May Melange Marathon: Fragrances That Changed the Field

May Melange Marathon: Fragrances That Changed the Field

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming, because the following New York Times Style Magazine article popped up in my news feed, and I got totally distracted by it! It is called The Fragrances That Changed the Field, by Aatish Taseer. It starts with a childhood memory, from India, of a first encounter with oudh, and travels a winding path from there through the “Orientalism” of fragrances in the 1970s, to the power statement fragrances of the 1980s, circling back to previous centuries and the use of florals and musks in fragrances. It includes insight from several modern perfumers.

I highly recommend this article! You’ll want to set aside a good block of time to read it. The opening paragraph:

I REMEMBER AS IF it were yesterday that distant afternoon on which I first smelled oudh. I was in my grandmother’s house in Delhi. I was 13, maybe 14. We had a family perfumer, or attarwallah, a man of some refinement, who came to us from Lucknow — a city that is a metonym for high Indo-Islamic culture. We didn’t know the attarwallah’s name, or how he knew to follow us from address to change of address. But he came without fail two or three times a year. A slim, gliding figure, with a mouth reddened from paan, or betel leaf and areca nut, the attarwallah produced his wares from carved bottles of colored glass that he carried in a black leather doctor’s bag. He showed us scents according to which season we were in. So in winter, musk and patchouli; in summer, white-flowered varieties of jasmine — of which there are some 40 odd in India — as well as rose and vetiver. In the monsoon, he brought us mitti attar, which imitates the smell of parched earth exhaling after the first rain (“mitti” means “mud” in Hindi). The perfumes came from the medieval Indian town of Kannauj, which is a 75-mile drive west of Lucknow and which, like its French counterpart, Grasse, has a tradition of perfume manufacturing several centuries old. Once he had drawn his perfume out on white cotton buds at the tips of long, thin sticks, the attarwallah lingered over his customers, telling stories of the various scents and reciting the odd romantic couplet of Urdu poetry.

If that doesn’t intrigue you, as a person interested in fragrance, I don’t know what will! Enjoy. BTW, my scent of the day today was Cristalle, and I’ll write about it tomorrow instead.

Featured image from baystreetex.com.

May Melange Marathon: Beyond Paradise

May Melange Marathon: Beyond Paradise

“Melange” is an apt word to use for Estee Lauder’s Beyond Paradise, as it is truly a melange of different florals. In their book “Perfumes: The Guide A-Z”, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez not only gave it five stars, but also close to three full pages of discussion (most perfumes got a paragraph). He calls it a “symphonic floral.” Calice Becker was the perfumer who created it; Beyond Paradise was launched in 2003. The bottle I have is the teardrop-shaped, rainbow-tinted original. The batch number on the bottom suggests it dates to 2013. Fragrantica lists that version’s notes as: Top notes of Hyacinth, Orange Blossom, Grapefruit, Bergamot and Lemon; middle notes of Jasmine, Gardenia, Honeysuckle and Orchid; base notes of Hibiscus, Plum Wood, Ambrette (Musk Mallow) and Amber. The 2015 version in the rectangular bottle is described as having top notes of Blue Hyacinth, Orange Blossom and Jabuticaba; middle notes of Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Orchid and Mahonia; and base notes of Ambrette (Musk Mallow), Plum Blossom, Paperbark, and Woody Notes.

Both versions of Beyond Paradise are meant to be “fantasy florals” with a tropical theme; part of the length of Turin’s review is a long digression into the nature of abstract floral fragrances and how challenging they are to create, with a tip of the hat to perfumer Calice Becker, an acknowledged master of the art. According to contemporaneous press and PR coverage when it was launched, it included “proprietary notes” gleaned from a collaboration with The Eden Project, a fascinating conservation site in Cornwall, which involves massive biospheres located in and above an abandoned quarry and which I’ve had the privilege to visit. It does in fact house many rare and tropical plants, so it must be a great resource for unusual smells.

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May Melange Marathon: Layering Zara Emotions

May Melange Marathon: Layering Zara Emotions

Today’s fragrance is a true “melange”, from the Zara Emotions line, a series of fragrances created by the perfumer Jo Malone for Zara, the clothing retailer that is known for its inexpensive yet effective fragrances. In interviews, Ms. Malone has said that the line uses raw ingredients similar to the ones she uses in her own (much more expensive) line, Jo Loves, taking advantage of Zara’s enormous global buying power; there are just fewer separate ingredients in each Zara Emotions fragrance. The Zara Emotions fragrances are pretty simple but several are very appealing, and they are designed to be easy to layer with each other. So today, I am wearing one of the brand’s recommended combinations, Waterlily Tea Dress and Amalfi Sunray.

