Scented Advent, December 12

The independent perfumer Advent sample of the day is Hiram Green’s Arcadia. Wowza! It is classified as an “aromatic fougère”, and it has a great opening, top-heavy with lavender and bergamot. As they settle down, the bergamot recedes but the lavender stays strong, joined and made more floral by the arrival of jasmine and rose accords. The notes list from the brand’s website is: Bergamot, lavender, jasmine, rose, spices, resins, tonka bean, aged patchouli, New Caledonian sandalwood. Hiram Green, who is a natural perfumer, also lists the actual ingredients, which include evernia prunastri extract, which is oakmoss. Be still, my heart! I love oakmoss in fragrances. Mr. Green says this about the fragrance, which he launched this year (2022):

For this perfume I was inspired by the natural splendour of Arcadia. In this idyllic, unspoiled wilderness babbling brooks meander through mountains covered in dense forests and the air is filled with the sound of humming insects and twittering birds.

Imagine the lush undergrowth that covers the forest floor. In areas where the sun manages to break through the canopy, fragrant flowers bask in the sunlight and their sweet scent intertwines with the fresh green smell of the foliage.

The base notes blend beautifully together. The spices are pretty subtle — definitely noticeable, but they don’t hit you over the head (or nose). Resins, tonka bean, and sandalwood provide warmth, and patchouli and oakmoss hum underneath. The drydown stage is where I think Arcadia smells most like a traditionally masculine fragrance, with the lavender still evident over those warm base notes. There’s a light dustiness to this stage, possibly from the oakmoss, that makes me think of motes of sunlight floating through the sunbeams that shine through Mr. Green’s Arcadian forest.

In fact, the whole fragrance makes me think of a particular forest: Ashdown Forest in England, famous not only for its woodland beauty but also as the landscape of Christopher Robin’s childhood idyll, the Hundred Acre Wood he shared with Winnie-the-Pooh and friends. Arcadia, indeed!

Sunlit woodland path in Ashdown Forest
Sunlight in Ashdown Forest, England; image from

I’ve never been there, but I loved A.A. Milne’s books as a child; in fact, “Winnie-the-Pooh” was the first book I read by myself, shocking my parents at the age of four when I pointed to it and said, “I can wead that book.” And so I could, having taught myself to read, although I couldn’t pronounce Rs very well. One of my late mother’s cousins actually illustrated Christopher Milne’s memoir “The Path Through the Trees”.

I’m delighted with Mr. Green’s version of Arcadia and will put it on my “possible full bottle some day” list. Have you tried any of Hiram Green’s fragrances? Any favorites?

Perfume Chat Room, October 21

Perfume Chat Room, October 21

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, October 21, and the gathering at our house last night, for which we have been scrubbing, tidying, and cleaning all month, was a big success! It was the first large group of people we’ve had over since December 2019, though we’ve had a friend or two over for drinks or dinner periodically. Now that the house is in good order (at least the main floor and front porch, lol!), and the holiday season is upon us, maybe we’ll do some entertaining. We don’t often do that, but last night was really fun.

In other news, a new precioussss has joined my collection. I rarely do this any more, focusing more on discovery sets and samples, and enjoying the bottles I already have, but I succumbed instantly to the charm of Hiram Green’s Arbolé, upon trying a sample from his discovery set; and having found a bottle online for a very good price, I ordered it. I did wait to experience the whole progression of my fragrance test, to make sure I wasn’t just falling for a great opening! Not to worry — I do love its opening but the whole sequence was delightful.

The official list of notes on the brand’s website is very short: patchouli, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla, tonka bean. This is deceptively simple; there is much more going on here, to my nose. I suspect it is because Hiram Green uses only non-synthetic materials, and natural materials are very complex in themselves and can shape-shift. In addition to the listed notes, I smell anise and heliotrope, for example.

My experience with Arbolé illustrates the value of discovery sets. Its notes list is not one that would have caught my attention in itself. I don’t dislike any of those notes, but the list doesn’t include any florals, for instance, or the strongly green notes that usually lure me in. I had previously tried Slowdive from Hiram Green and while I appreciated its quality and excellence, it didn’t transport me. But I was intrigued enough by the brand to get its discovery set, and voilà! I’m now the happy owner of Arbolé. I think part of the allure is exactly that it doesn’t fit within my usual categories, so it was more surprising to my nose, if that makes sense. Also, anise and heliotrope are notes I like a lot, so the fact that I picked them up in spite of their absences from the notes list was also appealing.

Have you tried anything lately that surprised you, or spoke to you?

