Scent Sample Sunday: Meet Me On The Corner

Scent Sample Sunday: Meet Me On The Corner

There are times when I am reminded that there is SO MUCH about English experience that is completely unfamiliar to me, in spite of having had an English mother. Of course, she came to America in the early 1950s, married my father and stayed, so much of her actual English experience predates 1960, and after that it was secondhand, mostly via her younger sister who was a model and actress during the era of “London Swings” (in fact, the second wife of Bernard Lewis, of “Chelsea Girl” fame). I bring this up because I am a devotee of the fragrances created by Sarah McCartney under her brand “4160 Tuesdays“, and was recently intrigued by her latest crowdfunding project, Meet Me On The Corner.

According to Sarah, this fragrance was inspired by a song of the same name that reached number 1 in the UK pop charts in 1972, by a folk rock group named Lindisfarne. I had never heard of the group, or the song, but Sarah’s story of how they reunited annually for many years for a Christmas concert in Newcastle, starting in 1976, and the inspiration she drew from their best-known song, were so charming that I took part in this year’s crowdfunding of the scent. Sarah has been thinking about this fragrance for a long time, as noted in this 2014 interview with CaFleureBon. Her latest commentary about it is here:

And now I have my very own bottle of Meet Me On The Corner, and I love it! (I also got the seasonal scent she mentions in the video, Christmas Concert, and will review that later this week after I attend an actual Christmas concert).

Meet Me On The Corner is a citrus chypre meant to evoke the fragrances that were popular in the 1970s like Sarah’s favorite Diorella, before the Blitzkrieg of 1980s powerhouses like Giorgio Beverly Hills — comparable to folk rock giving way to glam rock and its 1980s offspring. The 1971 song itself, which I hadn’t heard before, is a sweet, self-consciously folksy derivative of Bob Dylan’s 1965 Mr. Tambourine Man; of the versions on YouTube, I prefer the 2003 edition:

This is the refrain that inspired Sarah:

Meet me on the corner,
When the lights are coming on,
And I’ll be there.
I promise I’ll be there.
Down the empty streets,
We’ll disappear into the dawn,
If you have dreams enough to share.

So what is the fragrance like? It opens with a really pretty citrus, very lemony but not only lemon. There is another, less sweet citrus note which seems to be bergamot, but I clearly smell lemon too — not so much the fruit, but more like lemon zest and lemon tree. Maybe citron or petitgrain? Sarah says that the fragrance includes a peach lactone (a key ingredient of Edmond Roudnitska’s 1972 Diorella as well as Guerlain’s legendary ur-chypre, Mitsouko), flowery hedione (central to another Roudnitska masterpiece, the 1966 Eau Sauvage), and magnolia leaf. Here is what one producer says about the latter: it “exudes an aroma that is greener, more crisp and woody than the sweet scent of Magnolia Flower. The aroma of this rare Magnolia grandiflora leaf essential oil is clean and refined. Magnolia leaf is quite intriguing with hints of fig, bergamot and myrtle.”

As an official “notes list” isn’t yet available, I will offer a layperson’s guess and say that top notes include bergamot, citron, petitgrain; heart notes include peach, jasmine, fig, magnolia leaf, green notes (myrtle?); base notes include musk, woody and resinous notes (labdanum?), vetiver or oakmoss. I hope someone will issue a correct list! Meet Me At The Corner is a unisex fragrance, as befits the sometimes androgynous 1970s. It neatly combines aspects of Diorella and Eau Sauvage; this might be their love-child. It is bright and sunny, youthful without being sweet. It is, as Sarah has written, a fragrance to be “worn by women in jeans and men with long hair who scandalised our Edwardian grandparents.”

As I learned more about the song, the era, and Lindisfarne’s Christmas concerts, begun to raise funds for Newcastle City Hall, a concert venue, I also learned about the deep poverty that still afflicted Newcastle upon Tyne and its Dickensian slums in the 1970s, so well documented by photographer Nick Hedges for the UK charity Shelter. I also found this marvelous photo of the Pilgrim Street fire station in Newcastle in 1972, and I am guessing this may be the one that Sarah describes frequenting with her friends as teenagers:

Fire station on Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, UK, 1972, with pedestrians

Newcastle Fire Station 1972; image from Newcastle Chronicle.

Sarah has said on the 4160 Tuesdays website that Meet Me On The Corner will likely return as a regular offering in 2020, so keep an eye out for it; you can keep up with news on the 4160 Tuesdays Facebook page. It will be worth the wait!

Teenaged girls wearing tie-dyed clothing, 1970s, Doreen Spooner

Tye-dye girls, Doreen Spooner/Getty Images

 

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?

Scent Sample Sunday: Dryad

Scent Sample Sunday: Dryad

I first learned about dryads from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, books I dearly loved as a child and still love. Dryads are tree spirits, nymphs who personify trees and may inhabit them. They are benign pagan beings, female, and sometimes referred to as “wood-women” in Narnia. In the Narnia books, Lewis describes both male and female tree spirits, but he only uses “dryad” to refer to female spirits. Dryads, when they appear in human form, take on the characteristics of the particular trees they inhabit: birch-girls in silver, beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow.”

