Perfume Chat Room, March 19

Perfume Chat Room, March 19

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, March 19, and I’m delighted to say that I got my first COVID vaccination shot yesterday! So far, so good; my arm is just a little sore. As hoped last week, my husband and I were able to go on Sunday to my “happy place” full of daffodils; as expected, they were magnificent! And inspired by Undina’s question on her blog, Undina’s Looking Glass, about photographing perfumes, I took my bottle of Ostara with us and took pictures of it in several locations among the millions of daffodils. I will say that I got some puzzled looks from other garden visitors, and one actually asked me what I was photographing as I crouched down to get closer to the flowers and the bottle! He laughed delightedly when I told him.

I’m sad to say, though, that I just found out that one of my favorite fragrance bloggers, Kafkaesque, has recently learned that almost 200 pages worth of her blog content has apparently been appropriated by an “author” in England who self-publishes books on Amazon. She is understandably very upset and angry, as she was never contacted for permission or informed of this use of her writings. Her blog is notable for her extensive knowledge of perfumes and her long, detailed explorations and analyses of them, and I have learned so much from her. She paused writing for some time but the blog was (and is) still up and available to read, and she resumed posting after the November 2020 elections. If you’re new to reading fragrance blogs, hers is very interesting and I recommend it. I don’t always agree with her take on scents, but I always admire her passion and knowledge!

In other news, I was touched to see a lovely article in this week’s New York Times about the late Carlos Powell, aka YouTube’s “Brooklyn Fragrance Lover.” I rarely watch video reviews of fragrances, I much prefer to read about them, but by all accounts, Carlos was a beloved and friendly member of the fragrance community and is missed by many. I really enjoyed reading more about him.

What are you looking forward to this weekend?

Penhaligon’s Ostara eau de toilette among daffodils
Perfume Chat Room, March 12

Perfume Chat Room, March 12

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, March 12, and spring has sprung! It is now reliably sunny and warm every day; daffodils are in full bloom; pink magnolias have started blossoming; the redbuds and clematis armandii in my garden are in bloom too. I still haven’t found a fragrance that adequately mimics the scent of pink magnolias, but I have hopes for the new Estee Lauder Beautiful Magnolia. Hydrangeas and roses have started to leaf out, as have the many Japanese maples in both front and back gardens. I plan to start working in my new raised beds for a vegetable garden this weekend. Last year, I grew purple cauliflower for the first time; it was beautiful and it tasted wonderful. One forgets how much better homegrown, freshly picked vegetables taste. Even the cauliflower skeptics in my house had to admit they enjoyed mine.

I’m also hoping to visit the gardens north of here where they have planted tens of millions of daffodil bulbs, which have started their bloom season. The varieties cover early, mid, and late seasons for narcissi, and they are a gorgeous and impressive sight. Plus they smell wonderful — just like my beloved Ostara. How is spring coming along in your part of the world? Or autumn, in Portia’s case …

May Muguet Marathon: Maiglockchen and Mendelsohn

May Muguet Marathon: Maiglockchen and Mendelsohn

As another brief byway in a monthlong discussion of muguet, I have learned something new: not only does Germany celebrate muguet in May similarly to the French, they have their own charming name for lily of the valley: Maiglockchen. Loosely translated, that means “May’s little bells.” Not only that, but some of Germany’s most renowned authors and poets have written about “maiglockchen”, and Felix Mendelsohn set one of those poems to music, as part of a set of six “lieder”, or songs, in the form of duets. It is called “Maiglockchen und die Blumelein” (pardon the absence of umlauts; I haven’t mastered those yet).

Sheet music for "Maiglockchen und die Blumelein" by Felix Mendelsohn.

Sheet music for “Maiglockchen und die Blumelein” by Felix Mendelsohn.

It is a duet for women’s voices, and musicologist John Palmer describes it thus:

The vivacious “Maiglöckchen und die Blümelein” (Lily of the Valley and the Little Flowers), setting a text by von Fallersleben, dates from January 23, 1844. Mendelssohn gives forward motion to the poem, about the coming of spring and the attendant round-dance, through a syncopated repeated note in the piano part. The voice parts and right hand of the piano form a melodic unit through most of the duet.

You can hear it for yourself here:

If you’d like to know more about the symbolism of the “Maiglockchen” in German culture, this blog has a nice summary. I was interested to read that the lily of the valley is associated with Ostara, the pagan goddess of spring and dawn (who also inspired one of my all-time favorite fragrances, Penhaligon’s Ostara). Do any readers know of more lily of the valley celebrations in other countries?

