Scented Advent, December 12

Scented Advent, December 12

My Advent calendar surprise today is a sample from a brand I’ve been wanting to try, Maison Trudon. That company has a long history as makers of fine candles, supplying Versailles and cathedrals with famously white, less smoky, beeswax candles, a business that continued through revolutions and restorations. In this century, the company has focused mostly on very high-end, perfumed candles; and in 2017, it began producing perfumes under the simple name “Trudon”, working with noted perfumers such as Lyn Harris, Antoine Lie, and Yann Vasnier.

The latter was the creator of today’s scent, Mortel. M. Vasnier has a real gift for accords that involve spices and resins, which is on full display in Mortel. According to the brand’s website, it has notes of: Pimento, Black Pepper (top); Mystikal, Somalian Frankincense (heart); Benzoin Resin, Pure Cistus, and Myrrh (base). Fragrantica also lists nutmeg as a top note, and woody notes in the heart and base. Mystikal is a Givaudan captive molecule that specifically smells like burning incense. Wow, it really does! It doesn’t smell particularly smoky, which I appreciate.

Bottle of Mortel eau de parfum, from Cire Trudon
Mortel, by Cire Trudon; image from brand website.

I’ve written before about the use of incense in traditional Christian services, including the funeral mass for my late mother-in-law. As I wrote there, she absolutely loved Christmas, and I always think of her at this time of year, especially because she had made for us three beautiful pieces of cross-stitched embroidery with depictions of Father Christmas, which we bring out in December. She had just taken up the hobby of counted cross-stitch when I joined the family, and she became a very accomplished needlewoman; her later works had the tiniest stitches, on real linen fabric. I began doing it myself after she showed me how, although I haven’t cross-stitched anything in several years (three children and a full-time job outside the home ensure that there isn’t much time for embroidery). But as I contemplate my own retirement in the next few years, and as my youngest child is no longer even a teenager, I’ve started looking again at the patterns I’ve collected over the years, and organizing my materials, thinking that I’d like to take it up again.

Back to Mortel! The heart phase that really smells like incense and frankincense lasts a good long time. It’s not overpowering as a dabber from a sample vial; if I owned a spray bottle, I would proceed with caution! I cannot emphasize enough how much this stage smells exactly like the fragrant smoke that emanates from a thurible in church. Here’s what I think is very clever, aside from the obvious quality of the materials (which one would expect in a product from a company that has specialized for centuries in creating candles for cathedrals and palaces). The opening of black pepper and pimento is bright and a bit sharp — as if a match has been struck and is flaring up, to ignite a censer. The heart phase is all about incense and frankincense, as if one is smelling the actual incense while it burns in a church or other place of worship (the tradition of using incense in religious rites is observed in Judaism and other ancient religions).

Pope Francis, incense, Roman Catholic mass, statue of Mary and Christ Child.
Pope Francis uses incense to venerate a statue of Mary during Mass at the Verano cemetery in Rome (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

As that dries down, the woody notes emerge, and the impression is that of an old church, whose wooden pews and structures have been so imbued with incense over centuries that the scent still floats on the air when no incense is burning. I’ve smelled that so many times, in many visits to old churches and cathedrals in Europe. Note — Mortel doesn’t have any of the damp, musty smells that can also permeate ancient churches. (A favorite family memory recalls the time when we lived in Brussels, when my sisters and I were children; our parents took us to many historic sites on weekends, making the most of our sojourn in Europe. My little sister, who was about 5 or 6 at the time, as we entered yet another cathedral on one occasion, wailed “Oh, no, not another smelly old church!”). So, to my nose, Mortel traces the progression of incense being used in a church, from the time it is lit to the time when it lingers in the wood and air as a fragrant memory. M. Vasnier himself has described the setting as an artisan’s fiery forge, but there is no doubt that this son of Brittany would know the smell of an ancient church.

Mortel and its evocation of church are especially appropriate today, which is the third Sunday in Advent, also known as “Gaudete Sunday” in more traditional liturgies. Gaudete means “rejoice” in Latin; so this Sunday, sometimes also called “Rose Sunday” because the clergy can wear rose-colored vestments, is an occasion to focus on the most joyful aspects of Advent. It is sometimes symbolized on an Advent wreath by a pink candle.

