Scent Semantics, September 5

Scent Semantics, September 5

The word for this month’s Scent Semantics posts is “misanthrope.” If you haven’t read one of these posts before, “Scent Semantics” brings together a group of us fragrance bloggers in a collaborative project called “Scent Semantics“, the brainchild of Portia Turbo over at A Bottled Rose. On the first Monday of each month, we all take a word — the same word — as inspiration for a post that has some relationship to a fragrance, broadly interpreted. There are six participating blogs: Serenity Now Scents and Sensibilities (here), The Plum GirlThe Alembicated GenieEau La LaUndina’s Looking Glass, and A Bottled Rose. I hope you’ll all check out the Scent Semantics posts on each blog!

One definition of “misanthrope” is “someone who dislikes and avoids other people.” Now, I am not normally a misanthrope myself, although I am definitely an introvert (and if you’ve never seen author Susan Cain’s TED talk on the subject, click on that link — it’s a treat!). However, I think we’ve all become a bit misanthropic during the last two and a half years of a global pandemic — we were forced to avoid other people starting in March of 2020, then we disliked many people because of their varied responses to the pandemic. Layer on top of that the American elections of 2020 and their aftermath, so full of rage, and I think it’s safe to say that many of us, misanthropic by nature or not, have been slowly emerging from a phase of misanthropy.

My semantically matched fragrance this month is vintage Chanel No. 19 eau de toilette. I’ve been wearing it almost daily for the past week as my green armor at work, due to the difficulties I’ve encountered leading up to a long overdue personal leave (which started this weekend, yay!). No. 19 always makes me feel that I can be tougher than I actually am; it stiffens my backbone. Some might say that it helps me set and keep healthy boundaries, lol!

Why? I think it’s because of the hefty dose of galbanum that heralds its arrival: a bitter, green opening chord that announces, as the Chanel website says, a “daring, distinctive, uncompromising composition.” Perfect for setting boundaries! The other top notes reinforce the lack of compromise: astringent bergamot, assertive hyacinth, aromatic neroli. All have a distinctive tinge of green supporting the star of the show, the galbanum, which Fragrantica sums up as an “intense and persistent bitter green .” Indeed. If galbanum were a person, it would be Bette Davis playing Margo Channing in “All About Eve”:

“All About Eve”, 20th Century Fox.

If you’re not familiar with the movie, it is about a star actress who is turning forty, fears for her career, and is manipulated and ultimately upstaged by a much younger woman. Fittingly, No. 19 was the last Chanel fragrance created while Coco Chanel herself was still alive, in her 80s, though I don’t know that anyone ever succeeded in either manipulating or upstaging her. Master perfumer Henri Robert put the finishing touches on the formula in 1970, Chanel died in early 1971, and No. 19 was released the same year.

The blog “Olfactoria’s Travels” has a wonderful review of No. 19, referring to it as a “magic cloak”. The reviewer takes a more benevolent view of No. 19 than Tania Sanchez did in the guide to perfumes she co-wrote with Luca Turin, where she compared it to the wire mother monkey in a famous experiment about nurturing or the lack thereof. Blogger and author Neil Chapman, of “The Black Narcissus”, is famously a devotee of No. 19, scarfing up vintage bottles of it in all formats from second-hand stores in Japan, where he lives. You can read all about it in his amazing book, “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent”, available in the UK and the US, and elsewhere in other languages, which I highly recommend!

Luckily for me, since I adore green fragrances, on my skin the greenery lasts and lasts, joined in the heart phase by some of my favorite floral notes: iris, orris root, rose, lily-of-the-valley, narcissus, jasmine and ylang-ylang. The green astringency of the opening notes is carried forward by the lily-of-the-valley and narcissus, while orris root adds earthiness, iris adds powder, and jasmine and ylang-ylang add airiness, sexiness and warmth. My sense of No. 19 as “armor” is aided by my vintage spray, a refillable, silvery, aluminum canister that has protected its contents for many years.

No. 19 has had many “faces”, my favorite being English model and iconoclast Jean Shrimpton. And guess what? Based on her own words, she may actually have been a misanthrope, having walked away from her superstar modeling career and life of celebrity in her 30s, becoming what she herself described as a recluse running a hotel in Cornwall. Although the photo of her below is not an ad for Chanel, to me it captures the spirit of No. 19‘s opening — inscrutable, distant, mingling shades of green, white, and earthy brown with the unexpected intrusion of purple:

Model Jean Shrimpton sitting on an ancient tree root.
Jean Shrimpton; image by Patrick Lichfield for Vogue, 1970.

As No. 19 dries down, to my nose the galbanum never leaves, though it recedes into the distance as the oakmoss enters the glade. Because I have the vintage EDT, the base includes oakmoss, leather, musk, sandalwood, and cedar. It is a true chypre, a genre I love. It reminds me of the Jackie Kennedy Onassis of the 1970s: elegant and even haughty upon first appearance, with a warmth that reveals itself over time to the patient; breaking free from the fashion conventions she mastered so skillfully and embodied in the 1950s and 1960s, and far from the cold “wire mother” of Tania Sanchez’ imagining while retaining an aura that commands respect.

