Fragrance Friday: SJP Stash Unspoken

Fragrance Friday: SJP Stash Unspoken

I developed a strange liking for the original SJP Stash when it came out — strange, because it really is not my usual vibe. I didn’t like it much when I first tried it in store, but I sprayed some on a paper slip and took that home. Lo and behold, every time I found myself sniffing the air, thinking “what is that alluring scent?”, it was the slip with Stash on it. And this went on for a week! At the end of that week, I caved and went and bought one of the gift sets on sale at Ulta.

Now there is SJP Stash Unspoken, a flanker. And I really like that too, though they are different in many ways. Stash Unspoken has these notes, according to Fragrantica:

Top: Pink pepper, Quince
Heart: Wisteria, Honeysuckle, Peony
Base: Musk, Sandalwood, Tonka bean, Frankincense

In contrast, Stash is described as having “notes of fresh grapefruit, black pepper and aromatic sage. Its heart notes include Atlas cedar, patchouli, ginger lily and pistachios, laid on the warm woody base of olibanum, massoia wood, vetiver and musk.” Only one floral in the whole pyramid: ginger lily.

Grid collage of fragrance notes of Sarah Jessica Parker's fragrance SJP Stash.

Fragrance notes of SJP Stash; image from http://www.sjpbeauty.com.

Stash Unspoken, whose heart notes are entirely floral, occupies the ground between woody, aromatic Stash and Sarah Jessica Parker’s first commercial fragrance, Lovely, which is a softer, lightly fruity floral with some spice and woody notes. To my nose, Stash Unspoken is warmer than Lovely. Its opening is fine, didn’t really excite me but didn’t bore or repel me either. Pretty quickly, the floral heart notes emerged. Among them, peony seems the strongest to me. All are light and evoke late spring/early summer; they are very pretty. Then the base notes start to take over, and that’s when I think Stash Unspoken really comes into its own. As the SJP website says: “Stash Unspoken layers brighter, softer notes of floral woods with the sensuous base notes of original Stash.” Although the two scents do not have the same listed base notes, the drydown of Stash Unspoken definitely shows its Stash DNA. There is a woody warmth, lingering on the skin, that suggests intimacy without being as “sexy” as Stash. You could absolutely think of Stash Unspoken as your daytime scent and original Stash as your nighttime scent. One would segue into the other very nicely!

Many reviewers and commenters felt that the original Stash smelled like a quality niche fragrance; it was different from the mainstream, it is quirky, it holds your interest. Stash Unspoken maintains that niche feel, while being a little more approachable than the original. Similarly, I love the bottle of Stash Unspoken. It is the twin of the original, but in a delightful shade of rose gold. Very feminine, but modern; it feels a little more mature than Lovely without being staid at all, and softer than Stash without losing the quirkiness.

Have you tried the original or the flanker? What did you think?

Scent Sample Sunday: Amouage Gold

Scent Sample Sunday: Amouage Gold

This weekend, my husband and I had a somewhat rare, formal “date night”. Our son was going to be out all evening at a fundraiser and I bought us tickets to see the ballet “Don Quixote”, which is one of the few classic, full-length story ballets I had never seen. So of course, this was an excuse to dress up more than usual — and to wear Amouage Gold for Woman.

What a gorgeous scent it is! Like the ballet, it is a full-blown classical creation and pulls off dazzling twists, turns, changes, and lifts with seemingly effortless grace. Luca Turin put it better than anyone in his five-star review in “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide”:

The whole thing is put together in a happy, slightly naive, manifestly handcrafted style, which reminds me of the few really valuable things Russia used to produce, like Red October chocolates, confirming my long-held opinion that Moscow is a big Damascus with snow… The fragrance? [Perfumer] Guy Robert describes it in the press pack as the crowning glory of his career, and I agree. Robert is perhaps the most symphonic of the old-school French perfumes still working today, and Gold is his Bruckner’s Ninth. This perfume is about texture rather than structure, a hundred flying carpets of scent overlapping each other. It’s as if Joy had eloped with Scheherezade for a thousand and one nights of illicit fun.

