Announced this week: Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are updating their guide to perfume with a twice-yearly review roundup! See this post and thread on Basenotes. Welcome back, I can’t wait to read what you write!
I don’t normally do the WordPress “Daily Post”, but one of this week’s word prompts caught my eye: “aromatic.” Well, I certainly have a response to that, as some of my favorite fragrances have aromatic qualities, even if they aren’t primarily classified as “aromatics”. But let’s start with a classic: the aptly named “Aromatics Elixir” by Clinique.
In many ways, Aromatics Elixir is a quintessential 1970s fragrance. It was launched at the start of that decade, created by the great perfumer Bernard Chant, for a new brand (Clinique) of the Estee Lauder company. It is green, dry, herbal and strong. Its creators positioned it as a “non-conformist chypre”, a perfume ahead of its time, that went “beyond perfume.” To me, it is in many ways the scent of 1970s feminism: independent, strong, challenging traditional strictures without becoming androgynous. Very in-your-face and unapologetic, but with its own beauty. If I were to assign a face to it, I would choose 1970s supermodel Lauren Hutton, a non-conformist beauty with her gap teeth and American style. Hutton had a chameleon-like quality, able to pull off effortless elegance in couture evening wear but showing off that same great bone structure in a plain white shirt, outdoors in the fresh air. Whenever I picture her in my mind, she is outside.
Luca Turin describes the impact of Aromatics Elixir thus: “Smelling Aromatics Elixir on a strip and especially in the air following a string of ‘modern’ fragrances is like watching Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep after twelve episodes of Cheers.” That pretty much sums it up; as he notes, Aromatics Elixir “achieves at once salubrious radiance and luxurious dusk.”
But Bernard Chant created another great aromatic fragrance for Estee Lauder, shortly before Aromatics Elixir: 1969’s Azuree. I was lucky enough to find an affordable, unopened tester of Azuree parfum online – wow. This is a really complex fragrance with a lot of different notes balanced against each other. Luca Turin calls it a “citrus leather” with a leather-chypre heart and gives it five stars, contrasting its ongoing fidelity to the original vision of its creator with the sad dismantling of his other leathery masterpiece, Cabochard. Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: top notes – aldehydes, artemisia, gardenia, basil, sage, bergamot; middle notes – cyclamen, orris root, jasmine, ylang-ylang, geranium, vetiver, rose; base notes – leather, amber, patchouli, musk and oakmoss. My bottle is labeled as “parfum”, not “eau de parfum”, and both its strength and longevity bear that out, as does the slightly oily slick on my skin when I first spray it on. Other commenters have noted the excellent spray nozzle on this bottle, which allows you to spray a small amount in fine droplets. That is all you need! Azuree is strong stuff!
On my skin, Azuree opens with a jolt of aldehydes, bergamot and artemisia, with herbal tones from the basil and sage top notes, although I can’t distinguish those separately. In the middle stage, I mostly smell orris root (really delightful and earthy, with an underlying carroty sweetness), vetiver and a hint of ylang-ylang. The story behind Azuree is that Estee Lauder, founder of the cosmetics empire, wanted to capture the outdoor scents of Cap d’Antibes on the azure sea of the French Riviera, where she had a villa in the years when Cap d’Antibes still looked more like the landscapes painted by Claude Monet and other Impressionists than the overbuilt hodge-podge it has become. Azuree does have a Mediterranean aura of dryness, citrus, herbs, and pine resin, as if one were looking down a dry Riviera coastline toward the stone pines of Juan-les-Pins from a sunlit Mediterranean garden. While roses, cyclamens and geraniums are listed among the heart notes, and they are all Mediterranean flowers that might grow in such a garden, along with the green herbs listed among the top notes, I really can’t pick them out.
As it dries down, Azuree becomes more leathery, dry and oak-mossy. At this stage, it LASTS. If I put it on my wrists at night, I can still clearly smell its final drydown stage the next morning. Like Aromatics Elixir, this fragrance is so very different from the current trends of sweet, fruity or gourmand scents! It doesn’t smell old-fashioned at all, it smells almost radical. Yet at the same time, if one were to characterize it as a person, one might describe a free-spirited young woman, wearing no make up but with an “old soul” gazing from her eyes. Definitely one of the great beauties of the 1970s. If Aromatics Elixir is Lauren Hutton, Azuree is Margaux Hemingway, whose grandfather famously spent so much time on the unspoilt Riviera with the most glamorous, unconventional creatives of the day.
