Scent Sample Sunday: Mitsouko and Halston

Scent Sample Sunday: Mitsouko and Halston

What more can be said about Guerlain’s Mitsouko in this, its centennial year? Since its creation in 1919, it has attracted, confused, frustrated and even repelled those who smell it. Many great writers and blogs about fragrances have extolled its excellence and legendary status, as well as the challenge it poses to modern noses: Chandler Burr, Luca Turin, The Black Narcissus, Kafkaesque, Cafleurebon, Bois de Jasmin, Perfume Shrine, etc.

As part of my own process for trying to understand it, I began to educate myself about chypres, the fragrance family to which Mitsouko belongs. Along the way, I learned that several of my favorite fragrances fall in that group. One of them is Halston, now titled Halston Classic. I have a small bottle, with Halston’s signature on the bottle. As I read about them both on Fragrantica, I noticed that Mitsouko and Halston share many of the same notes. Halston: mint, melon, green leaves, peach, bergamot; carnation, orris root, jasmine, marigold, ylang-ylang, cedar, rose; sandalwood, amber, patchouli, musk, oak moss, vetiver, incense. Mitsouko: bergamot, lemon, mandarin, neroli; peach, ylang-ylang, rose, clove, cinnamon; labdanum, benzoin, patchouli, vetiver, oak moss.

How do they compare? The Mitsouko eau de parfum I have (first created in 2007 but listing the same notes as the original, reformulated in 2013 and supposedly quite close to the original) lasts much longer than my Halston, which I think is a cologne concentration (hard to read the tiny lettering on the bottom). The famous dry cinnamon note is strong, while none of Halston‘s notes come across as powerfully. In Halston, I think the carnation note adds the spice notes one finds in Mitsouko, while its sandalwood may provide some of the dry woodiness that Mitsouko gets from the cinnamon. On my skin, Mitsouko smells smokier than the Halston. Wearing one each on my hands, I can smell their kinship, and it seems entirely possible to me that perfumer Bernard Chant, who created Halston, may have had in mind the creation of a modern tribute to the legendary Mitsouko, especially with that peach opening. I doubt M. Chant would have missed the obvious reference to Mitsouko, famously the first fragrance to add a note of peach, by using a synthetic ingredient.

Halston is definitely easier to wear and easier on the modern nose, though still miles away from the fruity florals currently in favor. I especially love its marigold note. When I was trying out Mitsouko, however, my young adult daughter came to sit by me and declared “Never wear that perfume again, Mom!”. There is a dark side to Mitsouko, as many commenters have noted.

What do you think of Mitsouko or Halston Classic?

Scent Sample Sunday: SJP Covet

Scent Sample Sunday: SJP Covet

I find that the fragrances I choose to wear are highly influenced by the season and the weather. This year, in my part of the US, September and even the start of October felt more like late August. Temperatures were still in the 90s almost daily, and the humidity was high in spite of near-drought conditions and lack of rain. Finally, in the past week, fall arrived. Leaves are changing color and night temperatures are in the 40s. We even turned on the heat this week, though we don’t need it during the day, when the sun still warms the air into the balmy 70s. We haven’t had the weather we usually enjoy here in October, which resembles the “Indian summer” one sees in September in the Northeast, but it is pleasant. And we finally got lots of rain, which the trees desperately needed.

What fragrances work with this oddball weather and transitional season? One could do worse than Sarah Jessica Parker’s Covet, an oddball fragrance that combines apparently disparate notes like lemon, lavender, and chocolate. Wearable by both women and men, it combines a summery freshness with aromatic lavender, over a hum of dark cocoa.

