Perfume Chat Room, May 27

Perfume Chat Room, May 27

Back to our Friday schedule! 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 the start of the Memorial Day Weekend here in the US, which also marks the official start of summer for many people. I returned from my travels last Sunday, having spent a week in Northern Italy, five days in Spain, and a long weekend in New Jersey (college reunion). It was all great fun, but I’m glad to be home! I did get a chance to spend time in the fabulous TWA Hotel, in the repurposed landmark TWA terminal at JFK Airport, which I loved:

TWA Hotel
The Sunken Lounge at the TWA Hotel

Along the way, I did make a few fragrance purchases (I blame the favorable exchange rate): two private-label eaux de parfum at the garden island of Isola Bella, one centered on neroli and the other on roses; Prada’s La Femme and Carthusia’s new A’mmare in Milan; and Santa Eulalia’s Albis in Sitges (a beach resort outside Barcelona). There were a few traditional local perfumeries in Sitges and it was fun to explore them. One in particular, a tiny shop, had a very nice selection of niche perfumes (that’s where I got Albis). I look forward to really testing them now that I’m home. The only semi-blind buy was La Femme; I’ve tried it before and liked it, and I wanted to get something by Prada in Milan, so when I found that at a 50% discount …

Do you have any perfume purchases planned? Any plans for the holiday weekend, if you’re celebrating it?

Perfume Chat Room, May 24

Perfume Chat Room, May 24

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 actually Tuesday, May 24, and I’m late! My apologies — I just got back from two weeks of travel with my husband that included Milan, Lake Maggiore, Lake Como, and Sitges (Spain). I am SO HAPPY to travel overseas again! And yes, I sniffed and bought some perfume along the way. Details of my perfume tourism to follow!

It still feels weird to go through airports and sit on a plane with dozens of other people, but I’m getting re-acclimated to it. Mask and testing requirements differ from country to country, but we figured those out. And we didn’t bring back COVID as a souvenir, thank goodness.

Our remaining travel this summer will be by car, to go to family weddings and visit my father-in-law. None of those destinations will include perfume tourism, which is probably a good thing given that I made a few purchases in May. I’m looking forward to the family gatherings; events of the last two years have brought vivid reminders that a good life is about good relationships with other people.

I’m looking forward to tidying up my garden after two weeks away; right now, I have gardenias and “Confederate jasmine” in bloom, so it’s very fragrant. What is going on in your fragrant world?

Roses at Isola Bella

Perfume Chat Room, April 22

Perfume Chat Room, April 22

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, April 22, and I’m delighted to say that my husband and I will be traveling overseas again next month, for the first time since 2020! We’ve just finalized our plans, and I’m so excited. My May blog posts may be a little spotty as a result — I doubt I’ll be able to do a daily marathon as I have in past Mays. I’ll be able to do a Scent Semantics post on time, though!

Our last international trip was to Jamaica, in the first week of March 2020, just before the world shut down. Our last trip to Europe was in the summer of 2019. Now I’m figuring out all the documentation rules; we’re fully vaccinated and boosted, and we’ll go get second boosters this weekend, but the paperwork for the EU is a bit daunting. And then there’s the requirement to be tested before returning to the US, although that seems to be in flux too. Luckily the second half of our trip is for my husband’s work, and so his office will make sure we have everything we need to comply with return requirements.

Have you started traveling between countries again?

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com
Scented Advent, December 17

Scented Advent, December 17

Another pleasant surprise today for my Advent SOTD: Carner Barcelona’s El Born, which I’ve worn before and like very much. I’ve also stayed in the neighborhood El Born, for which the fragrance is named, and it is a completely charming, fascinating part of Barcelona.

Medieval street in El Born neighborhood, Barcelona
Street in El Born, Barcelona; image from barcelonaconnect.com.

So, first, the neighborhood. El Born is one of the medieval neighborhoods of Barcelona, full of tiny, narrow streets that barely fit one car or aren’t wide enough for any cars at all! It is now a trendy, funky city neighborhood full of art galleries, restaurants, boutiques, museums, but also very family-friendly, containing residential apartments, food stores, pastry shops, schools, and parks. Its most famous structures are the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, which signals its proximity to Barcelona’s waterfront (the waterfront is now in Barceloneta, ten minutes away; the church used to be on the actual waterfront before Barcelona was expanded, and its parish consisted largely of fishermen, dockworkers, and their families); the Picasso Museum, housed in five combined medieval palaces or large townhouses (like the “hotels particuliers” of medieval Paris); the El Born Centre Cultural, a fascinating museum about the neighborhood’s history, in a restored covered market; and the Parc de la Ciutadella, a park built on the site of a demolished citadel fort that had been built in 1714 by King Philip V of Spain to control Barcelona after conquering it during the War of Spanish Succession. The fort was a hated tool and symbol of conquest and military occupation, and it was demolished in the mid-19th century during a rare period of Barcelonan independence.

