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

Scent Semantics, February 7, 2022

Scent Semantics, February 7, 2022

This month’s Scent Semantics word is “taste”. Among other challenges in writing about that word and fragrance, I don’t own many gourmand fragrances, it’s not a category that particularly appeals to me above others. Then my blogging friend Nose Prose posted recently about Belgian chocolates that were inspired by Guerlain fragrances, ordered after an article about them in Fragrantica, and that sent me in a new direction.

It is a truism in reading and writing about fragrance that the sense of smell is intimately linked to the sense of taste; and we’ve had our noses rubbed in that, so to speak, during a pandemic in which an early symptom for many people, including one of my daughters, was the loss of their sense of smell. The absence of smell also deprives most people of their sense of taste, and that was her experience. (Luckily, hers started to come back after about a week, as she recovered from COVID-19 pretty quickly, and is now fully restored). Without smell, there is very little taste, which chefs know well, but we usually think of that in terms of spices and aromatic edibles. Some chefs and others have taken this a step further; I love the notion of creative food artists taking their inspiration from perfume, as well as perfumes inspired by cocktails.

Here’s what Nose Prose wrote, in part, about the Guerlain-inspired chocolates after actually ordering and tasting them:

The milk chocolate heart, inspired by L’Homme Idéal, is half praliné with roasted sesame seeds and half almond and green tea “with a hint of matcha.” This one is the most textured of the three, which suits itssavory flavor notes. Matcha seems to find a way to go well with everything.

The red heart made of white chocolate is inspired by La Petite Robe Noire and filled with half dark chocolate ganache with cherries and half praliné with hazelnuts. This fusion brings together the best of both worlds, which are usually enjoyed separately.

Finally, the dark heart inspired by Mon Guerlain is half dark chocolate ganache with bergamot and half milk chocolate ganache with lavender and chili. This I found to be a brilliant combination and despite my usual preference for milk chocolate over dark chocolate, this was my favorite of the three. I would love to see bergamot used more in food and drink besides Earl Grey tea.

Box of Valentine's heart-shaped chocolates
Neuhaus “perfume” chocolates; image from Neuhaus.

Aren’t they pretty? I love chocolate, especially dark chocolate, but it seems as if there are more drinks inspired by perfumes than chocolates. There are “mixologists” who have created cocktails based on famous fragrances. Vogue magazine even published a few recipes so we can make some at home, and so has Creed. I’m not much of a cocktail aficionado, but the descriptions of these makes them sound very alluring. Probably the most famous bar doing this work is Fragrances, a bar in the Berlin Ritz-Carlton, which began with a cocktail based on Guerlain’s Jicky: “One perfume in particular, Jicky by Guerlain, the oldest continuously produced perfume in the world, inspired him to deconstruct its ingredients. The result was a cocktail made with bergamot, vanilla, lavender, rosemary, and lemon.” Doesn’t that sound delicious?

Ten years ago, the Food 52 blog posted about a special four-course dinner designed as a collaboration between the chef, fragrance house MCMC, and perfumer Anne McClain. Now that’s a challenge! It makes sense to base cocktails on fragrances, as they both use notes of various herbs, fruits, florals — but an entire dinner?

My fantasy dinner menu would probably start with a citrus of some kind, to emulate top notes — perhaps a grapefruit salad with mint leaves, garnished with jasmine blossoms for scent only, inspired by Jo by Jo Loves.

Salad of grapefruit segments with mint
Grapefruit mint salad; the Food Network.

That could be followed by a cold soup, maybe with melon, tangerine and plum, harking to Le Parfum de Therèse by Edmond Roudnitska.

Bowl of chilled plum soup with flavored ice
Plum, honeydew, and tarragon soup; Gourmet magazine

What to do about a main course, though? I don’t know many fragrances based on the odors of fish, meat, or poultry, so we’ll either have to stay vegetarian or pick a main course where the focus is on an aromatic sauce. Basil is a clear contender, but that immediately brings to mind pesto, which has a lot of garlic, so my menu will have to be more creative. I think a Thai dish would suit, with a combination of basil, coconut, spices, lime, ginger — and that sounds a lot like Yosh’s Ginger Ciao.

Bowl of vegan Thai curry
Vegan thai basil curry with lime and coconut; from Let’s Be Vegan.

Dessert course? I think that must be a lemon/vanilla soufflé, with a touch of bergamot and mandarin orange, inspired by Shalimar Souffle de Parfum, created by Thierry Wasser.

