Scent Sample Sunday: Amouage Gold

Scent Sample Sunday: Amouage Gold

This weekend, my husband and I had a somewhat rare, formal “date night”. Our son was going to be out all evening at a fundraiser and I bought us tickets to see the ballet “Don Quixote”, which is one of the few classic, full-length story ballets I had never seen. So of course, this was an excuse to dress up more than usual — and to wear Amouage Gold for Woman.

What a gorgeous scent it is! Like the ballet, it is a full-blown classical creation and pulls off dazzling twists, turns, changes, and lifts with seemingly effortless grace. Luca Turin put it better than anyone in his five-star review in “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide”:

The whole thing is put together in a happy, slightly naive, manifestly handcrafted style, which reminds me of the few really valuable things Russia used to produce, like Red October chocolates, confirming my long-held opinion that Moscow is a big Damascus with snow… The fragrance? [Perfumer] Guy Robert describes it in the press pack as the crowning glory of his career, and I agree. Robert is perhaps the most symphonic of the old-school French perfumes still working today, and Gold is his Bruckner’s Ninth. This perfume is about texture rather than structure, a hundred flying carpets of scent overlapping each other. It’s as if Joy had eloped with Scheherezade for a thousand and one nights of illicit fun.

Fragrantica has this to say: “This is an intensive floral for evening wearing and special occasions.” The top notes are rose, lily of the valley, and frankincense. Middle notes are myrrh, orris, and jasmine; the base notes include ambergris, civet, musk, cedarwood, and sandalwood.

It was a great match for “Don Quixote”, which is also a huge, symphonic fairy tale with its roots in the 19th century. Unlike many other such major story ballets, however, “Don Quixote” is happy throughout and has a happy ending. And if you want naivete, you have it in the character of Don Quixote himself, the idealist who dreams of knights and fair maidens, and who has visions of the beautiful Dulcinea. In the ballet, his harmless delusions lead him to rescue a village girl, Kitri, from an arranged marriage with a wealthy fop, and make her father allow her to marry her true love, Basilio. The ballet is based on the original choreography by Marius Petipa, via the Kirov Ballet by way of Rudolf Nureyev and thus to American ballet companies. It has many set pieces and Spanish folk variations, with dozens of dancers flying across the stage in colorful costumes, doing spectacular lifts and showstoppers like Kitri’s 32 fouettes. (The audience last night gasped, cheered, and clapped its hands to the point of soreness. The ballerina received a well-deserved standing ovation and several curtain calls at the end of the ballet).

On my skin, Amouage Gold is a sophisticated blend of all those notes and probably more that aren’t listed. It is so well-blended that one doesn’t really pick out individual notes; as the perfume progresses, my experience is that I suddenly notice it has changed although it is still recognizably Gold. It is a tour-de-force of modern perfumery that harks back to classical French perfumery. Turin’s phrase “a hundred flying carpets of scent overlapping each other” is apt. Amouage is famously a perfume house that was meant to bridge the worlds of Middle Eastern and European perfume. Just so, Spain — the setting of Don Quixote — has been for centuries a bridge between the Middle East and Europe, with many Moorish influences on its art and culture. Gold and “Don Quixote” are both felicitous incarnations of that spirit of Spain at its best: gorgeous, charming, symphonic, airborne, magnificent.

Ballerina Natalia Osopova as Kitri in ballet Don Quixote

Natalia Osipova as Kitri; photo from http://www.nytimes.com

 

Scent Sample Sunday: Brainiac

Scent Sample Sunday: Brainiac

I always appreciate a quality fragrance that is also affordable, and I appreciate other writers alerting me to those, so here’s my contribution to the “bang for the buck” list of fragrances. The mid-price chain Target has launched a store exclusive line of fragrances called “Good Chemistry” in January; the line is a division of the company Illume. They must be selling well, as the shelves were almost empty when I wandered over to my local Target to check them out. According to the promotional copy:

… the niche fragrance brand includes four collections inspired by different personalities: Confident and Charming, Good and Grounded, Vibrant and Playful and Cool and Collected. Each collection then includes four unique scents that come in perfume, body sprays and rollerballs.

I tried a few from the testers in the store and came home with two rollerballs: Brainiac and Apricot Bloom. (Full disclosure: I may return the unopened rollerball of Apricot Bloom, because the drydown became unappealing after an initially pleasant skin test from the store tester). Brainiac has claimed a place on my shelf, and I’m glad I bought it. I’m also glad it and the other scents come in rollerballs, as I really won’t need more than the 7.5 ml those contain.

Hands holding rollerballs of Target Good Chemistry fragrance collection

Rollerballs from Good Chemistry collection; image from www.good-chemistry.com.