“El Born” is traditionally understood to be the medieval district south of the street Carrer de la Princesa and east of the “Barri Gotic”, or Gothic Quarter, starting at the Via Laietana. However, nowadays many use the name to refer to the area that is technically a neighborhood called “La Ribera”, between Carrer de la Princesa and Barcelona’s legendary Palau de la Musica (“Palace of Music”), which includes more residential streets as well as the Mercat de Santa Caterina, a restored covered food market full of Catalan epicurean delights. Can you tell that I love Barcelona? I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few times, thanks to my husband’s work that used to take him there once or twice a year, pre-pandemic, and it is now one of my favorite cities. It is also home to some very happy perfume hunting-grounds, by the way, where I have delighted in serious “perfume tourism” in niche boutiques and perfumeries.

Carner Barcelona is a fragrance brand that was launched in 2010 by Sara Carner. It aims to capture the spirit of Barcelona and Catalonia in its fragrances: “We are captivated by Barcelona’s Mediterranean soul; its architecture, culture and the unique way in which history merges with the contemporary lifestyle and the vitality of its people.” El Born is part of its original collection and was launched in 2014. It is described as an “amber floral”, and that’s accurate — I would say it is mostly amber, slightly floral. The notes listed on the brand website are: Sicilian Lemon, Calabrian Bergamot, Angelica, Honey (top); Fig, Heliotrope, Benzoin from Laos, Egyptian Jasmine (middle); and Madagascan Vanilla Absolute, Peru Balsam, Australian Sandalwood, Musk (base).

Right away, when I spray El Born on my skin, I smell the honey and angelica top notes. They provide a soft, warm, but slightly herbal sweetness: a bit like caramel but not sugary, if that makes sense. It is more like clover honey, i.e. honey from bees that have feasted on clover nectar. There is a brief spark of citrus at the start, but it doesn’t linger. As the middle phase develops, the sweetness is carried by the fig and benzoin, with heliotrope contributing a subtle floral dimension. I don’t really pick up the jasmine at all, and I’m okay with that! The other accords are very soft, and the honey lingers among them. The vanilla accord joins in pretty early in this fragrance’s progression, and it’s just the kind of vanilla I like — more botanical than gourmand. Balsam, sandalwood, and musk notes in the base carry forward the soft warmth that characterizes all stages of El Born.

El Born, the fragrance, is just as ingratiating as El Born, the neighborhood. I should note, however, that the actual El Born neighborhood does NOT smell as wonderful as this fragrance! It has that damp, stony smell that many medieval neighborhoods have, sometimes with a soupçon of sewer due to ancient drains. Never mind! It’s a truly delightful place to visit, with wonderful food, restaurants that serve meals until very late in the night (late per this appreciative American tourist’s POV), interesting things to see around every corner (and there are LOTS of corners in El Born).

The photo below isn’t specific to El Born, but it demonstrates (again) the incredible sense of style and color that characterizes Barcelona, and it comes from the city’s annual competition to design holiday lights for some of the major city streets (one of which is Via Laietana, the western edge of El Born). This shows lights in the Diagonal neighborhood:

Christmas lights in Barcelona
Barcelona. Christmas lights, Diagonal.

Now really, if those lights don’t put you in a holiday frame of mind, as we enter the last week of Advent, what will? Have you visited Barcelona, or tried any of Carner Barcelona’s scents?

Scent Sample Sunday: Paris-Venise

Scent Sample Sunday: Paris-Venise

Paris-Venise was one of the first three “Les Eaux” fragrances launched by Chanel in 2018, all created by in-house perfumer Olivier Polge. They are eaux de toilette inspired by Coco Chanel’s travels to various cities — what a creative idea! The others were Paris-Deauville and Paris-Biarritz. Since then, the original three have been joined by Paris-Riviera and Paris-Edimbourg, which I haven’t tried yet.