Clean house, fragrant flowers, Arbolé
Scent Semantics, June 6

Scent Semantics, June 6

Welcome to this month’s Scent Semantics! This word for June is “vivacious”, which seems appropriate for the start of summer. One dictionary gives the following definition and example: “attractively lively and animated (typically used of a woman).” E.g.,”her vivacious and elegant mother.” It feels like a slightly old-fashioned word to me, an impression that is reinforced by the name of one fragrance I considered writing about this month, Diana Vreeland Vivaciously Bold. Diana Vreeland was the legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine in the 1960s, and before that a columnist and the fashion editor at rival magazine Harper’s Bazaar. A famous style-setter, her distinctive, breezy writing style included a vocabulary straight from the 1920 and 30s, her own heyday as a young socialite, often combined into pairs of adverbs and adjectives, and she loved to make pronouncements like ”lettuce is divine, although I’m not sure it’s really food.” D.V., as she was known, was a fascinating, larger-than-life figure in the world of fashion, her career culminating in her 70s when she became the first consultant to the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute. There, she initiated not only its famously quirky, brilliant exhibitions of fashion, but its even more famous annual Met Gala, a benefit ball marking the opening of exhibitions, which has become the fashion and social event of the year for many celebrities.

Lilly Singh in purple-shaded ball gown
Lilly Singh, Met Gala, 2019; Getty Images

However, just as I was settling down to write this post, a discovery set of Hiram Green’s fragrances arrived in the mail, and it included his 2020 scent Vivacious. I’ve been wanting to try the range of his fragrances, and this seemed like the perfect time to start! So D.V. will have to wait; Hiram Green it is.

Vivacious is presented as an updated violet-focused fragrance: “a violet-themed perfume that takes its cue from those prim Victorians who adored this precious flower so much. Updated for the 21st century, this scent has a happy and carefree flair…  an exuberant and joyful perfume. Perfect to zing your life.” And you know, it actually is exuberant and joyful, but not because of the violet accord. It opens with bright bergamot, and it includes one of my favorite scents, that of carnations, and it is the floral spiciness of that carnation accord that makes my nose crinkle in pleasure. Carnations also evoke summer for me, probably because of Sargent’s famous painting “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose“, one of my favorite works of art and itself evocative of a fragrance I love, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Oeillet Sauvage.

Carnation fragrances seemed for a while to have fallen out of favor, but Vivacious was launched in 2020, so maybe they will make a comeback, just as Diana Vreeland had several comebacks in her long career! I don’t want to overlook the lovely violet accord in Vivacious, though, because it is very special and lovely. Violet fragrances became popular at the very end of the 19th century and start of the 20th century because chemists developed synthetic ionones, which allowed for much less expensive perfumes that smelled like violets. Two of the most famous fragrances of the early 20th century, Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue and Aprés L’Ondée, used synthetic ionones to great effect to evoke the nostalgic scent of violets.

Clump of wild purple violets
Wild violets; image from New Jersey Native Plant Society

They and many other “violet” fragrances tend toward the sweet and powdery, but in Vivacious, Hiram Green has given us a lively violet, true to its name — less candied or powdery, with a freshness and lift from a juicy bergamot opening. As the brand’s website notes, “The fragrance opens with bright and joyful bergamot that seamlessly merges into a floral bouquet of flirty violet and spicy carnation. Waxy orris smoothly anchors this boisterous heart and soft, powdery amber adds a warm and luxurious finish.”

Whenever I think of violet bouquets, I think of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady”, selling her bunches of violets outside the opera house in London, then being slowly transformed into someone who looks like the perfect lady but retains her Cockney sass. Vivacious would be a perfect scent for her, once she could afford to buy fragrance later in the story, with its bright bergamot, nostalgic violets, and sassy carnation.

I was interested to learn, while doing a little research for this post, that the chemists who first synthesized ionones apparently did so in part by studying orris root oil, which also contains natural ionones but was less expensive than natural violet absolute. Which brings us back to Hiram Green, who has famously made all-natural fragrances his hallmark, eschewing the use of synthetics. This makes Vivacious a mischievous reference to the start of modern perfumery with the synthesization of ionones, which I find charming. Given the inclusion of orris as a note in Vivacious‘s pyramid structure, I must conclude that he used the natural ionones in orris root to create a vision of violets, which then fades away to reveal iris. If you like floral scents, especially if you like notes of violet and iris, this is one you must try.

As it dries down, Vivacious becomes less lively and more serene. Usually I find lavender scents to be the most calming, but the later stages of Vivacious, still dominated by orris, are just as soothing. There is still a lingering spiciness from the carnation accord, which of course I enjoy, and which I think must be based at least partly on clove oil. I love the way Hiram Green has enfolded the soft violet accord within the bright bergamot opening, the spicy carnation accord, and the warm amber base.

Do you have any favorite violet scents? Or any others that evoke vivacity (def.: ” the quality of being attractively lively and animated; ex.: he was struck by her vivacity, humor and charm”)? Please check out the other Scent Semantics posts from my fellow bloggers!

Fragrance (Black) Friday 2019

Fragrance (Black) Friday 2019

UPDATED WITH MANY MORE CODES, including non-USA: It’s that time of year again, when there are many alluring sales on all kinds of goods for “Black Friday”, and today I’m going to share some of the possibilities related to perfumes. I especially want to highlight independent perfumers and retailers, as they are the ones bringing the most interesting fragrances to market, and if we perfumistas want them to continue, we’ve got to support them with our purchases.

Here, in roughly alphabetical order, are some of the discount codes I’ve been sent or have found: some are valid now through Sunday or Monday, and others will only work on Black Friday itself. Please add any others you have found in the comments below! Continue reading