May Muguet Marathon: Neil Chapman’s “Perfume”

May Muguet Marathon: Neil Chapman’s “Perfume”

If you have read the excellent fragrance blog The Black Narcissus, you have already encountered the writing of Neil Chapman. Neil published, this spring, his first book, called “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent.” You can buy it on Amazon.com! It’s a great book, full of his unique insights, impressions, and life experiences, enriched by his knowledge not only of perfume but of the literature of various cultures. Case in point: his introduction of the section in his book that discusses lily of the valley as a fragrance note.

In Natsume Soseki’s 1909 novel Sore Kara (‘And then …’) the main protagonist, Daisuke — a fraught, pretence-addled, indolent ‘aesthete’ whose descent into madness forms the core of the novel — has a predilection for sleeping in the aroma of delicate flowers in order to negate life’s sordid realities. Overly affected by the ordinary physical world, this nervous book collector uses a faint, lightly sweet floral scent at night to reduce his contacts with the world to a minimum: snowy white lilies of the valley, with their stems not yet cut, flowers that form an important motif in the novel, but not only for their pristine beauty and virginal whiteness.

The muguet fragrances Neil reviews in his book are: Diorissimo, Muguet du Bonheur, Penhaligons’ Lily of the Valley, Don’t Get Me Wrong, Baby, I Don’t Swallow, Muguet Fleuri, Muguet Blanc, Quartana’s Lily of the Valley, and Muguet des Bois. His reviews of those are as distinctive and individually nuanced as his writing quoted above.

I highly recommend Neil’s book, whether you are new to the exploration of fragrances, or you are a perfumista with dozens (or hundreds!) of bottles of your own. There are eleven main chapters, named generally for scent groupings of his own, like “Green”, “Gourmand”, “Eros.” You will learn a lot, no matter where you are in your perfume journey; and even fragrances you know well get “The Black Narcissus” treatment, in which Neil weaves his own extensive knowledge with his personal observations, impressions, and experiences. His story of his close encounter with Japanese incense (he and his partner live in Japan) and the accompanying ceremony is hilarious and worth the price of the book for that alone.

But in line with the theme of this month, I especially recommend reading his thoughts on lilies of the valley and the fragrances listed above. And as a bonus, you can read the end of his summation of that Japanese novel! Have you read Neil’s blog The Black Narcissus?

Japanese woman wearing traditional garb with lily of the valley headpiece

Traditional Japanese outfit with ‘lily of the valley’ kanzashi; image from http://www.donatale.com

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.”

MY BOOK ARRIVED IN THE POST TODAY AND I MUST ADMIT I AM RATHER PLEASED — The Black Narcissus

Our friend Neil at The Black Narcissus is a published author!! Publication date for “Perfume: In Search of Your Signature Scent” in the UK is March 21; April 2 in the US. You can pre-order RIGHT NOW at Amazon.co.uk or at Amazon.com.

via MY BOOK ARRIVED IN THE POST TODAY AND I MUST ADMIT I AM RATHER PLEASED — The Black Narcissus

From the Amazon.co.uk website:

A beautifully made scent can encapsulate a particular feeling, transport you to a very specific time in life with clarity, or remind you of a special loved one or friend. And just like wearing your favourite outfit or shoes, your favourite perfume can make you feel invincible. The question is, how do you find such a creation? With the number of new releases steadily In Perfume, Neil Chapman guides readers through a world that can at times seem overwhelming. Fragrances of every variety are listed ‘note by note’ in clearly divided categories that will steer you in the direction of a perfume you not only like, but love and cherish as ‘your’ smell. Chapters are divided into popular base notes (vanilla, sandalwood, cedarwood, jasmine, patchouli), heart notes (lavender, rosemary, black pepper, geranium, juniper) and top notes (bergamot, citrus, basil), and the book features over 200 scents, from department store classics to more boutique fragrances. If a scent intrigues, go out and try it. The further you go on this journey, the more you will be amazed by how many beautiful creations do exist if you take the time to look.

Congratulations, Neil! All your readers are so proud of you! Can’t wait to read a whole book of your thoughts on perfume.

Update: Neil has posted photos of the actual book at The Black Narcissus, now that his parents have seen it first. It is gorgeous! And there will be at least one book event this spring in London, so keep checking his blog for details!

Scent Sample Sunday: Vol de Nuit

Scent Sample Sunday: Vol de Nuit

Within the last few months, I scored a purse spray of vintage Vol de Nuit extrait de parfum, a Guerlain masterpiece. I had previously been able to buy what I think is actually the most beautiful Vol de Nuit bottle, which doesn’t contain liquid at all — it is the limited edition shimmer powder’s blue-green flacon, the twin of the famous propeller bottle of the original parfum.

Blue green atomizer bottle of Guerlain's Vol de Nuit shimmer powder

Vol de Nuit shimmer powder; image http://www.guerlain.com

Propeller bottle of Guerlain's Vol de Nuit parfum

Vol de Nuit parfum; www.guerlain.com

But honestly, when would one have the opportunity to wear them? What occasion? What ensemble to wear with them?

Last night was the night.

My husband and I went to a benefit auction last night, and after much pondering, I decided that a simple cocktail dress in black velvet with tiny black sequins and short sleeves would be my outfit, combined with a necklace of white baroque pearls that was given to me by one of my dearest friends. I couldn’t decide what fragrance to wear, though. Amouage Gold EDP was a leading contender, as I’ve worn it before to dressy events and I always enjoy it. Then I thought of the Alaia extrait de parfum I bought last year, which is also beautiful. And it hit me — I could finally use the shimmer powder! And now I had the parfum to go with it! So Vol de Nuit it was.

Victoria at Bois de Jasmin reviewed the shimmer powder when it came out in 2011:

The powder itself is tinted a silvery shade closer to mother of pearl than polished metal. It is a complex color, with peach and blue creating an ethereal effect. Although Guerlain suggests using the powder for both face and body, I find that it is too cool for my warm complexion. However, it looks beautiful sprayed lightly on the shoulders and chest. The sparkling particles are quite fine, so the impression is opalescent and soft, rather than disco ball glitzy.

I took her advice and sprayed it on my neck and chest, plus a bit on my arms. It is possible to apply it very lightly, for just a hint of glimmer. I think it’s important to have well-moisturized skin before using it, but the moisturizer should be unscented. as the powder itself is scented, albeit lightly. The baroque pearls looked beautiful against the slight shimmer on my neck.

The parfum went on the pulse points behind my ears and inside my elbows. I often apply on my inner elbows instead of my wrists when wearing short sleeves. It’s easier to control the spray, and I can diffuse it on my skin just by bending the crook of my elbow instead of rubbing wrists together (which some perfumistas discourage).

My theater artist daughter did my makeup for me; I don’t usually wear much makeup, so I’m not the best judge of what will work. I may never look so chic again!

How was the fragrance? It was celestial. Neil at The Black Narcissus has described Vol de Nuit better than almost anyone: “Journey Into Light: Vol de Nuit by Guerlain (1933).”

And yes, this is how I felt, although any resemblance is strictly fanciful and internal:

Ad for Guerlain's Vol de Nuit shimmer powder

Vol de Nuit limited edition shimmer powder from Guerlain.

What fragrance makes you feel most glamorous? When do you wear it?