May Muguet Marathon: Soap

May Muguet Marathon: Soap

If you have ever visited the South of France and its open marketplaces, you will know that there are usually several stands selling fragranced soaps, with scents such as lavender, rose, violet, mimosa, and muguet (lily of the valley). Lily of the valley-scented soap may seem redundant, as many people perceive the smell of real lilies of the valley as “soapy”, but this isn’t a coincidence: the smell of lilies of the valley, which has to be artificially re-created, has been so popular in non-perfume, or functional, fragrances for items like soap that in Western culture, at least, we tend to merge them in our minds. That overuse in functional fragrances has been blamed for the relative dearth of muguet fragrances among modern scents; while I tend to agree with that, I also think that the note became associated in many people’s minds with older female relatives, because it was so popular among personal scents about 60-100 years ago.

Luckily for me, I still love a good lily of the valley in most formats, and actually there have been some very interesting muguet fragrances released in recent years, such as Kissing, from By Kilian, and the 2016 Muguet from Guerlain. On my January trip to Nice, I wandered through the market in the old part of the city and saw many lovely muguet soaps, so of course I brought some home as gifts and kept one for myself.

I also own a set of Crabtree & Evelyn “Lily” soaps, which I think have been discontinued. That is unfortunate, because they smell remarkably like the flowers, even more so than my bar of Muguet soap from the market in Nice. Do you have any favorite floral soaps, that smell like lily of the valley or other floral scents?

Fragrance Friday: Parfum et Vous

Last week, I was able to visit Nice, France, thanks to my husband’s work. He had to go for a business trip, I was able to take a few days off from my own job and tag along! During the day, he had meetings and I explored.

I have been to Nice before: once on our honeymoon, and again a few years ago when we took a family trip to the Cote d’Azur. But those trips were both before my perfumania, so I planned much of my week around fragrance. One thing I knew I’d like to try was a perfume-making workshop for beginners. Nice offers options; two different ones with an established perfume house, Molinard, and one with an independent perfumery, Parfum et Vous. I was leaning toward the latter, so when I contacted Megan in Sainte-Maxime to see if we might be able to meet (more about that in another post — such fun!), I asked her thoughts.  She enthusiastically recommended that choice, and she knows the owner, so I signed up. The price included a two-hour workshop to learn about perfume and then make our own scents, using pre-made accords, and one bottle of our own creation. The workshop would take place in a pretty old building in the heart of Nice, a short walk from the famous “Promenade des Anglais”, in the retail showroom of Parfum et Vous.

There were four of us taking the workshop, plus the lovely and vivacious Sasha, owner of Parfum et Vous, and her assistant. Sasha gave a brief introduction and overview about perfume, then had us walk around her small showroom filled with niche perfumes, smelling them and thinking about what genres and notes we might like to try in our own concoctions. Sasha’s wares are true artisan perfumes from niche houses, like Beaufort London, Nishane, NabuccoBarutiPaul Emilien and many others, so there was a wide range of fragrances to smell.

Then we went to a table where there were pre-mixed scents in eau de parfum strength representing categories of fragrance foundations, like “woody marine.” We talked about what we would try to create for our own eau de parfum, and sniffed all of the foundations. I wanted to create a unisex fragrance that would remind my husband and me of our trips to the South Carolina Lowcountry, the marshy coastland that borders the Atlantic Ocean in that state.

Next, we moved to a table that had 22 different accords in large bottles with droppers, divided among top notes, heart notes and base notes, and labeled with identifiers like “iris”, ‘chypre”, “citrus, “spice.” Each one also listed individual notes, e.g. “spice” included cinnamon, clove, and pepper. Sasha started each of us off with a formula to create a foundation for the category we had chosen, specifying how many mls of each accord we should add to our individual 30 ml bottles. I was starting with “woody marine”, so my beginning foundation included marine, citrus, green tea, “oriental woody”, and woody accords. Others wanted to create a gourmand, or a floral oriental, and there were foundations for those and other options.

Then the real fun began! Throughout the process, Sasha had us smell each stage as we added more accords in small amounts, tweaking our fragrances in the directions we wanted. I added notes of jasmine, cyclamen, wild rose, vetiver, and oak moss. As the other students and I added accords, Sasha would have us spray a bit on our skin and she would smell our progress and make suggestions. I got to a point where I wanted to add more heart notes. I was satisfied with the top notes, which by now included a citrus accord of mandarin, orange, and tangerine, the marine accord, and a tiny amount of a fruit accord (grapefruit and apple).

The heart note accords available were: neroli, spices, white flowers, rose, powdery (rice notes and white musk), iris, green tea, and cassis. We thought about adding neroli, but ruled that out. I asked about the powdery accord, and Sasha recommended against it, given the other accords I already had. We settled on slowly adding small amounts of the white flowers accord, which was a combination of jasmine and cyclamen. Then I thought about iris. Sasha was a little doubtful, but when I explained that I wanted that earthier, rooty aspect, she concurred but urged a light hand. In went .5 ml of the iris accord. Sniff, sniff. Wait. Another .5 ml. Sniff. Perfect!

Time to tweak the base notes. I already had accords that included notes of patchouli, vanilla, vetiver, tonka, cedar, and sandalwood. I wanted to add more of the “chypre” accord, with notes of vetiver and oak moss, and Sasha agreed but advised going slowly and adding 1 ml at a time, checking each time to see what I thought. Because of the nature of base notes, which emerge more slowly than the top and heart notes, one relies more on the formulas for base notes; even in a leisurely, unhurried workshop like this, there’s not time to wait for the full progression. Because I love chypre, I ended up adding more of that and no more of the other available base note accords, and I’m very happy with the outcome.

Once we were satisfied with our creations, Sasha had us name and label them. Parfum et Vous keeps a record of our names, and the formula for the specific blend we had created, so one can reorder if one wants. I named mine “Lowcountry Spring”, and I find it charming!

As you can tell, I enjoyed this workshop thoroughly and heartily recommend it. Because of the pre-formulated foundations and accords, plus expert guidance from Sasha, one really can’t go too far astray. It would take deliberate effort to create something that wasn’t pleasing. The atmosphere was fun and informative. I enjoyed meeting my three fellow students; we all helped each other, sniffing each other’s formulas along the way (yes, there were little canisters of coffee beans to help reset our noses, although I find it sometimes works best, when I’m trying many scents, to reset by just putting my nose to my own shoulder). I also really enjoyed seeing and smelling the many interesting niche perfumes Sasha sells in her showroom, some of which I hadn’t encountered before, and others which I had read about but never had the chance to try. If you get a chance to visit Nice, go see Parfum et Vous! Whether or not you have the time or inclination to spend an afternoon in the workshop, it is well worth a visit for the showroom alone, and to meet Sasha.

Have you ever tried making your own fragrances? How did it go?

 

Scent Sample Sunday: What to Try, What to Buy?

Scent Sample Sunday: What to Try, What to Buy?

Hello friends — this week, I am seeking your advice! I will be in the South of France, and I’d love to know your thoughts on any particular fragrances that are easier or less expensive to get in France than in the US, or any special fragrance “explorations” I should pursue. I am already signed up for a perfume workshop at Parfum et Vous, and I can’t wait! I’ve been to Grasse before and have done one of the factory tours at Molinard (great fun and very instructive). Our group will be visiting Saint-Paul de Vence and Nice. I’ve visited Nice before and plan to wander in the markets there; I’ll probably bring home some of those lovely soaps. Any other suggestions? P.S. We will have one transfer in Charles de Gaulle airport, coming and going, but I don’t know how much time we’ll have there.

white square ceramic ornament

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