May Melange Marathon: Fragrances That Changed the Field

May Melange Marathon: Fragrances That Changed the Field

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming, because the following New York Times Style Magazine article popped up in my news feed, and I got totally distracted by it! It is called The Fragrances That Changed the Field, by Aatish Taseer. It starts with a childhood memory, from India, of a first encounter with oudh, and travels a winding path from there through the “Orientalism” of fragrances in the 1970s, to the power statement fragrances of the 1980s, circling back to previous centuries and the use of florals and musks in fragrances. It includes insight from several modern perfumers.

I highly recommend this article! You’ll want to set aside a good block of time to read it. The opening paragraph:

I REMEMBER AS IF it were yesterday that distant afternoon on which I first smelled oudh. I was in my grandmother’s house in Delhi. I was 13, maybe 14. We had a family perfumer, or attarwallah, a man of some refinement, who came to us from Lucknow — a city that is a metonym for high Indo-Islamic culture. We didn’t know the attarwallah’s name, or how he knew to follow us from address to change of address. But he came without fail two or three times a year. A slim, gliding figure, with a mouth reddened from paan, or betel leaf and areca nut, the attarwallah produced his wares from carved bottles of colored glass that he carried in a black leather doctor’s bag. He showed us scents according to which season we were in. So in winter, musk and patchouli; in summer, white-flowered varieties of jasmine — of which there are some 40 odd in India — as well as rose and vetiver. In the monsoon, he brought us mitti attar, which imitates the smell of parched earth exhaling after the first rain (“mitti” means “mud” in Hindi). The perfumes came from the medieval Indian town of Kannauj, which is a 75-mile drive west of Lucknow and which, like its French counterpart, Grasse, has a tradition of perfume manufacturing several centuries old. Once he had drawn his perfume out on white cotton buds at the tips of long, thin sticks, the attarwallah lingered over his customers, telling stories of the various scents and reciting the odd romantic couplet of Urdu poetry.

If that doesn’t intrigue you, as a person interested in fragrance, I don’t know what will! Enjoy. BTW, my scent of the day today was Cristalle, and I’ll write about it tomorrow instead.

Featured image from baystreetex.com.

May Melange Marathon: Bohemian Bluebells

May Melange Marathon: Bohemian Bluebells

I promise I won’t spend the whole month of May dissecting Zara Emotions fragrances, but here’s another one: Bohemian Bluebells. I like it very much and it’s certainly affordable! Also truly unisex, I think it would smell wonderful on a man as well as a woman. Its listed notes are lavender, sandalwood, and musk (nothing to do with bluebells). If you can imagine a warm lavender, that’s what it smells like to me. I do tend to associate lavender with bedtime, given its soothing properties, but I don’t usually associate it with warmth in spite of its cultivation in hot, sunny climates like Provence (there are also famous lavender fields in England and other parts of the UK). Sometimes I crave Jicky eau de toilette at bedtime, if I’m going to sit up and read for a while, but Jicky feels cool to me somehow, like the clean sheets that have been newly put on a bed, with their crisp, unwrinkled surfaces.

Bohemian Bluebells feels warm but light, like one of those silk/mohair blended yarns knitted in an open, lacy pattern into the kind of shawl one might wear over one’s shoulders to add just a touch of warmth. I expect the warmth comes from the listed sandalwood note, followed by a soft musk.

Artyarns silk/mohair; image from Iconasys.

There’s an unlisted citrusy note in the opening that I can’t quite identify. I can say what it isn’t: it isn’t bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, or the dreaded yuzu (one of the only notes I dislike). It might be a touch of sweet orange, though very faint. Unlike some of the other fragrances in the Zara Emotions line, Bohemian Bluebells does not seem to come in other formats like shower gel, body lotion, etc., but one could layer it with those in one of the other fragrances that do. I think it would smell lovely with Amalfi Sunray or Vetiver Pamplemousse; it comes in a layering set with Ebony Wood and Fleur de Patchouli. (Ebony Wood is another in the line that I liked very much). I think I’ll also try it with one of the “filters” from Maison Martin Margiela, Glow.

This is a light fragrance; it won’t project far, it doesn’t have a lot of sillage, and it lasts only a couple of hours on bare skin, without a boost from anything else. But at this price, it’s a true bargain beauty, and it would be easy to spritz again as needed! Also, since it does appeal to me as a bedtime scent, it doesn’t need to last very long.

Do you have any favorite lavender fragrances?

