Scent Sample Sunday: The Merchant of Venice

Scent Sample Sunday: The Merchant of Venice

I’m ba-a-a-a-ck! I’ve been in and out a lot this summer so haven’t posted as regularly here as I normally do, but summer is officially over in this part of the world. Just the leisure, not the weather! It still hits 90 degrees F daily; the humidity is, if not oppressive, onerous; and the sun is still so strong that lavish applications of sunscreen are still required for palefaces like me. But yes, summer is over. My oldest child has finished her theater apprenticeship and will move into her first independent apartment by the end of this week. My second child moves back into her campus apartment to start her senior year of college. And my “baby”, the young man who is taller than any of us, starts his senior year of high school this week. Orientation for new students at the university where I work begins tomorrow, and we have a new Dean I’ve only met in passing. So it’s the start of a big year for us, and yes — summer is over.

My university job is in administration, so I do work in my office all summer, unlike my faculty colleagues, but I’ve been able to go with my husband on two lovely trips he took for work, one to London in May, and the other, more recently, to Italy. After his work there, we took an extra week of actual holiday for him and visited Florence and Venice, neither of which we had seen before. It will take several posts to describe all the perfume-related activities I did in Florence, so I’ll start off with Venice, where I was a bit more restrained! Venice, however, was also where I was able to visit the perfume exhibit at the Palazzo Mocenigo.

Entrance hall of Palazzo Mocenigo, perfume museum in Venice, Italy

Palazzo Mocenigo entrance hall; image from http://www.veneziaautentica.com

 

This is a relatively new “itinerary” at the museum, and it is well worth visiting. The Palazzo Mocenigo itself is very interesting as an example of a Venice palazzo (short video tour here), and right now it also contains three temporary exhibits, one of which is part of the Venice Biennale: “Brigitte Niedermair: Me and Fashion.”  (For more information about Ms. Niedermair, there is a great article in Wallpaper).

The other two, smaller exhibits are related to perfume: one, “Leonardo: Genius and Beauty,” is described thus:

A little-known aspect of Leonardo da Vinci will come to light in this exhibition organised to mark the fifth centenary of his death: his work as a cosmetologist and perfumer, dedicated to the creation of fragrances and cosmetics. A reconstruction of the lively network of exchanges between the major Renaissance courts enables us to learn of the experiments and recipes for cosmetics that Leonardo shared with the most important female figures of the day. Also on show will be pioneering recipes for depilatory ointments, creams made from snail slime and hair dyes. Leonardo even influenced hairstyles: “Da Vinci knots” are found in many paintings in which hairstyles are embellished with jewels, nets and perfumed fabrics. At the court of Ludovico il Moro in Milan, Leonardo organised parties, designed clothes and costumes, as well as inventing fabrics, jewels and perfumes. The exhibition will highlight the link between Milan and Venice: two cities where the use of perfume was widespread and hairdressers commonly sold cosmetics and perfumes. A specific role in the service of the court was dedicated to a “magister of perfumes”, who procured for the ladies little phials of mixtures for bleaching the hair, a very popular fashion in Venice.

Leonardo: Genius and Beauty.

The other temporary exhibit related to perfume is “Carnet de Voyage: Illustrated Perfume.” It is sponsored by the fragrance line “The Merchant of Venice”, and it is a series of illustrated poems relating back to several of the line’s perfumes, imagining the voyages of an actual Venetian merchant seeking out rare substances to bring back to Venice for the creation of perfumes. Yes, it’s a bit of an infomercial, but a charming one, and I appreciate the support the company is giving to this small museum.

The main, and permanent, perfume exhibition at the palazzo is contained in several rooms upstairs. There is also a perfume laboratory on the ground floor, where one can take a perfume workshop.  The museum’s website includes a detailed description of the perfume exhibit.

I enjoyed all of it, but especially the room devoted to raw ingredients, many of which were beautifully displayed in glass containers on a huge table where one could actually smell them.

Another highlight was a 19th century Venetian perfumer’s organ, a beautiful piece of antique furniture in its own right, apart from its functional interest.

