Scented Advent, December 5

Scented Advent, December 5

Today’s Advent scent is another Guerlain sample from the collection “L’Art et La Matière”, Épices Volées, which debuted in 2021 in its current form (commenters note that it is a slight reformulation of the earlier Arsène Lupin Voyou). Fragrantica lists it as a “woody chypre” with top notes of coriander, lemon, artemisia and bergamot; middle notes of clove, cardamom, sage, and Bulgarian rose; base notes of sandalwood, patchouli, benzoin, and labdanum.

I really like artemisia (sometimes listed as davana) as a note in fragrance. It is a shape-shifter, changing with each wearing and on each wearer’s skin; also, it is a bitter green herb, and I tend to love those. I don’t smell much lemon in the opening of Épices Volèes, my nose is captivated by the artemisia, coriander, and bergamot. The bergamot is very light, it comes and goes quickly. The coriander segues into the spices of the middle notes; to my nose, they are mostly the cardamom and sage. I pick up some clove but it doesn’t smell dominant to me. I assume the rose is there, because there is a smooth floralcy to the heart phase, but to be honest, I don’t smell it as a stand-alone note.

Containers of various spices
Variety of spices; image from lovefood.com

The warm spices of the heart phase give way gradually to the warmth of sandalwood, benzoin, and labdanum in the base, with a hint of patchouli. This base is much gentler than what I usually associate with chypres (which I love, by the way), without the backbone of oakmoss. It is very appealing, though, and I think the whole fragrance would appeal to many who don’t enjoy chypres. If there is one word I might associate with Épices Volèes, it is “ingratiating”, in a good way. This is not a dramatic fragrance that demands one’s attention, it is comfortable like a well-loved cashmere sweater. In fact, it steals up on you not unlike the namesake of its predecessor, Arsène Lupin, which is named for the beloved fictional French “gentleman thief” who appeared in many novels at the turn of the twentieth century.

Actor Omar Sy, who plays Arsène Lupin on Netflix, wearing a soft sweater
Actor Omar Sy, who plays Arsène Lupin on Netflix.

This fragrance is definitely unisex. If you are a woman who likes to wear spicy sandalwood and resin fragrances, you might love it. I particularly like the resins among the base notes; I also appreciate that the spices don’t hit you over the head, they are subtle and well-blended. Do you have any favorite spice-focused fragrances, or spice notes in fragrance?

Scented Advent, December 4

Scented Advent, December 4

Even days of December are when I alternate my Guerlain samples with other samples, and I’m trying to make sure I reach into the box that has mostly independent perfumers’ fragrance. In this challenging economy, it continues to be important to support the independent and small businesses that already had a tough time during the pandemic. Besides, the independent perfumers often create the most interesting and innovative fragrances that we love to try.

Today’s sample is Andy Tauer‘s L’Air des Alpes Suisses, inspired by the Swiss Alps and launched in 2019, and I’m just delighted. First, it’s a beautiful fragrance. Second, I was able to visit Zurich and some of its perfumeries in the “before times” and one of them was Suskind, a small perfumery that only sells niche fragrances. Apparently its owner was an early supporter of Andy Tauer (who is based in Zurich), who is very well-liked in the perfume community for his approachability as well as his undoubted talents. When I visited Suskind and asked to sample some Tauer perfumes, the sales assistant confirmed that he stops by sometimes, and how nice he is.

So back to my sample: L’Air des Alpes Suisses is 100% unisex. It may lean a little masculine for some, because it is aromatic and woody, which many associate with masculine fragrances. Here is M. Tauer’s description on his website:

HEAD NOTESThe HEAD notes are fresh like a breeze from treeless mountain summits: rough granite ground, the cool air from the glacier, and bitter alpine herbs.
HEART NOTESThe HEART notes are fresh, green with hints of spices. Floral delicacies such as the red Alpine lily bloom on lush meadows, powdery, spicy, green.
BODY NOTESThe BODY notes are inspired by alpine forests on cliffy slopes: the woody warmth of timber, larch and beech, with the sweet amber perfume of dry earth in the sun. notes are inspired by alpine forests on cliffy slopes: the woody warmth of timber, larch and beech, with the sweet amber perfume of dry earth in the sun.
L’Air des Alpes Suisses notes list, from the Tauer Perfumes website

Fragrantica lists these specific notes, in no particular order: ambergris, lavender, fir, pine needles, tonka bean, lily, lemon balm, orchid, birch, palisander rosewood, basil, thyme, nutmeg. As others have noted since its launch, L’Air des Alpes Suisses is basically a fougère, a classic fragrance structure that uses citrus, lavender, coumarin (tonka), and a mossy or woody base, often oakmoss. An aromatic fougère, like this one, will also include notes of spices and herbs.