Lavender blossoms growing in England under sunny sky
Lavender field, Carshalton; image from http://www.carshalton.org
May Melange Marathon: Beyond Paradise

May Melange Marathon: Beyond Paradise

“Melange” is an apt word to use for Estee Lauder’s Beyond Paradise, as it is truly a melange of different florals. In their book “Perfumes: The Guide A-Z”, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez not only gave it five stars, but also close to three full pages of discussion (most perfumes got a paragraph). He calls it a “symphonic floral.” Calice Becker was the perfumer who created it; Beyond Paradise was launched in 2003. The bottle I have is the teardrop-shaped, rainbow-tinted original. The batch number on the bottom suggests it dates to 2013. Fragrantica lists that version’s notes as: Top notes of Hyacinth, Orange Blossom, Grapefruit, Bergamot and Lemon; middle notes of Jasmine, Gardenia, Honeysuckle and Orchid; base notes of Hibiscus, Plum Wood, Ambrette (Musk Mallow) and Amber. The 2015 version in the rectangular bottle is described as having top notes of Blue Hyacinth, Orange Blossom and Jabuticaba; middle notes of Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Orchid and Mahonia; and base notes of Ambrette (Musk Mallow), Plum Blossom, Paperbark, and Woody Notes.

Both versions of Beyond Paradise are meant to be “fantasy florals” with a tropical theme; part of the length of Turin’s review is a long digression into the nature of abstract floral fragrances and how challenging they are to create, with a tip of the hat to perfumer Calice Becker, an acknowledged master of the art. According to contemporaneous press and PR coverage when it was launched, it included “proprietary notes” gleaned from a collaboration with The Eden Project, a fascinating conservation site in Cornwall, which involves massive biospheres located in and above an abandoned quarry and which I’ve had the privilege to visit. It does in fact house many rare and tropical plants, so it must be a great resource for unusual smells.

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May Melange Marathon: Mother’s Day and No. 5

May Melange Marathon: Mother’s Day and No. 5

Today is Mother’s Day in the US, and I’m thinking of my own late mother and the perfume I associate most with her, Chanel No.5. No.5 is 100 years old this year, having been launched by the house of Chanel in 1921, which hardly seems possible! Here is the wonderful video Chanel released this year to celebrate No.5‘s centennial:

The version I have is the eau de toilette; in fact, it is the last bottle of No.5 that my mother owned. I brought it home with me, with its few ml of fragrance left, after her funeral and clearing out her home. Wearing a few drops now on the back of my hand, I can still smell how beautiful it is, and think peacefully of my mom.

I wrote about her and No.5 five years ago, in “My Mother’s Last Perfume“. She died in May of 2017; if she were still alive, she would be turning 90 this year — only ten years younger than No.5! We held her memorial service in July of 2017, so that all members of the family could be there, and a memory I find very consoling is that I took charge of working with the florist for the church service. I used to help my mother arrange flowers as part of the church’s “Flower Guild”, a volunteer role that she took very seriously, albeit with some humor. She loved to recount how long it took her to win the approval of the older women in the Flower Guild when she first wanted to join, in spite of her being a member of the church’s vestry! They only let her cut off the ends of stems and hand them the flowers for months.

Because of those companionable times we spent together arranging flowers, I knew her strong likes and dislikes — I don’t think my mom had any likes or dislikes that were anything but strong. I remember telling the florist that we could not have gladioli under any circumstances, because my mom hated them with a passion and she would return from the grave to haunt us all if we had them at her memorial. I was so pleased with our final selections: the roses and lilies she loved; Bells of Ireland, to recall her Anglo-Irish roots and her beloved aunts and grandmother, with whom she spent school holidays; eucalyptus as a reference to her birthplace of New Zealand; and other fragrant flowers, some of which are notes in No.5.

Because I started buying her No.5 in the 1970s, as a child, the version I recall most has the original notes (though I think by then the civet was synthetic): top notes of Aldehydes, Ylang-Ylang, Neroli, Amalfi Lemon and Bergamot; middle notes of Iris, Jasmine, Rose, Orris Root and Lily-of-the-Valley; base notes of Civet, Sandalwood, Musk, Oakmoss, Vetiver, Amber, Vanilla and Patchouli. I’m not sure of the date of the eau de toilette of hers I now have, but it’s probably from the early 2000s. And after an initial “off” opening, it is just lovely.

The aldehydes have survived the passage of time, as have the ylang-ylang and much of the neroli. Lemon and bergamot are no longer detectable. The notes of jasmine and rose are most prominent to my nose in the heart phase, with a gorgeous powdery softness provided by the iris and orris root. I can detect the lily-of-the-valley faintly, but just barely. The drydown is also lovely: it just keeps getting warmer, softer, and sexier, with those beautiful base notes. As many have noted, No. 5 is so well-blended, it is almost abstract. While it is possible to detect single notes, the overall impression is not of a particular flower, which is what perfumer Ernest Beaux and Mme. Chanel intended. No.5 is simply itself, and it is unmistakable to this day.