So of course — what does one need as a souvenir of this visit? Why, a fragrance from The Merchant of Venice, of course! On our day trip to the island of Murano, home of the famous glassblowers, we had lunch on a canal directly opposite The Merchant of Venice store. Sadly, it was closed and not due to open until after we planned to return to the city, but it’s a beautiful store with many of its striking Murano glass bottles displayed in its window.

Luckily for me, one of my favorite online fragrance discounters just happened to have some of the same bottles, in tester format, on sale, so when we returned home, I ordered Flower Fusion. It is part of the “Murano Collection” and comes in a really pretty glass bottle swirled with streamers of blue within the clear glass. Top notes are listed on the brand’s website as jasmine, freesia, and ylang-ylang; heart notes are vanilla, patchouli, and labdanum; base notes are damask rose, violet petals, and ginger. Fragrantica lists most of the same notes, but in a different order: top notes are said to be lemon, violet, and ginger; middle notes rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, freesia; base notes labdanum, patchouli, vanilla.

I definitely smell freesia as a strong top note, and since that is a lemony floral smell, I think that’s the source of the lemon note listed on Fragrantica. I do perceive that the jasmine and ylang-ylang follow close on its heels, and then the vanilla makes itself known in the middle stage. I would say that the rose and ginger are part of the middle stage, to my nose, with a hint of violet. The labdanum is also perceptible during the middle stage. This middle phase is very appealing if you like floral scents but don’t want something heavy. I can’t say that it smells quite like anything else I’ve tried recently. As it continues to dry down, the rose, vanilla, labdanum and ginger notes persist, and they combine beautifully. The patchouli emerges, but it does not dominate; it adds a green herbal note to the composition.

I like Flower Fusion very much, and it is perfect to wear on a balmy summer evening. The warmth and humidity suit it, although it might be a bit much at the height of the day, when something like Un Jardin Sur le Nil would probably be my preferred choice. The vanilla lends it a pleasant sweetness without turning it into a gourmand. It lasts well on my skin, perceptible even after several hours, and it would probably last longer if I sprayed more (I tend to spray pretty lightly).

Bottle of Merchant of Venice fragrance Flower Fusion with Murano glass earrings and Massimo Ravinale scarf based on Leonardo da Vinci

Flower Fusion with Murano glass earrings and “Leonardo” scarf by Massimo Ravinale.

Have you visited Venice? The Palazzo Mocenigo? Have you tried any of The Merchant of Venice fragrances? If so, what did you think? Or, have you been able to do any “perfume tourism” of your own this summer?

Scent Sample Sunday: Choeur des Anges

Scent Sample Sunday: Choeur des Anges

The third fragrance in the triptych of Atelier des Ors’ “White Collection” is Choeur des Anges. Like the other two (Nuda Veritas and Crepuscule des Ames), it is inspired by Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze” and was created by perfumer Marie Salamagne, with direction by the house’s founder, Jean-Philippe Clermont. The brand’s description follows:

Choeur des Anges is a poetic celebration of colour, scent and joie de vivre fused with blood orange, carrot seeds, radiant fruits and flowers. A symphonic creation inspired by the harmonious voices of angels. An ambrosia like golden nectar of osmanthus and honey that sings in harmony to the gods. A fragrance that connects to the primal desire for happiness, where salvation is found in lyrical ambered tones. A radiant and joyous experience. A cocooned embrace. A kiss to the whole world.

Choeur des Anges means “choir of angels”, and that angelic chorus is vividly shown in the last panel of the frieze that inspired Atelier des Ors’ White Collection.

Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, with choir of angels and human happiness

Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze

The golden thread of citrus that links all three fragrances continues in Choeur des Anges, with a gorgeous opening note of sweet blood orange. It is very beautiful — sweet in the way a real, ripe orange is sweet, not cloying or sticky. I’m a sucker for a great opening note, and this is one of the best among recent fragrances. Very quickly, the blackcurrant chimes in with its tangy yet herbal undertones. I don’t really smell the pear that is supposed to be part of the opening, but it is likely part of what softens the edges of the blackcurrant.

