes

Anat Fritz fragrances; Tzor’a and Classical; image from http://www.anatfritz.com

All in all, I like Tzor’a a lot, but I think I would prefer it on my husband to wearing it myself. Given how much I love floral notes as well as green notes, and since I don’t seem to be able to smell the few floral notes in this composition, I think it will suit me better on him! It is an expensive fragrance, but the quality and strength are so high, it may be more affordable than it seems from the retail price ($180 for 80 ml), since it lasts so long with 1-2 sprays. Cafleurebon editor Gail Gross is a fan; her review is here.

The other green fragrance I tried (and bought) was Berdoues’ Trefle & Vetiver.

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“Trefle” is French for clover, and the scent does indeed smell like summery clover blossoms. The top notes are apple and jasmine, the heart is clover, and the base note is vetiver. I find this to be more unisex than Tzor’a, because the fruity and floral notes are more apparent to me. It doesn’t last nearly as long as Tzor’a, not surprising since it is an eau de toilette, not eau de parfum. It is also more affordable, coming in at $40 for 100 ml. I was impressed by the wide range of prices that Indiehouse displayed, from the affordable to the luxe. Such a great way to introduce more people to niche fragrances! I look forward to writing more about Indiehouse when the brick-and-mortar store opens this fall.

Trefle & Vetiver feels right for the weather and time of year in my part of the US. It is almost October and the days are getting noticeably shorter, yet the weather is still very hot and dry. The combination of bright apple with summery jasmine, tempered by clover and grounded by vetiver, suits that. It still feels like summer around here, but it’s time to harvest apples! Various clovers appear in apple orchards as non-invasive cover crops that help fix nitrogen in the soil, don’t compete with the trees for water, and attract the honey bees and other pollinators that are essential to fruit production. My own garden is too small and shaded to envision growing fruit trees for fruit, but I love the image of apple orchards underplanted with blossoming clover!

Blossoming red clover underplanting apple trees

Red clover in apple orchard; image from http://www.nrcs.usda.gov.

Although Trefle & Vetiver doesn’t radiate as strongly or as long as Tzor’a, it continues to make itself known as a pleasant skin scent for several hours after application. This would be a very nice scent to wear to work; it is subtle and soft as it dries down, but it is a pleasant reminder of the great outdoors when one has to be inside.

Have you visited any pop-up stores lately? Tried either of Anat Fritz’ fragrances? Have any other suggestions for fragrances during a hot, dry fall?

Scent Sample Sunday: Aquaflor Rosae

Scent Sample Sunday: Aquaflor Rosae

Some readers of the blog “Now Smell This” expressed surprise that my husband is a much-appreciated enabler of my perfume hobby. He really is, in the kindest way, including that he found the entrance to Aquaflor for me on a small Florentine side street when I had given up and thought it was closed!

Aquaflor Firenze is another magnificent apothecary/perfumery in Florence, Italy. It sells house-made fragrances, body and face creams, herbal bath products and other fragranced goodies, shaving products, soaps, and accessories; it is very close to the church of Santa Croce, located in the ground floor of the Palazzo Serristori Corsini Antinori.

Courtyard leading to Aquaflor Firenze

Courtyard of Palazzo Antinori, Florence

My husband is the hero of this tale, because I had found the courtyard of the palazzo, which had a French door into the store, but it was roped off and I couldn’t see any staff, so I disappointedly told him that the store seemed to be closed. He wandered further up the street, in the opposite direction of how we would normally return to our bed and breakfast, and called back to me that he had found the entrance and the store was indeed open! This is heroic, because he has bad knees and flat feet, and he had already reached the limit of his ability to walk on paved and cobbled streets, which one does all day in Florence. He was rewarded when we entered the store and behold! there were comfortable leather armchairs and couches, clearly intended for footsore companions. So wise of the store owners! I would not have stayed as long and maybe would not have made the purchases I did if he had not been able to sit and rest his feet.

Aquaflor fragrance boutique in Florence, Italy.

Aquaflor Firenze boutique

Aquaflor sells most of its products in the actual store only, but it does now have a beautiful website where one can buy its fragrances, including a number of home fragrance diffusers. Perfumer Sileno Cheloni states on the website that they were reluctant to have a website, since they envision Aquaflor as primarily a destination and a sensory experience (which you can read about in more detail here), but they have the website so that aficionados can, for example, re-order a fragrance they already have and love.

