Welcome to a new feature that I hope will appear monthly! Portia Turbo of Australian Perfume Junkies and I had so much fun doing “Scent Semantics” with some other fragrance bloggers in 2022 that we decided to launch TWO regular features as a new collaboration in 2023. The first, which we plan to post on the first Monday of each month, is “Notes on Notes“, in which we choose one note and write about it however the spirit moves us; our first Note was oakmoss. This second feature is “Counterpoint“, in which we ask ourselves the same handful of questions about a single fragrance and post our separate thoughts on it, on the third Monday of each month. We’re still experimenting with format, so comments on that are welcome too! This month’s Counterpoint fragrance is Chanel No. 5.Continue reading
Perfume Chat Room, December 31
Welcome back to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.
Today is Friday, December 31, and it is the last day of 2021! Good riddance, I say. What a strange year it has been — we started off with most of us unvaccinated, then many of us were able to get vaccinated by the end of May, then we had a summer when we were able to see most of our extended family members after long absence. We were able to attend two family weddings, one in June and one in early October, the June wedding having been postponed from September 2020. We were also able to drive to New Hampshire and stay for two weeks to see my dear father-in-law at his assisted living residence; we rented a small lake cabin and worked remotely in the mornings, then went to see him every afternoon between lunch and dinner, which was lovely. On our drives up to NH and back, we were also able to visit some spots I have long wanted to see, mostly Civil War sites like Gettysburg and Antietam, but also the Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville and the Biltmore Estate. Our economy rebounded far better and faster than even an optimist like myself could have hoped. The fall started off with most colleges and universities returning to onsite operations, including the one our son attends. All three of our children faced and overcame challenges in 2021, and are finishing the year in good health, good spirits, and good jobs, and housing situations with good friends.
That was the good stuff. The bad stuff? Aside from some painful challenges our kids had to overcome, here in the US we had the extraordinary experience of a sitting US President claiming that the election he had lost was a fraud and playing a part (specifics still to be detailed by investigators) in a violent attack on the US Capitol and Congress on January 6. Rewatching some of the coverage from a year ago still boggles the mind; and that’s all I’ll say about that. After a somewhat normal summer, the highly contagious delta variant of COVID started to surge, and it was followed by the even more contagious omicron variant in the fall. Many of us got boosters as soon as they were available, which seems to have protected the vaccinated from severe illness (excellent news, btw). But cases are surging again worldwide to record highs, and frontline healthcare workers face another winter of extreme stress — too much stress and not enough gratitude, in my view. Many schools will start their spring semester with remote classes again, which feels necessary but discouraging. I’m just thankful that all my family are fully vaccinated and boosted, and thankful for the brilliant scientists and others who made that possible.
This may be the year I finally retire, so stay tuned! All in all, I’m perfectly happy to bid 2021 farewell, and I feel hopeful for 2022, despite the looming and already nutty midterms elections! I plan to ring in the New Year wearing one of my all-time favorite fragrances: the eau de toilette of Chanel No.22. Our evening plans have just changed and so will our dinner menu — our college student son had planned to be here tonight, so we were going to have pizza, albeit the local gourmet option, but now he has other plans so I can upgrade our dinner menu! Decisions, decisions …
Do you have any exciting plans, or have you already celebrated? (Looking at you, Portia!). What is your chosen SOTNY?
Scent Sample Sunday: Paris-Venise
Paris-Venise was one of the first three “Les Eaux” fragrances launched by Chanel in 2018, all created by in-house perfumer Olivier Polge. They are eaux de toilette inspired by Coco Chanel’s travels to various cities — what a creative idea! The others were Paris-Deauville and Paris-Biarritz. Since then, the original three have been joined by Paris-Riviera and Paris-Edimbourg, which I haven’t tried yet.
Fragrantica lists the notes of Paris-Venise as: top notes, orange, lemon, petitgrain, bergamot and pink pepper; middle notes, iris, neroli, ylang-ylang, rose and geranium; base notes, tonka bean, vanilla, white musk, orris, violet and benzoin. Sure enough, when I spritz it, I get a lovely burst of fresh citrus notes, beautifully blended. The bright, sunny opening softens within minutes to a gentle floral, also beautifully blended. One aspect of Chanel fragrances (among so many!) that I appreciate is the elegance of how they are blended. Notes merge and segue into each other, dancing with each other to different tempos, stepping forward and backward in the rhythm their combined music suggests.
The Chanel website describes M. Polge’s inspiration as follows: “1920. Gabrielle Chanel falls under the spell of Venice. The glimmer of the Byzantine mosaics and precious gems of St. Mark’s Basilica inspire the designs of her first jewelry collections. Between freshness and sensuality, PARIS-VENISE evokes this legendary city that marks the boundary between East and West.” Having visited Venice for the first time in the summer of 2019, before the world shut down, I would say that M. Polge has done an outstanding job of evoking the city.