The last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth contains its most famous section, the “Ode to Joy” which many of us know well and which continues to inspire modern performances in unexpected places, from this flash mob in Europe to YouTube videos. I have a special warmth toward this piece, because it was adapted for use as a hymn in the 19th century by one of my grandfather’s favorite authors, Henry van Dyke. He is often overlooked today, but many Americans know his short novel “The Other Wise Man”  and this hymn, known by its first line, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” We and our guests sang it at our springtime wedding, in the same chapel where Prof. van Dyke worshipped, one week before Easter. Its first verse is the best known:

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,

God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the Sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day

As with many fragrances, the middle stage of Choeur des Anges is mostly floral, the heart notes of orange flower and osmanthus stealing imperceptibly at first into the citrus opening, then taking center stage like flowers opening to the sun, as described in the hymn. These are sunny, happy flowers, appropriate to evoke the triumphant conclusion of humankind’s quest for joy. I smell the honey base note early; to my nose, it arrives not long after the flowers and lends them a polleny sweetness reminiscent of Easter and spring. The carrot seed note blends a rooty, earthy note into this middle stage, keeping the whole composition grounded, as this panel of the frieze reminds us that human joy is to be found on earth, as symbolized by the last, embracing figures, when love unites with art. Klimt apparently intended to convey that the arts are humankind’s salvation; but I choose to remember that today is Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate the triumph of love over death, through the resurrection of Jesus, the Lord who took upon himself human form and human suffering on earth, thereby winning salvation for those of us still on earth. Easter Sunday is a day for flowers, celebration, singing, and rejoicing, as in the words of the hymn’s second verse:

All Thy works with joy surround Thee
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays;
Stars and angels sing around Thee,
center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
singing bird and flowing fountain
call us to rejoice in Thee.

The final stage of Choeur des Anges is warm with amber and cedar, while the honey continues  to sweeten the drydown. I can still smell hints of the blood orange. No heavy musk, no spices. The ending of Choeur des Anges is warm, soft and gentle, like the embrace of the golden couple at the end of the Beethoven Frieze. Happiness, at last. Again, in this fragrance, Ms. Salamagne beautifully captures the spirit and symbolism of the masterpieces that inspired the White Collection, like its scent siblings Nuda Veritas and Crepuscule des Ames.

Of all the White Collection, Choeur des Anges is my favorite, though Nuda Veritas is close behind.  On my skin, it has good longevity, though not for longer than about six hours (not surprising, given the important role of citrus in its composition and the softness of its base notes, not to mention my dry skin). I don’t mind reapplying from my sample, because I do love the opening notes of sweet blood orange, and reapplying allows me to enjoy those again.

In honor of Beethoven’s music, Klimt’s artwork, and this lovely fragrance collection, I decided to post this on Easter Sunday, a day on which the “Ode to Joy” and the hymn it inspired are particularly relevant, and I’ll leave you with this image:

Altar and reredos with flowers for Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

Have you tried any of the White Collection, or other fragrances by Atelier des Ors? Do you love any other fragrances with links to other forms of art, such as music or painting?

Sample kindly offered by Atelier des Ors; opinions my own.

Scent Sample Sunday: Nuda Veritas

Scent Sample Sunday: Nuda Veritas

One year ago today, Cafleurebon published this announcement of Atelier des Ors’ new releases: the White Collection, and Bois Sikar, which I have previously reviewed. The White Collection consists of three linked fragrances based on Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze”, which itself was inspired by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Like all the Atelier des Ors fragrances, the perfumer who created them is Marie Salamagne.

I was lucky enough to visit the office of Atelier des Ors in Cannes this past January, thanks to an invitation from Megan of the blog Megan in Sainte Maxime. I met her for the first time in person, and I also met Jean-Philippe Clermont, creative director and founder of the brand, and was introduced to some of Atelier des Ors’ beautiful scents.

M. Clermont has himself written about finding his inspiration for his White Collection in Klimt’s masterpiece. Like the frieze, the three scents are meant to evoke the human spiritual quest for joy and its stages, as Sergey Borisov described so well in the piece he wrote about the collection for Fragrantica. Miguel Matos also wrote an excellent review of the White Collection for Fragrantica, here.