Advent wreath with colored candles
Advent with candles, including Gaudete pink candle

Have you tried any Trudon fragrances? Any favorites?

Scented Advent, December 5

Scented Advent, December 5

Mona di Orio’s Bohea Bohème is today’s Advent calendar scent. As soon as I dabbed it on my wrist, I thought, “Mmm, incense?”. It’s not really an incense scent, but it has many of the facets that make up a good incense, such as resins, fragrant woods, spices. It is built around a tea accord that evokes Bohea oolong tea from China, which is smoked with pinewood; a few floral notes are added (iris, osmanthus, geranium). The complete notes list on Fragrantica is: bergamot, cardamom, Florentine iris, chamomile, balsam fir, boxwood, geranium, black tea, juniper, smoke, oak, sandalwood, beeswax, bay leaf, benzoin, vanilla absolute, poplar buds.

That last one is unfamiliar to me; it is said to bring “a peculiar balsamic green and bitter-sweet scent” to a fragrance. It turns out, though, that I’ve encountered it before, in Tom Ford’s Vert des Bois, which was one of his quartet of green fragrances launched in 2016. Bohea Bohème was also launched in 2016, but was created by a different perfumer, Fredrik Dalman, while the perfumer who created Vert des Bois is Olivier Gillotin. Cafleurebon’s interview with Fredrik, linked above, is well worth reading; he is Swedish, though traditionally trained in France, and he prizes the scent of cardamom, a common ingredient in spiced Swedish recipes (I myself make an excellent Glögg, a Swedish mulled wine, with cardamom, using a recipe that was handed down through the family of a Scandinavian friend). The interview also includes his hilarious story of dressing up as Santa for the flagship store of L’Artisan Parfumeur, the company where he was apprenticed to master perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. He went back upstairs to the lab on his break to continue working on a formula before returning to Santa duties, and was found there by his startled mentor.

Perfumer Fredrik Dalman dressed as Santa, at his perfume organ
Fredrik Dalman as Santa; image from cafleurebon.com.

I am loving Bohea Bohème! It is masterfully blended, so that the floral notes emerge slowly as the spicier opening fades. The notes list on the brand website is shorter than the one on Fragrantica: Black tea oil, Florentine Iris, Blue Chamomile, Poplar Bud Absolute, Fir Balsam Fraction, Smoked Juniper, Oakwood absolute, Beeswax Absolute. I love spices in fragrance, but there are some I can only take in very limited quantities (cinnamon and cloves, I’m looking at you!). Bohea Bohème is perfectly spiced, and it feels to me like a perfect holiday fragrance, with its combination of cardamom, balsam, scented wood, and a smoke as gentle as candlelight. Truly, as the website says, it is a “luxurious woody fragrance with a balsamic vibrato, unconventional and seductive.”

Do you have any favorites from Mona di Orio? Also, don’t forget to join me and my collaborators tomorrow for “Scent Semantics“! We have a particularly nice holiday word and reflections for you.

Bottle of Bohea Boheme perfume from Mona di Orio
Bohea Bohème, by Mona di Orio; image from monadiorio.com.

Gifts of the Three Magi: Frankly Frankincense — takeonethingoff.com

Each of the gifts of the three Magi carried a special symbolic meaning – gold representing kingship, myrrh foreshadowing the death of Jesus (myrrh being commonly used as an embalming and purifying ointment in the final sendoff of a soul), and finally, frankincense for divinity. 171 more words

Gifts of the Three Magi: Frankly Frankincense — takeonethingoff.com

Reposting this from a blog I like very much: Take One Thing Off. So many incense-based fragrances! I’ve tried some but not all — which ones have you tried? Any favorites?

A Fragrant Christmas Eve

A Fragrant Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate! That includes this household, and the air is full of festive fragrances, starting with the fresh balsam Christmas tree and wreaths on the front of the house. My oldest daughter baked a model of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in gingerbread (!!) for a local Shakespeare theater, using Mary Berry’s recipe from the Great British Baking Show, with extra ginger for her ginger-loving mother (me); its scent is still wafting through the house from its place of honor in our dining room.

