Fragrance Friday: Total Eclipse of the Sun

Fragrance Friday: Total Eclipse of the Sun

I live in a part of the US that was near, but not in, the zone of “totality” for this week’s total solar eclipse. Nevertheless, the moon’s coverage of the sun peaked here at about 98%, which was dramatic. Lots of excitement about it in my city; libraries, museums and schools handed out free “eclipse glasses” so people could look at it safely (btw: yes, you can go blind from looking directly at a solar eclipse, or at least do serious damage to your eyes).

One blog I follow had the wonderful idea of asking perfumistas what special scent they would wear for the occasion. Many responses were that the commenter would wear either a really special occasion perfume, or something that referred to the sun or moon. My choice? L’Heure Attendue, by Jean Patou. I mean, how could I not choose that? This week’s eclipse was the DEFINITION of the “awaited hour”; some estimates claim that American employers lost several hundred million dollars of productivity due to their workplaces coming to a halt during the eclipse. (Not shedding tears for them. This major astronomical event doesn’t happen every day).

So, L’Heure Attendue. It was launched in 1946, the reference being to the long-awaited liberation of Paris and the end of World War II. The perfumer was Henri Almeras, working for the couture house of Jean Patou, who created most of Patou’s legendary fragrances including Joy. The vintage advertising showed the perfume as a rising sun and the beautiful bottle shared that optimistic image of dawn:

Vintage bottle and package of L'Heure Attendue perfume by Jean Patou

L’Heure Attendue vintage; photo from jeanpatouperfumes.blogspot.com

Australian Perfume Junkies has some lovely photos of a vintage bottle found in an antiques market, with commentary. According to some commentators, the house of Patou registered the name as early as 1940, after the Nazi invasion of France and occupation of Paris, already hoping for the end of the war. The original ad copy says: “Created in a mood of hope, to capture your dreams, your desires, to bring them nearer to realization …”

It has been reformulated at least twice: once in 1984, when some of Patou’s classic perfumes were reissued, and again in 2014, as part of Patou’s “Collection Heritage.”

Six bottles of reformulated classic Jean Patou perfumes: Duex Amours, Adieu Sagesse, Que Sais-Je?, Colony, L'Heure Attendue, Vacances

Jean Patou Collection Heritage 2014; photo from perfumemaster.org

That is the version I have, and it is lovely. The reformulation was done by Thomas Fontaine. I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the bottle. It is heavy, high-quality glass, clear enough to be mistaken for crystal; the weight and the rounded shape of the bottle feel elegant in the hand. It is a pleasure to hold. The notes are listed on Fragrantica as: top notes: tangerine, aldehydes and neroli; middle notes are rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang and peach; base notes are opoponax, patchouli, sandalwood and amber.

These notes are quite different from those listed for the 1946 original: top: lily of the valley, geranium, lilac; heart: ylang-ylang, jasmine, rose, opopanax; base: mysore sandalwood, vanilla, patchouli. The opening must be very different from the original, but it is delightfully sunny: a light hand with the aldehydes but enough to give it a classic nuance, combined with the light floral of neroli and freshened by the citrusy tangerine (a fragrance note I appreciate more and more — not too sour, not too sweet).

The middle notes of rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang and peach are almost the same as the original except for the addition of peach and the placement of the opoponax; my nose isn’t sophisticated enough to distinguish whether the latter is appearing among the heart notes or, as listed for the original, in the base notes. Opoponax is also known as “sweet myrrh” and is used to impart sweet, honeyed balsamic notes. In the 2014 L’Heure Attendue, it lends a lightly Oriental nuance to the floral notes that deepens as the fragrances dries down. Overall, though, I don’t think I would place it in the category of spicy Oriental, as I don’t pick up on any spices here, just warmth. Maybe it’s a “floriental.”

The base notes in the 2014 formulation differ from those listed for the original: they are opoponax, sandalwood, patchouli and amber. The original lists opoponax as a middle note, with sandalwood, patchouli and vanilla in the base. The only real difference is the substitution of amber for vanilla. I think Mr. Fontaine may have carried forward the sweetness of the peach in his reformulation to combine with the amber in the base and create an impression of vanilla-like warmth.

