English Air Male

Penhaligon's Hammam Bouquet from 1872

Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet from 1872

Catherine Donzel writing about national preferences in Le Parfum puts it like this: “Industrial perfumery must take into account cultural habits.  Therefore in Britain detergents are often scented with patchouli: it’s a fragrance that the English have appreciated for a long time….In France it’s another matter: since forever cleanliness is associated with the odor of lavender.”

This statement surprised me somewhat since quite frankly I would have guessed it to be the other way around. That perception might have been different had I been able to visit men’s clubs. The greatest perfumes that came out of England – and there have been several – are for men.  Ladies may be getting more attention these days because of niche perfumery, but in the past, the very best English perfumery was masculine. Continue reading

The Glamorous Scent of Peonies

Festiva Maxima from hiddenhillsgardens.comf

Festiva Maxima from hiddenhillsgardens.comf

In the heart of the big white peony known as Festiva Maxima there’s a very subtle scent.  You simply poke your nose in among the petals and you get many fragrances rolled together in the circumference of a single flower.  This is ready made perfume, perfection and not so many other plants produce fragrance so rounded and so complete.  Festiva Maxima does though.  I can only think of the Silk Tree as competition for another fine female fragrance finished down to the last molecules; an entirety of organic perfume.

Pink peonies have a similarly sophisticated scent but it’s  just a bit more pronounced and carries further.  Pink peonies have a sillage, and one of my  Mother’s dogs used to adore their perfume.  She was the only dog I ever knew who would literally go and smell the flowers.  A German Shepherd labrador mix, she had an acute nose, but a delicate, almost feminine sense of what smelled respectively good or bad, peonies were her clear favorites.  She never was too much into my dog’s preferred scent Eau de Dead Squirrel. Continue reading

Pop, Fizz, and Carbonation: Aldehydes in the Summer

Orange Sanguine from Atelier Cologne

Orange Sanguine from Atelier Cologne

Do you recall Soda Stream? That was the system which allowed you to create your own carbonated sodas .  You could buy the equipment and the carbonating packets at Bed Bath and Beyond, and a few summers ago, in the lost era before the Paleo Diet took serious hold and before gluten became unfit for human consumption, there was soda pop.

Now soda is considered worse than wine, which at least has anti-oxidents going for it.  Soda is merely an indulgence, a fattening, tooth decaying indulgence at that. I have to sneak about with my glasses of Dr. Brown’s Cherry Soda. Yes.  I know. Continue reading

Peaches, Fracas, and Iris Gris

Early Fracas advertising

Early Fracas advertising

Peaches unexpectedly have a great deal to do with 20th century perfume.  Peach sits so prominently in so many formulas, as it does in Fracas, next to the orange blossoms and the bergamot.   What made this omnipresence  possible? Success. Or sales. Or aldehyde C14 if you prefer. It’s in Chant d’Aromes, and yes , everyone points out the peach in Mitsouko, (that’s practically a tourist attraction by now.) Well, ditto Fracas.

Somehow or other Fracas is often the perfume of respectable women.  How does that come about?One explanation may be that the heart has built in restraint, like a camisole over a bosom, consisting of orris and carnation, in other words the exuberant tuberose is there buxom as can be, but so is the fabric smell from orris, while carnation provides the starch. Continue reading

Salty-Mossy

Oakmoss in nature

Oakmoss in nature

Oakmoss is pretty hard to find now.  Once it was a cinch to smell the dry and pungent scent of oakmoss in fragrances, moss was part of every chypre, now because of regulations, oakmoss is largely banned and the sort that is allowed in fragrance (ie IFRA compliant meaning it is in line with the  dictates of the Industry watchdog) has low atranol.