Gingerbread model of Shakespeare's Globe Theater

Shakespeare’s Globe in gingerbread, on display in theater lobby

Soon, I will set up the slow cooker with our annual Christmas Eve dinner: a Greek stew called “stifado”, which combines lamb or beef with red wine, spices like cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon, onions, tomatoes, and currants. We began using this recipe in the days when we went to two consecutive afternoon services on Christmas Eve because our three children were in two different choirs at church, singing in different services. We could leave the slow cooker to do its work, and when we came home, dinner was ready for hungry kids and the whole house smelled like red wine, fruit, and spices. Then there’s the scent of mulled cider (real cider, thank you, not the clear apple juice that gets labelled as cider during the holidays; the non-alcoholic kind we used to buy from a local orchard when I was a child).

Hot mulled cider, Food Network recipe by Ina Garten

Ina Garten’s Hot Mulled Cider

Add to those the fragrance of scented candles and wax melts, according to our mood, and the paperwhite narcissi in a pot, given to us every year by a gardening friend, and each room of the house has its own perfume. Somehow, they don’t clash. I haven’t yet tried the candle labeled “White Balsam”, but it sounds delectable: vanilla and mint combined with balsam fir. And of course, I still haven’t decided which of my many personal fragrances to wear today and tonight! I plan to make the most out of the day, fragrance-wise; I’ll choose one to wear until we get dressed for afternoon church (thankfully, we now attend only one service, although I actually didn’t mind unplugging from the world and attending two in a row); one for church; and one for when we sit down to a festive family dinner and the rest of the evening.

Dinner place setting of Spode Christmas Rose china

Spode’s Christmas Rose

Decisions, decisions! I now own a bottle of Caron’s Nuit de Noel, so I think that will have to be one of my choices, probably for this evening. Thinking of Goutal’s Nuit Etoilee for church, as it will be dark out when we emerge, but I could go with something based on incense instead, like Tauerville’s Incense Flash. A warm or spicy rose is always a good option, especially as our church is often filled with dark red roses and evergreens at Christmastime and my festive china has Christmas roses (hellebores) on it, so perhaps Aramis’ Calligraphy Rose or David Yurman Limited Edition, which beautifully combines roses with suede, oud, saffron, sandalwood, and a touch of raspberry. I often amp up the roses in my rose-centered fragrances with a dab of Abdul Samad al Qurashi’s Taif Roses, which my husband brought me back from a business trip to Dubai some years ago. Montale’s Intense Cafe is a strong contender for the fragrance I will wear before; it has a beautiful rosy heart, and it is one of the few fragrances I own that has prompted a complete stranger to approach me to ask what it was. On the other hand, I’ve been wearing Jo Malone’s Tudor Rose & Amber a lot lately; it is a beautiful, warm rose, and it lasts much longer than many Jo Malone scents without being intrusive or overwhelming. And then there’s Christmas Day to consider!

What fragrances mean Christmas or other winter festivities to you? Will you wear something special for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Are you hoping for any special fragrance gifts this Christmas?

Christmas perfume gifts

 

Scent Sample Sunday: White Queen

Scent Sample Sunday: White Queen

Oh, how I love literary references! Put them together with a great niche perfume, and I am a happy perfumista! Today’s Sunday scent is White Queen, by 4160 Tuesdays, a collaborative creation with Michelyn Camen of the blog CaFleureBon to mark the blog’s eighth anniversary in 2018. 4160 Tuesdays founder and perfumer Sarah McCartney wrote at length about how this joint project came to be, and her inspirations, at CaFleureBon, here: New Perfume: 4160 Tuesdays White Queen. I won a bottle of White Queen in one of CaFleureBon’s generous giveaway draws and it was sent directly from Sarah with a personal note; thank you, Michelyn and Sarah! Look carefully at Sarah’s stationery — it’s so clever.

The literary reference is to the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The character of the White Queen makes some of the most-quoted statements from Carroll’s works, such as the advice to “believe six impossible things before breakfast” and the offer of “jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.”

In the book, the White Queen is an elderly lady, but in Tim Burton’s 2010 movie “Alice in Wonderland”, he reimagines her as a beautiful young (or ageless) woman, played by Anne Hathaway.

Anne Hathaway in Disney Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland movie.

Anne Hathaway as the White Queen; http://www.disney.com.

