May Melange Marathon: Cristalle

May Melange Marathon: Cristalle

Chanel’s Cristalle came to me later in life; my earliest Chanel “love” (for myself) was No.22, which I still love and wear, then No.19, also still a strong love and in regular rotation on my skin. I’m not sure why it took me so long to discover Cristalle; I probably thought my need for a green Chanel was fully met by No.19. Regardless, I first tried Cristalle a few years ago, and yes, it’s love. I wear Cristalle on days when I need a good snap of green but No. 19 feels like overkill. Both were created by perfumer Henri Robert: No. 19 in 1970, and Cristalle in 1974. (I refer to the eau de toilette; Jacques Polge created an eau de parfum version for Chanel twenty years later).

The two share some notes. Cristalle‘s notes are: Top notes — Sicilian Lemon and Bergamot; middle notes — Hyacinth, Brazilian Rosewood, Honeysuckle and Jasmine; base notes — Oakmoss and Vetiver. No.19‘s notes are: Top notes of Galbanum, Hyacinth, Bergamot and Neroli; middle notes of iris, Orris Root, Rose, Lily-of-the-Valley, Narcissus, Jasmine and Ylang-Ylang; base notes of Oakmoss, Vetiver, Leather, Cedar, Musk and Sandalwood. No.19 was launched the year before Coco Chanel died; it seems to be the last fragrance that she personally approved.

Although Fragrantica doesn’t list galbanum among Cristalle‘s top notes, to my nose it is clearly there, and other reviewers have listed it too. The opening is very green, and you don’t get that with just lemon and bergamot. It may be that the galbanum top note is more apparent to me because I have a vintage sprayer of Cristalle and the top citrus notes have faded with age, as they do. Many people experience Cristalle as a hyacinth fragrance. While I understand that, and I do pick up some hyacinth, I wouldn’t call it overall a hyacinth-focused fragrance. Rather, that note blends with and extends the greenness of the galbanum, and acts as a bridge between that and the other floral notes in the heart phase.

Cristalle is one of those fragrances, like other Chanels, in which the floral notes are so well-blended that one doesn’t really smell them separately (or at least I don’t). To my nose, the floral phase is like a green honeysuckle/jasmine, but it isn’t clearly “honeysuckle” or “jasmine.” The greenness carries through to the oakmoss and vetiver in the base. Cristalle is perfectly named — in the eau de toilette formulation, it gives an impression of clarity and even sparkle, which I often associate with aldehydes, but Cristalle doesn’t include aldehydes. Luca Turin classifies it as a “citrus chypre” (and gave it five stars) while others like Neil of The Black Narcissus blog call it a “green floral chypre.” Turin does have one of the all-time best summaries of Cristalle, after saying that it evokes an “unusual morning (possibly morning-after) feeling: “There is a business-like briskness that suggests waking up from a night spent with a gorgeous stranger and finding her fully dressed and made up, ready to leave after nothing more than a peck on the cheek, leaving only a cloud of Cristalle as a contact address. Beautiful, and a little scary.”

And I bet Turin’s Cristalle was wearing stilettos, too. Neil calls Cristalle “very Parisian” — the adjectives he uses in his book Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent are “crisp, pretty”, “diamond-cut and delicate.” It reminds me a bit of 4160 Tuesdays’ Meet Me On The Corner, another citrus chypre, but MMOTC has more warmth. To me, Cristalle EDT evokes a morning at Paris’ Marche’ aux Fleurs, the open-air flower market on the ancient Ile de la Cite’, with all its greenery and fresh flowers in bloom, which I discovered when I spent a summer working in Paris in my 20s. I stayed in a large studio apartment on the Quai Aux Fleurs, with a long narrow balcony overlooking the Seine, and on my first day off, I walked over to the flower market and bought flowers to plant in the empty planters I found outside my apartment windows. In writing this post, I’ve learned that the flower market has been renamed in honor of Queen Elizabeth II, who visited it in 2014 with chic Parisienne Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

I think the word “chic” perfectly captures Cristalle. It’s fresh but not sweet, elegant but not formal, light and bright. I had feared that it might have been discontinued in favor of what Chanel calls its “successor”, 2009’s Cristalle Eau Verte, but one can still buy the original (any reformulation aside) on the Chanel website. I have a large bottle of. the vintage eau de toilette in addition to my sprayer, so that’s plenty for me!

I’m glad that Chanel is keeping Cristalle going, as well as No.19, and offering younger customers the options of Cristalle Eau Verte and No.19 Poudree. I’ve tried and enjoyed both, but my heart belongs to the original eaux de toilette.

Have you tried any of the Cristalles?

