Scent Sample Sunday: Dryad

Scent Sample Sunday: Dryad

I first learned about dryads from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, books I dearly loved as a child and still love. Dryads are tree spirits, nymphs who personify trees and may inhabit them. They are benign pagan beings, female, and sometimes referred to as “wood-women” in Narnia. In the Narnia books, Lewis describes both male and female tree spirits, but he only uses “dryad” to refer to female spirits. Dryads, when they appear in human form, take on the characteristics of the particular trees they inhabit: birch-girls in silver, beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow.”

Illustration of a dryad tree nymph by Arthur Rackham.

Dryad, by Arthur Rackham, 1913.

Papillon Artisan Perfumes’ Liz Moores has conjured up a bewitching, witchy green perfume in her 2017 creation, Dryad. I have a great love for green scents, as well as the florals I love, and this nymph has won my heart. From the Papillon website:

As vibrant emerald Galbanum weaves with the delicate flesh of Bergamot, the nomadic wanderings of Dryad begin.

Beneath jade canopies, sweet-herbed Narcissus nestles with gilded Jonquil. Shadows of Apricot and Cedrat morph radiant greens to a soft golden glow.

Earthed within the ochre roots of Benzoin, heady Oakmoss entwines with deep Vetiver hues.

And at its heart, the slick skin of Costus beckons you further into the forest…

And into the forest I happily go! Papillon lists the notes as follows: Narcissus, Oakmoss, Jonquil, Cedrat, Galbanum, Benzoin, Vetiver. The narcissus and jonquil notes are very evident at the start, but the galbanum (a green resin) is right there with them, giving a sharpness in contrast to the floral notes, as if to remind us that there are no living flowers without green stems and leaves. Dryad does not evoke a bouquet or still life of cut flowers — far from it. It smells like a tree come to life — a vibrant, dynamic being with unpredictable movement. This nymph dances.

Green nymph Fantasia

Image from Disney’s Fantasia 2000

As it dries down, Dryad brings out more and more of the oakmoss, the cedar, and the benzoin, which happens to be an oil extracted from a specific kind of tree. The word “dryad” comes from the ancient Greek word for oak, so oakmoss also fits right in. Honestly, this fragrance is so clever as well as lovely! As I had hoped when Dryad‘s launch was announced, this fragrance is GREEN as well as being a chypre. If you hate Chanel No. 19, for instance, you may want to keep your distance. Even the bergamot mentioned in the website copy is a green citrus, not a sweet one. Despite several wood-related notes, though, Dryad never feels “woody” to me.

This is a potent potion; one small spritz on each of my wrists, and I happily smelled it wafting up to my nose all evening. I don’t think it carries very far away from me, i.e. sillage is moderate, but it lasts for several hours. The more it dries down, the more I detect a faint sweetness; the sharper edge of the opening stage has softened. The whole progression has a vintage vibe, but the fragrance is thoroughly modern and unisex.

Dryad is perfect for the cool, sunny fall days we are having now, with the nights that approach, but do not quite reach, frost. While doing some research for this post, I found a poem that C.S. Lewis wrote in the 1940s, before the Narnia books. It describes a magician forcing a dryad to leave her tree and take human form, which she experiences as a prison; he releases her to return to her tree, but the tree’s leaves fall and it will wither and die. Dryad is not a sad or withering scent, just as fall is not a season of death. Trees lose their leaves in the fall so they can slumber through the winter, and awake afresh in the spring, bursting into green with the daffodils. So Lewis’ poem is not quite apropos here, but I’ll share it anyway, and borrow some of his words:

She drank
With thirst of myriad mouths the bursting cataracts of the sun,
The drizzle of gentler stars, and indivisible small rain.
Wading the dark earth, made of earth and light, cradled in air …

This Dryad does indeed embrace the sun, the rain, the dark earth, and the green air of an ancient forest, like the New Forest where she was born. And even when she slumbers, the promise of her reawakening lies beneath the surface.

Mud Maid sculpture in the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

Mud Maid, the Lost Gardens of Heligan

MAGICIAN
Out of your dim felicity of leaves, oh Nymph appear,
answer me in soft-showery voice, attempt the unrooted dance
–My art shall sponsor the enormity. Now concentrate,
Around, where in your vegetative heart it drowses deep
In seminal sleep, your feminine response. Conjuro te
Per Hecates essentiam et noctis silentia,

Breaking by Trivia’s name your prison of bark. Beautiful, awake.