I do find this L’Heure Attendue to be a warm scent, unlike at least one other reviewer‘s reaction to the vintage original EDT. She found the lilac note of the original to be melancholy; it is not present in the new version, nor are the geranium and lily of the valley notes from 1946. PerfumeMaster sums up the new one nicely: “The fog in the atmosphere has dissolved, night is no more and the sun has risen gloriously once again.” That’s also a pretty good description of the recent eclipse! It was truly amazing to watch the black circle of the moon slowly creep across the face of the mid-afternoon sun blazing in the sky. As I was not in the path of eclipse “totality”, daylight did not disappear, but the light dimmed noticeably and the temperature cooled ever so slightly when the moon’s coverage of the sun was at its peak. The leaves of the trees acted as pinhole cameras, with the light of the eclipse shining through tiny gaps between them and casting thousands of crescent-shaped shadows on the ground. The moon continued its progress and full daylight was eventually restored.

As L’Heure Attendue slowly fades on my skin hours later, it leaves a lingering, sweet warmth. It is elegant and ladylike, but not chilly. It almost feels like a softer, gentler Chanel No. 5, probably because of the similar floral heart notes, the aldehydes in the top notes, and sandalwood and patchouli among the base notes. They have other notes in common — notably, Chanel No. 5 EDP (created in 1986 by Jacques Polge) has a peach top note, which the original L’Heure Attendue did not have but the new one includes as a heart note. I’m glad to recognize the similarities, as the original Chanel No. 5 eau de toilette and parfum were my mother’s scents and I don’t want to wear that particular Chanel, but I’m enjoying this “kissing cousin” very much. I especially like the contrast between the sunny opening, the progression through rosiness, and the slow, warm drydown. Like the dawn of a new day … the awaited hour.

Photo of sun at dawn behind clouds, over sea.

Dawn through clouds; photo from pexels.com

Did you choose a special scent to wear during this eclipse, or have you done that for any other natural event, like a solstice?

Scent Sample Sunday: Nirvana Amethyst

Scent Sample Sunday: Nirvana Amethyst

Surprise! Today I thought I was going to write about Miu Miu L’Eau Bleue because I had worn it a bit this week and thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I realized how much it reminds me of Stella McCartney’s L.I.L.Y.so I decided maybe I should review that next May, with other muguet scents. I moved on mentally to Commodity’s Orris, as I had worn that last Friday when another blog was encouraging its readers to wear scents that included vetiver, and Orris certainly does!

And then. I stopped into Sephora so I could spray Orris liberally from a tester, as my small sample was getting low. While browsing, I saw the two new Nirvana flankers, Nirvana Amethyst and Nirvana French Grey. I tried French Grey first, as its listed notes sounded more my style.  Very nice. Then I sprayed Amethyst on my wrist. Oh, my! I couldn’t stop sniffing it, in spite of the generous amount of Orris I had applied on my other side. So I decided to comment on Amethyst instead.

The listed notes, given in no particular order, are: tobacco, sweet honeysuckle, cedar and spices. The tobacco and honeysuckle appear right away, the honeysuckle sweetening the tobacco (which is already a gentle tobacco, not harsh at all but a little sharp and spicy). The spices are there underneath, and the cedar starts to reveal itself after the first 15-20 minutes or so. Although it isn’t listed as a note, I get a nice spicy vanilla as Amethyst dries down, which definitely gives it a slightly gourmand sensibility. It is lasting very well on my wrist, still going strong after two hours, though the tobacco and wood have faded somewhat, and mostly what I smell now is sweet honeysuckle and vanilla with woody undertones. No smokiness. It is really appealing! I think it would be great in autumn.

Amethyst charms from the start and continues to be charming throughout its progression. For the life of me, I don’t understand how they came up with this name, though; there is nothing remotely purple about this scent. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I like it. Have you tried it yet? What did you think? How does it compare to the other Nirvana fragrances, or other woody vanillas you’ve tried?