I’m choosing to adopt Laura Bailey‘s interpretation of No. 19, which she described in Vogue at the height of pandemic lockdowns in 2020, as the scent of new beginnings and dreams of future adventure:

No 19, the ‘unexpected’ Chanel, the ‘outspoken’ Chanel, created at the height of the first wave of feminism in 1971, and named for Coco Chanel’s birthday – 19 August – is, for me, the fragrance of freedom, of optimism, of strength. (And of vintage campaign stars Ali MacGraw, Jean Shrimpton and Christie Brinkley.) The heady cocktail of rose-iris-vetiver-jasmine-lily-of-the-valley remains shockingly modern and original, bolder than any sweet fairy-tale fantasy.

If you had to relate a fragrance to the word “misanthrope”, which would you choose?

Ad with perfume bottle of Chanel No. 19
Chanel No. 19 ad; image from chanel.com.
Perfume Chat Room, August 5

Perfume Chat Room, August 5

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, August 5, and I have family on my mind. This is mostly because we have gone to New Hampshire with our young adult children for the specific purpose of seeing my elderly father-in-law, who is their only remaining grandparent. We’re having a great time! We have had some fabulous weather, although today is overcast after some heavy rain last night. As hoped, we have seen and heard several loons. Their calls are so distinctive, and instantly bring back memories of past vacations in New England.

The other reason family is on my mind is that the “Scent Semantics” blogging crew, of which I am one thanks to Portia, posted this week about the word “family.” I wrote about the family of fragrances launched by one of my favorite perfumers, Liz Moores, and her independent brand Papillon Artisan Perfumes. Please check it out, as well as the other Scent Semantics blog posts!

It feels as if summer is coming to a close, and I’m not quite ready for that. How about you?

New England lake with loons
Loons on lake in Maine
Scent Semantics, August 1

Scent Semantics, August 1

The first thing that came to my mind when I learned that this month’s Scent Semantics word is “family” was not my actual family, but groupings of fragrances. I considered writing about a pillar fragrance and its flankers, but those are usually mainstream or designer fragrances and none of the available options seemed exciting this month. Then I thought about “fragrance families”, like florals, but that seemed too vast.

However, there are several small, independent perfumers who have a total number of fragrances that is quite small and manageable – like a family! So I’ve decided to discuss the fragrance family of Papillon Artisan Perfumes, founded and led by perfumer Liz Moores, in England.

Papillon’s first fragrances, launched in 2014, were the trio of Angelique, Anubis, and Tobacco Rose. I first encountered them in 2015, at the now-closed Marble Arch location of London’s Les Senteurs (the original location on Elizabeth Street is still very much open and in operation, and well worth a visit). I remember the shop assistant recommending them and telling me what a very nice person Liz Moores is! All her fragrances are eaux de parfum except for Hera, which is an extrait.

Here is what the Papillon website says about each:

Angelique:

Inspired by the astonishing beauty of the Iris Pallida flower, Angelique captures the delicate essence of a delightful Spring garden. Cascades of French mimosa, osmanthus and white champac are woven between the powdered, violet facets of precious orris. Virginian cedarwood and subtle notes of frankincense bring an ethereal light and delicate freshness to this tender composition.

Anubis:

With a name inspired by the Egyptian God of the afterlife, Anubis embodies the sacred mysteries of Ancient Egypt. Heady blooms of jasmine, amid rich suede, smoulder over an incense laden base of frankincense, sandalwood, and labdanum. Vivid slashes of immortelle, pink lotus and saffron create a perfume shrouded in darkness and veiled in mystery.

Tobacco Rose:

A sensual blend of Bulgarian rose, geranium and Rose de Mai form an opulent backdrop of velvety rose notes set against a luxuriously rich and smoky base of French hay and earthy oakmoss. Soft animalic touches of ambergris and beeswax have been suspended in a sumptuous blend of musks, creating an enigmatic, alluring and unmistakable perfume. A stunningly different interpretation of the majestic rose.

The original three fragrances were followed in 2015 by Salome and in 2017 by Dryad. Bengale Rouge was released in 2019, Spell 125 in 2021, and Hera in 2022. In that order, here are their descriptions from the brand:

Salome:

With daring doses of indolic jasmine and rich feral musks, Salome’s bedevilled and velvety animalic facets dance seductively behind a veil of Turkish rose and carnation. Vintage and honeyed, it lures with the warm, plush appeal of an erotic boudoir before ensnaring the wearer in a web of unashamed erotic delight. Slip into your second skin with Salome.

Dryad:

As vibrant emerald Galbanum weaves with the delicate flesh of Bergamot, the nomadic wanderings of Dryad begin. Beneath jade canopies, sweet-herbed Narcissus nestles with gilded Jonquil. Shadows of Apricot and Cedrat morph radiant greens to a soft golden glow. Earthed within the ochre roots of Benzoin, heady Oakmoss entwines with deep Vetiver hues. And at its heart, the slick skin of Costus beckons you further into the forest…

Bengale Rouge:

A golden fur, swathed in sandalwood and doused in honey. Sweet myrrh purrs behind a warm, rosy skin, misted with oakmoss and dappled in the rich shades of a leopard pelt. A cosy, caramel comfort glows from a gourmand heart, while sweet Tonka slinks an opulent softness upon your skin.

Spell 125:

In the Book of the dead, Spell 125 represents a balance of light and dark, life and death. The compelling ceremony of weighing the deceased’s heart against a feather animate a delicate olfactory rendering of the lightness of the soul, with just a sliver of the underworld shadows. Rise in sparkles, with the brightness of Siberian Pine. Let salt and resin lap at your skin, an ethereal cleanse, slick with wintergreen powders. A weightless shroud of lucent white ambergris lifts you. A glow of green sacra frankincense haunts you. Suspended in the lustre of ylang, you float between this world and the next.