I don’t often wear No.5, as beautiful as it is, because I do associate it so much with my mom; but I use and love No.5 Eau Premiere as well as No.5 L’Eau. Blogger Neil Chapman of The Black Narcissus described the trio so well in his book “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent” (which I highly, highly recommend!):

Chanel’s enduring, glamorous icon is a scintillation of aldehydes, rose de mai, ylang ylang, orris, jasmine and vanilla (among many other ingredients) — a caress of timeless, confident femininity…. Successful recent reiterations of the No.5 brand that aim to appeal to the younger consumer include Eau Premiere (2007) — which I like for its streamlined primness and muted, statuesque lightness that works convincingly as a chilled, contemporary flanker of the original — and No.5 L’Eau in 2016, which smells as peachy and rosy as the dawn.

I can’t think of another perfume that has had the famous Any Warhol portrait treatment, can you? Do you like No.5, in any of its current versions or flankers? And happy Mother’s Day to all who are celebrating it today!

Bottles of Chanel No.5 perfume by Andy Warhol
Chanel No.5 portraits by Andy Warhol; image from Fragrantica.com.
May Melange Marathon: Lily

May Melange Marathon: Lily

Parfums Christian Dior is responsible for possibly the most famous muguet fragrance of all time, Diorissimo. A less-known, discontinued muguet fragrance by Dior is the lovely Lily, launched in 1999. The perfumer behind it is Florence Idier, who also created Comme des Garcons’ Series 1 Leaves: Lily, another lily-of-the-valley fragrance. There is another fragrance called Lily Dior, but the one I have is just called Lily; it is an eau de toilette.

Advertising illustration for Lily eau de toilette by Christian Dior
Lily, by Parfums Christian Dior; image from Fragrantica

Fragrantica (which has a photo of the wrong bottle on this fragrance’s page, btw; it shows 2004’s Lily Dior) lists its notes as: Top notes are Green Notes, Fruity Notes, Bergamot and Brazilian Rosewood; middle notes are Lily-of-the-Valley, Lilac, Lily, Jasmine and Rose; base notes are Musk and Sandalwood.

I acquired my bottle of Lily within the past year, so it has never featured in my frequent “May Muguet Marathon.” It wouldn’t be May for me without some reviews of muguet fragrances! I like Lily very much, and if I didn’t already have several true-love muguet fragrances, it would be among my top dozen. Even as a vintage eau de toilette, its top notes are clear and strong, with a noticeable fruit note at the start that reminds me of a green pear. The only listed top note that I don’t really smell is the rosewood; the opening is very fresh and green.

The lily-of-the valley note steps forward quickly and it is very natural-smelling (although LOTV notes famously rely on clever combinations of other substances, as the flowers’ natural essence cannot be extracted). The companion notes of lilac and jasmine are evident, with the lilac slightly more obvious than the jasmine. At this stage, Lily reminds me a lot of the 1998 version of Guerlain’s Muguet, which was created by Jean-Paul Guerlain and launched the year before Lily.

Hmmm. The list of notes for each fragrance is almost identical, according to Fragrantica. The clear presence of both lilac and jasmine in the middle stage, as part of the evocation of lily-of-the-valley, is very similar in each fragrance. Lily‘s opening is distinctive, though, with that green pear note that gives it some zing together with the bergamot. I’m going to give Parfums Dior the benefit of the doubt here, though: Christian Dior’s association with the muguet, his favorite flower, goes back decades and prompted the creation of Diorissimo; the flower appeared regularly in Dior fashions: dresses, scarves, hats, jewelry, and apparently he had a tradition of giving sprigs of lilies-of-the-valley to employees every May Day, which the fashion house continues to this day. Don’t you just love this hat?

Hat decorated with artificial lilies of the valley silk flowers
Lily of the valley hat by Christian Dior

The Christian Dior name is also attached to a wide variety of household goods featuring lilies of the valley as his signature flower, everything from sheets to fine porcelain. A new collection of muguet-themed housewares was launched by Dior last year, and they are quite beautiful.

As my regular readers know, I truly love muguet fragrances. I struggle to grow them here in the South, as it really is too hot and humid here for them, but I have a few plants I have nursed along in dedicated planters on the shady edge of our front terrace, where I can keep them well-watered and mulched with the rich humus compost they love. Lily is very true to the natural scent of lilies-of-the-valley and it doesn’t smell soapy at all to my nose, unlike some LOTV fragrances. It doesn’t last more than a few hours, which is the norm for most muguet fragrances, especially in eau de toilette concentrations. While it lasts, though, it is very pretty. However, most of the prices you will see online for Lily are too high, considering that one can easily find lovely, newer, muguet fragrances that are more affordable, or at least fresh (see my “May Muguet Marathon” posts for some suggestions!).

