May Muguet Marathon: No. 42 The Flower Shop

May Muguet Marathon: No. 42 The Flower Shop

Those of you who read fragrance blogs and articles know that the brand Jo Loves was started by Jo Malone, who sold her first, eponymous brand to Estee Lauder, worked for them for some time, then launched a new brand of her own, Jo Loves, several years later. She also has a store at 42 Elizabeth Street in London. No. 42 The Flower Shop is named after the coincidence that when she was a teenager, Jo worked as a florist on the same street where her store now stands. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting it, and I highly recommend that if you are in London! It’s a lovely store, and it is close to Les Senteurs, a long-established niche perfumery with a wide selection of fragrances by independent brands.

Jo Loves fragrance boutique at 42 Elizabeth Street, London.

Jo Loves boutique

No. 42 The Flower Shop smells exactly like its name. It is the smell that greets you when you walk into a florist’s shop, a mix of cut flower and leaf fragrances, very green and fresh. While the brand’s website describes it only as “fresh blooms and crushed green leaves”, Fragrantica describes it in more detail: “top notes are green leaves, mandarin orange and peony; middle notes are lily-of-the-valley, freesia, jasmine and narcissus; base notes are iris, white musk, moss and patchouli.” Lily of the valley is listed with green notes as one of the top two notes perceived by commenters.

The opening is indeed very green, which I like very much. There is a slight sweetness and juiciness that reflects the mandarin orange note, but the citrus fades away quickly and what remains at first are green, green leaves. Then the floral notes enter, including the lily of the valley. I think that lily of the valley and freesia are evenly matched in No. 42 The Flower Shop. Both are evident, but they are blended together very nicely; at some moments in this middle stage, the freesia is more dominant to my nose, but at other times, the lily of the valley takes precedence. No. 42 The Flower Shop evokes a very specific memory for me: the florist buckets and potted plants outside my favorite store in the world: Liberty London.  I love everything about Liberty: first and foremost, its signature fabrics and fabric designs; but also its fabulous building in Great Marlborough Street, its tearoom, its amazing fragrance department — everything.

Flowers and buckets outside Liberty London florist store

Flower shop at Liberty London

The green notes persist during the middle stage of No. 42 The Flower Shop; that and the other floral notes make the fragrance a bouquet, and by no means a soliflore, as befits a florist shop. The narcissus note is evident, though not as strong as the lily of the valley and freesia, but it adds a nicely astringent tone to the sweeter flowers (it is not one of those heady, “narcotic” narcissus notes, it too is very green). The fragrance retains its greenness throughout, including in its base notes of moss and patchouli. The moss note is especially clever, as it is so common for lilies of the valley and spring bulbs like narcissus to be forced in pots and potted with green moss.

Forced lilies of the valley potted with green moss

Lilies of the valley planted with moss

Sadly, No. 42 The Flower Shop does show its kinship with some of the original Jo Malone fragrances in that it doesn’t last as long as I would like. It is so pretty, though, that I’m glad I own a bottle; and I’m looking forward to visiting Jo Loves’ boutique later this month to try her new fragrance, Rose Petal 25.

Have you tried any of the Jo Loves fragrances? I’m also very partial to White Rose and Lemon Leaves. If you’re interested and you haven’t tried any but you’re pretty sure you may want one, Jo Loves has a discovery “experience” where you pay the price of a full bottle (50 ml or 100 ml) and get a discovery set with a certificate for the full bottle of your size and choice; I believe that includes shipping.

May Muguet Marathon: White Suede

May Muguet Marathon: White Suede

I encountered Tom Ford’s White Suede quite early in my perfume journey, when I was searching for other lily of the valley fragrances because I had been so disappointed in the current eau de parfum formulation of Diorissimo (I have since learned that the EDP is an entirely new creation by Francois Demachy, and the EDT is closer to what I remember). White Suede‘s notes are listed as: rose, saffron, thyme, mate tea, olibanum, lily-of-the-valley, amber, suede and sandalwood. Fragrantica’s readers list lily of the valley among the top three strongest notes, so I had to try it. Shout-out here to a lovely sales associate at Neiman Marcus, who patiently showed me a number of LOTV fragrances and gave me a generous sample of White Suede. I have found that the two department stores that are unfailingly helpful with samples are Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. When I buy fragrance from a general retailer as opposed to online, or at a specialty boutique, it’s usually at one of those stores.

