When I was lucky enough to visit the Scent Bar last fall, on my first visit ever to Los Angeles (which you can read about in Fragrance Friday: S(c)en(t)sory Overload), I asked the lovely sales associate to show me some lily-of-the-valley fragrances. One of those she selected for me to try was Ann Gerard’s Perle de Mousse, which means “pearl of foam” but can also mean “pearl of moss.” (In French, oakmoss is “mousse de chene”). The name conjures up lovely images of the pearl-like white flowers of muguet against a dark green background, which is one way gardeners and florists like to force lilies-of-the-valley in pots and planters covered in moss, through which the flowers grow. I came home from LA with a sample of Perle de Mousse from the same lovely sales associate.
It may be a bit early in the season to review Penhaligon’s Ostara, given that it is named after a goddess of spring and the vernal equinox festival celebrated by pagans. The vernal equinox, after all, happens in March, not February. But temperatures here today reached the 60s, and it was a beautiful sunny day, so Ostara feels right for the day.
Penhaligon’s is a venerable British perfume house that dates back to the mid-late 19th century; its founder was perfumer to Queen Victoria. It was acquired last year by Puig, a Spanish company based in Barcelona, one of my favorite cities. They are expanding the reach of Penhaligon’s and have even opened a store in the United States, in New York: At Penhaligon’s, Old World Meets Modernism. Ostara is a new fragrance, launched in 2015. The perfumer behind it is Bertrand Duchaufour, who was inspired by England’s wild daffodils to create a sunny fragrance bouquet of yellow flowers, green leaves, dew and scented flowers.
The packaging is beautiful, with yellow cut-paper daffodils applied to the outer box. On the back is an excerpt from Wordsworth’s famous poem “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud:
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,Fluttering and dancing in the breeze….And then my heart with pleasure fills,And dances with the daffodils.
Ostara opens with bergamot, clementine, juniper, red berries CO2, mint, currant buds CO2, violet leaf absolute, green leaves and aldehydes. The mostly floral heart adds notes of daffodil, hyacinth, cyclamen, ylang-ylang, hawthorn and wisteria along with beeswax. Base notes include styrax resin, vanilla, benzoin, musk, amber and blond wood.
To me, the opening is bright but not fruity. There is more than a hint of greenness from the juniper, mint, violet leaf and green leaves, but also a creamy undertone that is really winning, maybe from the beeswax accord. I smell the daffodil note quickly, and an astringent note that I think must be the hawthorn. There is nothing dark about Ostara. However, it’s not sweet — just sunny. I don’t pick up the hyacinth note very strongly, nor is the daffodil accord as sweet as, say, paperwhite narcissus. The drydown is warm, creamy and light. Victoria at Bois de Jasmin describes it so well: “From the first minute on skin Ostara glows, rich in green, citrusy and leafy nuances but without suggesting the component parts. In other words, don’t expect to smell along the marketing pyramid and find bergamot and then juniper, mint, violet, etc. Like a flower from a magician’s wand, it unfolds as a big, dewy blossom.”
Why the name Ostara? According to some, Ostara is a pagan festival marking the time when the sun passes over the celestial equator and the season’s change from winter to spring. It is named for a pagan goddess of spring or the dawn, Eostre, whose name appears in the Anglo-Saxon writings of the Venerable Bede — but only once. Some say that her name is the root of the word “Easter”, the Christian holy day of renewal, resurrection and rebirth.
Daffodils are my favorite flowers, followed closely by lilies-of-the-valley and roses. I’m so happy that a great perfumer and renowned perfume house teamed up to create a daffodil fragrance, especially one so pleasing.
Illustration: Melissa Bailey for Penhaligon’s.