Lemon souffle in ramekin
Lemon soufflé; image from The New York Times.

Coffee, anyone? There are so many fragrances that include notes of coffee, I’ll let you decide which one appeals to you to finish out our fragrant dinner. What might you have on your own fragrant menu? Don’t forget to check out the posts by the other Scent Semantics bloggers!

Scent Semantics blog list
Perfume Chat Room, February 4

Perfume Chat Room, February 4

Welcome back 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, February 4, the first Friday of the month; and next Monday will be the monthly “Scent Semantics” post! Come back on Monday and visit all the Scent Semantics blogs to find out the word of the month and how we connect it to fragrance.

I’ve been enjoying some fragrance in my garden lately, despite some bouts of temperatures below freezing and even a few snow flurries! (I know, I know, those of you who live in snowier climes are laughing hysterically right now). The mahonias are in bloom, and they smell like lily of the valley.

Mahonia shrub with yellow flowers
Mahonia Lomariiflora in the Saville Garden, Surrey, UK October; image from Southern Living

I also have a Chimonanthus praecox, or wintersweet, which wafts from its odd blossoms. A few brave narcissi have decided to bloom. Until recently, I have had a few late blossoms on my roses, which were fragrant (I mostly grow David Austin English Roses, which are bred for fragrance as well as visual beauty). Those are gone now because I have done the recommended annual pruning, which results in short, leafless stems until the spring growth bursts forth. I also have a new camellia, not yet in the ground, which is supposed to have fragrant flowers; it has lots of buds, so we’ll see if it lives up to advance billing.

This is often a transitional season for fragrance, the bridge between the warmer, spicier scents many of us choose in wintertime and the green and/or floral scents many wear in springtime. I’m still getting a lot of pleasure from my Musc Intense by Parfums de Nicolai; it has a top note of fresh pear that looks ahead to spring, but the cozy musk works well for cooler weather. What are you wearing these days?

Perfume Chat Room, January 7

Perfume Chat Room, January 7

Welcome back 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, January 7, and it is 2022! Earlier this week, my fellow bloggers and I posted our monthly “Scent Semantics” post for January, riffing off the word “luscious.” Check out the posts on six different fragrance blogs!

The numbers 2022 in fireworks
2022 in fireworks; image from parade.com

Like many other Americans, my work week began again post-holidays, but we’re back to remote work because of the massive surge in omicron variant COVID cases. I feel much less anxious about it this time.

Instead of “dry January”, I’m going to make a conscious effort to minimize fragrance purchases this month, since I took full advantage of many sales and discounts before, during, and after Christmas! Most of those were from small or independent perfumers or perfumeries, so I don’t feel bad about supporting them. This month, I’m enjoying the “January Joy Box” from 4160 Tuesdays, which is a box of 15 fragrances, most of them limited editions or not yet in the main 4160 Tuesdays line, to be opened one at a time, every other day, in numbered order. Sarah McCartney started this annual tradition a few years ago, and it is great fun! It’s like a January Advent calendar. Lots of chatter about each fragrance on 4160 Tuesdays’ Facebook pages!

So far, I’ve opened 1) Spellbinder; 2) Cherry Who?; and 3) Dawn to Dusk. Of those, so far my favorite is Spellbinder, which Sarah actually created for an independent US business called Haunted Saginaw (the fragrances are labeled “13th Floor Fragrance Co.”). Here’s the published description:

Rich and luxurious tonka beans infused with superior Madagascar vanilla, bursting with a citrus & slightly earthy opening (Bergamot, Mandarin, Tart Cranberry & ripened Rhubarb) intertwined with a dark forest of woods (Cedar, Sandalwood, Cashmere) into a slightly smokey veil ( Sweet Tobacco, Incense & Leather) sensually merging into a dark floral heart ( Jasmine, Violet, and exotic Ylang Ylang) surrounded by an array of arromatic spices ( Cardamom, Nutmeg & more).

If this sounds like something you must have, it can still be purchased at the Haunted Saginaw website. By the way, Sarah and fragrance blogger Sam Scriven from “I Scent You A Day” published their book this fall, “The Perfume Companion“, and it is great fun. I love that two bloggers I follow, Sam and Neil Chapman of “The Black Narcissus” have both published books in recent years. I love reading their insights, and both books are great for browsing.

