Fragrance Friday: Clouds’ Illusion

Fragrance Friday: Clouds’ Illusion

In honor of this week’s move of English perfume-maker 4160 Tuesdays to another part of London, today I review Clouds’ Illusion eau de parfum, which 4160 Tuesdays perfumer and founder Sarah McCartney created for a crowdfunding project for the Eau My Soul Facebook group.

Sarah McCartney's 4160 Tuesdays perfumery studio, Ravenscourt, London.

New space for 4160 Tuesdays London; image from 4160 Tuesdays.

What a fun idea! This isn’t the first one, either — she and the group’s founder, Christi Long, collaborated previously on the eponymous fragrance Eau My Soul in 2017, with input from the members of the Facebook group. Here’s the tale of how it happened, in Sarah’s own words:

Clouds was an idea dreamed up by Christi Long. Christi runs Eau My Soul as a kind, encouraging forum for fragrance lovers, and one day she was wearing our crowdfunded fragrance from 2018, Take Me To The River. It crossed her mind that Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now would be a wonderful inspiration for a fragrance, looking at clouds from both sides, the grey, then the sunshine.

Between us, we dreamed up a plan: Christi sent me a list of notes: iris, narcissus, white chocolate, hay, sandalwood, papyrus, vanilla and others which I’ll keep secret. She’d named some of the most expensive materials that exist, but I also knew that would want it to be affordable to everyone in the group because she’s nice like that.

So I had a suggestion. How about we do Both Sides Now? I am going to make two versions, one with the natural materials and one with the synthetic recreations made by the genius chemists from the industry. That way we can make the most magnificent, fabulously luxurious fragrance this side of Ancient Rome, plus the affordable one.

Clouds, and Clouds’ Illusion.

My intention was that they should smell pretty much exactly the same, but whichever one you buy, you can have a sample of the other one too. I don’t think anyone has done this before. I’m keen to show that aromachemicals are just as beautiful as naturals, and that you’re not missing out if you don’t have the spare cash for expensive fragrances. (But if you do, don’t let us hold you back.)

We also both agreed that we wanted to give a proportion of the funds raised to our chosen causes – some sunshine in these grey times. Previously we used a crowdfunding platform which took a percentage of the funds for use of its tech and database, so we took  that and gave it to Hope Not Hate in the UK, and to the Looking Out Foundation in the US. We think we already know enough people to make this happen, and besides we don’t want to conquer the world, just to make a lovely fragrance.

“Both Sides Now” was written by legendary singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, and was first commercially released as a recording by folk singer Judy Collins, on her album Wildflowers. The latter is the version most of us recognize from the radios of our youth, haunting in its lyrical beauty. A year later, Joni Mitchell followed with her own recording, also beautiful, for her album Clouds.

Here are the song’s lyrics:

“Both Sides Now”, by Joni Mitchell
Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s clouds’ illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real, I’ve looked at love that way
But now it’s just another show, you leave ’em laughin’ when you go
And if you care don’t let them know, don’t give yourself away
I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all
Tears and fears and feeling proud, to say, “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange they shake their heads, they say
I’ve changed
Well, something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

 

The fragrance Clouds comes in two versions: one is based entirely on natural essences, and was made in parfum and eau de parfum concentrations. The other is Clouds’ Illusion, which replaces a number of those (very expensive) natural essences with fine aromachemicals, though it still contains some of the naturals. Sarah’s goal was to incorporate all the elements Christi requested, but also to create a version that would be more affordable for crowdfunders and, in addition, show how aromachemicals can be used judiciously to create a truly beautiful fragrance. Clouds’ Illusion also comes in parfum and eau de parfum concentrations.

I was thrilled to take part in the crowdfunding, and as a result, I now have a bottle of Clouds’ Illusion in eau de parfum. I also had the privilege of visiting Sarah in her studio in London this past spring, when she was still modifying her formulas after initial feedback from Christi.

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Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays

Sarah and Nick were kind enough to spend quite a bit of time with me, and this visit was a highlight of my London trip. I’m quite a fan of 4160 Tuesdays, having won a bottle of their White Queen in a draw on the excellent fragrance blog “CaFleureBon”, and I bought more of their fragrances on my visit, several that were hard to get in the US.