Fragrantica has this to say: “This is an intensive floral for evening wearing and special occasions.” The top notes are rose, lily of the valley, and frankincense. Middle notes are myrrh, orris, and jasmine; the base notes include ambergris, civet, musk, cedarwood, and sandalwood.

It was a great match for “Don Quixote”, which is also a huge, symphonic fairy tale with its roots in the 19th century. Unlike many other such major story ballets, however, “Don Quixote” is happy throughout and has a happy ending. And if you want naivete, you have it in the character of Don Quixote himself, the idealist who dreams of knights and fair maidens, and who has visions of the beautiful Dulcinea. In the ballet, his harmless delusions lead him to rescue a village girl, Kitri, from an arranged marriage with a wealthy fop, and make her father allow her to marry her true love, Basilio. The ballet is based on the original choreography by Marius Petipa, via the Kirov Ballet by way of Rudolf Nureyev and thus to American ballet companies. It has many set pieces and Spanish folk variations, with dozens of dancers flying across the stage in colorful costumes, doing spectacular lifts and showstoppers like Kitri’s 32 fouettes. (The audience last night gasped, cheered, and clapped its hands to the point of soreness. The ballerina received a well-deserved standing ovation and several curtain calls at the end of the ballet).

On my skin, Amouage Gold is a sophisticated blend of all those notes and probably more that aren’t listed. It is so well-blended that one doesn’t really pick out individual notes; as the perfume progresses, my experience is that I suddenly notice it has changed although it is still recognizably Gold. It is a tour-de-force of modern perfumery that harks back to classical French perfumery. Turin’s phrase “a hundred flying carpets of scent overlapping each other” is apt. Amouage is famously a perfume house that was meant to bridge the worlds of Middle Eastern and European perfume. Just so, Spain — the setting of Don Quixote — has been for centuries a bridge between the Middle East and Europe, with many Moorish influences on its art and culture. Gold and “Don Quixote” are both felicitous incarnations of that spirit of Spain at its best: gorgeous, charming, symphonic, airborne, magnificent.

Ballerina Natalia Osopova as Kitri in ballet Don Quixote

Natalia Osipova as Kitri; photo from http://www.nytimes.com

 

Scent Sample Sunday: Brainiac

Scent Sample Sunday: Brainiac

I always appreciate a quality fragrance that is also affordable, and I appreciate other writers alerting me to those, so here’s my contribution to the “bang for the buck” list of fragrances. The mid-price chain Target has launched a store exclusive line of fragrances called “Good Chemistry” in January; the line is a division of the company Illume. They must be selling well, as the shelves were almost empty when I wandered over to my local Target to check them out. According to the promotional copy:

… the niche fragrance brand includes four collections inspired by different personalities: Confident and Charming, Good and Grounded, Vibrant and Playful and Cool and Collected. Each collection then includes four unique scents that come in perfume, body sprays and rollerballs.

I tried a few from the testers in the store and came home with two rollerballs: Brainiac and Apricot Bloom. (Full disclosure: I may return the unopened rollerball of Apricot Bloom, because the drydown became unappealing after an initially pleasant skin test from the store tester). Brainiac has claimed a place on my shelf, and I’m glad I bought it. I’m also glad it and the other scents come in rollerballs, as I really won’t need more than the 7.5 ml those contain.

Hands holding rollerballs of Target Good Chemistry fragrance collection

Rollerballs from Good Chemistry collection; image from www.good-chemistry.com.

Brainiac is part of the “Vibrant and Playful” collection. It is further described as “clean and practical with a bit of wit.” It is definitely unisex. Its label lists its primary notes as citrus, peppercorn and vanilla. Interestingly, all the Good Chemistry scents are described as “vegan and cruelty-free with essential oils.” No parabens or propylene glycol. The interesting part is that in tiny print, the label says it contains essential oils of armoise, cardamom, and clary sage. Yes! That’s why I immediately liked Brainiac — I love the smell of cardamom. I like clary sage too, but what is “armoise”?

