Scented Advent, December 17

Scented Advent, December 17

Another pleasant surprise today for my Advent SOTD: Carner Barcelona’s El Born, which I’ve worn before and like very much. I’ve also stayed in the neighborhood El Born, for which the fragrance is named, and it is a completely charming, fascinating part of Barcelona.

Medieval street in El Born neighborhood, Barcelona
Street in El Born, Barcelona; image from barcelonaconnect.com.

So, first, the neighborhood. El Born is one of the medieval neighborhoods of Barcelona, full of tiny, narrow streets that barely fit one car or aren’t wide enough for any cars at all! It is now a trendy, funky city neighborhood full of art galleries, restaurants, boutiques, museums, but also very family-friendly, containing residential apartments, food stores, pastry shops, schools, and parks. Its most famous structures are the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, which signals its proximity to Barcelona’s waterfront (the waterfront is now in Barceloneta, ten minutes away; the church used to be on the actual waterfront before Barcelona was expanded, and its parish consisted largely of fishermen, dockworkers, and their families); the Picasso Museum, housed in five combined medieval palaces or large townhouses (like the “hotels particuliers” of medieval Paris); the El Born Centre Cultural, a fascinating museum about the neighborhood’s history, in a restored covered market; and the Parc de la Ciutadella, a park built on the site of a demolished citadel fort that had been built in 1714 by King Philip V of Spain to control Barcelona after conquering it during the War of Spanish Succession. The fort was a hated tool and symbol of conquest and military occupation, and it was demolished in the mid-19th century during a rare period of Barcelonan independence.

“El Born” is traditionally understood to be the medieval district south of the street Carrer de la Princesa and east of the “Barri Gotic”, or Gothic Quarter, starting at the Via Laietana. However, nowadays many use the name to refer to the area that is technically a neighborhood called “La Ribera”, between Carrer de la Princesa and Barcelona’s legendary Palau de la Musica (“Palace of Music”), which includes more residential streets as well as the Mercat de Santa Caterina, a restored covered food market full of Catalan epicurean delights. Can you tell that I love Barcelona? I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few times, thanks to my husband’s work that used to take him there once or twice a year, pre-pandemic, and it is now one of my favorite cities. It is also home to some very happy perfume hunting-grounds, by the way, where I have delighted in serious “perfume tourism” in niche boutiques and perfumeries.

Carner Barcelona is a fragrance brand that was launched in 2010 by Sara Carner. It aims to capture the spirit of Barcelona and Catalonia in its fragrances: “We are captivated by Barcelona’s Mediterranean soul; its architecture, culture and the unique way in which history merges with the contemporary lifestyle and the vitality of its people.” El Born is part of its original collection and was launched in 2014. It is described as an “amber floral”, and that’s accurate — I would say it is mostly amber, slightly floral. The notes listed on the brand website are: Sicilian Lemon, Calabrian Bergamot, Angelica, Honey (top); Fig, Heliotrope, Benzoin from Laos, Egyptian Jasmine (middle); and Madagascan Vanilla Absolute, Peru Balsam, Australian Sandalwood, Musk (base).

Right away, when I spray El Born on my skin, I smell the honey and angelica top notes. They provide a soft, warm, but slightly herbal sweetness: a bit like caramel but not sugary, if that makes sense. It is more like clover honey, i.e. honey from bees that have feasted on clover nectar. There is a brief spark of citrus at the start, but it doesn’t linger. As the middle phase develops, the sweetness is carried by the fig and benzoin, with heliotrope contributing a subtle floral dimension. I don’t really pick up the jasmine at all, and I’m okay with that! The other accords are very soft, and the honey lingers among them. The vanilla accord joins in pretty early in this fragrance’s progression, and it’s just the kind of vanilla I like — more botanical than gourmand. Balsam, sandalwood, and musk notes in the base carry forward the soft warmth that characterizes all stages of El Born.

El Born, the fragrance, is just as ingratiating as El Born, the neighborhood. I should note, however, that the actual El Born neighborhood does NOT smell as wonderful as this fragrance! It has that damp, stony smell that many medieval neighborhoods have, sometimes with a soupçon of sewer due to ancient drains. Never mind! It’s a truly delightful place to visit, with wonderful food, restaurants that serve meals until very late in the night (late per this appreciative American tourist’s POV), interesting things to see around every corner (and there are LOTS of corners in El Born).

The photo below isn’t specific to El Born, but it demonstrates (again) the incredible sense of style and color that characterizes Barcelona, and it comes from the city’s annual competition to design holiday lights for some of the major city streets (one of which is Via Laietana, the western edge of El Born). This shows lights in the Diagonal neighborhood:

Christmas lights in Barcelona
Barcelona. Christmas lights, Diagonal.

