Roger et Gallet

Fashionable in 1862 Roget et Gallet fron Vintagevictorians.com

Fashionable in 1862 Roget et Gallet fron Vintagevictorians.com

Scented soap is one of my great pleasures in life.  Sometimes I take a pratfall in the suds though. My latest purchase of Zum’s Sandalwood was a case in point. It had a label that read: Channel your inner sexual siren with Sandalwood. Responsible for emotions, sensuality, intimacy, and sexuality. (AKA if you want to be a minx in the sack.)”

My brother and brother in law who read the back of the label (which was more than I’d done) were charmed by this and ran around for part of Thanksgiving weekend trying to convince my husband that he needed a shower.  My Hub was not going to be the butt of this Gallic humor and a hygienic standoff ensued.  Needless to say I really should flip bars of soap and read the back label from time to time. Continue reading

Green Lavender

Rosa viridiflora

Rosa viridiflora

Do you like green flowers?  They seem a bit peculiar it’s true, like the green rose, Rosa viridiflora which has sepals instead of petals and a rather specific peppery smell that is like its China rose cousins.  Still this peculiar little rose has a number of advantages. It grows very well and is a excellent subject for containers, rarely suffers from disease, and is even a long lasting cut flower. But would you want to smell it?  If someone came up with a perfume called “Green Rose” would you be interested or would you decide to stay far away? Continue reading

Flapper Winds

Cicada Bottle for Cigalia of Roger et Gallet 1911

Cicada Bottle for Cigalia of Roger et Gallet 1911

Once upon a time I knew that Tabac Blond was the first tobacco scent ever introduced to perfumery.  This turns out to be a canard. In fact it was the third.  The first was a perfume called either Cigalia or else Les Cigales by the old firm of Roger et Gallet, with a remarkably beautiful bottle done by who else but Lalique.  Here it is.  Lovely no?

You do end up finding out all sorts of odd things as time goes on, but the story of the first tobacco perfumes does not end with Cigalia.  In fact there was also a Coty perfume.  You knew there had to be one?  It seems that whenever anyone had any kind of new material or base or idea in the perfume world of the early twentieth century there was Francois Coty already set to market his version of whatever it happened to be.  As far as I can discover Coty introduced his tobacco perfume in 1912 inside a Baccarat bottle topped with a crystal cut stopper.  According to Edmond Roundnitska L’Or was in the air a lot in Continue reading

Ivy

ivy on the Walls at Yale Library

ivy on the Walls at Yale Library

If you’ve been to an Ivy League college or live near one, you’ll know what I mean.  Walls covered with ivy, ivy growing all over library walls and down dean’s offices. Ivy really can be ubiquitous.

The kind that climbs and creeps and is all through one of my front garden beds is Hedera helix aka English Ivy.  That stuff eels in everywhere, currently it has one pieris and two rhododendrons by the throat  and is threatening to throttle both of them.  I had to take the loppers to it, and then there was a fearsome battle with the ivy that had crept underneath the siding of the house and along the main electrical connection as well.  That involved careful use of the secateurs and a good deal of undignified tugging during which yours truly landed unceremoniously on her backside in the undergrowth not a few times.  When Ivy sets out to claim territory it does so for keeps. Continue reading

Malta 1565 – Blood, Sweat, and Cumin

MaltaMy Hub has written a book about renaissance Malta, and since it is coming out this week, he looked at me and said, “Can you write a post about Malta?”

Of course I was willing to write a post about Malta, but since I write about smelling and gardening for smells, I needed some whiff, or huff, or some sort of olfactory in for me to write about.

The Hub’s book deals with some fairly hair-raising events which occurred 450 years ago (The Great Siege of Malta: The Epic Battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St John, Bruce Ware Allen, Fore Edge Books, there it is!), but not so much with agriculture on Malta. The island has traditionally been a source for world class honey (the Greeks referred to Malta as Melite, “honey sweet”), which would suggest a rich lode of blooming flowers – but for whatever reason, this has not translated into perfumery as it has in, say, Grasse.

The one unquestionable perfume contribution of Malta, however, is cumin.

