Scent Sample Sunday: The Merchant of Venice

Scent Sample Sunday: The Merchant of Venice

I’m ba-a-a-a-ck! I’ve been in and out a lot this summer so haven’t posted as regularly here as I normally do, but summer is officially over in this part of the world. Just the leisure, not the weather! It still hits 90 degrees F daily; the humidity is, if not oppressive, onerous; and the sun is still so strong that lavish applications of sunscreen are still required for palefaces like me. But yes, summer is over. My oldest child has finished her theater apprenticeship and will move into her first independent apartment by the end of this week. My second child moves back into her campus apartment to start her senior year of college. And my “baby”, the young man who is taller than any of us, starts his senior year of high school this week. Orientation for new students at the university where I work begins tomorrow, and we have a new Dean I’ve only met in passing. So it’s the start of a big year for us, and yes — summer is over.

My university job is in administration, so I do work in my office all summer, unlike my faculty colleagues, but I’ve been able to go with my husband on two lovely trips he took for work, one to London in May, and the other, more recently, to Italy. After his work there, we took an extra week of actual holiday for him and visited Florence and Venice, neither of which we had seen before. It will take several posts to describe all the perfume-related activities I did in Florence, so I’ll start off with Venice, where I was a bit more restrained! Venice, however, was also where I was able to visit the perfume exhibit at the Palazzo Mocenigo.

Entrance hall of Palazzo Mocenigo, perfume museum in Venice, Italy

Palazzo Mocenigo entrance hall; image from http://www.veneziaautentica.com

 

This is a relatively new “itinerary” at the museum, and it is well worth visiting. The Palazzo Mocenigo itself is very interesting as an example of a Venice palazzo (short video tour here), and right now it also contains three temporary exhibits, one of which is part of the Venice Biennale: “Brigitte Niedermair: Me and Fashion.”  (For more information about Ms. Niedermair, there is a great article in Wallpaper).

The other two, smaller exhibits are related to perfume: one, “Leonardo: Genius and Beauty,” is described thus:

A little-known aspect of Leonardo da Vinci will come to light in this exhibition organised to mark the fifth centenary of his death: his work as a cosmetologist and perfumer, dedicated to the creation of fragrances and cosmetics. A reconstruction of the lively network of exchanges between the major Renaissance courts enables us to learn of the experiments and recipes for cosmetics that Leonardo shared with the most important female figures of the day. Also on show will be pioneering recipes for depilatory ointments, creams made from snail slime and hair dyes. Leonardo even influenced hairstyles: “Da Vinci knots” are found in many paintings in which hairstyles are embellished with jewels, nets and perfumed fabrics. At the court of Ludovico il Moro in Milan, Leonardo organised parties, designed clothes and costumes, as well as inventing fabrics, jewels and perfumes. The exhibition will highlight the link between Milan and Venice: two cities where the use of perfume was widespread and hairdressers commonly sold cosmetics and perfumes. A specific role in the service of the court was dedicated to a “magister of perfumes”, who procured for the ladies little phials of mixtures for bleaching the hair, a very popular fashion in Venice.

Leonardo: Genius and Beauty.

The other temporary exhibit related to perfume is “Carnet de Voyage: Illustrated Perfume.” It is sponsored by the fragrance line “The Merchant of Venice”, and it is a series of illustrated poems relating back to several of the line’s perfumes, imagining the voyages of an actual Venetian merchant seeking out rare substances to bring back to Venice for the creation of perfumes. Yes, it’s a bit of an infomercial, but a charming one, and I appreciate the support the company is giving to this small museum.

The main, and permanent, perfume exhibition at the palazzo is contained in several rooms upstairs. There is also a perfume laboratory on the ground floor, where one can take a perfume workshop.  The museum’s website includes a detailed description of the perfume exhibit.

I enjoyed all of it, but especially the room devoted to raw ingredients, many of which were beautifully displayed in glass containers on a huge table where one could actually smell them.

Another highlight was a 19th century Venetian perfumer’s organ, a beautiful piece of antique furniture in its own right, apart from its functional interest.

So of course — what does one need as a souvenir of this visit? Why, a fragrance from The Merchant of Venice, of course! On our day trip to the island of Murano, home of the famous glassblowers, we had lunch on a canal directly opposite The Merchant of Venice store. Sadly, it was closed and not due to open until after we planned to return to the city, but it’s a beautiful store with many of its striking Murano glass bottles displayed in its window.

Luckily for me, one of my favorite online fragrance discounters just happened to have some of the same bottles, in tester format, on sale, so when we returned home, I ordered Flower Fusion. It is part of the “Murano Collection” and comes in a really pretty glass bottle swirled with streamers of blue within the clear glass. Top notes are listed on the brand’s website as jasmine, freesia, and ylang-ylang; heart notes are vanilla, patchouli, and labdanum; base notes are damask rose, violet petals, and ginger. Fragrantica lists most of the same notes, but in a different order: top notes are said to be lemon, violet, and ginger; middle notes rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, freesia; base notes labdanum, patchouli, vanilla.

I definitely smell freesia as a strong top note, and since that is a lemony floral smell, I think that’s the source of the lemon note listed on Fragrantica. I do perceive that the jasmine and ylang-ylang follow close on its heels, and then the vanilla makes itself known in the middle stage. I would say that the rose and ginger are part of the middle stage, to my nose, with a hint of violet. The labdanum is also perceptible during the middle stage. This middle phase is very appealing if you like floral scents but don’t want something heavy. I can’t say that it smells quite like anything else I’ve tried recently. As it continues to dry down, the rose, vanilla, labdanum and ginger notes persist, and they combine beautifully. The patchouli emerges, but it does not dominate; it adds a green herbal note to the composition.

I like Flower Fusion very much, and it is perfect to wear on a balmy summer evening. The warmth and humidity suit it, although it might be a bit much at the height of the day, when something like Un Jardin Sur le Nil would probably be my preferred choice. The vanilla lends it a pleasant sweetness without turning it into a gourmand. It lasts well on my skin, perceptible even after several hours, and it would probably last longer if I sprayed more (I tend to spray pretty lightly).

Bottle of Merchant of Venice fragrance Flower Fusion with Murano glass earrings and Massimo Ravinale scarf based on Leonardo da Vinci

Flower Fusion with Murano glass earrings and “Leonardo” scarf by Massimo Ravinale.

Have you visited Venice? The Palazzo Mocenigo? Have you tried any of The Merchant of Venice fragrances? If so, what did you think? Or, have you been able to do any “perfume tourism” of your own this summer?

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?