To my nose, the lemon balm accord is taking the place of a more traditional “citrus” opening, accompanied by lavender, green herbs like basil and thyme; personally, I would list chamomile instead of basil. So the opening is very green but not like galbanum, more herbal and less bitter. There is no sweetness at all, but it’s very pleasant and refreshing. The middle phase is very intriguing, with the herbal accords mingling with the floral notes of lily and orchid, and a hint of evergreen forests. M. Tauer’s handling of the accords that evoke fir and pine needles is masterful. Needless to say, there is nothing that smells at all like the ubiquitous pine-scented cleaning liquids. Nutmeg brings a woody spiciness to the party.

As L’Air dries down, it does get woodier, which adds warmth, but I think the star of the show is ambergris. There’s an earthy warmth that blends harmoniously with the warm woods but is distinct from them. Having had the privilege of smelling actual ambergris (kept in a vault!), I think that is what my nose detects. The tonka (or coumarin) evokes dry hay, as one would find in a summer meadow.

As you may know, the Swiss Alps are home to amazing alpine meadows, with unique, unusual plants and flowers. A beloved summer tradition of hiking and walking along trails to see the meadows in bloom has persisted in Switzerland, despite its sophisticated, urbane modernity. Andy Tauer has perfectly captured the atmosphere of an alpine ramble surrounded by meadows and flowers and fringed by evergreen forests, starting at the summit and slowly descending. I think I would love this on my husband, because I quite like it on myself!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
May Melange Marathon: Gin and Scenthusiasm

May Melange Marathon: Gin and Scenthusiasm

I’m not much for cocktails. My tipple is usually a glass of wine; two years ago, I was introduced to the Aperol Spritz, and that’s my “fancy summer drink”, though I also like sangria (basically wine with fruit). However, on a couple of trips to Northern Ireland and Ireland in recent years, my husband and I were introduced to small-batch artisan gin. We had previously enjoyed Hendrick’s Gin and I even made up a cocktail that combined it with Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade (here’s the recipe), because my husband does like a good gin-and-tonic in the summer, and I wanted some variety.

Imagine my delight, then, when I found out that 4160 Tuesdays had created a fragrance called Scenthusiasm, based on the botanicals found in Hendrick’s Gin, for a special event by that brand! I didn’t really expect to get my hands on a bottle, but the opportunity arose after I wrote that post in 2018, and I seized it. After all, my little mini of Penhaligon’s Juniper Sling wasn’t going to last forever!

I also have a purse spray of Commodity’s Gin, and I’ve been wanting to compare the two. So today, I sprayed Gin on one hand, and Scenthusiasm on the other. They actually go quite well together as adjacent scents (not layered one on the other). Of the two, no surprise, I prefer Scenthusiasm. It doesn’t smell like gin; it smells like the floral and herbal notes in Hendrick’s, with natural orris (iris) butter, rose absolute, lemon and orange essential oils, cucumber extract, juniper absolute (of course) and coriander essential oil with musk, fresh air and white wood note synthetics. As perfumer Sarah McCartney says: “It’s inspired by gin, and has gin notes but mostly it’s a floral at heart: rose and iris, with the herbs dancing around it.” Just my cup of tea, to mix my metaphors! To my nose, the dominant floral note is the orris root; here, the rose is uncharacteristically cast as a supporting performer. The cucumber and juniper berries led the middle phase an astringent greenness, while the orris root carries through from start to finish.