DRYAD
Risen from the deep lake of my liberty, into your prison
She has come, cruel commander.

MAGICIAN
I have given speech to the dumb.
Will you not thank me, silver lady?

DRYAD
Oh till now she drank
With thirst of myriad mouths the bursting cataracts of the sun,
The drizzle of gentler stars, and indivisible small rain.
Wading the dark earth, made of earth and light, cradled in air,
All that she was, she was all over. Now the mask you call
A Face has blotted out the ambient hemisphere’s embrace;
Her light is screwed into twin nodules of tormenting sight;
Searing divisions tear her into five. She cannot hear
But only see, the moon; earth has no taste; she cannot breathe
at every branch vibrations of the sky. For a dome of severance,
A helmet, a dark, rigid box of bone, has overwhelmed
Her hair…that was her lungs…that was her nerves…that kissed the air.
Crushed in a brain, her thought that circled cooly in every vein
Turns into poison, thickens like a man’s, ferments and burns.
She was at peace when she was in her unity. Oh now release
And let her out into the seamless world, make her forget.

MAGICIAN
Be free. Relapse. And so she vanishes. And now the tree
Grows barer every moment. The leaves fall. A killing air,
Sighing from the country of Man, has withered it. The tree will die.

~C.S. Lewis, “The Magician and the Dryad”, Poems (1964)

Scent Sample Sunday: Iris Dragees

Scent Sample Sunday: Iris Dragees

Lancome has launched another in its “Maison Lancome Haute Parfumerie” line, and it’s a winner! I am coming to love this higher-end Lancome line, as it is launching some truly gorgeous florals, my first loves in fragrance. Iris Dragees , launched in 2018, is by perfumer Nathalie Lorson. Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: “top notes are bergamot and pink pepper; middle notes are freesia, orange blossom, almond, sugar and iris flower; base notes are iso e super, orris, vanilla and white musk.” The box and the Lancome website list only three notes: iris distillate, iris resinoid, and sugared almonds. The latter are the “dragees”, which are literally almonds coated in a hard sugar shell, usually in soft pastel colors.

Iris Dragees is very true to its name. Contrary to Fragrantica’s list, I smell iris right away, although there is a brief, fresh pop when first sprayed that could be a hint of bergamot. The iris jumps forward almost immediately, and it is a sweet iris, but not too sweet. (I’m not much into gourmand scents, though I do like some gourmand notes, like vanilla and coffee). Although iris is often perceived as “powdery” because of the note’s long use in, and association with, luxury powders, this iris feels less powdery to me although still floral, and  I think that’s because of the almond note. To my nose, almond lends a creaminess that is very appealing. Here, it is a light creaminess, so maybe more like almond milk — subtle, and enhancing the iris rather than announcing itself.

The “dragee” aspect of Iris Dragees also shows up quickly, with a light vanilla undertone  that also subtly supports the iris heart note. As the scent dries down, the iris becomes more and more pronounced, but it never loses the underlying sweetness from the “sugared almonds.” Iris Dragees lives in the same realm as its sibling from the same Maison Lancome line, Jasmins Marzipane, which Tania Sanchez gave five stars in the new “Perfumes: The Guide 2018.” It is a land of elegant sugared flowers, so artfully composed that to the human eye, it would be hard to tell whether the delicately tinted decorations on a gorgeous cake were real flowers or their idealized facsimiles.

Sugared iris flowers on wedding cake by Amanda Earl

“Iris” cake by Amanda Earl; image from http://www.amandaearlcakes.com.

A little goes a long way with Iris Dragees; a small spray on each of my wrists is ample for me to enjoy it, and its longevity is good. The base has a lightly woody vibe, which is probably from the Iso E Super listed among the base notes by Fragrantica. It is a soft landing from the soft heart notes.

Another aspect of this fragrance and its siblings which I appreciate is that they can be bought in a 14 ml size, just right to bring the price down to “impulse purchase” range (suggested retail $35.00), but enough to enjoy more than once or twice. These travel-size bottles are as pretty as the big ones, with their artwork based on cut paper.