My recollections of Venice are of brilliant sunlight glinting off the water of the ubiquitous canals, the welcome breezes off the ocean, the hidden gardens including that of the vacation apartment in a small, restored palazzo where we stayed. Paris-Venise’s citrus-forward opening vividly recalls the sunniness of Venice’s summer climate, while the emerging floral notes remind us that Venice is a city not only of canals and ancient buildings, but also of gardens. (Christine Nagel dwelt on that feature in her fragrance for Hermes, Un Jardin Sur La Lagune). M. Polge did not, in his creation, make reference to the sea or salt water as Mme. Nagel did in hers.
In the middle stage, no one floral note dominates, though I can clearly identify the ylang-ylang, a signature floral note in many Chanel fragrances, including the iconic No. 5. The petitgrain and bergamot linger at the start of this heart phase, adding their bright verdancy to it like sunlight dappling a garden. The rose and iris are also classic Chanel fragrance notes; here, they are fresh and light. I find all “Les Eaux” to be very fresh and youthful, which I’m sure is part of Chanel’s strategy to attract a younger clientele while still appealing to their longtime clients, as they have done with No. 5 L’Eau.
Drying down, Paris-Venise becomes warmer and softer, with a slight spiciness that recalls Venice’s heyday as a entry port to Europe for the spices of the East. A highlight of our visit to Venice was a stop at the Palazzo Mocenigo, which houses a perfume museum as well as artworks and other exhibits (the embroidered fabrics are gorgeous!). Among the perfume-related displays is a massive table covered with spices and resins.
The base notes include a light vanilla, just a touch of it as this fragrance is by no means “gourmand.” This vanilla smells like the vanilla orchid that produces the actual vanilla beans, so it is more flowery than foody. It combines beautifully with the base’s more floral notes such as violet and orris. All are given a sort of warm airiness by the white musk, like a balmy evening breeze.
I’m very impressed with Paris-Venise. It is ambery without being too heavy or warm — perfect for summer wear even in a climate as hot as Venice. If a fragrance can be slender and elegant, Paris-Venise is that and more. Have you tried any of “Les Eaux de Chanel”? What did you think?
Perfume Chat Room, May 28
Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.
Today is Friday, May 28, and it’s the start of the Memorial Day weekend here in the US! I don’t have any big plans but wow, it’s such a relief to have so many of us fully vaccinated so we CAN make plans. What a contrast to Memorial Day last year, when the pandemic was really accelerating and little was known about prevention or treatment. This Memorial Day, I will be remembering the many Americans and others who died from COVID-19, as well as those who have died in the military service of our country, the original purpose of our Memorial Day.
On a more cheerful note, today I am testing one of Chanel’s Eaux: Paris-Venise. I like it a lot so far! Have you tried any of the Eaux? I know Undina has, including the newest one, Paris-Edimbourg. (It feels so weird to spell Edinburgh that way). Or, what else are you sampling this weekend?
May Melange Marathon: No. 22
Today was crazy busy, so I won’t have much to say right now, except that my second daughter got her long-delayed college graduation ceremony (she graduated in May 2020), and we were so happy for her! I wore my longtime favorite, the first Chanel I ever bought for myself, No. 22 in the eau de toilette formulation. I have worn it off and on, to greater or lesser degrees, since my own 20s. It is like a familiar scarf at this point — but an elegant silk one with Parisian flair.
No. 22 is a sumptuous Chanel floral with plenty of aldehydes, white flowers, and iris. Top notes are Aldehydes, Neroli, Lily, Tuberose, Lily-of-the-Valley and Orange Blossom; middle notes are Ylang-Ylang, Jasmine, White Rose and Nutmeg; base notes are iris, Vanilla and Vetiver.
I’ll say more about it tomorrow!
Continuation: One of the things that puzzles me about No.22 is how often other commenters talk about an incense note. I don’t smell any incense at all! And I remember when I bought it, the sales associate told me it was based on white roses. I was thankful to see white roses listed among its notes! I don’t, however, think the white roses are dominant, certainly not the way they are in Jo Loves’ White Rose & Lemon Leaves. Nor is incense listed among its notes.
I do smell something sort of woody, sort of spicy, and I think it’s the nutmeg listed as part of the heart phase of No.22. It’s an unusual note to combine with all the white flowers in No.22. Aldehydes dominate the opening notes, an overdose for which No. 22. is famous. It was created by Ernest Beaux at the same time as the legendary No.5, and was one of the finalists presented to Coco Chanel for her house’s first fragrance. She chose No.5 instead, which launched in 1921; No.22 launched the next year (1922). The aldehydes and iris have led my daughter to declare that it smells like baby powder. Sure, honey, the world’s most elegant and expensive baby powder!