Now really, if those lights don’t put you in a holiday frame of mind, as we enter the last week of Advent, what will? Have you visited Barcelona, or tried any of Carner Barcelona’s scents?

A Scented Advent, December 2

A Scented Advent, December 2

It’s the second day of Advent (and the second day of final exams at the university where I work — ugh). As regular readers here know, some of us were chatting back and forth about Advent calendars on our blogs, and lo! a plan was born. I have a refillable Advent calendar, and I have placed in it some of the surprise samples sent by a kind perfumista, only looking to make sure the samples will fit in the little drawers. So I don’t know what I’m going to get on any given day!

Today’s SOTD is Diptyque’s Eau Duelle, in the eau de toilette fomulation, created by Fabrice Pellegrin and launched in 2010. Wow, vanilla! I like this a lot, because it’s not a very sweet vanilla; it smells more botanical than gourmand. The website lists only vanilla, pink peppercorn, and cypriol as “raw materials”. Fragrantica lists its notes as: Bourbon vanilla, elemi resin, cardamom, juniper, pink pepper, olibanum, black tea, ambergris, bergamot, saffron, musk. The brand also describes it as “an ode to travel and vanilla. Along the spice route, the vanilla at the heart of Eau Duelle takes on new aromas: luminous, addictive accents of calamus and dark, smoky nuances of cypriol. Travelling through time and over borders, Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar reveals itself between darkness and light.”

Cypriol is a fascinating substance. It comes from the root of an ancient plant in the same family as papyrus. The Society of Scent describes its aroma as a combination of vetiver, patchouli, and cedar, with hints of pepper and bay leaf. That would explain the non-gourmand aspect of Eau Duelle; it really is more botanical — an herbal vanilla. When I first applied some to my wrist, most of what I smelled was a gust of vanilla, and that remains strong throughout. As it dries down, though, more and more of the herbal and woody facets of this fragrance emerge, in a pleasant, cozy way. One commenter has said that wearing Eau Duelle is like wrapping yourself in a cashmere blanket; I would add that you’re also drinking a cup of vanilla chai or other spiced tea while wrapped in said blanket.

Bottle of Bourbon vanilla extract with vanilla bean pods
Bourbon vanilla beans and extract; image from nativevanilla.com

I can’t distinguish all the notes listed on Fragrantica, but I do pick up hints of cardamom and juniper. The website also mentions calamus, both in its description and as an “olfactory accident”, whatever that means. Calamus is another ancient plant; Egyptians wrote about it as early as 1300, when it may have been used in perfumes. In our own literary history, the poet Walt Whitman used it as a symbol of homosexual love between men, and his masterpiece “Leaves of Grass” includes a series of poems known as the “Calamus Poems” or “Calamus Sequence.” Its odor is said to be warm, spicy, woody, with green notes. It’s entirely possible that the many notes listed by Fragrantica are really different aspects of just two substances: cypriol and calamus.

I could definitely see myself getting a travel spray of Eau Duelle some day. I’ll be interested to see, once I’m out and about more, whether I get any comments on it; there’s something about vanilla notes that really attracts people. It reminds me of Le Couvent des Missions’ original Eau des Missions cologne, a cult favorite with many perfumistas. Interestingly, it came out just a year after Eau Duelle, in 2011. If you’re yearning for that long-discontinued scent, try Eau Duelle.

Refillable wooden Advent calendar
My fragrance Advent calendar
Scent Sample Sunday: JD Vanille Farfelue

Scent Sample Sunday: JD Vanille Farfelue

Jeffrey Dame is well known to perfumistas, as the founder of Jeffrey Dame Perfumery and creator of indie classics like Dark Horse and Black Flower Mexican Vanilla. He and perfumer Hugh Spencer have created a line of what he calls “post-modern perfumes”, one of which is a major favorite of mine (Duality). But today, I’m trying out another in the line: Vanille Farfelue. The name translates to “crazy vanilla”, as Mr. Dame explained:

“It’s hard to make a great vanilla perfume, but it’s so very easy to make a good vanilla scent. Basically, you can put on a dab of vanilla food extract from your kitchen pantry and someone is bound to tell you how wonderful you smell. So vanilla is easy then. Using aldehydic notes in perfumery is also so very easy, but using aldehydes well or in an interesting manner is exceedingly difficult. A decent slug of aldehydes blended with say a classic rose note will transport you immediately to….a fusty and dry old-fashioned perfume from eighty years ago which is somehow one-dimensional and overwhelming at the same time. Aldehydic perfumes are often nose-wrinklers. But in a perfume workbench eureka moment, using aldehydic notes as a lift to slice through a sticky vanilla note and seeing the composition elevate up into the air to a place perfume normally doesn’t go to — now that’s crazy, a crazy vanilla….JD VANILLE FARFELUE. Sprinkle a touch of this and that into this aldehydic vanilla blend and you have a short concise perfume formula from JD JEFFREY DAME which turns heads every which way you go.”

