Scent Sample Sunday: Choeur des Anges

Scent Sample Sunday: Choeur des Anges

The third fragrance in the triptych of Atelier des Ors’ “White Collection” is Choeur des Anges. Like the other two (Nuda Veritas and Crepuscule des Ames), it is inspired by Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze” and was created by perfumer Marie Salamagne, with direction by the house’s founder, Jean-Philippe Clermont. The brand’s description follows:

Choeur des Anges is a poetic celebration of colour, scent and joie de vivre fused with blood orange, carrot seeds, radiant fruits and flowers. A symphonic creation inspired by the harmonious voices of angels. An ambrosia like golden nectar of osmanthus and honey that sings in harmony to the gods. A fragrance that connects to the primal desire for happiness, where salvation is found in lyrical ambered tones. A radiant and joyous experience. A cocooned embrace. A kiss to the whole world.

Choeur des Anges means “choir of angels”, and that angelic chorus is vividly shown in the last panel of the frieze that inspired Atelier des Ors’ White Collection.

Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, with choir of angels and human happiness

Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze

The golden thread of citrus that links all three fragrances continues in Choeur des Anges, with a gorgeous opening note of sweet blood orange. It is very beautiful — sweet in the way a real, ripe orange is sweet, not cloying or sticky. I’m a sucker for a great opening note, and this is one of the best among recent fragrances. Very quickly, the blackcurrant chimes in with its tangy yet herbal undertones. I don’t really smell the pear that is supposed to be part of the opening, but it is likely part of what softens the edges of the blackcurrant.

The last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth contains its most famous section, the “Ode to Joy” which many of us know well and which continues to inspire modern performances in unexpected places, from this flash mob in Europe to YouTube videos. I have a special warmth toward this piece, because it was adapted for use as a hymn in the 19th century by one of my grandfather’s favorite authors, Henry van Dyke. He is often overlooked today, but many Americans know his short novel “The Other Wise Man”  and this hymn, known by its first line, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” We and our guests sang it at our springtime wedding, in the same chapel where Prof. van Dyke worshipped, one week before Easter. Its first verse is the best known:

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,

God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the Sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
fill us with the light of day

As with many fragrances, the middle stage of Choeur des Anges is mostly floral, the heart notes of orange flower and osmanthus stealing imperceptibly at first into the citrus opening, then taking center stage like flowers opening to the sun, as described in the hymn. These are sunny, happy flowers, appropriate to evoke the triumphant conclusion of humankind’s quest for joy. I smell the honey base note early; to my nose, it arrives not long after the flowers and lends them a polleny sweetness reminiscent of Easter and spring. The carrot seed note blends a rooty, earthy note into this middle stage, keeping the whole composition grounded, as this panel of the frieze reminds us that human joy is to be found on earth, as symbolized by the last, embracing figures, when love unites with art. Klimt apparently intended to convey that the arts are humankind’s salvation; but I choose to remember that today is Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate the triumph of love over death, through the resurrection of Jesus, the Lord who took upon himself human form and human suffering on earth, thereby winning salvation for those of us still on earth. Easter Sunday is a day for flowers, celebration, singing, and rejoicing, as in the words of the hymn’s second verse:

All Thy works with joy surround Thee
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays;
Stars and angels sing around Thee,
center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
singing bird and flowing fountain
call us to rejoice in Thee.

The final stage of Choeur des Anges is warm with amber and cedar, while the honey continues  to sweeten the drydown. I can still smell hints of the blood orange. No heavy musk, no spices. The ending of Choeur des Anges is warm, soft and gentle, like the embrace of the golden couple at the end of the Beethoven Frieze. Happiness, at last. Again, in this fragrance, Ms. Salamagne beautifully captures the spirit and symbolism of the masterpieces that inspired the White Collection, like its scent siblings Nuda Veritas and Crepuscule des Ames.

