Perfume Tourism, 2017

Perfume Tourism, 2017

via Daily Prompt: Perfume

Two years ago, I became fascinated with perfume and fragrance. I was writing a screenplay about two rival perfumers and was doing research to capture some of the details and nuances of those characters’ thoughts and actions. I picked up Chandler Burr’s book, The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industryand I was hooked. It is the story of the development of two perfumes, Hermes’ Un Jardin Sur le Nil, and Coty’s Lovelycreated with and for the actress Sarah Jessica Parker. The book follows the perfumers as they work on their assignments, or “briefs”, all the while explaining the arcane workings of the perfume industry.

Advertisement for Hermes Un Jardin Sur le Nil, bottle of perfume resting on lotus leaf against background of Nile River

Un Jardin Sur le Nil; photo from hermes.com

The book also describes a journey, a form of “perfume tourism”, taken by Hermes’ then-new in-house perfumer Jean Claude Ellena and a team of Hermes executives to Egypt, specifically the Nile river, to try to capture the atmosphere of a “garden on the Nile”, which was the chosen theme for the new perfume. As poets and others have noted for centuries, fragrance and scent seem to link directly to human memories and emotions in a way that only music approaches; even so, scent is the more visceral line of communication between our senses and our memories.

My own perfume journey has been more like a tumble down a rabbit hole, as others have described it. I am also fortunate enough to have frequent opportunities to travel, so I have become a committed “perfume tourist.” What does that mean? I seek out unique opportunities to experience fragrance in my travels, including visiting independent perfume-makers and perfume boutiques. In hindsight, I have actually done this off and on for decades; on our honeymoon, my husband and I visited Grasse, the birthplace of fine French perfume, and toured more than one of the Grasse-based perfumeries (Molinard and Fragonard). When we went on a family trip to Bermuda several years ago, we visited the lovely Bermuda Perfumery,  home of fragrance house Lili Bermuda, in the historic old town St. George’s. I am very lucky that we set a pattern early of my husband indulging me with perfume souvenirs!

The Bermuda Perfumery in St. George's, Bermuda, with pastel houses

The Bermuda Perfumery. Photo: http://www.foreverbermuda.com

Now, however, perfume tourism is a more deliberate choice on my part. It has proven to be a novel way to experience cities: seeking out independent perfumeries, perfume museum exhibits, even perfume-oriented arts.  I have loved discovering independent perfume boutiques like Scent Bar in Los Angeles. And of course, nowadays my souvenirs of my trips are usually perfumes; I look for “niche perfumes” made in that country, but sometimes I just buy a nice fragrance that reminds me of that trip. A recent trip to Switzerland resulted in the purchase of three lovely niche fragrances in different cities, but also an inexpensive small bottle of eau de toilette from Victorinox Swiss Army (yes, the maker of Swiss army knives).

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Scent Bar, Los Angeles

This year so far, I’ve pursued perfume tourism in Barcelona, Spain, and in several cities in Switzerland. What’s next? Somerset House in London will open an exhibition this summer called Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent. I’m hoping I can get to London this summer to see it, as I’ve enjoyed other arts exhibitions at Somerset House in the past. And the ever-fragrant summer gardens of London are a must! Dreaming dreams of fragrant flowers and sweet perfumes …

 

Fragrance Friday: Lumiere Blanche

Fragrance Friday: Lumiere Blanche

While traveling in the UK and Ireland (Perfume Tourism: I’m Ba-a-a-ack!) this summer and fall, I was given a sample of Lumiere Blanche by the delightful sales associate at Parfumarija in Dublin, with my purchase of the Ormonde Jayne discovery set. I haven’t opened it until now, but since I bought the Olfactive Studio discovery kit at the London independent niche perfumery Bloom, I have started exploring that brand and thought it was time.

Bloom independent niche perfumery in London

Bloom

And yes, it’s time — because Lumiere Blanche is an ideal scent for the kind of dry, sunny fall we are having in my part of the world.  Its top notes are: cardamom, cinnamon and star anise; middle notes are iris, cashmere wood and almond milk; base notes are musk, sandalwood, cedar and tonka bean. In other words, it smells a lot like milky masala chai tea, something I love.

Chai teas spices with star anise, cardamom, cinnamon

Chai tea spices; thecheapluxury.com

Luckily for me, it is light on the cinnamon. I love cinnamon, but I don’t want to smell like a cinnamon broom (I’m looking at you, Dasein Autumn!). Lumiere Blanche reminds me a bit of Carner Barcelona’s Palo Santobut lighter. At first spray, I get a delightful waft of cardamom, a spice I love, with a tinge of star anise, warmed by just a hint of cinnamon. The overall effect is milky, too, which I attribute to the almond and tonka bean notes. Those are definitely present throughout, from start to finish. Very quickly, I also smell the woody notes, mostly sandalwood and cedar, but the “cashmere wood” adds, I think, to the soft, milky impression. After a little more time, the iris note emerges, but lightly. It really adds nuance and depth to the progression, with its rooty, earthy, but sweet floral scent. I am enjoying its contribution to Lumiere Blanche, and its addition to the spices and wood notes is an unusual, creative combination that works.

