May Melange Marathon: Mother’s Day and No. 5

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!

Bottles of Chanel No.5 perfume by Andy Warhol
Chanel No.5 portraits by Andy Warhol; image from Fragrantica.com.
May Melange Marathon: Lily

May Melange Marathon: Lily

Parfums Christian Dior is responsible for possibly the most famous muguet fragrance of all time, Diorissimo. A less-known, discontinued muguet fragrance by Dior is the lovely Lily, launched in 1999. The perfumer behind it is Florence Idier, who also created Comme des Garcons’ Series 1 Leaves: Lily, another lily-of-the-valley fragrance. There is another fragrance called Lily Dior, but the one I have is just called Lily; it is an eau de toilette.

Advertising illustration for Lily eau de toilette by Christian Dior
Lily, by Parfums Christian Dior; image from Fragrantica

Fragrantica (which has a photo of the wrong bottle on this fragrance’s page, btw; it shows 2004’s Lily Dior) lists its notes as: Top notes are Green Notes, Fruity Notes, Bergamot and Brazilian Rosewood; middle notes are Lily-of-the-Valley, Lilac, Lily, Jasmine and Rose; base notes are Musk and Sandalwood.

I acquired my bottle of Lily within the past year, so it has never featured in my frequent “May Muguet Marathon.” It wouldn’t be May for me without some reviews of muguet fragrances! I like Lily very much, and if I didn’t already have several true-love muguet fragrances, it would be among my top dozen. Even as a vintage eau de toilette, its top notes are clear and strong, with a noticeable fruit note at the start that reminds me of a green pear. The only listed top note that I don’t really smell is the rosewood; the opening is very fresh and green.

The lily-of-the valley note steps forward quickly and it is very natural-smelling (although LOTV notes famously rely on clever combinations of other substances, as the flowers’ natural essence cannot be extracted). The companion notes of lilac and jasmine are evident, with the lilac slightly more obvious than the jasmine. At this stage, Lily reminds me a lot of the 1998 version of Guerlain’s Muguet, which was created by Jean-Paul Guerlain and launched the year before Lily.

Hmmm. The list of notes for each fragrance is almost identical, according to Fragrantica. The clear presence of both lilac and jasmine in the middle stage, as part of the evocation of lily-of-the-valley, is very similar in each fragrance. Lily‘s opening is distinctive, though, with that green pear note that gives it some zing together with the bergamot. I’m going to give Parfums Dior the benefit of the doubt here, though: Christian Dior’s association with the muguet, his favorite flower, goes back decades and prompted the creation of Diorissimo; the flower appeared regularly in Dior fashions: dresses, scarves, hats, jewelry, and apparently he had a tradition of giving sprigs of lilies-of-the-valley to employees every May Day, which the fashion house continues to this day. Don’t you just love this hat?

Hat decorated with artificial lilies of the valley silk flowers
Lily of the valley hat by Christian Dior

The Christian Dior name is also attached to a wide variety of household goods featuring lilies of the valley as his signature flower, everything from sheets to fine porcelain. A new collection of muguet-themed housewares was launched by Dior last year, and they are quite beautiful.

As my regular readers know, I truly love muguet fragrances. I struggle to grow them here in the South, as it really is too hot and humid here for them, but I have a few plants I have nursed along in dedicated planters on the shady edge of our front terrace, where I can keep them well-watered and mulched with the rich humus compost they love. Lily is very true to the natural scent of lilies-of-the-valley and it doesn’t smell soapy at all to my nose, unlike some LOTV fragrances. It doesn’t last more than a few hours, which is the norm for most muguet fragrances, especially in eau de toilette concentrations. While it lasts, though, it is very pretty. However, most of the prices you will see online for Lily are too high, considering that one can easily find lovely, newer, muguet fragrances that are more affordable, or at least fresh (see my “May Muguet Marathon” posts for some suggestions!).

For a lovely post on lily-of-the-valley scents, check out one of my favorite blogs, Bois de Jasmin. Its author, Victoria, mentions Dior’s Lily briefly in the comment section. She writes about muguet fragrances pretty regularly, as it is a favorite scent of hers. I know lily-of-the-valley scents can be polarizing; people tend to like them very much, as I do, or not at all. How do you feel about them?

My bottle of Lily, in front of my muguet

May Melange Marathon: La Vierge de Fer

May Melange Marathon: La Vierge de Fer

Today’s floral is Serge Lutens’ La Vierge de Fer, which means “Iron Maiden” in English. The Iron Maiden was a notorious (though possibly apocryphal) medieval torture device, an upright metal box shaped like a person, in which spikes were set into the interior of the opening, which, when closed, would pierce a prisoner locked inside the device. Lovely.