Fragrance Friday: The Scents of Easter

Fragrance Friday: The Scents of Easter

Easter is my favorite holiday. Yes, I love Christmas too, but Christmas involves more work over a longer period of time than Easter, and it has been so commercialized that it’s hard to hear the church’s messages over the din of jingle bells and cash registers. We seem to have managed to keep the focus on the religious meaning of Easter; the secular hasn’t taken over as it has with Christmas. After all, as our minister said on Sunday, no one even likes the song “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.” (Although one small boy piped up from the congregation, “I do!”).

I know one of the reasons I love Easter so much is that it comes with the start of spring, a particularly beautiful season in my part of the world which calls to my gardener’s soul. Flowers and trees blooming everywhere, days getting longer, sunnier and warmer — plus there is chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Especially in my house. The scents of Easter and spring are my favorite ones: hyacinths, daffodils, lilies of the valley, Japanese magnolias, even an early rose or two. Lots of fresh greenness bursting from the earth. We always have a pot of Easter lilies in the house for the holiday, and pots of forced spring bulbs. Our church’s floral guild goes a little crazy and blankets the entire church in garlands of roses, lilies, and other fragrant flowers.


It should come as no surprise, then, that this is the season when I happily break out my favorite floral fragrances: Penhaligon’s Ostara, for instance, named for the pagan goddess whose name is also the root for the word “Easter.” I’ve also been wearing Chanel No. 22, a heady concoction of white roses and other flower notes, Jo Loves‘ White Rose and Lemon Leaves, Berdoues’ Somei Yoshino (cherry blossoms), Jo Malone’s Lily of the Valley and Ivy, Lili Bermuda’s Lily, and others. I’m hoping to make our annual spring visit this weekend to an amazing private garden that is home to tens of millions of daffodil bulbs planted up and down hillsides:

Woodland daffodils, GIbbs Gardens, March 2016

Daffodils at Gibbs Gardens, March 2016

I love the sheer over-the-top exuberance of these floral outpourings, and that is what the whole season of spring is like here, all over our city: flamboyant azaleas in Easter egg hues layered under the floating white and pale pink blossoms of dogwoods and Japanese magnolias, underplanted with all shades of yellow and white narcissus or extravagantly bright tulips, combined with swaths of the light blue starflowers that spread here like weeds. Welcome, Spring!

Green nymph Fantasia.gif

National Fragrance Week: Penhaligon’s

National Fragrance Week: Penhaligon’s

Penhaligon’s always seems to me to be the ultimate British perfumery, although it is now owned by Spanish parent company Puig, with many other fragrance lines. Penhaligon’s long history since its founding in England in 1870, its Royal Warrants from the Duke of Edinburgh and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, its Cornish name, and its whole aesthetic just feel very British to this non-Brit. I own a few of their fragrances, and have visited their charming shop in the Burlington Arcade in London (where there are several other fragrance boutiques, such as By Kilian and Editions Frederic Malle).

I own their Bluebell, said to be Diana’s favorite, Lily of the Valley (because I love all things muguet), Blasted Bloom, Ostara, and a new bottle of Equinox Bloom, which I am waiting to open until the weather is warmer. Perfumer Olivier Cresp says this about his creation Equinox Bloom:

During one of my recent visits to London, I enjoyed an incredible brunch in a smart, refined place, where the magnificent atmosphere of the rooms, furnished with opulent floral compositions, ensnared my senses almost at once. While admiring the floral scenery, my brunch included delightful toasts topped with honey and marmalade and these gourmand facets inspired me to bring to Equinox Bloom a trendy, modern inflexion to the generous floral bouquet.

I had a similar tea with my daughters in London last year, on the grounds of Kensington Palace, at The Orangery.

Afternoon tea setting with cakes at Kensington Palace, The Orangery, London

Tea at Kensington Palace, The Orangery; photo from

I highly recommend it, especially if you sit outside on the terrace on a sunny day!

Outdoor terrace at The Orangery, Kensington Palace, London

The Orangery at Kensington Palace; photo from

I also have one of their gift coffrets which they issue yearly at Christmastime; the five tiny miniature bottles are adorable. My set includes Empressa, Iris Prima, Vaara, Juniper Sling, and Artemisia.

GIft coffret of five Penhaligon's miniature fragrances

Penhaligon’s gift coffret; image from

Can you tell that I like this fragrance house very much? I do, I do, I do.

It’s National Fragrance Week!

It’s National Fragrance Week!

At least in the UK … I’m not asking too many questions, I’m just going to enjoy the designation of March 5-11 as National Fragrance Week, with its own website and everything! (The reason I know this one’s really for Brits is that it is supposed to be the week right before Mother’s Day next Sunday, and ours in the US isn’t until May).

So what does one do for National Fragrance Week? If you’re one of several English blogs about fragrance, you give things away! I Scent You A Day is giving away Avon fragrances, one targeted at men and one at women. It’s only for UK readers, though, so read rules carefully.

