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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Great Outdoors: Sables and Burning Leaves

By Linda

People who know me well know that I love the smell of the dry summer hills on the central coast of California, where I live. I know that sounds like a weird thing for everyone to know about me, but I cannot be restrained from standing around sniffing the air and exclaiming about how good it smells around here in summer. More than good: the dry, golden, rolling hills, forever evocative of the tawny flanks of a reclining lioness, are the landscape of my childhood and of my dreams. The mingled smells of hay and sweet herbs, of broken wild anise stalks and eucalyptus pods, of dust and the smoke of burning red oak – this is the scent of home.

I moved away from home when I was newly married. Almost 20 years later, I have come back to the land of my childhood, to be closer to family and the things that matter most to me.

I am gratified to find that even the landscape comforts me, here: my beloved, the Pacific Ocean, with her blue sky laced with the apricot and lemon yellow clouds of my heavenscape, broken by the graceful , slender dark forms of palms; the dry foothill pastures dotted with horses and girt with white picket fences; the familiar plants of my childhood—red oak, eucalyptus trees, bay laurel trees, sage, sweet Cecily, anise, mustard flowers, deer’s tongue, ferns, strawberries, broccoli, citrus trees, California poppies. Endless vineyard grape fields, a new feature since I left, but a fitting and lovely carpet for the hills. Barking sea lions on the pier, and pelicans, dipping and wheeling like modern-day pterodactyls, in the sky. Wild quail, red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures, perky scrub jays and lots of bats at twilight. It is a place of vivid colors and endearing, embarrassing rusticity.

All the local millionaires, who are probably wealthier than their peers in the big cities, seem to think that this is the beating pulse of urban life, but they wear cowboy hats, earth on their boots, and engine grease on their fingers. The area has no anonymity: its charming and vicious small-town climate of gossip, judgment, and networks of friendship and power are pure country life.

Annick Goutal Sables smells like home. To me, it smells like deer’s tongue plants, a ghost of maple syrup, overheating car electrical system, dusty roads, dry hay in the fields, the sprig of anise my mother has plucked and allowed to release its fragrance on the hot dashboard of the car, oak sawdust, a whisper of woodsmoke, and a hint of lemons. Short of a barbecued Tri-Tip and a bowl of strawberries, it has almost everything to recall the central coast to my mind. No one aroma stands out for more than a moment, and after the initially volatile and dazzlingly pretty lemony licorice dies down, the scent does not so much develop as shift.

It is a pleasantly dusty and dry scent despite the licorice and maple sweetness of anise and immortelle and the barest hint of vanilla. Black pepper, a whisper of cinnamon, and sandalwood give it an aura that makes me think of old saddle leather without a trace of animality – leather so old and worn that it smells more of dust than anything. I have seen people refer to it as too masculine for women to wear, but don’t believe them. Don’t get me wrong; I am sure it’s great on a guy. But on me, it is pure outdoorsy Earth Goddess – a freckled, slightly sunburned thirty-something with windblown hair still damp from a swim in the reservoir, with her feet up on the picnic table and her eyes shaded against the hot sun. Like the hills and seascape, it is part of me.

Inspired by its smoky dry plant aroma, I have been layering Sables with CB I Hate Perfume’s Burning Leaves. The effect is shocking and beautiful. The smoldering maple and oak leaf of Burning Leaves dampens the sweetness and licorice/lemon top notes of Sables and simultaneously enriches its woody quality. Whereas I expected the combination to be rustic and yet more outdoorsy, it is startlingly elegant. Yes, it smells like I’ve been at a campfire… and am on my way to a charity dinner. If I close my eyes, it is like being at a low, banked fire after the dinner and marshmallows are gone, chatting lazily with my family. At the same time, it is a seamlessly sinful blend of woods and herbs, and the vanilla in Sables loses its shyness and throws some va-va-voom into the campground.

Sables lasts forever on my skin, which is very welcome, considering the comfort with which I wear it; it makes a terrific work fragrance, as it seems to offend nobody and it pleases my soul. When layered with Burning Leaves, it seems to elevate and prolong the life of the latter on my skin, but it becomes something else again—probably not a work scent.