Brainiac is part of the “Vibrant and Playful” collection. It is further described as “clean and practical with a bit of wit.” It is definitely unisex. Its label lists its primary notes as citrus, peppercorn and vanilla. Interestingly, all the Good Chemistry scents are described as “vegan and cruelty-free with essential oils.” No parabens or propylene glycol. The interesting part is that in tiny print, the label says it contains essential oils of armoise, cardamom, and clary sage. Yes! That’s why I immediately liked Brainiac — I love the smell of cardamom. I like clary sage too, but what is “armoise”?

Turns out that “armoise” is based on the Old French word for artemisia, part of a large group of aromatic plants also known in English as mugworts. Eden Botanicals says:

Organic Armoise (Mugwort)

Artemisia herba-alba is a specific Artemisia species indigenous to Morocco which provides the essential oil known as Armoise (Mugwort). Ours has a very fresh, cool, soft green, sweet-camphoraceous aroma that is highly diffusive in much the same way as Peppermint, however while the aroma has a very penetrating initial effect, this subsides after a few minutes of exposure to air. In natural perfumery, Armoise can be used in trace amounts to provide “lift” to top note accords; to add a fresh, green, naturalness; and to accentuate other green notes such as GalbanumSageRosemary, etc.

Yep. That’s exactly what my nose smelled right away when I tested Brainiac: cardamom, and a green “lift” that accentuates the herbal aromatic impression continued by the clary sage. There is a slightly citrusy aspect to the opening, but not much and not for long. If I had to guess, I would say it is bergamot,, as it reminded me of Earl Grey tea and it wasn’t sweet like some other citrus notes. I tend to like green fragrances, both green florals and green aromatics like Aromatics Elixir and Azuree. I don’t smell peppercorn; I wonder if that was listed in the place of cardamom, as some shoppers may be less familiar with the latter. I can’t say I smell much vanilla, although the fragrance does get a little less green and a bit sweeter over time.

All in all, this is a very pleasing fragrance and a good buy at $12.99 for a rollerball, $24.99 for a 50 ml bottle.

Rollerball of Brainiac fragrance from Target's Good Chemistry collection by Illume

Brainiac rollerball from Target

 

Featured image from CalPhotos; ©2010 Zoya Akulova.

Scent Sample Sunday: Noel Au Balcon

Scent Sample Sunday: Noel Au Balcon

In an earlier post focused on Bond No. 9’s I Love New York for Holidays, I mentioned that I had also been getting a lot of holiday use from Etat Libre d’Orange’s Noel Au Balcon. As January is now almost over, together with the winter holidays, I’d better post about it!

Now Smell This says that the name refers to an old French saying: “The proverb ‘Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison’ means that a warm Christmas — warm enough to spend on the balcony — will be followed by an unseasonably cool Easter (requiring ‘firebrands’).” (I actually think the phrase “tisons” here is more likely to refer to the embers of a fire that require poking to stay warm, as in “tisonner le feu”).  That review also notes that “the expression ‘avoir du monde au balcon,’ or ‘the balcony is crowded,’ is a reference to a shapely bosom.” So basically this fragrance’s name, true to ELDO traditions, is a play on words meaning something like Christmas among the warm, if not smoldering, bosoms. I love it!

And I really like the fragrance a lot. It opens with notes of apricot, honey, and orange. To my nose, the apricot is very noticeable, sweetened by the honey but not too much. The middle notes are supposed to be chili pepper, cinnamon, and orange blossom, and it does get spicier than the opening, but to me the spice is not very strong and it complements the apricot and honey instead of superseding them. Base notes seem to be patchouli, musk, cistus, vanilla, and another aromatic spice which I’ve seen listed either as cinnamon or caraway.

Reviewer Tammy Schuster wrote a hilarious review on CaFleureBon, complete with references to her “redneck Christmases” in the mountains of North Georgia. As she notes, Noel au Balcon is a fun date that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is just here to make sure everyone, including her, has a good time. Speaking of time, this scent lasts a good long time, too, without being overwhelming.  On me, the apricot, honey, and vanilla are the strongest and most lasting notes, with warm musk, patchouli, and spices chiming in but not dominating. In short, for a winter holiday fragrance, Noel au Balcon has plenty of “sugar and spice, and everything nice”, and a warm, come-hither smile full of good cheer.

Featured image by Earl Moran.

Fragrance Friday: Excellent Customer Service

Fragrance Friday: Excellent Customer Service

Facebook Fragrance Friends recently posted the question: where have members received excellent customer service when trying/buying fragrance? I thought that was a great question and it offers the opportunity to articulate the positive instead of dwelling on the negative. While I appreciate comments that warn about particularly bad experiences, I also value (maybe even more) fellow fragrance-lovers’ input on particularly good ones; and I also like to give a shout-out to the folks who extend themselves to make a customer’s experience as pleasant as possible. So here is my random list, in no particular order, and I apologize in advance if I’ve left anyone or any place out! I’ll do another post on customer service online, and outside the US.