Continue reading

Blowing Smoke: Opium

Opium in the original release

Opium in the original release

When Opium came out in the late seventies it was the adjunct of Yves Saint Laurent’s  Chinese couture collection.  Useless to ponder what effect all those coolie hats and quilted  gold lame jackets might have had on ingredient selection, the perfume was then owned by Squib/ Beechnut, the formula a matter of corporate calculation.  Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge no longer owned the YSL perfumes.  Instead they received a five percent royalty and the right to veto products inexpressive of the Saint Laurent aesthetic.

There was one change though, according to a source Chandler Burr quoted in  The Perfect Scent, Opium represented the first time a fine fragrance oil was made very cheaply.  You can draw the same conclusion from Edmond Roudnitska who described Opium as “L’Origan without the flowers”.  Stripped down, mostly basenotes by 1977 the return to the soft floral oriental was not surprising. The YSL backer Richard Salomon of Charles of the Ritz  had  risen through the ranks at Coty before he founded his business and  when more YSL perfumes were required after the perfume arm was sold, the American  productions were revamped versions of earlier Coty successes starting with Opium. Continue reading

The Long Hello

Perfume counters from caffeineandprayer.com

Perfume counters from caffeineandprayer.com

In 2014 the last year for which we have completed figures, there were 1620 perfume releases.  This was up by only ten from 2013 when there were 1610.  Also, be it noted that in 2014 the number of flanker perfume releases were rising at 275 up from 245 the year previously, and that the numbers of niche perfumes dropped significantly to 448 from 540  the year before. My figures come from Perfumer & Flavorist by the way.

It’s not an encouraging picture is it? The cheap and the mass market seems to be outnumbering anything that tries to attempt individuality and the likelihood is that most of what is produced is dreck. Chemicated, direly unambitious and headache inducing, the sort of stuff that gives perfume a bad name.

Continue reading

Rethinking Jicky

Guerlain advertising for Jicky

Guerlain advertising for Jicky

It’s such a perennial it seems that everyone has worn Jicky at one time or another including Mick Jagger and Jaqueline Kennedy Onnasis and Colette and Proust, well that was according to Colette, but it seems quite likely doesn’t it? What else was Proust going to wear? Fougere Royale? I don’t think so.

Of course by now everyone has read the stories about Jicky.  The one about vanillin and the  mixture of a slightly impure grade to get the offbeat, faintly smudged vanilla of the scent.  The admiring comments of Ernest Beaux (creator of No5) about Jacques Guerlain’s use of vanilla, and the melancholy tale about Aimee Guerlain’s lost English love referred to as “Jicky” although that may equally well have been Jacques Guerlain’s nickname. Continue reading

Cachet Jaune: The Real Vanilla

Cachet Jaune in the stopwatch bottle

Cachet Jaune in the stopwatch bottle

It’s curious that fond of vanilla as most of the world seems to be we are mostly unfamiliar with the actual scent in perfume.  Most of the time we are smelling vanillin, the old molecule responsible for so much vanilla flavor and fragrance.

Cachet Jaune or Yellow Seal from 1937 is one of the obscure old Guerlains that contain the real thing. It is also among the perfumes that have been resurrected  through the work of Thierry Wasser and one of his assistants Frederic Sacone. Cachet was an unusual Guerlain because it was never released as a perfume, instead the formula came as a cologne and was offered in the stop watch bottle design presumably to be more affordable to Depression era shoppers. Continue reading

The Decadent Datura

Datura metel in bloom

Datura metel in bloom

Poisonous plants are an unhealthy draw.  Oleanders and Daturas are high on my list of flowers to be grown with caution. They’re death to the cat if she’s foolish enough to gnaw at the branches, but my cat is a wise cat, and has become an indoor cat since we moved, which seems to be ok by her.  I think I can grow Datura next summer, and say, isn’t Datura that old Jimson Weed  we grew up regarding as nothing in particular?  Well, actually yes, yes it is, and liable to seed itself as far North as Boston. What I wonder is so exclusive and delicate about that?

I think of Jimson as being a Mark Twain plant, something to lay hold of at midnight and conjure to rid you of warts, kind of like spunk water. The reason most people grow the Jimson Weed is for its large downward facing trumpet flowers and their scent which is very strong particularly after sunset.  They are real vespertine garden plants, releasing their narcotic perfume after dark and while some

Datura in bloom.

Datura in bloom.

people find it a soapy scent others liken it to the smell of lilies, the plants that fester worse than weeds according to Shakespeare. One has to wonder what he would have thought of Daturas? He probably didn’t know them as they are native to Cuba Continue reading