So what is Clouds’ Illusion like, and does it fulfill the creative intentions behind it? The answer is, yes, it does, magnificently, and it is very lovely. Sarah lists notes of iris, citrus, narcissus, white chocolate, hay, sandalwood, papyrus, vanilla, and other unnamed “secret ingredients.” I love the scent of narcissus, and iris is becoming one of my favorite notes in perfume. According to Sarah, the iris note, or orris, evokes the melancholy, blue, introverted facets of the song, while the lemony citrus notes in the opening and bright flower notes like narcissus evoke its sunnier aspects. The white chocolate, vanilla, and a touch of musks create the soft white clouds. The image Christi posted on Eau My Soul, featured above and below, perfectly captures the fragrance: a pensive, introverted artist in a green meadow dotted with yellow wildflowers, set against a blue sky layered with puffy white clouds from horizon to horizon.

Singer songwriter Joni Mitchell with clouds, wildflowers and guitar

Joni Mitchell and clouds; image from Eau My Soul.

The opening of Clouds’ Illusion is especially wonderful, with citrus notes sparkling against a blue background of iris. I can’t think of another fragrance with a similar opening phase. The citruses fade away, but the iris comes to the fore and persists throughout the development of Clouds’ Illusion, partnered with narcissus (which here smells to me, specifically, like yellow daffodils or jonquils) and dry hay. The drydown slowly becomes softer and warmer, with its notes of vanilla and sandalwood joining the iris as the narcissus and hay move offstage. The development of the fragrance mimics the development of the song’s lyrics: starting out brightly, optimistically, yellow sunshine pouring down from a blue sky, then becoming more melancholy and wistful, as the sunlight darkens and fades and the clouds take over. But then the clouds part, and the the songwriter reflects that “something’s lost, but something’s gained, in living every day,” comforting herself with that thought, just as the fragrance becomes warmer and comforts with base notes of vanilla and sandalwood. The iris is still there, but it has been warmed by the other base notes. I can still smell iris, vanilla and sandalwood on my wrist more than eight hours after applying it lightly, so Clouds’ Illusion has excellent longevity in the eau de parfum concentration (I haven’t tried the extrait).

How does Clouds’ Illusion compare with Clouds, the version that uses only natural ingredients? My order of Clouds’ Illusion came with a sample of the Clouds EDP, so I’ve been able to smell them side by side. To my non-expert nose, right away the opening of Clouds smells more strongly of lemon than the top notes of its counterpart, but it fades into the background more quickly than the lemony opening of Clouds’ Illusion. The iris takes center stage in the middle phase in both versions, but in Clouds, I smell more of the sandalwood, and sooner, as it dries down, and Clouds’ Illusion seems to retain a bit more of the greenness of the hay note. Otherwise, though, they are very similar and have comparable longevity (more than eight hours on each of my wrists). Sarah has succeeded in her goal of creating fragrance twins, one with the precious natural substances and the other with more affordable aromachemicals, both lovely.

Here is Christi’s own account of how she experienced Clouds:

As many of you know, there were two earlier mods for Clouds and neither felt right to me. While they were nice fragrances, one even quite unusual, they were not the “Clouds” I had in my mind. After I told Sarah the second one wasn’t quite it either, she said “I know now what you want” and said it with such confidence. I now see why she was so sure of it…because it’s perfect.

First, it’s somewhat ethereal, but fluffy, like passing through a cloud. There is no sadness, but there is introspection, and a slight bit of melancholy from the orris butter laid thick under happy lemon sunshine. There is a hay like quality coming from the narcissus that counters the sweetness of the powdery, creamy white chocolate, so that it’s never too sweet but also never quite overly gray either. There is a cozy blanket of mood lifting lemon that surrounds it all, like a ray of golden hope at all times. Clouds is the days when you feel a bit down but know you’re strong enough to make it and feel hopeful. This isn’t a fragrance about giving in to sadness, it’s about rising above it and finding the reminder that sunshine always comes again, you just have to be strong enough to wait for it.

This year has been a roller coaster for me. It started really difficult, got better, then the hardships of life brought me down again. And literally right as I’m fighting to find the sunshine again, Clouds shows up at my doorstep. I sprayed it on and so many emotions, memories and thoughts passed before me. And in Clouds, just like life, the sunshine always wins if we let it. But we keep our memories with it, as a reminder of why we need the light.

Thank you, Sarah, for making this perfume for all of us who need a ray of hope sometimes. It reminds me that I’m human, I make mistakes, but with hope & forgiveness, life goes on and the sun still shines.

Thank you both, Sarah and Christi, for making this possible! I can’t wait for the next crowdfunding fragrance from 4160 Tuesdays, and I can’t wait to visit the new studio!