 

Scent Sample Sunday: Vitriol d’Oeillet

Scent Sample Sunday: Vitriol d’Oeillet

I have a sample of Serge Lutens’ Vitriol d’Oeillet that I finally got around to trying this weekend, for one simple reason: it was available online as a full bottle for a reasonable price, and I wanted to decide whether or not to get it. Luckily, I’ve been wondering about it for a while and already had a sample from Surrender to Chance, so I was able to make an informed decision!

I had been intrigued by Vitriol d’Oeillet because I really do like the scent of carnations and other dianthus flowers like Sweet William. Vitriol d’Oeillet has often been translated into English as “angry carnation” but I don’t think that is quite right. Vitriol can refer to anger or fury, but it has a nuance of acidity, and can also refer specifically to a sulfate of various metals. “Oil of vitriol” is concentrated sulfuric acid, according to Merriam-Webster.  Maybe a better translation of “vitriol d’oeillet” would be “sulfate of carnation”. The blog CaFleureBon review of Vitriol d’Oeillet plays off this contrast between the naturally fresh, floral spiciness of carnations and the suggestion of sulphurous fumes.

Luckily for me, from my sample I get mostly flowers and spice, and no sulfur (usually described as the smell of rotten eggs). The notes are listed as: nutmeg, clove, pink pepper, pepper, paprika, carnation, wallflower, lily and ylang-ylang. Here is the description on the Serge Lutens website:

 – “What is it, Doctor Jekyll?”

Listen, my child, and I will tell you everything. Take a carnation and a sufficient quantity of Cayenne pepper. Firmly drive it into the very center, using the “nails” of a clove. Before committing the final act of violence, let wallflower throw in a few punches.

Yes, our collective leg is being pulled. Vitriol d’Oeillet is neither hellish, nor acidic, nor sulfurous, nor violent. It is a warm, spicy, fresh carnation, and it reminds me of the original Old Spice aftershave and cologne. I like it very much, but not for myself; I think I would love it on my husband! Have I mentioned yet that I ADORED the ad campaign for Old Spice that featured the tag line “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” and actor Isaiah Mustafa:

On my own skin, Vitriol d’Oeillet opens with a blast of spice, most prominently cayenne pepper and clove, but with a sweet floral note underneath right from the start. As it dries down, the spice lightens up and it becomes a bit soapy as the florals become more evident. It is very appealing! I think many of the traditional men who wear Old Spice because their fathers and grandfathers did may not realize that the scent they (and we women) often associate with solid, old-school masculinity contains some of the notes traditionally included in women’s fragrances: heliotrope, aldehydes, even jasmine. They are not the dominant notes, though; they provide a background for the more dominant spices, wood notes and base notes like ambergris and musk. The dominant floral in Old Spice, and in Vitriol, is carnation — a flower associated with gentlemen since the dawn of the boutonniere.

Red carnation boutonnieres on gentlemen's white dinner jackets or tuxedoes

Red carnation boutonnieres; image from A Gentleman’s Row

In fact, the association of carnations with distinguished men goes back centuries, as portrayed in many Renaissance paintings like this one:

Renaissance portrait of nobleman holding carnation by Andrea Solario

Portrait of Man with Carnation by Andrea Solario

As Vitriol d’Oeillet dries down even more, the floral notes fade and the spices come back to the fore, including pink pepper. I happen to like the scent of pink pepper, although I know others do not, so I welcome its return together with the cloves, Cayenne pepper, paprika and nutmeg. At this stage, the nutmeg is more prominent than it was at the start, so Vitriol closes with a certain dry sweetness.

In sum, I like Vitriol d’Oeillet a lot, based on this sample. I won’t be buying a full bottle for myself — but I might get one eventually for my husband!

Pink pepper or baie de rose berries

Pink pepper; image from CaFleureBon

 

Scent Sample Sunday

Scent Sample Sunday

Having plunged into perfumes a little over two years ago, I now have dozens of samples of fragrances that I haven’t yet explored beyond the initial spritz at a store, let alone written about them. So I’m going to try to clear some of that backlog by posting short comments on at least one scent sample every Sunday, and posting longer reviews or essays on a Fragrance Friday once a month. Let’s see how it goes!

