Cyclamens in Winter

Cyclamen graecum in bloom

Cyclamen graecum in bloom

There is nothing quite so graceful as a cyclamen in bloom.  Every year when the last things in the garden have been blackened by frost I tend to look for the pots in the super markets and plan table scapes in baskets with cyclamens  dominating (kept in shape by watering with weak tepid tea). It’s too early for the amaryllis that I’ve begun and is still the season for chrysanthemums indoors, so I have to postpone my cyclamen fest until December, but I begin thinking about them now. Continue reading

Three Cult Orientals

Dragon fruit Seviche from honestcooking.com

Dragon fruit Seviche from honestcooking.com

Orientals had been rather passe.  I’m not sure when the turnaround came, but sometime around the end of the oughts, oriental perfumes came back into fashion and the previously ubiquitous fruity florals were back- catalogued. Something had shifted in the zeitgeist, or fashion, or the cloudy upper ether of the fragrance world.

I realized that the change was complete when I leafed through a book on Berlin fashion and discovered that some cool Berliners were now wearing Frederic Malle’s Dries Van Noten (a woody oriental, specifically an update of Nuit de Noel and Bois des Isles). They wouldn’t have been doing that five years ago. Continue reading

Coty’s Chypre

Chypre in an early bottle

Chypre in an early bottle

This is a marvel of a perfume.  If you are new to the world of scent and just trying to get a grip on what the difference between an oriental and a chypre is, Francois Coty’s name is one to know.  He was  born a Corsican and his original name was actually Spoturno, but he abandoned that in favor of his mother’s maiden name Coti, which he subsequently gallicized to Coty. France’s first billionaire, Coty was also the first man to use floral extracts in his perfumes (these were stronger and pure-er than the old floral distillates).  The result was several stunningly original perfumes and in 1917, Chypre,  the fore runner of all modern chypres, and a true feat of perfumery, combining extremes of lightness and darkness, freshness and muskiness, scrubbed cleanliness and grubby sexiness in one unified whole. Continue reading

Evelyn Rose, Evelyn Perfume

Evelyn Rose in bloom

Evelyn Rose in bloom

Only very infrequently do nurserymen or plant breeders collaborate with perfumers. Once briefly in 1993 one such collaboration  produced a success: Evelyn.

The company willing to work with a breeder to produce a replica scent was Crabtree & Evelyn and the breeder was David Austin.  He was promoting a new strain of roses that he had been working on since the late sixties, English Roses which have the look and perfumes of old garden roses but are repeat flowering.  He was always far more attentive to fragrance than any of the other rose breeders I’ve ever read about.  David Austin was concerned not simply with stem bending size of rose or outlandish color, but with form of blossom, foliage, and very much with scent. Continue reading

Nasty from the Nice

Faraday's Depiction of the Great Stink of London

 Depiction of the Great Stink of London

Bad perfume may be one of the evils we were put on this earth to rise above- as Queen Victoria was  rumored to have remarked about nature. At least it is to my mind.  Victoria had a larger task than the one I have set myself, which is simply not to inhale anything for long which is hateful.  When it comes to new perfumes I give everything a fair trial-but here’s the salient point-not on skin.

My method involves a brandy snifter and some saturated paper or cotton. I leave the sample in the snifter for hours and check on its progress and note the changes, but I do not put anything on my skin anymore that has not gone through a good eight hour stretch in the snifter. Continue reading

Mr and Mrs Satan

Sciaparelli's Mr Stan at her front door

Sciaparelli’s Mr Satan at her front door

The story goes that the designer Schiaparelli had two Venetian carved figures on either side of her front door in Paris in the thirties.  They were human scale but carved out of wood and had cloven hooves, so some wag on his way in to a Schiaparelli party dubbed them Mr and Mrs Satan.

Schiaparelli had a distinctive taste, but when it comes to red hot and devilish fun, I can understand it.  My own fondness is for any kind of red hot scent.  I really will go out of my way for peppers, or cinnamon, or carnation (provided it’s good and spicy) and cloves, so it can’t be any surprise that one of my long term loves in the perfume world is Caron’s Poivre.  Continue reading

Boo! In a Bottle

Witches in costume

Witches in costume

Halloween is almost here, and in the grand tradition of Jersey which takes Halloween quite seriously, I am thinking about the very darkest fragrances and how well  they play with the public these days? Or whether, and I’d lay odds on this, they simply spook them?

Darkness was in once.  People wore extremely strong and heavy fragrances and no one thought twice about it, Cabochard for instance, or Guerlain’s old heavy hitter Djedi, or the original Ungaro which I recall had a very dark sillage, sort of like a black hole altering the time space continuum  as it came down the street, sucking in every other fragrance for yards around into its impossibly dense core.  Come to think of it, the original Must de Cartier did that too.  But then, once upon a time, it was the eighties and nineties.

You get a lot of perfumes called black or noir now, but the reality is often a tame backing off from animalic musks or woods, or Heaven preserve us! Oakmoss!! Continue reading

Truly Madly Oddly

Guerlain's pamplelune

Guerlain’s pamplelune

Originality is risky.  You may have observed this yourself in the matter of wardrobe selection.  You may be creative and a free spirit, and completely unrestrained by those tiresome things called conventions, but that’s not the point, the point is, what about everyone else?

When it comes to scent convention tends to control what we wear and where we wear it.  A pervasive oriental to the office? A titanic white floral to a dinner party?  Perfume no matter how romantic in essence, has to fit in with its olfactory surroundings and those tend to be the set pieces of existence everything from the dry cleaner’s to the doctor’s office. Continue reading

Perfumers of Note : Yves Cassar

Pure White Linen

Pure White Linen

The lives of perfumers have changed so much in the past twenty years. They used to be invisible entities, people who engineered liquids in bottles so that we would all be enchanted, and their work was ascribed to designers,  “Bigdeal Designer, for his new perfume…” In fact Big had licensing agreements.  Nowadays it’s much more civilized.  We recognize that perfumes are worked out like watery equations by perfumers.

Maybe it’s naive to pay too much attention to the work of perfumers simply because they are themselves at the mercy of briefs and of the clients who present said briefs, but now and again, the fumes clear and you can see an individual at work who is clearly highly talented. Continue reading

The Shock of Recognition

“A truly great perfume, however,  is one which provokes genuine emotion in the person who smells it for the first time….The best perfumes are ones which ‘give us a shock’.”

from Perfume by Elizabeth Barille and Catherine Laroze

Lightning Strike

Lightning Strike

If you’re a perfumista long enough you begin to drift away from the days in which you frequently got shocks from perfume.  But I still experience them and the wonderful part of each shock is that it is completely unpredictable.  I can wear something artisanal and unprepossessing and I can put on something from the CVS (Canoe actually) or I can put on some perfume that I was pretty sure I disliked, only to find the formula opening out brilliantly on skin- to my surprise.  I’m blown off my feet by a few scent molecules, and not for the first time. Continue reading