Turns out that “armoise” is based on the Old French word for artemisia, part of a large group of aromatic plants also known in English as mugworts. Eden Botanicals says:

Organic Armoise (Mugwort)

Artemisia herba-alba is a specific Artemisia species indigenous to Morocco which provides the essential oil known as Armoise (Mugwort). Ours has a very fresh, cool, soft green, sweet-camphoraceous aroma that is highly diffusive in much the same way as Peppermint, however while the aroma has a very penetrating initial effect, this subsides after a few minutes of exposure to air. In natural perfumery, Armoise can be used in trace amounts to provide “lift” to top note accords; to add a fresh, green, naturalness; and to accentuate other green notes such as GalbanumSageRosemary, etc.

Yep. That’s exactly what my nose smelled right away when I tested Brainiac: cardamom, and a green “lift” that accentuates the herbal aromatic impression continued by the clary sage. There is a slightly citrusy aspect to the opening, but not much and not for long. If I had to guess, I would say it is bergamot,, as it reminded me of Earl Grey tea and it wasn’t sweet like some other citrus notes. I tend to like green fragrances, both green florals and green aromatics like Aromatics Elixir and Azuree. I don’t smell peppercorn; I wonder if that was listed in the place of cardamom, as some shoppers may be less familiar with the latter. I can’t say I smell much vanilla, although the fragrance does get a little less green and a bit sweeter over time.

All in all, this is a very pleasing fragrance and a good buy at $12.99 for a rollerball, $24.99 for a 50 ml bottle.

Rollerball of Brainiac fragrance from Target's Good Chemistry collection by Illume

Brainiac rollerball from Target

 

Featured image from CalPhotos; ©2010 Zoya Akulova.

Scent Sample Sunday: Noel Au Balcon

Scent Sample Sunday: Noel Au Balcon

In an earlier post focused on Bond No. 9’s I Love New York for Holidays, I mentioned that I had also been getting a lot of holiday use from Etat Libre d’Orange’s Noel Au Balcon. As January is now almost over, together with the winter holidays, I’d better post about it!

Now Smell This says that the name refers to an old French saying: “The proverb ‘Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison’ means that a warm Christmas — warm enough to spend on the balcony — will be followed by an unseasonably cool Easter (requiring ‘firebrands’).” (I actually think the phrase “tisons” here is more likely to refer to the embers of a fire that require poking to stay warm, as in “tisonner le feu”).  That review also notes that “the expression ‘avoir du monde au balcon,’ or ‘the balcony is crowded,’ is a reference to a shapely bosom.” So basically this fragrance’s name, true to ELDO traditions, is a play on words meaning something like Christmas among the warm, if not smoldering, bosoms. I love it!

And I really like the fragrance a lot. It opens with notes of apricot, honey, and orange. To my nose, the apricot is very noticeable, sweetened by the honey but not too much. The middle notes are supposed to be chili pepper, cinnamon, and orange blossom, and it does get spicier than the opening, but to me the spice is not very strong and it complements the apricot and honey instead of superseding them. Base notes seem to be patchouli, musk, cistus, vanilla, and another aromatic spice which I’ve seen listed either as cinnamon or caraway.

Reviewer Tammy Schuster wrote a hilarious review on CaFleureBon, complete with references to her “redneck Christmases” in the mountains of North Georgia. As she notes, Noel au Balcon is a fun date that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is just here to make sure everyone, including her, has a good time. Speaking of time, this scent lasts a good long time, too, without being overwhelming.  On me, the apricot, honey, and vanilla are the strongest and most lasting notes, with warm musk, patchouli, and spices chiming in but not dominating. In short, for a winter holiday fragrance, Noel au Balcon has plenty of “sugar and spice, and everything nice”, and a warm, come-hither smile full of good cheer.

Featured image by Earl Moran.

Fragrance Friday: Excellent Customer Service

Fragrance Friday: Excellent Customer Service

Facebook Fragrance Friends recently posted the question: where have members received excellent customer service when trying/buying fragrance? I thought that was a great question and it offers the opportunity to articulate the positive instead of dwelling on the negative. While I appreciate comments that warn about particularly bad experiences, I also value (maybe even more) fellow fragrance-lovers’ input on particularly good ones; and I also like to give a shout-out to the folks who extend themselves to make a customer’s experience as pleasant as possible. So here is my random list, in no particular order, and I apologize in advance if I’ve left anyone or any place out! I’ll do another post on customer service online, and outside the US.

