This week I’m moving and so is my perfume. Eek. It’s summer and there is a risk involved: cooking the bottles. There was a sad post in Bois de Jasmin (called Does it Spark Joy?) that detailed Lauren’s loss of her perfume collection because she moved in July to a southern state and her stash sizzled in the heat and was largely destroyed.
You get the picture.
Now I’ve never been perfectly organized when it comes to my perfumes. I don’t rotate and display them in a lovely feminine hat box they way Mals at The Muse in Wooden Shoes does, and I have not got the impressive methodology and discipline of Undina. While I’m not a slob,, exactly, my samples tend to lead a free wheeling existence in old plastic bags labeled by perfume variety. If it says Oriental on the outside, then the likelihood is that Orientals reside on the inside-mostly. That is, unless I forgot what I was doing and dropped a floral aldehyde in there by mistake, the way I did with Neil Morris’ Le Parfum C’est Ma Vie, which I now can’t find at all, dammit! Or – oh wait, what is that rolling around on the floor?
There are some smells that all of us have a visceral dislike of, some people hate boxwood with its pungent slightly cat pee odor. Others love it and have all sorts of happily associated memories of parks, gardens and playgrounds triggered by boxwood. Eau Illuminee from Parfums Delrae is said to feature boxwood as part of the sensory landscape of San Francisco. Then again some people love the scent of cumin while for others cumin (especially detectable in the revamped Femme from Rochas or old Alpona from Caron) can put off a lot of people who only smell sweat and stale takeaway curries. Even roses can be controversial, although most of us love them. Anne of Austria (Louis the XIV’s Mum) so hated them that reportedly she couldn’t stand to see a rose in a painting and who knows what happened when she spotted one in a vase…* Continue reading →
Perfumers don’t compose perfumes, instead they “write” them. It’s an interesting choice of verb. If you are one of those people who regard perfume as rather like cooking, then this idea will probably not appeal to you, but it is part of the industry, especially in France where fairly or unfairly, the metaphor for “cooking” in perfumery also exists but in a pejorative sense. A chemical brew is known as a “soup” and these comprise the majority of releases on the mass market. Something may be cooking or stewing at the big oil production houses , but isn’t being conceptualized, most product has no discernible plot beyond, “Make the sale!”
However perfumers themselves who are concerned with more than the fiendish difficulties of scenting detergent or soap, have a little more leeway, and for them the idea of ideas becomes feasible, even defensible. You get Frederic Malle’s “Editions” de Parfums, for all the world like Hachette or Gallimard. Continue reading →
I don’t know about other parts of the country but around here in Jersey the perfume counters are a tad lackluster. Most of the new perfumes are flankers of the Dolce “Floral Drops” variety, and do not cause much in the way of excitement, put it this way, you can buy the aforementioned drops on Overstock.com. What does seem to be different is the growth in the Nest personal perfume range. Our Sephora now sells what must be about eight of these and they are all beautifully packaged in prints derived from the work of Mary Delaney the 18th century botanical decoupage artist. Continue reading →
Thomas Jefferson at the age when he was experimenting most in the garden at Monicello
Ever wonder what were the favorite scents of historical figures? In the case of Thomas Jefferson we know one of his: the Mexican tuberose. Jefferson was a gardener when he was not writing the Declaration of Independence or being president. Monticello was a sort of test garden for all sorts of plants and flowers that Jefferson had admired abroad, or that he thought might be useful or simply ornamental, in American horticulture. One such discovery for him was the tuberose.
He kept a diary which is how we know about his tastes and what he ordered. Like anybody else who gardens, he loved to look at plant lists from nurseries and dream of where he could tuck this or that little rarity into the spaces he had open. Continue reading →
Strange to say, especially ahead of Valentine’s Day, I am not a chocoholic. That craving is so widespread that it is hardly worth asking people if they like chocolate any more-almost everybody does.
I can take or leave most chocolate, however one place where I do actually like the component is in perfume, partially because chocolate introduces heavy notes so well, and brings floral formulas back to earth. Some chocolate notes go further still becoming the harbingers of shadowy exoticism, even the macabre. One of my recent purchases celebrates the chocolate note in just such a sinister way. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
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 →