Friday, September 30, 2005
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Kissing cousins: En Avion and Vol de Nuit
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Muscs Koublai Khan by Serge Lutens
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
|"Clan of Koublai Khan", five “animalic” scents, four of them truly remarkable.|
Eau des Iles by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier
I decided to review Eau des Iles right after the description of my hunt for a perfect coffee scent, since it was sampled during that hunt, as a fragrance that allegedly contains a coffee note. There was no coffee in it to my nose, but the scent itself is so remarkable that it must be mentioned anyway.
According to Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, Eau des Iles takes the wearer to “perfume islands in which coffee fragrances intermingle with stately rare woods and smooth exotic flowers that have a strange beauty of their own.” According to me, those islands are situated in restaurants specializing in (Trans) Caucasian cuisine.
Never before had a perfume made me this hungry. Eau des Iles puts me in a mood for Georgian or Armenian food, for meat marinated in herbs and spices and then barbequed till it is nice and dark on the outside. Salivating yet? So was I. However I am not sure I want to smell like a juicy almost burned shashlyk.
Eau des Iles is the smokiest perfume I have ever tried. The description promises “an astonishing olfactory discovery”, and for once a description does not mislead. But it does not prepare you for the fact that the “spices, wood, coffee, ylang ylang, patchouli” combine to produce an incredibly burnt smell. The smell is not unpleasant, not at all, but it is nothing I can ever imagine wearing on my skin. The fragrance is rather tenacious and the lasting power is superb. Applied at noon, the smoky aroma is still going strong six hours later. When it finally subsides, the residual scent is alike the smell that your skin, hair and clothes have when you spend some time in front of the campfire…Top marks for uniqueness. Nil pointe for wearability.
Monday, September 26, 2005
Coffee Scents: A Story with a Happy Ending
Contender No. 1. Hippie Latte: Comme des Garcons Series 7: Sweet – Wood Coffee
Notes: cardamom, liquorice, chinese ginger, almond, coffee essence, wood, indonesian patchouli, vanilla.
Wood Coffee was the first coffee scent I tried, and, it being Comme des Garcons, I expected something striking. Alas, I was disappointed. I did not encounter much wood, and even though there was plenty of coffee, it was not the coffee of the Turkish proverb, "black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love." Rather, Wood Coffee is a diluted, cold latte and I don't mean intentionally cold as in some fancy Starbucks creation, but rather as in “forgotten in a mug and gone cold and stale”. To make the matters worse, in the drydown, patchouli reared its ugly head demoting Wood Coffee from the status of unremarkable to almost unwearable.
Contender No. 2. Politically Correct: Jo Malone – Black Vetyver Café
Notes: coffee, vetiver, temple incense and sequoia.
Black Vetyver Café was allegedly born from Jo Malone’s passion to create the perfect coffee note. I have a passion to find a perfect coffee scent, so there seemed to be a great chance that I would love this. And I don’t dislike it, but…as Ernest Hemingway said, “But did thee feel the earth move?” I did not.
This is a big improvement on the stale, cold, patchouli leaden Wood Coffe. However, if, like me, you a crave a rich, dark, sensual coffee scent, this is not it. Black Vetyver cafe is a very neutral fragrance, civilized, elegant, appropriate anywhere...It is very wearable and actually even full-bottle worthy for me, but…this is not It.
Contender No. 3. “The Spirit of the Unexpected”: Bond No 9 – New Haarlem
Notes: coffee, vanilla, patchouli.
How I love the beginning of this fragrance. It is dark, sexy, sweet and very recognizably “coffee”. Very hip, very sophisticated, and, at that point, very wearable. Unfortunately, that is not where the story ends. Memories evoked by scents can be a wonderful thing and enhance one’s love for a new fragrance; they also can be a curse. In this case it is not a bad memory that New Haarlem brings to mind, it is simply that, sometime during the drydown, the scent becomes, to my nose, a fragrance a person from my past used to wear, and I simply cannot get over that and enjoy New Haarlem. I feel that I am wearing another person’s skin so to say. The scent it reminded me of is Route 66, created in 1995 by Coty, which, for those unfamiliar with it, is a tobacco-woody-ambery fragrance. Damn be the tricks of olfactory memory. Memories aside, a masculine cologne drydown is simply not among the characteristic a coffee scent has to possess, in order to come close to the ideal I have in mind.
Contender No. 4. Holy Grail Alert! Dawn Spencer Hurwitz – Coffee Absolut
Notes: coffee absolute.