Illustration of a dryad tree nymph by Arthur Rackham.

Dryad, by Arthur Rackham, 1913.

Papillon Artisan Perfumes’ Liz Moores has conjured up a bewitching, witchy green perfume in her 2017 creation, Dryad. I have a great love for green scents, as well as the florals I love, and this nymph has won my heart. From the Papillon website:

As vibrant emerald Galbanum weaves with the delicate flesh of Bergamot, the nomadic wanderings of Dryad begin.

Beneath jade canopies, sweet-herbed Narcissus nestles with gilded Jonquil. Shadows of Apricot and Cedrat morph radiant greens to a soft golden glow.

Earthed within the ochre roots of Benzoin, heady Oakmoss entwines with deep Vetiver hues.

And at its heart, the slick skin of Costus beckons you further into the forest…

And into the forest I happily go! Papillon lists the notes as follows: Narcissus, Oakmoss, Jonquil, Cedrat, Galbanum, Benzoin, Vetiver. The narcissus and jonquil notes are very evident at the start, but the galbanum (a green resin) is right there with them, giving a sharpness in contrast to the floral notes, as if to remind us that there are no living flowers without green stems and leaves. Dryad does not evoke a bouquet or still life of cut flowers — far from it. It smells like a tree come to life — a vibrant, dynamic being with unpredictable movement. This nymph dances.

Green nymph Fantasia

Image from Disney’s Fantasia 2000

As it dries down, Dryad brings out more and more of the oakmoss, the cedar, and the benzoin, which happens to be an oil extracted from a specific kind of tree. The word “dryad” comes from the ancient Greek word for oak, so oakmoss also fits right in. Honestly, this fragrance is so clever as well as lovely! As I had hoped when Dryad‘s launch was announced, this fragrance is GREEN as well as being a chypre. If you hate Chanel No. 19, for instance, you may want to keep your distance. Even the bergamot mentioned in the website copy is a green citrus, not a sweet one. Despite several wood-related notes, though, Dryad never feels “woody” to me.

This is a potent potion; one small spritz on each of my wrists, and I happily smelled it wafting up to my nose all evening. I don’t think it carries very far away from me, i.e. sillage is moderate, but it lasts for several hours. The more it dries down, the more I detect a faint sweetness; the sharper edge of the opening stage has softened. The whole progression has a vintage vibe, but the fragrance is thoroughly modern and unisex.

Dryad is perfect for the cool, sunny fall days we are having now, with the nights that approach, but do not quite reach, frost. While doing some research for this post, I found a poem that C.S. Lewis wrote in the 1940s, before the Narnia books. It describes a magician forcing a dryad to leave her tree and take human form, which she experiences as a prison; he releases her to return to her tree, but the tree’s leaves fall and it will wither and die. Dryad is not a sad or withering scent, just as fall is not a season of death. Trees lose their leaves in the fall so they can slumber through the winter, and awake afresh in the spring, bursting into green with the daffodils. So Lewis’ poem is not quite apropos here, but I’ll share it anyway, and borrow some of his words:

She drank
With thirst of myriad mouths the bursting cataracts of the sun,
The drizzle of gentler stars, and indivisible small rain.
Wading the dark earth, made of earth and light, cradled in air …

This Dryad does indeed embrace the sun, the rain, the dark earth, and the green air of an ancient forest, like the New Forest where she was born. And even when she slumbers, the promise of her reawakening lies beneath the surface.

Mud Maid sculpture in the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

Mud Maid, the Lost Gardens of Heligan

MAGICIAN
Out of your dim felicity of leaves, oh Nymph appear,
answer me in soft-showery voice, attempt the unrooted dance
–My art shall sponsor the enormity. Now concentrate,
Around, where in your vegetative heart it drowses deep
In seminal sleep, your feminine response. Conjuro te
Per Hecates essentiam et noctis silentia,

Breaking by Trivia’s name your prison of bark. Beautiful, awake.

DRYAD
Risen from the deep lake of my liberty, into your prison
She has come, cruel commander.

MAGICIAN
I have given speech to the dumb.
Will you not thank me, silver lady?

DRYAD
Oh till now she drank
With thirst of myriad mouths the bursting cataracts of the sun,
The drizzle of gentler stars, and indivisible small rain.
Wading the dark earth, made of earth and light, cradled in air,
All that she was, she was all over. Now the mask you call
A Face has blotted out the ambient hemisphere’s embrace;
Her light is screwed into twin nodules of tormenting sight;
Searing divisions tear her into five. She cannot hear
But only see, the moon; earth has no taste; she cannot breathe
at every branch vibrations of the sky. For a dome of severance,
A helmet, a dark, rigid box of bone, has overwhelmed
Her hair…that was her lungs…that was her nerves…that kissed the air.
Crushed in a brain, her thought that circled cooly in every vein
Turns into poison, thickens like a man’s, ferments and burns.
She was at peace when she was in her unity. Oh now release
And let her out into the seamless world, make her forget.

MAGICIAN
Be free. Relapse. And so she vanishes. And now the tree
Grows barer every moment. The leaves fall. A killing air,
Sighing from the country of Man, has withered it. The tree will die.