I know some of the regulars here share my love for No.22, such as Kathleen and Portia. Anyone else? Care to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments?
May Melange Marathon: Cristalle
Chanel’s Cristalle came to me later in life; my earliest Chanel “love” (for myself) was No.22, which I still love and wear, then No.19, also still a strong love and in regular rotation on my skin. I’m not sure why it took me so long to discover Cristalle; I probably thought my need for a green Chanel was fully met by No.19. Regardless, I first tried Cristalle a few years ago, and yes, it’s love. I wear Cristalle on days when I need a good snap of green but No. 19 feels like overkill. Both were created by perfumer Henri Robert: No. 19 in 1970, and Cristalle in 1974. (I refer to the eau de toilette; Jacques Polge created an eau de parfum version for Chanel twenty years later).
The two share some notes. Cristalle‘s notes are: Top notes — Sicilian Lemon and Bergamot; middle notes — Hyacinth, Brazilian Rosewood, Honeysuckle and Jasmine; base notes — Oakmoss and Vetiver. No.19‘s notes are: Top notes of Galbanum, Hyacinth, Bergamot and Neroli; middle notes of iris, Orris Root, Rose, Lily-of-the-Valley, Narcissus, Jasmine and Ylang-Ylang; base notes of Oakmoss, Vetiver, Leather, Cedar, Musk and Sandalwood. No.19 was launched the year before Coco Chanel died; it seems to be the last fragrance that she personally approved.Continue reading
May Melange Marathon: Mother’s Day and No. 5
Today is Mother’s Day in the US, and I’m thinking of my own late mother and the perfume I associate most with her, Chanel No.5. No.5 is 100 years old this year, having been launched by the house of Chanel in 1921, which hardly seems possible! Here is the wonderful video Chanel released this year to celebrate No.5‘s centennial:
The version I have is the eau de toilette; in fact, it is the last bottle of No.5 that my mother owned. I brought it home with me, with its few ml of fragrance left, after her funeral and clearing out her home. Wearing a few drops now on the back of my hand, I can still smell how beautiful it is, and think peacefully of my mom.
I wrote about her and No.5 five years ago, in “My Mother’s Last Perfume“. She died in May of 2017; if she were still alive, she would be turning 90 this year — only ten years younger than No.5! We held her memorial service in July of 2017, so that all members of the family could be there, and a memory I find very consoling is that I took charge of working with the florist for the church service. I used to help my mother arrange flowers as part of the church’s “Flower Guild”, a volunteer role that she took very seriously, albeit with some humor. She loved to recount how long it took her to win the approval of the older women in the Flower Guild when she first wanted to join, in spite of her being a member of the church’s vestry! They only let her cut off the ends of stems and hand them the flowers for months.
Because of those companionable times we spent together arranging flowers, I knew her strong likes and dislikes — I don’t think my mom had any likes or dislikes that were anything but strong. I remember telling the florist that we could not have gladioli under any circumstances, because my mom hated them with a passion and she would return from the grave to haunt us all if we had them at her memorial. I was so pleased with our final selections: the roses and lilies she loved; Bells of Ireland, to recall her Anglo-Irish roots and her beloved aunts and grandmother, with whom she spent school holidays; eucalyptus as a reference to her birthplace of New Zealand; and other fragrant flowers, some of which are notes in No.5.
Because I started buying her No.5 in the 1970s, as a child, the version I recall most has the original notes (though I think by then the civet was synthetic): top notes of Aldehydes, Ylang-Ylang, Neroli, Amalfi Lemon and Bergamot; middle notes of Iris, Jasmine, Rose, Orris Root and Lily-of-the-Valley; base notes of Civet, Sandalwood, Musk, Oakmoss, Vetiver, Amber, Vanilla and Patchouli. I’m not sure of the date of the eau de toilette of hers I now have, but it’s probably from the early 2000s. And after an initial “off” opening, it is just lovely.
The aldehydes have survived the passage of time, as have the ylang-ylang and much of the neroli. Lemon and bergamot are no longer detectable. The notes of jasmine and rose are most prominent to my nose in the heart phase, with a gorgeous powdery softness provided by the iris and orris root. I can detect the lily-of-the-valley faintly, but just barely. The drydown is also lovely: it just keeps getting warmer, softer, and sexier, with those beautiful base notes. As many have noted, No. 5 is so well-blended, it is almost abstract. While it is possible to detect single notes, the overall impression is not of a particular flower, which is what perfumer Ernest Beaux and Mme. Chanel intended. No.5 is simply itself, and it is unmistakable to this day.