On first application, Covet displays its lemon opening notes very clearly. Some commenters dislike the opening, comparing it to lemon floor cleaner and other functional sprays. I do see what they mean, though it doesn’t hit my nose as sharply as it seems to hit theirs. Luckily, the cocoa quickly starts making itself felt, and lavender arrives shortly after that. The lemon is persistent, but it does fade into the background after about 45 minutes or so on my skin. In the middle phase, to my nose the most prominent note is lavender. I can’t say that I sense any of the listed floral notes (honeysuckle, magnolia, and lily of the valley), which would have matched it more closely to my perceptions of spring. The cocoa is still faintly present and warms up the lavender. In the dry down, moving into base notes, Covet becomes more herbal and its warmth is woody rather than chocolatey, with an undertone of musk. Longevity is good but not extraordinary.

Covet was launched in 2007, after the huge success of Lovely, the first SJP fragrance. It has been discontinued as far as I can tell, though it is still widely available at bargain prices online. In line with its odd composition, the ad campaign for it is truly weird, portraying Sarah Jessica Parker in a ball gown, kicking in a plate glass window at night to get to a bottle of the fragrance and being taken away in handcuffs by Parisian gendarmes. “I had to have it”, she declares to the camera, with a somewhat demented expression on her face.

I find Covet to be a unisex fragrance, leaning neither traditionally feminine or masculine. Do I “have to have it”? No, but I’m glad to have a small bottle, because the fragrance is interesting. It’s a transition between the mainstream prettiness of Lovely (which is indeed lovely, though not groundbreaking) and the much more daring SJP Stash. Covet is much more quirky than Lovely, but Stash is in a category of its own among celebrity scents. As many commenters have noted, if Stash came with a niche label and price tag, it would hold its own among today’s niche fragrances.

Covet turns out to be a good fit with the transitional season and weather we’re having now. Soon enough, I will want more traditional fall fragrance notes, like amber, vanilla, spices. What are your favorite fall fragrances and notes? Have you tried Covet?

Fragrance Friday: Clouds’ Illusion

Fragrance Friday: Clouds’ Illusion

In honor of this week’s move of English perfume-maker 4160 Tuesdays to another part of London, today I review Clouds’ Illusion eau de parfum, which 4160 Tuesdays perfumer and founder Sarah McCartney created for a crowdfunding project for the Eau My Soul Facebook group.

Sarah McCartney's 4160 Tuesdays perfumery studio, Ravenscourt, London.

New space for 4160 Tuesdays London; image from 4160 Tuesdays.

What a fun idea! This isn’t the first one, either — she and the group’s founder, Christi Long, collaborated previously on the eponymous fragrance Eau My Soul in 2017, with input from the members of the Facebook group. Here’s the tale of how it happened, in Sarah’s own words:

Clouds was an idea dreamed up by Christi Long. Christi runs Eau My Soul as a kind, encouraging forum for fragrance lovers, and one day she was wearing our crowdfunded fragrance from 2018, Take Me To The River. It crossed her mind that Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now would be a wonderful inspiration for a fragrance, looking at clouds from both sides, the grey, then the sunshine.

Between us, we dreamed up a plan: Christi sent me a list of notes: iris, narcissus, white chocolate, hay, sandalwood, papyrus, vanilla and others which I’ll keep secret. She’d named some of the most expensive materials that exist, but I also knew that would want it to be affordable to everyone in the group because she’s nice like that.

So I had a suggestion. How about we do Both Sides Now? I am going to make two versions, one with the natural materials and one with the synthetic recreations made by the genius chemists from the industry. That way we can make the most magnificent, fabulously luxurious fragrance this side of Ancient Rome, plus the affordable one.

Clouds, and Clouds’ Illusion.

My intention was that they should smell pretty much exactly the same, but whichever one you buy, you can have a sample of the other one too. I don’t think anyone has done this before. I’m keen to show that aromachemicals are just as beautiful as naturals, and that you’re not missing out if you don’t have the spare cash for expensive fragrances. (But if you do, don’t let us hold you back.)

We also both agreed that we wanted to give a proportion of the funds raised to our chosen causes – some sunshine in these grey times. Previously we used a crowdfunding platform which took a percentage of the funds for use of its tech and database, so we took  that and gave it to Hope Not Hate in the UK, and to the Looking Out Foundation in the US. We think we already know enough people to make this happen, and besides we don’t want to conquer the world, just to make a lovely fragrance.

