And One More Word on Vanilla

Three dimensional  Vanillin

Three dimensional Vanillin

The word I have in mind is vanillin. Vanillin is one of the earliest synthetics from 1874 actually when first produced by the firm of Haarmann & Reimer, and you would recognize the smell even if you were not fascinated by fragrance because vanillin, like the SPECTRE organization in James Bond stories is everywhere, though mostly these days in food, along with its close associate ethylvanillin. If you’ve eaten candy bars you’ve eaten vanillin. Continue reading

Guerlain Vanillas

Decadent Vanilla

Decadent Vanilla

You can’t wear Guerlain without wearing vanilla.  It’s not even worth making the experiment because Guerlain equals vanilla, and there is no version of vanilla that Guerlain hasn’t whipped up, baked up, brewed up or macerated in just about endless variations during its nearly two hundred year history.*

First a disclaimer, I’m not a vanilliac.  But I like the note .  When I was younger I was sure I didn’t, and avoided Guerlains, but time Continue reading

Love- But Not at First Sniff

James Macneil Whistler

James Macneil Whistler

Some of my very favorite and most enduring loves in the perfume world began with serious dislike.  You might almost call some of those encounters Beatrice and Benedict  run ins*, and even though smelling a perfume is a great deal less complex than a human friendship-or feud- there were times when I really felt as if I was the last person to know my own likes and dislikes.

The converse may also be true.  You may love  a perfume from the very first time you encounter it, but my experience is that such easy affairs seldom involve the heart, and wind up being boring in the end.  I want, not drama exactly, but twists and turns that indicate a little complexity in a formula.  I don’t want to guess every move a fragrance is going to make long before it makes one. Continue reading

Warm Fuzzies: Narciso and Guerlain Eau de Cashmere

Marshmallow Fluff

Marshmallow Fluff

Not so long ago I was writing about influential perfumes and one of the two names which landed on the top of the pile was Narciso For Her.  The whole floral woody musk genre probably dates back to that perfume.  Anyway, the musk and flowers and a little bit of wood recipe has proven so popular that nowadays several releases a year fall into the fuzzily soft fabric (or fabric softener) of the fwm.  Everyone likes this plush toy formula, well everyone who does not require a little backbone in a perfume. Put it this way, floral woody musks are proof that in the perfume world the invertebrates can survive and thrive- even proliferate.

Of course the Narciso people could not let a success like Narciso For her go without progeny.  There have been several scents by now, all in the beautifully designed minimalist bottles that the brand is justly famous for, modern, streamlined and an ornament to any vanity though the contents are Fluff. Continue reading

A Ring of Roses

White Rose Collage of English Roses from the blog French Essence

White Rose Collage of English Roses from the blog French Essence

As time goes on and you find that you are indeed an incurable perfumista (or perfumister) you find the notes you love.  Some people can’t live without iris, and others love patchouli, and others again have a thing for Iso Super E, but in my case,  the indispensable note is a rose.

Last post I was complaining about fall and how hard I find it is to squeeze myself and my outsized craving for florals into a season that is usually about gourmands, woods, ambers and leathers, well, there is always the strategy of the rose.  I can retire behind a huge bouquet of them whenever I am perplexed, and generally do. Continue reading

The Transitional Perfume

ChrysanthemumEvery year fall rolls around and every year I lose step with everyone else in the perfume world. It seems as though the majority of people like to check their cool weather wardrobes and plan ahead happily for the ambers, orientals, gourmands, and woody scents they will shortly be dabbing and spritzing. There is a rush to find the Bois des Isles, the Ambre Sultans and for the bolder sexier sorts, their animalics and leathers. You get a sense of busy bustle as folks find their old friends again, and then there’s always a flood of new releases hoping to gain a little traction in the scent market before the holidays. In short, there is a lot to choose from, probably more than at any other time of the year. Continue reading

An Explosion of Brands

 John Singer Sargent  Promenade during the uncrowded fin de Siecle

John Singer Sargent
Promenade during the uncrowded fin de Siecle

Believe it or not this happened once before.  You may think that nothing like the multiplication of perfume niche companies has ever been seen in the history of scent sales but back in the early twentieth century something very like this happened.

Frankly I’ve long since lost count of the number of new niche fragrance houses that have debuted in the last three years or so.  Some of them will survive of course, and many will not, but back in the teens and twenties the world of perfume was similarly flooded. Continue reading

Why Don’t You…Wear Diana Vreeland?

Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland

Her name was pronounced Dee-Ahn, never Die- Ann.  People who worked with her rapidly found that out.  Not that Diana was affected, she was simply, completely, utterly, and unapologetically, inner directed.  This may be a  euphemism for being eccentric, but the line between genius and madness is notoriously thin, and eccentrics frequently straddle it.

Diana Vreeland Parfums is the attempt to commercialize the reputation of the late editrix of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.  Perfume seems an odd choice for that task since I don’t remember any statement from Mrs. Vreeland on perfume, except for a lone endorsement of Glamour. Clothes and shoes I should have thought, were more her sphere. Continue reading

Contemporary Heliotrope

Heliotrope in bloom photo my own

Heliotrope in bloom
photo my own

Heliotrope is one of those floral notes in perfume that everyone thinks is old fashioned-that is if they even know what heliotrope is in the first place.  So heliotrope is that delightful annual that blooms in dark purple or sometimes white flowers and produces a delicate fragrance. Some say heliotrope smells  of almonds and others of vanilla, still others liken the perfume to a freshly baked cherry pie.  That was one of the popular names for the flower back in the 1880s in fact.

In case  you’ve never smelled heliotrope one of the best places to begin to encounter the note is Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue 1912.  The other place is Guerlain’s Apres L’Ondee 1906.  Both are re-interpretations of   Francois Coty’s L’Origan 1904, which used a heliotrope base (among five others).  All of these fragrances have made it into what you might call fragrant pop culture.  Never smelled them?  Try one and if you’ve never met the scent before chances are you’ll smell talcum powder. Continue reading

The Phlox of August

A border of Summer Phlox

A border of Summer Phlox

World War I started a hundred years ago this month. In retrospect it makes me cringe when I think of all the golden afternoons of August in Flanders being shattered by shellfire and drifting clouds of mustard gas.

Even this unfortunate anniversary does not spoil the month for me.  August strikes me as being one of the very best times to smell things in gardens and one of the best smells of the August garden is phlox. I should make myself clear and point out that I’m discussing Summer Phlox or Phlox paniculata to give the plant its right name.

If you garden with perennials you know this plant well because it conveniently blooms in August when so many other perennials have shut up shop for the season, and all you are left with is annuals. Continue reading