Iris Dragee bottle

Iris Dragees by Maison Lancome; image from http://www.lancome.co.uk.

If you like iris fragrances, I suspect you will like this one a lot! I’m a relatively new convert to iris as a fragrance note; not that I ever disliked it, I’ve just always gravitated to greener florals and notes like muguet, rose, and lily. But I have discovered in the last couple of years that I really do like many iris-centered fragrances, such as Miller Harris’ Terre d’Iris and Laboratorio Olfattivo’s Nirmal.

Have you tried Iris Dragees or any others from Maison Lancome? What did you think? Can you recommend any other iris fragrances?

Edible iris flower cake toppers from Sugar Butterflies on Etsy.

Edible flowers from Sugar Butterflies

Scent Sample Sunday: Aramis Calligraphy Rose

Scent Sample Sunday: Aramis Calligraphy Rose

Several of the perfume blogs I follow are featuring lists and questions about favorite autumn fragrances, and I’ve found myself mentioning, more than once, Aramis’ Calligraphy Rose, which I like to wear in the fall and winter as a “floriental” — still floral, which is probably my most favored category of fragrance, with added oriental fragrance aspects like spices, myrrh, frankincense, etc. Per Fragrantica, its top notes are oregano, saffron and honeysuckle; middle notes are turkish rose, myrrh, styrax and lavender; base notes are labdanum, musk, ambergris and olibanum (frankincense).

Calligraphy Rose was one of a trio of Aramis eaux de parfum launched from 2012-2014: Calligraphy (2012), Calligraphy Rose (2013) and Calligraphy Saffron (2014). It was created by perfumer Trudi Loren, who is listed with Maurice Roucel as co-creator of 2006’s Missoni, awarded five stars by Luca Turin in his original “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide.” It has been discontinued but is still widely available online for reasonable prices.

To my nose, Calligraphy Rose starts out green and sweet, which makes sense given the top notes listed. The oregano I smell is the green, growing plant, not the dried herb. The sweetness must come from the honeysuckle note, which Gail Gross wrote about in a wonderful review of Calligraphy Rose last January at CaFleureBon. For her, the honeysuckle was very dominant. It is less so for me, though its underlying sweetness never leaves. On my skin, the rose note emerges quickly and strongly, and it persists for a long time, which I love. I have layered Calligraphy Rose with other rose scents such as Taif Roses by Abdul Samad Al Qurashi, a powerful rose attar, on occasions like Christmas Eve, with happy results; any lasting rose fragrance will have the same effect of amplifying the already-strong rose note. I bet it would layer beautifully with Viktor&Rolf’s Flowerbomb Rose Twist, a perfume layering oil, or with Tauerville’s Rose Flash, with its 20% concentration. One could emphasize other notes in a similar fashion, such as adding a lavender or frankincense layer, pushing it in any direction one prefers. Calligraphy Rose is a bit of a chameleon.

As it dries down, Calligraphy Rose on its own becomes less floral and more balsamic, like a lovely balsamic glaze. This “glaze” was made with honey, and includes herbs. Having started out quite green, it becomes warmer, thanks to those warm base notes. In fact, its progression is not unlike the progression of autumn itself, from the lingering green of still-living plants, to the late flushes of rose blooms, to the warmth and spice of winter dishes. P.S. It lasts for hours and hours! One spray on my wrist is still wafting faintly off my skin almost 24 hours later as a warm, sweet skin scent. Use with a light hand, but you’ll smell marvelous for a long time.

Calligraphy Rose is a truly unisex fragrance. Launched under Estee Lauder’s men’s brand of Aramis, it suits both men and women. It is less gourmand than Montale’s Intense Cafe, more herbal. I love it!

Scent Sample Sunday: Zara Vibrant Leather

Scent Sample Sunday: Zara Vibrant Leather

Although the fragrances I normally review and enjoy are traditionally classed as “feminines”, I do occasionally try and enjoy more masculine scents. I’m not sure why, but I became intrigued by the idea of trying Zara’s Vibrant Leather, and set off in search of it (the version “for him”, not “for her”). The eau de parfum formulation came out earlier this year, and the prior EDT version was reputed to be an excellent cheap substitute for the popular Creed Aventus. I’m not a huge fan of Creed, although I have Fleurissimo and I like it very much, so there wasn’t a compelling reason why I should try a dupe of one of its masculines, but there you have it — I wanted to. Anyway, I live not far from a Zara boutique and was in that mall on another errand, so I popped in. And yes, they had small 12 ml sprays of Vibrant Leather, priced at $6.90. I tried it in the store, liked it enough to spend $6.90 to play around with it, and brought my purchase home.