Of all the White Collection, Choeur des Anges is my favorite, though Nuda Veritas is close behind.  On my skin, it has good longevity, though not for longer than about six hours (not surprising, given the important role of citrus in its composition and the softness of its base notes, not to mention my dry skin). I don’t mind reapplying from my sample, because I do love the opening notes of sweet blood orange, and reapplying allows me to enjoy those again.

In honor of Beethoven’s music, Klimt’s artwork, and this lovely fragrance collection, I decided to post this on Easter Sunday, a day on which the “Ode to Joy” and the hymn it inspired are particularly relevant, and I’ll leave you with this image:

Altar and reredos with flowers for Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

Have you tried any of the White Collection, or other fragrances by Atelier des Ors? Do you love any other fragrances with links to other forms of art, such as music or painting?

Sample kindly offered by Atelier des Ors; opinions my own.

Fragrance Friday: Crepuscule des Ames

Fragrance Friday: Crepuscule des Ames

The second of the three “White Collection” fragrances by Atelier des Ors is Crepuscule des Ames, which means “twilight of the souls.” It represents the second, or center, panel of Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze, a masterpiece of the Vienna Secession movement. That panel actually consists of two halves: the more famous one, featured above, and this one:

Center panel of Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, Gnawing Grief

Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, “Gnawing Grief.”

One description of these center panels notes that they represent the forces that stand in opposition to human happiness:

The giant Typhoeus (the monster with mother-of-pearl eyes extending across the entire front wall with his blue wings and snake-like appendages); his daughters, the three gorgons (the three women standing to the left of Typhoeus). Sickness, madness, death (the mask-like female heads above the gorgon heads). Lasciviousness, wantonness, intemperance (the group of three women to the right of Typhoeus. Intemperance wears a conspicuously ornamented blue skirt with applications of mother-of-pearl, bronze rings, etc.). Gnawing grief (the woman cowering on the right in the picture). The yearnings and desires of humankind fly past them. (Suites Culturelles)

Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, second panel

Left side of middle section, Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze.

Perfumer Marie Salamagne and creative director Jean-Philippe Clermont have chosen to represent these hostile forces in a more benevolent light for purposes of fragrance — a wise choice! Here is Atelier des Ors’ own description of Crepuscule des Ames:

Crépuscule Des Âmes is the twilight of the souls and a perfume to enslave the senses with fine spices and a warm golden glow. A second skin to wear in the dusky hours while the souls are at play, when we feel deep desires and the duality inherent in our consciousness. A radiating warmth that speaks to carnal pleasure and desire imbued with the furry warmth of Typhoeus. Incense, patchouli and hyraceum heat the primitive, animalic aura. For moments when we seek the truth, to find a way through temptation. An addictive, empowering fragrance with an element of intrigue.

The opening of Crepuscule is a strong, sweet note of mandarin orange, warmed by the spice of cardamom and the herbal tones of clary sage. The orange note is one of three citrus notes that unite the three fragrances (Nuda Veritas, Crepuscule des Ames, and Choeur des Anges). They are all based on the orange tree (neroli, mandarin, and blood orange with orange blossom) and they connect the three fragrances like a golden thread running through a complex tapestry of scent. In his excellent review for Fragrantica, Sergey Borisov pointed out that in the frieze, this center panel represents the “human sins and passions we have to overcome in order to reach happiness in life,” which is why this scent is designed to evoke the animal side of human nature, portrayed so vividly in the frieze.

As Crepuscule dries down, it becomes more animalic and smokier, with the addition of incense, hyrax, pimento pepper, and patchouli. As described by the brand, these notes are intended to symbolize warmth, carnality, desire, the dark side of the human spirit, the temptations through which we must progress in order to find happiness. The hyrax note is especially interesting. In its natural form, it comes from hyraceum, which is basically crystallized urine of the animal called hyrax. It is used in perfumery as an animalic substance whose collection does not harm any animals, but which “gives an animalistic, sensual and deep note that feels like a combination of musk, civet, castoreum, tobacco and agarwood.” Hyraceum also contains pheromones, complex airborne scent molecules, generated by animals, that are thought to cause behavioral responses in others of their species, including sexual response.