Commodity’s Gin, on the other hand smells more masculine, aromatic, and woody to me. Commodity has closed down, but its fragrances are still to be found online and sometimes at discounters like T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s. Gin‘s top notes are Juniper Berries, Grapefruit and Lime; middle notes are Ginger Leaf, Labdanum and Freesia; base notes are Oak, Musk, Smoke and Patchouli, according to Fragrantica. As soon as I spray it, there’s a strong pop of lime and juniper, both aromatic scents I quite like. They do smell like a traditional, aromatic men’s cologne to my nose, an association I can’t shake even though Gin is truly unisex. The opening is really intriguing, with its burst of lime and juniper, together with the citrus essential oils. The heart phase smells mostly gingery to me, with an early entrance from both oak and smoke., followed pretty soon by patchouli. I don’t smell freesia at all. Both the opening and heart stages dry down pretty quickly, leaving a combination of oak, musk, smoke and patchouli that smells like the wood-paneled interior of an old-fashioned room like a library or study, where gin cocktails might be served before dinner and where family members and guests might be allowed to smoke occasionally.

How do you feel about gin? Boozy scents? Aromatic florals?

P.S. 4160 Tuesdays is having a “Tidying Up Sale” to make room, and Scenthusiasm is marked down in its smaller sizes (50 ml and below), by 50%! If I didn’t already own a lot of it, I’d be jumping on that.

May Melange Marathon: Eve

May Melange Marathon: Eve

One of the joys of this fragrance hobby is discovering independent perfumers and their work. One of my favorites is Diane St. Clair, of St. Clair Scents. I’ve loved her earliest creations, like Gardener’s Glove and First Cut. My SOTD is Eve, one of the “Audacious Innocence” collection, which was a finalist for the 2020 Art & Olfaction Awards in the artisan/independent category.

The other fragrance in the collection, Pandora, is a “sister” to Eve. According to the brand’s website, they share most of the same notes, but Pandora shows a darker side, with added base notes of labdanum and opoponax. Eve‘s notes, without those added base notes, are: Top notes of Lemon, Tomato Leaf, Apple, Bergamot and Mandarin Orange; middle notes of Orris, Lilac, Bulgarian Rose, Turkish Rose, Ylang-Ylang, Carrot Seeds and Jasmine Sambac; base notes of Oakmoss, Tonka Bean, Woods, Vetiver, Musk. Both scents come in a parfum extrait concentration of 35%.

Pre-Raphaelite painting of Pandora opening the box
Pandora, by John William Waterhouse

Diane St. Clair sees Eve and Pandora as similar:

The stories of Pandora and Eve, who reached for the forbidden apple, have much in common. Both came to symbolize women who were punished for disobeying orders and acting on their impulses towards curiosity. We believe that women who challenge the rules and follow their curiosity are striving towards creativity, innovation and independence.

The opening of Eve is as lush as the painting that inspired it, above. It smells of all the fruits listed as top notes, bound together by the astringent greenness of tomato leaf and bergamot. This seems so appropriate, since the Garden of Eden, where Eve was tempted to eat the apple, was more of an orchard than a garden. (In fact, I’ve learned that the word “paradise”, often used to refer to the Garden of Eden, comes from an ancient Persian word that means a walled orchard garden). I love green scents, so the tomato leaf especially appeals to me. A good thing, since it is quite strong! As the top notes retreat, the scent becomes more and more floral, with orris taking the lead, though ylang-ylang and roses are right behind it. This stage is rich and lush — almost creamy, but not gourmand at all.

I smell the oakmoss almost from the start, and certainly in the “heart” phase. This is some serious oakmoss, friends. It evokes the shadowy, green darkness under the dense branches of trees. That impression only grows stronger as the floral notes fade away and the other base notes anchor the whole scent to the earth, with their woods, musk, vetiver. I can’t say that I smell tonka much at all. Eve lasts a long time on my skin, several hours.

Sillage is moderate, as one would expect from an extrait, but I would say that a little goes a long way! I dabbed tiny spots of Eve on my wrists, and their scent carries easily and clearly up to my nose. Longevity is excellent. Eve just feels like a high-quality perfume all around; one senses the quality of the ingredients right from the start. Even though it is supposed to be the “yin” scent to Pandora‘s darker “yang”, this is not a light or frivolous fragrance. It is not to be trifled with! Which is why I used the gorgeous Pre-Raphaelite painting as this post’s featured image; it shows Lilith, said in Jewish folklore to have been the first wife of Adam (yes, that Adam), who was replaced by Eve because she was too rebellious. The painting beautifully captures a lush, flowering garden, and I think that’s a perfume bottle by the mirror!