As someone who is less than familiar with most of the great classics of masculine fragrances (my husband mostly wears Old Spice and Brut), my thoughts on Vibrant Leather will be somewhat arbitrary. First, it has a great citrusy opening, with a lively top note of bergamot and almost a medicinal vibe, but not too much so. Almost immediately, that starts to fade (as citrus notes often do), as the middle emerges. It is described as being “bamboo”, but I couldn’t tell you whether that is accurate or not. The middle stage is pleasantly woody with a greenish tinge, and that’s close enough to “bamboo” for a fragrance this inexpensive! Although a bamboo-eater might disagree …

Female great panda Yuan Yuan eating eating bamboo and fruit on ice in hot weather.

Great panda eating bamboo and fruit in hot weather; image from http://www.dailymail.co.uk.

As the citrus and greenness fade, next comes a leatherish base, that lasts a pretty long time on my skin although faintly. I sprayed a bit on my wrists (one small spray each) one night while reading in bed, and when I woke up, 8-9 hours later, I could still smell it. Perfumer Jerome Epinette has this to say, according to the text on the packaging:

Vibrant Leather is a perfect balance between the peace and romantic side of woody notes and the vitality and intens[ity] of leather.

I can’t speak to the many comparisons to Aventus, which I haven’t smelled, but this strikes me as a good, light, leather-like scent for summer and hot weather. I like it a lot, though not for myself, so I’ll be passing it along to my husband or teenaged son (who is probably the target market). And for about $36 for 120 ml of this 2018 EDP version by Jerome Epinette, what’s not to like? If it doesn’t last long on your skin, you can spray more without guilt!

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.

Scent Sample Sunday: Joy by Dior

Scent Sample Sunday: Joy by Dior

Groan. The conglomerate LVMH seems to have acquired Jean Patou this summer, with the acquisition to be completed this month, although there has been a lot of mystery about the deal: LVMH’s stealth capture of Jean Patou. This is cause for concern, because LVMH is reputed to have “dumbed down” legendary fragrances it has previously acquired, perhaps most famously those of Christian Dior, like my formerly beloved Diorissimo. That LVMH has launched a new Parfums Dior fragrance named so similarly to “Joy“, Patou’s most iconic fragrance and one that vies for the top spot of all 20th century perfumes, does not bode well for the original Joy, which Luca Turin awarded five stars in his original “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide” and called “huge, luscious, and utterly wonderful.” This is especially disappointing because I had discovered and liked Thomas Fontaine’s re-creations of classic Patou fragrances such as L’Heure Attendue and hoped they would continue.

Joy by Dior is not huge, luscious, and utterly wonderful. I agree with Colognoisseur that it has been tested to its last faint breath so that it will become a bestseller among young women who may never have heard of Jean Patou.  It is pleasant, inoffensive, and somewhat anemic. And if that sounds like damning with faint praise, it is. I tried it yesterday, somewhat hoping to like it because I do like actress Jennifer Lawrence, who is the face of Dior and whose beautiful face graces all of the advertising for Joy by Dior.

Jennifer Lawrence and new fragrance Joy by Dior.

Jennifer Lawrence; Joy by Dior; image from http://www.dior.com.

Like many moviegoers, I first encountered Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, heroine of The Hunger Games trilogy, although she had already caught critics’ positive attention in earlier work like “Winter’s Bone”. I was immediately taken by her natural beauty and the fluidity of the emotions that seemed to rise organically from her face and physical bearing. The story itself was compelling, about the domination of an entire country by one small, luxury-obsessed group in the Capitol of Panem, who condemned most of the residents of the Districts to lives of actual and semi-starvation and malnutrition, among other woes, until the Districts rebel.