I don’t often wear No.5, as beautiful as it is, because I do associate it so much with my mom; but I use and love No.5 Eau Premiere as well as No.5 L’Eau. Blogger Neil Chapman of The Black Narcissus described the trio so well in his book “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent” (which I highly, highly recommend!):
Chanel’s enduring, glamorous icon is a scintillation of aldehydes, rose de mai, ylang ylang, orris, jasmine and vanilla (among many other ingredients) — a caress of timeless, confident femininity…. Successful recent reiterations of the No.5 brand that aim to appeal to the younger consumer include Eau Premiere (2007) — which I like for its streamlined primness and muted, statuesque lightness that works convincingly as a chilled, contemporary flanker of the original — and No.5 L’Eau in 2016, which smells as peachy and rosy as the dawn.
I can’t think of another perfume that has had the famous Any Warhol portrait treatment, can you? Do you like No.5, in any of its current versions or flankers? And happy Mother’s Day to all who are celebrating it today!
May Muguet Marathon: Chanel Paris-Biarritz
Last summer (2018), Chanel launched “Les Eaux de Chanel”, three eaux de toilette named after three destinations to which Chanel herself traveled from Paris. The destinations are Biarritz, Venise, and Deauville. Created by Olivier Polge, Chanel’s in-house perfumer, each of these fragrances opens with a strong medley of citrus notes. They are intended to be very fresh and lively, and so they are.
Paris-Biarritz is a tribute to the seaside resort in the southwest Basque region of France, which became fashionable during the time of Empress Eugenie and Napoleon III, who built a grand summer home there. Chanel opened her first true “salon de couture” here, in 1915, during World War I when many wealthy people sought refuge and distance from the war. The international clientele of Biarritz allowed her to earn enough that she became financially independent, and the town is thus integral to the history of her fashion house. Perfumer Olivier Polge describes the intent behind Les Eaux:
“This is a new sort of collection of perfumes, we call them Les Eaux because they’re fresh, fluid, sparkling. My source of inspiration came from Eau de cologne, those combinations of fresh citrus oils,” says Polge. Each scent was inspired and named after a destination vitally important to Coco Chanel’s life: Venice, Biarritz, and the beach town Deauville where she opened her very first boutique in 1913. “The three cities are really important in the history of Chanel. They became a part of our identity and source of inspiration,” he says.
The story of Coco Chanel in Biarritz is best told by Chanel itself, in this short film:
Like its siblings, Paris-Biarritz opens with a burst of citruses, in this case orange, lemon, bergamot, grapefruit, and tangerine. The combination is very appealing; there is sweetness from the orange and tangerine, tartness from the lemon and grapefruit, and some greenness from the bergamot. It takes a while for any heart notes to show up, and the first one I perceive is the neroli, which seems fitting since it is the source of orange blossom absolute. The bergamot lingers the longest of all those citrus top notes, which leads nicely into the greener heart of the fragrance. The words used by Chanel to describe this fragrance include “exceptionally fresh”, “dynamic”, “vivacious”, and I would agree.
As the citruses settle down, the neroli shows up, then lily of the valley and unspecified green notes. This heart phase is floral, but lightly so. Given that both lily of the valley and neroli give off citrusy and green aromas, and bergamot is a very “green” citrus to my nose, the greenness of the middle stage works well and quite smoothly. I think the neroli takes precedence over the lily of the valley, however. The citrus notes last longer than I might have expected, which I appreciate. This is a truly unisex fragrance, very reminiscent of summer colognes but longer lasting.
That doesn’t mean it has great longevity, though, because it doesn’t. Not bad for a citrus-focused fragrance, but after just a few hours, it is gone. The base notes are, to my nose, skin scents, and I can’t even say that I smell any patchouli, just a lingering light note of white musk. Some will enjoy reapplying it often to enjoy the beautiful citrus top notes. If you are seeking a a true lily of the valley fragrance, this isn’t it, but it is very appealing.
Have you tried any of “Les Eaux de Chanel”? Did you like any?
Thunking Thursday: Gabrielle
I’ve realized I have two completely opposite ways that I thunk samples. One, I happily thunk a sample because I liked it so much that a full bottle has entered my house, either for me or a loved one. That is how I thunked Vitriol d’Oeillet, because I had bought a full bottle for my husband. It smells super on him, and I can get another sniff any time. I also thunked a sample of Tiffany & Co. Intense, because I knew I would be getting a full bottle for Christmas.
Two, I’ll cheerfully thunk a sample when I know I probably won’t hanker for it in the future, but I don’t hate it so much that I can’t finish the sample. Gabrielle, the new pillar fragrance from Chanel, falls into that category for me. It is a pretty fragrance, and I’ll even say it is better than most of the fruity-florals aimed at younger women, but to me it suffers by comparison with the much more interesting Chanel No. 5 L’Eau. So today is the day I will thunk my sample of Gabrielle, with some affection but no regret.
How do you think about thunking? Any thunks this week?
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.
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.
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.