All the fragrances are created by perfumers Sileno Cheloni and Nicola Bianchi. Fragrantica lists 40 fragrances, the earliest from 2015. After much testing and pondering, I chose one of their sets of a 100 ml bottle and a 30 ml bottle. You decide which ones you want, and the set costs less than if one bought the two separately. I chose the large size of Rosae and the small size of Tzigana. Today, I’ll write about Rosae.

Rosae is an unconventional rose fragrance. The only notes listed for it are rose and mint. It has a high concentration of fragrance, although it is not described as an “extrait”; based on its longevity on my skin, though, I would estimate its concentration as above 20%. It lasts at least 24 hours on my skin and only departed after I had taken a long shower. Its sillage is deceiving; I didn’t think it was more than moderate, i.e. detectable only within a couple of feet of me, but one day when I wore it to work, a colleague walked into my office and immediately exclaimed how good it smelled although she was several feet away from me. I have adjusted my spray pattern accordingly! And that will make my bottle last longer, which is a good thing because I really love Rosae.

Fragrantica categorizes it as “rose, green, aromatic, and fresh spicy,” and that seems right. At first spray, you get a powerful but fresh rose, very reminiscent of the beautiful attar of Taif roses my husband brought me back some time ago from Dubai, which tells me Rosae contains a high concentration of rose oil, specifically extract of Rosa damascena, or the Damask Rose. (Taif roses are a variety of the species Rosa damascena).

Rosa damascena growing in field

Rosa damascena; image from www.sciencedirect.com.

One small spray at the base of my throat, and Rosae wafts strongly up to my nose. There is a liveliness to its scent, which I attribute to the mint. A combination of rose and mint is much more complex than one might think from that short list of notes. Roses themselves contain well over 100 different organic compounds, whose volatility, emitted from the flowers or from rose extract, creates the fragrance we smell. This is why different roses can smell quite different from each other, while still completely recognizable as “rose”; some are more fruity, with notes like apple or peach, others are very lemony, some are more green, etc. “Mint” can refer to a large family of herbal plants, formally known as “Lamiaceae”, which includes not only spearmint and peppermint, but also many other garden herbs, such as basil, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, and lavender. Like roses, members of the mint plant family contain many organic compounds, which makes them highly aromatic. The liveliness and complexity of Rosae suggest to me that some of those herbs and their relatives are also present, playing supporting roles. I definitely pick up a whiff of sweet basil and fresh thyme, and possibly also lavender and Clary sage.

Rosae feels linear to me, and in the case of such a beautiful, natural fragrance, I appreciate that. Complexity abounds in this scent without the intrusion of many other substances. Given my colleague’s delighted reaction to it from several feet away, hours after I had applied Rosae in the morning, I have no complaints about its development! But if you are seeking a rose-based fragrance that will become something quite different over time, this is not it.

Aquaflor Firenze is well worth a visit if you ever get to Florence. On my visit, the staff were helpful and knowledgeable, and very willing to suggest fragrances to try. The store itself is very beautiful, and you won’t want to miss the frescoes in the Basilica di Santa Croce nearby. Just keep looking for the store’s entrance if at first you don’t find it! It is on the Borgo Santa Croce, and the actual door is down the street from the main entrance into the Palazzo Antinori. It has many wonderful items for sale besides its beautiful fragrances, too.

How do you feel about linear fragrances? Do you have a favorite rose-centric fragrance?

Table of fragrance products at Aquaflor, Florence, Italy

Aquaflor Firenze

Scent Sample Sunday: Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561

Scent Sample Sunday: Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561

Florence is full of wonderful stores and boutiques in historic locations and buildings, but some of the businesses themselves are also historic. One of them is Farmacia Santissima (“SS”) Annunziata dal 1561, an Italian apothecary and perfumery that dates back to the 16th century. The perfumery creates its own fragrances as well as cosmetics and lotions. It has its own page on Fragrantica, with 33 perfumes listed there. I was able to visit the actual store a few weeks ago, on a long-awaited first trip to Florence, and it was well worth it! I discovered its existence thanks to a wonderful article by The Perfume Society about perfume-shopping in Florence.