White Suede jumps right out with a strong but soft suede note. I don’t smell thyme at all, which is supposed to be one of the top notes, but I do smell a hint of the tea note that is also supposed to be part of the opening. But White Suede was never meant to be primarily herbal or floral: it was part of the “White Musk Collection”, more focused on a lighter, cleaner musk than Tom Ford’s earlier scents. And yes, musk moves to center stage pretty quickly in the fragrance’s progression on my skin.

As that happens, a green undertone also emerges, which I think is meant to be the lily of the valley, but I doubt I would identify it as such if I weren’t looking for it.  That’s not to say I dislike White Suede; actually, I like it quite a bit. I tried amping it up by layering it with a more strongly muguet-centric fragrance, Woods of Windsor’s soliflore Lily of the Valley, which was quite nice; they played well together. I think the reason White Suede doesn’t hit my nose as “lily of the valley” on its own is that traditionally (and in real life), muguet has a lemony aspect to it, and that is completely absent from White Suede. Muguet can also have a soapy tone to it (or maybe we associate soap with muguet because that fragrance note is so widely used in soap and bath products). Since clean white musks also have a certain soapiness, which many of us smell as akin to laundry, there’s a relationship there which White Suede seems to exploit.

White Suede is definitely a unisex fragrance, and it’s quite nice. It is also quite expensive, and I wouldn’t characterize it as a “muguet” fragrance despite the impressions of Fragrantica readers, so if your heart is set on a true lily of the valley scent, there are better and cheaper options, including some high-end choices from Dior, Hermes, and other luxury houses. It does have enough kinship with lily of the valley to layer nicely with a more traditional muguet floral, so if you like suede, musk, and muguet, give that a try and let us know what you think!

Featured image: Dolce & Gabbana white suede gloves

May Muguet Marathon: Vogue 125

May Muguet Marathon: Vogue 125

In 2017, the fashion magazine Vogue celebrated its 125th anniversary of continuous publication. It began as a weekly paper chronicling the doings and fashions of New York City’s upper-crust society; after Mr. Conde Montrose Nast bought it in 1905, he turned it into a women’s magazine with even more of a focus on fashion. Conde Nast pioneered the industry of women’s magazines and introduced many innovations, such as using color photography for magazine covers instead of illustrations. When I was much younger, I read Vogue pretty regularly; I came for the gorgeous photography and cutting edge styles, and often stayed for its long, interesting articles on all kinds of subjects. I always loved the gigantic September issue, twice the size of the usual magazine, with all the new fashions.

To mark this anniversary, Vogue editors decided to create, for the first time, a Vogue fragrance. They teamed up with an avant-garde fashion house the magazine had championed, Comme des Garcons, as the press release proclaimed:

Vogue’s first perfume, created with Comme des Garçons in celebration of the magazine’s 125th anniversary, was inspired by the storied publication’s rich history, featuring top notes of an accord of instant film, a mainstay on fashion shoots, and acetyl furan—a synthetic essence that mimics the smell of tobacco, an aroma that used to permeate the Vogue office and the couture salons where editors reviewed collections; middle notes of Lily of the Valley, a favorite of the magazine’s founding publisher Conde Nast, and fresh ink, which scented his first printing press in Greenwich, Connecticut; and base notes of Cashmeran wood, Haitian vetiver, and leather, reminiscent of the gloves legendary fashion director Babs Simpson insisted her team wear at the Vogue office in the 1960s.