Lumiere Blanche is a soft fragrance overall. On my skin, it is really lovely and I could see wearing this a lot during the fall. It is not as strong as Palo Santo and would probably, therefore, work better than it as an office scent. Olfactive Studio’s website says:

Lumiere Blanche is a comforting cocoon, between milky mildness and cold spices. It evokes the sweltering heat of a sun at its zenith, which erases colors, leaving only a blinding white, and surprised by its spicy freshness.

For the perfumer, [it] is “A cold-hot accord for a perfume of contrasts,” a bright and fresh surge and a creamy softness and a strong signature, warm and sensual.

I don’t perceive this as a scent of “sweltering heat” or “blinding white” light. It is definitely a sunny scent, though neither citrusy nor green, notes which are sometimes associated with sunniness in fragrances (probably why the name emphasizes white, versus yellow or green). For these long, unseasonably warm, sunny autumn days in my part of the world, it is just right.

 

Fragrance Friday: Jo Loves

Fragrance Friday: Jo Loves

On my recent trip to London, one of my daughters was nice enough to accompany me to several perfumeries I had wanted to visit. The first was the Jo Loves boutique in Belgravia. It is on the charming Elizabeth Street, near Les Senteurs (another stop) and Phillip Treacy’s hat boutique, in a beautiful part of London which was fun to see in itself.

Jo Loves is the line of niche fragrances launched five years ago by Jo Malone, whose first, eponymous line of fragrances was acquired in 1999 by Estee Lauder. In a recent New York Times article, she spoke about her just-published autobiography:

“What I want this book to be about is the reinvention of yourself, that nothing is wasted in our life, that every single thing that happens in our life can come out for the good to build you.”

I love some of the Jo Malone scents: first and foremost, Lily of the Valley and Ivy, and also Red Roses, and Tudor Rose and Amber, so I was excited to try some of the Jo Loves line, which is not yet easily available in the U.S. The boutique is well worth a visit. It is sparkling clean and bright, with its signature colors of bright white and red everywhere. The sales assistant was lovely and helpful.

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Jo Loves

My daughter and I tried several of the twelve fragrances in the line. Her favorite was White Roses and Lemon Leaves, which I also liked very much. I liked Fresh Sweet Peas but found it a bit faint. I enjoyed trying the novel Red Truffle 21 and Pink Vetiver. On this short acquaintance, my favorite was probably No. 42 The Flower Shop.

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Jo Loves

But why pick a favorite based on such a brief encounter? I bought the Fragrance Discovery Set, which comes with twelve mini-sprays, one of each fragrance, and a gift certificate good for one 50 ml bottle of my choice, shipping to the U.S. included. So I will play with them at my leisure, and pick one as a keeper. Maybe I’ll even share with my daughter …

We had a great time at Jo Loves and hope to return some day!

Jo Loves fragrance boutique on Elizabeth Street in London

Jo Loves

Our next stop was Les Senteurs, the specialist perfumery up the street at 71 Elizabeth Street. It is London’s oldest independent perfumery, founded in 1984, and it carries many of the world’s best niche perfumes, from Amouage to Vermeire. More on that in another blog post!

Featured image: http://www.joloves.com. Other images my own.

Fragrance Friday: Perfume Tourism in London

I was lucky enough to spend a recent long weekend in London and spent one whole day visiting perfumeries! Many of them were in the charming Burlington Arcade. And yes, I came home with samples, discovery sets and a gift certificate. All the store personnel were friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable. I’ll be back! My slideshow is below:

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Fragrance Friday: Future Perfume Tourism

Fragrance Friday: Future Perfume Tourism

I am so eager to visit Florence! Very few of my European trips have been to Italy, which is surprising as Italy has so much of what I love: gardens, gorgeous landscapes, art, museums, history, language, wonderful food …

And now yet another article to whet my appetite: Perfume, Power and God. Author Arabelle Sicardi describes her visits to perfume palaces such as the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica of Santa Maria Novella, where Catherine de Medici bought her famous perfumes, and the perfumery of Aquaflor, housed in an actual former palace. The photographs of the flower room at Aquaflor are stunning! Of the Officina Profumo, she writes:

If any single place stood at the intersection between politics, god, and perfume, it is this church-turned-monastery-turned-store. From the outside it looks unremarkable for Florence — no baroque detailing, just the crest of Santa Maria on the front. It is all it needs to mark its history. And then you walk inside, and the frescoes summon your eyes up-up-up, maybe sixty feet above you. A fresco of perfumed angels are framed in dark, stained wood. The building and art above you is more than 600 years old. In existence since the 13th century, it still sells many of the same products the Dominican friars once made by hand in the back room.

She traces the connection of the Medici family, through Catherine’s French marriage and patronage, to the very start of the perfume industry in France, specifically in Grasse. I visited Grasse many years ago with my husband, on our honeymoon, and the whole area is fascinating. We visited a couple of perfumeries (Molinard and Fragonard, I think) and were shown the older methods of perfume-making and the extraction of essential oils. However, Grasse is not also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, packed with priceless art. Florence is. And I can’t wait to go there.

