Scent Sample Sunday: Black Flower Mexican Vanilla

Scent Sample Sunday: Black Flower Mexican Vanilla

In honor of American perfumer Jeffrey Dame’s generous giveaways last weekend and this one, on Facebook Fragrance Friends, today’s Scent Sample Sunday is devoted to one of the samples he sent me in addition to my freebie:  Black Flower Mexican Vanilla.

It is on my wrists as I write this, and wow, is it scrumptious! It’s not really gourmand, though; it has enough citrus, floral and other notes to prevent that. It is one of the “Artist Collection Perfumes”, described as creative collaborations between Jeffrey Dame and his father, artist Dave Dame. The artwork on the bottles’ labels is by Dame Pere. The fragrance is described as “a blend of vanilla absolute with touches of lemon, grapefruit, caramel, nutmeg, gardenia, jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, musk, and tonka.” It was launched in 2014. You can read more about Dame Perfumery and its three generations of Dames here.

Black Flower Mexican Vanilla is mesmerizing. It reminds me of the late, great Anne Klein II , a discontinued gem that I wore in the 1980s and which now commands outrageous prices online, if and when you can find it. Like AKII, it opens with a healthy dose of citrus, but the vanilla permeates top, heart and base. Like AKII, the floral notes emerge shortly after the opening and blend beautifully with the omnipresent vanilla. BFMV has gotten enthusiastic nods of approval from the two males in my household (husband and teenaged son), also reminiscent of AKII, which is the only fragrance I’ve ever worn that got me compliments from strangers on the New York subway.

I am especially enjoying BFMV because I’ve been looking for a vanilla-based fragrance I would like. My preferences lean heavily to greens, florals and chypres, with a special fondness for muguet and narcissus (yes, I have two bottles of Penhaligon’s Ostara). I haven’t been won over by any truly gourmand scents, and so many vanillas now are gourmand more than Oriental. BFMV is classified as an “Oriental Vanilla” while AKII is listed as an “Oriental Floral”, paying heed to the spice and woody notes each one includes.

Vanilla has a fascinating history, too; its orchid-flowered vines are native to Mexico and Guatemala, where it was first discovered by Europeans. National Geographic explains:

Vanilla is a member of the orchid family, a sprawling conglomeration of some 25,000 different species. Vanilla is a native of South and Central America and the Caribbean; and the first people to have cultivated it seem to have been the Totonacs of Mexico’s east coast. The Aztecs acquired vanilla when they conquered the Totonacs in the 15th Century; the Spanish, in turn, got it when they conquered the Aztecs.

Vanilla orchid vine and flowers by Dan Sams

Vanilla orchid flowers; image by Dan Sams via Getty Images

The Totonacs are supposed to have used vanilla pods as a sacred herb, using it in rituals, medicines, and perfumes. I find that the photograph on Dame Perfumery’s website, featured at the top of this post, is very evocative of that history and the actual scent, which is darker, spicier, drier and more beguiling than your standard vanilla. Nielsen-Massey, a purveyor of vanilla extract, points out:

Even after its discovery by Europeans, Mexico was still the sole grower of vanilla beans for another 300 years. That’s because of the symbiotic relationship between the vanilla orchid and an indigenous tiny bee called the Melipone. The bee was responsible for the pollination of the vanilla orchid flower, resulting in the production of the fruit… Vanilla from Mexico has a flavor that combines creamy and woody notes with a deep, spicy character, making it a delicious complement to chocolate, cinnamon, cloves and other warm spices. Even more, Mexican vanilla works wonderfully in tomato sauces and salsas, where it smooths out the heat and acidity of these dishes.

BFMV is very true to this heritage, as it tames the acidity of the citrus notes and brings its own creamy, woody, spicy smoothness and warmth to other notes like nutmeg, gardenia, jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli and vetiver.

As it dries down, I am finding that the vanilla intensifies while the floral notes slowly fade. Luckily for me, I love the notes that seem to be taking the stage with the vanilla during the drydown, especially sandalwood.

Black Flower Mexican Vanilla is a new love for me! It will be especially welcome now that autumn is here and the weather is cooling down. Thank you, Jeffrey Dame!

Scent Sample Sunday: Lazy Sunday Morning

Scent Sample Sunday: Lazy Sunday Morning

Yes, I’m having one of those: a lazy Sunday morning. And this week, I also took part for the first time in a “freebiemeet” on Now Smell This, an amazing fragrance blog and community. So in honor of that, and with gratitude to kind NST member Katrina, who offered up a “mystery grab bag of samples; some mainstream and some niche. Absolutely no rhyme or reason in what’s in the mix!”, here are my thoughts on one of the several she sent me: Maison Martin Margiela’s Lazy Sunday Morning, one of the Replica line of fragrances. It was such a treat to open the package and discover what was inside — it really made my week, which was somewhat sad because of the unexpected news the week before of the death of a former student, and planning a memorial with his friends.