My nose can definitely sense the animalic undertones of Crepuscule, though I wouldn’t have known it came from hyraceum without guidance from a list of notes. I believe it is this complex note that makes Crepuscule feel to me more like a masculine-leaning fragrance than Nuda Veritas, although they and Choeur des Anges are all presented as unisex fragrances. Its use here is very clever (all of Ms. Salamagne’s creations for Atelier des Ors are designed with high intelligence and layers of meaning), especially combined with incense and hyssop.

Why those two notes in particular? Incense is most famously used in Western cultures as part of Christian religious worship, especially in the more ancient rites of the Roman Catholic church. To many lovers of fragrance, incense will immediately evoke memories of church rituals and ancient places of worship: the very passages through which, in the Christian faith, sinners must pass in order to withstand temptation and progress to the ultimate spiritual joy and salvation. I chose deliberately to write about Crepuscule today, which is Good Friday, the day on which Christians believe that Jesus allowed himself to be sacrificed by the darker impulses of humanity in order to win all of humankind our salvation, because I think the symbolism of Klimt’s frieze — and thus this scent — lends itself to such an analogy. Even the female figure of “Gnawing Grief” recalls so many artworks that show the agony of Mary, mother of Jesus, at the Crucifixion.

Hyssop also has religious significance. It is an aromatic herb used ritually “in the Catholic ceremonies where the priest puts the hyssop into the ceremonial aspergillum, which he dips into a bowl of holy water” and uses to sprinkle the mixture onto congregants as a blessing. But there is more to hyssop than this benign use — according to Fragrantica, it is also used to make the liqueur Chartreuse (after which the shade of green is named) and to color the famous spirit “absinthe”, widely used and also widely criticized in the 19th century as the notorious “green fairy” that “makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant,” according to one writer. And there, right in the  Beethoven Frieze’s center panel, is a “ferocious beast”, Typhoeus. In this perfume, hyssop may stand for the “duality” the brand means to evoke: dark and light, sinful and blessed, together.

In its final phase, Crepuscule lingers on the skin with the incense most dominant to my nose, followed by patchouli. It lasts for several hours even on my dry skin. At this stage, the hyrax is less noticeable as “animalic” but acts more as a fixative base that still lends warmth. After all, even when we succumb to temptation but struggle to resist sin, we are still human!

Like the others in the triptych, Crepuscule des Ames is an intelligent work of perfume art, with many possible meanings, interpretations, and effects unique to the individual who wears it. It does indeed grow on one, although I don’t find it as addictive as the brand’s copy suggests. I have a feeling this is another scent that I would like very much on my husband, although it is clearly suitable for women to wear also. I am enjoying wearing it and thinking about it even as I look forward to the triumph of Easter and the last of the White Collection, Choeur des Anges.

Sample kindly offered by Atelier des Ors; opinions my own.

 

Scent Sample Sunday: Nuda Veritas

Scent Sample Sunday: Nuda Veritas

One year ago today, Cafleurebon published this announcement of Atelier des Ors’ new releases: the White Collection, and Bois Sikar, which I have previously reviewed. The White Collection consists of three linked fragrances based on Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze”, which itself was inspired by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Like all the Atelier des Ors fragrances, the perfumer who created them is Marie Salamagne.

I was lucky enough to visit the office of Atelier des Ors in Cannes this past January, thanks to an invitation from Megan of the blog Megan in Sainte Maxime. I met her for the first time in person, and I also met Jean-Philippe Clermont, creative director and founder of the brand, and was introduced to some of Atelier des Ors’ beautiful scents.

M. Clermont has himself written about finding his inspiration for his White Collection in Klimt’s masterpiece. Like the frieze, the three scents are meant to evoke the human spiritual quest for joy and its stages, as Sergey Borisov described so well in the piece he wrote about the collection for Fragrantica. Miguel Matos also wrote an excellent review of the White Collection for Fragrantica, here.

