Pepper Flowers: Ofresia, Gardenia, Perfectly Marvelous

Black and White peppercorns

Black and White peppercorns

This is the sort of idea that tends to put people off.  It’s already pollen season in the Northeast, and I’m hearing a great deal of sneezing going on all around me, but the fact remains that an irritant is part of the charm of floral fragrances.  Possibly there should be something, just a little something, abrasive in all that prettiness.

Some perfumers have had the same idea, and that’s why there is a small sub genre of floral perfumes that feature pepper in a prominent position of the formula.  I can’t say the trick is a new one,  Chanel’s Gardenia contained pimento back in the 1990’s in its heart along with clove and sage, this followed a lavishly floral beginning crowded with orange blossom, jasmine and tuberose.  This gave Gardenia a piquancy that was maybe missing from some of its later iterations.  Anyway that touch of pepper showed that white florals did not have to be banal. Continue reading

No Green Beans

Green Vanilla beans from pinteres

Green Vanilla beans from pinteres

There are times when being green is not a good thing.  Take for instance Madagascar vanilla beans.  The island is the premier producer of vanilla beans world wide( just after Indonesia)* but has had troubles recently with the quantity of its beans and also with the quality.  Although you can buy vanilla from other sources such as Indonesia and Mexico, the quality of the beans has consistently not been perceived as being as high as the Madagascan vanilla.  That could be changing though.

The salient point here is that vanilla pods need to ripen before they are marketed.   When they are green they are not saleable. The vanilla pods have to turn that tarry black before they are ready.  Nowadays though some traders are harvesting the beans while they are still green and vacuum packing them, like off season sweaters, then opening the vacuum packed beans when the price of vanilla has risen enough to make their sale highly profitable. Continue reading

Sweet Peas and Failure

King High Scent Sweet Peas

King High Scent Sweet Peas

St Patrick’s Day used to be the traditional day for starting sweet peas (indeed any kind of peas according to Bill Harris founder of White Flower Farm) in the upper forty eight states.  It was a simple procedure, you dug a trench about three inches deep or so, maybe worked in a little compost or manure, stuck pea poles in at intervals along your furrow and then waited for the little vines to hoist themselves up and bind themselves to the sticks with their tendrils. Continue reading

Mysticism, Oud, and Deja Vu: Caron’s Yatagan and Parfum Sacre

M7 from manlovescologne.com

M7 from manlovescologne.com

Oud sloshes about perfume retailers nowadays, you need waders or gumboots to keep the stuff from soaking your shoes. There is practically a flood warning out for it, and still the public seems to love the smell and to keep on buying.  Sometimes I wonder if this is not due to the fact that the Industry killed off one of their better dry fixatives with the oakmoss ban imposed by IFRA?  It could be, and after all, synthetic substitutes for oud have existed for some time, but the beginnings of oud and the Middle Eastern influence on mainstream perfume is a good deal older than you might expect.

Yves Saint Laurent’s M7, a synthetic oud fragrance for men, was introduced in 2002 and has remained a love it or loathe it experience ever since.  However M7 wasn’t the first mainstream release containing oud.  The first was probably Yatagan (1976) into whose formula a certain amount of oud wood was incorporated.  The oud is not in the notes,  neither in the H&R Guide of 1991, nor yet on  any of the websites, but there is a reference to this note of Yatagan’s in The Book of Perfume by Barrille and LaRoze  who claim that the perfumers of Caron, always interested in rituals (with their own Royal Bain de Caron allegedly part of Voodoo ceremonies) decided to include this nearly sacred material in their new masculine.* Continue reading

The Lavender Bears’ Picnic

Bobbie bear in plush toy form

Bobbie bear in plush toy form

If you go down to the woods today you’d better not go alone…especially not in China where you might be witnessing one of the biggest bear jamborees on earth.  It seems that a fad of huge proportions was born this past year.  The Bridestowe Lavender Estate in Tasmania had been selling only the occasional Bobbie Bear in lavender plush stuffed with dried lavender, ten a month or so up until 2013, when a Chinese actress posted a picture of herself with Bobbie on social media.  Bobbie was, according to Zhang Xinhu, the perfect companion on a cold night in Shanghai.

