Reconsidering Smells

Christmas tree cauliflower

Christmas tree cauliflower

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

Beauty and the Bottle

Le Labo Bottle

Le Labo Bottle

Bottles and packaging used to matter very little to me.  I was what your might call a reverse perfume snob, in that the prettier the presentation the more I thought the perfume inside the bottle would be a thin chemical mess.

Of course there was some justification for assuming that because in the past packaging for perfumes had taken up a good deal more of their budgets than the actual perfume, a  cart before the horse situation that predominated for a long time. Francois Coty’s old saying that you should offer a woman a quality product in the best packaging that you could afford seems to have gone by the wayside, but I wonder if after all he wasn’t right. Continue reading

A Pounding Perfume Headache

The headache

The headache

One thing is for sure, I’m not the only one.  Increasingly I hear and read about people getting headaches from perfume.  It’s a very unfortunate side effect of being a perfume enthusiast.

Now you might think being someone who blogs about perfume  and smells generally, that I therefore spend my days drenched.  Not so.  In fact I generally only wear perfume after three p.m. if  I have nowhere to go in the evening.  No restaurant, concert or theater trips get accompanying perfumes .  I’ve been to those places and had my evening scented with someone else’s selection once too often.  I have also gotten what you might call  contact headaches from perfume saturated venues, and so steer clear of any powerful perfumes in public. Continue reading

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

Gardenia 911

How many gardenias fall into the cold cream vat?

How many gardenias fall into the cold cream vat?

Gardenias are said to be the perfumer’s best bet at capturing the US feminine market.  We in the Sates love our gardenias, and if you can just concoct us a good one, we’re your customers forever.

There’s some truth to the rumor. All sorts of niche perfume companies have tried to crack open the American feminine market with gardenias, but only Annick Goutal succeeded with Gardenia Passion*, and such venerable houses as Guerlain have struck out with non-gardenia gardenias such as Cruel Gardenia.  C’est la Vie. Continue reading

Tit for Tat: Lavender Soliflores Disappear

La Liz was her secret violet eyes or lavnder oil?

La Liz was her secret violet eyes or lavnder oil?

You may have noticed the disappearance of lavender soliflores.  In fact you may have noticed the disappearance of lavender essential oil from perfumes and soaps and other such products with some vague fake floralcy substituted for lavender.  Why has this happened?

The explanation may be related to the findings  in 2006 of Derek Henley and Edward Reiter of the National Institute of Environmental Health and Science concerning the strange cases of five young boys and “idiopathic prepubertal gynecomastia”.  Translated into the demotic, these five boys had begun to sprout breasts when using otc tea tree and lavender oil containing soaps and shampoos. The effect went away when the boys changed products.

Continue reading

Trumpeting Florals: Lilies

Bouquet from The metropolitan Museum of Art

Bouquet from The metropolitan Museum of Art

Big honking lilies and not those tiny little lilies of the valley, that’s what I’m referencing.  They’re not shy and they’re really not understated either, but the big lily’s smell can be beautiful.

They can also be great big honking hits with the public. Consider that billboard sized lily Cacharel’s, Anais-Anais.  Cacharel let Anais-Anais loose on unsuspecting mortals in 1978 and the beginning was a  heavenly whirlwind of florals: White Madonna Lily, black currant, hyacinth, lily of the valley, then a midsection crammed with even more flowers and woods.  Everything was stuffed inside Anais -Anais’s delicate skin, jasmine, Grasse rose, iris, ylang-ylang, orange blossom, vetiver cedarwood, oakmoss, patchouli, finally an almost apologetic ending trailing behind this monumental arrangement, a few leather streamers and a tiny bit of musk as though Anais had stepped out of one fragile leather slipper and left it behind. Continue reading