On the topic of books, one of my Christmas gifts this year, which I’ve just started reading, is the book “The Scent of Empires: Chanel No.5 and Red Moscow“, by Karl Schlogel. Already it promises to be fascinating to this history nerd!

Have you started off your New Year in any new fragrances, or with any new books? Do tell!

Scent Semantics, January 3, 2022

Scent Semantics, January 3, 2022

Welcome to this month’s installment of “Scent Semantics“, a group blogging project! The participating blogs are: 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! The word of the month is “luscious.” I’ve struggled a bit with this, as luscious often implies something edible or juicy, and I don’t have many gourmand or fruity fragrances. I thought about riffing off my newly opened “January Joy Box” from 4160 Tuesdays, which is in fact bringing me much joy; it extends the holiday season in the nicest way but so far the offerings haven’t been gourmand or fruity. We have been eating many luscious holiday foods and treats for a few weeks now, including this amazing Pavlova my oldest daughter made, from Mary Berry’s recipe:

My daughter’s holiday Pavlova; recipe by Mary Berry

If that doesn’t say “luscious” to anyone, I don’t know what will. And it tasted as delicious as it looked! The flavor and the aroma combine the lightness and sweetness of meringue with the tartness and sweetness of the berries, to great effect. In fact, it occurs to me that a gifted perfumer could make a wonderful fragrance based on that combination, as long as the sugar took a back seat to the berries. The closest thing I have in my fragrance collection is probably Esteé Lauder’s Modern Muse Le Rouge Gloss, a flanker of Modern Muse which is a sweet, fruity, cherry-based fragrance with a modern chypre vibe. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a chypre, but it has a similar structure, with top notes of Sour Cherry, Carrot Seeds, Pink Pepper and Mandarin Orange; middle notes of Vinyl, Rose, Leather and Jasmine; and base notes of Honey, Vanilla, Patchouli, Styrax, Saffron and Labdanum, according to Fragrantica.

I had picked up a small bottle of this from a discounter’s clearance shelf, out of curiosity, but hadn’t yet tried it, so this month’s Scent Semantics assignment gave me a good reason to sample it. I think it has been discontinued, but it is still readily available online. The cherry I smell at the opening isn’t sour at all, by the way. What pops out right away is the pink pepper note, underwritten by red fruit and a bit of sweet citrus. I don’t know what the “carrot seed” note adds, since it’s not clear to me what “carrot seed” is supposed to smell like, as opposed to carrot. It has been described as soft and musky, and it seems to accompany iris or orris accords quite often in fragrances. Here, I think it adds a musky note to the opening stage of Modern Muse Le Rouge Gloss. The opening is lively and disarming, clearly designed to appeal immediately to someone trying a tester in a store like Sephora.

The heart stage is intriguing; the cherry note continues, but this phase does in fact suggest the “gloss” of the scent’s name, as if the red cherry and vinyl accords had combined in some mad re-creation of Salvador Dali’s famous “lips” sofa, originally inspired by a photograph of Mae West with her signature full, pouty lips, which he turned into a Surrealist portrait.

Red glossy vinyl sofa shaped like lips, by artist Salvador Dali
Lips sofa by Salvador Dali

Luscious and glossy, indeed! And it seems that Mae West qualifies as a “modern muse”, at least to Salvador Dali.

Surrealist portrait of Mae West by Salvador Dali
Mae West’s Face which May be Used as a Surrealist Apartment, by Salvador Dali; image from Art Institute of Chicago, artic.edu.

As it dries down further, the cherry accord morphs into a rose; the transition is very subtle, as roses can indeed smell like different fruits, including cherries. (I grow a very pretty rose called “Cherry Parfait“, but the name is because of its colors more than its fragrance). At this point, most of what I smell is a light, fruity rose with an undercurrent of vinyl. I don’t notice leather, or jasmine. If there’s any leather here, it is the shiny patent leather seen in this shoot of Kendall Jenner, who is Esteé Lauder’s model for Le Rouge Gloss, here modelling Miu Miu fashions, but the patent leather in Le Rouge Gloss is faux leather, made from vinyl.

Model Kendall Jenner wearing red patent leather jacket by Miu Miu.
Kendall Jenner for Miu Miu; image by Alasdair McLellan.

