Scent Semantics, March 7, 2022

Scent Semantics, March 7, 2022

Welcome to this next installment of Scent Semantics! This month’s word, supplied by Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass, is “nostalgia.”

The fragrance I chose to embody nostalgia for me is Molinard de Molinard. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was my first purchase of a “niche” fragrance, as I bought it while on our honeymoon in 1990 when we visited Grasse.

Scene of the city of Grasse, France
Grasse, France on September 10, 2021. Photograph by Bénédicte Desrus for NPR

On that trip, we first spent a week in Paris, which my husband had never visited, then we took the TGV from Paris to Marseille, which neither of us had ever visited. We spent a night with longtime friends of my parents, a family my father first met when he was stationed in Marseille with the US Army at the very end of World War II, then took our rental car and worked our way up the coastline, visiting the Riviera towns but mostly staying up in the hills of Provence. We’ve been back to Cannes and Nice, and some of the hilltop villages, but we haven’t returned to Grasse — yet!

Wearing Molinard de Molinard brings back many happy memories of our fabulous honeymoon, which was short on luxury but long on charm. It’s hard to envision pre-internet travel, but we had very few arrangements in place ahead of time — just the hotel in Paris, the TGV tickets, and the rental car. After our overnight in Marseille, we stayed in small, local hotels and inns, using a Michelin Green Guide and calling ahead a day or two in advance to make our reservations as we worked our way up the coast. Nowadays that seems so random, but we were in our 20s, footloose and fancy-free, and it was great fun! We still have a running joke about the “lacets”, those precipitous zigzagging roads that lead from the heights down to the Riviera coast, in a pattern that looks like shoelaces. So yes, Molinard de Molinard is a nostalgic fragrance for me, conjuring up a very happy time in our lives that was the prelude to the happy life we’ve built together.

Molinard is one of the three major existing Grasseois perfume houses, the others being Fragonard and Galimard. These are far from the only fragrance businesses in Grasse, however. The city is still known as the “perfume capital of the world” and is home to the world-renowned Grasse Institute of Perfumery, among many other fragrance industry connections (do read or listen to the NPR story; it includes comments from the founder and nose of 1000 Flowers, Jessica Buchanan). Its fields still supply jasmine and roses to the industry, although no longer the majority of the flowers used in modern fragrances.

I would have to retrieve a 30+ year-old photo album to confirm more details, but we visited at least one and maybe two of the perfume houses’ museums in their old factories in town. I think it may have been two, because I know we visited Molinard and I think we also visited Galimard. If we get the chance to visit Grasse again, I will be sure to round out the set by visiting Fragonard, which still makes and sells lovely fragrances, as does Molinard. Galimard seems to have remained more regional in character, though it is still creating and presenting new fragrances.

Molinard de Molinard was reissued in 2017; the new version was well-received, but sadly it was not reissued in the original bottle, with its molded frieze of classical figures (probably nymphs) based on a design by Lalique. I have one of those bottles, and it is beautiful. The 1979 version I have is a classic green fragrance. Per Fragrantica, its notes are: top — Green Notes, Asafoetida, Black Currant, Cassis, Fruity Notes, Lemon and Bergamot; middle — Narcissus, Lily-of-the-Valley, Jasmine, Bulgarian Rose and Ylang-Ylang; base — Vetiver, Labdanum, Incense, Musk, Amber and Patchouli. It reminds me of 1970’s Chanel No. 19 or 1978’s Silences, by Jacomo. The fruity notes don’t make the fragrance fruity or sweet; it is clearly dominated by the astringent “green notes”, asafoetida, bergamot, narcissus, vetiver, etc. It smells like a chypre, although the classic chypre base note of oakmoss is not listed. I haven’t tried the 2017 reformulation.

When my husband and I visited Nice in 2019, I went to the Molinard and Fragonard boutiques in town. Both are lovely, with friendly and knowledgeable staff. You won’t be able to buy the 1979 version of Molinard there, but you might find it at one of the outdoor marchés in the Old Town of Nice. I will enjoy and treasure what I have, which now includes an original tester bottle.

Fragrance is famously connected to our emotions and memories — do you have any that are particularly nostalgic for you?

And please read the other Scent Semantics posts:

Elena  https://theplumgirl.com

Sheila  https://thealembicatedgenie.com

Daisy  https://eaulalanyc.com 

Undina  https://undina.com

Old Herbaceous  https://scentsandsensibilities.co

Portia  https://abottledrose.com

May Melange Marathon: Toujours Espoir

May Melange Marathon: Toujours Espoir

Another sample sent by a generous reader! Toujours Espoir (which means Always Hope) was launched in 2018 by a firm called “Villa des Parfums.” They have the most fascinating story, which I encourage you to read in full on their website, but in summary, the firm began as an offshoot of a local business and non-profit in Grasse, birthplace of French perfumery. The story began when a couple bought an old mansion, former home of a perfumer, and renovated it to be partly family home, partly a vacation rental (which it still is, and now I’m dying to go there for some “perfume tourism”). The non-profit is called “Parfums de Vie” and it works with impoverished children in Grasse in areas like education, character development, conflict resolution, etc.

