Scent Sample Sunday: Silences

Scent Sample Sunday: Silences

One of the regular readers here mentioned recently wearing Silences, and Portia from “Australian Perfume Junkies” and I immediately oohed and aahed over it. So today’s scent sample is Jacomo’s classic fragrance, the original Silences.

Magazine ad for fragrance Jacomo Silences

Jacomo Silences, original ad (1978).

Silences was launched in 1978, and it fits right in with the green, woody, chypre vibe of so many classic fragrances from that decade. I’ve realized that my scent tastes seem to have been formed mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, when I was a child; given how deeply scent is linked to our subconscious, it makes sense that the fragrances of one’s childhood have particular impact. (To be clear, I own and love MANY later fragrances, but I find that I am really drawn to chypres, for instance, and to retro florals).

Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: Top notes — orange blossom, galbanum, bergamot, lemon, green notes and cassia; middle notes — iris, jasmine, narcissus, hyacinth, rose and lily-of-the-valley; base notes — vetiver, musk, sandalwood, oakmoss, cedar and ambrette (musk mallow). This list refers to the original and classic Silences, which was reissued in 2004. There is a new version, called Silences Eau de Parfum Sublime, which was issued in 2012. I appreciate, by the way, that the brand didn’t just reformulate and pretend that the new version was the same Silences. It’s easy to tell them apart, both from the name and from the packaging; Silences Sublime comes in a similar iconic round black bottle, but the lettering on it is completely different. It has excellent reviews online, but it doesn’t seem to be widely available in the US, unlike classic Silences, which can be found online for bargain prices. One can order it directly for delivery to Europe and a few other countries from the Jacomo brand website.

And Silences is a true bargain beauty! You have to like dry green chypres to enjoy it, though. It opens with galbanum leading the charge, a soupcon of bergamot floating in its wake. I don’t smell orange blossom at all, and while I’m sure the other listed top notes are there, because the opening is multi-faceted and complex, most of what I clearly smell is the combination of galbanum and bergamot, with galbanum dominating. As it dries down, two of my favorite flowers emerge: narcissus and hyacinth. The dry greenness of the galbanum persists, though I also get a hint of lily of the valley (another favorite flower). There’s a soft green earthiness that I have come to associate with iris root. I don’t smell any jasmine or rose in this middle phase.

Silences has often been compared to Chanel No. 19 in its eau de toilette version and for good reason. Their notes are almost identical, though in slightly different order and emphasis. No. 19 was created by the master Henri Robert in 1970, who also created 1974’s Chanel Cristalle. The perfumer behind Silences was Gerard Goupy, working at Givaudan with Jean-Charles Niel. Interestingly, M. Goupy was also the nose behind Lancome’s Climat, created in 1967, which in its vintage form is another green floral, though its opening is strongly aldehydic, unlike these later chypres. He also created Lancome’s Magie Noire in 1978, which has many of the same notes, also in a different order, but adding notes like spices and incense, honey and civet; it too is considered a chypre but more floral than green or woody. Victoria at “Bois de Jasmin” points out that its particular genius lies in the tension of combining its oriental and chypre accords.

So although one might be tempted to pigeonhole Silences as a bargain shadow of No. 19, it is not. Look at the sequence above: 1967: Goupy’s Climat; 1970: Robert’s No. 19; 1974: Robert’s Cristalle; 1978: Goupy’s Silences. Add in Bernard Chant’s creations for Estee Lauder, 1969’s Azuree and 1971’s Clinique Aromatics Elixir, and you see the fragrance zeitgeist of the time, with several gifted French perfumers exploring facets of dry, woody, green, bitter, mossy, dark, earthy scents — very fitting, for an era that also brought the environmental movement, the first “Earth Day” in 1970, and many landmark environmental protection laws.

Where does Silences fit on the scent spectrum? To my nose, it is more of a bitter green than the others, because of the strong galbanum opening. I love galbanum, so this delights me. It doesn’t have the leather notes that some of the others listed above have, or some of the animalic notes (it does list musk, but that may be based more on the base note of ambrette, or musk mallow plant).  Bitter, yes, but I don’t find Silences aggressive overall, as some commenters do. The opening is sharply green, but its final drydown phase becomes quite gentle and earthy while staying green, probably due to the combination of oakmoss, vetiver and sandalwood, softened by the ambrette. The complexity of its base accord is revealed in that today, I sprayed both my wrists at the same time. One wrist smells more strongly green and mossy, and the other more like a sweetish sandalwood with some lingering hyacinth.

The floral notes in Silences are quite reticent. The only ones I really smell are the narcissus and hyacinth, with a hint of muguet, all of which are quite green in their own right. So if it’s a more floral green you seek, I suggest you try No. 19 or Cristalle. Fruit? Aside from the bergamot opening note, which is subtle, there is no fruit here AT ALL. Sweet? Nope. Look elsewhere for fruity florals, or gourmands.