As many have noted, this White Queen is far from being all sweetness and light, and so is her namesake perfume, alluring as they both are. Sarah McCartney describes the fragrance’s notes as: incense, hazelnut, citrus fruits, raspberry, jasmine (which some call the Queen of Flowers, although the rose might disagree), cream, opoponax, vetivert, patchouli, and musk.  The goal was to create a modern gourmand without evoking candy, while also referring to the phrase “falling down the rabbit-hole”, which many people use to refer to their own response in discovering how much more there is to perfume than a single signature scent.

The modern gourmand aspect is fulfilled by using methyl laitone, which creates what Ms. McCartney describes as “clouds of whipped cream and white fluffy marshmallows.” However, on my skin, the incense note is more pronounced and very long-lasting. Fragrantica’s perfume pyramid lists it and the cream note only among the top notes, but they persist throughout the fragrance’s life and should be included with the heart and base notes. (Fragrantica also lists notes that Ms. McCartney does not, and omits notes she describes; I’m going with her on this one!). On me, these marshmallows are toasted.

Tray of toasted marshmallows

Toasted marshmallows; http://www.maplestreetcandle.com

I love incense as a note in perfume, but I tend to prefer less smoky incense notes, so this is perfect for me. Ms. McCartney’s post makes it clear that her incense note comes from frankincense, or Boswellia Carteri. This incense is also inflected with opoponax, a type of myrrh known as “sweet myrrh”, which brings warm, balsamic, honeyed notes to a fragrance. On my skin, these come even more to the forefront as White Queen dries down, and they are lovely. The combination of frankincense and opoponax makes White Queen‘s incense note more like a lovely vapor.

incense vapor

Incense; image from Fragrantica.

I can’t pick out separate notes of raspberry or citrus, but I can tell that they are present because of the brightness they lend; I think they help lift White Queen and add to its airiness. Similarly, I wouldn’t be able to tell you on a blind sniff that there is any jasmine, but it makes sense once that is revealed — jasmine is one of the sweeter floral notes, though to my nose it is less sweet than tuberose. As White Queen dries down, I do pick up the patchouli, but it does not overwhelm as that note sometimes can; nor am I overcome by gourmand sweetness, which I can only take in limited doses (not a fan of Angel, sorry). The combination of patchouli, vetiver, and musk is meant to evoke the “rabbit-hole” and its earthiness, and I think it succeeds.

Mia Waskikowska in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, by Disney, falling into rabbit-hole

Alice and the rabbit-hole; http://www.disney.com

As much as I love floral and green notes, White Queen is a winner for me! It is especially appealing on these cool February days, when we alternate between warmth when the sun is out, and chill when our climate remembers that it is not yet spring. When the extremes swing too far here in the Southeast, the season is called a “false spring” and, like the White Queen, it can be dangerously deceiving. (I am a gardener as well as a lover of perfume, and these false springs make it quite challenging to time rose-pruning).

This White Queen displays all the warmth and none of the chill of our false spring, so it wears well in cool weather; given the presence of frankincense and myrrh, it would also make a great Christmas-themed scent, and I’ll try that next year! Do you have any favorite cool-weather fragrances you are wearing right now? Any favorites from 4160 Tuesdays?

Featured image: http://www.disney.com.

Fragrance Friday: Incense

Fragrance Friday: Incense

A little over a week ago, I had started writing a post about fragrance gifts, in particular how to give someone a fragrance when you’re not sure what that person might like, or whether the recipient might want to try something new. Then on Friday, December 15, we found out that my beloved mother-in-law had died early that morning. My post about holiday gifts suddenly seemed frivolous, and I didn’t have the heart to post anything that day or in the week since; we scrambled to get to her funeral, which was held in another state on Tuesday.

We have just returned home, and I’m trying to resume normal routines, as I know she would want us to do. So for this Fragrance Friday, I’ll write about the beautiful service that celebrated her life a few days ago. My mother-in-law was a devout Roman Catholic; church, faith, and family were central to her life. She and my father-in-law were married for 60 years. He knew exactly what she wanted for her memorial service: a mass, attended mostly by her large extended family and close friends. It was perfect. My mother-in-law loved Christmas and was one of those enthusiasts who decorated every surface with Christmas-themed items starting in mid-November. She often left them up until late January, which we loved, and she made us all many Christmas-themed items, like a handknit Christmas stocking for every grandchild, which are hanging right now from our mantel, and beautiful pieces of needlework like the birth samplers she also made for all her grandchildren. The church where her funeral service was held was filled with evergreens, including several simple trees, bare of all decoration except a few pine cones on their branches and bouquets of scented white flowers — lilies, roses, delphiniums — at their base. She would have loved that, as well as the snow that had fallen the day before, leaving a soft white blanket over the ground.