“Both Sides Now” was written by legendary singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, and was first commercially released as a recording by folk singer Judy Collins, on her album Wildflowers. The latter is the version most of us recognize from the radios of our youth, haunting in its lyrical beauty. A year later, Joni Mitchell followed with her own recording, also beautiful, for her album Clouds.

Here are the song’s lyrics:

“Both Sides Now”, by Joni Mitchell
Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s clouds’ illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real, I’ve looked at love that way
But now it’s just another show, you leave ’em laughin’ when you go
And if you care don’t let them know, don’t give yourself away
I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all
Tears and fears and feeling proud, to say, “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange they shake their heads, they say
I’ve changed
Well, something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

 

The fragrance Clouds comes in two versions: one is based entirely on natural essences, and was made in parfum and eau de parfum concentrations. The other is Clouds’ Illusion, which replaces a number of those (very expensive) natural essences with fine aromachemicals, though it still contains some of the naturals. Sarah’s goal was to incorporate all the elements Christi requested, but also to create a version that would be more affordable for crowdfunders and, in addition, show how aromachemicals can be used judiciously to create a truly beautiful fragrance. Clouds’ Illusion also comes in parfum and eau de parfum concentrations.

I was thrilled to take part in the crowdfunding, and as a result, I now have a bottle of Clouds’ Illusion in eau de parfum. I also had the privilege of visiting Sarah in her studio in London this past spring, when she was still modifying her formulas after initial feedback from Christi.

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Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays

Sarah and Nick were kind enough to spend quite a bit of time with me, and this visit was a highlight of my London trip. I’m quite a fan of 4160 Tuesdays, having won a bottle of their White Queen in a draw on the excellent fragrance blog “CaFleureBon”, and I bought more of their fragrances on my visit, several that were hard to get in the US.

So what is Clouds’ Illusion like, and does it fulfill the creative intentions behind it? The answer is, yes, it does, magnificently, and it is very lovely. Sarah lists notes of iris, citrus, narcissus, white chocolate, hay, sandalwood, papyrus, vanilla, and other unnamed “secret ingredients.” I love the scent of narcissus, and iris is becoming one of my favorite notes in perfume. According to Sarah, the iris note, or orris, evokes the melancholy, blue, introverted facets of the song, while the lemony citrus notes in the opening and bright flower notes like narcissus evoke its sunnier aspects. The white chocolate, vanilla, and a touch of musks create the soft white clouds. The image Christi posted on Eau My Soul, featured above and below, perfectly captures the fragrance: a pensive, introverted artist in a green meadow dotted with yellow wildflowers, set against a blue sky layered with puffy white clouds from horizon to horizon.

Singer songwriter Joni Mitchell with clouds, wildflowers and guitar

Joni Mitchell and clouds; image from Eau My Soul.

The opening of Clouds’ Illusion is especially wonderful, with citrus notes sparkling against a blue background of iris. I can’t think of another fragrance with a similar opening phase. The citruses fade away, but the iris comes to the fore and persists throughout the development of Clouds’ Illusion, partnered with narcissus (which here smells to me, specifically, like yellow daffodils or jonquils) and dry hay. The drydown slowly becomes softer and warmer, with its notes of vanilla and sandalwood joining the iris as the narcissus and hay move offstage. The development of the fragrance mimics the development of the song’s lyrics: starting out brightly, optimistically, yellow sunshine pouring down from a blue sky, then becoming more melancholy and wistful, as the sunlight darkens and fades and the clouds take over. But then the clouds part, and the the songwriter reflects that “something’s lost, but something’s gained, in living every day,” comforting herself with that thought, just as the fragrance becomes warmer and comforts with base notes of vanilla and sandalwood. The iris is still there, but it has been warmed by the other base notes. I can still smell iris, vanilla and sandalwood on my wrist more than eight hours after applying it lightly, so Clouds’ Illusion has excellent longevity in the eau de parfum concentration (I haven’t tried the extrait).