Nuda Veritas represents the first stage of that journey. Its top notes are bergamot, an aquatic scent molecule called Transluzone, and neroli. Heart notes are osmanthus, Jasmine Sambac, Chinese jasmine, and tiare flower. Base notes are patchouli, marigold, the scent molecules Ambroxan and Helvetolide, and moss.

The impression Nuda Veritas gives is that of shimmering, early dawn light, at the break of day when the dew still refreshes the landscape. It evokes the hopes of humankind, as does the first panel of the Beethoven Frieze, whose figures symbolize humanity pleading for rescue by a knight who represents strength. Behind him are female figures symbolizing Compassion and Ambition, the two motives that might inspire such a knight to take up arms in defense of others. Above them all float female “Genii”, celestial spirits who are searching, seeking, as hope looks ahead, seeking for a happier destiny, portrayed in shades of white and gold.

Panel, Gustav Klimt's Vienna Secession Beethoven Frieze

First panel, Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze”.

Detail of panel of Gustav Klimt's Beethoven frieze, female Genii

Detail of panel, Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt

Of all the figures on this panel, Nuda Veritas most clearly evokes these female Genii, with its floating, shimmering, golden tones. It opens with a clear citrus note from bergamot, coupled with the aquatic notes and the brightness of neroli. The opening is very lovely, reminiscent of dawn light over a tranquil sea, horizon glimmering in the distance. It moves gently into the jasmine heart notes, partnered with osmanthus and tiare. Although these are all white flowers, they are used here with a subtle touch; there is no “BWF” explosion or dominance. Just as dawn’s golden light slowly shifts to a whiter daylight, so Nuda Veritas’ tone shifts from the clarity of its citrusy aquatic opening to a whiter, slightly creamier, more floral heart phase.

As it dries down, Nuda Veritas fades away, leaving earthy, herbal notes of patchouli, marigold, and moss, warmed by the smooth and slightly fruity musk of Helvetolide, and the depth of Ambroxan. I love the marigold, or tagetes, note in the base, as I enjoy both the flowers and their scent in real life; they smell like a mix of floral, aromatic, and slightly musky green, which works well in Nuda Veritas. I can’t describe the Ambroxan note any better than The Candy Perfume Boy, did here:

I perceive it as a very silky, silvery material. It’s immediately evocative of the ocean but in a purely mineral way – it doesn’t posses an aquatic character, but one does get the impression of salt and wet stones. There’s also a sweetness to Ambroxan – a transparent, glittering and crystalline feel, as well as a soft, skin-like woodiness. It’s a fascinating, multi-faceted material that can be pulled in many directions, but it’s also tremendously diffusive, adding an expanse to fragrances, creating space, in which beautiful nuances can dance.

One thing I find interesting about his description is how well it also describes part of the overall artistic purpose of the White Collection, which is to “pay homage to the white space; the page, canvas, or an idea before its conception, at the point of materialising.” The use of Ambroxan in Nuda Veritas does add “white space” to the fragrance, in which its many nuances dance. This also recalls a key aspect of Japanese aesthetics, in which the space between objects or lines, or “ma“, is as important as the lines or objects themselves. Klimt is known to have been much influenced by Japanese art and methods, so here again are a lovely connection and consistency between the art that inspired these scents and their composition. (In fact, one of Klimt’s most famous and controversial paintings is called “Nuda Veritas”, or “Naked Truth”, and its composition is also consistent with its namesake perfume).

The entire triptych of scents in the White Collection offers layer after layer of hidden meanings, using perfume as the evocative art to express them. Like Bois SikarNuda Veritas is a highly intelligent work of perfume art. Marie Salamagne’s brilliant creation evokes dawn, morning, and springtime, all symbolic of hope and new awakenings. For me, it is a scent that perfectly suits Palm Sunday, which Christians around the world celebrate today. Palm Sunday traditionally celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and marks the start of Holy Week. As we know, the joy of that day will soon give way to Judas’ betrayal and the cross at Golgotha. But on that first Palm Sunday, the people who were present believed that their Savior had come, in response to the pleas of suffering humanity, and hope was in the air.