I don’t follow Serge Lutens very closely although I have and appreciate several of his fragrances, and I would love to visit his boutique in the Palais-Royal in Paris some day. So I don’t really buy into the self-consciously arcane descriptions of his fragrances, but here is what the brand writes about La Vierge de Fer:

Let there be light! And darkness no more. He who wishes does not have a black soul! “I will come as a thief …” said Christ; certainly in silence and probably, for him, wearing shoes. To deserve his title, the Thief must act under the wide-open eye of the absent owners. In this case, it is not that tenuous eye with which Cain stares without regret, but another, which in some way will make an accomplice of Abel. If the fetishes, idols and charms of the Museum of Man, in Paris, had not met the 20th century, everyone would have missed that incredible mockery of Eros which The Young Ladies of Avignon certainly is. “The Negros had understood that everything which surrounds us is our enemy”, the wizard Picasso said to his paintbrush. Who, if not one of them, decided on life, by death, would dare, to unclench the teeth of this sex of the world: fear. Since it is the fruit of our entrails, it must be elevated. For that, not fearing incest, we will embrace it. In this way, she will give birth to our most beautiful monsters. That is how, a little rusty by dint of doubts, my steps have rejoined La vierge de fer (the Iron Maiden); that lily amongst the thorns.

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May Melange Marathon: Layering Zara Emotions

May Melange Marathon: Layering Zara Emotions

Today’s fragrance is a true “melange”, from the Zara Emotions line, a series of fragrances created by the perfumer Jo Malone for Zara, the clothing retailer that is known for its inexpensive yet effective fragrances. In interviews, Ms. Malone has said that the line uses raw ingredients similar to the ones she uses in her own (much more expensive) line, Jo Loves, taking advantage of Zara’s enormous global buying power; there are just fewer separate ingredients in each Zara Emotions fragrance. The Zara Emotions fragrances are pretty simple but several are very appealing, and they are designed to be easy to layer with each other. So today, I am wearing one of the brand’s recommended combinations, Waterlily Tea Dress and Amalfi Sunray.

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May Melange Marathon: Chamade

May Melange Marathon: Chamade

Not quite as legendary as some other Guerlains, Chamade nonetheless has its passionate devotees. Luca Turin gave it five stars in the original “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide”, though it’s not clear whether he was reviewing parfum or eau de toilette. The most recent version I have is the eau de toilette in the “bee bottle”; it has recently been reissued by Guerlain as part of its 2021 “Patrimoine Collection”, for which six of its most famous fragrances have been bottled in the design of the original Mitsouko bottle with its hollowed heart stopper. (The list of notes for the reissued Chamade, by the way, is much shorter than that for the original, and puts some of them in a different order).

Originally created by Jean-Paul Guerlain in 1969, Chamade seems to have been an attempt to bridge earlier generations of Guerlain fragrances to a new generation of fragrance that would appeal to the ascendant youth culture, catering to the Baby Boomers who entered their 20s during the 1960s. Chamade is by no means an avant-garde or hippie scent, though. It reminds me of the most senior girls at the Belgian convent school I attended for a couple of years as a young child — young ladies from good families, many of them minor aristocrats, who were picked up after school on Fridays by dashing, slightly older boyfriends driving small sports cars. The senior girls were also allowed to change out of their school uniforms on Friday afternoons, and I have a dim memory of admiring their bright A-line dresses: ladylike, expensive, but youthful. That is how Chamade strikes me: like the kind of fragrance a chic European mother or grandmother would have given then to an 18 year-old as her “first Guerlain.”

Cover of Mademoiselle magazine, girl in yellow dress with gloves and hat
Mademoiselle magazine cover, 1960.
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Perfume Chat Room, April 9

Perfume Chat Room, April 9

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, April 9, and I’ve had a lovely week, starting with Easter. I took this week off from work, to rest up before the final push toward the end of the semester and final exams (I work all summer, too, but it’s less hectic once the students have left). Usually I would have had a week off for a university spring break in March, but that was canceled this year, in an attempt to reduce travel back and forth from the campus and thus spreading infection.

The weather has been beautiful, including Easter Sunday, and we were able to attend church in person, outside in the courtyard. The volunteers who handle everything from set-up to flowers outdid themselves, and everything was just beautiful. I’ve spent most of this week gardening, including in my new raised-bed vegetable garden, so things look tidier than usual!

Easter flowers

We’re also making real progress on putting our house back together — the two semi-demolished bathrooms now have floors and tiles again, and most of the plumbing fixtures are back in place. The shower in one bathroom is mostly rebuilt. Electrical work has been done to replace lighting in that bathroom too, though the fixtures have to wait until all the plaster and paint have been redone. The living room and dining room still look like scenes of demolition, with great gaping holes in the ceilings and one wall, but those will be handled as part of one massive re-plastering. I can’t wait to have my house back, after all these months!

Meanwhile, the fragrant flowers blooming in my garden include: the first roses; Korean lilacs; late daffodils; violets; lilies of the valley. The large pots of herbs I planted last year are sending up new growth, including the pretty silver-leaved lavenders. Since I’m at home all day to take proper care of them, I’ve started quite a few seeds, and I’m excited to see how they do. I also have pots of forced hyacinths and Easter lilies in the house, which I’ll plant out when they start to fade.

How was your week? What’s in bloom near you? Do you have any favorite fragrances with notes from the flowers in my garden, or yours?

