Welcome to a new feature that I hope will appear monthly! Portia Turbo of Australian Perfume Junkies and I had so much fun doing “Scent Semantics” with some other fragrance bloggers in 2022 that we decided to launch TWO regular features as a new collaboration in 2023. The first, which we plan to post on the first Monday of each month, is “Notes on Notes“, in which we choose one note and write about it however the spirit moves us; our first Note was oakmoss. This second feature is “Counterpoint”, in which we ask ourselves the same handful of questions about a single fragrance and post our separate thoughts on it. We’re still experimenting with format, so comments on that are welcome too!
The Perfume Chat Room is back! After a brief hiatus for December’s Scented Advent, then my new collaboration with Portia of Australian Perfume Junkies, “Notes on Notes” (first Mondays of the month), I’m ready to chat again and I hope you are too.
So, if you’re new to this blog, welcome to the Friday 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, January 13 (yes, it’s Friday the 13th), and here in the USA we are looking forward to our three-day weekend in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. This year, the holiday falls on Monday, January 16. I don’t have any special plans other than perhaps a lunch with the other volunteers who take part in a prize program to recognize high school students who make positive contributions to race relations in their schools or communities. I helped launch this program many years ago, and it is now nationwide. We’ve met so many wonderful teenagers who are doing great work. I love it.
Heads up — I spent last weekend visiting one of my closest friends in West Palm Beach, and I was able to go to the Guerlain boutique in The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach. Yes, I came home with a bottle (the “new” Mitsouko). Yes, that means I made it one whole week into 2023 before buying a new fragrance. Yes, I’ll do a separate post with photos!
Are you attempting a no-buy or low-buy for 2023? I am going to try a “low-buy” but I’m not exactly off to a good start, lol. Or do you have any particular fragrances on your 2023 wishlist?
Happy New Year! I wish you all a happy, healthy 2023! This year brings a new collaboration between me and Portia Turbo of Australian Perfume Junkies (and other sites as a regular guest blogger). Actually, it’s TWO new collaborations. The first is called “Notes on Notes”; Portia and I agree on a fragrance note we’d like to write about, and we’ll post our “notes” about it on the first Monday of each month, referring to a few specific fragrances. The second project is called “Counterpoint”; we’ll agree on a fragrance, and “interview” ourselves about it, seeing where our experiences coincide and where they differ.
I’m excited about these collaborations – I had such fun doing “Scent Semantics” with Portia and several other bloggers in 2022. I hope many of you will jump in and add your own observations and comments!
Happy Christmas Eve! I never got around to posting yesterday because I was so busy creating the first of several family feasts for last night and the next few days. I love to cook, and I love having our kids and their friends around, so this is a great time of year for me!
For December 23, my Advent SOTD was Guerlain’s Embruns d’Ylang, created by Thierry Wasser and launched in 2019. I like it much more than I expected to! Not that I dislike ylang-ylang, but it’s not high on my list of favorite floral notes. I like it a lot as a supporting character in many beautiful fragrances, but I wouldn’t normally seek out a fragrance where it has the starring role.
According to Fragrantica, the notes included are: top notes, Salt and Bergamot; middle notes, Ylang-Ylang, Cloves and Jasmine Sambac; base notes, Iris, Patchouli and Vanilla. I never know how to identify “salt” as a fragrance accord, except as a sort of mineral smell; and Embruns d’Ylang definitely has that in its opening, with a tangy bergamot. Believe it or not, the combination of salt and a bitter citrus has a long history, though mostly involving grapefruit: “Grapefruit and Salt: The Science Behind This Unlikely Power Couple.”
After the opening, ylang-ylang is the dominant accord, and it is very lovely. Interestingly, although I often think of ylang-ylang as falling on the sweeter end of the yellow flower spectrum, here it doesn’t come across as very sweet. It certainly isn’t cloying at all, and it is a ylang-ylang that would work well for all, truly unisex if that is a concern. I don’t smell cloves at all, though given the above article’s explanation of how our taste sensors can cancel each other out, I wonder if cloves are helping to reduce the sweetness of the ylang-ylang. I do pick up the jasmine sambac, but here it is a supporting player.