Sample kindly offered by Atelier des Ors, independent opinion my own.

Thunking Thursday: Foundation

Today I am thunking a bottle of foundation, not fragrance. This is a rare event, because I tend to change my mind often about the foundation I use, rarely satisfied with any and always ready to switch! I didn’t adore this one, but it worked fine and I was determined to actually finish it, instead of letting it join the club of half-used bottles in a cupboard. (To be fair, some of the half-used bottles are because I use some simultaneously; my schedule is so hectic that I often have one in the bathroom, one in the car, and one in my office).

Thunk! Maybe I’ll treat myself to a higher-end foundation with help from an actual makeup person, instead of my usual drugstore cosmetics. Any suggestions? What did you thunk this week?

Fragrance Friday: Neil’s Book “Perfume”

I am in awe of the fact that Neil Chapman, author of the blog The Black Narcissus, has written and had published an actual BOOK! It is called “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent”, and it just came out in the US (it came out a short time earlier, in March, in the UK). You can buy it on Amazon, where I had pre-ordered it; I came home from work earlier this week to find the package waiting on my doorstep. It is also available online and at booksellers such as Blackwell’s and Barnes & Noble.

As others have written, the book itself is beautiful, a hardcover volume with an Art Deco cover design in black, gold, and silver, and gold-edged pages. If you have ever read The Black Narcissus, you know that Neil is a wonderfully gifted writer with wide-ranging interests. His posts about fragrance include many cultural references and observations from his years living in several countries, from his childhood and youth in England, to his current home in Japan. He studied Italian and French literature at Cambridge University, and he now teaches English to Japanese secondary school students. His literary sensibilities suffuse his writing, but he also includes deeply personal reminiscences and a vast knowledge of perfume: history, ingredients, creators, etc.

Neil’s individual reviews of specific perfumes are grouped into categories such as “Green”, then by notes like “grasses, leaves and herbs.” (As a lover of green fragrances myself, I was thrilled that this is the first chapter!) It is a remarkably user-friendly format with an exhaustive index if one just wants to read one review of a specific fragrance. Neil has a poetic sensibility and lifelong love of perfume, both of which his writing reflects. As he says, “In its wordless abstraction, a beautifully made scent can encapsulate an emotion; smell, with its visceral link to the unconscious, is unique in its emotional immediacy.” His short reviews of individual fragrances combine information about their components and creation with his own reactions to wearing them, or memories of times when he wore them. Since his own perfume collection must number in the thousands, including many rare vintage perfumes, even the most profligate collectors of perfumes will find surprises and revelations. However, the book is also a very accessible guide for those who are just exploring fragrance, or, as he writes, “a guide through a world that can at times seem overwhelming.”

Bravo, Neil! I’m wearing Vol de Nuit in your honor today! To learn more about Neil, check out this interview on the blog “Olfactoria’s Travels.”

Thunking Thursday: My Burberry

Thunking Thursday: My Burberry

This week’s sample thunk is My Burberry, created by Francis Kurkdjian. It is a pretty, fruity floral scent, very suitable for spring and summer. It doesn’t wow me, but it doesn’t offend either. I should confess that fruity florals just aren’t my thing — not surprising, since I am well out of the age range that fragrance companies are trying to attract with such scents. Here are some of the perfumer’s thoughts on this one: he wanted to evoke “the feeling of the light of London: clouds, wetness, rain, flowers.” The main floral notes are roses and freesia, “which is a little bit spicy and adds brightness. Then geranium leaves, which give an herbal, almost minty, vibrancy to the perfume. Then from the back note, there are patchouli leaves and quince—a fruit that is between a pear and an apple. Very British. It is not fruity, fruity. It is fruity floral. Then on top you have linen and bergamot.”

My Burberry is nice, but I have more interesting fragrances to wear. It would probably make a nice gift for a young woman who likes the trim image of a modern Burberry trench coat and its youthful classic style. I won’t be needing a full bottle for myself, though. Thunk!