Lazy Sunday Morning is meant to evoke the sense of awakening on a sunny morning in a bed of white linen sheets, skin warm, in Florence, Italy. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting Florence, so I can’t speak to that, but the fragrance includes notes of iris, the quintessential Florentine flower. However, for me the dominant floral note is lily of the valley, or muguet, which I love. That is one of the top notes, with aldehydes and pear. The combination of a soft, light, fruity note with muguet reminds me a bit of Lily, by Lili Bermuda, which combines pear with lily of the valley among its heart notes.

The aldehydic opening is light but noticeable, then the scent moves quickly into floral fruitiness that stays light and fresh. It’s very pretty, but it doesn’t smell to me like Sunday morning in bed, unless one’s bedroom window opens onto a bed of lilies of the valley and one wakes up to a glass of fresh-squeezed juice. (Which, by the way, I wouldn’t object to finding by my bedside …). However, if I am spending a lazy Sunday morning in bed, I’m much more likely to have coffee by my side, as one Fragrantica commenter noted!

Lazy Sunday Morning also reminds me a bit of Jean-Claude Ellena’s last Hermessence fragrance for Hermes, Muguet Porcelaine. I would say that it is brighter, less of a subtle wash of watercolor, and with fewer nuances. In fact, the image that comes to mind is a set of bed linens by Lilly Pulitzer, the quintessential Floridian brand with its bright pops of citrus-inspired colors on its fabrics, which ties in nicely with the orange flower that is also a heart note in Lazy Sunday Morning.

Pillow cases and bed linens by Lilly Pulitzer with lily of the valley print in bright colors

Lily of the valley bed linens, by Lilly Pulitzer

I really don’t smell rose or iris at all, even as it dries down, although they are also listed as heart notes and other commenters have felt they come through strongly. The white musk that lends a “clean laundry” aura to Lazy Sunday Morning emerges during the drydown and is very soft. All in all, this is a very pleasant, fresh fragrance. It doesn’t remind me of my own Sunday mornings in bed, but it is very pretty, and I’m happy to have a sample of it! Thanks, Katrina and NST!

Any other thoughts on Maison Martin Margiela’s fragrances?

Perfume samples in glass vials

Perfume samples

Scent Sample Sunday: Bergamot

Scent Sample Sunday: Bergamot

It is still sunny and hot here, although we are now officially in the autumn season, so a good strong blast of citrus does not seem amiss. And oh, what a blast of citrus I get from Malin + Goetz’ Bergamot!  The top notes are all citruses except for a note of green pepper, which I don’t really smell, although I can sense it hovering around the edges. The citrus notes are: grapefruit, lime, mandarin orange and, of course, bergamot. The latter is by far the strongest opening note. I love it. I am a frequent drinker of Earl Grey tea, famously flavored with bergamot, and this perfume reminds me of it without smelling at all like tea.

Fragrantica lists the heart notes as: spicy mint, lily of the valley, ginger, cardamom and black pepper. I do pick up on the spicy mint and maybe some of the ginger. Not really smelling LOTV, cardamom or black pepper, probably because the bergamot is still going strong. Although cedar is listed as a base notes, I smell hints of it from the very start. Base notes also include amber, woody notes, and musk. The drydown is very pleasant and not too musky. I like wood notes, so I enjoy the longevity of the cedar note throughout.

This is a very refreshing fragrance and is truly unisex; I could absolutely see men using it as an aftershave, but it is not so “masculine” that it wouldn’t suit a woman.

Featured image from fashionforlunch.net

Scent Sample Sunday: Gabrielle

Scent Sample Sunday: Gabrielle

Today I tried my sample of the new fragrance from Chanel, Gabrielle.  It is meant to evoke a youthful Chanel, the woman whose given name was Gabrielle before she became known as Coco Chanel and then, as befits a legend, just Chanel. However, this scent is SO youthful that I can’t imagine the real Coco Chanel ever having been as innocent as this after the age of, say, ten. Fragrantica commenter andrewatic put it perfectly:

This doesn’t automatically mean that the fragrance is bad, by any means. It should just be called something else, such as: “butterfly frolicking on tuberose flower in paradise” for instance, with an under title: “made for sweet, cute 15 yo girls, dressed in pretty immaculate-white, flower-decorated, frilly dresses” and then I would get it!