How does Clouds’ Illusion compare with Clouds, the version that uses only natural ingredients? My order of Clouds’ Illusion came with a sample of the Clouds EDP, so I’ve been able to smell them side by side. To my non-expert nose, right away the opening of Clouds smells more strongly of lemon than the top notes of its counterpart, but it fades into the background more quickly than the lemony opening of Clouds’ Illusion. The iris takes center stage in the middle phase in both versions, but in Clouds, I smell more of the sandalwood, and sooner, as it dries down, and Clouds’ Illusion seems to retain a bit more of the greenness of the hay note. Otherwise, though, they are very similar and have comparable longevity (more than eight hours on each of my wrists). Sarah has succeeded in her goal of creating fragrance twins, one with the precious natural substances and the other with more affordable aromachemicals, both lovely.

Here is Christi’s own account of how she experienced Clouds:

As many of you know, there were two earlier mods for Clouds and neither felt right to me. While they were nice fragrances, one even quite unusual, they were not the “Clouds” I had in my mind. After I told Sarah the second one wasn’t quite it either, she said “I know now what you want” and said it with such confidence. I now see why she was so sure of it…because it’s perfect.

First, it’s somewhat ethereal, but fluffy, like passing through a cloud. There is no sadness, but there is introspection, and a slight bit of melancholy from the orris butter laid thick under happy lemon sunshine. There is a hay like quality coming from the narcissus that counters the sweetness of the powdery, creamy white chocolate, so that it’s never too sweet but also never quite overly gray either. There is a cozy blanket of mood lifting lemon that surrounds it all, like a ray of golden hope at all times. Clouds is the days when you feel a bit down but know you’re strong enough to make it and feel hopeful. This isn’t a fragrance about giving in to sadness, it’s about rising above it and finding the reminder that sunshine always comes again, you just have to be strong enough to wait for it.

This year has been a roller coaster for me. It started really difficult, got better, then the hardships of life brought me down again. And literally right as I’m fighting to find the sunshine again, Clouds shows up at my doorstep. I sprayed it on and so many emotions, memories and thoughts passed before me. And in Clouds, just like life, the sunshine always wins if we let it. But we keep our memories with it, as a reminder of why we need the light.

Thank you, Sarah, for making this perfume for all of us who need a ray of hope sometimes. It reminds me that I’m human, I make mistakes, but with hope & forgiveness, life goes on and the sun still shines.

Thank you both, Sarah and Christi, for making this possible! I can’t wait for the next crowdfunding fragrance from 4160 Tuesdays, and I can’t wait to visit the new studio!

Readers, do you have a favorite 4160 Tuesdays fragrance? Have you ever taken part in a crowdfunding creative project, whether perfume or something else?

Featured image of Joni Mitchell from Eau My Soul.
Scent Sample Sunday: Aquaflor Rosae

Scent Sample Sunday: Aquaflor Rosae

Some readers of the blog “Now Smell This” expressed surprise that my husband is a much-appreciated enabler of my perfume hobby. He really is, in the kindest way, including that he found the entrance to Aquaflor for me on a small Florentine side street when I had given up and thought it was closed!

Aquaflor Firenze is another magnificent apothecary/perfumery in Florence, Italy. It sells house-made fragrances, body and face creams, herbal bath products and other fragranced goodies, shaving products, soaps, and accessories; it is very close to the church of Santa Croce, located in the ground floor of the Palazzo Serristori Corsini Antinori.