Featured image from http://www.us.burberry.com

Scent Sample Sunday: Galanos

Scent Sample Sunday: Galanos

Occasionally I find a fragrance gem online, for sale by a resale shop that has discovered the internet. This spring, my find was the first fragrance from designer James Galanos, an eau de toilette named, simply, Galanos. James Galanos was highly selective in all his choices, from the very wealthy women who were his preferred and devoted clientele (most famously, Nancy Reagan), to his refusal to license his name for almost anything: the two exceptions were furs, and fragrance.

There are only two Galanos fragrances: the first, eponymous one, and a flanker called Galanos De Serene. Both can be found in eau de toilette and parfum though both have been discontinued. I found an unboxed bottle of the first eau de toilette, for sale online, and I knew I would probably like it as I already had a small bottle of the parfum. The fragrance was created in 1979 and won a FiFi award in 1980, the one for “Women’s Fragrance of the Year — Prestige”. I have been unable to find out who the perfumer was; please comment below if you know! Angela at “Now Smell This” wrote a terrific review of Galanos, aptly comparing its appeal to that of classic vintage clothing.

There was only one catch to my purchase: when it arrived, the top of the sprayer turned out to be a replacement that didn’t work. I contacted the seller (from whom I had successfully bought a vintage fragrance once before), who immediately offered to send a replacement top or a partial refund. Since I was pretty sure I would be able to use a Travalo to get the fragrance out, the price had been very reasonable, and it really wasn’t worth the seller’s time to send a new top that might not work either, I took the partial refund and bought my first Travalo. Happily, it worked!

Basenotes analyzes Galanos as follows: top notes: lemon, orange, mandarin, chamomile, coriander, clove, and bay leaf; heart notes: lily of the valley, orange blossom, jasmine, gardenia, ylang ylang, rose, geranium, carnation; base notes: cypress, musk, amber, vanilla, tonka bean, vetiver, cedarwood, oakmoss, sandalwood, and patchouli. It smells to me like a cross between a floral chypre and a green chypre, with the herbal top notes in smooth balance with the floral heart notes, and its woody, mossy, aromatic base. It reminds me a bit of Estee Lauder’s Azuree, but with a more floral, 1980s vibe. The notes that “speak” to me most strongly are the carnation and geranium notes, followed closely by ylang ylang and gardenia, but the herbal notes are evident from start to finish.

James Galanos was famous for the craft of his designer clothing, often compared favorably to Parisian “haute couture” although his creations were ready-to-wear (but still VERY expensive). Galanos’ designs reached their height of fame in the decade of excess, the 1980s, and he used only the most expensive materials and finest workmanship, but you rarely see huge puffy sleeves or gigantic flounces on his dresses.

Gowns by designer James Galanos at Phoenix Art Museum retrospective exhibit

James Galanos gowns; image from Phoenix Art Museum.

You see elegant, feminine lines, often enhanced by exquisite embroidery. Nancy Reagan once commented about his dresses that “you can wear one inside out, they are so beautifully made.” His fragrance is consistent with that elegant, luxurious simplicity: understated, classic, of its era but also timeless. It feels like an elegant accessory, meant to complement the wearer and the outfit instead of outshining or competing with them.

Designer James Galanos in clothing atelier

James Galanos; photo by Getty Images

Although James Galanos retired in 1998 and died in 2016, you will still see his creations on the red carpet, since many stylish women wear vintage Galanos gowns to occasions like the Academy Awards and the Met Costume Institute Gala, where they are as elegant and timeless as ever. I wonder if any of the wearers know that they could also wear the perfect fragrance accessory with those beautiful gowns?

Do you have any fragrances that you think of as couture accessories? Favorites?

Just had to add this photo, taken in the early 2000s in San Francisco, when Mr. Galanos was delighted to discover a perfume boutique that still carried his fragrance:

Fashion designer James Galanos in Jacqueline perfume boutique, San Francisco

James Galanos with his fragrance; image from San Francisco Chronicle

Featured image: James Galanos vintage gown (1950s), www.etsy.com.