Wowza! My search for a perfect coffee scent ends here (for now, that is, since a perfumista's job is never done). It is hard to imagine that there can be anything more coffee-like, apart from the coffee itself. From the dark colour of the liquid to the incredible scent, this is it, black, strong and sweet. I don’t know how she did it, the notes on her site don't disclose much, but DSH somehow created that elusive ideal coffee scent I was looking for. Wood Coffee? Purleeze! Black Vetyver Café? Laughable. New Haarlem? Sorry, not even close.
A side note for other incorrigible layerers out there. I accidentally layered Coffee Absolut with Bourbon French Romanov (a sweet rose scent) and the result is incredible, I have a feeling this DSH creation would bring a certain stunning dark undertone to many a scent.
Know of more coffee scents? Please send your recommendations!
Friday, September 23, 2005
The Madonna by Edvard Munch and Regina Harris Perfume Oil
Edvard Munch, Norwegian painter, lithographer, etcher, and wood engraver, is considered to be one of the most significant influences on the development of German and Central European expressionism. Munch's disquieting and tortuous art reflected the conflicts of his time, and his own unhappy life.
His Madonna is not typically demure and full of inner light. She is dark, provocative and somehow troubled. Sensual, mysterious and tragic. Very intense. "The pause during which the entire world halts in its orbit. Your face embodies all the beauty of the world. Your lips, as crimson as a ripe fruit, are half open as if to express pain. A corpse's smile. Here life and death shake hands. The chain that links thousands of past generations to the thousands to come has been meshed." (Edvard Munch)
Regina Harris Perfume Oil, also known as Frankincense Myrrh Rose Maroc Perfume Oil, is for me an olfactory equivalent of that painting. It is alluring, disturbing and mysterious. This is an Expressionist scent, with the notes of frankincense, myrrh and rose distorted and exaggerated to achieve an unsettling, dark and simmering fragrance. The notes are rich and complex and very smoothly blended. Lasting power is exceptional, the bottle is stunning, and, even though the price is rather high at $125 for 15ml, this scent keeps calling to me and one day I am hoping to have it in my collection.
* The Madonna by Edvard Munch, 1894-5, Oil on canvas, Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Jorge de Burgos Would Approve: Messe de Minuit by Etro
My inner Goth craves incense perfumes and I feel I owe it to her to try them, after all, I keep her suppressed and never let her out. Some of the reviews of Messe de Minuit described the scent as scary. That is something I simply cannot resist. The sample was acquired and I braced myself, fully prepared to be terrified by the images too horrible to mention coming out of the vial in a puff of pungent smoke…Perhaps teenage and not-so-teenage years spent reading horror books and watching horror movies raised my fear threshold, Messe de Minuit failed to scare me. Instead it made me sad.
According to Etro, Messe de Minuit has “a luminous quality that seems to sit comfortably with its darker undertones.” What on earth are they talking about? Nothing remotely luminous here, this is a very dark dense opaque woody incense. The image I get (and I am tragically unoriginal here) is that of a church, old, dusty, moldy church, with the incense smell forever being absorbed by the walls along with the prayers and tears of the people who come here…an unhappy place somehow, perhaps it is a desecrated church…or perhaps this is how the monastery from Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose would smell like, a stale sorrowful odor of a place where humorless monks live, obsessed with the fact that Jesus never laughed.
Messe de Minuit could never possibly be wearable for me, but I couldn’t praise it enough for the originality and the evocativeness. For me this is one of the “haute couture scents”, something to be admired and maybe even bought, but never really worn in real everyday life.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Colonia per il Papa: Avignon by Comme des Garcons
According to Proverbs 27:9, incense brings joy to the heart. I have yet to find an incense perfume that would do that to mine. The feeling I often get is that of desolation, loneliness and gravity. Parfum Sacre is the only exception, but that one is a different story, sensual incense, almost sacrilegious. Avingon, along with Messe de Minuit and, to a lesser degreee, Passage d’Enfer, is the most somber and sorrowful of the incense scents I've tried.
This is undeniably a Catholic church incense, evoking an image of a Papal cathedral no less, a place that is grand, important and unapproachable, all cold marble and disapproving statues of saints. The incense note here is somber and chilly, but if I try really hard I can smell some patchouli here, like a dirty earthly undercurrent hidden under all that holiness.
