Have You Read Any Good Perfumes Lately?

Bookshelf from nextimpact.com

Bookshelf from nextimpact.com

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

Nesting

Robin's nest from evoillusion.org

Robin’s nest from evoillusion.org

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

Tuberoses for a Founding Father

Thomas Jefferson at the age when he was experimenting most in the garden at Monicello

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

The Ominous Valentine

 from bonniemohr.com

from bonniemohr.com

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

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

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

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

Ripeness Is All

Fig Fruit

Fig Fruit

The fig note in perfumes, now fairly widespread, was an innovation of the 1990′s. Olivia Giacobetti’s Premier Figuier for L’Artisan Parfumeur dates back to 1994 and with it was born a perfect craze for figs.  For a while they became the only green fragrances that were in vogue.  You could smell leafy and edible at one and the same time, which I suppose was the point.

There is also the enduring connection between human sexuality and figs, and therefore the use of fig leaves.  Walk through a Vatican statue gallery, and a perfect gale of marble leaves apppears to have been stripped off stone trees, blown in, and hit the nudes with unerring accuracy all in the same spot. They are the Renaissance answer to Speedos. Continue reading

Sex Positive Parure

Anouk Aimee the quintessential Parisienne

Anouk Aimee the quintessential Parisienne

Most people when they write about the chypres of Guerlain do tend to go on (and on) about Mitsouko.  If you knew Mitsouko, like they knew Mitsouko, your whole outlook on life would change. There is a kind of mystic union between the wearer and the perfume, and if you love peaches and bergamots and lilacs, vetiver, amber and oakmoss , not forgetting a bit of cinnamon, you will indeed love Mitsouko.

Still Mitsouko is not the whole story in terms of chypres chez Guerlain.  There is always Chant d’Aromes (a sort of back crossing of Mitsouko with Ma Griffe) and Sous le Vent which is a skinny chypre with herbs and lavender in the beginning and less going on its dry down than in Mitsouko,rather like a girl with no behind, and then…there’s Parure. Continue reading