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May Melange Marathon: Chamade

May Melange Marathon: Chamade

Not quite as legendary as some other Guerlains, Chamade nonetheless has its passionate devotees. Luca Turin gave it five stars in the original “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide”, though it’s not clear whether he was reviewing parfum or eau de toilette. The most recent version I have is the eau de toilette in the “bee bottle”; it has recently been reissued by Guerlain as part of its 2021 “Patrimoine Collection”, for which six of its most famous fragrances have been bottled in the design of the original Mitsouko bottle with its hollowed heart stopper. (The list of notes for the reissued Chamade, by the way, is much shorter than that for the original, and puts some of them in a different order).

Originally created by Jean-Paul Guerlain in 1969, Chamade seems to have been an attempt to bridge earlier generations of Guerlain fragrances to a new generation of fragrance that would appeal to the ascendant youth culture, catering to the Baby Boomers who entered their 20s during the 1960s. Chamade is by no means an avant-garde or hippie scent, though. It reminds me of the most senior girls at the Belgian convent school I attended for a couple of years as a young child — young ladies from good families, many of them minor aristocrats, who were picked up after school on Fridays by dashing, slightly older boyfriends driving small sports cars. The senior girls were also allowed to change out of their school uniforms on Friday afternoons, and I have a dim memory of admiring their bright A-line dresses: ladylike, expensive, but youthful. That is how Chamade strikes me: like the kind of fragrance a chic European mother or grandmother would have given then to an 18 year-old as her “first Guerlain.”

Cover of Mademoiselle magazine, girl in yellow dress with gloves and hat
Mademoiselle magazine cover, 1960.
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May Melange Marathon: White Peacock Lily

May Melange Marathon: White Peacock Lily

D.S. & Durga is a niche brand I haven’t experienced very much, partly because of their price point (high, even for samples). But when I had an opportunity to buy a reasonably priced decant of White Peacock Lily, I jumped at it, because it sounded so intriguing when it was launched in 2016. It is indeed a very lovely lily-focused fragrance. Its notes include: Top notes of Oleander, Cabreuva Rouge, and Grapefruit Pith; middle notes of White Lily, Egyptian Jasmine, Cream and “Alabaster Violet” (which I assume means white violet); base notes of Ambrette (Musk Mallow), Vanilla, and Fog. The perfumer, D.S. of D.S. & Durga, also mentions on the website that it has notes of bergamot, melon, and rose Otto.

One thing I like about the brand’s website is that each fragrance comes with detailed “liner notes”, describing the inspiration for it, with references to literature, music, etc. The liner notes for White Peacock Lily state:

The piece that inspired this perfume is called “The White Peacock” by Fiona Macleod — a Scottish woman famous throughout the highlands for her dreamy works—and set to music by Griffes. It is one of the few tone poems based on an actual poem. The music, scored for a small orchestra, takes direction from the words. Mercurial/magic harps, winding strings, quirky brass horns, and the comical buzz of clarinets describe the beautifully soft language: “cliffs of basalt, fronds of cactus, where the bulbul singeth, cream-white poppies.” In Griffes music, the listener can hear the cream white poppies, the sweeping seas of flowers, and most important the silent noble glide of the grand bird that floats above the fields of flowers.

The composer mentioned is unfamiliar to me: Charles Tomlinson Griffes. Sadly, he died of pneumonia at the age of 35, at the outset of a very promising career, in 1920 at the height of the last century’s global pandemic, influenza. Apparently one of a few of his works that are still performed is “The White Peacock”, inspiration for today’s “May Melange Marathon” fragrance.

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May Melange Marathon: Trillium

May Melange Marathon: Trillium

As regulars here know, in addition to being somewhat obsessed with fragrance, I’m also a gardener. I would say, perhaps, a longtime or experienced gardener, except that one is brought up short by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to a friend: “Tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.” So true! One is always learning in a garden, always making new discoveries.

However, the house we bought so many years ago (our first and only) came with an old garden that had been lovingly cultivated over decades by a couple who raised their own family here. They were master gardeners, and a former neighbor who knew them told me that she thought the husband had actually been a landscape architect. For years after we first moved in, every season brought new discoveries of their plantings and how cleverly they had designed and planted our garden. One such discovery was a planting of the American native wildflower, the trillium. I call it a discovery because trilliums famously appear suddenly in the early spring, then go dormant and disappear completely until the next year. I was so surprised when I came across a large clump in the wooded, back part of our garden that had seemingly come out of nowhere, and then equally surprised when I went back several weeks later and it was completely gone, like magic.

Which brings me to an intriguing artisan perfume line, House of Matriarch High Perfumery, and its fragrance Trillium.