Actually, though, where my mind immediately went was to the “lovely ladies of Beauxbatons”, the French wizarding girls’ school whose students’ chic blue uniforms and fluttering entrance — accompanied by, yes, butterflies — swept the hearts of Hogwarts’ male students, led by Fleur Delacour and her little sister: Gabrielle.

Beauxbatons students entering Hogwarts in blue uniforms with butterflies

Entrance of Beauxbatons students at Hogwarts; photo Warner Bros.

Fragrantica lists its notes as:

Top notes: mandarin, grapefruit, black currant
Heart: tuberose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, orange blossom
Base: sandalwood, musk.

For me, the fragrance Gabrielle is too sweet and fruity. Even the floral notes are very sweet across the board: orange blossom most prominent to my nose, followed by tuberose, jasmine and ylang-ylang. Even the grapefruit and blackcurrant notes, which are often tangy enough to counter too much sweetness, smell sugary to me. It’s not offensive, it’s not overpowering, it is just very girlish. And not very Chanel-ish. While some commenters don’t like the bottle, I do. I think the faceted front is a creative play on the classic Chanel bottle shape, and I like the color. It feels good in the hand, too. The fragrance itself is not as memorable, though it isn’t bad. Dior has done better, in my opinion, with its fruity floral Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet.

I do understand, I think, what the Chanel perfumers and executives are trying to do. They must maintain contact and an image with a new generation of young women, who will be future customers and who have been flocking to sweet, fruity floral scents. They must also woo the growing number of fragrance customers in Asia, where I understand the taste tends more toward the light, sweet and inoffensive. And I am not that demographic on any level: not young, not Asian. I think the company’s quest to appeal to a younger customer is much better fulfilled by the new Chanel No. 5 L’Eau.  I thought that was a delightful, youthful take on the classic No. 5, without giving up any of the spirit of Chanel. I could see Fleur Delacour wearing L’Eau very well, with her undoubted chic in addition to her undoubted skill and spirit well-matched to the fizz, lightness and underlying classical structure of L’Eau.

Beauxbatons student and TriWizard champion Fleur Delacour

Fleur Delacour; photo Warner Bros.

The drydown of Gabrielle is quite pleasant, with sandalwood and musk, but again, it doesn’t stand out as special. I can still smell it on my skin five hours after application, so longevity is good for a fragrance like this. I can see many girls loving this, and that is, after all, the whole point. But I would steer my own daughters toward L’Eau.

Gabrielle Delacour, Beauxbatons students and little sister of Fleur Delacour

Gabrielle Delacour; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Scent Sample Sunday: Nirvana Amethyst

Scent Sample Sunday: Nirvana Amethyst

Surprise! Today I thought I was going to write about Miu Miu L’Eau Bleue because I had worn it a bit this week and thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I realized how much it reminds me of Stella McCartney’s L.I.L.Y.so I decided maybe I should review that next May, with other muguet scents. I moved on mentally to Commodity’s Orris, as I had worn that last Friday when another blog was encouraging its readers to wear scents that included vetiver, and Orris certainly does!

And then. I stopped into Sephora so I could spray Orris liberally from a tester, as my small sample was getting low. While browsing, I saw the two new Nirvana flankers, Nirvana Amethyst and Nirvana French Grey. I tried French Grey first, as its listed notes sounded more my style.  Very nice. Then I sprayed Amethyst on my wrist. Oh, my! I couldn’t stop sniffing it, in spite of the generous amount of Orris I had applied on my other side. So I decided to comment on Amethyst instead.

The listed notes, given in no particular order, are: tobacco, sweet honeysuckle, cedar and spices. The tobacco and honeysuckle appear right away, the honeysuckle sweetening the tobacco (which is already a gentle tobacco, not harsh at all but a little sharp and spicy). The spices are there underneath, and the cedar starts to reveal itself after the first 15-20 minutes or so. Although it isn’t listed as a note, I get a nice spicy vanilla as Amethyst dries down, which definitely gives it a slightly gourmand sensibility. It is lasting very well on my wrist, still going strong after two hours, though the tobacco and wood have faded somewhat, and mostly what I smell now is sweet honeysuckle and vanilla with woody undertones. No smokiness. It is really appealing! I think it would be great in autumn.

Amethyst charms from the start and continues to be charming throughout its progression. For the life of me, I don’t understand how they came up with this name, though; there is nothing remotely purple about this scent. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I like it. Have you tried it yet? What did you think? How does it compare to the other Nirvana fragrances, or other woody vanillas you’ve tried?