Hera:

The goddess of weddings, family and blessings, Hera possessed a majestic power. Here, she is celebrated in the opulence of orris and jasmine. Engulfed in flowers, you are invited by a burst of orange blossom, radiating a golden halo of warm white flowers. Delicate touches reveal a buttery, rich embrace. Rose de mai brings a whisper of drama and gentle musk offers a sensual caress for Gods and Goddesses alike. A bright and beautiful perfume, steeped in energetic luxury and effortless glamour.

How do I experience these siblings? Angelique is a beautifully soft iris. No sharp edges or notes here! It embraces both the rooty and powdery facets of orris in fragrance. I smell the rootiness first, almost like fresh carrots, then the powdery aspect emerges, supported by mimosa. To my nose, mimosa is more prominent than osmanthus. Angelique just keeps getting better and better on my wrist. As of now, I only have samples of it, but a full bottle may be in my future this year, to join my full bottles of Dryad and Bengale Rouge.

Anubis is not my usual type of fragrance, but it is gorgeous! I experience it as incense-focused, with jasmine and saffron playing supporting roles. The incense chord is based on frankincense, together with sandalwood and labdanum. I think it is the labdanum that generates the impression of “suede.” Anubis is a rich, spicy, ambery fragrance, well suited to colder weather. It would be particularly appealing in autumn, I think; its warmth recalls the late afternoon sunlight and still-warm earthiness of October. It carries well, though I wouldn’t say it has huge sillage; it easily wafts from my wrist to my nose while I type.

Tobacco Rose is just what it sounds like: a smoky rose. The “tobacco” of its name is created by a blend of hay and oakmoss notes. It doesn’t smell like it is burning; it smells like tobacco leaves hanging to dry after being harvested. The smokiness is very gentle; and it is less a smell of actual smoke than it is the suggestion of smoke that is inherent in dried tobacco. As it dries down, the rose recedes for a while; and the geranium becomes the more dominant floral note, to my nose; then the rose returns. This dance between rose and geranium, against a backdrop of dried hay/tobacco, is very appealing.

Oh my! When I first sniff Salome on my wrist, my brain immediately says “skank!”, due to notes of hyrax and castoreum that announce themselves right away. I’m not into animalic fragrances, though I can appreciate them as creative works, so Salome‘s opening is somewhat off-putting. I’m happy to note, though, that after only about ten minutes, it calms down and becomes softer and more floral, with a really nice carnation note (I love carnation scents). I can still smell hints of the animalic notes, but they are now in the background, where I prefer them to be. The drydown is lovely, sensual and warm.

Be still, my heart! Dryad is a major perfume love for me, as I’ve written before. It is as green as a fragrance can get, with a strong dose of galbanum, which I happen to love. If you don’t like strong greens such as Chanel’s No. 19 or Balmain’s Vent Vert, make sure you try before you buy! But do try it — it is spectacularly beautiful, to my nose, and a true work of perfumery art. Its notes include several aromatic herbs such as Clary sage, thyme, and lavender; its structure is that of a classic chypre. After its powerful opening, it softens and it does not have the edginess I find in my beloved No. 19.

Bengale Rouge was inspired by perfumer Liz Moores’ own Bengal cat, Mimi. Like Ms. Moores’ other fragrances, it is a clever combination of notes and references to create a very specific impression. Here, she brings out the slightly animalic facets of honey to evoke the soft, warm fur of a feline that is domesticated — but not entirely. Bengal cats are said to make very appealing pets if their owner can accommodate their high energy, intelligence, and playfulness. Their coats strongly resemble the small wild cats from which they are descended, such as the Asian leopard cat. Bengale Rouge is warm, sweet in the way that honey is sweet; floral in the way that honey can be floral. It is just beautiful, and lovely to wear in the winter.

Group of Bengal cats
Bengal cats; image from vetstreet.com

I haven’t yet tried Spell 125 or Hera, Papillon’s latest offerings, though I look forward to doing so. Hera was just released, as Ms. Moores first created it as a custom wedding fragrance for her daughter Jasmine, then delayed its release to the public by a year. Have you tried either of them, or any other Papillon fragrances? What do you think of them?

Please go read the posts by my fellow Scent Semantics bloggers; you will find their links here.

Perfume Chat Room, July 8

Perfume Chat Room, July 8

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

This week, I posted another in the series “Scent Semantics“, which Portia started. Every month, on the first Monday (or as close to that as possible), Portia and I and several other bloggers write posts based on a single word, chosen by one of us in rotation. It’s great fun! The word for July was “cornucopia”. If you haven’t read the posts so far, the links to all the participating blogs are here: Scent Semantics Blogs.

I can’t ignore, this week, the dreadful recent toll of gun violence in the world, between Monday’s July Fourth shooting at a small-town parade, to yesterday’s assassination of Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The toll in the US is, of course, the worst in the world, and this summer has been particularly awful. The assassination of a world leader, whether or not one agreed with his politics, is always shocking, historic, and an attack on the governmental system itself, whether that be monarchy, democracy, or something else. The attack on families at a parade is an attack on all of the freedoms most of us take for granted — like going to a public event in safety. I don’t post about politics on this blog, but I feel I should acknowledge these tragedies.