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Scent Sample Sunday: Le Jardin de Monsieur McGregor

Scent Sample Sunday: Le Jardin de Monsieur McGregor

Given how much gardening is on my mind (and under my fingernails) these days, it seems fitting to write about one of 4160 Tuesday’s quirkier scents, Le Jardin de Monsieur McGregor. Yes, it is named for the antagonist gardener in the Peter Rabbit stories, and also in homage to Jean-Claude Ellena’s Jardin series of scents for Hermes (all of which I own and enjoy). Perfumer Sarah McCartney writes that it was created during one of her perfume-making workshops, with a focus on the aroma molecule Hedione, which creates an impression of freshness and floralcy, with notes of jasmine and greenness. The goal was for the class to create the scent of a cottage garden in the Lake District.

For those who may not know, the famous author and illustrator of the Peter Rabbit books and many others, Beatrix Potter, played a key role in preserving thousands of acres in the Lake District, including leaving 4000 acres of countryside and 14 farms she owned to the National Trust. She was, of course, a marvelous illustrator, but she was also a gifted botanist, naturalist, gardener, and farmer, and the plants in her illustrations for her children’s books are botanically accurate down to the last details. They include many of the plants mentioned in the notes and materials list for Le Jardin de Monsieur McGregor.

Mr. McGregor in his garden, by Beatrix Potter
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Perfume Chat Room, April 9

Perfume Chat Room, April 9

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 9, and I’ve had a lovely week, starting with Easter. I took this week off from work, to rest up before the final push toward the end of the semester and final exams (I work all summer, too, but it’s less hectic once the students have left). Usually I would have had a week off for a university spring break in March, but that was canceled this year, in an attempt to reduce travel back and forth from the campus and thus spreading infection.

The weather has been beautiful, including Easter Sunday, and we were able to attend church in person, outside in the courtyard. The volunteers who handle everything from set-up to flowers outdid themselves, and everything was just beautiful. I’ve spent most of this week gardening, including in my new raised-bed vegetable garden, so things look tidier than usual!

Easter flowers

We’re also making real progress on putting our house back together — the two semi-demolished bathrooms now have floors and tiles again, and most of the plumbing fixtures are back in place. The shower in one bathroom is mostly rebuilt. Electrical work has been done to replace lighting in that bathroom too, though the fixtures have to wait until all the plaster and paint have been redone. The living room and dining room still look like scenes of demolition, with great gaping holes in the ceilings and one wall, but those will be handled as part of one massive re-plastering. I can’t wait to have my house back, after all these months!

Meanwhile, the fragrant flowers blooming in my garden include: the first roses; Korean lilacs; late daffodils; violets; lilies of the valley. The large pots of herbs I planted last year are sending up new growth, including the pretty silver-leaved lavenders. Since I’m at home all day to take proper care of them, I’ve started quite a few seeds, and I’m excited to see how they do. I also have pots of forced hyacinths and Easter lilies in the house, which I’ll plant out when they start to fade.

How was your week? What’s in bloom near you? Do you have any favorite fragrances with notes from the flowers in my garden, or yours?

Perfume Chat Room, April 2

Perfume Chat Room, April 2

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 2, and it is Good Friday, for those who celebrate Easter. I love Easter! Today is a solemn day in the Christian church, but it is also the start of one of my favorite holiday weekends, during one of my favorite times of year. In my part of the US, we are enjoying a full outbreak of spring, with daffodils, tulips, and other bulbs blooming in profusion, flowering trees in full blossom, green leaves tipping the tree branches, and longer days of sunshine. The fact that this week has been unusually cool and wet is letting me make up for some lost time in planting seeds that prefer to germinate in colder temperatures. There’s always a silver lining! And today, while chillier than usual, is bright and sunny.

My lilies of the valley are getting ready to bloom outdoors, which is always an opportunity for me to compare muguet-centered fragrances with the real thing. I also have a potted Easter lily for indoors, and some forced hyacinths to bring inside, so my weekend will be filled with the scents of spring. Now I just have to decide which fragrances to wear myself! As many of you know, I lean strongly toward greens and florals, which work well for spring and Easter. I’m sure my perennial favorite, Ostara, will make an appearance this weekend.

I’m happy that all three of our kids will be home for the holiday; one has also invited a friend. Our church has set up for outdoor services, with groups of seats appropriately spaced, and other safety protocols. I’m looking forward to that; they did that last week for Palm Sunday, and it was very meaningful to be back onsite, even outside. I’ll cook the usual Easter Sunday feast, with roast lamb and spring asparagus plus other assorted side dishes. If you celebrate Easter, do you have any special plans?