Fragrance Friday: Clouds’ Illusion

Fragrance Friday: Clouds’ Illusion

In honor of this week’s move of English perfume-maker 4160 Tuesdays to another part of London, today I review Clouds’ Illusion eau de parfum, which 4160 Tuesdays perfumer and founder Sarah McCartney created for a crowdfunding project for the Eau My Soul Facebook group.

Sarah McCartney's 4160 Tuesdays perfumery studio, Ravenscourt, London.

New space for 4160 Tuesdays London; image from 4160 Tuesdays.

What a fun idea! This isn’t the first one, either — she and the group’s founder, Christi Long, collaborated previously on the eponymous fragrance Eau My Soul in 2017, with input from the members of the Facebook group. Here’s the tale of how it happened, in Sarah’s own words:

Clouds was an idea dreamed up by Christi Long. Christi runs Eau My Soul as a kind, encouraging forum for fragrance lovers, and one day she was wearing our crowdfunded fragrance from 2018, Take Me To The River. It crossed her mind that Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now would be a wonderful inspiration for a fragrance, looking at clouds from both sides, the grey, then the sunshine.

Between us, we dreamed up a plan: Christi sent me a list of notes: iris, narcissus, white chocolate, hay, sandalwood, papyrus, vanilla and others which I’ll keep secret. She’d named some of the most expensive materials that exist, but I also knew that would want it to be affordable to everyone in the group because she’s nice like that.

So I had a suggestion. How about we do Both Sides Now? I am going to make two versions, one with the natural materials and one with the synthetic recreations made by the genius chemists from the industry. That way we can make the most magnificent, fabulously luxurious fragrance this side of Ancient Rome, plus the affordable one.

Clouds, and Clouds’ Illusion.

My intention was that they should smell pretty much exactly the same, but whichever one you buy, you can have a sample of the other one too. I don’t think anyone has done this before. I’m keen to show that aromachemicals are just as beautiful as naturals, and that you’re not missing out if you don’t have the spare cash for expensive fragrances. (But if you do, don’t let us hold you back.)

We also both agreed that we wanted to give a proportion of the funds raised to our chosen causes – some sunshine in these grey times. Previously we used a crowdfunding platform which took a percentage of the funds for use of its tech and database, so we took  that and gave it to Hope Not Hate in the UK, and to the Looking Out Foundation in the US. We think we already know enough people to make this happen, and besides we don’t want to conquer the world, just to make a lovely fragrance.

“Both Sides Now” was written by legendary singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, and was first commercially released as a recording by folk singer Judy Collins, on her album Wildflowers. The latter is the version most of us recognize from the radios of our youth, haunting in its lyrical beauty. A year later, Joni Mitchell followed with her own recording, also beautiful, for her album Clouds.

Here are the song’s lyrics:

“Both Sides Now”, by Joni Mitchell
Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s clouds’ illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real, I’ve looked at love that way
But now it’s just another show, you leave ’em laughin’ when you go
And if you care don’t let them know, don’t give yourself away
I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all
Tears and fears and feeling proud, to say, “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange they shake their heads, they say
I’ve changed
Well, something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

 

The fragrance Clouds comes in two versions: one is based entirely on natural essences, and was made in parfum and eau de parfum concentrations. The other is Clouds’ Illusion, which replaces a number of those (very expensive) natural essences with fine aromachemicals, though it still contains some of the naturals. Sarah’s goal was to incorporate all the elements Christi requested, but also to create a version that would be more affordable for crowdfunders and, in addition, show how aromachemicals can be used judiciously to create a truly beautiful fragrance. Clouds’ Illusion also comes in parfum and eau de parfum concentrations.

I was thrilled to take part in the crowdfunding, and as a result, I now have a bottle of Clouds’ Illusion in eau de parfum. I also had the privilege of visiting Sarah in her studio in London this past spring, when she was still modifying her formulas after initial feedback from Christi.

img_8670

Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays

Sarah and Nick were kind enough to spend quite a bit of time with me, and this visit was a highlight of my London trip. I’m quite a fan of 4160 Tuesdays, having won a bottle of their White Queen in a draw on the excellent fragrance blog “CaFleureBon”, and I bought more of their fragrances on my visit, several that were hard to get in the US.