Fragrantica lists the notes of Paris-Venise as: top notes, orange, lemon, petitgrain, bergamot and pink pepper; middle notes, iris, neroli, ylang-ylang, rose and geranium; base notes, tonka bean, vanilla, white musk, orris, violet and benzoin. Sure enough, when I spritz it, I get a lovely burst of fresh citrus notes, beautifully blended. The bright, sunny opening softens within minutes to a gentle floral, also beautifully blended. One aspect of Chanel fragrances (among so many!) that I appreciate is the elegance of how they are blended. Notes merge and segue into each other, dancing with each other to different tempos, stepping forward and backward in the rhythm their combined music suggests.

The Chanel website describes M. Polge’s inspiration as follows: “1920. Gabrielle Chanel falls under the spell of Venice. The glimmer of the Byzantine mosaics and precious gems of St. Mark’s Basilica inspire the designs of her first jewelry collections. Between freshness and sensuality, PARIS-VENISE evokes this legendary city that marks the boundary between East and West.” Having visited Venice for the first time in the summer of 2019, before the world shut down, I would say that M. Polge has done an outstanding job of evoking the city.

My recollections of Venice are of brilliant sunlight glinting off the water of the ubiquitous canals, the welcome breezes off the ocean, the hidden gardens including that of the vacation apartment in a small, restored palazzo where we stayed. Paris-Venise’s citrus-forward opening vividly recalls the sunniness of Venice’s summer climate, while the emerging floral notes remind us that Venice is a city not only of canals and ancient buildings, but also of gardens. (Christine Nagel dwelt on that feature in her fragrance for Hermes, Un Jardin Sur La Lagune). M. Polge did not, in his creation, make reference to the sea or salt water as Mme. Nagel did in hers.

In the middle stage, no one floral note dominates, though I can clearly identify the ylang-ylang, a signature floral note in many Chanel fragrances, including the iconic No. 5. The petitgrain and bergamot linger at the start of this heart phase, adding their bright verdancy to it like sunlight dappling a garden. The rose and iris are also classic Chanel fragrance notes; here, they are fresh and light. I find all “Les Eaux” to be very fresh and youthful, which I’m sure is part of Chanel’s strategy to attract a younger clientele while still appealing to their longtime clients, as they have done with No. 5 L’Eau.

Drying down, Paris-Venise becomes warmer and softer, with a slight spiciness that recalls Venice’s heyday as a entry port to Europe for the spices of the East. A highlight of our visit to Venice was a stop at the Palazzo Mocenigo, which houses a perfume museum as well as artworks and other exhibits (the embroidered fabrics are gorgeous!). Among the perfume-related displays is a massive table covered with spices and resins.

Display at the Palazzo Mocenigo

The base notes include a light vanilla, just a touch of it as this fragrance is by no means “gourmand.” This vanilla smells like the vanilla orchid that produces the actual vanilla beans, so it is more flowery than foody. It combines beautifully with the base’s more floral notes such as violet and orris. All are given a sort of warm airiness by the white musk, like a balmy evening breeze.

I’m very impressed with Paris-Venise. It is ambery without being too heavy or warm — perfect for summer wear even in a climate as hot as Venice. If a fragrance can be slender and elegant, Paris-Venise is that and more. Have you tried any of “Les Eaux de Chanel”? What did you think?

Perfume Tourism, Anyone?

Perfume Tourism, Anyone?

www.nytimes.com/2021/05/11/t-magazine/beauty-shops-fragrance-skincare.html

This article is making me yearn to start traveling again!

Entrance hall of Palazzo Mocenigo, perfume museum in Venice, Italy
Palazzo Mocenigo entrance hall; image from http://www.veneziaautentica.com
May Melange Marathon: Toujours Espoir

May Melange Marathon: Toujours Espoir

Another sample sent by a generous reader! Toujours Espoir (which means Always Hope) was launched in 2018 by a firm called “Villa des Parfums.” They have the most fascinating story, which I encourage you to read in full on their website, but in summary, the firm began as an offshoot of a local business and non-profit in Grasse, birthplace of French perfumery. The story began when a couple bought an old mansion, former home of a perfumer, and renovated it to be partly family home, partly a vacation rental (which it still is, and now I’m dying to go there for some “perfume tourism”). The non-profit is called “Parfums de Vie” and it works with impoverished children in Grasse in areas like education, character development, conflict resolution, etc.