Courtyard leading to Aquaflor Firenze

Courtyard of Palazzo Antinori, Florence

My husband is the hero of this tale, because I had found the courtyard of the palazzo, which had a French door into the store, but it was roped off and I couldn’t see any staff, so I disappointedly told him that the store seemed to be closed. He wandered further up the street, in the opposite direction of how we would normally return to our bed and breakfast, and called back to me that he had found the entrance and the store was indeed open! This is heroic, because he has bad knees and flat feet, and he had already reached the limit of his ability to walk on paved and cobbled streets, which one does all day in Florence. He was rewarded when we entered the store and behold! there were comfortable leather armchairs and couches, clearly intended for footsore companions. So wise of the store owners! I would not have stayed as long and maybe would not have made the purchases I did if he had not been able to sit and rest his feet.

Aquaflor fragrance boutique in Florence, Italy.

Aquaflor Firenze boutique

Aquaflor sells most of its products in the actual store only, but it does now have a beautiful website where one can buy its fragrances, including a number of home fragrance diffusers. Perfumer Sileno Cheloni states on the website that they were reluctant to have a website, since they envision Aquaflor as primarily a destination and a sensory experience (which you can read about in more detail here), but they have the website so that aficionados can, for example, re-order a fragrance they already have and love.

All the fragrances are created by perfumers Sileno Cheloni and Nicola Bianchi. Fragrantica lists 40 fragrances, the earliest from 2015. After much testing and pondering, I chose one of their sets of a 100 ml bottle and a 30 ml bottle. You decide which ones you want, and the set costs less than if one bought the two separately. I chose the large size of Rosae and the small size of Tzigana. Today, I’ll write about Rosae.

Rosae is an unconventional rose fragrance. The only notes listed for it are rose and mint. It has a high concentration of fragrance, although it is not described as an “extrait”; based on its longevity on my skin, though, I would estimate its concentration as above 20%. It lasts at least 24 hours on my skin and only departed after I had taken a long shower. Its sillage is deceiving; I didn’t think it was more than moderate, i.e. detectable only within a couple of feet of me, but one day when I wore it to work, a colleague walked into my office and immediately exclaimed how good it smelled although she was several feet away from me. I have adjusted my spray pattern accordingly! And that will make my bottle last longer, which is a good thing because I really love Rosae.

Fragrantica categorizes it as “rose, green, aromatic, and fresh spicy,” and that seems right. At first spray, you get a powerful but fresh rose, very reminiscent of the beautiful attar of Taif roses my husband brought me back some time ago from Dubai, which tells me Rosae contains a high concentration of rose oil, specifically extract of Rosa damascena, or the Damask Rose. (Taif roses are a variety of the species Rosa damascena).

Rosa damascena growing in field

Rosa damascena; image from www.sciencedirect.com.

One small spray at the base of my throat, and Rosae wafts strongly up to my nose. There is a liveliness to its scent, which I attribute to the mint. A combination of rose and mint is much more complex than one might think from that short list of notes. Roses themselves contain well over 100 different organic compounds, whose volatility, emitted from the flowers or from rose extract, creates the fragrance we smell. This is why different roses can smell quite different from each other, while still completely recognizable as “rose”; some are more fruity, with notes like apple or peach, others are very lemony, some are more green, etc. “Mint” can refer to a large family of herbal plants, formally known as “Lamiaceae”, which includes not only spearmint and peppermint, but also many other garden herbs, such as basil, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, and lavender. Like roses, members of the mint plant family contain many organic compounds, which makes them highly aromatic. The liveliness and complexity of Rosae suggest to me that some of those herbs and their relatives are also present, playing supporting roles. I definitely pick up a whiff of sweet basil and fresh thyme, and possibly also lavender and Clary sage.

Rosae feels linear to me, and in the case of such a beautiful, natural fragrance, I appreciate that. Complexity abounds in this scent without the intrusion of many other substances. Given my colleague’s delighted reaction to it from several feet away, hours after I had applied Rosae in the morning, I have no complaints about its development! But if you are seeking a rose-based fragrance that will become something quite different over time, this is not it.