This is a wonderfully unique, albeit intimidating, fragrance. I could never be able to wear Avignon, but it makes one's idle mind wonder, do Pontiffs wear cologne? I can't imagine an edgy, trendy brand like Comme Des Garcons being popular behind the walls of the Apostolic Palace, but their Avignon really should be. There is no other scent that would be so fit for Papa, although I imagine the late John Paul II might have liked something more cheerful and less formal. I will stop now before I start any blasphemous rumors and get disowned by the Church.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Sacred Feminine: Parfum Sacre by Caron
It is hard to believe that Parfum Sacre was created as recently as 1990, this incredibly beautiful perfume, an immaculate, soft, classic, timeless blend. With notes of myrrh, musk, vanilla, rose, jasmine, pepper, cinnamon, coriander, Parfum Sacre is something straight out of the Song of Songs, “an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits…with every kind of incense tree, myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices…”
It starts as a gentle, whispery rose and vanilla blend on my skin, with tiny sparkles of pepper adding discreet spiciness to the composition. Cinnamon and jasmine, two notes I find rather hard to wear, are not obvious to my nose here, this story really is all about roses, vanilla and musk. As the fragrance develops further, incense tiptoes in, and this is sweet, warm incense, very far removed from the cold grey scents like Avignon or Passage d’Enfer. Parfum Sacre is all about warmth, colors red, black and dark gold.
Having said that, there is nothing overly grand or imposing about this perfume, don’t let the name lead you to expect a heady voluptuous High Priestess kind of scent, this is a different kind of sacred, the one that is kept in reverent secrecy and related in whispers. Song of Songs aside, what this fragrance really brings to mind are the images of Sacred Feminine and the theories of the Goddess in the Gospels. Yes, I did read and like The Da Vinci Code and it obviously shows, but think about it- roses and myrrh, what other perfume would be more appropriate to personify Mary Magdalene? Have the members of the Priory of Sion infiltrated Caron in the 1990s? Perhaps, given the history of all the wonderful Caron creations, they were present there from the very beginning.
I will leave you with Padraic Pearse's "Song for Mary Magdalene":
O woman of the gleaming hair,
(Wild hair that won men's gaze to thee)
Weary thou turnest from the common stare,
For the shuiler Christ is calling thee.
O woman of the snowy side,
Many a lover hath lain with thee,
Yet left thee sad at the morning tide,
But thy lover Christ shall comfort thee.
O woman with the wild thing's heart,
Old sin hath set a snare for thee:
In the forest ways forspent thou art
But the hunter Christ shall pity thee.
O woman spendthrift of thyself,
Spendthrift of all the love in thee,
Sold unto sin for little pelf,
The captain Christ shall ransom thee.
O woman that no lover's kiss
(Tho' many a kiss was given thee)
Could slake thy love, is it not for this
The hero Christ shall die for thee?
*The painting is Mary Magdalene in the Desert by Jusepe de Ribera, 1640-41, Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Balm (and Honey) for My Russian Soul: Eau de Russe by Crown Perfumery and Romanov by Bourbon French
There must be something very special about Russian leather to warrant not one, not two but at least six (that I know of) perfumes based on that note, and probably countless “dupes” and “types”. Chanel, Creed, Le Jardin Retrouve and L.T. Piver all came up with a scent named Cuir de Russie. Demeter and DSH both created Russian Leather... This popularity is especially strange considering that in Russia we like our leather to be imported from Italy or at the very least from Turkey. Returning to the topic of Russia-related scents, apart from leather, there also are Russian Amber (Dawn Spencer Hurwitz ), Zagorsk (Comme des Garcons, Incense Series) and Russian Caravan Tea (CB I Hate Perfume). According to wonderful and knowledgeable Now Smell This, Parfum d’Empire will launch Ambre Russe in October, incorporating all of the above notes (leather, tea, amber, incense) into one scent and adding a whopping bonus ingredient, namely vodka…I don’t know if I should laugh or cry about this. I am choosing to laugh. Stereotypes can be fun. In small doses.
And while I admire many of the notes I mentioned above, I came to think of them as of “traditionally Russian” in perfumery and quite honestly I am longing for something different. In this case, “different” does not mean startling and unique ( Chanel’s Cuir de Russie is both of these), all I want is to find a Russia-related scent that doesn’t necessarily have leather, tea, incense and especially vodka as the most prominent ingredient. Enter Romanov and Eau de Russe.
Eau de Russe by Crown Perfumery, allegedly created for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, is described as a “rich, contemporary and warm scent, to be worn with confidence,” and is for some obscure reason categorized as a masculine scent. With that description in mind, I prepared myself for a “typically Russian” scent, a traditional cologne or a leather perfume, in any case, something much heavier and headier. Note to self: let go of preconceived ideas, you are Russian yourself, you know there is more to it than cuir and a certain alcoholic beverage.