In the final stage, I clearly smell honey and a bit of vanilla. These base notes are well blended, they don’t hit you over the head with sweetness. However, the final stage of Le Rouge Gloss is a bit weak compared to its opening. It doesn’t have the “oomph” of a real chypre, and although patchouli is listed as a featured base note, I don’t smell it, or the listed styrax and labdanum. I do smell a hint of saffron, which warms the overall impression.

I will say that, consistent with Esteé Lauder’s design tradition, the bottle of Le Rouge Gloss is really pretty (also clearly meant to appeal to a potential buyer on first sight). I don’t particularly care for the shape of the Modern Muse line’s bottle, with its square top, but it has a certain Art Deco appeal. The version for Le Rouge Gloss, though, is in a deep red glass with the sheen of the lacquer the scent is supposed to evoke, and it looks gorgeous. In the small size I have, it’s like a lovely accessory. I think it might be a bit overpowering in the full 100 ml size, but I do love that red glass.

Red bottle of Estee Lauder's fragrance Modern Muse Le Rouge Gloss
Modern Muse Le Rouge Gloss; image from ireallyreallylove.com

All in all, I’m glad to have my small, discounted bottle of Le Rouge Gloss, and I can see wearing it occasionally when I just want something light, pretty, and undemanding. I won’t be seeking out another bottle, but I’ll enjoy this one!

See what the other Scent Semantics bloggers have to say about “luscious” at their own blogs! They are: The Plum GirlThe Alembicated GenieEau Là LàUndina’s Looking Glass, and A Bottled Rose. 

Scent Semantics blog list
Check out the other blogs doing Scent Semantics!
Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit!

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit!

I don’t think I’m usually superstitious, but I feel as if this New Year of 2022 needs all the help it can get! So I’m repeating the rabbit mantra everywhere I can online and in person.

Avon fragrance bottle shaped like rabbit
Avon perfume bottle; image from ebay.com.

Happy New Year to you all! Thanks for joining me here in 2021; WordPress says I posted my 600th post yesterday, the last day of 2021. Don’t forget to look out for Scent Semantics, coming soon to several blogs near you! May 2022 bring us all health, happiness, and good luck!

Scent Semantics, December 6, 2021

Scent Semantics, December 6, 2021

Last month, organized by Portia, a group of us fragrance bloggers embarked on a collaborative project called “Scent Semantics.” 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 fragrance, broadly interpreted. There are six participating blogs: 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! I’m also counting this as my post for Scented Advent, Day 6.

Scent Semantics blog list

This month’s word is “angelic”, which is so apropos for this time of year. Lest you think angels are only relevant at this season to Christians and Christmas (my own faith tradition), I have learned that there is also a beautiful, traditional Jewish song, a zemirot, or “table hymn”, to welcome angels to a family’s Shabbat table, and it is often sung during Hanukkah, which ends tonight (December 6). It is called “Shalom Aleichem“, translated as “Peace be upon you.” What a lovely tradition! And of course, the angels of Christian tradition come straight to us from Judaism and the Old Testament, most notably the angel Gabriel, who appears in all three major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and their scriptures as God’s messenger.

Gabriel is very busy during the months before and after the birth of Jesus Christ, according to Christian gospel and tradition. It is he who announces to Mary that God has chosen her to bear His son (the “Annunciation”). He also visits the husband of her childless cousin Elizabeth, a rabbi named Zechariah, telling him that he and his wife, despite their age and infertility, are to be blessed with a son. When Zechariah, doubting, asks for a sign, Gabriel strikes him dumb until his son is born and named (the baby boy will grow up to become John the Baptist, who presages Jesus’ ministry). Mary and Elizabeth spend part of their pregnancies together, Elizabeth recognizing that Mary has been blessed among women (the “Visitation“).

Tradition also holds that when Mary returns to Nazareth and her betrothed husband-to-be Joseph, visibly pregnant and not by him, Joseph is understandably troubled. Gabriel appears to him in a dream and assures him that he should go ahead and marry Mary, because she had not been unfaithful to him or unchaste, and that the child she would bear was to be the son of God and the long-awaited Messiah.

On the night that Jesus is born, the angel Gabriel appears to shepherds in the hills above Bethlehem and tells them that the Messiah has been born, and where to find him and his mother. Here is one of my favorite illustrations of that scene, which I think captures the essence of angels better than any:

Vision of angel wings, appearing to shepherds on Christmas Eve
An angel appears to shepherds outside Bethlehem. Art by Gary Blythe, www.garyblythe.com, for “This Is The Star.”