To get started, here is a great article about how to get perfume samples, from the website lovetoknow.com: Places to Find Free Perfume Samples. Many of the leading perfume bloggers have also posted at least once about getting, using, and storing perfume samples.

My favorite ways to get perfume samples: 1) from department or specialty stores; 2) choosing one or more as a gift with purchase; 3) buying discovery sets from a single brand, or ordering a group of related samples from a service like Surrender to Chance. I have even found some great sample lots on ebay, though I rarely look for samples there. A Scentbird subscription is another great way to try new fragrances, although the monthly travel sprays are much larger than the usual “sample.”

Shout-out to the stores that have been particularly generous with samples and where I try to direct my business when buying fragrance (or other items) in person: Sephora, Nordstrom (where they put out ready-made samples, even of Tom Ford, on the counter with a note that says “Take one, it’s yours!”), Neiman Marcus, among department stores. My local Nordstrom even puts out empty spray vials so you can make your own samples from their testers! Saks has been a bit more stingy, but if you find a nice sales associate and communicate that you are serious about fragrance and may actually buy something, you can get some very nice ones, like the By Kilian samples I was given last weekend, after a failed trip to buy Guerlain’s Terracotta. I’ve also had good luck at some, but not all, Jo Malone counters in various department stores, and purchases have followed! (I don’t actually understand why these stores don’t give out manufacturers’ samples more freely, as they are provided to them by the manufacturers for the express purpose of encouraging people to try their fragrances, and maybe buy them).

Among independent or freestanding perfumeries: Les Senteurs, in both of its London locations, have been generous both with samples and with information. Their staff are clearly knowledgeable and passionate about fragrance, and their stores are lovely. Go visit if you can! I may be asking my husband to stop by to pick up the new Papillon Perfumes Dryad for me on his next trip to London, as one of their sales associates spent quite some time with me two years ago describing Liz Moores and her work (and yes, gave me a couple of samples); and last fall’s visit to their Belgravia location was equally pleasant.

Niche perfumery Les Senteurs in London, Belgravia. Knightsbridge

Les Senteurs niche perfumery; photo: http://therealknightsbridge.com/les-senteur/

In London’s Burlington Arcade, the Penhaligon’s boutique staff kindly offered several samples, both of their newest, high-priced line and of my beloved, late lamented Ostara. The sales associate also insisted that I take a sample of Blasted Heath, the more masculine companion fragrance to another of my favorites, Blasted Bloom.

Penhaligon's perfumery in London, Burlington Arcade

Penhaligon’s

The Perfumery, in the old Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter, of Barcelona, is a charming store not to be missed, often staffed by one of its owners, who is happy to share his knowledge, passion, and samples with purchase. The fragrances carried there are very unusual, although I recognized brands like Aedes de Venustas, Making Of, and J.F. Schwarzlose. I bought a full bottle of the gorgeous Orquidea Negra, by the perfumer Daniel Josier, as a souvenir of our trip, and also brought home some lovely samples of ZiryabKaleidoscope, and Santa Eulalia.

The niche store The Perfumery Barcelona, in the Barri Gotic.

The Perfumery Barcelona; photo: https://manface.co.uk/perfumery-barcelona/

A local perfumeria near our hotel, the source of a heavily discounted bottle of Serge Lutens’ Chypre Rouge, also gave me manufacturers’ samples of L’Orpheline and Bapteme du Feu. I had not expected to find so much Serge Lutens in a little neighborhood store filled with celebrity and designer scents!