Joy by Dior is the smaller, paler, thinner, younger Primrose Everdeen to the real Joy, itself comparable to Katniss in her transforming wedding dress: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: a huge, luxurious confection stuffed with the most expensive elements, over-the-top feminine, the epitome of extravagance, presented for a hungry world’s admiration, awe, and envy. The original Joy was claimed to be “the world’s most expensive perfume” when it was launched at the start of the Great Depression, when couturier Jean Patou recognized that many of his longtime customers could no longer afford Parisian couture but could manage the purchase of an iconic fragrance that would give them the same aura of luxury. Each bottle was said to contain the essences of thousands of jasmine flowers and hundreds of roses, as well as animalic ingredients like civet and musk.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in wedding dress, in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Katniss in wedding dress; image from http://www.lionsgate.com.

As reviewer Angela wrote several years ago on Now Smell This, “Joy Parfum seamlessly morphs from a complex floral explosion to something darker, and unless you already knew Joy, you might not recognize the dry down and the heart as the same fragrance.” There is a darker, more insubordinate aspect to Joy, as if the parfum presents itself as demure and ladylike, but as it dries down and the evening progresses, it reveals itself to be more of a femme fatale who is in full control of her own destiny and that of the men who choose to enter her orbit.

As Samantha has written in her blog “I Scent You a Day”, the original Joy is a heavyweight, a Presence. The new Joy by Dior is a lightweight, almost anorexic. It’s not bad (it is by Francois Demachy, after all), it is even likable, but it is a small, pale thing compared to its big sister. Its classic citrus opening combines orange and bergamot, and the orange note is pleasantly astringent, not too sweet. It combines nicely with the greenish tartness of the bergamot. Next come roses and jasmine, but they enter shyly and hesitantly — a far cry from the confident assertiveness of those flowers in Joy. These are slender, girlish blossoms, not full-figured, unabashed roses.

Similarly, the drydown of Joy by Dior does not purr or growl: it whispers, in a breathy tone of white musk. I don’t smell any of the listed sandalwood, patchouli, or cedar notes. Again, the drydown is likeable, but it is also forgettable. Sadly, as soon as I tried Joy by Dior, it reminded me of dozens of fragrances whose names I could not recall. It just smelled very familiar.

The bottle is also disappointing. I love me some pink, so it’s not the color of the juice that lets me down — it is the generic-looking cylinder that is clearly meant to evoke the cylindrical bottles of Dior’s more exclusive fragrances in “La Collection Privee” and the “Maison Christian Dior” collection, but that has been tarted up with silver sparkle, like glitter. And the typeface on the bottle, loudly proclaiming “JOY” with a smaller “Dior” in the center, is barely different from the typeface on the iconic Patou bottle, which was designed by an noted architect and captured the essence of Art Deco, as noted on the Jean Patou website:

Every Jean Patou bottle is a jewel in its own right. The same techniques and craftsmanship are still used today. The bottles have retained the Art Deco forms dear to Patou’s friend Louis Süe, who came up with the original design. The cut glass flask decorated with gold leaf is filled drop by drop. The stopper is then sealed by hand with a gold thread and stamped.
A work of timeless beauty.

This new bottle will, no doubt, lend itself to cost-saving replicas in the flankers to come, but it could have been so much better. Chanel, for example, when it launched Gabrielle, came up with a truly beautiful bottle with clear reference to the classic Chanel No. 5 bottle, although I was ultimately left unmoved by the fragrance itself.

Sigh. Why, oh why, do we have this trend of releasing fragrances that remind me of little sisters? (Not my own little sister, btw, who resembles Katniss more than Prim!) I’m looking at you, GabrielleLet’s hope that Patou’s new masters will let us post-adolescents continue to enjoy Joy, the original, without mucking it up. Even Effie, after all, evolved from one of Katniss’ tormentors to her ally, saving her from tasteless makeover attempts.

Katniss and Effie

Katniss Everdeen with Effie, The Hunger Games; image from http://www.lionsgate.com.

Jennifer Lawrence makeover Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen’s botched makeover, The Hunger Games; image from http://www.lionsgate.com.