 

Scent Sample Sunday: Vitriol d’Oeillet

Scent Sample Sunday: Vitriol d’Oeillet

I have a sample of Serge Lutens’ Vitriol d’Oeillet that I finally got around to trying this weekend, for one simple reason: it was available online as a full bottle for a reasonable price, and I wanted to decide whether or not to get it. Luckily, I’ve been wondering about it for a while and already had a sample from Surrender to Chance, so I was able to make an informed decision!

I had been intrigued by Vitriol d’Oeillet because I really do like the scent of carnations and other dianthus flowers like Sweet William. Vitriol d’Oeillet has often been translated into English as “angry carnation” but I don’t think that is quite right. Vitriol can refer to anger or fury, but it has a nuance of acidity, and can also refer specifically to a sulfate of various metals. “Oil of vitriol” is concentrated sulfuric acid, according to Merriam-Webster.  Maybe a better translation of “vitriol d’oeillet” would be “sulfate of carnation”. The blog CaFleureBon review of Vitriol d’Oeillet plays off this contrast between the naturally fresh, floral spiciness of carnations and the suggestion of sulphurous fumes.

Luckily for me, from my sample I get mostly flowers and spice, and no sulfur (usually described as the smell of rotten eggs). The notes are listed as: nutmeg, clove, pink pepper, pepper, paprika, carnation, wallflower, lily and ylang-ylang. Here is the description on the Serge Lutens website:

 – “What is it, Doctor Jekyll?”

Listen, my child, and I will tell you everything. Take a carnation and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper. Firmly drive it into the very center, using the “nails” of a clove. Before committing the final act of violence, let wallflower throw in a few punches.

Yes, our collective leg is being pulled. Vitriol d’Oeillet is neither hellish, nor acidic, nor sulfurous, nor violent. It is a warm, spicy, fresh carnation, and it reminds me of the original Old Spice aftershave and cologne. I like it very much, but not for myself; I think I would love it on my husband! Have I mentioned yet that I ADORED the ad campaign for Old Spice that featured the tag line “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” and actor Isaiah Mustafa:

On my own skin, Vitriol d’Oeillet opens with a blast of spice, most prominently cayenne pepper and clove, but with a sweet floral note underneath right from the start. As it dries down, the spice lightens up and it becomes a bit soapy as the florals become more evident. It is very appealing! I think many of the traditional men who wear Old Spice because their fathers and grandfathers did may not realize that the scent they (and we women) often associate with solid, old-school masculinity contains some of the notes traditionally included in women’s fragrances: heliotrope, aldehydes, even jasmine. They are not the dominant notes, though; they provide a background for the more dominant spices, wood notes and base notes like ambergris and musk. The dominant floral in Old Spice, and in Vitriol, is carnation — a flower associated with gentlemen since the dawn of the boutonniere.

Red carnation boutonnieres on gentlemen's white dinner jackets or tuxedoes

Red carnation boutonnieres; image from A Gentleman’s Row

In fact, the association of carnations with distinguished men goes back centuries, as portrayed in many Renaissance paintings like this one:

Renaissance portrait of nobleman holding carnation by Andrea Solario

Portrait of Man with Carnation by Andrea Solario

As Vitriol d’Oeillet dries down even more, the floral notes fade and the spices come back to the fore, including pink pepper. I happen to like the scent of pink pepper, although I know others do not, so I welcome its return together with the cloves, Cayenne pepper, paprika and nutmeg. At this stage, the nutmeg is more prominent than it was at the start, so Vitriol closes with a certain dry sweetness.

In sum, I like Vitriol d’Oeillet a lot, based on this sample. I won’t be buying a full bottle for myself — but I might get one eventually for my husband!

Pink pepper or baie de rose berries

Pink pepper; image from CaFleureBon

 

Scent Sample Sunday

Scent Sample Sunday

Having plunged into perfumes a little over two years ago, I now have dozens of samples of fragrances that I haven’t yet explored beyond the initial spritz at a store, let alone written about them. So I’m going to try to clear some of that backlog by posting short comments on at least one scent sample every Sunday, and posting longer reviews or essays on a Fragrance Friday once a month. Let’s see how it goes!

To get started, here is a great article about how to get perfume samples, from the website lovetoknow.com: Places to Find Free Perfume Samples. Many of the leading perfume bloggers have also posted at least once about getting, using, and storing perfume samples.

My favorite ways to get perfume samples: 1) from department or specialty stores; 2) choosing one or more as a gift with purchase; 3) buying discovery sets from a single brand, or ordering a group of related samples from a service like Surrender to Chance. I have even found some great sample lots on ebay, though I rarely look for samples there. A Scentbird subscription is another great way to try new fragrances, although the monthly travel sprays are much larger than the usual “sample.”