Pre-Raphaelite painting of Lilith, first wife of Adam
Lady Lilith, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Have you had the chance to try any of St. Clair Scents’ fragrances? Do you have any favorite artisan or independent perfumers?

May Melange Marathon: Rose Griotte

May Melange Marathon: Rose Griotte

Thanks to a kind reader, I have a generous sample of Les Parfums de Rosine‘s latest fragrance, Rose Griotte. It is lovely! Launched in February of this year (2021), it was created by perfumer Nicholas Bonneville with Marie-Helene Rogeon. Interestingly, it is really a cherry blossom fragrance, but it has been anchored by a rose accord, as Mark Behnke explains on his blog, Colognoisseur:

The keynote floral is cherry blossom. There is little chance any rose essential oil wouldn’t trample the delicacy of that. So they make the clever choice to use a rose accord of three fresh florals as its balancing partner. It begins with a juice dripping, fruity top accord around pear. There is a bit of citrus and baie rose to provide some rounding effect, but the earliest moments are a ripe pear. Then the heart finds the beautiful powdery fragility of the cherry blossom matched with an expansive rose accord of peony, jasmine, and heliotrope. The last also has a bit of cherry in its scent profile which allows it to act as complement.

“Griotte” is apparently a wild cherry, sometimes called a Morello cherry, whose fruit is more sour than the cherries we commonly buy at the market. Like tart apples, the sour cherries make for very flavorful pies, clafoutis, and preserves. It has blossoms that are just as beautiful as the famous cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. Most of those thousands of trees are Yoshino Cherry. Other species include Kwanzan Cherry, Akebono Cherry, Takesimensis Cherry, Usuzumi Cherry, Weeping Japanese Cherry, Sargent Cherry, Autumn Flowering Cherry, Fugenzo Cherry, Afterglow Cherry, Shirofugen Cherry, and Okame Cherry.

Flowering sour cherry tree in spring with pink blossoms
Sour cherry tree; Prunus cerasus.
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May Melange Marathon: Jeunesse Il Giorno e La Notte

May Melange Marathon: Jeunesse Il Giorno e La Notte

One of my greatest pleasures is to travel with my husband, and until 2020, his work required him to travel a LOT. I couldn’t go on most trips during the academic year, due to my own job, but I was able to go with him usually at least once a year. 2019 was a banner year for such trips — I was able to go with him on business trips to Nice, then London, then Tuscany. The Tuscany trip happened in the summer, so we extended it for a real vacation and spent several days in Florence and Venice, which we had never seen before.

Florence, as it turns out, has a long tradition, centuries old, of perfumery, and is the perfect city to indulge in “perfume tourism.” We visited Santa Maria Novella, Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561, and the boutique of I Profumi di Firenze, Spezierie Palazzo Vecchio, among others. I acquired perfume souvenirs at each of them.

Profumo di Pioggia, winner of award from I Profumi di Boboli
I Profumi di Firenze perfume souvenirs

One of the bottles from the latter that came home with me was Jeunesse Il Giorno e La Notte, which is formulated as an eau de parfum. The notes list from the brand’s website includes Citrus, Italian Bergamot, Lily Of The Valley, Lavender, Floral Notes. Fragrantica adds that the base notes are white musk, and musk.

I should start this mini-review by noting that my 19 year-old son, who is usually pretty oblivious to his mom’s fragrance habits and applications, walked over to me today around noon to ask about yardwork, and immediately said, “You smell so nice!”. Music to a mother’s ears.