The owners, Nicole and Vincent, decided to create a perfume brand that they hoped would generate additional revenue for their children’s programs. They founded “Villa des Parfums” and worked with the perfume house of Molinard, one of a handful of heritage perfume houses in France, which began in Grasse and still has a strong presence there. The collaboration resulted in two perfumes, Toujours Espoir and Etoile Celeste, both eaux de parfum.

Both fragrances are influenced by their Mediterranean garden, in which grow many of the plants that have traditionally inspired French perfumers: rose, jasmine, aromatic herbs, citruses, flowering perennials. The brand says:

A declaration of modern femininity audaciously revisiting the classic blend of jasmine and rose, two undisputed queens of perfumery traditionally cultivated in Grasse, the world’s perfume capital. A sensual chypre fragrance embracing the skin in an irresistible veil of intriguing mystery. An original signature for the woman who believes anything is possible.

More prosaically, Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: Top notes of Peony, Citruses and Pink Pepper; middle notes of Gardenia, Rose and Jasmine; base notes of Musk, Sandalwood and Patchouli. I found the opening to be just delightful. The citrus notes are more sweet than bitter; I don’t pick up bergamot. Maybe tangerine? The peony is present right away. In this fragrance, unlike many that list “pink pepper” as a note, I can actually smell it and it really adds to the charm of the opening.

The heart phase gets more and more floral, with rose and jasmine equally present. I don’t pick up much gardenia (which is very present in my garden, as my own gardenias have started blooming). There’s a touch of powder at this stage too, which enhances the softness of the fragrance; I actually think it comes from the musk base note emerging. As it dries down further, the patchouli and sandalwood notes add warmth and a tint of earthiness. I would barely call this a chypre, it is so gentle.

The rose in Toujours Espoir is based on rose absolute from the local Grasse “Rose de Mai”, Rosa centifolia. Nicole has written about her love for these roses and how she connects their beauty to her own values and beliefs. Today was a perfect day for me to sample this beautiful, gentle, hopeful fragrance. I named this blog “Serenity Now” originally, because I began writing it as a mindfulness exercise, to regain serenity during a stressful period, and remember to count my blessings. Then, of course, due to another writing project, I fell down the fragrance rabbit-hole and my blog became “Serenity Now: Scents and Sensibilities.”

This week was also more hectic and stressful than I had expected, though nothing like the turmoil I had in 2015, so I’m thankful for that. But at the end of my workday, as I was deciding which scent to feature in today’s post, Toujours Espoir felt just right, especially as my youngest child got his second vaccine shot today — the last of the family to do so. Hope is emerging this spring and summer, as many of us are emerging from the past year of pandemic. I’m grateful for that, and for all of you, kind readers!

Perfumer's mansion in Grasse
Hotel Villa des Parfums, Grasse, France; image from http://www.villadesparfums.com
May Melange Marathon: La Colle Noire

May Melange Marathon: La Colle Noire

Happy May Day, and welcome to the May Melange Marathon! In previous years, I have written blogging marathons in the month of May, celebrating the lovely lily of the valley in a “May Muguet Marathon“, and my beloved roses in a “Roses de Mai Marathon.” This year, I wanted to write about a number of the green fragrances I love, but I didn’t think I had enough to post about one daily for 31 days. Also, I have some new (to me) muguet and rose fragrances. So the solution is to go with the theme of “April showers bring May flowers” and write about a melange of scents that evoke different aspects of a garden, with a mix of florals and greens.

First up: Christian Dior’s La Colle Noire. Launched in 2016, it is named for the Provence estate of designer Christian Dior, outside the legendary perfume city of Grasse. One of the reasons that Grasse became so important in perfumery is the abundance and quality of the roses that are grown there for their essential oil, especially the “Rose de Mai”, or centifolia rose, also known as the Provence rose. Perfumer Francois Demachy wrote of La Colle Noire:

“In the springtime, the Centifolia Rose takes over the garden of La Colle Noire, Christian Dior’s beloved home in the Grasse region. It is an extraordinary time, when the flower’s plump, honeyed and fruity scent lingers in the air. This fragrance is an ode to that magical place and the unique rose that grows in the land of my childhood.”

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Scent Sample Sunday: What to Try, What to Buy?

Scent Sample Sunday: What to Try, What to Buy?