Readers, do you have a favorite 4160 Tuesdays fragrance? Have you ever taken part in a crowdfunding creative project, whether perfume or something else?

Featured image of Joni Mitchell from Eau My Soul.
May Muguet Marathon: Happy Mother’s Day!

May Muguet Marathon: Happy Mother’s Day!

I am slacking off a bit this weekend, as it is Mother’s Day and I’m allowed to do that! So no muguet post yesterday, and today I’ll just wish a happy Mother’s Day to all who are, have, or had, mothers.

I was given a surprise gift: the Le Labo discovery set, with 17 of their fragrances to try — oh happy day! And I ordered something very special with the go-ahead from my lovely spouse: Scenthusiasm from 4160 Tuesdays. Can’t wait for that one! We will pick it up at his company’s office when we go to London later this month, and I’m hoping to visit the 4160 Tuesdays studio too. Have you given or received any fragrant gifts for Mother’s Day this year?

Enjoy the weekend!

Scent Sample Sunday: Tokyo Spring Blossom

Scent Sample Sunday: Tokyo Spring Blossom

When I won a CaFleureBon draw for 4160 Tuesdays’ White Queen, brand founder and perfumer Sarah McCartney kindly included two travel sprays in the package, because UK shipping restrictions meant she could only send me a smaller size of White Queen than originally described. I was delighted, because it gave me the opportunity to try two more 4160 Tuesdays scents! One of them was Tokyo Spring Blossom, which I’ve been wearing off and on all week. It was originally launched in 2011 under the name Urura’s Tokyo Cafe, after a friend of Ms. McCartney’s for whom she first created the fragrance, Urura Shiinoki, owner of the Green Ginger Cafe in Tokyo.

The 4160 Tuesdays website describes it as “the scent of a spring breeze blowing through tree blossom.” Apparently the name Urura can be translated into English as “breeze in the cherry blossoms”, so that inspired the scent, although none of its notes are actually cherry blossoms. The notes are described differently on various websites, and the text on the 4160 Tuesdays site doesn’t seem to list them all, but they appear to be a combination of: a mix of citruses with pink grapefruit, tangerine and mandarin orange; middle notes of violet and rose; base notes of opoponax, Sarah’s favorite raspberry leaf accord, tolu balsam and raspberry. The description of the fragrance’s progression that most closely aligns with my own experience comes from a 2015 review on CaFleureBon, by Susie Baird:

Atop is a sparkling citrus, which feels very bright and airy. Almost as soon as those petals have opened a slightly more aromatic accord appears, herby and green. The perfume is now dappled with shade between the rose bushes. This is most certainly not a rose-centric fragrance though; the floral bouquet is seamlessly woven together with crisp greens and sharp tangerine, creating an image of a flower garden gently swaying in a summer breeze.

From beneath, sweet Myrrh stains the green and pink with umber tones. Here it gives the impression of a great splash of strong green tea, saturating the base of the scent with a resinous solemnity, as if the breeze has momentarily dropped and the sun stepped behind a cloud. It is cooling and pleasant to experience the resin balanced by the green goodness of geranium and rose. It has all the atmospheric depth that incense can bring to a fragrance, without any of the smokiness.

Yes! I think the greenness from the start comes from the raspberry leaf accord, which is listed on Fragrantica as a base note, but I smell it almost from the start, and then it lasts throughout. I smell suggestions of green tea, as described above, more than I smell roses, but I do pick up the violet heart note, which adds to the greenness but also lends a slightly powdery, floral note. Of course, high quality green tea does itself have floral fragrance notes which can vary widely; and green tea is a very traditional Japanese drink.  In fact, to my nose, this stage of Tokyo Spring Blossom smells very much like a specific form of green tea: matcha.

The 4160 Tuesdays website includes one of its pretty graphics to describe this scent:

Eau de parfum Tokyo Spring Blossom or Urura's Tokyo Cafe, by 4160 Tuesdays

Tokyo Spring Blossom, 4160 Tuesdays

I like this scent very much, though I think I was more delighted by White Queen, which is odd because usually I much prefer floral scents to gourmand scents. Luckily, in life it is possible to combine both the floral and the gourmand. The featured image above comes from the website for a specialty tea merchant called Steven Smith Teamaker, created by and named after the founder of Stash and Tazo tea companies. The company thoughtfully provides its own recipe for a matcha green tea latte, shown in the featured image. Enjoy!