So what is Clouds’ Illusion like, and does it fulfill the creative intentions behind it? The answer is, yes, it does, magnificently, and it is very lovely. Sarah lists notes of iris, citrus, narcissus, white chocolate, hay, sandalwood, papyrus, vanilla, and other unnamed “secret ingredients.” I love the scent of narcissus, and iris is becoming one of my favorite notes in perfume. According to Sarah, the iris note, or orris, evokes the melancholy, blue, introverted facets of the song, while the lemony citrus notes in the opening and bright flower notes like narcissus evoke its sunnier aspects. The white chocolate, vanilla, and a touch of musks create the soft white clouds. The image Christi posted on Eau My Soul, featured above and below, perfectly captures the fragrance: a pensive, introverted artist in a green meadow dotted with yellow wildflowers, set against a blue sky layered with puffy white clouds from horizon to horizon.

Singer songwriter Joni Mitchell with clouds, wildflowers and guitar

Joni Mitchell and clouds; image from Eau My Soul.

The opening of Clouds’ Illusion is especially wonderful, with citrus notes sparkling against a blue background of iris. I can’t think of another fragrance with a similar opening phase. The citruses fade away, but the iris comes to the fore and persists throughout the development of Clouds’ Illusion, partnered with narcissus (which here smells to me, specifically, like yellow daffodils or jonquils) and dry hay. The drydown slowly becomes softer and warmer, with its notes of vanilla and sandalwood joining the iris as the narcissus and hay move offstage. The development of the fragrance mimics the development of the song’s lyrics: starting out brightly, optimistically, yellow sunshine pouring down from a blue sky, then becoming more melancholy and wistful, as the sunlight darkens and fades and the clouds take over. But then the clouds part, and the the songwriter reflects that “something’s lost, but something’s gained, in living every day,” comforting herself with that thought, just as the fragrance becomes warmer and comforts with base notes of vanilla and sandalwood. The iris is still there, but it has been warmed by the other base notes. I can still smell iris, vanilla and sandalwood on my wrist more than eight hours after applying it lightly, so Clouds’ Illusion has excellent longevity in the eau de parfum concentration (I haven’t tried the extrait).

How does Clouds’ Illusion compare with Clouds, the version that uses only natural ingredients? My order of Clouds’ Illusion came with a sample of the Clouds EDP, so I’ve been able to smell them side by side. To my non-expert nose, right away the opening of Clouds smells more strongly of lemon than the top notes of its counterpart, but it fades into the background more quickly than the lemony opening of Clouds’ Illusion. The iris takes center stage in the middle phase in both versions, but in Clouds, I smell more of the sandalwood, and sooner, as it dries down, and Clouds’ Illusion seems to retain a bit more of the greenness of the hay note. Otherwise, though, they are very similar and have comparable longevity (more than eight hours on each of my wrists). Sarah has succeeded in her goal of creating fragrance twins, one with the precious natural substances and the other with more affordable aromachemicals, both lovely.

Here is Christi’s own account of how she experienced Clouds:

As many of you know, there were two earlier mods for Clouds and neither felt right to me. While they were nice fragrances, one even quite unusual, they were not the “Clouds” I had in my mind. After I told Sarah the second one wasn’t quite it either, she said “I know now what you want” and said it with such confidence. I now see why she was so sure of it…because it’s perfect.

First, it’s somewhat ethereal, but fluffy, like passing through a cloud. There is no sadness, but there is introspection, and a slight bit of melancholy from the orris butter laid thick under happy lemon sunshine. There is a hay like quality coming from the narcissus that counters the sweetness of the powdery, creamy white chocolate, so that it’s never too sweet but also never quite overly gray either. There is a cozy blanket of mood lifting lemon that surrounds it all, like a ray of golden hope at all times. Clouds is the days when you feel a bit down but know you’re strong enough to make it and feel hopeful. This isn’t a fragrance about giving in to sadness, it’s about rising above it and finding the reminder that sunshine always comes again, you just have to be strong enough to wait for it.

This year has been a roller coaster for me. It started really difficult, got better, then the hardships of life brought me down again. And literally right as I’m fighting to find the sunshine again, Clouds shows up at my doorstep. I sprayed it on and so many emotions, memories and thoughts passed before me. And in Clouds, just like life, the sunshine always wins if we let it. But we keep our memories with it, as a reminder of why we need the light.

Thank you, Sarah, for making this perfume for all of us who need a ray of hope sometimes. It reminds me that I’m human, I make mistakes, but with hope & forgiveness, life goes on and the sun still shines.

Thank you both, Sarah and Christi, for making this possible! I can’t wait for the next crowdfunding fragrance from 4160 Tuesdays, and I can’t wait to visit the new studio!

Readers, do you have a favorite 4160 Tuesdays fragrance? Have you ever taken part in a crowdfunding creative project, whether perfume or something else?

Featured image of Joni Mitchell from Eau My Soul.