Scent Semantics, September 5

Scent Semantics, September 5

The word for this month’s Scent Semantics posts is “misanthrope.” If you haven’t read one of these posts before, “Scent Semantics” brings together a group of us fragrance bloggers in a collaborative project called “Scent Semantics“, the brainchild of Portia Turbo over at A Bottled Rose. On the first Monday of each month, we all take a word — the same word — as inspiration for a post that has some relationship to a fragrance, broadly interpreted. There are six participating blogs: Serenity Now Scents and Sensibilities (here), The Plum GirlThe Alembicated GenieEau La LaUndina’s Looking Glass, and A Bottled Rose. I hope you’ll all check out the Scent Semantics posts on each blog!

One definition of “misanthrope” is “someone who dislikes and avoids other people.” Now, I am not normally a misanthrope myself, although I am definitely an introvert (and if you’ve never seen author Susan Cain’s TED talk on the subject, click on that link — it’s a treat!). However, I think we’ve all become a bit misanthropic during the last two and a half years of a global pandemic — we were forced to avoid other people starting in March of 2020, then we disliked many people because of their varied responses to the pandemic. Layer on top of that the American elections of 2020 and their aftermath, so full of rage, and I think it’s safe to say that many of us, misanthropic by nature or not, have been slowly emerging from a phase of misanthropy.

My semantically matched fragrance this month is vintage Chanel No. 19 eau de toilette. I’ve been wearing it almost daily for the past week as my green armor at work, due to the difficulties I’ve encountered leading up to a long overdue personal leave (which started this weekend, yay!). No. 19 always makes me feel that I can be tougher than I actually am; it stiffens my backbone. Some might say that it helps me set and keep healthy boundaries, lol!

Why? I think it’s because of the hefty dose of galbanum that heralds its arrival: a bitter, green opening chord that announces, as the Chanel website says, a “daring, distinctive, uncompromising composition.” Perfect for setting boundaries! The other top notes reinforce the lack of compromise: astringent bergamot, assertive hyacinth, aromatic neroli. All have a distinctive tinge of green supporting the star of the show, the galbanum, which Fragrantica sums up as an “intense and persistent bitter green .” Indeed. If galbanum were a person, it would be Bette Davis playing Margo Channing in “All About Eve”:

“All About Eve”, 20th Century Fox.

If you’re not familiar with the movie, it is about a star actress who is turning forty, fears for her career, and is manipulated and ultimately upstaged by a much younger woman. Fittingly, No. 19 was the last Chanel fragrance created while Coco Chanel herself was still alive, in her 80s, though I don’t know that anyone ever succeeded in either manipulating or upstaging her. Master perfumer Henri Robert put the finishing touches on the formula in 1970, Chanel died in early 1971, and No. 19 was released the same year.

The blog “Olfactoria’s Travels” has a wonderful review of No. 19, referring to it as a “magic cloak”. The reviewer takes a more benevolent view of No. 19 than Tania Sanchez did in the guide to perfumes she co-wrote with Luca Turin, where she compared it to the wire mother monkey in a famous experiment about nurturing or the lack thereof. Blogger and author Neil Chapman, of “The Black Narcissus”, is famously a devotee of No. 19, scarfing up vintage bottles of it in all formats from second-hand stores in Japan, where he lives. You can read all about it in his amazing book, “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent”, available in the UK and the US, and elsewhere in other languages, which I highly recommend!

Luckily for me, since I adore green fragrances, on my skin the greenery lasts and lasts, joined in the heart phase by some of my favorite floral notes: iris, orris root, rose, lily-of-the-valley, narcissus, jasmine and ylang-ylang. The green astringency of the opening notes is carried forward by the lily-of-the-valley and narcissus, while orris root adds earthiness, iris adds powder, and jasmine and ylang-ylang add airiness, sexiness and warmth. My sense of No. 19 as “armor” is aided by my vintage spray, a refillable, silvery, aluminum canister that has protected its contents for many years.

No. 19 has had many “faces”, my favorite being English model and iconoclast Jean Shrimpton. And guess what? Based on her own words, she may actually have been a misanthrope, having walked away from her superstar modeling career and life of celebrity in her 30s, becoming what she herself described as a recluse running a hotel in Cornwall. Although the photo of her below is not an ad for Chanel, to me it captures the spirit of No. 19‘s opening — inscrutable, distant, mingling shades of green, white, and earthy brown with the unexpected intrusion of purple:

Model Jean Shrimpton sitting on an ancient tree root.
Jean Shrimpton; image by Patrick Lichfield for Vogue, 1970.

As No. 19 dries down, to my nose the galbanum never leaves, though it recedes into the distance as the oakmoss enters the glade. Because I have the vintage EDT, the base includes oakmoss, leather, musk, sandalwood, and cedar. It is a true chypre, a genre I love. It reminds me of the Jackie Kennedy Onassis of the 1970s: elegant and even haughty upon first appearance, with a warmth that reveals itself over time to the patient; breaking free from the fashion conventions she mastered so skillfully and embodied in the 1950s and 1960s, and far from the cold “wire mother” of Tania Sanchez’ imagining while retaining an aura that commands respect.

I’m choosing to adopt Laura Bailey‘s interpretation of No. 19, which she described in Vogue at the height of pandemic lockdowns in 2020, as the scent of new beginnings and dreams of future adventure:

No 19, the ‘unexpected’ Chanel, the ‘outspoken’ Chanel, created at the height of the first wave of feminism in 1971, and named for Coco Chanel’s birthday – 19 August – is, for me, the fragrance of freedom, of optimism, of strength. (And of vintage campaign stars Ali MacGraw, Jean Shrimpton and Christie Brinkley.) The heady cocktail of rose-iris-vetiver-jasmine-lily-of-the-valley remains shockingly modern and original, bolder than any sweet fairy-tale fantasy.