~C.S. Lewis, “The Magician and the Dryad”, Poems (1964)

Fragrance Friday: First Cut

Fragrance Friday: First Cut

Diane St. Clair is a dairy farmer and artisan maker of butter so good that she supplies it to the legendary French Laundry restaurant, among others. She is also now an artisan perfumer, having launched her first three scents earlier this year under the name St. Clair Scents. I’ve already written about Gardener’s Glove; today, I’ll take a look (or sniff!) at First Cut.

The name refers to the first mowing of a hayfield, in late summer. This is an important time at a dairy farm, as the mown hay will provide fodder for the cows during the winter. Here is the description of First Cut from St. Clair Scents’ website:

The hay harvest is the focus of every dairy farmer’s summer, keeping the fields regenerating and providing hay for the cows in winter.

The mowing and drying of native grasses, clovers, wild flowers, and legumes takes three days of sunshine and many hours of hard work.

This scent is of meadows, herbaceous and green, with wild flowers strewn throughout and splashed with radiant sunshine.

  • Top Notes: Bergamot, Yuzu, Rosemary, Basil, Tomato Leaf Absolute
  • Middle Notes: Lavender Absolute, Rose De Mai, Rose Geranium, Immortelle Absolute
  • Base Notes: Hay Absolute, Tobacco Absolute, Oakmoss, Vanilla Absolute

The opening is strong and appealing — so much so, that my husband suddenly asked, after I had dabbed some on my wrist, “What smells so good?” The bergamot and yuzu really pop. I don’t normally like yuzu in fragrance, but here it really works, as it is dominated by the bergamot I prefer, and accompanied by the herbal notes of rosemary, basil, and tomato leaf. I can’t really pick out the rosemary and basil separately, but all the top notes blend harmoniously into a bright, herbal announcement that something special has arrived.

Kafkaesque offers her usual in-depth, insightful analysis, noting that First Cut merges aspects of both a traditional “fougere” fragrance and a “chypre”. As fougere scents more traditionally appear in men’s fragrances, I’m not as familiar with them, so I’ll share some of what I have learned. Most notably, the classic fougere includes a strong presence of lavender combined with oakmoss and coumarin, the latter widely considered to evoke the scent of sweet hay. And no wonder, based on this information from Fragrantica:

Coumarin … is a synthesized material in most perfumes, but it’s also found in abundance in natural products, such as tonka beans (Dipteryx odorata) where it is the principle aromatic constituent (1-3%). In fact the name derives from “cumaru”, an Amazonian dialect name for the Tonka bean tree. But that’s not all: apart from tonka beans, coumarin also occurs naturally in “vanilla grass” (Anthoxanthum odoratum), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), sweet clover (Meliotus L.), sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata) and cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum) among other species.

First Cut is all about hay, and there among the base notes is “hay absolute”, so we see the relationship to a classic fougere, together with the traditional lavender, oakmoss, and tobacco notes. Unlike a traditional fougere, though, here the lavender is clearly present but not dominant, which I prefer.

In my review of St. Clair Scents’ Gardener’s Glove, I described the meadow that bordered my father’s vegetable garden, the garden that Gardener’s Glove evoked for me. First Cut evokes that meadow and the same sense of a French potager, an enclosed garden that includes vegetables, flowers, fruits, and herbs. This potager, however, is not in New England but in the South of France, with its classic Mediterranean notes of lavender, rosemary, basil, rose de Mai, and citruses. It is on a farm, bordered by hay meadows and lavender fields which figure as much in this fragrance as the kitchen garden.

Filed of lavender and hay meadow on French farm in Provence

Lavender field in Provence; image from https://birdshooter.smugmug.com/

One of the many interesting things about First Cut is that it dries down in a way that mimics the maturing of a hayfield! The initial phase is very fresh, herbal and green, especially with those green herbs and tomato leaf absolute, like the fresh greenness of early summer. The middle stage is more floral, but in the way that midsummer clover is “floral”, nothing like the Big White Flowers. I think it is the immortelle that starts making the fragrance feel drier, as the middle stage leads into a base of dry tobacco, dry hay, dry oakmoss (and vanilla, which adds the creaminess and sweetness that Kafkaesque noted, and balances the dry notes). I love this creative progression and how it summons up the months from early summer through the peak of summer, ending with the late summer hay harvest known as the “first cut.” Brilliant! Even the lingering sweetness in the base is reminiscent of late summer honey from bees that have gorged on meadow flowers. I wonder if Diane St. Clair keeps honeybees?

Wooden beehives in multi-colored wildflower meadow.

Beehives in wildflower meadow; image from http://www.apiplanet.lt.

I like First Cut very, very much — and if you are a man, or have a man in your life, who loves fougeres, try this!  So far, of the two St. Clair Scents I have really tested, my heart still belongs to Gardener’s Glove, but First Cut is beautiful, pleasing, and clever all at once. As the late great perfumer Guy Robert is said to have told many people:  “Un parfum doit avant tout sent bon (A perfume must above all smell good).” First Cut smells very, very good.

Samples kindly provided by St. Clair Scents; opinions are my own.