Do you have any favorite fragrances that remind you of tea, whether or not they are named for tea? The Bvlgari Eaux Parfumees au The series comes to mind right away; I have and enjoy three of them (The Vert, The Bleu, The Rouge). Any others?

Steven Smith, Teamaker, matcha green tea latter with spring blossoms

Matcha green tea latte from Steven Smith Teamaker

 

 

 

Fragrance Friday: Perfumers Who Are Women

Fragrance Friday: Perfumers Who Are Women

Happy International Women’s Day! In honor of the day, Fragrantica published a very nice article highlighting several celebrated perfumers who are women, and some of their creations: Perfumery: Women Creators. In the comments section, readers have started adding their own suggestions. In no particular order, suggested additions include:

Olivia Giacobetti, Liz Moores, Anne Flipo, Sidonie Lancesseur, Nathalie Feisthauer, Daphne Bugey, Vero Kern, Josephine Catapano, Shelley Waddington, Shyamala Maisondieu, Nathalie Gracia-Cetto, Sonia Constant, Christine Nagel, Mathilde Laurent, Sarah McCartney, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Mandy Aftel, Ayala Moriel, Laurie Erickson, Charna Ethier, Diane St. Clair, Claire Baxter, Marie Salamagne, Lyn Harris, Nathalie Lorson.

Do you have any favorite perfumers who are women? Any favorites among their creations?

Here are some of mine:

Liz Moores: Dryad; Christine Nagel: Twilly; Mathilde Laurent: Cartier Carat; Sarah McCartney: White Queen; Diane St. Clair: Gardener’s Glove; Marie Salamagne: Alaia; Lyn Harris: Terre d’Iris; Nathalie Lorson: Shiseido Zen 2000; Jo Malone (the person): White Rose & Lemon Leaves; Marie-Helene Rogeon, Clair Matin.

Featured image: Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, from www.denverartmuseum.org.

 

 

Scent Sample Sunday: White Queen

Scent Sample Sunday: White Queen

Oh, how I love literary references! Put them together with a great niche perfume, and I am a happy perfumista! Today’s Sunday scent is White Queen, by 4160 Tuesdays, a collaborative creation with Michelyn Camen of the blog CaFleureBon to mark the blog’s eighth anniversary in 2018. 4160 Tuesdays founder and perfumer Sarah McCartney wrote at length about how this joint project came to be, and her inspirations, at CaFleureBon, here: New Perfume: 4160 Tuesdays White Queen. I won a bottle of White Queen in one of CaFleureBon’s generous giveaway draws and it was sent directly from Sarah with a personal note; thank you, Michelyn and Sarah! Look carefully at Sarah’s stationery — it’s so clever.

The literary reference is to the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The character of the White Queen makes some of the most-quoted statements from Carroll’s works, such as the advice to “believe six impossible things before breakfast” and the offer of “jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.”

In the book, the White Queen is an elderly lady, but in Tim Burton’s 2010 movie “Alice in Wonderland”, he reimagines her as a beautiful young (or ageless) woman, played by Anne Hathaway.

Anne Hathaway in Disney Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland movie.

Anne Hathaway as the White Queen; http://www.disney.com.

As many have noted, this White Queen is far from being all sweetness and light, and so is her namesake perfume, alluring as they both are. Sarah McCartney describes the fragrance’s notes as: incense, hazelnut, citrus fruits, raspberry, jasmine (which some call the Queen of Flowers, although the rose might disagree), cream, opoponax, vetivert, patchouli, and musk.  The goal was to create a modern gourmand without evoking candy, while also referring to the phrase “falling down the rabbit-hole”, which many people use to refer to their own response in discovering how much more there is to perfume than a single signature scent.

The modern gourmand aspect is fulfilled by using methyl laitone, which creates what Ms. McCartney describes as “clouds of whipped cream and white fluffy marshmallows.” However, on my skin, the incense note is more pronounced and very long-lasting. Fragrantica’s perfume pyramid lists it and the cream note only among the top notes, but they persist throughout the fragrance’s life and should be included with the heart and base notes. (Fragrantica also lists notes that Ms. McCartney does not, and omits notes she describes; I’m going with her on this one!). On me, these marshmallows are toasted.

Tray of toasted marshmallows

Toasted marshmallows; http://www.maplestreetcandle.com

I love incense as a note in perfume, but I tend to prefer less smoky incense notes, so this is perfect for me. Ms. McCartney’s post makes it clear that her incense note comes from frankincense, or Boswellia Carteri. This incense is also inflected with opoponax, a type of myrrh known as “sweet myrrh”, which brings warm, balsamic, honeyed notes to a fragrance. On my skin, these come even more to the forefront as White Queen dries down, and they are lovely. The combination of frankincense and opoponax makes White Queen‘s incense note more like a lovely vapor.

incense vapor

Incense; image from Fragrantica.