 

Fragrance Friday: Terre d’Iris

Fragrance Friday: Terre d’Iris

Another bottle from my Collection Voyage of Miller Harris fragrances is Terre d’Iris.  I like it very much but I don’t feel I fully understand it yet. Fragrantica says it “represents a fragrant journey around the Mediterranean. Calabria bergamot and Sicilian bitter orange open the composition leading to the heart of delicious southern herbs such as rosemary from Dalmatia and clary sage, followed by orange blossom and roses from Tunis and Turkey. The base is composed of patchouli, moss, French fir balsam and Florentine iris.”

I definitely get the opening citrus notes, bergamot and bitter orange. The bitter orange in particular is pleasant and strangely compelling. I generally like green fragrances, with their herbal notes, and although I wouldn’t describe Terre d’Iris as a green fragrance, it is certainly aromatic, with a little bite to its opening. Here is its “scent mosaic”, from the Miller Harris website:

Scent mosaic by Miller Harris perfumes, for Terre d'Iris

Scent mosaic for Terre d’Iris, http://www.millerharris.com

It is important that one of the key notes is not just iris, but “Florentine iris.” Florentine iris is one of the few irises that is considered to be an herb, not just a beautiful flower. Rachel McLeod writes in NaturalLife:  “The most important herbal use for irises to day is the use of the rhizomes from certain species to make orris root for use in perfumery and pot-pourri. Orris root has been one of the most important ingredients in any scent industry from as far back as the 15th century. The scent is rather like sweet violets but its real value is in its ability to fix other scents…. Orris root comes from three closely related irises – Iris germanica, Iris florentina and Iris pallida.”

Iris florentina is now known to be an ancient hybrid of iris germanica, or bearded iris. It has white flowers flushed with mauve. The flower itself is scented although the main value of this iris to perfumery is as a source of orris root and iris butter, which is painstakingly extracted over a period of years from the plant’s rhizomes. Iris florentina is grown mainly in Italy and southern France, but also throughout the Mediterranean, which is truly the “land of iris”, going back to the Egyptians whose use of iris can be documented. Van Gogh often painted iris flowers in Provence, such as the lovely “Field with Irises near Arles”, above, whose vibrant colors were restored in 2015 by stripping off old, yellowed varnish. Isn’t it clever, how the Miller Harris scent mosaic echoes the colors of the Van Gogh painting? You can still see fields of iris, both in Provence and in the Giardino dell’Iris in Florence, the city for which the iris flower has long been a symbol.

Fields of light purple, mauve and white bearded iris flowers in Provence, southern France

Fields of iris in Provence; image from http://www.luxe-provence.com.

As Terre d’Iris dries down, what I smell is the sweetly carroty note that is supposed to be characteristic of orris root. It is not sugary at all; rather, it is the scent of a freshly dug and washed carrot after you bite into it, maybe even with a little dirt still clinging to it (I’m looking at you, oak moss!). I do not smell powder at all in Terre d’Iris, if you think of powdery as the cosmetic. Instead, there are more dry, earthy, woody, herbal tones that contrast with the citrus opening. If I had to describe the iris heart note using non-flowery words, I would say it is smooth and buttery.

Although my bottle came in a Collection Voyage “Pour Elle” set, Terre d’Iris is clearly a unisex scent, as it is described elsewhere. It may even lean a bit more toward masculine than feminine; it would smell marvelous on a man (really, I’m going to have to start experimenting with some of my fragrances on my husband!) while also smelling lovely on a woman.  This is not a girlish fragrance. Very few floral notes, and the ones it has are not strongly present other than the subtle iris. They lend a smoothness and gentleness to the overall experience but I wouldn’t be able to tell that there was any rose in Terre d’Iris if it weren’t listed among the notes. The only fruit notes are in the astringent opening of bergamot and bitter orange.

Will Terre d’Iris become a go-to fragrance for me? Probably not, as I do love my flowers and floral notes. But this is a well-crafted and lovely fragrance that doesn’t smell like anything else out there. It becomes a skin scent pretty soon but I can still smell lingering traces of it on my wrist ten hours after application.  I’m so glad to have this small bottle of it!

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Iris florentina; illustration by Sydenham Edwards.

Fragrance Friday: La Pluie

Fragrance Friday: La Pluie

Thank you, Perfume Magpie, for helping me with my indecision about which Miller Harris fragrance to try first from my new La Collection Voyage set! There are two sets for women: La Collection Voyage Pour Elle, and La Collection Voyage Fleurs. Both include three 14 ml spray bottles of different Miller Harris eaux de parfum. La Collection Voyage Pour Elle has: Terre d’Iris, Tangerine Vert and La Pluie. Side note: I love the 14 ml size! Plenty of fragrance to sample freely without a major commitment to a full bottle; and these travel sets are priced very reasonably: 60 GBP for 42 ml of three different fragrances, as compared to 65 GBP for the 50 ml bottle of one. And the 14 ml bottles are adorable. Continue reading