Have you tried Silences? Do you like green fragrances?

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?

Fragrance Friday: Daily Post -“Aromatic”

Fragrance Friday: Daily Post -“Aromatic”

I don’t normally do the WordPress “Daily Post”, but one of this week’s word prompts caught my eye: “aromatic.” Well, I certainly have a response to that, as some of my favorite fragrances have aromatic qualities, even if they aren’t primarily classified as “aromatics”. But let’s start with a classic: the aptly named “Aromatics Elixir” by Clinique.

In many ways, Aromatics Elixir is a quintessential 1970s fragrance. It was launched at the start of that decade, created by the great perfumer Bernard Chant, for a new brand (Clinique) of the Estee Lauder company. It is green, dry, herbal and strong. Its creators positioned it as a “non-conformist chypre”, a perfume ahead of its time, that went “beyond perfume.” To me, it is in many ways the scent of 1970s feminism: independent, strong, challenging traditional strictures without becoming androgynous. Very in-your-face and unapologetic, but with its own beauty. If I were to assign a face to it, I would choose 1970s supermodel Lauren Hutton, a non-conformist beauty with her gap teeth and American style. Hutton had a chameleon-like quality, able to pull off effortless elegance in couture evening wear but showing off that same great bone structure in a plain white shirt, outdoors in the fresh air. Whenever I picture her in my mind, she is outside.

Supermodel Lauren Hutton in 1975

Lauren Hutton, 1975

Luca Turin describes the impact of Aromatics Elixir thus: “Smelling Aromatics Elixir on a strip and especially in the air following a string of ‘modern’ fragrances is like watching Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep after twelve episodes of Cheers.” That pretty much sums it up; as he notes, Aromatics Elixir “achieves at once salubrious radiance and luxurious dusk.”

But Bernard Chant created another great aromatic fragrance for Estee Lauder, shortly before Aromatics Elixir: 1969’s Azuree. I was lucky enough to find an affordable, unopened tester of Azuree parfum online – wow. This is a really complex fragrance with a lot of different notes balanced against each other. Luca Turin calls it a “citrus leather” with a leather-chypre heart and gives it five stars, contrasting its ongoing fidelity to the original vision of its creator with the sad dismantling of his other leathery masterpiece, Cabochard. Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: top notes – aldehydes, artemisia, gardenia, basil, sage, bergamot; middle notes – cyclamen, orris root, jasmine, ylang-ylang, geranium, vetiver, rose; base notes – leather, amber, patchouli, musk and oakmoss. My bottle is labeled as “parfum”, not “eau de parfum”, and both its strength and longevity bear that out, as does the slightly oily slick on my skin when I first spray it on. Other commenters have noted the excellent spray nozzle on this bottle, which allows you to spray a small amount in fine droplets. That is all you need! Azuree is strong stuff!

On my skin, Azuree opens with a jolt of aldehydes, bergamot and artemisia, with herbal tones from the basil and sage top notes, although I can’t distinguish those separately.  In the middle stage, I mostly smell orris root (really delightful and earthy, with an underlying carroty sweetness), vetiver and a hint of ylang-ylang. The story behind Azuree is that Estee Lauder, founder of the cosmetics empire, wanted to capture the outdoor scents of Cap d’Antibes on the azure sea of the French Riviera, where she had a villa in the years when Cap d’Antibes still looked more like the landscapes painted by Claude Monet and other Impressionists than the overbuilt hodge-podge it has become. Azuree does have a Mediterranean aura of dryness, citrus, herbs, and pine resin, as if one were looking down a dry Riviera coastline toward the stone pines of Juan-les-Pins from a sunlit Mediterranean garden. While roses, cyclamens and geraniums are listed among the heart notes, and they are all Mediterranean flowers that might grow in such a garden, along with the green herbs listed among the top notes, I really can’t pick them out.

View of the cliff garden, sea and boats, from garden of villa in French Riviera

View from villa in the French Riviera

As it dries down, Azuree becomes more leathery, dry and oak-mossy. At this stage, it LASTS.  If I put it on my wrists at night, I can still clearly smell its final drydown stage the next morning. Like Aromatics Elixir, this fragrance is so very different from the current trends of sweet, fruity or gourmand scents! It doesn’t smell old-fashioned at all, it smells almost radical. Yet at the same time, if one were to characterize it as a person, one might describe a free-spirited young woman, wearing no make up but with an “old soul” gazing from her eyes. Definitely one of the great beauties of the 1970s. If Aromatics Elixir is Lauren Hutton, Azuree is Margaux Hemingway, whose grandfather famously spent so much time on the unspoilt Riviera with the most glamorous, unconventional creatives of the day.

Supermodel Margaux Hemingway

Margaux Hemingway