I find both scents totally captivating separately, but together they work well to mitigate both the altogether too wholesome (if romantic) Sables, and the altogether too literal (if lovely) Burning Leaves. If Sables recalls a banked campfire after a busy day of outdoor activities with your family, Burning Leaves infuses some of the other, more dangerous sense of the outdoors into the picture: nude beaches and hippie hitchhikers, mountain lions and coyotes, dangerous caves and lonely box canyons, wildfires and riptides, diffident nymphs with darkly beckoning glances.

I recommend this combination so highly that I cannot resist writing about it, even though I am behind the fragrance-blogger pack (which is what I get for procrastinating on writing about this duo). Layering scents, particularly with Burning Leaves, is getting a lot of worthy buzz right now. I would be rude if I did not remind you to see March’s wonderful post on Vanilla and Smoke on Perfume Posse (November 28) and Robin’s great post on scent layering on Now Smell This (December 6). Give it a shot and tell me what you think.

Tell me, folks -- what else do you like to layer? Do you layer what you love together, as I do, or do you layer to correct inadequacies in fragrances you don’t quite love?

Image source, toucanwines.com.

16 Comments:

Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Darling Linda,

Your review made me cry. I love California, Southern Cal, La Jolla to be exact and I have gone there many times every year to visit my sister who has lived there for the last thirty. It is our dream to someday own a home there, looking out over my beloved Pacific ocean, riding my horses up in the Del Mar hills, watching my grandchildren learn to surf as I taught my son to do when he was very young. When we celebrated our 25th anniversary we renewed our vows on the beach by the old beach and tennis club. Your lovely post brought it all back...the sounds and the smells. I long for it everyday and I cry like a babe when we leave. It's not that I don't love where we are, I do very much. La Jolla though is the other place that my spirit lives. Thank you for some "California Dreamin on such a winters day". It's pretty darned cold here in Ohio!

10:04 PM EST  
Blogger elle said...

What a beautiful, evocative post! I will definitely have to try layering Sables w/ Burning Leaves. I've never been quite able to wear Sables, so maybe this will be what makes it work on my skin.
I used to layer incessantly, but don't as much any longer due to sheer laziness. I would layer partly out of curiosity, but mostly because I'm an absolute base notes sl*t and feel that most floral or fruity scents could use more lovely, dark, grounding base notes. I love layering rose scents in particular w/ incense, leather or wood scents or orange blossom scents w/ spice, tobacco or woods.

10:13 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Linda-

What a lovely review of a lovely scent! I've been wearing Sables since the early 80's and reading your review all I can say is "yes!"; it is the leonine hills of the central coast, muscular golden hills tumbling to the improbable azure sea..

For tomorrows rainy chill I am going to wear Sables and see if I can dig up my decant of burning leaves...

11:39 PM EST  
Blogger Anita said...

I've not smelled Sables yet, but I had to comment on your beautiful and evocative writing! As Beth mentioned, it's cold here in the Midwest. I grew up here, so I love the frozen whiteness, but it's lovely to be transported to a golden place I'm not familiar with early in the morning - thanks :)
As to layering, I do it all the time, more to bring out notes I love in a perfume I'm wearing than to create something new.

5:08 AM EST  
Anonymous leopoldo said...

How I long for the gold! I'm more familiar with misty northern CA than your part (though I've Big Sured it down as far as Harmony and then an inland schlep to LA), but the ocean and the warm vibration of the air is an incredible combination. We'll leave out the smell of the seals, if you don't mind...

I don't really layer. It's where my puritan streak comes out. I know some scents are designed for layering, but I'm not generally into those (I've never sniffed Burning Leaves - I know, I know!). I often feel that layering would be like stirring up a Rothko and a Picasso - or mashing up two exquisite meals - interesting, for sure, but not 'better' than the original and often muddied. I know I'm probably wrong, but I can't shift that line of thinking. It's probably undue reverence to the art of perfumery. Someone slap me.

5:52 AM EST  
Anonymous Divalano said...

You make me wish I were in CA, not gloomy wintertime NYC. Sables ... I sniffed in bottle & haven't had the courage to try it. Perhaps I will someday. But Burning Leaves, now that one is a favorite. It's the only scent I've layered successfully & for the past 6 months have been layering it w Bois D'Argent, L'A Vanilia, SL Un Bois Vanille & I'm sure to find more. Next up, Cuir Ottoman & Barbara Bui. I can imagine it working well with almost everything I like, adding a husky smokey edge. I have the water perfume which a friend tells me sweeter than the perfume absolute.

8:14 AM EST  
Blogger Solander said...

