Scent Sample Sunday: Miss Dior

Scent Sample Sunday: Miss Dior

I always love a good chypre, and I love seriously green fragrances, and those two traits often travel together. So I admit, it’s a little odd that I hadn’t yet tried vintage Miss Dior, given that its vintage formula includes many of my favorite notes and it is most certain a green floral chypre. Well, I was able to get my hands on one of the houndstooth bottles of Miss Dior eau de toilette, and this is love.

Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: Top notes are aldehydes, gardenia, galbanum, clary sage and bergamot; middle notes are carnation, iris, orris root, jasmine, neroli, lily-of-the-valley, rose and narcissus; base notes are labdanum, leather, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, oakmoss and vetiver. To my nose, the most prominent of the opening notes are the galbanum and clary sage, with a soupcon of aldehydes. I don’t pick up bergamot or gardenia at all, and that may be because of my bottle’s age, although it is in excellent condition. Some top notes seem to disappear from vintage fragrances.

Happily for me, the galbanum is alive, well, and kicking! I love galbanum, and that’s a big part of what attracted me to trying Miss Dior. It also suits the weather at this time of year, where I live. Early October is usually dry, with a crisp nip in the air in the evenings and in the morning, bracketing warm sunny days with clear blue skies. In the heart phase of its drydown, I mostly smell carnation, narcissus, iris, and orris root, which is just fine because those are also favorite notes. These floral notes are so well-blended, though, that it’s hard to sense them apart and I don’t doubt that the other listed notes are present.

Among the base notes, the oakmoss is most prominent, which I also love. The final stage of Miss Dior is both warm and cold, in an intriguing way. The warmth is supplied by labdanum, sandalwood, and amber; the cool is generated by vetiver and oakmoss, with patchouli bridging the gap between the warmth and the cooler notes. This is so clever in how perfectly it captures the spirit of the young women M. Dior saw as his ideal models and customers. One author who has written about Dior’s aesthetic notes: “For all its charm, Dior’s vision of feminine style relied on a certain calculated hauteur. But the relationship that he shared with the many women in his life was characterized by an unusual closeness.” The fragrance brilliantly captures both hauteur and intimacy, like the come-hither but not-too-close impression of one of his muses, Grace Kelly. It was named after the woman who may have been his most important inspiration: his own beloved younger sister, Catherine Dior, a genuine heroine of the French Resistance who suffered terribly as a prisoner of the Nazis from 1944-1945. After the war, she turned her love of flowers, shared by her brother, into a commercial enterprise as a broker of flowers.

Victoria at “Bois de Jasmin” has written a wonderful review of Miss Dior that gives a brief history:

The birth of Miss Dior coincides with Christian Dior’s first fashion show held in a salon on the avenue Montaigne in Paris on February 12th, 1947. In a rebellious move against the austerity imposed by the cloth rations and the angular lines of wartime fashions, Dior showcased the strikingly feminine collection of cinched waists, softly rounded shoulders and voluminous ankle length skirts. “It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian. Your dresses have such a new look,” remarked Carmel Snow, editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar. New Look became a phrase that would symbolize this collection, which resuscitated the French fashion industry and led to Dior receiving the Legion of Honor from the French government.

When I think of how the woman personified by Miss Dior might look, I think of Cate Blanchett’s wardrobe in the film “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” If you’ve never seen that, I highly recommend it. It has a wonderful cast, a twisting, turning plot, and gorgeous design in all aspects: cinematography and wardrobe being standouts. Ms. Blanchett’s character, Meredith Logue, is an old-money American socialite, who wears couture clothes with the nipped waist and full skirt that are so closely associated with Christian Dior and his “New Look.”

I’m really enjoying vintage Miss Dior! My longtime Dior fragrance love has always been Diorissimo, but this little houndstooth bottle of Miss Dior is making me very happy. I know many fragrance aficionados rage against the reformulations of Dior fragrances in recent decades under LVMH’s ownership — do you like any of the current versions?

Scent Sample Sunday: Diptyque 34 Boulevard Saint Germain

Scent Sample Sunday: Diptyque 34 Boulevard Saint Germain

Today’s scent sample is one I am surprisingly close to “thunking”, which I hadn’t expected. I was given a house sample of Diptyque’s 34 Boulevard Saint Germain with my purchase of the house’s Eau Rose hair mist. I was happy to have it, but didn’t anticipate much from it. It has been sitting on my bedside table with some other samples, so I pulled it out earlier this week when I was settling in for my usual bedtime reading. At first spray, I thought to myself, “this is VERY pleasant.” As I continued reading, I periodically sniffed my wrist, and thought, “this is still REALLY nice.” And when I woke up the next morning, having had it on my skin by then for several hours, it STILL smelled really good.

So I did that again the next night. And the next, including last night. And here I am, on a Sunday morning, writing about it as my sample of the week. What is it like, and why am I liking it so much?

34 BSG is classed by Fragrantica as a “chypre floral”, created in 2011 by perfumer Olivier Pescheux to mark the 50th anniversary of Diptyque. It lists the notes as follows: top notes: blackcurrant, green leaves, fir leaf, citruses, pink pepper, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon; heart: rose, geranium, tuberose, iris and violet; base: woods, resins, balsams and eucalyptus. M. Pescheux has created many fragrances for many houses, covering a wide range of prestige and cost, but he has specifically created at least fifteen fragrances for Diptyque. 34 BSG is meant to evoke the complex smell of Diptyque’s first store, which was located at 34 Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris.

I think what makes me like 34 BSG right away is the lively opening dominated, to my nose, by blackcurrant, green notes, and cardamom, all notes I love in fragrance. Hovering behind those are more notes I enjoy: fir leaf, citruses, and cloves. I don’t pick up much pepper or cinnamon, just general spiciness. Of the floral heart notes, the one I smell most strongly is the tuberose, but it is pretty subtle, unlike the way I experience many tuberose fragrances where that is the dominant note. So if you’d like a scent with tuberose but prefer it in small doses, this might be a good option for you, as it is for me. The theme of green notes, given lift and sparkle in the opening by the citruses, blackcurrant, and fir leaf, continues in the heart by way of the geranium note.

The subtlety of the tuberose, combined with the woods, resins, and green notes, also makes this an absolutely unisex fragrance. As I’ve been wearing it over the last few days, I’ve wondered whether I might like it even more on my husband. As it dries down, that lively opening gives way to subtle floral notes, and quite soon those give way to a very warm and comforting base, with its woody notes, resins, balsams, and a touch of eucalyptus to carry on the green leitmotif. That base is what persists until the morning on my skin, when I apply 34 BSG at night — a good 8-10 hours’ longevity, which is excellent for an eau de toilette!

I haven’t really delved into Diptyque fragrances, partly due to their prices and the fact that they rarely go on sale (I’m allergic to paying full retail prices for fragrance). But I’m very taken with this one, in addition to Eau Rose and Eau Rose in the hair mist formulation. I know some of my regular readers are big fans of Philosykos. Any others?

Featured image from PSLABS.

Scent Sample Sunday: Diorella

Scent Sample Sunday: Diorella

Christian Dior’s Diorella was created in 1972 by the legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, a sibling of his masterpiece Diorissimo. It is one of the fragrances awarded five stars by Turin and Sanchez in their book “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide.” Although they docked one star from it in their 2009 update, they still found it excellent. I have a bottle of Diorella that I think dates to 2002, according to the guidelines described in the “Raiders of the Lost Scent” blog (a great resource).

It smells great! Continue reading

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: 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.