On a more cheerful note, my roses are having a second flush of bloom lately, and they smell marvelous. I may have to revisit my “Roses de Mai Marathon“! Here are some of them in the early summer:

If you had to pick a fragrance to relate to “cornucopia”, which would you pick? And why?

Scent Semantics, July 4

Scent Semantics, July 4

Welcome to this month’s Scent Semantics! This word for July is “cornucopia”, which warms the cockles of my classicist’s heart (I majored in Classics at university, meaning in Classical Languages & Literature). In Greek and Roman mythology, the cornucopia was a “horn of plenty”, often portrayed nowadays as a basket shaped like a curving horn overflowing with fruits and flowers. It is a symbol of the harvest, frequently seen as a decorative item or symbol of the American Thanksgiving holiday. (Happy Fourth of July, by the way, to all who are celebrating it today).

The cornucopia was associated with a number of Greek or Roman deities, especially those associated with harvests or abundance. The most prominent (or familiar to us) of them was Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and harvest. Sister to Zeus, she was the mother of Persephone, who was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld. The myth tells that Demeter was so grief-stricken and spent so much time searching for her lost daughter, that she neglected her oversight of the fertile earth, and everything stopped growing, which resulted in the death of crops and ensuing famine. Zeus ordered Hades to return Persephone to earth and to her mother, but because she had eaten food while in the underworld, she was obliged to spend only half of each year above ground with her mother. During those months, the earth’s fertility flourished, producing an abundance of flowers, crops, and fruits.

Painting of classical nymphs filling cornucopia with fruits and flowers in a wood
Nymphs filling cornucopia; image from Mauritshuis, The Hague.

When Persephone had to return to Hades every year, renewing her mother’s grief, the growing season would end with harvest and the earth would be dormant through the winter until Persephone returned, in the spring, to Demeter.

And as many of you know, there is actually a fragrance house called “Demeter” Fragrance Library! From the brand’s website: “Demeter was conceived in 1996, with a unique and ever expanding perspective on fragrance.  The original mission was to capture the beautiful smells of the garden and nature in wearable form. The Demeter name itself was inspired by the Greek Goddess of Agriculture. The first three fragrances were DirtGrass and Tomato, and were sold in a few stores in NYC. Today, with fragrances from Baby Powder and Pure Soap to Gin & TonicPlay-DohVanilla Cake Batter and even Pizza, we have radically expanded our olfactory goals and geographic reach.  Not only can you now buy Demeter fragrances from Apple Blossom to Zombie, but you can buy them from New York to Beijing, and from Moscow to London.”

Demeter now makes over 300 fragrances, almost all of them linear re-creations of actual scents. They are not designed with that classical pyramid structure of top notes, middle or heart notes and base notes that many of have learned is fundamental to the perfumer’s art. They come in a cologne concentration as fragrance, but also as body lotions, shower gels, oils, etc. The company was founded by Christopher Gable and Christopher Brosius, the latter of whom has won numerous awards for his fragrances and went on to found another house, CB I Hate Perfume, after leaving Demeter in 2004.

Here is some of what Mr. Brosius wrote about Demeter’s beginnings:

I have always loved the smell of things – particularly growing things. I decided to try to capture some of these smells & my first real breakthrough was Dirt. One of my greatest pleasures was digging among the vegetables, herbs & flowers in my small garden on the farm. I loved the smell of the fresh clean earth and decided to bottle it. It was a far greater success than I’d ever dreamed & I suppose the rest is History.

So what does Dirt smell like? Easy. It smells like damp potting soil, but better! Potting soil itself smells quite nice, as it is a sterile mix of shredded sphagnum peat moss, bark, and minerals like vermiculite or perlite. When it’s damp, it gives off a lightly woody, dry, mossy scent. Many gardeners like myself love the smell, partly because opening that bag of potting soil is the prelude to a favorite activity, potting up a desired plant. As some of you know, I have a passion for David Austin’s English Roses, and I grow several varieties, mostly in large pots. This allows me to position them in the best spot for sun and also to give them the best soil I can, free from interference from other plants’ roots. I enrich the potting soil with organic plant food and the microbes that support healthy plant growth, and the roses do quite well!

So I’m very familiar with the smell of potting soil, which Dirt captures so well; but Dirt does smell better, more like something one would actually apply to skin. Like most of Demeter’s scents, it doesn’t last very long, but the whole point of Demeter’s fragrances is to use them as a “pick-me-up cologne.” They’re not supposed to last long, so caveat emptor — but they’re also very inexpensive, and they’re fun. There are so many of them that yes, the website is a veritable cornucopia of options such as Laundromat, Baby Shampoo, Cannabis Flower, Fireplace, even one that smells like those fuzzy yellow tennis balls. It is very entertaining to mix them, and Demeter encourages this by selling sets of “Blending Trios” and bottles in which to combine them.

What’s not to love, in a fragrance house that encourages one to play with its products? Have you tried any? Do you have any favorites? And remember to check out the Scent Semantics posts by my fellow bloggers?