The ylang-ylang persists into the drydown and the base, which makes for a very interesting combination of yellow floral, powdery iris, soft warm vanilla, and earthy patchouli. I find it quite unique, and very pleasing. It also lasts on my skin for several hours, including overnight.
I find this to be a thoroughly unisex yellow floral fragrance with a unique combination of notes. Its name has a poetic meaning: seafoam of ylang, which takes into account the salt accord. This is different enough that I would suggest trying before you buy it, if you are so inclined, but it is well worth sampling.
Now I have to decide what to wear for Christmas Eve! Truthfully, I have many nice options, so I might have more than one SOTD. Happy Christmas Eve, everyone who celebrates it! Advent officially ends tonight, so I’ll wish you also a very happy Christmas; and to everyone everywhere, a happy, healthy holiday season. Thanks for joining me and other readers here on Serenity Now: Scents and Sensibilities; I look forward to hearing more from you all in 2023!
Today’s Advent scent, by independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, is Sugar Plums. Every year, her house DSH Perfumes releases a new, limited issue holiday fragrance. (Fear not, you can still buy the prior years’ fragrances in her holiday sample sets). Sugar Plums is number 22, this year’s holiday fragrance, also particularly apropos on December 22.
Ms. Hurwitz says that Sugar Plums was inspired by her love for the ballet “The Nutcracker”, and especially the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Her description:
A dancing, celebratory plum chypre fragrance with a frangipani heart bouquet, soft cardamom & ginger spices, touches of incense, and delicious gourmand elements in the drydown. How beautiful and festive! This year’s inspiration comes from a perennial holiday favorite “The Nutcracker”. I have long loved this dreamy ballet; especially the dance of the sugar plum fairies. I have to admit that I have long considered this theme (it’s been in my notebook of ideas for years) for the dancing, dreamlike quality that the concept invokes. Sugar Plums is not really all that sweet… instead it is a celebratory swirl of rich plum, delicate spices, warming incense, and a surprising combination of gourmand elements in a classical chypre structure in the drydown. This may sound like a cacophony of elements, but it comes together beautifully to make a true holiday classic.
Finally, a fragrance in which I can really smell the cardamom! Sometimes I see it listed as a note or accord and I just can’t detect it; that makes me sad because I love the smell of cardamom. Sugar Plums is a very beautiful fragrance, with just the right level of spice and incense. I think the gourmand aspects of the drydown, mentioned about, come from tonka bean; it seems to be combined with some patchouli, giving this modern chypre its base note that in a prior era might have been oakmoss.
Sugar Plums has a spiced fruit opening, which I believe is a combination of a plum accord with the cardamom. The incense slowly appears and rises; it is a soft, gentle incense. I’ll have to take Ms. Hurwitz’ word for it that the floral heart is frangipani; it’s beautiful but I don’t think I could have picked out frangipani as the floral accord. The cardamom and incense persist after the floral notes have receded, and they carry on right into the base notes, two of which I think are tonka and patchouli. This isn’t a sweet fragrance, though it has some sweet accords. My sample is the Voile de Parfum formulation, which is oil-based, and it lasts well on my skin, still very detectable several hours after application. I like it very much! Now I’m eager to try the rest of DSH Perfumes’ holiday fragrances.
My favorite version of The Nutcracker is the former production by the Atlanta Ballet, choreographed by John McFall, in which our daughters appeared as children for several years. I always loved the sets and costumes, which looked more Russian than Victorian, and the choreography was spectacular (ignore the advert for ticket sales, this production ended 4 years ago!):
Is going to The Nutcracker, or watching it on film, a tradition in your family? Do you have a favorite version?
Today is the winter solstice, the turning point from dark to light, or at least lighter. We still have much winter to come, and December 21 is considered the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, but the days will start getting longer and the nights shorter.
In England, the group that owns and manages Stonehenge is English Heritage. They will stream winter solstice celebrations taking place at Stonehenge tomorrow, December 22.