The opening of Vanille Farfelue is indeed strongly aldehydic, and I love it. One immediately smells the kinship to Chanel No. 5 and Chanel No. 22. The heart notes are all floral: rose, violet, lily of the valley, ylang ylang. Base notes include vanilla, sandalwood, and vetiver. This combination really is clever; Vanille Farfelue starts off like a vintage floral, albeit with a lighter touch, and evolves into something like a modern gourmand, without being sweet or cloying. It got an enthusiastic response from my husband, who is drawn to vanilla scents (as are so many people).

Real vanilla is a very complex compound, and in recent years, the cost of vanilla beans has skyrocketed, due to major storm damage in Madagascar, an important producer of vanilla. Chemists have known how to create synthetic vanillin since the 19th century, so we’re not in danger of losing our beloved vanilla. And believe it or not, there is actually an ice cream flavor called “Crazy Vanilla”!

Ice cream cone with crazy vanilla, Newport Creamery

Crazy Vanilla ice cream, from Newport Creamery

Vanille Farfelue is a delightful, happy fragrance. It is friendly and comforting, without being sticky or gooey. I like it very much, though I think my heart still belongs to JD’s Duality, of that line. There are so many outstanding fragrances with strong vanilla notes, like Shalimar and its flankers, that I can’t say Vanille Farfelue will displace any of those classics. But it is charming, it lasts a good while, and it does have that aldehydic opening and a floral surprise at its heart. I will enjoy wearing it!

Here is the recipe for the beautiful vanilla/citrus cake pictured above and below, from the blog My French Country Home.

Citrus cake with vanilla icing and flowers, by Molly Wilkinson

Molly Wilkinson’s Citrus Cake, My French Country Home

What is your favorite fragrance with vanilla notes?

La Collection Vanille by Sylvaine Delacourte — Bonjour Perfume

My journey with Sylvaine Delacourte creations began many years ago. Yet then I didn’t even know that this beautiful lady is the nose behind the famous Guerlain Insolence, and could not even imagine that years later I would be chatting to her in Milan…. Back in 2009 I was just making my first steps into […]

via La Collection Vanille by Sylvaine Delacourte — Bonjour Perfume

A great summary of Sylvaine Delacourte’s new collection! Right now, the Discovery Box for this collection is reduced from 12 euros to 4 euros with free shipping, I’ve just ordered mine, and if you follow this link, the website says you and I both get a small discount on a subsequent order. Ms. Delacourte’s website also has some very appealing holiday offers, so check those out!

Fragrance Friday: Commodity Velvet

Fragrance Friday: Commodity Velvet

I have a soft spot for the Commodity line of fragrances, as Commodity Moss was one of the first niche-type fragrances I tried when I started getting serious about fragrance (I say niche-type, because once you can buy a fragrance in Sephora, I’m not sure it’s a true niche fragrance any more!). I really like Moss, but my oh my Velvet!

Commodity Velvet is a new 2018 release, and the perfumer is Jerome Epinette. Its top notes are listed on the Commodity website as roasted almond, clove buds, and coconut water. Heart notes are: heliotropine, vanilla flower, velvet rose petals. Base notes are blonde woods, white birch, black amber. Commodity has a short film in which M. Epinette describes his intentions in creating Velvet:

Velvet is a unique rose fragrance, with its notes of roasted almond, white birch, and black amber. There are many fragrances that combine rose and vanilla, but Velvet’s lightly smoky, nutty opening is unusual and very pleasing. The only other fragrance I’ve been able to find that combines roasted or toasted almonds with rose, vanilla, and birch is Soivohle’s Vanillaville, in which it seems that the rose is much more of a bit player, and tobacco and leather notes dominate. (P.S. Vanillaville sounds great! I haven’t tried it but it’s now on my radar).

M. Epinette focused on evoking the soft texture of velvet fabric or the velvety feel of real rose petals, and he has succeeded. He says of his concept: “I was inspired by the image of vibrant pink Turkish Rose Petals floating gently over a mysterious, dark background of richly warm vanilla and black amber with a delicious touch of roasted almond drifting in the air.” The almond is present right from the start. I don’t smell any coconut in the opening, but it may be there as a support to the roasted almond, which I do smell.

I don’t experience the base or drydown of Velvet as “dark”, if by dark one means edgy. The dark of Velvet is warm and soft, shot through with subtle shades of color, as fine silk velvet often is. M. Epinette describes vibrant pink rose petals against a dark background, but I perceive Velvet as being more like one of the dark, velvety roses that have shades of pink on their petals.

Dark red velvety rose against black

Dark red rose; image from Flowers Healthy.