In-person experiences in the US:

Neiman Marcus. It may be partly because I live in the South, though I’m not a native Southerner, and it really is true that Southerners seem to take a little more time and extend a little more warmth and courtesy with customers. Not all of them, and not all the time, but overall this is true to my experience, including at a large store like Neiman Marcus. I go to the one in my city occasionally; without exception, the sales associates in their large, top-of-the line fragrance department have been courteous, helpful, enthusiastic but never pushy about offering various fragrances to try even when I have said candidly that I was just browsing, or they didn’t have what I originally wanted. Several have been very knowledgeable, not just about a couple of the brands they carry, but about fragrance generally. All have been kind, and usually able and willing to offer small samples. If I were wholly devoted to a high-end house that is rarely available online, I would absolutely develop a relationship with one of its sales associates at NM.

Scent Bar. Such a fun boutique to visit! On my one and only visit to LA, a few years ago, I sought it out with a friend, at their first location in Hollywood. I understand they now have two locations in addition to their website LuckyScent. The store has a delightful set-up, with fragrances displayed by categories on open shelves along all the walls (floral, green, spicy, etc.), fronted by a long bar-like counter. The sales associate responded knowledgeably to my interest in florals, especially lily of the valley, pulling out a wide range of fragrances for me to try, including some I had not heard of before. I ended up buying a terrific Byredo sampler and was also given several samples of the other suggestions she made. I love supporting an independent business like this, btw.

Nordstrom. This department store chain is famed for its customer service, and our local store fits the claim. It has open containers throughout the fragrance department with small, empty sample atomizers that one is invited/encouraged to fill oneself from the many testers on display. Now THAT is nice. Sales associates there have been less expert than those at NM or ScentBar, but still very helpful and courteous.

Sephora. Although service can be hit or miss, depending on the store you visit and who’s on duty that day, I have had several excellent experiences at Sephora, with enthusiastic young sales associates. What they might lack in detailed knowledge, they have compensated for by their willingness to suggest and offer samples of various fragrances, in sincere attempts to help. As a result, I’ve bought more at Sephora than I otherwise might have, because most of what’s in its stores just isn’t “me” — I don’t really experiment with make up, or use most of the products they carry.

What have others experienced that counts as excellent customer service? Praise and compliments only, please, we are dwelling on the positive in this post!

Fragrance Friday: Incense

Fragrance Friday: Incense

A little over a week ago, I had started writing a post about fragrance gifts, in particular how to give someone a fragrance when you’re not sure what that person might like, or whether the recipient might want to try something new. Then on Friday, December 15, we found out that my beloved mother-in-law had died early that morning. My post about holiday gifts suddenly seemed frivolous, and I didn’t have the heart to post anything that day or in the week since; we scrambled to get to her funeral, which was held in another state on Tuesday.

We have just returned home, and I’m trying to resume normal routines, as I know she would want us to do. So for this Fragrance Friday, I’ll write about the beautiful service that celebrated her life a few days ago. My mother-in-law was a devout Roman Catholic; church, faith, and family were central to her life. She and my father-in-law were married for 60 years. He knew exactly what she wanted for her memorial service: a mass, attended mostly by her large extended family and close friends. It was perfect. My mother-in-law loved Christmas and was one of those enthusiasts who decorated every surface with Christmas-themed items starting in mid-November. She often left them up until late January, which we loved, and she made us all many Christmas-themed items, like a handknit Christmas stocking for every grandchild, which are hanging right now from our mantel, and beautiful pieces of needlework like the birth samplers she also made for all her grandchildren. The church where her funeral service was held was filled with evergreens, including several simple trees, bare of all decoration except a few pine cones on their branches and bouquets of scented white flowers — lilies, roses, delphiniums — at their base. She would have loved that, as well as the snow that had fallen the day before, leaving a soft white blanket over the ground.