I’ve left the illustration in a larger format so you can see the details. So what, you are asking, does all this have to do with fragrance? I am now the happy owner of several “Heirloom Elixirs” by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, and one of them is a gorgeous fragrance called Angel’s Wing.

It is based on the scents of two plants, both of which have varieties named “Angel’s Wing”: milkweed and jasmine. Jasmine, of course, is very familiar to lovers of perfume; but milkweed? In Dawn’s words:

Both are exquisitely beautiful, and both have geneses that are colloquially named “Angel’s Wing.”   And perhaps you didn’t know that both have fragrant blooms of distinct loveliness.  Angel’s Wing, the perfume, takes both the milky / sappy plant notes, as well as notes from the blossom of the milkweed plant and fuses them with the haunting scent of Angel’s Wing jasmine.  Together they create a lush, verdant, and rich scent that balances both cool and warm sensations, which makes it a perfect scent for this very time of year (and to guide us through our own transformations, too).

Angel’s Wing is ethereal but powerful, like the illustration above. It doesn’t smell like any other created fragrance I know, despite the familiarity of jasmine (which treads softly here, dancing in and out but never dominating the scent). It has an aura of yellow pollen, and there is an actual milkiness to it, combined with green sap, but it’s not dairy milk; it’s more of a perceived creamy texture than an actual milky smell. It reminds me a bit of honeysuckle nectar. Milkweed is an essential food source for the endangered Monarch butterflies, and butterflies fired Dawn’s imagination for this scent of the transitional season from September to October: “the inspiration came from a palpable sense of our own transition and transformation.  It started with the butterfly: the symbol of transformation itself.” Transformation. How — angelic.

Milkweed seeds are remarkably graceful; they burst from their pods with feathery white parasols ready to carry them on the wind, far and wide. They float with the lightest puff of a breeze — ethereal, yes, but persistent in their pursuit of the plant’s survival and spread. Their delicate fluff reminds me of the feathered yet powerful wings illustrated above, as Gabriel visits the shepherds.

Single milkweed seed floating over prairie
Milkweed seed floating over grassland; image from prairieecologist.com

The angel Gabriel’s last appearance in the Nativity story is just after Jesus’ birth, when he again visits Joseph in a dream. Gabriel warns him to flee with Mary and the newborn child, to evade the soldiers who will shortly raid Bethlehem and murder its infant sons, seeking to kill an unknown but prophesied child who is seen as a threat to the reigning King Herod. Joseph and Mary escape safely to Egypt and the holy child survives. This tragic end to the Christmas of the gospels is often ignored, as our traditions become more and more secular, but it presages Jesus’ own fate when his presence, words, and acts become a threat to the reigning powers in Jerusalem.

On a happier note, and speaking of angels and Christmas traditions, if you ever get a chance to visit New York during the holidays, the best Christmas tree in town is not the one in Rockefeller Center (glorious as that is). No, it’s the annual Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is installed every year in the museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall together with a Neapolitan Baroque “crèche”, or Nativity scene. Together with the usual villagers, shepherds, Holy Family, visiting kings, and all the structures and animals imagined for Bethlehem by these Baroque artisans, there are angels. Dozens and dozens of angels, hovering above, suspended from the 20+ foot-tall tree’s branches.

Christmas tree and crèche, Metropolitan Museum, New York. Image from metmuseum.org
Nativity scene and angels on the Met Museum's annual Christmas tree.
Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; other side, metmuseum.org.

It is a breathtaking sight that never grows stale, no matter how often I’ve visited. New York exudes magic at Christmastime, and this tree is an essential ingredient in the magic.

Of the Heirloom Elixirs I’ve tried so far, Angel’s Wing is one of my favorites. It has won my heart with its somewhat odd combination of ingredients. I think it would suit any season, really, though if you avoid floral scents in the winter, in favor of spices, resins, incense, etc., you might want to save it for spring. It doesn’t change much over the time I’ve worn it, although it does become slightly warmer and it has a soft musky base that emerges from behind the milkweed and jasmine.

What do you think of when you hear or read the word “angelic”?

P.S. Everything but one particular scent on DSH Perfumes’ website can be had for 20% off for the rest of this year, using the code “light20”. This is Dawn’s annual “thank-you” sale, and it includes a set of this year’s Heirloom Elixirs that you can buy even if you hadn’t previously subscribed. I did both, as one of my small efforts to support our independent perfumers (many of whom have faced hard times during this pandemic).