A note about samples: once you have a more educated olfactory palate, you can likely understand much about a fragrance from just one small sample, and that is by far the most affordable way to go. My nose isn’t that well educated yet. I often need to try a fragrance more frequently, in larger amounts than the usual 1-2 ml sample, to learn the fragrance and its notes, its development. Each one I try is a lesson. One current solution is to look for small travel sizes of various fragrances, in a wide range of types, notes and prices, for as reasonable a price as I can find. Some manufacturers sell sets of their fragrances in sizes from 5-15 ml, which is ideal for me. I’ve been able to try several from Miller Harris, Annick Goutal, Penhaligon’s, Byredo and others that way. Among cheaper brands, good for learning though not longevity, Yves Rocher also has very reasonably priced miniatures and frequent online sales.

Set of three Miller Harris fragrances, Fleurs

Miller Harris “Fleur” set; photo from http://www.millerharris.com

Scentbird is another good option for me, because I can choose from among their offerings for the fixed monthly subscription price, and recent choices have included scents from Amouage, Arquiste, Histoires de Parfums and other high-end brands. If I want serendipity, I can explore local discounters like T.J. Maxx or Marshall’s and see what they’ve got for, say, under $15. Case in point: a 1.6 oz bottle of TokyoMilk Dark No. 28 Excess, for $7.99. It has notes like amber, patchouli and oak that I’m curious about but don’t want to spend a lot on before I know more about how they strike me. I can happily spritz away with this one without guilt, and maybe even cajole my daughters into trying it! Honestly, at this stage, I’ll try anything, because I am enjoying the learning curve. I don’t have to fall in love with each one or even like it much to appreciate the lesson it offers.

Featured image from: makeup.lovetoknow.com

Fragrance Friday: Scents of the Ancient World

Fragrance Friday: Scents of the Ancient World

Nerd alert! I spent MANY years of my youth studying Latin and Ancient Greek, and my studious little soul still thrills to the occasional article about obscure aspects of the classical world. So it is my pleasure to bring you: Recreating the Aroma of the Ancient City: Incense in the Ancient Mediterranean. Last weekend, there was a conference in Rome where “archaeologists, historians and classicists gathered not only to explore the use of incense, perfume and scented oils in antiquity, but also to attempt to recreate the ephemeral smellscapes of the past.” Heaven!

I have visited the Minoan sites mentioned in the article (Crete, and Akrotiri on the island of Santorini — well worth visiting!). I don’t recall the article mentioning another site I have visited, however: Delphi, possibly because the most famous scented emissions there, the vapor that put the Pythia (oracle) into a trance, was not manmade:

It may even be possible to identify the kind of gas. Plutarch—who, we recall, was a priest of Apollo at the Delphic sanctuary—noted that the intoxicating pneuma had a sweet smell, like expensive perfume. Of the hydrocarbon gases, only ethylene has a sweet smell—so ethylene was probably a component in the gaseous emission inhaled by the Pythia.

Professor Bond, author of the article about recreating ancient aromas, ties the use of incense, frankincense and other fragrant substances to Christian traditions too:

When the Magi brought frankincense and myrrh (Gr.σμύρνα) along with the gold to the baby Jesus, they were donating sacred substances to be used to make the newborn’s house and his body more fragrant. Although frankincense was usually placed in an incense burner, myrrh came from an Arabian tree and was often turned into an unguent used on the dead in ancient Egypt.

She goes on to describe things like ancient recipes for incenses, like one from Egypt called kyphi, which the conference scholars apparently tried to re-create. What a lovely goal — to put oneself as completely as possible into the mindset of the ancients, to understand better their history, literature and architecture.

Kyphi was a popular aromatic in Egyptian temples dedicated to Isis, but could also be used in the house before bed to help people get a good night’s sleep.

Imagining the bedrooms of the ancient world is completely different when you can actually smell the pungent sweetness of kyphi as you take in the colorful frescoes and cushioned furniture within the ancient bedrooms of places like Pompeii. Smelling these reconstructed substances in person is then a potent reminder that experiencing the ancient world is not just about modeling ancient buildings or putting on a wool toga.