The priest led this traditional service very capably, including his use of a thurible to cense her casket. This is an ancient tradition in the Roman Catholic church; the fragrant smoke of the incense symbolizes the prayers of the faithful rising up to heaven, as in Psalm 141 (140), verse 2: “Let my prayer be directed as incense in thy sight: the lifting up of my hands, as evening sacrifice.”  It can also symbolize the soul rising to God. The priest swings the thurible, which is a type of censer used to contain burning incense, always in multiples of three times to stand for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The incense is often made with frankincensebenzoinmyrrhstyraxcopal or other aromatics. These are associated in many cultures with sacrifices, gifts to divinities, and purification, leading to the tradition that the Magi who came to find the newborn Jesus brought him those as gifts, recognizing that he was divine and also that he came to sacrifice himself to save and purify us.

The sadness of the funeral service was gentled by the music and beautiful surroundings, by the loving family gathered to honor my husband’s mother, and by traditions like the use of incense. Its fragrant smoke lingered in the air, sweet and aromatic, as we bade her goodbye. It seems impossible to understand that we won’t see her again in this life; but we are glad she is released from illness and suffering, and we pray we will see her in the next.

Pope Francis, incense, Mary, and Christ Child

Pope Francis, incense, Mary, and Christ Child

Scent Sample Sunday: Montale Intense Cafe

Scent Sample Sunday: Montale Intense Cafe

I received Intense Cafe as part of a fragrance subscription service and it has quickly become a favorite. Classified by Fragrantica as an “Oriental Vanilla”, its main floral note is a rich rose, supported by notes of coffee, amber, vanilla and musk. This is my first Montale fragrance and it’s a hit! I’ve been complimented on it by an elderly lady while buying plants at a local nursery, and by my son while driving him to a gathering with other teenaged boys, as well as by my husband even through his recent head cold.

Intense Cafe is a great rose scent for cooler months. After an initial fruity rose burst, the coffee notes hover in the background and are more like a latte; in fact, much like the way I like my lattes from the local baristas: double shots of espresso, lots of foamy milk, and a sprinkle of vanilla powder on top. Kafkaesque sensed cocoa too, sometimes even more than coffee, but that was not my experience. Unlike many Oriental fragrances, Intense Cafe isn’t spicy; it is creamy and a bit sweet, though not overly so and not a gourmand scent, to me. Some commenters on Fragrantica think it smells like oud; I think Kafkaesque is probably right, that they are smelling another note she says is typical of Montale, Iso-E Super, as I’m not picking up anything I recognize as oud (not that I’m an expert).

The fragrance has great longevity; a few small sprays in the morning and I am set for the day. I emphasize “small sprays” because it is quite potent. Apparently sillage is excellent too; I was at a local nursery recently to buy pansies for my winter planters (yes, they bloom all winter here — lovely!) and an older lady came over to me from at least 20 feet away to ask what fragrance I had on, because she liked it so much. Keep in mind that we were already surrounded by nice flower scents from living plants, and Intense Cafe still made its presence known.

To my delight, there is actually such a thing as a vanilla rose latte! Barnie’s Coffee & Tea Company (from which I borrowed the featured image above) has this recipe: Vanilla Rose Latte. Even Nespresso has a recipe for a Rose Caffe Latte with Vanilla, though ironically, the recipe for their automatic espresso machine seems much more complicated than the one from Barnie’s. I think I will just add some rose simple syrup to my next order from Starbucks once I get it home, and see how that tastes!

There is even a rose variety Cafe Latte, available through a marvelously named flower wholesaler in Holland, The Parfum Flower Company. Honestly, the photo below looks exactly how Intense Cafe smells to me: less of a red, fruity rose and more of a soft, dusty capuccino pink with lashings of cream.

Rose Cafe Latte from flower wholesaler Parfum Flower Company

Rose Cafe Latte; image from Parfum Flower Company.

The Parfum Flower Company specializes in highly scented garden roses for special occasions. As they note in their YouTube video (!), most commercially grown roses now have little or no fragrance. The Parfum Flower Company grows roses like my beloved David Austin Roses, as well as other very fragrant varieties from other hybridizers. Just look at that gorgeous color!

Intense Cafe will likely be one of the few scents I’ve sampled that will move to “full bottle” status on my wishlist. With Christmas approaching, maybe Santa will oblige!

Montale Intense Cafe snowflakes

Montale Intense Cafe; image from http://www.11street.my.