Fragrance Friday: Scents of the Ancient World

Fragrance Friday: Scents of the Ancient World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delphi Pythia

Priestess at Delphi, by John Collier (1891)

Fragrance Friday: Fragrance Fantasy

Fragrance Friday: Fragrance Fantasy

For something completely unique, however, there’s Penhaligon’s Bespoke by Alberto Morillas, spearheaded by the man behind some of the world’s most recognisable scents including Calvin Klein’s CK One, Tommy Hilfiger’s Tommy and Marc Jacobs’s Daisy. Comprising eight months of trial-and-error testing and costing from £35,000, it’s a process that requires both a significant monetary and…

Oh, how I long to be able to do this, given how often I have gravitated to Penhaligon’s fragrances! Alas, it will remain nothing more than a lovely fantasy. What choices would you make, if you pursued the less expensive option of having specific bases and notes combined for you, as described in the article? I am consoling myself with a few photos from my visit to the Penhaligon’s boutique in the Burlington Arcade last fall, and a few spritzes of my beloved Blasted Bloom.

via A significant monetary and personal commitment — Now Smell This

Fragrance Friday: IKEA?

Fragrance Friday: IKEA?

Swedish retail and home furnishings phenomenon IKEA has announced that it will develop its own fragrance, with Swedish perfume-maker Byredo. ?? I’m intrigued, because I love both Byredo and IKEA, but I wouldn’t necessarily think of them together!

And although IKEA has said it won’t evoke Swedish meatballs, THAT is the smell I associate with IKEA, aside from the woody smell of the warehouse-like section where you get your own stuff off the shelves. Could that be it? Wood and dust? Plus cinnamon rolls? But IKEA made its name creating well-designed, quality, affordable home products, so I am genuinely interested to see what they do with a luxury product like Byredo fragrance.

What are your favorite fragrance partnerships, or most unusual fragrance concepts?

Fragrance Friday: Flor y Canto and Scentbird

Fragrance Friday: Flor y Canto and Scentbird

In a feeble attempt to control my fragrance hobby, I signed up for the Scentbird subscription service, which sends subscribers a sprayer with about .27 oz. of a fragrance you select from among their offerings. You can pre-select several months’ worth at a time, and the monthly charge is $14.95. My first delivery arrived yesterday. It is Arquiste’s Flor y Canto, a fragrance that sounded as if I would like it very much, but which is VERY expensive, so a size less than a full bottle is warranted.

Reader, I loved it. Fragrantica lists its notes as: Mexican Tuberose, Magnolia, Frangipani and Marigold; Arquiste lists the notes with plumeria instead of frangipani; they are the same flower, often used in leis. Created by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Flor y Canto made its debut in 2012; its name means “flower and song”. It opens with a lemony greenness that I associate with magnolia. I seem to smell that more than I smell tuberose, but there is definitely a creamy white flower lurking behind the magnolia. The Arquiste website says:

On the most fragrant festival in the Aztec calendar, the rhythm of drums palpitates as a wealth of flowers is offered on temple altars. Billowing clouds of Copal act as a backdrop to the intoxicating breath of Tuberose, Magnolia, Plumeria and the intensely yellow aroma of the sacred Marigold, Cempoalxochitl.

The Mexican marigold is also locally called the Flower of the Dead, because it is traditionally used to decorate altars in Oaxaca, Mexico on the Day of the Dead (or “Dia de los Muertos”) in early November, and also used in the past to form garlands for the worship of Aztec gods. Flor y Canto, however, is meant to evoke a summer festival in the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlanthe religious and political capital of the Aztec civilization. It was destroyed eventually by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, but apparently it was so remarkable and beautiful, with its towers, canals, and floating gardens, that the Spanish chroniclers left very detailed descriptions of the city. There is even a surviving Nahuatl poem about it:

The city is spread out in circles of jade,
radiating flashes of light like quetzal plumes,
Besides it the lords are borne in boats:
over them extends flowery mist.

Mexican quetzal bird in flight

Quetzal bird in flight; photo from Mexico News Daily

“Flowery mist” is an apt description of Flor y Canto. It is purely floral with a slightly green, fresh note like fragrant leaves or the marigold flowers. This is a creative and effective use of marigold; its astringency cuts the sweetness of the white flowers and enhances them. It is much lighter and greener than the image at the top of this post, from the Arquiste website, suggests.

Tenochtitlan and its sacred precinct were also the site of human sacrifices to the Aztec deities; one is thankful that Arquiste chose NOT to evoke those in the fragrance itself in spite of the reference to death and altars in their illustration. Flor y Canto is an elegant, soft, summery floral. It wafts gently from one’s wrists without overwhelming. Bravo, Arquiste and M. Flores-Roux!

Featured image from http://www.arquiste.com

Fragrance Friday: Lilybelle

Fragrance Friday: Lilybelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sixteen92

This year’s Art and Olfaction Award winner in the Artisan category, Bruise Violet by Sixteen92 and perfumer Claire Baxter, was favorably noted last year by Luca Turin. I look forward to trying it!

perfumesilove

images.pngReaders of The Economist and jaundiced realists like myself will not be surprised to hear that diversity and competition are the engines of creation. Add to that the magic element of surplus, i.e. a surfeit of talented art school graduates chasing too few jobs, and you have the makings of a revolution. This is precisely what happened in postwar Italy: too many architects + too few interesting things to build = Italian Design. A similar thing may be happening in perfumery, thanks to the Web and despite the insane restrictions on the shipping of “dangerous” goods.

This may explain why I keep getting sample sets from people who have not gone through the rigorous and  mostly disheartening training process that steers passionate apprentice perfumers towards decades of drudgery and imitation. Sixteen92 is headed by Claire Baxter who describes herself  as an “Art school-educated former advertising Creative Director, fine art photographer and classically trained…

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Confederate Jasmine

Confederate Jasmine

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

Close up of white Confederate jasmine flower

Confederate jasmine; trachelospermum jasminoides

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

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

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

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

Confederate jasmine; photos from Old City South blog

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