If you had to relate a fragrance to the word “misanthrope”, which would you choose?

Ad with perfume bottle of Chanel No. 19
Chanel No. 19 ad; image from chanel.com.
Perfume Chat Room, August 19

Perfume Chat Room, August 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, August 19, and here comes the rain again! Luckily the guys who come once a month to help with my yard and garden came yesterday and pulled up tons of weeds that grew like a jungle during the rainy weeks when we were in New Hampshire. I’ll be doing more of that this weekend, weather permitting!

In honor of Coco Chanel’s birthday, Now Smell This has a community project to wear a Chanel fragrance. So of course, I’m wearing Chanel No. 19, which was named for her birthdate (August 19). Double NST community points for me! And it is VERY green, which I love. No. 19 is one of my perennial (pun intended) fragrance loves. I have it in the vintage eau de toilette formulation, and it’s just wonderful.

Image from Disney’s Fantasia 2000; http://www.disney.com

How about you? Do you have a favorite Chanel fragrance? Are you being taken over by plants of any kind, fragrant or not?

Perfume Chat Room, April 30

Perfume Chat Room, April 30

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 30 — the very last day of April! Where I live, the April showers have already brought many flowers, including my beloved David Austin English Roses, which are so very fragrant. They will continue into May. Tomorrow, I plan to renew my annual “May Marathon” series of blog posts! This year, the series will be a “May Melange Marathon” with a focus on the May flowers that April showers famously bring. You can expect posts about some new muguet fragrances, some new (to me, at least) rose fragrances, and my favorite green fragrances. Please join the marathon in the comments!

I should note that a blogging marathon is as close as I will ever get to a marathon other than as a spectator. I really, really don’t like to run, though I do enjoy long walks (and my family says I walk very briskly).

What are your plans for May, fragrant or otherwise?

Perfume Chat Room, April 23

Perfume Chat Room, April 23

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 23, and I have a new, fragrant tree to plant! It is called a “buckwheat tree”, it is native to the Southeast, and this particular variety has pink flowers. They’re very fragrant, and I’m having fun deciding where to plant it so we can enjoy its fragrance. Luckily, it doesn’t get very large, so I have options.

I’ve been on a bit of a vintage kick lately; I just got a small bottle of Paco Rabanne’s Metal, which I quite like. It’s a green chypre floral that launched in 1979. Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: top notes are Hyacinth, Aldehydes, Green Notes, Basil and Lemon; middle notes are Lily-of-the-Valley, iris, Jasmine, Cyclamen, Rose, Ylang-Ylang and Tuberose; base notes are Oakmoss, Vetiver, Musk, Amber and Sandalwood.

I have some new green fragrances to review and also a couple of new LOTV/muguet fragrances, so my “May Marathon” will probably be a melange. Maybe that’s what I’ll call it: “May Melange Marathon”! What do you think?

Featured image: Paco Rabanne dress, 1967, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Roses de Mai Marathon: White Rose & Lemon Leaves

Roses de Mai Marathon: White Rose & Lemon Leaves

White Rose & Lemon Leaves is one of the fragrances released by Jo Loves, the brand launched by Jo Malone in 2011 when she was able to do so following the sale of the “Jo Malone” brand to Estee Lauder. Continue reading

Scent Sample Sunday: The Wearin’ O’ The Green

Scent Sample Sunday: The Wearin’ O’ The Green

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! In honor of the day, let us rejoice in the “wearing of the green” — green fragrances, that is. I love green fragrances, as you might expect from a blogger whose nom de plume is “Old Herbaceous“, and my most difficult fragrance choice today will be to decide which of the many I own I will wear. (Another option might be to wear one of the fragrances I brought home from Ireland last summer, including some from the small independent perfumer The Burren Perfumery, but today I’ll probably go with a classic green). Today will be a celebration of “The Wearin’ O’ The Green”!

Green nymph Fantasia

Image from Disney’s Fantasia 2000; http://www.disney.com

Fragrantica did one of its wonderful “Best in Show” columns last year on green fragrances, which you can read here: Best in Show: Green Fragrances (2018). As the editor notes, “green” can describe a wide range of fragrances and notes, which can include: galbanum, patchouli, vetiver, grasses, mosses, ivy, and leaves (especially tea and tomato), lime, basil, rosemary, mint, and cilantro, green mango and apple, conifer needles, bamboo, and more. Many of the muguet fragrances I love are quite green. As I’ve already written a lot about so many of those, and will again later this spring, I’ll pass over them as a category for now.

Some of the classic greens I own and love are Chanel No. 19, Chanel Cristalle, Annick Goutal Grand Amour, Gucci Envy, Balmain Vent Vert (the 1991 version, by Calice Becker), Jacomo Silences, Estee Lauder Azuree, Clinique Aromatics Elixir.

My newer green niche perfumes include (of course) Papillon’s Dryad, Beaufort London’s Fathom V, Amouage Bracken, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s The Pour Un Ete, Laboratorio Olfattivo’s Decou-Vert, DSH Perfumes Le Jardin Vert. There are others, but many of them I own only in small sample sizes, so I’m not counting them here!

Green fragrances: Chanel No. 19, Cristalle, Papillon Dryad, on Liberty shawl

Favorite green fragrances

While I know that “green” fragrances are said to be the least favored category of fragrance, I know many of you also love them. What are your favorites? Do you plan to wear a green fragrance today?

Outdoor sculpture of the Mud Maid, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

Mud Maid, The Lost Gardens of Heligan