For a lovely post on lily-of-the-valley scents, check out one of my favorite blogs, Bois de Jasmin. Its author, Victoria, mentions Dior’s Lily briefly in the comment section. She writes about muguet fragrances pretty regularly, as it is a favorite scent of hers. I know lily-of-the-valley scents can be polarizing; people tend to like them very much, as I do, or not at all. How do you feel about them?

My bottle of Lily, in front of my muguet

May Melange Marathon: Purplelight

May Melange Marathon: Purplelight

I like to seek out fragrance “bargain beauties”, for my own sake and for the sake of readers who may not be able to afford (or want to pay) the often eye-watering prices of niche fragrances. While there is much to recommend the practice of buying only a few, albeit expensive, high-quality fragrances, it is fun to educate one’s nose by trying many different fragrances, especially at the outset of this hobby, and that is how I acquired a number of ‘bargain beauty” fragrances. Luckily, I also have two young adult daughters, currently living at home during the pandemic, and they’re happy to share them! Of course, none would be bargains if they weren’t pleasing at some level, and likely to be used and enjoyed.

One such bargain beauty is Parfums Salvador Dali’s Purplelight. Launched in 2007, the nose behind it is Francis Kurkdjian, usually associated with much more expensive fragrances, including those from his own brand Maison Francis Kurkdjian. While Purplelight is in no way comparable to those fragrances, it is a very pleasant, soft, lilac-centered eau de toilette that works well. Its primary notes are bamboo, lilac, and musk, with companion notes of cherry blossom, jasmine, tiare flower, almond tree, and vetiver, according to Fragrantica. Purplelight followed the house’s 2006 launch of Purplelips, another lilac-forward fragrance, created by perfumers Antoine Lie and Guillaume Flavigny. I really enjoy finding pleasant bargain fragrances that have been created by well-known perfumers; as some of you know, one of my favorite bargain beauties is Adam Levine for Women, created by Yann Vasnier, who has also created fragrances for much more expensive brands like Arquiste, Frassai, Tom Ford, Comme des Garcons, Jo Malone, and others. My most recent bargain beauty fragrance line, which I wrote about earlier this week, is the Zara Emotions line created by perfumer Jo Malone (the person, not the brand). Parfums Salvador Dali has several bargain beauties, well worth exploring.

At first spray of Purplelight, what I smell most is a light green bamboo with watery undertones. As that dies down, I smell more and more of a soft lilac. This is very light also; I like the fact that to my nose, it doesn’t smell soapy, as some lilac scents do. Over a short period of time, a soft, gentle musk appears. Projection and sillage are minimal, but I can clearly smell Purplelight on my hand and wrist for a few hours. It is still possible to find gift sets of the eau de toilette that come with body lotion, and it seems likely that the two used together would increase the scent’s longevity. I enjoy Purplelight as an easy floral for warm weather or bedtime, when one doesn’t necessarily want a powerhouse or anything very challenging.

I can’t fail to mention the charming bottle for Purplelight, which matches that of its sister fragrance Purplelips. It is a rectangular column into which is set a row of concave lips. The juice inside is a light purple, which tints the bottle. The artist Salvador Dali incorporated lips into many of his artworks, and the theme has been carried into many of the bottles of Parfums Salvador Dali.

Have you tried any of the other Salvador Dali fragrances, either the bargain-priced ones or the more expensive “haute” line?

Perfume Chat Room, May 7

Perfume Chat Room, May 7

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, May 7, and it is Day 7 of my “May Melange Marathon.” Thank you to the Perfume Chat Room regulars who approved that name for my annual blogging marathon! I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, check out my daily posts!

The house repairs and updates continue: plumbing and plastering are done, next come tile and trim repair and painting. Painting is really the fun part; most of the rooms will be repainted the same colors, but some will have different shades and two will be an entirely new color. For instance, the pink bathroom that our kids shared for many years will remain pink, but now it will be a more sophisticated shade with some grey undertones, called “Proposal” (though I’m still debating another shade called “First Light”). The blue bathroom off our son’s room will be a darker blue than it is now, a wonderful shade called “Wedgewood Gray.” That bathroom is also getting new light fixtures, a new medicine cabinet, and new mirrors and shelving to go with the rebuilt shower. I’m excited about it, small as it is; it will look great when it’s done.