The owners, Nicole and Vincent, decided to create a perfume brand that they hoped would generate additional revenue for their children’s programs. They founded “Villa des Parfums” and worked with the perfume house of Molinard, one of a handful of heritage perfume houses in France, which began in Grasse and still has a strong presence there. The collaboration resulted in two perfumes, Toujours Espoir and Etoile Celeste, both eaux de parfum.

Both fragrances are influenced by their Mediterranean garden, in which grow many of the plants that have traditionally inspired French perfumers: rose, jasmine, aromatic herbs, citruses, flowering perennials. The brand says:

A declaration of modern femininity audaciously revisiting the classic blend of jasmine and rose, two undisputed queens of perfumery traditionally cultivated in Grasse, the world’s perfume capital. A sensual chypre fragrance embracing the skin in an irresistible veil of intriguing mystery. An original signature for the woman who believes anything is possible.

More prosaically, Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: Top notes of Peony, Citruses and Pink Pepper; middle notes of Gardenia, Rose and Jasmine; base notes of Musk, Sandalwood and Patchouli. I found the opening to be just delightful. The citrus notes are more sweet than bitter; I don’t pick up bergamot. Maybe tangerine? The peony is present right away. In this fragrance, unlike many that list “pink pepper” as a note, I can actually smell it and it really adds to the charm of the opening.

The heart phase gets more and more floral, with rose and jasmine equally present. I don’t pick up much gardenia (which is very present in my garden, as my own gardenias have started blooming). There’s a touch of powder at this stage too, which enhances the softness of the fragrance; I actually think it comes from the musk base note emerging. As it dries down further, the patchouli and sandalwood notes add warmth and a tint of earthiness. I would barely call this a chypre, it is so gentle.

The rose in Toujours Espoir is based on rose absolute from the local Grasse “Rose de Mai”, Rosa centifolia. Nicole has written about her love for these roses and how she connects their beauty to her own values and beliefs. Today was a perfect day for me to sample this beautiful, gentle, hopeful fragrance. I named this blog “Serenity Now” originally, because I began writing it as a mindfulness exercise, to regain serenity during a stressful period, and remember to count my blessings. Then, of course, due to another writing project, I fell down the fragrance rabbit-hole and my blog became “Serenity Now: Scents and Sensibilities.”

This week was also more hectic and stressful than I had expected, though nothing like the turmoil I had in 2015, so I’m thankful for that. But at the end of my workday, as I was deciding which scent to feature in today’s post, Toujours Espoir felt just right, especially as my youngest child got his second vaccine shot today — the last of the family to do so. Hope is emerging this spring and summer, as many of us are emerging from the past year of pandemic. I’m grateful for that, and for all of you, kind readers!

Perfumer's mansion in Grasse
Hotel Villa des Parfums, Grasse, France; image from http://www.villadesparfums.com
May Melange Marathon: Jeunesse Il Giorno e La Notte

May Melange Marathon: Jeunesse Il Giorno e La Notte

One of my greatest pleasures is to travel with my husband, and until 2020, his work required him to travel a LOT. I couldn’t go on most trips during the academic year, due to my own job, but I was able to go with him usually at least once a year. 2019 was a banner year for such trips — I was able to go with him on business trips to Nice, then London, then Tuscany. The Tuscany trip happened in the summer, so we extended it for a real vacation and spent several days in Florence and Venice, which we had never seen before.

Florence, as it turns out, has a long tradition, centuries old, of perfumery, and is the perfect city to indulge in “perfume tourism.” We visited Santa Maria Novella, Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561, and the boutique of I Profumi di Firenze, Spezierie Palazzo Vecchio, among others. I acquired perfume souvenirs at each of them.

Profumo di Pioggia, winner of award from I Profumi di Boboli
I Profumi di Firenze perfume souvenirs

One of the bottles from the latter that came home with me was Jeunesse Il Giorno e La Notte, which is formulated as an eau de parfum. The notes list from the brand’s website includes Citrus, Italian Bergamot, Lily Of The Valley, Lavender, Floral Notes. Fragrantica adds that the base notes are white musk, and musk.

I should start this mini-review by noting that my 19 year-old son, who is usually pretty oblivious to his mom’s fragrance habits and applications, walked over to me today around noon to ask about yardwork, and immediately said, “You smell so nice!”. Music to a mother’s ears.