In-person experiences in the US:

Neiman Marcus. It may be partly because I live in the South, though I’m not a native Southerner, and it really is true that Southerners seem to take a little more time and extend a little more warmth and courtesy with customers. Not all of them, and not all the time, but overall this is true to my experience, including at a large store like Neiman Marcus. I go to the one in my city occasionally; without exception, the sales associates in their large, top-of-the line fragrance department have been courteous, helpful, enthusiastic but never pushy about offering various fragrances to try even when I have said candidly that I was just browsing, or they didn’t have what I originally wanted. Several have been very knowledgeable, not just about a couple of the brands they carry, but about fragrance generally. All have been kind, and usually able and willing to offer small samples. If I were wholly devoted to a high-end house that is rarely available online, I would absolutely develop a relationship with one of its sales associates at NM.

Scent Bar. Such a fun boutique to visit! On my one and only visit to LA, a few years ago, I sought it out with a friend, at their first location in Hollywood. I understand they now have two locations in addition to their website LuckyScent. The store has a delightful set-up, with fragrances displayed by categories on open shelves along all the walls (floral, green, spicy, etc.), fronted by a long bar-like counter. The sales associate responded knowledgeably to my interest in florals, especially lily of the valley, pulling out a wide range of fragrances for me to try, including some I had not heard of before. I ended up buying a terrific Byredo sampler and was also given several samples of the other suggestions she made. I love supporting an independent business like this, btw.

Nordstrom. This department store chain is famed for its customer service, and our local store fits the claim. It has open containers throughout the fragrance department with small, empty sample atomizers that one is invited/encouraged to fill oneself from the many testers on display. Now THAT is nice. Sales associates there have been less expert than those at NM or ScentBar, but still very helpful and courteous.

Sephora. Although service can be hit or miss, depending on the store you visit and who’s on duty that day, I have had several excellent experiences at Sephora, with enthusiastic young sales associates. What they might lack in detailed knowledge, they have compensated for by their willingness to suggest and offer samples of various fragrances, in sincere attempts to help. As a result, I’ve bought more at Sephora than I otherwise might have, because most of what’s in its stores just isn’t “me” — I don’t really experiment with make up, or use most of the products they carry.

What have others experienced that counts as excellent customer service? Praise and compliments only, please, we are dwelling on the positive in this post!

Scent Sample Sunday: Bond No. 9 I Love New York for Holidays

Scent Sample Sunday: Bond No. 9 I Love New York for Holidays

As I’ve been learning about and exploring more fragrances, I find myself doing something I never used to do: picking fragrances to suit seasons of the year. I’m sure this is because I am paying more attention to the fragrances themselves and their notes, instead of just spraying on something I’ve always liked and used, lovely as that might be. So I used to rotate reliably among a small group of floral fragrances, no matter what the season, weather, or time of year — nothing wrong with that, but very predictable. Now that I have a larger collection, and one subscription (Scentbird), I am more intentional in what I choose to wear on a given day.

This fall and winter, I sought out fragrances that emphasized fewer floral notes, though those are still a major love of mine, and had more of a cold weather vibe. Two that come to mind are ELDO’s Noel au Balcon and Bond No. 9’s I Love New York for Holidays. I’ve enjoyed both very much.

I’ve found different descriptions of the notes for the Bond No. 9: Now Smell This and Basenotes listed them as: tangerine, blueberries, plum, freesia, osmanthus, sandalwood, white amber, teakwood, vanilla gelatto and musk, when it was launched in late 2013. Fragrantica, however, says the notes are: mandarin orange, apricot and pomegranate; middle notes are fennel, nutmeg and freesia; base notes are patchouli, leather, musk and praline. It is no longer listed on Bond No. 9’s own website (I think it has been discontinued), so it’s hard to know which is correct, although I would guess that the notes listed when it launched were the ones announced by the maker. Based on my own nose, the opening seems closer to Fragrantica’s description: I get mostly a strong apricot note, which I like. I definitely smell the freesia in the middle, with the apricot still going strong, and there is an astringent middle note which could be nutmeg or fennel. Not smelling any blueberries, plum, or osmanthus. When I first apply it, I get a little pop of something green, almost like balsam, but it vanishes quickly.

There is certainly a sweetness that emerges as it dries down; to me, it smells more like the praline described on Fragrantica than the “vanilla gelatto” listed elsewhere. Other commenters have said this fragrance smells like Angel to them, because of the praline and patchouli notes, but I don’t like Angel and I do like For Holidays; they don’t seem similar, to me. The latter’s sweetness is never overpowering, while I find Angel both overpowering and cloying.