Shout-out to the stores that have been particularly generous with samples and where I try to direct my business when buying fragrance (or other items) in person: Sephora, Nordstrom (where they put out ready-made samples, even of Tom Ford, on the counter with a note that says “Take one, it’s yours!”), Neiman Marcus, among department stores. My local Nordstrom even puts out empty spray vials so you can make your own samples from their testers! Saks has been a bit more stingy, but if you find a nice sales associate and communicate that you are serious about fragrance and may actually buy something, you can get some very nice ones, like the By Kilian samples I was given last weekend, after a failed trip to buy Guerlain’s Terracotta. I’ve also had good luck at some, but not all, Jo Malone counters in various department stores, and purchases have followed! (I don’t actually understand why these stores don’t give out manufacturers’ samples more freely, as they are provided to them by the manufacturers for the express purpose of encouraging people to try their fragrances, and maybe buy them).

Among independent or freestanding perfumeries: Les Senteurs, in both of its London locations, have been generous both with samples and with information. Their staff are clearly knowledgeable and passionate about fragrance, and their stores are lovely. Go visit if you can! I may be asking my husband to stop by to pick up the new Papillon Perfumes Dryad for me on his next trip to London, as one of their sales associates spent quite some time with me two years ago describing Liz Moores and her work (and yes, gave me a couple of samples); and last fall’s visit to their Belgravia location was equally pleasant.

Niche perfumery Les Senteurs in London, Belgravia. Knightsbridge

Les Senteurs niche perfumery; photo: http://therealknightsbridge.com/les-senteur/

In London’s Burlington Arcade, the Penhaligon’s boutique staff kindly offered several samples, both of their newest, high-priced line and of my beloved, late lamented Ostara. The sales associate also insisted that I take a sample of Blasted Heath, the more masculine companion fragrance to another of my favorites, Blasted Bloom.

Penhaligon's perfumery in London, Burlington Arcade

Penhaligon’s

The Perfumery, in the old Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter, of Barcelona, is a charming store not to be missed, often staffed by one of its owners, who is happy to share his knowledge, passion, and samples with purchase. The fragrances carried there are very unusual, although I recognized brands like Aedes de Venustas, Making Of, and J.F. Schwarzlose. I bought a full bottle of the gorgeous Orquidea Negra, by the perfumer Daniel Josier, as a souvenir of our trip, and also brought home some lovely samples of ZiryabKaleidoscope, and Santa Eulalia.

The niche store The Perfumery Barcelona, in the Barri Gotic.

The Perfumery Barcelona; photo: https://manface.co.uk/perfumery-barcelona/

A local perfumeria near our hotel, the source of a heavily discounted bottle of Serge Lutens’ Chypre Rouge, also gave me manufacturers’ samples of L’Orpheline and Bapteme du Feu. I had not expected to find so much Serge Lutens in a little neighborhood store filled with celebrity and designer scents!

A note about samples: once you have a more educated olfactory palate, you can likely understand much about a fragrance from just one small sample, and that is by far the most affordable way to go. My nose isn’t that well educated yet. I often need to try a fragrance more frequently, in larger amounts than the usual 1-2 ml sample, to learn the fragrance and its notes, its development. Each one I try is a lesson. One current solution is to look for small travel sizes of various fragrances, in a wide range of types, notes and prices, for as reasonable a price as I can find. Some manufacturers sell sets of their fragrances in sizes from 5-15 ml, which is ideal for me. I’ve been able to try several from Miller Harris, Annick Goutal, Penhaligon’s, Byredo and others that way. Among cheaper brands, good for learning though not longevity, Yves Rocher also has very reasonably priced miniatures and frequent online sales.

Set of three Miller Harris fragrances, Fleurs

Miller Harris “Fleur” set; photo from http://www.millerharris.com

Scentbird is another good option for me, because I can choose from among their offerings for the fixed monthly subscription price, and recent choices have included scents from Amouage, Arquiste, Histoires de Parfums and other high-end brands. If I want serendipity, I can explore local discounters like T.J. Maxx or Marshall’s and see what they’ve got for, say, under $15. Case in point: a 1.6 oz bottle of TokyoMilk Dark No. 28 Excess, for $7.99. It has notes like amber, patchouli and oak that I’m curious about but don’t want to spend a lot on before I know more about how they strike me. I can happily spritz away with this one without guilt, and maybe even cajole my daughters into trying it! Honestly, at this stage, I’ll try anything, because I am enjoying the learning curve. I don’t have to fall in love with each one or even like it much to appreciate the lesson it offers.

Featured image from: makeup.lovetoknow.com