Scent Semantics, June 6

Scent Semantics, June 6

Welcome to this month’s Scent Semantics! This word for June is “vivacious”, which seems appropriate for the start of summer. One dictionary gives the following definition and example: “attractively lively and animated (typically used of a woman).” E.g.,”her vivacious and elegant mother.” It feels like a slightly old-fashioned word to me, an impression that is reinforced by the name of one fragrance I considered writing about this month, Diana Vreeland Vivaciously Bold. Diana Vreeland was the legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine in the 1960s, and before that a columnist and the fashion editor at rival magazine Harper’s Bazaar. A famous style-setter, her distinctive, breezy writing style included a vocabulary straight from the 1920 and 30s, her own heyday as a young socialite, often combined into pairs of adverbs and adjectives, and she loved to make pronouncements like ”lettuce is divine, although I’m not sure it’s really food.” D.V., as she was known, was a fascinating, larger-than-life figure in the world of fashion, her career culminating in her 70s when she became the first consultant to the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute. There, she initiated not only its famously quirky, brilliant exhibitions of fashion, but its even more famous annual Met Gala, a benefit ball marking the opening of exhibitions, which has become the fashion and social event of the year for many celebrities.

Lilly Singh in purple-shaded ball gown
Lilly Singh, Met Gala, 2019; Getty Images

However, just as I was settling down to write this post, a discovery set of Hiram Green’s fragrances arrived in the mail, and it included his 2020 scent Vivacious. I’ve been wanting to try the range of his fragrances, and this seemed like the perfect time to start! So D.V. will have to wait; Hiram Green it is.

Vivacious is presented as an updated violet-focused fragrance: “a violet-themed perfume that takes its cue from those prim Victorians who adored this precious flower so much. Updated for the 21st century, this scent has a happy and carefree flair…  an exuberant and joyful perfume. Perfect to zing your life.” And you know, it actually is exuberant and joyful, but not because of the violet accord. It opens with bright bergamot, and it includes one of my favorite scents, that of carnations, and it is the floral spiciness of that carnation accord that makes my nose crinkle in pleasure. Carnations also evoke summer for me, probably because of Sargent’s famous painting “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose“, one of my favorite works of art and itself evocative of a fragrance I love, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Oeillet Sauvage.

Carnation fragrances seemed for a while to have fallen out of favor, but Vivacious was launched in 2020, so maybe they will make a comeback, just as Diana Vreeland had several comebacks in her long career! I don’t want to overlook the lovely violet accord in Vivacious, though, because it is very special and lovely. Violet fragrances became popular at the very end of the 19th century and start of the 20th century because chemists developed synthetic ionones, which allowed for much less expensive perfumes that smelled like violets. Two of the most famous fragrances of the early 20th century, Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue and Aprés L’Ondée, used synthetic ionones to great effect to evoke the nostalgic scent of violets.

Clump of wild purple violets
Wild violets; image from New Jersey Native Plant Society

They and many other “violet” fragrances tend toward the sweet and powdery, but in Vivacious, Hiram Green has given us a lively violet, true to its name — less candied or powdery, with a freshness and lift from a juicy bergamot opening. As the brand’s website notes, “The fragrance opens with bright and joyful bergamot that seamlessly merges into a floral bouquet of flirty violet and spicy carnation. Waxy orris smoothly anchors this boisterous heart and soft, powdery amber adds a warm and luxurious finish.”

Whenever I think of violet bouquets, I think of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady”, selling her bunches of violets outside the opera house in London, then being slowly transformed into someone who looks like the perfect lady but retains her Cockney sass. Vivacious would be a perfect scent for her, once she could afford to buy fragrance later in the story, with its bright bergamot, nostalgic violets, and sassy carnation.

I was interested to learn, while doing a little research for this post, that the chemists who first synthesized ionones apparently did so in part by studying orris root oil, which also contains natural ionones but was less expensive than natural violet absolute. Which brings us back to Hiram Green, who has famously made all-natural fragrances his hallmark, eschewing the use of synthetics. This makes Vivacious a mischievous reference to the start of modern perfumery with the synthesization of ionones, which I find charming. Given the inclusion of orris as a note in Vivacious‘s pyramid structure, I must conclude that he used the natural ionones in orris root to create a vision of violets, which then fades away to reveal iris. If you like floral scents, especially if you like notes of violet and iris, this is one you must try.

As it dries down, Vivacious becomes less lively and more serene. Usually I find lavender scents to be the most calming, but the later stages of Vivacious, still dominated by orris, are just as soothing. There is still a lingering spiciness from the carnation accord, which of course I enjoy, and which I think must be based at least partly on clove oil. I love the way Hiram Green has enfolded the soft violet accord within the bright bergamot opening, the spicy carnation accord, and the warm amber base.

Do you have any favorite violet scents? Or any others that evoke vivacity (def.: ” the quality of being attractively lively and animated; ex.: he was struck by her vivacity, humor and charm”)? Please check out the other Scent Semantics posts from my fellow bloggers!

Scent Semantics, May 2, 2022

Scent Semantics, May 2, 2022

Welcome to this next installment of Scent Semantics! This month’s word, from Portia, is “brilliance”. I hope you had a wonderful May Day, and will enjoy a month of the flowers that April showers are said to bring!

For this month’s post, I first thought I would write about Cartier’s Carat, which I have and like very much, since I associate the word “brilliance” with jewels, especially diamonds. But the more I thought about it, the more I leaned toward writing about Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds, with a related name that also evokes brilliance, but a scent that is much less familiar to me. In fact, before opening it to write my “Scent Semantics” post, I’m not sure I have ever smelled it on myself before, though I have smelled it.

