Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson

Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson

Given the hurricanes we have recently endured here in my part of the world, and in honor of my dear friend who evacuated from Florida a week ago and is able, happily, to return to her intact home tomorrow, it’s time for me to comment on a favorite fragrance: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson, translated as “a garden after the monsoon.” Very apropos, especially considering that my friend is a landscape architect and designer of lovely gardens!

Un Jardin Apres La Mousson is, of course, one of the “Jardin” series of fragrances created for Hermes by Jean-Claude Ellena while he was their in-house perfumer. I love all five of them, but this one is high on my list. Hermes’ website describes it as a unisex fragrance meant to evoke the calm of a wet garden in India after the rain“A serene expression of nature’s rebirth after the monsoon rains.” Jean-Claude Ellena

Un Jardin après la Mousson explores unexpected aspects of India, when the monsoon gives back what the sun has taken from the earth, and drives away the scorching breath of drought. In this novella, ginger, cardamom, coriander, pepper and vetiver tell the story of nature’s rebirth, captured in Kerala in a world overflowing with water.

Mousson’s specific fragrance notes include: cardamom, coriander, pepper, ginger, ginger flower, vetiver, and unspecified citrus, floral and water notes (it seems that the citruses are lime and bergamot). The spices are not hot or warm or traditionally “spicy.” They present themselves as “cool” spices, after a refreshing initial gust of citrus on first application. Omitted from the official list of notes is melon, which clings to the whole composition; some wearers experience that note as more like cucumber. Its presence is confirmed by a later analysis revealing that the aromachemical Melonal is a key ingredient.

Both melons and cucumbers are members of the plant family Cucurbitaceae, the flowering gourds. Both are indigenous to India and have been cultivated there for thousands of years, possibly as long ago as 3000 years. Many varieties of each are cultivated in Kerala and are widely used in Indian cuisine, with cucumbers especially often combined with the spices listed as notes for Mousson. The cucurbits grown in Kerala are “rain-fed crops”, benefiting from the region’s monsoon rains.

Cultivation of gourds and melons hanging from vines in India

Melons and gourds cultivated in India; photo from asianetindia.com

I have never been to India, but I have read that Kerala is one of its most beautiful regions, with tropical beaches and islands, breathtaking waterfalls, tea and cardamom plantations in the hills, rivers, lakes and houseboats. Some travel writers say that monsoon season is an idyllic time there, as the rains are not incessant deluges as in other regions, but daily downpours that last a few hours and disperse every day, allowing sunshine to reveal a remarkably verdant, rain-washed landscape. The rains replenish the famous waterfalls, lakes and rivers and cool the air. Monsoon season is also the time for the harvest festival of Onam; and it is reputed to be the best time for the ayurvedic treatments for which the region is famous.

Kerala, India, waterfall and green mountains during monsoon rainy season.

Kerala waterfall in monsoon season; photo from iryas/wikipedia.

Jean-Claude Ellena visited Kerala more than once during his work on Mousson. One of his trips is described by Phoebe Eaton in Liquid Assets:

In coastal Kerala, spices have been trafficked since the Romans rode in on the winds of the monsoons seeking cardamom and pepper: black gold. Women wear their saris differently here than they do up north, draping them like togas. And when the first monsoon blows in from the Arabian Sea — and it always seems to arrive during the first week of June, extinguishing the scorching rays of the summer sun and ushering in a joyful verdant renewal — the modest women of Kerala rush out into the rain, and the saris cling close to the body.

Chant Wagner wrote a lovingly detailed review of Mousson when it was released in 2008, at www.mimifroufrou.com. She’s a fan, as is Luca Turin; Chandler Burr was not. The latter’s review is puzzling; he spends more than a few sentences on his hypothesis that Ellena’s new creation would present a new experience of the aromachemical Calone, then he expresses outrage that it turns out not to be among the ingredients and calls Mousson a failure. Turin, on the other hand, praises the “core accord” as a “combination of melon, capsicum, and peppercorns” with an “incongruously fruity” effect. His review also notes the watery effects which Chant Wagner describes so well:

From the vantage point of the watery motif, it offers a notable variation on it by introducing a lactic, milky sensation that makes the perfume feel both aqueous, transparent and cloud-like. The fruit that is showcased here – a green cantaloupe going at times in the direction of a buttery watermelon – is [as] fluidly delineated as an impressionistic fruit can be.

Aqueous, transparent and cloud-like. Those words perfectly describe some of the lovely photographs I’ve seen of Kerala during monsoon season:

Clouds over mountains in Kerala, India, during monsoon season.