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May Melange Marathon: Bohemian Bluebells

May Melange Marathon: Bohemian Bluebells

I promise I won’t spend the whole month of May dissecting Zara Emotions fragrances, but here’s another one: Bohemian Bluebells. I like it very much and it’s certainly affordable! Also truly unisex, I think it would smell wonderful on a man as well as a woman. Its listed notes are lavender, sandalwood, and musk (nothing to do with bluebells). If you can imagine a warm lavender, that’s what it smells like to me. I do tend to associate lavender with bedtime, given its soothing properties, but I don’t usually associate it with warmth in spite of its cultivation in hot, sunny climates like Provence (there are also famous lavender fields in England and other parts of the UK). Sometimes I crave Jicky eau de toilette at bedtime, if I’m going to sit up and read for a while, but Jicky feels cool to me somehow, like the clean sheets that have been newly put on a bed, with their crisp, unwrinkled surfaces.

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May Melange Marathon: Beyond Paradise

May Melange Marathon: Beyond Paradise

“Melange” is an apt word to use for Estee Lauder’s Beyond Paradise, as it is truly a melange of different florals. In their book “Perfumes: The Guide A-Z”, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez not only gave it five stars, but also close to three full pages of discussion (most perfumes got a paragraph). He calls it a “symphonic floral.” Calice Becker was the perfumer who created it; Beyond Paradise was launched in 2003. The bottle I have is the teardrop-shaped, rainbow-tinted original. The batch number on the bottom suggests it dates to 2013. Fragrantica lists that version’s notes as: Top notes of Hyacinth, Orange Blossom, Grapefruit, Bergamot and Lemon; middle notes of Jasmine, Gardenia, Honeysuckle and Orchid; base notes of Hibiscus, Plum Wood, Ambrette (Musk Mallow) and Amber. The 2015 version in the rectangular bottle is described as having top notes of Blue Hyacinth, Orange Blossom and Jabuticaba; middle notes of Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Orchid and Mahonia; and base notes of Ambrette (Musk Mallow), Plum Blossom, Paperbark, and Woody Notes.

Both versions of Beyond Paradise are meant to be “fantasy florals” with a tropical theme; part of the length of Turin’s review is a long digression into the nature of abstract floral fragrances and how challenging they are to create, with a tip of the hat to perfumer Calice Becker, an acknowledged master of the art. According to contemporaneous press and PR coverage when it was launched, it included “proprietary notes” gleaned from a collaboration with The Eden Project, a fascinating conservation site in Cornwall, which involves massive biospheres located in and above an abandoned quarry and which I’ve had the privilege to visit. It does in fact house many rare and tropical plants, so it must be a great resource for unusual smells.

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May Melange Marathon: Layering Zara Emotions

May Melange Marathon: Layering Zara Emotions

Today’s fragrance is a true “melange”, from the Zara Emotions line, a series of fragrances created by the perfumer Jo Malone for Zara, the clothing retailer that is known for its inexpensive yet effective fragrances. In interviews, Ms. Malone has said that the line uses raw ingredients similar to the ones she uses in her own (much more expensive) line, Jo Loves, taking advantage of Zara’s enormous global buying power; there are just fewer separate ingredients in each Zara Emotions fragrance. The Zara Emotions fragrances are pretty simple but several are very appealing, and they are designed to be easy to layer with each other. So today, I am wearing one of the brand’s recommended combinations, Waterlily Tea Dress and Amalfi Sunray.

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May Melange Marathon: Trillium

May Melange Marathon: Trillium

As regulars here know, in addition to being somewhat obsessed with fragrance, I’m also a gardener. I would say, perhaps, a longtime or experienced gardener, except that one is brought up short by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to a friend: “Tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.” So true! One is always learning in a garden, always making new discoveries.

However, the house we bought so many years ago (our first and only) came with an old garden that had been lovingly cultivated over decades by a couple who raised their own family here. They were master gardeners, and a former neighbor who knew them told me that she thought the husband had actually been a landscape architect. For years after we first moved in, every season brought new discoveries of their plantings and how cleverly they had designed and planted our garden. One such discovery was a planting of the American native wildflower, the trillium. I call it a discovery because trilliums famously appear suddenly in the early spring, then go dormant and disappear completely until the next year. I was so surprised when I came across a large clump in the wooded, back part of our garden that had seemingly come out of nowhere, and then equally surprised when I went back several weeks later and it was completely gone, like magic.

Which brings me to an intriguing artisan perfume line, House of Matriarch High Perfumery, and its fragrance Trillium.

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