And — surprise! My stash of Guerlain samples had a couple of duplicates, so today’s Advent sample is Angelique Noire, again! This time, the caraway seed accord was a bit more forward. I still don’t perceive this fragrance as “noire” at all.
As before, Angelique Noire has good longevity on my skin. I’m going to try it side by side with some other vanillas, like the vanilla discovery set from Sylvaine Delacourte.Mme. Delacourte was the Creative Director for Guerlain fragrances for 15 years, and Angelique Noire was created under her supervision, so I think that will provide some interesting comparisons.
Happy winter solstice! And all of you in the Southern Hemisphere, enjoy your own seasonal changes!
Okay, I didn’t choose an unknown scent today for Advent. I confess. I knew I was going to have a tough day at work (I’ve been back for less than a week) and some difficult conversations, so I pulled out my fragrance armor: Chanel No. 19, the green witch herself. If you want to read my thoughts on it, please click on the link and it will take you to a “Scent Semantics” post from September, when I wrote about No. 19 at some length.
I’m something of a “goody two-shoes” so one might think I would identify more with the character on the left. But as we learn from “Wicked”, Glinda the Good isn’t as good as she appeared; and Elphaba isn’t as bad as she appeared. But Elphaba puts up a formidable facade, and that’s what I needed today. I think I emerged unscathed.
And you know, I always remember what a long-ago boss told me (TBH, I didn’t like him much, but he did occasionally have some good insights). He had been an airline executive in his earlier career, and he said more than once, “It’s been a good day at the office when no plane has crashed.” He’s right. No planes crashed, or were at risk, in my job today. Onward to the holidays!
Two of my three kids are home for the holidays, yay! One is still in college, so he’ll be with us well into January. The other is fully independent, but arrived today and will stay at least through Boxing Day. The third, another fully independent young adult, will arrive on Thursday. It’s really great to have them home, even just for a short while; they make us laugh. We will go to a friend and neighbor’s house on Thursday evening for an informal holiday party in their backyard, which will really put me in the holiday spirit. I’ll get back on track with the Guerlain samples tomorrow!
Meanwhile, I am mulling over what scent(s) I want to wear on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. I do have Caron’s Nuit de Noel, always a good option. I really like the gingerbread accord and spices in ELDO’s Like This. I also have a set of small sizes of Jo Malone’s special Christmas scents, like Orange Bitters and White Moss & Snowdrop. Fille en Aiguilles would be suitable, as well as Nuit Étoilèes, if I want evergreen vibes. Any suggestions for those three occasions? What will you wear?
My Guerlain Advent scent today is Néroli Outrenoir, another “citrus aromatic”, created by Thierry Wasser and Delphine Jelk and launched in 2016. It’s very, very appealing. Per Fragrantica, top notes are Petitgrain, Bergamot, Tangerine, Lemon and Grapefruit; middle notes are Tea, Neroli, Orange Blossom, Smoke and Earthy Notes; base notes are Myrrh, Vanilla, Benzoin, Ambrette (Musk Mallow) and Oakmoss.
That citrusy opening is very uplifting, a mix of greenness and, well, citrus. It reminds me a bit of Miller Harris’ Tangerine Vert. To my nose, the most prominent notes are the petitgrain, tangerine, and lemon, but I definitely smell the bergamot, and a whiff of the grapefruit. Very soon, tea is served, and it is a black tea with lemon in it. It does have a floralcy that comes from the néroli and orange blossom, but to me the strongest impression is of black tea and lemon, with a tinge of smokiness. Almost like a lapsang souchong tea, but not as smoky or tarry.
This scent is like chiaroscuro, the painting technique that famously contrasts light and dark, the leading examples being the paintings of the great Caravaggio. It starts out very bright and sunny, with all the citrus notes in the opening. Then the brightness dims a bit, and softens and blurs, with the arrival of accords of tea and flowers. As it dries down, it gets gradually darker but also warmer, with the base notes especially of benzoin, ambrette and oakmoss. Myrrh and vanilla accords are present, but to a lesser degree.