Now that my house is coming back together, and the school year is almost over, I am feeling way more motivated to tidy up my perfume collection, which has slowly spread into all available space in the bedroom I share with my patient husband — and some space that’s not really available! I have two weeks of “staycation” coming up, so I hope to get a lot done. I have some great IKEA storage boxes I use, but they need reorganizing. I’m thinking of using some of those storage labels with QR codes one can associate with photos of items or keywords — have any of you used those? Thoughts?

Photo: my own, taken at Farmacia SS. Annunziata dal 1561, Florence, Italy, July 2019.
May Melange Marathon: La Vierge de Fer

May Melange Marathon: La Vierge de Fer

Today’s floral is Serge Lutens’ La Vierge de Fer, which means “Iron Maiden” in English. The Iron Maiden was a notorious (though possibly apocryphal) medieval torture device, an upright metal box shaped like a person, in which spikes were set into the interior of the opening, which, when closed, would pierce a prisoner locked inside the device. Lovely.

I don’t follow Serge Lutens very closely although I have and appreciate several of his fragrances, and I would love to visit his boutique in the Palais-Royal in Paris some day. So I don’t really buy into the self-consciously arcane descriptions of his fragrances, but here is what the brand writes about La Vierge de Fer:

Let there be light! And darkness no more. He who wishes does not have a black soul! “I will come as a thief …” said Christ; certainly in silence and probably, for him, wearing shoes. To deserve his title, the Thief must act under the wide-open eye of the absent owners. In this case, it is not that tenuous eye with which Cain stares without regret, but another, which in some way will make an accomplice of Abel. If the fetishes, idols and charms of the Museum of Man, in Paris, had not met the 20th century, everyone would have missed that incredible mockery of Eros which The Young Ladies of Avignon certainly is. “The Negros had understood that everything which surrounds us is our enemy”, the wizard Picasso said to his paintbrush. Who, if not one of them, decided on life, by death, would dare, to unclench the teeth of this sex of the world: fear. Since it is the fruit of our entrails, it must be elevated. For that, not fearing incest, we will embrace it. In this way, she will give birth to our most beautiful monsters. That is how, a little rusty by dint of doubts, my steps have rejoined La vierge de fer (the Iron Maiden); that lily amongst the thorns.

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May Melange Marathon: Layering Zara Emotions

May Melange Marathon: Layering Zara Emotions

Today’s fragrance is a true “melange”, from the Zara Emotions line, a series of fragrances created by the perfumer Jo Malone for Zara, the clothing retailer that is known for its inexpensive yet effective fragrances. In interviews, Ms. Malone has said that the line uses raw ingredients similar to the ones she uses in her own (much more expensive) line, Jo Loves, taking advantage of Zara’s enormous global buying power; there are just fewer separate ingredients in each Zara Emotions fragrance. The Zara Emotions fragrances are pretty simple but several are very appealing, and they are designed to be easy to layer with each other. So today, I am wearing one of the brand’s recommended combinations, Waterlily Tea Dress and Amalfi Sunray.

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May Melange Marathon: Chamade

May Melange Marathon: Chamade

Not quite as legendary as some other Guerlains, Chamade nonetheless has its passionate devotees. Luca Turin gave it five stars in the original “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide”, though it’s not clear whether he was reviewing parfum or eau de toilette. The most recent version I have is the eau de toilette in the “bee bottle”; it has recently been reissued by Guerlain as part of its 2021 “Patrimoine Collection”, for which six of its most famous fragrances have been bottled in the design of the original Mitsouko bottle with its hollowed heart stopper. (The list of notes for the reissued Chamade, by the way, is much shorter than that for the original, and puts some of them in a different order).

Originally created by Jean-Paul Guerlain in 1969, Chamade seems to have been an attempt to bridge earlier generations of Guerlain fragrances to a new generation of fragrance that would appeal to the ascendant youth culture, catering to the Baby Boomers who entered their 20s during the 1960s. Chamade is by no means an avant-garde or hippie scent, though. It reminds me of the most senior girls at the Belgian convent school I attended for a couple of years as a young child — young ladies from good families, many of them minor aristocrats, who were picked up after school on Fridays by dashing, slightly older boyfriends driving small sports cars. The senior girls were also allowed to change out of their school uniforms on Friday afternoons, and I have a dim memory of admiring their bright A-line dresses: ladylike, expensive, but youthful. That is how Chamade strikes me: like the kind of fragrance a chic European mother or grandmother would have given then to an 18 year-old as her “first Guerlain.”

Cover of Mademoiselle magazine, girl in yellow dress with gloves and hat
Mademoiselle magazine cover, 1960.
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