I can’t pick out separate notes of raspberry or citrus, but I can tell that they are present because of the brightness they lend; I think they help lift White Queen and add to its airiness. Similarly, I wouldn’t be able to tell you on a blind sniff that there is any jasmine, but it makes sense once that is revealed — jasmine is one of the sweeter floral notes, though to my nose it is less sweet than tuberose. As White Queen dries down, I do pick up the patchouli, but it does not overwhelm as that note sometimes can; nor am I overcome by gourmand sweetness, which I can only take in limited doses (not a fan of Angel, sorry). The combination of patchouli, vetiver, and musk is meant to evoke the “rabbit-hole” and its earthiness, and I think it succeeds.

Mia Waskikowska in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, by Disney, falling into rabbit-hole

Alice and the rabbit-hole; http://www.disney.com

As much as I love floral and green notes, White Queen is a winner for me! It is especially appealing on these cool February days, when we alternate between warmth when the sun is out, and chill when our climate remembers that it is not yet spring. When the extremes swing too far here in the Southeast, the season is called a “false spring” and, like the White Queen, it can be dangerously deceiving. (I am a gardener as well as a lover of perfume, and these false springs make it quite challenging to time rose-pruning).

This White Queen displays all the warmth and none of the chill of our false spring, so it wears well in cool weather; given the presence of frankincense and myrrh, it would also make a great Christmas-themed scent, and I’ll try that next year! Do you have any favorite cool-weather fragrances you are wearing right now? Any favorites from 4160 Tuesdays?

Featured image: http://www.disney.com.

How Performers Use Perfume

How Performers Use Perfume

The Guardian has published an incredible article about how various actors and other performers use fragrance and perfume to get into their roles (hat tip to Now Smell This): The Spray’s The Thing: How Actors Use Perfume To Get Into Character. It was fascinating. I can’t help but wonder what Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole might have chosen to wear as they played cosmetics pioneers and queens Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden in the recent musical “War Paint”! In the Guardian article, I was particularly taken with the approach by one ballerina:

The ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson works with a perfumer, sometimes over months, to devise the perfect scent for her roles with the Royal Ballet. “I learn a lot when I work with her,” she once told me. “I talk it all through, from the beginning to the end of the ballet, while she asks many questions. There was a moment in act two of Giselle” – where the heroine appears as a spirit – “which she captured unbelievably. I’d said I wanted to feel like there was a veil or gauze over me, and she did it in scent.”

I had just written recently here about ballerina Carla Fracci’s fragrance Giselle, which I find captures the heroine in the happy first act of that ballet; how wonderful to know that a ballerina of today had a perfume created to capture the sense of the ghostly second act!

The same article reveals that a new book has been published which clearly I must get, if only for its title: “Scents and Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture”, by Catherine Maxwell; it includes descriptions of scents at the 19th century theater:

Catherine Maxwell quotes Oscar Wilde’s plan for mood-enhancing fragrance in Salome. He wanted “in place of an orchestra, braziers of perfume. Think – the scented clouds rising and partly veiling the stage from time to time – a new perfume for each emotion.” It never happened: how could you air the theatre between emotions?

However, Wilde’s fans ensured an aromatic premiere for The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895. Ada Leverson reported that “nearly all the pretty women wore sprays of lilies against their large puffed sleeves, while rows and rows of young elegants had buttonholes of the delicate bloom of lily of the valley.”

I love the idea of scented theater productions, something perfumer Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays has done in collaboration with directors:

She has scented productions, including Handel’s Acis and Galatea. The opening fragrance summoned cut grass and cucumber, “fresh, green and outdoors”. During the interval, as the plot darkened, she sprayed a muddy, leathery, mossy brew called Foreboding from bottles in the balcony.

I recently attended a production of “Twelfth Night” in a tavern-style theater that presents plays on a stage that resembles the Globe Theater, but smaller, and that encourages the audience to buy dinner and drinks to consume during the show, from a kitchen behind the seating area. Choices include Shepherd’s Pie, Cornish pasties, Guinness, Samuel Smith ales, etc. It’s a different means of “scenting” a production but remarkably fun when paired with a Shakespearean comedy. Not sure I’d enjoy it so much during “Romeo and Juliet”, though …