Featured image by Pascal Poggi on Flickr.

May Melange Marathon: Fragrances That Changed the Field

May Melange Marathon: Fragrances That Changed the Field

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming, because the following New York Times Style Magazine article popped up in my news feed, and I got totally distracted by it! It is called The Fragrances That Changed the Field, by Aatish Taseer. It starts with a childhood memory, from India, of a first encounter with oudh, and travels a winding path from there through the “Orientalism” of fragrances in the 1970s, to the power statement fragrances of the 1980s, circling back to previous centuries and the use of florals and musks in fragrances. It includes insight from several modern perfumers.

I highly recommend this article! You’ll want to set aside a good block of time to read it. The opening paragraph:

I REMEMBER AS IF it were yesterday that distant afternoon on which I first smelled oudh. I was in my grandmother’s house in Delhi. I was 13, maybe 14. We had a family perfumer, or attarwallah, a man of some refinement, who came to us from Lucknow — a city that is a metonym for high Indo-Islamic culture. We didn’t know the attarwallah’s name, or how he knew to follow us from address to change of address. But he came without fail two or three times a year. A slim, gliding figure, with a mouth reddened from paan, or betel leaf and areca nut, the attarwallah produced his wares from carved bottles of colored glass that he carried in a black leather doctor’s bag. He showed us scents according to which season we were in. So in winter, musk and patchouli; in summer, white-flowered varieties of jasmine — of which there are some 40 odd in India — as well as rose and vetiver. In the monsoon, he brought us mitti attar, which imitates the smell of parched earth exhaling after the first rain (“mitti” means “mud” in Hindi). The perfumes came from the medieval Indian town of Kannauj, which is a 75-mile drive west of Lucknow and which, like its French counterpart, Grasse, has a tradition of perfume manufacturing several centuries old. Once he had drawn his perfume out on white cotton buds at the tips of long, thin sticks, the attarwallah lingered over his customers, telling stories of the various scents and reciting the odd romantic couplet of Urdu poetry.

If that doesn’t intrigue you, as a person interested in fragrance, I don’t know what will! Enjoy. BTW, my scent of the day today was Cristalle, and I’ll write about it tomorrow instead.

Featured image from baystreetex.com.

May Melange Marathon: Bohemian Bluebells

May Melange Marathon: Bohemian Bluebells

I promise I won’t spend the whole month of May dissecting Zara Emotions fragrances, but here’s another one: Bohemian Bluebells. I like it very much and it’s certainly affordable! Also truly unisex, I think it would smell wonderful on a man as well as a woman. Its listed notes are lavender, sandalwood, and musk (nothing to do with bluebells). If you can imagine a warm lavender, that’s what it smells like to me. I do tend to associate lavender with bedtime, given its soothing properties, but I don’t usually associate it with warmth in spite of its cultivation in hot, sunny climates like Provence (there are also famous lavender fields in England and other parts of the UK). Sometimes I crave Jicky eau de toilette at bedtime, if I’m going to sit up and read for a while, but Jicky feels cool to me somehow, like the clean sheets that have been newly put on a bed, with their crisp, unwrinkled surfaces.

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May Melange Marathon: Beyond Paradise

May Melange Marathon: Beyond Paradise

“Melange” is an apt word to use for Estee Lauder’s Beyond Paradise, as it is truly a melange of different florals. In their book “Perfumes: The Guide A-Z”, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez not only gave it five stars, but also close to three full pages of discussion (most perfumes got a paragraph). He calls it a “symphonic floral.” Calice Becker was the perfumer who created it; Beyond Paradise was launched in 2003. The bottle I have is the teardrop-shaped, rainbow-tinted original. The batch number on the bottom suggests it dates to 2013. Fragrantica lists that version’s notes as: Top notes of Hyacinth, Orange Blossom, Grapefruit, Bergamot and Lemon; middle notes of Jasmine, Gardenia, Honeysuckle and Orchid; base notes of Hibiscus, Plum Wood, Ambrette (Musk Mallow) and Amber. The 2015 version in the rectangular bottle is described as having top notes of Blue Hyacinth, Orange Blossom and Jabuticaba; middle notes of Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Orchid and Mahonia; and base notes of Ambrette (Musk Mallow), Plum Blossom, Paperbark, and Woody Notes.

Both versions of Beyond Paradise are meant to be “fantasy florals” with a tropical theme; part of the length of Turin’s review is a long digression into the nature of abstract floral fragrances and how challenging they are to create, with a tip of the hat to perfumer Calice Becker, an acknowledged master of the art. According to contemporaneous press and PR coverage when it was launched, it included “proprietary notes” gleaned from a collaboration with The Eden Project, a fascinating conservation site in Cornwall, which involves massive biospheres located in and above an abandoned quarry and which I’ve had the privilege to visit. It does in fact house many rare and tropical plants, so it must be a great resource for unusual smells.

