Perfume Tourism, 2017

Perfume Tourism, 2017

via Daily Prompt: Perfume

Two years ago, I became fascinated with perfume and fragrance. I was writing a screenplay about two rival perfumers and was doing research to capture some of the details and nuances of those characters’ thoughts and actions. I picked up Chandler Burr’s book, The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industryand I was hooked. It is the story of the development of two perfumes, Hermes’ Un Jardin Sur le Nil, and Coty’s Lovelycreated with and for the actress Sarah Jessica Parker. The book follows the perfumers as they work on their assignments, or “briefs”, all the while explaining the arcane workings of the perfume industry.

Advertisement for Hermes Un Jardin Sur le Nil, bottle of perfume resting on lotus leaf against background of Nile River

Un Jardin Sur le Nil; photo from hermes.com

The book also describes a journey, a form of “perfume tourism”, taken by Hermes’ then-new in-house perfumer Jean Claude Ellena and a team of Hermes executives to Egypt, specifically the Nile river, to try to capture the atmosphere of a “garden on the Nile”, which was the chosen theme for the new perfume. As poets and others have noted for centuries, fragrance and scent seem to link directly to human memories and emotions in a way that only music approaches; even so, scent is the more visceral line of communication between our senses and our memories.

My own perfume journey has been more like a tumble down a rabbit hole, as others have described it. I am also fortunate enough to have frequent opportunities to travel, so I have become a committed “perfume tourist.” What does that mean? I seek out unique opportunities to experience fragrance in my travels, including visiting independent perfume-makers and perfume boutiques. In hindsight, I have actually done this off and on for decades; on our honeymoon, my husband and I visited Grasse, the birthplace of fine French perfume, and toured more than one of the Grasse-based perfumeries (Molinard and Fragonard). When we went on a family trip to Bermuda several years ago, we visited the lovely Bermuda Perfumery,  home of fragrance house Lili Bermuda, in the historic old town St. George’s. I am very lucky that we set a pattern early of my husband indulging me with perfume souvenirs!

The Bermuda Perfumery in St. George's, Bermuda, with pastel houses

The Bermuda Perfumery. Photo: http://www.foreverbermuda.com

Now, however, perfume tourism is a more deliberate choice on my part. It has proven to be a novel way to experience cities: seeking out independent perfumeries, perfume museum exhibits, even perfume-oriented arts.  I have loved discovering independent perfume boutiques like Scent Bar in Los Angeles. And of course, nowadays my souvenirs of my trips are usually perfumes; I look for “niche perfumes” made in that country, but sometimes I just buy a nice fragrance that reminds me of that trip. A recent trip to Switzerland resulted in the purchase of three lovely niche fragrances in different cities, but also an inexpensive small bottle of eau de toilette from Victorinox Swiss Army (yes, the maker of Swiss army knives).

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Scent Bar, Los Angeles

This year so far, I’ve pursued perfume tourism in Barcelona, Spain, and in several cities in Switzerland. What’s next? Somerset House in London will open an exhibition this summer called Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent. I’m hoping I can get to London this summer to see it, as I’ve enjoyed other arts exhibitions at Somerset House in the past. And the ever-fragrant summer gardens of London are a must! Dreaming dreams of fragrant flowers and sweet perfumes …

 

Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Sur le Nil

Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Sur le Nil

The weather has hit the high nineties in my part of the world, complete with dense humidity and hot skies. It is steamy and hot, and we just spent a weekend with friends at their lake house. The house has a huge, high-ceilinged screened porch with two swinging daybeds suspended from its beams and ceiling fans rotating lazily above. I spent most of Saturday lounging on one of those porch swings, reading and looking out over the lakeshore where my teenagers alternately baked themselves in the sun and dipped into the water. And boy, was I in the mood for Un Jardin Sur le Nil! I spritzed myself with it liberally throughout the day and just basked in its green mango and lotus flowers. This fragrance truly blossoms in summer heat and humidity.

Bottle of Un Jardin Sur le Nil fragrance from Hermes, floating on a lotus leaf

Un Jardin Sur le Nil; photo from hermes.com

Citrus-based fragrances are not usually high on my list but perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena is a magician with grapefruit. The opening of Un Jardin Sur le Nil is my favorite part of the fragrance — a gust of grapefruit and green mango that I find very refreshing and alluring. The entire impression is very green, which likely comes from notes like bulrushes, tomato leaf and carrot, with that wonderful fruity-but-not-sweet opening. It is a different green than most “green florals”, though light floral notes emerge as the citrus dries down.

The story of Un Jardin Sur le Nil and its creation has been masterfully told by Chandler Burr, first in this story in The New Yorker and then in longer book form, in The Perfect Scent.

Book cover of The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr

The Perfect Scent

After experiencing Un Jardin Sur le Nil on such a steamy, hot, humid day, I am appreciating its charms anew. In such an environment, it wafts off the skin in gentle waves of fresh coolness, as if one is about to sip the most delicious, refreshing drink in a green oasis. After the green mangoes and watercolor floral notes, the sycamore and incense notes at the base lightly suggest exactly the kind of setting in which I found myself this weekend: a wooden porch looking over a body of water, a humid breeze, a daybed heaped with pillows, ceiling fans turning gently above. In other words, there is a suggestion — just a soupcon, really — of this kind of room at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt, where the Hermes team stayed during part of their exploratory journey:

Porch of the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt, looking over the Nile River

The Old Cataract Hotel, Aswan, Egypt. Photo: sofitel.com

Others have described and reviewed Un Jardin Sur le Nil in much more expert terms than I, and I encourage you to read The Perfect Scent, as it opens a window into the arcane world of perfumery in both Paris and New York. If you want to try the fragrance itself, I suggest that you try it on a hot summer day, when it truly comes into its own.

Bottle of Hermes fragrance Un Jardin Sur le Nil against background watercolor of lotus flowers

Un Jardin Sur le Nil, hermes.com

 

National Fragrance Day Today

National Fragrance Day Today

English perfumistas are celebrating “National Fragrance Day” today, so why not join in on this side of the pond? What to wear to mark the occasion? I’m thinking of Jean-Claude Ellena’s Un Jardin Sur le Nil, as it was reading about that fragrance’s creation in Chandler Burr’s book “The Perfect Scent” that started me down the path of obsessing over perfume.

Source: National Fragrance Day Today

The Perfect Scent, Chandler Burr's book about the perfume industry and the creation of Jean-Claude Ellena's Hermes fragrance Un Jardin Sur le Nil

The Perfect Scent, http://www.chandlerburr.com