As many of you know, perfumer Diane St. Clair first became known for making the country’s best butter, as determined (and bought) by the country’s best chefs. The New York Times just published a lovely article about how she has retired her dairy business by selling it to a local young couple of dairy farmers who want to follow in her footsteps: “America’s Most Luxurious Butter Lives to Churn Another Day.”
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, June 25, and we are enjoying unusually cool, dry weather. My husband and I are also indulging in a bit of second-career fantasy/brainstorming, revolving around the sudden appearance on the market of a beloved local nursery business. Maybe I’ll follow in the footsteps of Diane St. Clair, the very gifted founder and perfumer of St. Clair Scents, and combine farming with perfumery! I do love several of her fragrances, like Gardener’s Glove and First Cut. In fact, since I wore her Pandora yesterday for the “community project” at Now Smell This, I think I’ll wear First Cut today, since we were recently in New England and saw the “first cut” of hay.
What scent are you wearing today? Do you ever have second-career or side-hustle daydreams involving perfume?
I have long been a fan of Diane St. Clair’s fragrance creations, especially Gardener’s Glove but also First Cut. Frost is the third of that trio, her first releases which arrived in 2018. (For three very comprehensive reviews, you must read Kafkaesque’s detailed dissection of each). When I first read the name of that scent, I thought it would relate to frost, as in fall and winter temperatures, but instead, it refers to the poet Robert Frost, who wrote many of his most famous poems a short distance from Diane’s dairy farm in Vermont. Per her website:
“This scent follows the story of Frost’s poem, “To Earthward” which describes the transformation of youthful love, from “sweet like the petals of the rose” and “sprays of honeysuckle” to painful love, which stings like “bitter bark”, “burning clove” and “rough earth.”Continue reading
Today I am thunking my precious sample of St. Clair Scents‘ First Cut. I’m tempted to get a travel size bottle of it, especially as she has a promo code for 10% off all bottles between now and Valentine’s Day: LOVE10. I don’t think I will, though; I have plenty of scents to enjoy. Besides, I might rather get Gardener’s Glove!
How did your own thunking go this week? Anyone care to post a total for January? I think Brigitte is in the lead …
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.
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?
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.