I would love to have been a fly on the wall for this conference. I may just have to take up my Ancient Greek grammar book again …

Delphi Pythia

Priestess at Delphi, by John Collier (1891)

Fragrance Friday: Lilybelle

Fragrance Friday: Lilybelle

As you know if you read any of my posts during last year’s May Muguet Marathon, I love lily of the valley and all things muguet. I wore Diorissimo for a decade and have been happily exploring other LOTV fragrances — but something was missing. And, yes, something really WAS missing, due to IFRA restrictions and reformulations. One of those things was the former level of hydroxycitronnelal (“a lily of the valley aroma-chemical and the main constituent of Diorissimo’s muguet bouquet”, according to the blog Perfume Shrine). Several of the aromachemicals formerly used to create a LOTV scent, such as Lyral and Lillial, are now restricted, I have read.

Enter Lilybelle! “According to David Apel, Senior Perfumer at Symrise, ‘Lilybelle is a molecule with an extremely fresh, green and wet smell. A touch of aldehydes raises its luxuriant floral touch, thus capturing the sparkling freshness of spring.’

From Premium Beauty News: Symrise innovates with a lily of the valley note from sustainable sources:

After six years of development, the Symrise research team has designed Lilybelle, a new molecule with fresh and transparent notes that are very close to the scents of lily of the valley. This (…)

Source: Perfumes: Symrise innovates with a lily of the valley note from sustainable sources

Notably, Lilybelle is an aromachemical made with “green chemistry” practices and principles, from renewable resources, and it is biodegradable. Take that, IFRA!

I think this is a wonderful development and I share the hope expressed by Mr. Apel that perfumers will use this new aromachemical in creative, innovative ways, including its use in unisex and masculine fragrances. I already enjoy Laboratorio Olfattivo’s Decou-Vert, which is supposed to be unisex. However, I also hope that a talented perfumer who, like me, loves muguet, will create a lovely, feminine LOTV which, unlike Guerlain Muguet 2016, I can afford.

Confederate Jasmine

Confederate Jasmine

Although last year I wrote a series called May Muguet Marathon, in truth the lilies of the valley bloomed here in late March/early April. What blooms here in May is Confederate jasmine and in my garden, lots of it. I have a brick wall and more than one fence that are completely covered in it. It is an evergreen vine with medium-sized, glossy, dark green leaves that make a perfect cover for such structures. Its major advantage over other such plants is its flower. Every spring, the vines are covered in hundreds of delicate, small white flowers with a starry appearance and powerful fragrance.

Close up of white Confederate jasmine flower

Confederate jasmine; trachelospermum jasminoides

I was prompted to write here about it because another member of a Facebook fragrance group posted a photo of a plant he had seen and asked what it was, as it smells so heavenly. It really does. A single plant can scent an entire garden; dozens of plants, as I have in my garden, may be scenting the whole block!

When I plant in my already over-crowded garden, I try to use plants that serve multiple purposes, and Confederate jasmine is a prime example. As I love fragrant plants, fragrance is high on my list of the qualities I seek. As my property is less than one acre, plants like vines that will grow vertically and not take up much precious ground space are desirable. It is shaded by a high canopy of tall oak trees, so I seek out plants that tolerate partial shade and shade. I also have a brick wall all along one side of our lot and chain link fence around the rest (erected by a previous owner and now, thankfully, mostly unseen due to the same owner’s clever screen plantings).

The brick wall was built several years ago by a neighbor and required something to cover its then-naked surface, which extended the whole length of our garden. Enter Confederate jasmine! We installed vertical iron trellises on the brick pillars that rose about every ten feet along the wall, planted the jasmine, and within a few years, the whole wall was almost completely covered with pretty evergreen leaves, as the vines fling themselves with abandon into the space between the trellises. The bonus, of course, is that at this time of year, the fragrance is remarkable and the wall is covered with white flowers, as in these images from the blog Old City South.

Confederate jasmine vines on wall and arbor, from Old City South blog

Confederate jasmine; photos from Old City South blog

What does it smell like? It is sweet, with a hint of lemon. It attracts and nourishes bees, another excellent quality given severe declines in North American bee populations. It is intense and it wafts for long distances, but I have never found it overpowering or unpleasant. It is similar to the scent of true jasmine but has less of a “hot-house” aura. Hard to describe precisely, but lovely.