The Farmacia is right around the corner from Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David, which we were able to see early in the morning, at the first opening of the museum. We were the first visitors into the gallery that day, which was an unforgettable experience — looking down the whole length of the beautiful gallery at that magnificent statue, without anyone else in sight, then slowly approaching it and realizing just how tall David is. It reminded me, in reverse, of how much smaller the painted Mona Lisa looks in real life than how one imagined.

The store itself is charming and beautiful. It is paneled on every wall with floor-to-ceiling cabinets full of bottles and jars, and it has a gorgeous long counter across almost the full length of the back. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable, and fluent in English. Honestly, just visiting the store was a treat in itself. But of course, I couldn’t resist trying several of the fragrances!

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Bottles of products at Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561

One I particularly liked is Regina, an eau de toilette with notes of rose, unnamed “floral notes”, ylang-ylang, honey, rice, amber, iris, and chamomile. The most prominent notes are iris, rice, and honey, but ylang-ylang and chamomile are noticeable also. The strongest impression I get from it on my skin is that of a lovely, flowery powder. It is soft and honeyed without being sugary. The iris note is based, of course, on Florentine iris, a traditional and costly source of the prized orris butter that goes into many fragrances; its preeminence in Regina is a beautiful remembrance of lovely Florence.

I don’t really smell rose in isolation from the other notes; in fact, when I first spray Regina, I smell iris right away. But it is an iris supported by other flowers, so I’m sure the rose is there! The ylang-ylang adds a polleny yellow flower aspect to the scent, which enhances the notes of rice and honey, lending Regina a golden tone that is both light and warm.

This is an unusual combination of notes, especially with the chamomile that is so rarely used today in fragrances. One exception is the much commented-on recent release from Gucci, Memoire d’Une Odeur, which I tried the other day and liked very much; there has been a lot of online chatter about Alberto Morillas’ use of chamomile in that fragrance. I love green and herbal notes in fragrance, so chamomile appeals to me (and I like chamomile tea, so I’m predisposed to like it as a scent). Regina feels quite linear to my nose, which I don’t mind at all because it is such a pretty, appealing scent.

When we visited Florence and the Farmacia, Italy was suffering from the same heat wave that affected all of Europe in late July. Upon our return, the weather here at home has been almost as hot, and twice as humid. Regina is an ideal summer fragrance, with its light touch and notes of summery blossoms. It has a base note of amber, but this amber is delicate and does not overwhelm or overpower the rice, powder, and summer flowers. I often turn to one of Hermes’ Jardin fragrances in this kind of heat, or Penhaligon’s Blasted Bloom, as they both have a cooling, refreshing effect, but Regina will join my regular summer rotation.

Blogger Kafkaesque has written about Farmacia SS. Annunziata, noting the quality and reasonable prices of its fragrances. Have you tried any of them? If you were to choose a fragrance for a hot summer day in Florence, what would you choose?

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Scent Sample Sunday: Profumo di Pioggia

Scent Sample Sunday: Profumo di Pioggia

Our recent trip to Italy included a few days in Florence, our first visit ever to that beautiful city filled with art. In addition to its essential role in all facets of the Renaissance, Florence also became a center for perfume-making, together with Venice — a craft that notably was imported to France by the Florentine princess who became Queen of France, Catherine de Medici. The world-renowned perfumeries of Grasse, France, have their origin in the fashion she inspired for leather gloves scented with perfumes to mask the odor of the animalic substances used to tan the leather. She brought that fashion with her from Florence.

A small perfumery in Florence, Spezierie Palazzo Vecchio, continues the tradition with what it describes as original formulas from the perfumers who served Catherine de Medici, rediscovered after the catastrophic 1966 flood of the River Arno that wreaked havoc in Florence, in a line called “I Profumi di Firenze.” I can’t speak to the foundations of that claim, but some of the magnificent places we visited, like the church of Santa Maria Novella, suffered extensive damage to the priceless works of art they housed as well as their structures, and their restorations include markers showing how destructively high the floodwaters rose. (A famous series of photographs of the flood can be viewed here).

