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.

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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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Scent Sample Sunday: Silences

Scent Sample Sunday: Silences

One of the regular readers here mentioned recently wearing Silences, and Portia from “Australian Perfume Junkies” and I immediately oohed and aahed over it. So today’s scent sample is Jacomo’s classic fragrance, the original Silences.

Magazine ad for fragrance Jacomo Silences

Jacomo Silences, original ad (1978).

Silences was launched in 1978, and it fits right in with the green, woody, chypre vibe of so many classic fragrances from that decade. I’ve realized that my scent tastes seem to have been formed mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, when I was a child; given how deeply scent is linked to our subconscious, it makes sense that the fragrances of one’s childhood have particular impact. (To be clear, I own and love MANY later fragrances, but I find that I am really drawn to chypres, for instance, and to retro florals).

Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: Top notes — orange blossom, galbanum, bergamot, lemon, green notes and cassia; middle notes — iris, jasmine, narcissus, hyacinth, rose and lily-of-the-valley; base notes — vetiver, musk, sandalwood, oakmoss, cedar and ambrette (musk mallow). This list refers to the original and classic Silences, which was reissued in 2004. There is a new version, called Silences Eau de Parfum Sublime, which was issued in 2012. I appreciate, by the way, that the brand didn’t just reformulate and pretend that the new version was the same Silences. It’s easy to tell them apart, both from the name and from the packaging; Silences Sublime comes in a similar iconic round black bottle, but the lettering on it is completely different. It has excellent reviews online, but it doesn’t seem to be widely available in the US, unlike classic Silences, which can be found online for bargain prices. One can order it directly for delivery to Europe and a few other countries from the Jacomo brand website.

And Silences is a true bargain beauty! You have to like dry green chypres to enjoy it, though. It opens with galbanum leading the charge, a soupcon of bergamot floating in its wake. I don’t smell orange blossom at all, and while I’m sure the other listed top notes are there, because the opening is multi-faceted and complex, most of what I clearly smell is the combination of galbanum and bergamot, with galbanum dominating. As it dries down, two of my favorite flowers emerge: narcissus and hyacinth. The dry greenness of the galbanum persists, though I also get a hint of lily of the valley (another favorite flower). There’s a soft green earthiness that I have come to associate with iris root. I don’t smell any jasmine or rose in this middle phase.

Silences has often been compared to Chanel No. 19 in its eau de toilette version and for good reason. Their notes are almost identical, though in slightly different order and emphasis. No. 19 was created by the master Henri Robert in 1970, who also created 1974’s Chanel Cristalle. The perfumer behind Silences was Gerard Goupy, working at Givaudan with Jean-Charles Niel. Interestingly, M. Goupy was also the nose behind Lancome’s Climat, created in 1967, which in its vintage form is another green floral, though its opening is strongly aldehydic, unlike these later chypres. He also created Lancome’s Magie Noire in 1978, which has many of the same notes, also in a different order, but adding notes like spices and incense, honey and civet; it too is considered a chypre but more floral than green or woody. Victoria at “Bois de Jasmin” points out that its particular genius lies in the tension of combining its oriental and chypre accords.

So although one might be tempted to pigeonhole Silences as a bargain shadow of No. 19, it is not. Look at the sequence above: 1967: Goupy’s Climat; 1970: Robert’s No. 19; 1974: Robert’s Cristalle; 1978: Goupy’s Silences. Add in Bernard Chant’s creations for Estee Lauder, 1969’s Azuree and 1971’s Clinique Aromatics Elixir, and you see the fragrance zeitgeist of the time, with several gifted French perfumers exploring facets of dry, woody, green, bitter, mossy, dark, earthy scents — very fitting, for an era that also brought the environmental movement, the first “Earth Day” in 1970, and many landmark environmental protection laws.

Where does Silences fit on the scent spectrum? To my nose, it is more of a bitter green than the others, because of the strong galbanum opening. I love galbanum, so this delights me. It doesn’t have the leather notes that some of the others listed above have, or some of the animalic notes (it does list musk, but that may be based more on the base note of ambrette, or musk mallow plant).  Bitter, yes, but I don’t find Silences aggressive overall, as some commenters do. The opening is sharply green, but its final drydown phase becomes quite gentle and earthy while staying green, probably due to the combination of oakmoss, vetiver and sandalwood, softened by the ambrette. The complexity of its base accord is revealed in that today, I sprayed both my wrists at the same time. One wrist smells more strongly green and mossy, and the other more like a sweetish sandalwood with some lingering hyacinth.

The floral notes in Silences are quite reticent. The only ones I really smell are the narcissus and hyacinth, with a hint of muguet, all of which are quite green in their own right. So if it’s a more floral green you seek, I suggest you try No. 19 or Cristalle. Fruit? Aside from the bergamot opening note, which is subtle, there is no fruit here AT ALL. Sweet? Nope. Look elsewhere for fruity florals, or gourmands.

Have you tried Silences? Do you like green fragrances?