I don't layer. I wear a different scent every day and eagerly try out new ones, so the thought of all possible layering combos to choose from too just exhausts me! Also, I feel a bit like Lee, I have that orderly streak, not wanting to mix things that aren't supposed to be mixed. Each scent in itself is such a complex composition anyway... Perhaps I'd consider layering two scents that came off to me as pretty much single notes, like a green, mossy scent with a tad of some soliflore, something like that... Not to "correct" one of the scents though - then I'd rather just give it away and wear something else.

10:40 AM EST  
Blogger Solander said...

Perhaps I should add that I find a lot of scents almost too complex even without layering - complex as in unrecognizable, resembling only other similar perfumes. I'm so happy when I can actually pick out notes or accords!

10:43 AM EST  
Blogger marchlion said...

Hey, thanks! I like Sables, but it is Too Much of a Good Thing. I think layering it with Burning Leaves is brilliant! And thanks for the link to the post.

11:56 AM EST  
Blogger Ducks said...

Thank you all for the kind words.

Beth: we really were separated at birth. I used to bawl on the way from LAX to the central coast and back, when my brother picked us up for a family visit. It's amazing how the landscape of home hooks itself into your heart.

Elle: try it, I do think you'll like it. It's still a little toppy, but such a rich high pitched scent that I don't think you'll mind. And your pairings of notes sound splendid.

Tom: thank you for the confirmation. I have always wanted to bottle that smell... thank God someone else did it for me. :) Try it! I want to hear how you like it!

Anita: thank you! I just moved back from Chicago last year, and I can tell you I do miss the snow (the hubby doesn't). The first two weeks of sparkling whiteness are magical. Then there's the twelve or twenty more weeks of gray-brown slush, and I'm not too partial to that part... ;)

Leopoldo: ugh, the seals. They are magical, but they do need a mint. :) I am so down with the non-layering philosophy... but all I can say is that if you have a sample of Burning Leaves, you want to put it all over other things. I do, anyway!

Divalano: yes, I'm using the water perfume too... oh, the combination of Burning Leaves with vanilla fragrances is so scrumptious. Yum!

Solander: I am not usually a layer-er either (unless it's to wear my Sables-scented coat with everything else), although I must confess I choose my hand lotion from among my many small, no-nonsense tubes of things like Palmers and Jergens to be harmonious with my fragrance du jour.

Marchlion: try it, you'll like it! I love Sables as-is (clearly), but this is one that welcomes the amateur chemistry set!

12:41 PM EST  
Anonymous lady jane grey said...

I layer Jo Malone scents only, becasue they are so translucent - there is no heavy body in them, they're like the lightest layers of veils...

12:48 PM EST  
Blogger Ducks said...

lady jane grey: I have to confess I haven't tried any of Jo Malone's! Some of them sound so darling, though.

1:04 PM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

Linda, that is just exquisite writing! Now I must revisit Sables - I am so enamored of AG florals (Gardenia Passion especially) that I have neglected the others. Obviously I need to shift my perspective. I have indeed become more open to non-florals recently, and in great part due to people who write about things so deliciously that I break down and try them, and then fall in thrall to incense or spice or wood or earth. Not that I am complaining, of course!

I don't layer much, but one I do like to use is Tauer Perfumes Lonestar Memories - it is so powerfully smoky on its own that it can stand up to virtually anything else, and its force can be softened somewhat and yet still be felt when combined with a sweet floral or vanillic scent.

4:31 PM EST  
Blogger Ducks said...

Oh, thank you, Flora! You're very kind.

I love Lonestar Memories. It gives me the giggles-- smells like a camping & fishing trip to me (minus the fish) -- the tar, the smoke, the flowers, the leather, the dusty roads. I never thought to layer it!

5:02 PM EST  
Anonymous cornlily said...

I live on the misty, wild northern coast of California, where the surf sounds like a freight train at night. I disliked perfume until very recently; it seemed socially imposed, rather than a pleasure. Then, I began using perfume, cautiously. Very soon afterward, I began to smell the sea, the wet sand, the driftwood, the cedars, the wild herbs, the deer outside my window, the fox that paused on my steps. I wonder if I'd ever have known those subtleties if I hadn't warily sniffed a bottle of good perfume.
Cornlily

10:54 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

BTW-

I saw that Sables was for sale at the Bloomingdales in the Beverly Center in Los Angeles...

12:33 PM EST  

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