Kerala in monsoon season; photo sreetours.com

Mousson’s bottle is also lovely; it matches all the bottles of the other Jardin fragrances and, like them, is tinted with ombre shades of green, blue, or both (here, green is combined with blue). The bottle has a pleasing weight in the hand. The outer box is printed with a charming Hermes print of fanciful elephants, monkeys and parrots, cavorting amid flowers with tiny parasols in their grasp.

Print for outer box of Hermes' eau de toilette Un Jardin Apres La Mousson

Un Jardin Apres La Mousson print; hermes.com

I find Un Jardin Apres La Mousson intriguing, delightful, and different. I especially enjoy it during the summers here, which are hot and humid. As an admitted fan of all the Jardin fragrances, and a gardener myself, I may be biased! Have you tried this, or any of the others, and what did you think?

un-jardin-apres-la-mousson-boat

Un Jardin Apres La Mousson; image from Hermes, perfumista.vn

American Perfumers

Allure Magazine has posted a fascinating article on several independent American perfumers: The American Perfumer’s Modern Approach to Fragrance.

A movement composed of independent, homegrown perfumers is reshaping the fragrance landscape, gradually changing the way we approach and experience scent. Straying from tradition, these olfactory trailblazers are creating fragrances with a distinctly American feel — solitary, rugged, luminous. A new frontier. But there’s another virtue, beyond the pioneering spirit, that motivates this group to push boundaries and break genres. It’s called defiance, and it’s just as entrenched in our American mentality. These artisans are inspired not necessarily by their love of fragrance but by a sense of opposition to it.

If you are curious about CB I Hate Perfume, Juniper Ridge, D.S. & Durga, Joya, Phlur, Imaginary Authors, check out journalist Liana Schaffner’s take on on their work. As for me, I think there are a few more discovery set and sample purchases in my near future! Even though my reviews here have not kept pace with the trial sizes I already have from other brands … I’m surprised she didn’t include Jeffrey Dame’s Dame Perfumery, another independent brand I am eager to explore, or Mandy Aftel’s Aftelier Perfumes. As I think about it, though, there are so many American perfumers who could have been mentioned in an article like this that there simply isn’t enough space.

Have you tried any of these brands’ fragrances? What did you think?

Update: Victoria and Jessica at Bois de Jasmin have pointed out that the Allure article did not mention any women indie perfumers, of whom there are many! So they and other contributors to that (excellent) blog propose to remedy the oversight by starting a series of articles about those important contributors to modern American perfumery, starting this week. Check them out!

Featured image: copyright Jared Platt.

Fragrance Friday: Scents of the Ancient World

Fragrance Friday: Scents of the Ancient World

Nerd alert! I spent MANY years of my youth studying Latin and Ancient Greek, and my studious little soul still thrills to the occasional article about obscure aspects of the classical world. So it is my pleasure to bring you: Recreating the Aroma of the Ancient City: Incense in the Ancient Mediterranean. Last weekend, there was a conference in Rome where “archaeologists, historians and classicists gathered not only to explore the use of incense, perfume and scented oils in antiquity, but also to attempt to recreate the ephemeral smellscapes of the past.” Heaven!

I have visited the Minoan sites mentioned in the article (Crete, and Akrotiri on the island of Santorini — well worth visiting!). I don’t recall the article mentioning another site I have visited, however: Delphi, possibly because the most famous scented emissions there, the vapor that put the Pythia (oracle) into a trance, was not manmade:

It may even be possible to identify the kind of gas. Plutarch—who, we recall, was a priest of Apollo at the Delphic sanctuary—noted that the intoxicating pneuma had a sweet smell, like expensive perfume. Of the hydrocarbon gases, only ethylene has a sweet smell—so ethylene was probably a component in the gaseous emission inhaled by the Pythia.

Professor Bond, author of the article about recreating ancient aromas, ties the use of incense, frankincense and other fragrant substances to Christian traditions too:

When the Magi brought frankincense and myrrh (Gr.σμύρνα) along with the gold to the baby Jesus, they were donating sacred substances to be used to make the newborn’s house and his body more fragrant. Although frankincense was usually placed in an incense burner, myrrh came from an Arabian tree and was often turned into an unguent used on the dead in ancient Egypt.

She goes on to describe things like ancient recipes for incenses, like one from Egypt called kyphi, which the conference scholars apparently tried to re-create. What a lovely goal — to put oneself as completely as possible into the mindset of the ancients, to understand better their history, literature and architecture.

Kyphi was a popular aromatic in Egyptian temples dedicated to Isis, but could also be used in the house before bed to help people get a good night’s sleep.

Imagining the bedrooms of the ancient world is completely different when you can actually smell the pungent sweetness of kyphi as you take in the colorful frescoes and cushioned furniture within the ancient bedrooms of places like Pompeii. Smelling these reconstructed substances in person is then a potent reminder that experiencing the ancient world is not just about modeling ancient buildings or putting on a wool toga.