Although the store in Piazza Signoria (location of the famous scene in the film “A Room With A View” where Lucy Honeychurch faints into the arms of George Emerson, setting in motion the rest of the film’s events) was closed when we first stopped by, I was lucky enough to find it open on our last afternoon in Florence.

Even better — they were having a sale! So of course I came home with several bottles; one scent in particular is quite special, as it won first place in a fragrance competition called “I Profumi di Boboli.” The fragrance is called Profumo di Pioggia, created by Luciana Liberati. The assigned theme for the 2018 contest was “the scent of rain”; the winning fragrance was produced in a limited edition of only 60 bottles, one of which, happily, now belongs to me.

Before anyone gasps at any assumed extravagance, however, I note that the prices of I Profumi di Firenze are much more reasonable in their home boutique than they are in the US, especially during their sale. The most I spent for any single bottle, including a 50 ml bottle of eau de parfum and a 12 ml bottle of extrait, was 25 euros. The others were 20 euros or less. On the other hand, you have to get yourself to Florence to take advantage of that — not exactly the worst option, but not inexpensive either!

Profumo di Pioggia is meant to evoke the smell of a gentle summer rain in the wooded hills above Florence. It includes notes of fig leaf, pomegranate, dew, jasmine, lavender, oud, violet leaf, cedar, and white musk. The perfumer describes it (English translation): “A delicate summer rain enlivens pomegranate flowers. I take refuge under the branches of a fig tree to smell the arrival of summer. The scent of violets and woods from the undergrowth returns to my mind.”

It opens with a gentle green note, which I think is a combination of the fig leaf and violet leaf. Given how much I love green fragrances, this immediately won me over! The floral notes emerge; I definitely smell the jasmine and lavender; I don’t know that I would recognize the smell of pomegranate flowers, so I can’t identify that. The dominant note in the heart phase, though, is rain, or “petrichor.” I love it! So what is petrichor?

The word petrichor was invented by two Australian scientists who introduced it in a 1964 paper on the Nature of Argillaceous Odor (pdf), an investigation into the scent of moistened clay, rock, and sediment. They combined the Greek word for stone, “petra,” and “ichor,” which means “the blood of gods”, to coin a name for the scent of rain.

The mineralogists posited that the scent released by rain isn’t that of water, which itself has no odor, but is actually the aroma of organic compounds accumulated in the atmosphere and on surfaces; these are released when rain falls. The compounds include bacteria called geosmin. These bacteria gives beets their earthy flavor and help make digging up soil in a garden so satisfying and soothing.

Rain also releases aromatic terpenes secreted by plants. Terpenes are hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants. They’re what makes a walk in greenery both fragrant and healing.

And when rain falls, geosmin and terpenes fly—or more precisely, they fizz.

One village in India famously has a long tradition of capturing the fragrance of monsoon rains in “mitti attar”, or “the perfume of the earth.” As noted by the author of the New York Times article about it, the scent of rain differs widely from place to place and from climate to climate; the remembered smell of rainfall in the woods of Maine will be very different from that of the rain in India, or the American South, or the hills of Tuscany, but they are equally pleasing. Profumo di Pioggia is a gentle green cross between an aromatic and a floral fragrance, with a softly woody drydown. The wood notes in the base are very subtle; I probably wouldn’t be able to detect oud if it hadn’t been listed among the notes. The cedar and white musk notes are very well blended, so that neither one dominates or “hits” my nose. I do smell something reminiscent of beets, which are rich in the geosmin that is known to be a major component of petrichor scents — a delicate, sweetly earthy smell that fits well with the fig leaf.

I feel very lucky to have visited Spezierie Palazzo Vecchio, where the staff were also delightful, helpful, knowledgeable, and kind. If you get a chance to go to Florence, I recommend a visit! The perfumery is on a side street right off the Piazza Signoria, facing the Palazzo Vecchio, and you won’t want to miss those landmarks or the nearby Uffizi Gallery and its priceless masterpieces.

The non-profit organization that sponsors the contest “I Profumi di Boboli” also offers a multi-month perfume-making course that sounds fascinating if you can return to Florence seven times for its regularly scheduled classes. What a great reason to do that!

Have you tried any Florentine perfumes? Many enthusiasts know and love the fragrances of Santa Maria Novella, which I also visited — to be shared in a future blog post! If you know them, which are your favorites?