Vogue itself published an article, of course, describing the fragrance’s creation in more detail. Apparently creative director Christian Astuguevieille decided to focus on three main florals, and ordered up variations on themes of peony, tuberose, and lily of the valley, that latter in tribute to Mr. Nast’s favorite flowers, which he kept in bouquets in his dressing room. One version combined lily of the valley with inky vetiver, in homage to the magazine’s printing presses, and a synthetic accord meant to evoke the smell of instant camera film, which was used in the magazine offices for test shoots. This was dubbed “Ink Lily 4W”, and it was the one that kept drawing editors and staff back.

Vogue 125 is a very appealing lily of the valley fragrance. While it doesn’t smell much like the actual flowers, it clearly evokes them. If I had to be very specific, I’d say that it smells like a glossy photograph, printed in color ink, of lilies of the valley, beautifully arranged for an artful photo shoot.

Bridal bouquet of lilies of the valley; Vogue magazine

Bouquet of lilies of the valley; wedding shoot for Vogue.

It is not a loud or disruptive fragrance; in fact, one could easily wear it to the kind of offices Vogue has always had in New York and other fashion capitals. It doesn’t have huge sillage, though it does have good longevity for a floral scent. I agree with what  Lauryn Beer wrote, in CaFleureBon:

Comme des Garcons Vogue 125 is ultimately a more low-key affair than I expected an intimate party for friends rather than an extravagant gala. With its seamless integration of state-of-the-art synthetics and realistic florals, Astuguevieille’s olfactory tribute is both brightly current and wistful; remembrances of past elegance and this morning’s bustle side-by-side in the same bottle. Which is just what it should be.

As it dries down, Vogue 125 becomes drier and less green, no doubt thanks to the vetiver. It also becomes more like a textile, if that makes sense — less airborne and more tactile. That is the contribution of the Cashmeran in its base, which has been described thus: “The name Cashmeran derives from its tactile feel which recalls the smoothness and softness of cashmere wool.” The same Fragrantica article also notes: “The diffusive, musky-woody scent is reminiscent of concrete (especially the abstract woody scent that concrete gives when hit upon by rain, a cityscape in the rain), also lightly spicy, lightly powdery.” Perfect for a fragrance designed for a luxury fashion publication based in New York City!

After two hours, Vogue 125 doesn’t seem to project much, but it is still going strong and you can still smell lily of the valley, although I don’t really pick up the leather note that’s supposed to be a base note, to add to the textile feel. I’m really enjoying this fragrance; it’s not a strong love, but I can absolutely see myself wearing it regularly during spring and summer. Have you tried it? Were you ever a regular reader of Vogue?

Featured image: Model Sasha Pivovarova with lilies of the valley; photo by Arthur Elgort for Vogue magazine.

May Muguet Marathon: Sense of Smell

May Muguet Marathon: Sense of Smell

This week, the New York Times printed an article called: “You Will Never Smell My World the Way I Do”.  It opens with this statement:

The scent of lily of the valley cannot be easily bottled. For decades companies that make soap, lotions and perfumes have relied on a chemical called bourgeonal to imbue their products with the sweet smell of the little white flowers. A tiny drop can be extraordinarily intense.

If you can smell it at all, that is. For a small percentage of people, it fails to register as anything.

The article is about a newly published research study that confirms what many of us know, i.e. that different people perceive different scents in different ways, and also identifies one reason why that is: our genetic make-up, specifically a single genetic mutation, in many instances. This is a scientific breakthrough, one that the researchers themselves did not expect, according to the New York Times:

The work provides new evidence of how extraordinarily different one person’s “smellscape” may be from another’s. It’s not that some people are generally better smellers, like someone else may have better eyesight, it’s that any one person might experience certain scents more intensely than their peers

“We’re all smelling things a little bit differently,” said Steven Munger, director of The Center for Smell and Taste at the University of Florida, who was not involved in the study.

The scientists who conducted the study looked for patterns in subjects’ genetic code that could explain these olfactory differences. They were surprised to find that a single genetic mutation was linked to differences in perception of the lily of the valley scent, beet’s earthiness, the intensity of whiskey’s smokiness along with dozens of other scents.