Hello friends — this week, I am seeking your advice! I will be in the South of France, and I’d love to know your thoughts on any particular fragrances that are easier or less expensive to get in France than in the US, or any special fragrance “explorations” I should pursue. I am already signed up for a perfume workshop at Parfum et Vous, and I can’t wait! I’ve been to Grasse before and have done one of the factory tours at Molinard (great fun and very instructive). Our group will be visiting Saint-Paul de Vence and Nice. I’ve visited Nice before and plan to wander in the markets there; I’ll probably bring home some of those lovely soaps. Any other suggestions? P.S. We will have one transfer in Charles de Gaulle airport, coming and going, but I don’t know how much time we’ll have there.

white square ceramic ornament

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Perfume Tourism, 2017

Perfume Tourism, 2017

via Daily Prompt: Perfume

Two years ago, I became fascinated with perfume and fragrance. I was writing a screenplay about two rival perfumers and was doing research to capture some of the details and nuances of those characters’ thoughts and actions. I picked up Chandler Burr’s book, The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industryand I was hooked. It is the story of the development of two perfumes, Hermes’ Un Jardin Sur le Nil, and Coty’s Lovelycreated with and for the actress Sarah Jessica Parker. The book follows the perfumers as they work on their assignments, or “briefs”, all the while explaining the arcane workings of the perfume industry.

Advertisement for Hermes Un Jardin Sur le Nil, bottle of perfume resting on lotus leaf against background of Nile River

Un Jardin Sur le Nil; photo from hermes.com

The book also describes a journey, a form of “perfume tourism”, taken by Hermes’ then-new in-house perfumer Jean Claude Ellena and a team of Hermes executives to Egypt, specifically the Nile river, to try to capture the atmosphere of a “garden on the Nile”, which was the chosen theme for the new perfume. As poets and others have noted for centuries, fragrance and scent seem to link directly to human memories and emotions in a way that only music approaches; even so, scent is the more visceral line of communication between our senses and our memories.

My own perfume journey has been more like a tumble down a rabbit hole, as others have described it. I am also fortunate enough to have frequent opportunities to travel, so I have become a committed “perfume tourist.” What does that mean? I seek out unique opportunities to experience fragrance in my travels, including visiting independent perfume-makers and perfume boutiques. In hindsight, I have actually done this off and on for decades; on our honeymoon, my husband and I visited Grasse, the birthplace of fine French perfume, and toured more than one of the Grasse-based perfumeries (Molinard and Fragonard). When we went on a family trip to Bermuda several years ago, we visited the lovely Bermuda Perfumery,  home of fragrance house Lili Bermuda, in the historic old town St. George’s. I am very lucky that we set a pattern early of my husband indulging me with perfume souvenirs!

The Bermuda Perfumery in St. George's, Bermuda, with pastel houses

The Bermuda Perfumery. Photo: http://www.foreverbermuda.com

Now, however, perfume tourism is a more deliberate choice on my part. It has proven to be a novel way to experience cities: seeking out independent perfumeries, perfume museum exhibits, even perfume-oriented arts.  I have loved discovering independent perfume boutiques like Scent Bar in Los Angeles. And of course, nowadays my souvenirs of my trips are usually perfumes; I look for “niche perfumes” made in that country, but sometimes I just buy a nice fragrance that reminds me of that trip. A recent trip to Switzerland resulted in the purchase of three lovely niche fragrances in different cities, but also an inexpensive small bottle of eau de toilette from Victorinox Swiss Army (yes, the maker of Swiss army knives).

IMG_0101

Scent Bar, Los Angeles

This year so far, I’ve pursued perfume tourism in Barcelona, Spain, and in several cities in Switzerland. What’s next? Somerset House in London will open an exhibition this summer called Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent. I’m hoping I can get to London this summer to see it, as I’ve enjoyed other arts exhibitions at Somerset House in the past. And the ever-fragrant summer gardens of London are a must! Dreaming dreams of fragrant flowers and sweet perfumes …

 

Fragrance Friday: Future Perfume Tourism

Fragrance Friday: Future Perfume Tourism

I am so eager to visit Florence! Very few of my European trips have been to Italy, which is surprising as Italy has so much of what I love: gardens, gorgeous landscapes, art, museums, history, language, wonderful food …

And now yet another article to whet my appetite: Perfume, Power and God. Author Arabelle Sicardi describes her visits to perfume palaces such as the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica of Santa Maria Novella, where Catherine de Medici bought her famous perfumes, and the perfumery of Aquaflor, housed in an actual former palace. The photographs of the flower room at Aquaflor are stunning! Of the Officina Profumo, she writes:

If any single place stood at the intersection between politics, god, and perfume, it is this church-turned-monastery-turned-store. From the outside it looks unremarkable for Florence — no baroque detailing, just the crest of Santa Maria on the front. It is all it needs to mark its history. And then you walk inside, and the frescoes summon your eyes up-up-up, maybe sixty feet above you. A fresco of perfumed angels are framed in dark, stained wood. The building and art above you is more than 600 years old. In existence since the 13th century, it still sells many of the same products the Dominican friars once made by hand in the back room.

She traces the connection of the Medici family, through Catherine’s French marriage and patronage, to the very start of the perfume industry in France, specifically in Grasse. I visited Grasse many years ago with my husband, on our honeymoon, and the whole area is fascinating. We visited a couple of perfumeries (Molinard and Fragonard, I think) and were shown the older methods of perfume-making and the extraction of essential oils. However, Grasse is not also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, packed with priceless art. Florence is. And I can’t wait to go there.