Perfume Chat Room, April 2

Perfume Chat Room, April 2

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, April 2, and it is Good Friday, for those who celebrate Easter. I love Easter! Today is a solemn day in the Christian church, but it is also the start of one of my favorite holiday weekends, during one of my favorite times of year. In my part of the US, we are enjoying a full outbreak of spring, with daffodils, tulips, and other bulbs blooming in profusion, flowering trees in full blossom, green leaves tipping the tree branches, and longer days of sunshine. The fact that this week has been unusually cool and wet is letting me make up for some lost time in planting seeds that prefer to germinate in colder temperatures. There’s always a silver lining! And today, while chillier than usual, is bright and sunny.

My lilies of the valley are getting ready to bloom outdoors, which is always an opportunity for me to compare muguet-centered fragrances with the real thing. I also have a potted Easter lily for indoors, and some forced hyacinths to bring inside, so my weekend will be filled with the scents of spring. Now I just have to decide which fragrances to wear myself! As many of you know, I lean strongly toward greens and florals, which work well for spring and Easter. I’m sure my perennial favorite, Ostara, will make an appearance this weekend.

I’m happy that all three of our kids will be home for the holiday; one has also invited a friend. Our church has set up for outdoor services, with groups of seats appropriately spaced, and other safety protocols. I’m looking forward to that; they did that last week for Palm Sunday, and it was very meaningful to be back onsite, even outside. I’ll cook the usual Easter Sunday feast, with roast lamb and spring asparagus plus other assorted side dishes. If you celebrate Easter, do you have any special plans?

Perfume Chat Room, March 19

Perfume Chat Room, March 19

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, March 19, and I’m delighted to say that I got my first COVID vaccination shot yesterday! So far, so good; my arm is just a little sore. As hoped last week, my husband and I were able to go on Sunday to my “happy place” full of daffodils; as expected, they were magnificent! And inspired by Undina’s question on her blog, Undina’s Looking Glass, about photographing perfumes, I took my bottle of Ostara with us and took pictures of it in several locations among the millions of daffodils. I will say that I got some puzzled looks from other garden visitors, and one actually asked me what I was photographing as I crouched down to get closer to the flowers and the bottle! He laughed delightedly when I told him.

I’m sad to say, though, that I just found out that one of my favorite fragrance bloggers, Kafkaesque, has recently learned that almost 200 pages worth of her blog content has apparently been appropriated by an “author” in England who self-publishes books on Amazon. She is understandably very upset and angry, as she was never contacted for permission or informed of this use of her writings. Her blog is notable for her extensive knowledge of perfumes and her long, detailed explorations and analyses of them, and I have learned so much from her. She paused writing for some time but the blog was (and is) still up and available to read, and she resumed posting after the November 2020 elections. If you’re new to reading fragrance blogs, hers is very interesting and I recommend it. I don’t always agree with her take on scents, but I always admire her passion and knowledge!

In other news, I was touched to see a lovely article in this week’s New York Times about the late Carlos Powell, aka YouTube’s “Brooklyn Fragrance Lover.” I rarely watch video reviews of fragrances, I much prefer to read about them, but by all accounts, Carlos was a beloved and friendly member of the fragrance community and is missed by many. I really enjoyed reading more about him.

What are you looking forward to this weekend?

Penhaligon’s Ostara eau de toilette among daffodils
Scent Sample Sunday: Zara Emotions by Jo Malone

Scent Sample Sunday: Zara Emotions by Jo Malone

I have been eagerly awaiting the US launch of Zara’s collection of fragrances, Emotions, in collaboration with perfumer Jo Malone. I love some of her fragrances under her own brand, Jo Loves, so I was curious to see what she came up with for Zara, well-known as a destination for budget-conscious shoppers. Zara has released many, many fragrances under its own name, some created by famous perfumers, such as Vibrant Leather, created by Jerome Epinette. The Emotions collection launched in Europe in late 2019, but it took another year to become available in the USA. Luckily, it arrived in time for the holidays, and I treated myself and one of my daughters each to the sample/discovery set. It costs $25.90.

The discovery set is a nice size: eight long, narrow vials of eau de parfum, each holding 4 ml of a different fragrance. The collection consists of: Amalfi Sunray, Bohemian Bluebells, Ebony Wood, Fleur de Patchouli, Fleur d’Oranger, Tubereuse Noir, Vetiver Pamplemousse, Waterlily Tea Dress. The vials are “dabbers”, not sprays. Each fragrance lists only three notes, and I think they would be ideal for layering, with each other or with other fragrances. In fact, the Zara website sells “layering sets” with various combinations of the collection’s fragrances, with one scent in a 15 ml “paintbrush” format and two more in 10 ml sprays. The sets offer some ideas for layering which I plan to try with my discovery set.

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Gifts of the Three Magi: Frankly Frankincense — takeonethingoff.com

Each of the gifts of the three Magi carried a special symbolic meaning – gold representing kingship, myrrh foreshadowing the death of Jesus (myrrh being commonly used as an embalming and purifying ointment in the final sendoff of a soul), and finally, frankincense for divinity. 171 more words

Gifts of the Three Magi: Frankly Frankincense — takeonethingoff.com

Reposting this from a blog I like very much: Take One Thing Off. So many incense-based fragrances! I’ve tried some but not all — which ones have you tried? Any favorites?