Nuda Veritas represents the first stage of that journey. Its top notes are bergamot, an aquatic scent molecule called Transluzone, and neroli. Heart notes are osmanthus, Jasmine Sambac, Chinese jasmine, and tiare flower. Base notes are patchouli, marigold, the scent molecules Ambroxan and Helvetolide, and moss.

The impression Nuda Veritas gives is that of shimmering, early dawn light, at the break of day when the dew still refreshes the landscape. It evokes the hopes of humankind, as does the first panel of the Beethoven Frieze, whose figures symbolize humanity pleading for rescue by a knight who represents strength. Behind him are female figures symbolizing Compassion and Ambition, the two motives that might inspire such a knight to take up arms in defense of others. Above them all float female “Genii”, celestial spirits who are searching, seeking, as hope looks ahead, seeking for a happier destiny, portrayed in shades of white and gold.

Panel, Gustav Klimt's Vienna Secession Beethoven Frieze

First panel, Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze”.

Detail of panel of Gustav Klimt's Beethoven frieze, female Genii

Detail of panel, Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt

Of all the figures on this panel, Nuda Veritas most clearly evokes these female Genii, with its floating, shimmering, golden tones. It opens with a clear citrus note from bergamot, coupled with the aquatic notes and the brightness of neroli. The opening is very lovely, reminiscent of dawn light over a tranquil sea, horizon glimmering in the distance. It moves gently into the jasmine heart notes, partnered with osmanthus and tiare. Although these are all white flowers, they are used here with a subtle touch; there is no “BWF” explosion or dominance. Just as dawn’s golden light slowly shifts to a whiter daylight, so Nuda Veritas’ tone shifts from the clarity of its citrusy aquatic opening to a whiter, slightly creamier, more floral heart phase.

As it dries down, Nuda Veritas fades away, leaving earthy, herbal notes of patchouli, marigold, and moss, warmed by the smooth and slightly fruity musk of Helvetolide, and the depth of Ambroxan. I love the marigold, or tagetes, note in the base, as I enjoy both the flowers and their scent in real life; they smell like a mix of floral, aromatic, and slightly musky green, which works well in Nuda Veritas. I can’t describe the Ambroxan note any better than The Candy Perfume Boy, did here:

I perceive it as a very silky, silvery material. It’s immediately evocative of the ocean but in a purely mineral way – it doesn’t posses an aquatic character, but one does get the impression of salt and wet stones. There’s also a sweetness to Ambroxan – a transparent, glittering and crystalline feel, as well as a soft, skin-like woodiness. It’s a fascinating, multi-faceted material that can be pulled in many directions, but it’s also tremendously diffusive, adding an expanse to fragrances, creating space, in which beautiful nuances can dance.

One thing I find interesting about his description is how well it also describes part of the overall artistic purpose of the White Collection, which is to “pay homage to the white space; the page, canvas, or an idea before its conception, at the point of materialising.” The use of Ambroxan in Nuda Veritas does add “white space” to the fragrance, in which its many nuances dance. This also recalls a key aspect of Japanese aesthetics, in which the space between objects or lines, or “ma“, is as important as the lines or objects themselves. Klimt is known to have been much influenced by Japanese art and methods, so here again are a lovely connection and consistency between the art that inspired these scents and their composition. (In fact, one of Klimt’s most famous and controversial paintings is called “Nuda Veritas”, or “Naked Truth”, and its composition is also consistent with its namesake perfume).

The entire triptych of scents in the White Collection offers layer after layer of hidden meanings, using perfume as the evocative art to express them. Like Bois SikarNuda Veritas is a highly intelligent work of perfume art. Marie Salamagne’s brilliant creation evokes dawn, morning, and springtime, all symbolic of hope and new awakenings. For me, it is a scent that perfectly suits Palm Sunday, which Christians around the world celebrate today. Palm Sunday traditionally celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and marks the start of Holy Week. As we know, the joy of that day will soon give way to Judas’ betrayal and the cross at Golgotha. But on that first Palm Sunday, the people who were present believed that their Savior had come, in response to the pleas of suffering humanity, and hope was in the air.

Sample kindly offered by Atelier des Ors, independent opinion my own.