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Perfume Chat Room, February 26

Perfume Chat Room, February 26

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, February 26 — almost the end of the month! We are two months into 2021 — how is this year going for you so far? On some of the other blogs I follow, readers are sharing their experiences of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, and their relief at having done so. I’m very happy for them, and I look forward to achieving that milestone myself as soon as possible. It seems so strange to think that it has been just about a year since the world began to shut down. I remember helping to distribute information to university students last February, about a new virus that had recently appeared, and the recommended (at that time) precautions such as frequent handwashing. At the very start of March 2020, we kept to our plan of taking our son to Jamaica as part of an organized trip by many seniors’ families; it was his “big” graduation gift. I took sanitizing wipes with us and wiped down our seats on the plane, to my son’s chagrin, then the high-touch surfaces in our hotel room although at that time, Jamaica had not yet had any cases of the novel coronavirus.

We had a wonderful time, we came home, and by the end of March, my husband and I were both working from home, school went remote, spring sports were canceled, and all the traditional events of our son’s senior spring in high school and our daughter’s senior spring at college were canceled. Her graduation was entirely remote; his was postponed until the summer, when it was held outside with limited, distanced, and masked attendance. We were so glad that at least we took that last trip, since we had to cancel all our other travel plans, which had included a family summer trip to London, Paris, and Normandy to celebrate the two graduations, two big birthdays in 2020, and a major wedding anniversary. Our oldest daughter moved home after having lost the two jobs she was working, one in theater and the other in trade show planning. All of that and more, just within the last 12 months.

Yet I’m very thankful that no one close to me has suffered the worst of COVID-19, though sadly some friends lost elderly parents, and we haven’t been able to visit my father-in-law in a year. He was safely vaccinated in late December, so we hope to be able to see him as soon as we get vaccinated ourselves. Miraculously, the continuing care community where he lives had not one case of COVID-19 among residents or staff in all of 2020 (and to date, as far as we know). One daughter, who teaches, had COVID herself in the fall but she had a fairly mild case and seems to have recovered fully. I was thankful to have her living at home where we could take care of her. We haven’t yet revived any travel plans further afield than anywhere we can drive to, but Paris is still calling! Think of all the $$ I will have saved to spend on perfume by the time we get there …

This has turned into more of a “What Went Well” post. So in that vein, what went well for you this week, or month, or year so far? Or, to bring it back to fragrance, if you were planning a trip to Paris, what fragrance sites would you visit and what fragrances would be on your Paris shopping list?

Fleeting — Scents in Colour

Fleeting — Scents in Colour

One of my favorite fragrance blogs, Now Smell This, posted a brief mention of an upcoming art exhibit at the Mauritshuis museum in Holland. It is called “Fleeting — Scents in Colour”, and it will pair artworks with the imagined scents of what is portrayed. Apparently, some of those scents will be pleasant, and others — not so much. But what a great idea!

I think fragrance is under-utilized as a partner to other arts, but I understand why — it is hard to use in live performance spaces, for example, unless one decided to have one dominant smell, because how do you clear one out of the air to make room for another? And some people could be allergic, even if it just makes them sneeze. Pairing more static artworks like paintings with fragrance one can smell in limited space seems more feasible, though I wonder how this will work in the ongoing pandemic of airborne COVID-19.

Kudos to the Mauritshuis for even trying! Here is their description:

Fleeting – Scents in Colour

11 February 2021 – 6 June 2021 – Scented flowers and perfumes, foul-smelling canals and unpleasant body odours, smell and well-being, new aromas from far-away lands (spices, tobacco, coffee and tea), the disappearing smells of the bleaching fields, old crafts and more. Can life in the seventeenth century be captured in smell? How are smell (and scent) portrayed? What significance did people attach to smell? And what aromatic connotations do artworks have? In this exhibition, the Mauritshuis will undertake smell-historical research. In the vicinity of the art, various historic scents will be prepared to bring the paintings in the exhibition to life.

This effort reminds me of my 2019 trip to Venice (sigh — no travel for me in 2020), specifically my visit to that city’s Palazzo Mocenigo, which houses a perfume museum. I miss traveling, and I miss my “perfume tourism”, but I was so lucky to have been able to take more than one lovely trip with my husband in 2019. While 2020 was a lost year for travel, other than one much-needed week at a beach to which we could drive, my fingers are crossed for at least the second half of 2021. And since he won’t be traveling for work much this year, and who knows what international restrictions will be in place, we’ll probably get more creative in our travels and explore more of our own large and beautiful country.

Do you engage in “perfume tourism”, by which I mean seeking out perfume-related sites and stores in places you visit, and maybe bringing back perfume souvenirs?