Premier Muguet by Bourjois is a bit of a mystery. The nose behind it is listed in many places as Ernest Beaux, creator of the legendary Chanel No. 5 and Chanel No. 22, among other Chanel fragrances. Bois de Jasmin has a wonderful post about him, which is mostly in his own words, a magazine article he wrote about perfumery, translated from French. M. Beaux created a few perfumes for Bourjois (a cosmetics house whose early, but not first, owners were the Wertheimer family and which was sold just last year to Coty), including an early favorite and perhaps their most famous fragrance, Soir de Paris, or Evening in Paris. He is supposed to have created Premier Muguet for Bourjois in 1955, during the same decade when others were creating muguet fragrances like the legendary Diorissimo and Caron’s Muguet du Bonheur.
UPDATE: the master and perfume legend Luca Turin, now blogging on WordPress at perfumesIlove, sent me this information which he kindly solicited from perfume historian Will Inrig: that Premier Muguet was in fact created in 1955 by Henri Robert, the nose behind Coty’s Muguet des Bois, who had recently joined the house of Bourjois-Chanel (they were jointly owned at that point). I have a small bottle of what I believe is the eau de cologne of Premier Muguet, full and in its original box and bottle.
Luca Turin is back! He has just started a new blog about perfumes he loves. I couldn’t be more delighted, as his legendary guide book to perfumes was one of the books that started my interest in perfume and fragrance. Like many others, I discovered Mr. Turin’s book by reading Chandler Burr’s “The Emperor of Scent.” I am especially happy to read here that he loves a fragrance by Papillon Perfumery, whose scents I discovered last summer in London. The more I learn, the more I appreciate Liz Moores’ approach and philosophy. It is inspiring to see her work so well received.
As an audiophile of long standing and limited means, I am struck by similarities between loudspeakers and perfumes, especially in the manner of their choosing. Most people who don’t much care about sound (including many professional musicians who tend to listen to the playing, not the recording) buy little desktop or bookshelf speakers that adequately carry the spectrum but turn muddled and shouty when pushed hard. If they ever actually pick them by sound, they tend to go for the most impressive, i.e. the one with lots of treble and unmusical boomy bass, neglecting the midrange where most music and voice actually lies. That’s most of mainstream perfumery, all topnotes and bare but powerful drydown.
Then you have horn speakers, for those who love a huge midrange sound, colored by the resonant cabinetry, but capable of playing very loud, and with a wonderful old-fashioned chesty voicing. That would be the Roja Dove tendency of larger-than-life retro fragrances…
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Happy Valentine’s Day this weekend! This seems like a good opportunity to write about one of the rose-y fragrances I have discovered recently, given the association of red roses with Valentines (and the bouquet of them I was given yesterday! yes, that was early, because my husband is one of those delightful men who can’t wait to present a gift once it is in his hands).
Where to start? I think with Rose d’Amour, by Les Parfums de Rosine. Continue reading
Late summer and early fall are the season in the South for white ginger lilies, hedychium coronarium. They are tall, tender perennials with long, sword-like green leaves topped by fluttering white flowers whose large petals inspire the plant’s other common name: white butterfly lily. Our next-door neighbor has a magnificent clump, which sends its perfume floating over both of our gardens. I have tried to grow it myself, mere yards from his thriving specimen, without success. The white ginger lily is fickle by nature. But oh, that perfume! Many scents have been called intoxicating; the ginger lily’s fragrance truly is. Designed to lure pollinating insects at night, the white flowers’ scent intensifies in the dark humidity of Southern summer nights.
Imagine my anticipation, then, when I learned that Jo Malone has a cologne named Dark Amber and Ginger Lily. I looked it up on Fragrantica.com and realized that it has notes of ginger, and water lily, but it has nothing to do with ginger lilies. It sounded lovely, though, and I had a sample from a purchase of Tudor Rose, so on my wrists it went. Mmmm. I don’t often like Oriental spicy perfumes, but when I do, I really do. And I really like this one. Warm, soft, a whisper of cardamom with the ginger top note, a floral bouquet for a heart, a touch of glove leather in the base notes. Definitely on my wish list. But nothing to do with actual ginger lilies.
My curiosity piqued, I decided to explore further. And voila! Continue reading