I can explain. The bottle and travel spray of White Diamonds that I have came from my late mother-in-law’s personal collection. She didn’t have more than a few fragrances, and she loved Elizabeth Taylor’s launches. This makes total sense, as she was born the same year as Miss Taylor, and she was also a curvy girl who came of age in the 1950s. She loved little luxuries but didn’t have much budget for those, especially after raising five children, so Elizabeth Taylor’s fragrances were an affordable option (several are “bargain beauties”). After she died, my daughters and I helped my dear sister-in-law clear out her room in the assisted living and skilled nursing residence where my mother-in-law lived during her last years. I found a couple of unopened bottles of White Diamonds and Passion, and I asked my sister-in-law if I might have them. She is a darling and she quickly said yes, of course, I should take them. I don’t really use them, but every time I see them in my fragrance cupboard, I think of my dear mother-in-law and how much I loved her.

I really did love her. She wasn’t perfect by a long shot, and she sometimes made decisions that I didn’t agree with or even (a few times in 30 years) found hurtful, but I have so many happy memories of her. She was a large, comfortable woman who had grown up in Fremont, Nebraska; the middle daughter of three girls, whose father was a small-town banker. Her childhood was in many ways pure Midwestern Americana, though not without its own complications. Her father was a very strict, old-school Irish Catholic, who never accepted the changes of Vatican II. He wouldn’t let her go to the University of Nebraska for college in the early 50s, because he thought it was a hotbed of Communism. So she went to the University of Minnesota instead, and from there to teach in California.

The great adventure of her life was when she took a job teaching in an elementary school on an Air Force base in Germany, where she met my father-in-law (who is still with us, at 91!). They married within mere months of having met, and started a family there. My husband, the second child, was born in England where they had moved to another Air Force base. I still marvel at the spirit of courage and independence she showed, going overseas to work, marrying a man her family had never met, traveling around Europe, giving birth to two sons in two different countries. Her parents must have been gobsmacked!

So it doesn’t surprise me that she gravitated to the kind of big, bold, 1980s perfumes that were quintessentially Elizabeth Taylor’s calling card. First, there was Passion, in 1987, followed by White Diamonds in 1991. Both were such smash hits that they inspired an entire generation of celebrity fragrances. White Diamonds is said to be the most successful celebrity scent of all time, with sales easily topping $1 billion since its launch. That would pay for a lot of actual diamonds! Here’s how the fragrance is described by the Elizabeth Arden company, which bought the rights to it after Miss Taylor’s death:

The name epitomizes singular star quality – radiant, extraordinarily rare and overwhelmingly beautiful. A rich, sensual, floral fragrance with the endless brilliance of a rare jewel. 

Magazine ad for Elizabeth Taylor fragrance White Diamonds
Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds

So what does it smell like? Created by master perfumer Carlos Benaim, it is an aldehydic white floral, with that sparkling top note I associate with aldehydes. A note about aldehydes: I know some perfumistas dislike them, but several of my favorite fragrances have strong aldehydic openings (Chanel No. 22, I’m looking at you!). The opening of White Diamonds is indeed strongly aldehydic, but not unpleasing to my nose. Opening notes also include bergamot and orange. From there, it opens up like a bouquet of white flowers: lily, neroli, tuberose, jasmine, with yellow floral scents from ylang-ylang and narcissus. I’ve read conflicting lists of notes for White Diamonds, one of which includes rose, violet, and iris, but they do seem mostly to agree on the white and yellow florals; some also list cinnamon and carnation. The lists I’ve seen also agree on the base notes:  oak moss, patchouli, musk, sandalwood and amber.

White Diamonds is polarizing, partly because it does strongly evoke the late 80s/early 90s. It definitely qualifies as a “BWF” (big white floral), which will always turn off some people. Some commenters in online forums call it a “granny scent” or “old lady”, and I understand why although I think that’s an offensive term. I think it’s because it was marketed to middle-aged women of that era, who became my generation’s mothers-in-law, and our children’s grannies; and it was so popular that many grannies did in fact wear it. Nevertheless, it won awards including a FiFi, and in 2009, it was entered into the Fragrance Hall of Fame. Some day, no doubt, people will say that SJP Lovely is a “granny scent” because their grandmothers wore it in their youth!

White Diamonds isn’t subtle, either, any more than Elizabeth Taylor was, with her huge diamond jewelry, her many marriages, the bouffant hairstyle she wore in the 1980s and 1990s, her larger-than-life persona and style. Its opening is assertive and powerful, especially if one applies more than just a couple of light sprays (two is plenty). But like Miss Taylor, who became an early activist and lifelong advocate for people with AIDS, as well as a major philanthropist supporting research into it, it has hidden depths. After the va-va-voom opening, it becomes softer and soapier, with a touch of spice that makes me believe it does in fact have at least a touch of a carnation note. As it dries down further, those warm base notes take over, and they are very well done. In fact, they are so soft and warm that they remind me of a fur coat or stole, which also seems very appropriate for Elizabeth Taylor. Remember those Blackglama ads?

Magazine ad for Blackglama mink, Elizabeth Taylor
ELIZABETH TAYLOR / BLACKGLAMA [ca. 1979] “What Becomes a Legend Most?”

Interestingly, Elizabeth Taylor apparently wore another powerhouse fragrance as a younger woman: Bal a Versailles. The stage of White Diamonds that I like best is the final stage, when all the big white floral notes have faded, though still detectable, and that warm, soft base is most evident. Have you tried any of Elizabeth Taylor’s fragrances? There are several flankers of White Diamonds, although I think the original has been discontinued. I recently picked up a bottle of her Gardenia, which I’ve been told is another bargain beauty.