I feel as if I should join in the celebrations, even from across the Atlantic, so maybe I’ll review several UK fragrances this week. I’ll start by reposting this, about one of my favorite Penhaligon’s scents, especially fitting as the daffodils are in full bloom right now in my city: Fragrance Friday: Ostara. Penhaligon’s is a favorite brand of mine and VERY British. I also like Jo Malone scents, although they’re now owned by Estee Lauder, and the actual Jo Malone’s new line, Jo Loves.

Happy National Fragrance Week! How will you celebrate, in the UK or elsewhere?

Fragrance Friday: Decisions, decisions

Fragrance Friday: Decisions, decisions

Spring has sprung, although we haven’t yet reached the vernal equinox. My garden is full of blossoming yellow and white daffodils, pink azaleas, blue starflowers, lavender redbuds, white dogwoods … a true Easter symphony of colors. A change of seasons warrants a change of fragrances! But which ones? I’ve enjoyed wearing Penhaligon’s Ostara quite often in the rotation, with its gorgeous scent of daffodils and beautiful packaging: Fragrance Friday: Ostara.

Ostara Box

It’s almost time to  plunge headlong back into my favorite lily of the valley/muguet perfumes (Fragrance Friday: The Scent of Water) but not just yet, although my first little LOTV bloom showed up this week outside. I even have a new one I’m excited to try: L.I.L.Y. by Stella McCartney.

It’s much too early for the rose perfumes I also love. Maybe something with cherry blossom? It is, after all, nearing cherry blossom time especially here in the South. I don’t happen to own anything with cherry blossom except a drugstore body spray, so if any of you have any suggestions, I am all ears! Or nose.

Happy spring!


Fragrance Friday: Ostara

Fragrance Friday: Ostara

It may be a bit early in the season to review Penhaligon’s Ostara, given that it is named after a goddess of spring and the vernal equinox festival celebrated by pagans. The vernal equinox, after all, happens in March, not February. But temperatures here today reached the 60s, and it was a beautiful sunny day, so Ostara feels right for the day.

Penhaligon’s is a venerable British perfume house that dates back to the mid-late 19th century; its founder was perfumer to Queen Victoria. It was acquired last year by Puig, a Spanish company based in Barcelona, one of my favorite cities. They are expanding the reach of Penhaligon’s and have even opened a store in the United States, in New York: At Penhaligon’s, Old World Meets Modernism. Ostara is a new fragrance, launched in 2015. The perfumer behind it is Bertrand Duchaufour, who was inspired by England’s wild daffodils to create a sunny fragrance bouquet of yellow flowers, green leaves, dew and scented flowers.

Bertrand Duchaufour daffodils

Bertrand Duchaufour at Kew Gardens;

The packaging is beautiful, with yellow cut-paper daffodils applied to the outer box. On the back is an excerpt from Wordsworth’s  famous poem “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud:

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze….
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Ostara Box


Ostara opens with bergamot, clementine, juniper, red berries CO2, mint, currant buds CO2, violet leaf absolute, green leaves and aldehydes. The mostly floral heart adds notes of daffodil, hyacinth, cyclamen, ylang-ylang, hawthorn and wisteria along with beeswax. Base notes include styrax resin, vanilla, benzoin, musk, amber and blond wood.

To me, the opening is bright but not fruity. There is more than a hint of greenness from the juniper, mint, violet leaf and green leaves, but also a creamy undertone that is really winning, maybe from the beeswax accord. I smell the daffodil note quickly, and an astringent note that I think must be the hawthorn. There is nothing dark about Ostara. However, it’s not sweet — just sunny. I don’t pick up the hyacinth note very strongly, nor is the daffodil accord as sweet as, say, paperwhite narcissus. The drydown is warm, creamy and light. Victoria at Bois de Jasmin describes it so well: “From the first minute on skin Ostara glows, rich in green, citrusy and leafy nuances but without suggesting the component parts. In other words, don’t expect to smell along the marketing pyramid and find bergamot and then juniper, mint, violet, etc. Like a flower from a magician’s wand, it unfolds as a big, dewy blossom.”

Why the name Ostara?  According to some, Ostara is a pagan festival marking the time when the sun passes over the celestial equator and the season’s change from winter to spring. It is named for a pagan goddess of spring or the dawn, Eostre, whose name appears in the Anglo-Saxon writings of the Venerable Bede — but only once. Some say that her name is the root of the word “Easter”, the Christian holy day of renewal, resurrection and rebirth.

Goddess in Grotto Real Alcazar Garden

Daffodils are my favorite flowers, followed closely by lilies-of-the-valley and roses. I’m so happy that a great perfumer and renowned perfume house teamed up to create a daffodil fragrance, especially one so pleasing.


Illustration: Melissa Bailey for Penhaligon’s.