The priest led this traditional service very capably, including his use of a thurible to cense her casket. This is an ancient tradition in the Roman Catholic church; the fragrant smoke of the incense symbolizes the prayers of the faithful rising up to heaven, as in Psalm 141 (140), verse 2: “Let my prayer be directed as incense in thy sight: the lifting up of my hands, as evening sacrifice.”  It can also symbolize the soul rising to God. The priest swings the thurible, which is a type of censer used to contain burning incense, always in multiples of three times to stand for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The incense is often made with frankincensebenzoinmyrrhstyraxcopal or other aromatics. These are associated in many cultures with sacrifices, gifts to divinities, and purification, leading to the tradition that the Magi who came to find the newborn Jesus brought him those as gifts, recognizing that he was divine and also that he came to sacrifice himself to save and purify us.

The sadness of the funeral service was gentled by the music and beautiful surroundings, by the loving family gathered to honor my husband’s mother, and by traditions like the use of incense. Its fragrant smoke lingered in the air, sweet and aromatic, as we bade her goodbye. It seems impossible to understand that we won’t see her again in this life; but we are glad she is released from illness and suffering, and we pray we will see her in the next.

Pope Francis, incense, Mary, and Christ Child

Pope Francis, incense, Mary, and Christ Child

Fragrance Friday: Scents of the Ancient World

Fragrance Friday: Scents of the Ancient World

Nerd alert! I spent MANY years of my youth studying Latin and Ancient Greek, and my studious little soul still thrills to the occasional article about obscure aspects of the classical world. So it is my pleasure to bring you: Recreating the Aroma of the Ancient City: Incense in the Ancient Mediterranean. Last weekend, there was a conference in Rome where “archaeologists, historians and classicists gathered not only to explore the use of incense, perfume and scented oils in antiquity, but also to attempt to recreate the ephemeral smellscapes of the past.” Heaven!

I have visited the Minoan sites mentioned in the article (Crete, and Akrotiri on the island of Santorini — well worth visiting!). I don’t recall the article mentioning another site I have visited, however: Delphi, possibly because the most famous scented emissions there, the vapor that put the Pythia (oracle) into a trance, was not manmade:

It may even be possible to identify the kind of gas. Plutarch—who, we recall, was a priest of Apollo at the Delphic sanctuary—noted that the intoxicating pneuma had a sweet smell, like expensive perfume. Of the hydrocarbon gases, only ethylene has a sweet smell—so ethylene was probably a component in the gaseous emission inhaled by the Pythia.

Professor Bond, author of the article about recreating ancient aromas, ties the use of incense, frankincense and other fragrant substances to Christian traditions too:

When the Magi brought frankincense and myrrh (Gr.σμύρνα) along with the gold to the baby Jesus, they were donating sacred substances to be used to make the newborn’s house and his body more fragrant. Although frankincense was usually placed in an incense burner, myrrh came from an Arabian tree and was often turned into an unguent used on the dead in ancient Egypt.

She goes on to describe things like ancient recipes for incenses, like one from Egypt called kyphi, which the conference scholars apparently tried to re-create. What a lovely goal — to put oneself as completely as possible into the mindset of the ancients, to understand better their history, literature and architecture.

Kyphi was a popular aromatic in Egyptian temples dedicated to Isis, but could also be used in the house before bed to help people get a good night’s sleep.

Imagining the bedrooms of the ancient world is completely different when you can actually smell the pungent sweetness of kyphi as you take in the colorful frescoes and cushioned furniture within the ancient bedrooms of places like Pompeii. Smelling these reconstructed substances in person is then a potent reminder that experiencing the ancient world is not just about modeling ancient buildings or putting on a wool toga.

I would love to have been a fly on the wall for this conference. I may just have to take up my Ancient Greek grammar book again …

Delphi Pythia

Priestess at Delphi, by John Collier (1891)