Neroli Outrenoir has decent longevity on my skin, though nothing like Épices Volèes. It’s also a different kind of citrus/tea fragrance, one with more depth. I think it’s totally unisex and it would smell wonderful in warm weather, especially warm summer evenings. It’s fresh enough for hot weather but sophisticated enough for evening wear.
Very nice! Do you have any fragrances that contrast light and dark this way?
Today’s Advent scent is Incense Flash, from Andy Tauer’s “Tauerville” line. The “Flash” series were meant to be less expensive than his main line of fragrances, but no less interesting (Rose Flash is a favorite of mine). Incense Flash has an abbreviated notes list: incense, woody notes, leather, musk. That’s a little deceiving, because incense itself can contain different notes, and who knows how many notes are included under the single term “woody notes”? Anyway, incense is what I smell, right away. It is smoky but not harsh.
I used to associate incense with a sort of hippie mentality, but I find it so interesting in perfume. It seems to have gone more mainstream in recent years, with people buying sticks to burn at home. And of course, Advent is a great time to be wearing an incense-based scent, given various church traditions. I find myself really enjoying Incense Flash. I don’t really smell leather, but I think the musk accord is softening the whole impression.
I would say that the development of Incense Flash is somewhat linear. The lead actor is the incense, and everything else revolves around that, coming and going. I like it, as a straightforward incense fragrance.
Do you use incense in your home? Do you have any favorite Tauerville scents?
Today I cheated on the Advent calendar process. I needed a sample from an independent perfumer, to alternate with my Guerlain samples, but I also wanted to take part in Now Smell This’ Friday community project, which was to name your favorite work by, or inspired by, Jane Austen. So I grabbed the discovery set of Francesca Bianchi fragrances, which I hadn’t yet opened, and chose one that I thought might do. My favorite Jane Austen-inspired work is the movie “Sense and Sensibility”, which is why my blog is named, in part, Scents and Sensibilities (full name is Serenity Now: Scents and Sensibilities).
The sample I chose was one I’ve never tried, called The Lover’s Tale. After all, Jane Austen’s books are all tales about lovers. But when I read more about it on Fragrantica — bingo! Here’s what Francesca Bianchi said about it herself:
This is a story of by-gone times about a secret encounter of lovers. It represents the contradictions between sense and sensibility, pruderie and passion. The lovers are full of desire but their education holds them back.
Launched in 2018, The Lover’s Tale has top notes of Honey, Mimosa, Aldehydes and Bergamot; middle notes of Orris, Peach, Heliotrope, Egyptian Jasmine and Bulgarian Rose; and base notes of Leather, Castoreum, Musk, Labdanum, Oakmoss, Vetiver and Sandalwood. It is considered a leather fragrance, as that note is a main player. Given its partnering with castoreum, musk, oakmoss, and vetiver, I venture to say that this is a more stereotypically masculine leather. However, the earlier notes are all very stereotypically feminine, with their profusion of florals. In a way, The Lover’s Tale is a combination of two characters from “Sense and Sensibility”: Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood, who fall in love after various trials and tribulations.
I read somewhere that while it is understood that the title “Sense and Sensibility” refers to the two sisters, Elinor Dashwood who has common sense and intelligence, and the younger Marianne, who has a Romantic sensibility and passion, it can also be read as referring to Brandon and Marianne. He is the older, experienced man who commits himself to solving problems and addressing crises, including Marianne’s. He is practical — but he also has a wide streak of Romanticism himself, with his love of music and his infatuation with the emotional, musical Marianne.
Colonel Brandon also spends much of the movie throwing himself into the saddle and riding off to save the day, so a leather fragrance is well suited to him. The honey in the opening notes can be a nice reference to what Emma Thompson, who wrote and starred in the movie, called the “extraordinary sweetness [of Brandon’s] nature.” The aldehydes and floral notes evoke Marianne’s love of beauty that can sometimes be a bit flighty; by the time The Lover’s Tale is in the final stage of drydown, the floral notes, the leather, and the warm animalic notes of the base have reconciled, and combine with labdanum and sandalwood in a beautiful marriage of scent.
Do you have a favorite work by, or inspired by, Jane Austen? Any fragrance you might associate with it?