Movie star Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor

Remember to check out the other “Scent Semantics” posts by five other bloggers!

Scent Semantics, April 4, 2022

Scent Semantics, April 4, 2022

Welcome to this next installment of Scent Semantics! This month’s word, supplied by yours truly, is “vernal”, which means “in, of, or appropriate to spring.” Happy April!

As regular readers know, I love to garden and grow flowers, so spring is a marvelous season for me. I also love Easter, and my husband and I were married many Aprils ago, so I have plenty of happy associations with it. For my “vernal” fragrance post, I have chosen Jo Loves’ No. 42 The Flower Shop.

What a happy fragrance it is! At first spray, it positively bursts with zingy green notes, behind which lurks a fruity sweetness and light spring florals. Those would be the top notes of green leaves, mandarin orange, and peony. As it develops, the floral notes get stronger and take center stage: lily-of-the-valley, freesia, narcissus, and jasmine. It really does smell like an actual florist’s shop, with the afore-mentioned flowers waiting in buckets of water to be chosen and gathered into bouquets. If I did as some perfumistas do, and put my fragrance into a refrigerator to chill, No. 42 The Flower Shop would smell even more exactly like the walk-in fridges professional florists fill with their wares.

I especially enjoy the combination of green leaves and lily-of-the valley (muguet), one of my favorite flowers (the other two being daffodils and roses). The green notes and citrus accord balance the muguet beautifully. Most of the time when I wear No. 42, it is muguet that dominates, but sometimes the freesia comes forward more strongly. The name, No. 42 The Flower Shop, refers to the actual flower shop on Elizabeth Street where the young Jo Malone worked as a teenager:

“As a sixteen-year-old, I worked as a florist in Elizabeth Street and loved the moment when early each morning the scent of fresh flowers filled the room. This fragrance celebrates that magical memory.”

Jo Loves’ London boutique is actually located at No. 42 Elizabeth Street, and I have visited it, which I highly recommend. Elizabeth Street itself is absolutely charming, with many lovely shops and flowers bursting out everywhere (especially during the Chelsea Flower Show, when the stores compete to display the most lavish floral decorations). The Jo Loves boutique is a peaceful haven of white with touches of the same bright red that graces its packaging.

The photo below shows its Chelsea Flower Show decorations in 2019, when I last visited.

Storefront of Jo Loves fragrance boutique, decorated with roses.
Jo Loves boutique, Elizabeth Street, London, May 2019.
Jo Loves fragrance boutique at 42 Elizabeth Street, London.
Jo Loves boutique

As the fragrance No. 42 dries down, it becomes slightly warmer and softer, but the green notes persist throughout, and one of the base notes is iris, which I usually think of as a “cool” scent. The other base notes are white musk, moss, and patchouli. I can barely smell the patchouli, which is fine; I think it adds a suitable earthiness to the drydown of No. 42, but I prefer that it not dominate a fragrance.

This is the perfect month for wearing it, because my own garden is positively bursting with flowers! In bloom right now: lilies of the valley; pink camellias; weeping peach trees; a weeping cherry tree; purple redbuds; white dogwoods; Lenten roses (hellebores) of all hues of white, pink, and purple; daffodils; evergreen clematis; forsythia; Lady Banks rose; pansies; rosemary; spring starflowers; summer snowflakes; wild trilliums; and above all else, pink azaleas. We have dozens of them, planted over decades by longtime former owners who were also enthusiastic gardeners. Soon to come: iris, dwarf lilacs, David Austin roses, white foxgloves, daisies, white phlox, magnolias. Later in the summer, we will enjoy crape myrtles and hydrangeas, and, one hopes, vegetables and herbs from my raised beds. Lest it sound as if we have acres of gardens, I should note that several of these plants grow in pots and other containers; our lot is one third of an acre and it also holds a house!

Le Jardin de Old Herbaceous

What do you think of when you read the word “vernal”? Many people are most familiar with the word when it is used in conjunction with the spring, or vernal, equinox. The equinox is one of two moments in the year when the sun is exactly above the equator, and day and night are of equal length. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it takes place in March and marks the start of astronomical spring. For others like Portia, in the Southern Hemisphere, the March equinox marks the start of autumn and is the opposite of “vernal.”

Now that I’ve turned ourselves thoroughly topsy-turvy, please make sure to read the other Scent Semantics bloggers’ thoughts on “vernal.” The link to all of them is in the caption below! And do share your own thoughts in the comments, here and on their blogs.

Scent Semantics blog list
The Scent Semantics bloggers

Perfume Chat Room, April 1

Perfume Chat Room, April 1

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, April 1 — Happy April Fools’ Day! I couldn’t think of an appropriate April Fools post for a fragrance blog, though my personal Facebook feed is blowing up with silly posts from friends. Also, “rabbit rabbit” for good luck this month, and don’t miss the April Scent Semantics posts from six bloggers next Monday! I got to choose the word for April, which is fun for me. But it’s a secret until Monday, so please check back!

This week, I had to attend a neighborhood meeting to discuss a proposal for designating our neighborhood as an official historic district, which would protect us from encroaching development, roadways, and demolitions of old houses. It has become a flashpoint of controversy, and a number of homeowners who don’t want additional restrictions on what they can do to their houses — if the houses were built before the 1960s — have become very angry, threatening to sue the neighborhood volunteers who lead our civic association. I didn’t want to go to the meeting, but went to support the beleaguered volunteers and to voice support for the historic designation. Whew! Glad the meeting is over, though the controversy continues! And yes, I wore Chanel No. 19 which is my fragrance armor.