I would love to have been a fly on the wall for this conference. I may just have to take up my Ancient Greek grammar book again …

Delphi Pythia

Priestess at Delphi, by John Collier (1891)

Fragrance Friday: Fragrance Fantasy

Fragrance Friday: Fragrance Fantasy

For something completely unique, however, there’s Penhaligon’s Bespoke by Alberto Morillas, spearheaded by the man behind some of the world’s most recognisable scents including Calvin Klein’s CK One, Tommy Hilfiger’s Tommy and Marc Jacobs’s Daisy. Comprising eight months of trial-and-error testing and costing from £35,000, it’s a process that requires both a significant monetary and…

Oh, how I long to be able to do this, given how often I have gravitated to Penhaligon’s fragrances! Alas, it will remain nothing more than a lovely fantasy. What choices would you make, if you pursued the less expensive option of having specific bases and notes combined for you, as described in the article? I am consoling myself with a few photos from my visit to the Penhaligon’s boutique in the Burlington Arcade last fall, and a few spritzes of my beloved Blasted Bloom.

via A significant monetary and personal commitment — Now Smell This

Confederate Jasmine

Confederate Jasmine

Although last year I wrote a series called May Muguet Marathon, in truth the lilies of the valley bloomed here in late March/early April. What blooms here in May is Confederate jasmine and in my garden, lots of it. I have a brick wall and more than one fence that are completely covered in it. It is an evergreen vine with medium-sized, glossy, dark green leaves that make a perfect cover for such structures. Its major advantage over other such plants is its flower. Every spring, the vines are covered in hundreds of delicate, small white flowers with a starry appearance and powerful fragrance.

Close up of white Confederate jasmine flower

Confederate jasmine; trachelospermum jasminoides

I was prompted to write here about it because another member of a Facebook fragrance group posted a photo of a plant he had seen and asked what it was, as it smells so heavenly. It really does. A single plant can scent an entire garden; dozens of plants, as I have in my garden, may be scenting the whole block!

When I plant in my already over-crowded garden, I try to use plants that serve multiple purposes, and Confederate jasmine is a prime example. As I love fragrant plants, fragrance is high on my list of the qualities I seek. As my property is less than one acre, plants like vines that will grow vertically and not take up much precious ground space are desirable. It is shaded by a high canopy of tall oak trees, so I seek out plants that tolerate partial shade and shade. I also have a brick wall all along one side of our lot and chain link fence around the rest (erected by a previous owner and now, thankfully, mostly unseen due to the same owner’s clever screen plantings).

The brick wall was built several years ago by a neighbor and required something to cover its then-naked surface, which extended the whole length of our garden. Enter Confederate jasmine! We installed vertical iron trellises on the brick pillars that rose about every ten feet along the wall, planted the jasmine, and within a few years, the whole wall was almost completely covered with pretty evergreen leaves, as the vines fling themselves with abandon into the space between the trellises. The bonus, of course, is that at this time of year, the fragrance is remarkable and the wall is covered with white flowers, as in these images from the blog Old City South.

Confederate jasmine vines on wall and arbor, from Old City South blog

Confederate jasmine; photos from Old City South blog

What does it smell like? It is sweet, with a hint of lemon. It attracts and nourishes bees, another excellent quality given severe declines in North American bee populations. It is intense and it wafts for long distances, but I have never found it overpowering or unpleasant. It is similar to the scent of true jasmine but has less of a “hot-house” aura. Hard to describe precisely, but lovely.

The Gift of Muguet

Happy May Day! Last year I did a blogging “May Muguet Marathon“; not sure I’ll be able to do as many posts this year. But to get you started off on the right foot, here is The Candy Perfume Boy’s take on two wonderful muguet fragrances, both of which I love and about which I wrote last year: May Muguet Marathon: Muguet Porcelaine and May Muguet Marathon: Diorissimo. Enjoy your favorite muguet and your day!

The Scent of Gratitude

The Scent of Gratitude

by Linda Ryan Now and then there comes a moment when time seems to stop, even for the merest fraction of a second, and in that fraction of a second something becomes so clear that it’s almost heartbreaking. It happened to me the other morning when I went to feed the outside cats. It…

via Speaking to the Soul: The Scent of Gratitude — Episcopal Cafe

I loved this reflection on scents and being thankful for them. As we’ve just passed Easter, I want to add how thankful I am for the abundance of flowers that my fellow parishioners provide every year to celebrate it, and the remarkable skill and love with which they arrange thousands of fragrant lilies, roses, hydrangeas, tulips and flowering branches. To be surrounded by so many gifts is indeed cause for thanks!