Fascinating! And now we know why one person’s Diorissimo is another person’s cat pee. This is also why there is no point in arguing with another perfumista about what they smell in your favorite fragrances; it may very well be entirely, and legitimately, different from what you smell.

Bourgeonal is not the only option available to perfumers and noses, however. It is only one of many “muguet” fragrance molecules, which have to be created synthetically because it isn’t possible to extract fragrant essences from lilies of the valley the way one can with flowers like roses and lavender. Other synthetic molecules used to create a “muguet” scent include: hydroxyc­itronellal, Lilial, Lyral, Cyclosal, Heliopro­panal, and a relatively new introduction from Symrise, Lilybelle. For an in-depth professional article by a Firmenich chemist on the evolution of muguet fragrances, go here: Beyond Muguet. Chemist Mat Yudov also wrote a terrific article about the chemistry of muguet fragrances two years ago on Fragrantica: May Greetings: New Lily of the Valley Aromachemicals.

I’m glad to know that there is a new generation of aromachemicals available to support one of my favorite notes in fragrance, regardless of IFRA restrictions. Bravo, chemists! Do you have any fragrance notes that you know you simply don’t smell? Has your perception of any perfume been affected by that?

Featured image from Fragrantica.

May Muguet Marathon: Odalisque

May Muguet Marathon: Odalisque

Odalisque by Parfums de Nicolai is an eau de parfum with a strong floral heart of lily of the valley, jasmine, and iris, heralded by top notes of bergamot and mandarin, and resting on a base of oakmoss and musk. The brand calls it “a unique fragrance for strong personalities”, and on the website, its listing highlights, through graphics, the notes of mandarin, muguet, and oakmoss.

“Odalisque” is a word whose meaning has evolved over time. One author explains:

The English and French term odalisque (rarely odalique) derives from the Turkish ‘oda’, meaning “chamber”; thus an odalisque originally meant a chamber girl or attendant. In western usage, the term has come to refer specifically to the harem concubine. By the eighteenth century the term odalisque referred to the eroticized artistic genre in which a nominally eastern woman lies on her side on display for the spectator. (Joan DelPlato)

Patricia de Nicolai created the fragrance Odalisque in 1989. It is a very French perfume, as befits its creation by a member of the Guerlain family (her uncle is Jean-Paul Guerlain). It is not an Oriental fragrance by any means, or even a French version of an Oriental, as one might expect from a perfume that refers to a harem.  No, this Odalisque is a woody green chypre with a classic chypre structure, but using muguet as the featured floral note instead of the more commonly used rose and jasmine (Odalisque’s heart notes include jasmine blended with iris, together with the lily of the valley). So why the name?

Some of the most famous paintings of “odalisques” were by French painters, from Boucher to Matisse. In fact, right now the Norton Simon museum in Pasadena, California has an exhibit of paintings called “Matisse/Odalique”. Matisse himself candidly admitted that he used the theme of the “odalisque” as a reason to paint female nudes, and it is clear that many Western painters adopted the subject because it allowed them to paint titillating scenes of naked women, offering themselves to the male gaze (and, one is meant to assume, sexual availability), while also allowing the artists to distance themselves and deflect criticism by making the women and the scenes “exotic.”

Oil painting of odalisques playing checkers, by Henri Matisse

Odalisques Jouant Aux Dames; Henri Matisse

The heady flowers of rose and jasmine suit our traditional vision of the Ottoman Empire, but lily of the valley is quintessentially a Northern European flower, native to the cooler, temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere, its preferred habitat being in shaded woodlands. Its prominence in Odalisque means that the fragrance is not exotic at all, although it is mysterious and beguiling. To my nose, the citrus opening leaves the stage very quickly, while I smell the oakmoss “base” right from the start. As the citrus notes fade, the greenness of the muguet takes over, the pure white lily of the valley flanked by rose and iris, as the odalisques in the paintings, frequently portrayed as white European women, are often shown attended by exotic Middle Eastern servants.

Painting of an odalisque in a harem with slave and eunuch, by Jean August Dominique Ingres; Fogg Art Museum.