Liv Tyler as Arwen, in The Fellowship of the Ring movie; New Line Cinema.
Liv Tyler as Arwen, in The Fellowship of the Ring movie; New Line Cinema.

Victoria at “Bois de Jasmin” has written very knowledgeably (as always) about Chanel No. 19. She discussed its reformulations, adding this historical insight:

A side note on galbanum, fragrance and politics. When Chanel No 19 was created in 1971, it was formulated with a superb grade of Iranian galbanum oil, which was sourced especially for it. However, when the Iranian Revolution broke out in 1979, the oil became unavailable. No 19 had to be reformulated, which was accomplished with much difficulty, because the original galbanum oil was of a particularly fine, rare caliber.

History. Always fascinating, sometimes enraging.

Do you have any thoughts on what fragrance to wear for April Fools’ Day? Or for “rabbit rabbit”? Or any fragrance-related history? Do share!

Scent Semantics, March 7, 2022

Scent Semantics, March 7, 2022

Welcome to this next installment of Scent Semantics! This month’s word, supplied by Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass, is “nostalgia.”

The fragrance I chose to embody nostalgia for me is Molinard de Molinard. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was my first purchase of a “niche” fragrance, as I bought it while on our honeymoon in 1990 when we visited Grasse.

Scene of the city of Grasse, France
Grasse, France on September 10, 2021. Photograph by Bénédicte Desrus for NPR

On that trip, we first spent a week in Paris, which my husband had never visited, then we took the TGV from Paris to Marseille, which neither of us had ever visited. We spent a night with longtime friends of my parents, a family my father first met when he was stationed in Marseille with the US Army at the very end of World War II, then took our rental car and worked our way up the coastline, visiting the Riviera towns but mostly staying up in the hills of Provence. We’ve been back to Cannes and Nice, and some of the hilltop villages, but we haven’t returned to Grasse — yet!

Wearing Molinard de Molinard brings back many happy memories of our fabulous honeymoon, which was short on luxury but long on charm. It’s hard to envision pre-internet travel, but we had very few arrangements in place ahead of time — just the hotel in Paris, the TGV tickets, and the rental car. After our overnight in Marseille, we stayed in small, local hotels and inns, using a Michelin Green Guide and calling ahead a day or two in advance to make our reservations as we worked our way up the coast. Nowadays that seems so random, but we were in our 20s, footloose and fancy-free, and it was great fun! We still have a running joke about the “lacets”, those precipitous zigzagging roads that lead from the heights down to the Riviera coast, in a pattern that looks like shoelaces. So yes, Molinard de Molinard is a nostalgic fragrance for me, conjuring up a very happy time in our lives that was the prelude to the happy life we’ve built together.

Molinard is one of the three major existing Grasseois perfume houses, the others being Fragonard and Galimard. These are far from the only fragrance businesses in Grasse, however. The city is still known as the “perfume capital of the world” and is home to the world-renowned Grasse Institute of Perfumery, among many other fragrance industry connections (do read or listen to the NPR story; it includes comments from the founder and nose of 1000 Flowers, Jessica Buchanan). Its fields still supply jasmine and roses to the industry, although no longer the majority of the flowers used in modern fragrances.

I would have to retrieve a 30+ year-old photo album to confirm more details, but we visited at least one and maybe two of the perfume houses’ museums in their old factories in town. I think it may have been two, because I know we visited Molinard and I think we also visited Galimard. If we get the chance to visit Grasse again, I will be sure to round out the set by visiting Fragonard, which still makes and sells lovely fragrances, as does Molinard. Galimard seems to have remained more regional in character, though it is still creating and presenting new fragrances.

Molinard de Molinard was reissued in 2017; the new version was well-received, but sadly it was not reissued in the original bottle, with its molded frieze of classical figures (probably nymphs) based on a design by Lalique. I have one of those bottles, and it is beautiful. The 1979 version I have is a classic green fragrance. Per Fragrantica, its notes are: top — Green Notes, Asafoetida, Black Currant, Cassis, Fruity Notes, Lemon and Bergamot; middle — Narcissus, Lily-of-the-Valley, Jasmine, Bulgarian Rose and Ylang-Ylang; base — Vetiver, Labdanum, Incense, Musk, Amber and Patchouli. It reminds me of 1970’s Chanel No. 19 or 1978’s Silences, by Jacomo. The fruity notes don’t make the fragrance fruity or sweet; it is clearly dominated by the astringent “green notes”, asafoetida, bergamot, narcissus, vetiver, etc. It smells like a chypre, although the classic chypre base note of oakmoss is not listed. I haven’t tried the 2017 reformulation.

When my husband and I visited Nice in 2019, I went to the Molinard and Fragonard boutiques in town. Both are lovely, with friendly and knowledgeable staff. You won’t be able to buy the 1979 version of Molinard there, but you might find it at one of the outdoor marchés in the Old Town of Nice. I will enjoy and treasure what I have, which now includes an original tester bottle.

Fragrance is famously connected to our emotions and memories — do you have any that are particularly nostalgic for you?

And please read the other Scent Semantics posts:

Elena  https://theplumgirl.com

Sheila  https://thealembicatedgenie.com

Daisy  https://eaulalanyc.com 

Undina  https://undina.com

Old Herbaceous  https://scentsandsensibilities.co

Portia  https://abottledrose.com