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

Tainted By Association

Cedarwood Juniperus viginiana from London essential oils

Cedarwood Juniperus viginiana from London essential oils

Some lovely perfumes and time honored scent ingredients go out of commerce for the oddest reasons.  Take for instance the case of cedar wood. That’s a wonderful scent and many perfumers like to work with the essential oil but for a sizeable number of the public cedarwood is inextricably linked to pet shops.

I first realized this after a discussion with one of my Connecticut neighbors who told me that she couldn’t stand the smell of cedarwood in anything, “I just think of hamster cages,” she said.  After that conversation with Susan I began to have a clearer idea of what it is that perfumers are up against all the time: association. Continue reading

Orient Express

francesco-ballesio-the-carpet-sellersSometimes intricacy is all I want, and then I go in search of the most detailed perfumery I can find. Of recent years some of my favorite perfumers in this category are the evocative ones.  Pierre Bourdon and Chris Sheldrake are still great favorites of mine here, despite Bourdon’s retirement.

Of all the richly layered scents I can think of, their joint composition Feminite du Bois, is one of the most crowded with impressions.  The scent’s like stepping into the Hagia Sophia, there is always something else to see and smell inside, even when you thought you already knew it well, because here, just as with the Bosphorus, is one of the touching points of East and West. Continue reading

Speaking Allegorically

The Aqua Allegorias, the series of simpler, less expensive fragrances that Guerlain released beginning in 1999, has continued as a series up to the present day.  The quality of the series has varied considerably from the nearly irresistible, Flora Nerolia of 2000, to the messy collision between vanilla pine and fir that is Winter Delice of 2001, to the undetectable (by me) Laurier Reglisse.

Of all of them, the one that appears to cause the most consternation by its loss is Foliflora of 2003.  That one was a garland of flowers, a feminine floral meant to recall sweet pea.

It didn’t.  Nothing does, but the scent was a floral featuring principally freesia and gardenia notes, and the effect was charming and about as harmlessly female as a fragrance can get.  You would not believe the prices that this one commands on ebay.  It’s routinely in three figures, let’s put it that way. Continue reading

Twelve Smells of Christmas, Day Twelve: Cinnamon of the Season

Last in this series about Christmas smells comes cinnamon.

Perhaps it should not be carrying the heavy train of all the preceding seasonal scents, but it is an integral part of most Christmas atmospheres, on a par with gingerbread. Cinnamon brings up the rear of this solstice procession naturally.

Cinnamon in scents is a warm and welcome note, but there is no getting around the fact that it is apt to smell like a candle or a room freshener. Cinnamon has become one of those things we spray from a can before a Christmas party. We tend not to take it seriously or wear it seriously in perfume, and there’s a good reason for that too – namely, the strength of the note.  It can absolutely dominate a formula so that no other ingredient can get an olfactory word in edgewise. Continue reading

Some Like it Hot

Then there is the perfume in which the whole spicy carnation floweriness I have been writing about sinks in a morass of heavier, hotter materials like a bouquet in a lava flow.  The one time floral composition becomes an oriental and a heated one at that.  This is what happens in Caron’s Poivre from 1954.  The perfume belongs to that group of Caron compositions done after the death of the house’s founder Ernest Daltroff in 1940.  Daltroff’s companion and business partner Felicie Vanpouille was still in charge at Caron and she employed the perfumer Michel Morsetti as in- house talent( he had been Daltroff’s assistant.)

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Monstre Sacre

When Caron’s Parfum Sacre first came out in 1990, I did not like it at all.  It was, to give me some modicum of credit, not the same perfume that it is today.  It was much, much stronger, and in a perfume guide  from 1993, the sole notation I wrote about it is: ooph. Monstre Sacre!

This is really getting to the heart of the matter, because the perfume was made in order to attract attention.  The original version was a show-boater of a scent, designed for maximum olfactory impact in the way that something along the lines of Flowerbomb is today.  Never being a fan of the overly emphatic scent, I avoided it.

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