Odalisque a l’Esclave; Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres; Fogg Art Museum.

As it happens, one of the most famous French paintings using the trope of the “odalisque” also portrays a quintessentially European setting, green and woody like the chypre structure of Odalisque: Edouard Manet’s “Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe.” That it refers to the figure of an “odalisque” is indisputable: the female model’s nudity, her pose with her body turned partly away from the viewer but displaying most of her naked body, her direct gaze, and the figure of another woman bathing at a distance, all evoke more traditional images of a concubine in a “Turkish bath” setting. One of the male figures wears an Ottoman-style flat cap with a tassel, reminiscent of a traditional Turkish fez.

Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, painting by Edouard Manet, from Musee de l

Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, by Edouard Manet; Musee d’Orsay.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that a perfumer as intelligent as Patricia de Nicolai created a fragrance like Odalisque that so readily lends itself to an evocation of one of France’s most famous, treasured masterpieces.

Luca Turin regarded the original Odalisque itself as something of a masterwork. He commented thus about its original formulation:

Odalisque’s superbly judged floral accord of jasmine and iris, both abstract and very stable, allied to a saline note of oakmoss, initially feels delicate, but in use is both sturdy and radiant. It is as if the perfumer had skillfully shaved off material from a classic chypre accord until a marmoreal light shone through it.

What, exactly, is a “marmoreal light”? According to Merriam-Webster, “marmoreal” means “suggestive of marble or a marble statue, especially in coldness or aloofness.” There you have it. I defy anyone to look at Manet’s painting and not see a marmoreal light on the key figure of the naked woman.

By making the muguet the most prominent floral note in Odalisque, Mme. de Nicolai has emphasized the cool, white, marmoreal aspect of the fragrance, but she sets it against a powerful base of oakmoss and musk, just as Manet’s odalisque is highlighted against the dark green, woody background of the setting he chose so deliberately (and radically). Odalisque was reformulated after IFRA imposed new restrictions on the use of oakmoss in fragrance, but I can attest to the continuing power of its oakmoss base.  As much as I love the muguet heart note of Odalisque, ultimately the story it tells is one of oakmoss. I can smell it from the very opening of Odalisque, and it persists for hours, taking its place on the olfactory center stage after about an hour of the fragrance’s progression. On my skin, the oakmoss and musk last for at least 10-12 hours; I’ve applied Odalisque at night and I can still clearly smell those base notes the next morning.

The combination of oakmoss and musk is very sensual without being “sexy”, as Caitlin points out in her blog “This Side of Perfume.” The accord is too classic and elegant to warrant such a trite phrase. Like Manet’s model, this sensual accord is direct without titillating. It simply presents itself, unconcerned. It also lends a retro, vintage feel to Odalisque without making it dowdy. In sum, if you are looking for a classic, French, high-quality perfume that features muguet, this one should be on your list. It differs significantly from the ultimate French muguet fragrance, Diorissimo, and others like Guerlain’s Muguet; it is darker, mossier, woodier. It is also glorious. Have you tried it?

Lilies of the valley, green moss, and ferns in woodland garden

Lilies of the valley in woodland garden; image from Pinterest

May Muguet Marathon: Tocca Liliana Hair Mist

May Muguet Marathon: Tocca Liliana Hair Mist

I am quite taken with hair mists these days, though I don’t use them often. The first two I bought came from Tocca: Colette and Liliana. I’ve enjoyed them both; lily of the valley is a prominent note in Liliana, while jasmine is the dominant floral in Colette. When Liliana was launched, it was described thus by the brand:

A lush, green, rolling lawn is the setting for a roaring 20s party in full swing. Liliana conjures a reveler in the bloom of youth dancing the Charleston amidst flowing bottles of champagne and a spirited jazz band. The lowering sun casts a golden sparkle as an intoxicating bouquet of muguet, gardenia and peony wafts from the gardens, filling the night with joie de vivre.