Scent Sample Sunday: Le Feu d’Issey

Scent Sample Sunday: Le Feu d’Issey

I have a collector’s brain; I have always enjoyed building a collection of things that interest me and learning about them. Over the years, that has mostly manifested itself in my gardening (sometimes to the detriment of orderly design); I have to discipline myself to plant groupings of plants, not just plant one of everything. Sometimes it all comes together really well, as when my husband cleared two areas of underbrush so we could plant two small groves of almost two dozen Japanese maples I had been growing in pots.

Since I started studying, not just wearing, fragrance three years ago, I’ve built up quite a collection, but it doesn’t have a lot of coherence to it yet; I’m still in the “let me try everything” learning stage, lol. But one way I have tried to inject some structure into my collection is to try as many as possible of the fragrances given five stars in Turin and Sanchez’ “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide.” One of those is Issey Miyake’s Le Feu d’Issey, created by Jacques Cavallier in 1998, which was discontinued several years ago. Here is their summary:

The surprise effect of Le Feu d’Issey is total. Smelling it is like pressing the play button on a frantic video clip of unconnected objects that fly past one’s nose at warp speed: fresh baguette, lime peel, clean wet linen, shower soap, hot stone, salty skin, even a fleeting touch of vitamin B pills, and no doubt a few other UFOs that this reviewer failed to catch the first few times. Whoever did this has that rarest of qualities in perfumery, a sense of humor. Bravo to those who did not recoil in horror at something so original and agreed to bottle it and sell it, but shame, also, since they lost their nerve and discontinued it before it caught on. Whether you wear it or not, if you can find it, it should be in your collection as a reminder that perfume is, among other things, the most portable form of intelligence.

Le Feu d’Issey has been reviewed on several well-known fragrance blogs: The Sounds of ScentThe Candy Perfume BoyColognoisseurPerfume-Smellin’ Things, and others. Almost all agree that it is an oddity with a strangely compelling appeal. My experience parallels theirs, though I am happy to say that I won’t feel a desperate need to track down a full bottle. Happy, because they go for $200 or more on auction sites! I found a set of reasonably priced manufacturer’s samples online, so I was able to indulge my curiosity.

Manufacturer's carded samples of Issey Miyake's fragrance Le Feu d'Issey

Carded samples of Le Feu d’Issey

The opening is very sharp and weird. Obviously the carded manufacturer’s samples I have are over ten years old, and one of the top notes has gone off. I think it must be the bergamot, because I don’t smell that at all — the very first thing I do smell is a harsh note of alcohol. That’s age, not design. It goes away within seconds, and I do smell the other notes listed on Fragrantica: coconut, rosewood, anise. The visual pyramid also lists as top notes coriander leaf and rose. I don’t smell rose at the start, but I do get an herbal note in addition to the anise, which could be coriander. Within minutes, the rosewood emerges as the winner among the top notes, and I like it very much.

As the heart notes emerge, Le Feu becomes sweeter. I definitely smell the milkiness coming to join the rosewood. At this stage, it reminds me of Carner Barcelona‘s Palo Santo. whose middle notes are warm milk and guiac wood. Le Feu’s heart notes are listed as: jasmine, rose, milk and caramel but the pyramid also shows pepper and golden lily. As it gets sweeter, I do smell something like caramel, but I wonder if that is due to perfumer’s sleight of hand. Here is a comment written by London’s Bloom Perfumery about Palo Santo: “Some people smell caramel, but it’s a trick played by the combination of gaiac, tonka, davana and milk accord.” On my skin, the sweetness is mostly gone within the first hour of wearing.

As to the flowers, here is where I experienced the famously shape-shifting nature of Le Feu that has intrigued so many. The first time I wore it, I definitely smelled the emergence of a smooth, classical blend of rose, lily, and jasmine. Today, as I sit with Le Feu on my hand so I can write down my impressions — no flowers. And I sprayed from the same sample!

The base notes of Le Feu are: cedar, sandalwood, Guaiac wood, vanilla and musk. At this stage, it is a very appealing, warm, woody scent with a lingering trace of something sweet. Yesterday when I tried it for the first time, that stage lasted on my skin for several hours.

Bottom line: I like Le Feu very much, but I don’t feel desperately compelled to seek out a bottle of it. However, I’m glad to realize that, while not a dupe, Carner Barcelona’s Palo Santo shares some of Le Feu’s appeal. It’s not cheap, but it is still available!