Dark red and pink Black Beauty Velvet Rose

Black Beauty Velvet Rose

Velvet is a beautiful rose for cooler weather, when many roses, like those in my garden, put forth a new flush of blooms. It reminds me a bit of Montale’s Intense Cafe, though without that fragrance’s powerhouse sillage and longevity. Its longevity is reasonable; I can still smell it on my wrists seven hours after first application, although it has become faint. Its roasted almond top note is different and very appealing. Velvet is warm, soft, slightly spicy, and utterly charming.

Featured image above from OliverTwistsFibers on http://www.etsy.com.

Scent Sample Sunday: Black Flower Mexican Vanilla

Scent Sample Sunday: Black Flower Mexican Vanilla

In honor of American perfumer Jeffrey Dame’s generous giveaways last weekend and this one, on Facebook Fragrance Friends, today’s Scent Sample Sunday is devoted to one of the samples he sent me in addition to my freebie:  Black Flower Mexican Vanilla.

It is on my wrists as I write this, and wow, is it scrumptious! It’s not really gourmand, though; it has enough citrus, floral and other notes to prevent that. It is one of the “Artist Collection Perfumes”, described as creative collaborations between Jeffrey Dame and his father, artist Dave Dame. The artwork on the bottles’ labels is by Dame Pere. The fragrance is described as “a blend of vanilla absolute with touches of lemon, grapefruit, caramel, nutmeg, gardenia, jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, musk, and tonka.” It was launched in 2014. You can read more about Dame Perfumery and its three generations of Dames here.

Black Flower Mexican Vanilla is mesmerizing. It reminds me of the late, great Anne Klein II , a discontinued gem that I wore in the 1980s and which now commands outrageous prices online, if and when you can find it. Like AKII, it opens with a healthy dose of citrus, but the vanilla permeates top, heart and base. Like AKII, the floral notes emerge shortly after the opening and blend beautifully with the omnipresent vanilla. BFMV has gotten enthusiastic nods of approval from the two males in my household (husband and teenaged son), also reminiscent of AKII, which is the only fragrance I’ve ever worn that got me compliments from strangers on the New York subway.

I am especially enjoying BFMV because I’ve been looking for a vanilla-based fragrance I would like. My preferences lean heavily to greens, florals and chypres, with a special fondness for muguet and narcissus (yes, I have two bottles of Penhaligon’s Ostara). I haven’t been won over by any truly gourmand scents, and so many vanillas now are gourmand more than Oriental. BFMV is classified as an “Oriental Vanilla” while AKII is listed as an “Oriental Floral”, paying heed to the spice and woody notes each one includes.

Vanilla has a fascinating history, too; its orchid-flowered vines are native to Mexico and Guatemala, where it was first discovered by Europeans. National Geographic explains:

Vanilla is a member of the orchid family, a sprawling conglomeration of some 25,000 different species. Vanilla is a native of South and Central America and the Caribbean; and the first people to have cultivated it seem to have been the Totonacs of Mexico’s east coast. The Aztecs acquired vanilla when they conquered the Totonacs in the 15th Century; the Spanish, in turn, got it when they conquered the Aztecs.

Vanilla orchid vine and flowers by Dan Sams

Vanilla orchid flowers; image by Dan Sams via Getty Images

The Totonacs are supposed to have used vanilla pods as a sacred herb, using it in rituals, medicines, and perfumes. I find that the photograph on Dame Perfumery’s website, featured at the top of this post, is very evocative of that history and the actual scent, which is darker, spicier, drier and more beguiling than your standard vanilla. Nielsen-Massey, a purveyor of vanilla extract, points out:

Even after its discovery by Europeans, Mexico was still the sole grower of vanilla beans for another 300 years. That’s because of the symbiotic relationship between the vanilla orchid and an indigenous tiny bee called the Melipone. The bee was responsible for the pollination of the vanilla orchid flower, resulting in the production of the fruit… Vanilla from Mexico has a flavor that combines creamy and woody notes with a deep, spicy character, making it a delicious complement to chocolate, cinnamon, cloves and other warm spices. Even more, Mexican vanilla works wonderfully in tomato sauces and salsas, where it smooths out the heat and acidity of these dishes.

BFMV is very true to this heritage, as it tames the acidity of the citrus notes and brings its own creamy, woody, spicy smoothness and warmth to other notes like nutmeg, gardenia, jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli and vetiver.

As it dries down, I am finding that the vanilla intensifies while the floral notes slowly fade. Luckily for me, I love the notes that seem to be taking the stage with the vanilla during the drydown, especially sandalwood.

Black Flower Mexican Vanilla is a new love for me! It will be especially welcome now that autumn is here and the weather is cooling down. Thank you, Jeffrey Dame!