CaFleureBon had a great review back in 2013, and the reviewer listed notes that were a combination of both lists, including a comment that it was osmanthus that gave off the apricot smell. I have an osmanthus in my garden, and I don’t smell it in For Holidays; I smell spot-on apricot. Regardless, this is an excellent summary of my own experience with it:

An unlikely trio of mandarin, the fruit of good fortune, blended with osmanthus flower, with its buttery smoky peachy/apricot aroma, and tart pomegranate all create this delicious “fantasy” fruit compote that had my mouth practically watering. I Love NY for the Holidays is unisex from start to finish, and despite the listed usually feminine fruits it stays balanced thanks to heart notes of crisp licorice-tinged fennel, alluring nutmeg and a soft silken (not powdery) freesia. Perhaps the fennel is where the green came from and the spices flowers and fruits are arranged just so that the sublime scent of Christmas at home comes wafting through. The finish here is beguiling. At first it is almost oriental and floral smelling and veers very close to the feminine before settling into a comfortable pseudo-gourmand haze. Labdanum, woody warm and resinous, lingers with soft skin musk and a caramel-chocolate praline note. Woven together not unlike a fine colorful tapestry, this unites fruits, a hint of flowers with herb and spice and frames it in sensual and oriental deliciousness; resulting in a festive modern gourmet/floral blend. This is a genuine beauty and truly a gift worth giving…and owning! Sillage: very good. Longevity: excellent.

Truly, although only a few of the notes are traditionally “holiday” fragrance notes, like apricot/orange and nutmeg, this DOES evoke winter holidays! I have spent many holiday seasons in New York City, and that season is magical. The tree in Rockefeller Center, the ice skating, the elaborate lights and store window decorations on Fifth Avenue, the festive events all over the city — everyone should experience them at least once. One of the ultimate holiday experiences in New York is to see the ballet The Nutcracker, performed by the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. Ultimately, THAT is what For Holidays evokes in my mind: a dance of fruits, flowers, spices and sweets that lingers after the last orchestral strains have ended.

Two ballet dancers in the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker

The Nutcracker; photo from New York City Ballet.

 

Fragrance Friday: Hair Spray/Colette

Fragrance Friday: Hair Spray/Colette

I’ve now tried something that has tempted me for a while: fragrance for one’s hair, which seems to be a lasting trend. It makes sense, because many people think that fragrance lasts longer on hair than on skin, hair won’t react to allergens as skin might, and most of us are used to scented shampoos. Hair fragrance is a logical next step, and probably more effective than shampoo that gets rinsed out.

When I found two of Tocca’s hair mist fragrances on sale locally, and they happened to be two of their scents that I have previously liked, Liliana and Colette, I pounced. The first one I’ve used is Colette, and I’m happy to say that it is delightful! Fragrantica describes the EDP as “the natural scent of a woman”, a “warm, spicy and sweet” fragrance, with  notes of “bergamot, mandarin, lemon, juniper berry, pink peppercorn, jasmine, violet, cyclamen, incense, sandalwood, musk, amber, vanilla and cedar.” The hair fragrance seems to have the same notes, but it is based on a light, sheer oil instead of alcohol. I don’t detect any oiliness on my hair after I spray it on.

The hair mist definitely opens with a nice light burst of citrus notes, then it quickly moves into a more floral middle stage. None of the flower notes are strong or overpowering, including the jasmine. The vanilla note emerges soon after that, and remains as the base note most evident to my nose, while the other warm base notes gently support and enhance it. It’s a little powdery, and very pretty. It is a peaceful kind of fragrance; it would work well for a quiet afternoon reading at home, or a walk in the park with a friend, or a cuddle session with someone you like — romantic partner or child. I have worn it to bed a couple of times, and it is a soft, serene scent to waft one to sleep. The bottle is really pretty too, heavy with an ornate top. This design may have been discontinued, however; I saw smaller, simpler bottles on the Tocca website, in other scents.

If you like soft, feminine scents and want to try something in your hair, I can recommend this one. Have you tried any other hair fragrances, from Tocca or other brands? Has anyone tried the Chanel No. 5 hair mist?

Bottles of Tocca hair fragrances

Hair fragrances from Tocca; photo from Fragrantica.

 

 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

As I write this, the extreme cold continues in the US — so cold that a friend who lives in Boston posted this photo of a bottle of Creed Viking in the window of the Copley Square Neiman Marcus, frozen solid:

Creed Viking frozen bottle at Boston Neiman Marcus

Frozen bottle of Creed Viking, New Year’s Day 2018.

She reports that other bottles displayed in the window were cracking and leaking from the cold! Let’s hope they were all factices filled with colored water. Although it does seem amusingly fitting that a bottle of Viking should be frozen solid …

I have many hopes for 2018, but let me simply say, if you are reading this, I appreciate your presence at Serenity Now and any comments you’d like to share about scents and sensibilities! Happy New Year!