Eau de Russe starts as a citrus scent on my skin; I smell limes, which to me is a note common to many Crown perfumes, lemon and a little anise. Then the scent changes the direction completely and delightfully. Now it is a soft, delicate, almost edible …floral? floriental?… it is hard to categorize that heliotrope-vanilla-amber-musk wonderfulness. Contemporary? Certainly. Warm? Yes, the way a sunny afternoon in a lovely garden is warm. Masculine? Absolutely not. Maybe unisex. When the word “pleasant” is used in perfume reviews it is usually not a compliment but a signal that a fragrance in question is quite unremarkable. I am going to use this word here in its original sense; Eau de Russe is pleasant, because it is a pleasure to smell it and to wear it.
Another often overlooked, if not entirely obscure, gem is a perfume called Romanov by Bourbon French, a wonderful 160 years old New Orleans perfumery. Bourbon French describes the scent as “a warm background of vanilla, heliotrope, amber and musk perfectly blended into a handsome fragrance of true victorian tradition. The recipe dates back to 1870.” I don’t know how a New Orleans perfumery came to dream up this scent and name it Romanov, but I am so glad they did. This is a scent of roses and honey. The last royal family relaxing in their garden in summer sunshine, all white dresses, wide-brimmed hats, lace gloves; absolute serenity and calm of warm languorous summer days. Bees are buzzing over the roses, children are laughing and chasing each other…they have no premonition about what is to come, the sky is cloudless.
For those who saw Mikhalkov’s film Burnt by the Sun, Romanov for me is the smell of the idyllic life the characters led in their summerhouses before the darkness fell over them. Romanov is poingnantly beautiful, the scent of times and things that are now lost forever.
So what does it say about me if I love the scents that idealize my home-country? I don’t know. I believe perfumes are supposed to be pleasant. I will look for realist representation in newspapers and literature. As far as perfumes are concerned, social critique is not welcome on my skin. Give me a romaticised image of Russia (or any other country) and I will buy it. Perhaps I am becoming very émigré; next thing you know, my house is full of Matryoshkas and Khokhloma and I am devoted to the cause of reinstalling the monarchy. If that happens, someone please slap me. But leave me my Russian scents with notes of honey and roses.
Friday, September 16, 2005
|My two favourite Russia-related perfumes, Romanov by Bourbon French and Eau de Russe by Crown Perfumery.|
The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy and L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Heaven Has No Favorites by Erich Maria Remarque and Farnesiana by Caron
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Roksolana by Pavlo Zagrebelny and Rahat Loukoum by Serge Lutens
Roksolana. Written by Ukrainian writer Pavlo Zagrebelny, this is a story of Roksolana (approx. 1506-1558), also known as Haseki Hürrem Sultan, Rushen and La Rossa, who has been enslaved during raids by the Crimean Turks on Ukraine, and presented to the Ottoman palace. Intelligent, quick-witted and attractive, Hürrem became Süleyman the Magnificent’s most beloved wife. Her influence over him was proverbial. To ensure that one of her own sons would succeed to the throne, she did everything in her power to turn Süleyman against his eldest son and heir Mustafa. Roksolana advised her sultan on political matters and had an unusually influential role in politics and foreign affairs of the empire. During her later life, Hürrem became more concerned with charitable works and founded a number of institutions, becoming the first woman to endow a mosque complex in Istanbul. Political aspects aside, to me this is a story of Roksolana’s love and hate for Süleyman, dark passion first born out of necessity and grown in gilded slavery. This is a powerfully and beautifully written historic account of her life, and if you can find this book I wholeheartedly recommend it (and please let me know where you found it, I am desperately searching for an English translation).
Rahat Loukoum.The scent is based on an exotic dessert called Turkish Delight or Rahat Loukoum (literary, “rest for the throat”). This rubbery-textured candy is made from cornstarch or gelatin, sugar, honey, fruit juice, jelly, or rose water and is often tinted pink or green. Chopped almonds, pistachio nuts, pine nuts or hazelnuts are frequently added. This candy was the legendary sweet of the harem in the Middle East, eaten by women to keep themselves appealingly plump.