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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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May Melange Marathon: White Peacock Lily

May Melange Marathon: White Peacock Lily

D.S. & Durga is a niche brand I haven’t experienced very much, partly because of their price point (high, even for samples). But when I had an opportunity to buy a reasonably priced decant of White Peacock Lily, I jumped at it, because it sounded so intriguing when it was launched in 2016. It is indeed a very lovely lily-focused fragrance. Its notes include: Top notes of Oleander, Cabreuva Rouge, and Grapefruit Pith; middle notes of White Lily, Egyptian Jasmine, Cream and “Alabaster Violet” (which I assume means white violet); base notes of Ambrette (Musk Mallow), Vanilla, and Fog. The perfumer, D.S. of D.S. & Durga, also mentions on the website that it has notes of bergamot, melon, and rose Otto.

One thing I like about the brand’s website is that each fragrance comes with detailed “liner notes”, describing the inspiration for it, with references to literature, music, etc. The liner notes for White Peacock Lily state:

The piece that inspired this perfume is called “The White Peacock” by Fiona Macleod — a Scottish woman famous throughout the highlands for her dreamy works—and set to music by Griffes. It is one of the few tone poems based on an actual poem. The music, scored for a small orchestra, takes direction from the words. Mercurial/magic harps, winding strings, quirky brass horns, and the comical buzz of clarinets describe the beautifully soft language: “cliffs of basalt, fronds of cactus, where the bulbul singeth, cream-white poppies.” In Griffes music, the listener can hear the cream white poppies, the sweeping seas of flowers, and most important the silent noble glide of the grand bird that floats above the fields of flowers.

The composer mentioned is unfamiliar to me: Charles Tomlinson Griffes. Sadly, he died of pneumonia at the age of 35, at the outset of a very promising career, in 1920 at the height of the last century’s global pandemic, influenza. Apparently one of a few of his works that are still performed is “The White Peacock”, inspiration for today’s “May Melange Marathon” fragrance.

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May Melange Marathon: Trillium

May Melange Marathon: Trillium

As regulars here know, in addition to being somewhat obsessed with fragrance, I’m also a gardener. I would say, perhaps, a longtime or experienced gardener, except that one is brought up short by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to a friend: “Tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.” So true! One is always learning in a garden, always making new discoveries.

However, the house we bought so many years ago (our first and only) came with an old garden that had been lovingly cultivated over decades by a couple who raised their own family here. They were master gardeners, and a former neighbor who knew them told me that she thought the husband had actually been a landscape architect. For years after we first moved in, every season brought new discoveries of their plantings and how cleverly they had designed and planted our garden. One such discovery was a planting of the American native wildflower, the trillium. I call it a discovery because trilliums famously appear suddenly in the early spring, then go dormant and disappear completely until the next year. I was so surprised when I came across a large clump in the wooded, back part of our garden that had seemingly come out of nowhere, and then equally surprised when I went back several weeks later and it was completely gone, like magic.

Which brings me to an intriguing artisan perfume line, House of Matriarch High Perfumery, and its fragrance Trillium.

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Scent Sample Sunday: Le Jardin de Monsieur McGregor

Scent Sample Sunday: Le Jardin de Monsieur McGregor

Given how much gardening is on my mind (and under my fingernails) these days, it seems fitting to write about one of 4160 Tuesday’s quirkier scents, Le Jardin de Monsieur McGregor. Yes, it is named for the antagonist gardener in the Peter Rabbit stories, and also in homage to Jean-Claude Ellena’s Jardin series of scents for Hermes (all of which I own and enjoy). Perfumer Sarah McCartney writes that it was created during one of her perfume-making workshops, with a focus on the aroma molecule Hedione, which creates an impression of freshness and floralcy, with notes of jasmine and greenness. The goal was for the class to create the scent of a cottage garden in the Lake District.

For those who may not know, the famous author and illustrator of the Peter Rabbit books and many others, Beatrix Potter, played a key role in preserving thousands of acres in the Lake District, including leaving 4000 acres of countryside and 14 farms she owned to the National Trust. She was, of course, a marvelous illustrator, but she was also a gifted botanist, naturalist, gardener, and farmer, and the plants in her illustrations for her children’s books are botanically accurate down to the last details. They include many of the plants mentioned in the notes and materials list for Le Jardin de Monsieur McGregor.

Mr. McGregor in his garden, by Beatrix Potter
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