Aquaflor Firenze is well worth a visit if you ever get to Florence. On my visit, the staff were helpful and knowledgeable, and very willing to suggest fragrances to try. The store itself is very beautiful, and you won’t want to miss the frescoes in the Basilica di Santa Croce nearby. Just keep looking for the store’s entrance if at first you don’t find it! It is on the Borgo Santa Croce, and the actual door is down the street from the main entrance into the Palazzo Antinori. It has many wonderful items for sale besides its beautiful fragrances, too.

How do you feel about linear fragrances? Do you have a favorite rose-centric fragrance?

Table of fragrance products at Aquaflor, Florence, Italy

Aquaflor Firenze

Scent Sample Sunday: Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561

Scent Sample Sunday: Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561

Florence is full of wonderful stores and boutiques in historic locations and buildings, but some of the businesses themselves are also historic. One of them is Farmacia Santissima (“SS”) Annunziata dal 1561, an Italian apothecary and perfumery that dates back to the 16th century. The perfumery creates its own fragrances as well as cosmetics and lotions. It has its own page on Fragrantica, with 33 perfumes listed there. I was able to visit the actual store a few weeks ago, on a long-awaited first trip to Florence, and it was well worth it! I discovered its existence thanks to a wonderful article by The Perfume Society about perfume-shopping in Florence.

The Farmacia is right around the corner from Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David, which we were able to see early in the morning, at the first opening of the museum. We were the first visitors into the gallery that day, which was an unforgettable experience — looking down the whole length of the beautiful gallery at that magnificent statue, without anyone else in sight, then slowly approaching it and realizing just how tall David is. It reminded me, in reverse, of how much smaller the painted Mona Lisa looks in real life than how one imagined.

The store itself is charming and beautiful. It is paneled on every wall with floor-to-ceiling cabinets full of bottles and jars, and it has a gorgeous long counter across almost the full length of the back. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable, and fluent in English. Honestly, just visiting the store was a treat in itself. But of course, I couldn’t resist trying several of the fragrances!

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Bottles of products at Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561

One I particularly liked is Regina, an eau de toilette with notes of rose, unnamed “floral notes”, ylang-ylang, honey, rice, amber, iris, and chamomile. The most prominent notes are iris, rice, and honey, but ylang-ylang and chamomile are noticeable also. The strongest impression I get from it on my skin is that of a lovely, flowery powder. It is soft and honeyed without being sugary. The iris note is based, of course, on Florentine iris, a traditional and costly source of the prized orris butter that goes into many fragrances; its preeminence in Regina is a beautiful remembrance of lovely Florence.

I don’t really smell rose in isolation from the other notes; in fact, when I first spray Regina, I smell iris right away. But it is an iris supported by other flowers, so I’m sure the rose is there! The ylang-ylang adds a polleny yellow flower aspect to the scent, which enhances the notes of rice and honey, lending Regina a golden tone that is both light and warm.

This is an unusual combination of notes, especially with the chamomile that is so rarely used today in fragrances. One exception is the much commented-on recent release from Gucci, Memoire d’Une Odeur, which I tried the other day and liked very much; there has been a lot of online chatter about Alberto Morillas’ use of chamomile in that fragrance. I love green and herbal notes in fragrance, so chamomile appeals to me (and I like chamomile tea, so I’m predisposed to like it as a scent). Regina feels quite linear to my nose, which I don’t mind at all because it is such a pretty, appealing scent.

When we visited Florence and the Farmacia, Italy was suffering from the same heat wave that affected all of Europe in late July. Upon our return, the weather here at home has been almost as hot, and twice as humid. Regina is an ideal summer fragrance, with its light touch and notes of summery blossoms. It has a base note of amber, but this amber is delicate and does not overwhelm or overpower the rice, powder, and summer flowers. I often turn to one of Hermes’ Jardin fragrances in this kind of heat, or Penhaligon’s Blasted Bloom, as they both have a cooling, refreshing effect, but Regina will join my regular summer rotation.

Blogger Kafkaesque has written about Farmacia SS. Annunziata, noting the quality and reasonable prices of its fragrances. Have you tried any of them? If you were to choose a fragrance for a hot summer day in Florence, what would you choose?

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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.