Sounds a lot like “The Great Gatsby”, doesn’t it? The notes for the eau de parfum are listed as: top notes are bergamot, neroli and peach; middle notes are lily-of-the-valley, gardenia and peony; base notes are sandalwood, musk, benzoin and patchouli. The hair mist is a bit different. I think it has less peach, and a more pronounced combination of lily of the valley and peony, with not as much gardenia. The base does have sandalwood and musk, but I don’t smell benzoin or patchouli. The opening starts with a burst of bergamot and neroli, very bright and refreshing, then the fragrance moves quickly into green floral territory. The muguet note is present but not dominant. John Reasinger decribed his impression on CaFleureBon when it first came out:

Liliana, however, is a young carefree girl and this perfume captures her essence. It has a delicate tenacity much like a young girl growing up in that era would. It radiates innocence, but also lively warmth…and just a hint of naughtiness. She is no flapper, yet that is; but she is most certainly eyeing them closely and seeing how much fun they are having.

Given that the hair mist is softer and gentler, less sultry, than the description of the eau de parfum, it doesn’t evoke a jazz age flapper or a roaring 20s party complete with jazz and the Charleston. Perhaps,  like the description above, it is more like the younger Daisy, before she lost Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan swept into her life.

Actress Carey Mulligan as the young Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrman's The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Carey Mulligan as young Daisy; The Great Gatsby (2013).

May Muguet Marathon: Kissing

May Muguet Marathon: Kissing

For the first fragrance review this May, I’ve chosen an oddball: one of the line of less expensive scents from By Kilian, made for Sephora, the “My Kind of Love” collection. Its full name is Kissing Burns 6.4 Calories A Minute. Wanna Work Out?. I’ll refer to it just as Kissing. Here’s what the brand says about it:

“When else can you experience something so sweet and burn calories all at the same time? Kissing is a luscious remix of floral and gourmand notes, it speaks to the most perfect sport for couples with incredible chemistry. Just like a great kiss, as the perfume evolves the emotions get more intense.”—Kilian Hennessy

It is indeed a remix of floral and gourmand notes, starting with a top note of bergamot and moving quickly into a combination of lily of the valley, rose, green notes, hot milk, white sugar, and vanilla. It’s a very odd mix but it has really grown on me. I feel as if I smell the hot milk right away, then the green and floral notes slowly emerge. Honestly, if I hadn’t been told that the notes include lily of the valley, I’m not sure I would have identified that, although I do smell a slightly green floral. As the scent dries down, it becomes less floral and more gourmand, with vanilla and sugar intensifying the note of hot milk.

As anyone knows who has sipped hot milk or added steamed milk to their coffee, heated or steamed milk is noticeably sweeter than regular cold milk. Milk naturally contains sugars like lactose. When it is heated, the more complex sugar, which doesn’t taste as sweet, starts to break down into its simpler components: simpler sugars that taste sweeter to us. It is that sweetness that Kissing has captured, which is why it smells specifically like hot milk to me, not cold milk.

Over time, the vanilla gets stronger, but this fragrance never overpowers. It is soft and warm. Interestingly, Kissing has been identified by some Fragrantica readers as reminding them of a fragrance unicorn: the long-discontinued Le Feu d’Issey, from Issey Miyake. They do have several notes in common: bergamot, rose, milk, and vanilla. Le Feu combines its rose note with a lily note, while Kissing combines rose with lily of the valley. I haven’t tried them side by side, but I do have a few sample vials of Le Feu, so I’ll have to see if I think they are at all similar.

I like Kissing a lot — more than I expected to. I don’t usually gravitate to gourmands, although I do love my White Queen, with its wonderful whipped cream accord. I’m so intrigued by the idea of a “floral gourmand”! Kissing lasts several hours on my skin; by the end, it is mostly a milky vanilla with flowery undertones, almost as if one had floated some fragrant blossoms on top of a frothy cup of steamed milk or a bowl of sweet, steamed milk pudding. Have you tried any of the “My Kind of Love” collection? What did you think?

Green bowl of Chinese steamed milk pudding; yumofchina.

Chinese steamed milk pudding; image from www.yumofchina.com