What is atranol?  Besides being the operative bit of oakmoss?   Apparently along with chloroatranol, it is the leading allergen in oakmoss absolute which is determined to be problematic by skin patch tests.  So much for wonkery.  What this means is less dryness and darkness in commercial fragrances.  Perfumery loves sugar, like the girl I overheard at the wine shop saying that she really, really, liked her Rieslings and her Marsalas.  Continue reading

Pavlova

Anna Pavlova

Anna Pavlova

This, due to my having cut my hand pretty well last night and so typing with three fingers, is going to be a very short post.  I hope you will excuse my terseness this time out, but I recently had an interesting encounter with a vintage perfume, Pavlova actually.  Which was named for the ballerina of course not the delicious meringue dessert. (Although I do love a good pavlova!)

Payot came out with this fragrance in 1977, but some perfume books notably Fabulous Fragrances, Jan Moran’s guide, date the scent to 1922.  Was there an earlier perfume?  La Pavlova was certainly very famous in the 1920’s, dying a swan’s death on stage with  astonishingly regular fidelity all over the world.  Payot as far as I know is a French skin care company, these days moving into the Chinese market.http://www.payot.com Pavlova, must have been one of their forays into the perfume world.  If so, then their effort was a success. Continue reading

The Best Customer?

Original advertising for Coty Muse

Original advertising for Coty Muse

The best perfume customer,  Do such people exist?  Can they exist?  Are they us?

In the States we tend to reference Estee Lauder’s steady and entirely sensible business practices, the slow and persistent knock on consumers’ sensibilities with demonstrations, free samples, and gifts with purchase. Estee was in fact a follower of Francois Coty in all this.  He too, wanted the wide market, and bet that he could obtain it-which he did of course- and with spectacular success.  That all began though with demographic democracy by targeting the middle class consumer. Continue reading

Power Powder

Advertising for Narciso Poudree

Advertising for Narciso Poudree

Fashions in fragrance change from time to time, that is why perfume sometimes smells “dated” or  simply “old”. The perfume isn’t necessarily old, but the style is, hence the comments.  Recently the trend has been for heavy weight champ orientals featuring oud or something that smells like it, no doubt courtesy various bases.  I was beginning to think that Mike Tyson fragrances were going to dominate the ring for several years to come, but in the interim something happened, bantam weight boxers like Sugar Ray Leonard triumphed.  Powder made a comeback.

Powdery used to be, back in the early aughts, a Bad Thing. “Powdery” was a term like “soapy” or “perfumey” that was discouraging if applied to your favorite on Makeupalley or elsewhere.  Fragrances should not disintegrate into little dry molecules in the nose and blow away, that was the consensus.  No one wanted to smell like Johnson and Johnson, which was in the business of baby products afterall, not perfumery. I must say that the judgement handed down seemed harsh to me at the time, since I loved the feminine powder bomb Caron’s Narcisse Blanc, and was almost as fond of Orchidee Blanche from L’Artisan. How times change, now powder is back. Continue reading

Iris…Actually

Black iris painting offering from etsy.com

Black iris painting offering from etsy.com

Detecting the principal notes of fragrances is one of the most annoying and confusing aspects of perfume collecting.  Who would know-for example-that the main note of Fracas is Tuberose?  And who would intuit that YSL Paris is largely concerned with roses?  No one does. You simply have to find that out yourself over time checking out different websites, and ultimately, trusting your own nose.

So last year when Patricia de Nicolai’s fragrance Ambre Cashmere came out I thought it was an amber perfume  because of the name, and  since most of the reviews accused AC of a tooth enamel eroding sweetness, I let the matter rest, and it wasn’t until for entirely different reasons a sample came my way, that I actually tried Ambre Cashmere. Continue reading

Rose in the Round

Winchester Cathedral photo our own

Winchester Cathedral photo our own

My roses have begun to be acclimated to the new garden and one has bloomed.  It is such a pretty thing and the scent is so different from what rises out of perfume bottles that I am  compelled to write about rose fragrances and how often they seem to go wrong when transplanted to human skin.

The rose in these pictures is David Austin’s Winchester Cathedral a white sport (A spontaneous change in flower, appearing on an established variety.  It’s an odd term I know.)  from his well known Mary Rose.  Winchester has a smell that is not at all like what wafts from perfume counters. Continue reading