One of Les Eaux Anciennes, Rahat Loukoum the fragrance is a delicious mélange of white almonds, white honey, musk and vanilla. The sum is bigger, more luscious and darker then the ingredients might suggest; this almost smoky darkness of Rahat Loukoum on my skin is the reason I love it above other renditions of this Turkish delicacy, namely Keiko Mecheri’s Loukhoum and Montale’s Sweet Oriental Dream; it is also the reason why I think this is a fitting perfume for Roksolana. Rahat Loukoum starts with the burst of cherry and the smell grows more sensual, decadent, dark, smoky and less foody with every minute. This is a scent to love "as certain dark things are to be loved, between the shadow and the soul." I will leave you with a poem written by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent for his beloved Roksolana, the poem is signed Muhibbi, meaning “lover” or “sweetheart”:
"Throne of my lonely niche, my wealth, my love, my moonlight.
My most sincere friend, my confidant, my very existence, my Sultana
The most beautiful among the beautiful...
My springtime, my merry faced love, my daytime, my sweetheart, laughing leaf...
My plants, my sweet, my rose, the one only who does not distress me in this world...
My Istanbul, my Caraman, the earth of my Anatolia
My Badakhshanmy Baghdad, my Khorasan
My woman of the beautiful hair, my love of the slanted brow, my love of eyes full of mischief...
I'll sing your praises always
I, lover of the tormented heart, Muhibbi of the eyes full of tears, I am happy."
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and Passage d’Enfer by L’Artisan Parfumeur
Monday, September 12, 2005
Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan and Un Zest de Rose by Les Parfums de Rosine
Bonjour Tristesse. Set against the radiant beauty of the South of France in summer, Bonjour Tristesse is narrated by Cécile, a seventeen-year-old, who is “not a girl, not yet a woman”, and whose meddling in her father's love life has some tragic results. Fresh from the confines of boarding school, Cécile leads a carefree hedonistic existence with her young-ish, handsome, good-natured and promiscuous father. This summer, Cécile has a sexual conquest of her own in the face of a “tall and almost beautiful" law student. La vie est belle, the sea is warm and the sky is without a single cloud. Then, a new and demanding woman appears in her father's life. Feeling that her cozy companionship with her father and their unrestrained lifestyle are being threatened, Cécile sets in motion a plan that has consequences more devastating than she ever imagined. Deceptively simply structured, Bonjour Tristesse is a brilliant portrait of laid-back amorality and a young woman's frantic attempt to comprehend and control the world around her.
Un Zest de Rose. This mélange of roses and citrus is translucent and sweet, the combination that seems so poignant to me. Its contrast of carefree freshness of mandarin, lemon and orange blossom and sultry almost-sugariness of roses is the reason I always think of it as a perfume that could represent Bonjour Tristesse. It is young, pretty and vulnerable. Moreover, to me, this fragrance has the same finesse, emotion and subtlety that I adore in Sagan’s writing. Un Zest de Rose starts all zest and no rose on me, then slowly the rose joins the lemon and for a while they are side by side like ingredients in some Turkish desert of sugared rose petals sprinkled with lemon juice. Finally, the perfume dries down to a rose scent with hints of lemon in the distance. (Notes: Lemon, bergamot, cedar, dried fruits; Bulgarian rose, tea rose jasmine, rose absolute; Rose, gardenia, white musk, gray amber, smoked tea leaves.) Apparently, there is a rose called Golden Zest, which has a strong citrus fragrance, perhaps that was what Madame Rogeon had in mind when she created this gorgeous summery scent. And if you found my idea of a rose-based dessert appealing, how about some rose petal jam? As poet Rumi said:
Touch your cheek to the cheek of sugar.
Get the taste of it. Give perfume to it.
Try to alleviate the pain of separation
With the help of sugar.
Once you become the conserve of roses,
You are food for the Soul,
Light for the eyes...
When I say "conserve of roses,"
I mean the Grace of God and our existence.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
This is a blog about perfume and related issues. Sometimes the relation will be very distant. Sometimes it will exist only in my imagination. My only qualification for starting this blog is my love (some would say obsession) for perfumes. I am also an avid reader and lover of art, movies, music…you name it. Again, I am not an expert in any of these fields; I just have diverse and eclectic tastes. I would love to hear from you, so please do not hesitate to comment.
In the course of the next five days I am going to talk about my favorite books in relation to some of the perfumes I love. These are not books about fragrances; they probably don’t even mention perfumes. The idea was to imagine what each book would be like as a perfume; what existing perfume would fit the image or rather the “feel” of each book.
First, Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan and Un Zest de Rose by Les Parfums de Rosine.