After that, Bobbies began selling like crazy, up to 4 thousand a month and Bridestowe was at the limits of its  lavender production.  That was when their problems really began. Continue reading

Lilies of the Valley and Strong Women

Diorissimo advert perfumegirl.com

Diorissimo advert perfumegirl.com

It seems appropriate to quote Nancy Reagan now.  She is credited with observing that women were like tea bags, you could never tell how strong one was until she got into hot water. Some women are so strong, or at any rate their personalities are so strong, that you don’t need the hot water at all and can sun brew them.

Such was the case with my own mother whose personality was of the expansive sort, and I’ve known plenty of women since who were larger than life.  I’m speaking of the personality here mind you, not the character.  Character is different. Largely self constructed a structure that goes up with labor over decades and has little to do with personality. Put it this way, personality you are born with, character you make yourself, it’s akin to the difference between beauty and style. Continue reading

Perfume Partnerships

Rogers and Astaire

Rogers and Astaire

Not the cute pairings of masculines with feminines worn by couples.  What I mean by perfume couples, are scents in your wardrobe which you know will form a stable partnership with at least one other perfume you own. Maybe that might strike some people as odd, but I have done this for years.

Bear with me.  Fond as I am of the fragrance wardrobe concept, I tend to change it seasonally or even monthly, and usually in this way, morning or daytime scent with evening or afternoon one. If you use two perfumes from the same house it’s often easier to pull off since they frequently share a base. Right now I’ve done this with Le Temps d’un Fete and Vanille Tonka from de Nicolai. They play off one another extremely well and can be worn for a month or so at a time. You feel like you have choice but also harmony and some familiarity. Try this with any maker, from DS and Durga to Estee Lauder, the only common point being a house signature.Since the idea is not layering per se here(although you can try that) but to wear both in the same day with one perfume giving out as the other takes over and the overlap smelling wonderful. Continue reading

Daffodils on the Wind

Daffodils in full bloom

Daffodils in full bloom

February is about to turn into March, it makes me think that I should clean out all my wardrobes, take the coats to the dry cleaners, wash the sweaters, and clean out the perfume closet because one day soon incense will make me recoil.  Does everyone wear perfume seasonally?  I always have, partially because everywhere I have lived there have been sequential seasons, and it was difficult to ignore their cold and heat, and wear the same thing.  You could stock a rudimentary scent wardrobe by selecting one scent for summer and one for winter, but even that strained the Spring and Fall dichotomy.  Unsettled weather, weather that changes from day to day, is hard to plan for and hard to choose for, your old favorites are too stuffy and warm or too evanescent and light.   What can you wear in between perfume seasons? Continue reading

Till the Weekend Do Us Part

An 18th century couple

Married Couple  by Jacques Dumont 1733, Notice the dog, symbol of faithfulness.

Once upon a decade I had a signature perfume and that time is so far behind me now that I have trouble remembering what it was.  Oh yes, Chant d’Aromes, and in the summer Eau de Hadrian.  It was pretty halcyon,  you never had to think about what to put on.  It was always the same stuff.

I wonder what would happen if I wore the same perfume for a work week?  Continue reading

Alaia Urban Smog

James Abbott Macneil " Nocturne"

James Abbott Macneil
” Nocturne”

There are a lot of scents out there these days which strike me as only one part of a perfume.  Alaia which I have been smelling  round  me on scent strips (from Saks) is certainly one of them. I’m kind of amused that many bloggers think that it’s a wonderful modern perfume.  Alaia’s the coda to a modern perfume.  There’s no heart, and no beginning, you could call this linear but there isn’t enough of a high note to pull you in. It’s a base.

Alaia smells totally synthetic and there is something dark and tarry that I remember from the days when I was toying with Kate Walsh’s Boyfriend (remember that? No?) and  from Estee Lauder’s Sensuous Noir, although that had more of a presence than Alaia. Continue reading