DSH Perfumes Part Two: Scents In Living Color
In the first installment of this series, I talked about the “Red” perfumes of DSH, but those are just a part of her ongoing fragrance interpretations related to color, and also to art. Her “Chroma” perfumes are olfactory impressions of certain colors, exact colors, those found in an artist’s palette and how they are transformed by the artist on painted surfaces.
Before I get to the Greens, another perfume in the Chroma series is the weird and fascinating Quinacridone Violet, inspired in part by one of Ms. Hurwitz’s own works of art and also by the artist’s pigment of the same name. (I love that deep magenta-violet color, it really speaks to me as well.) I had no idea what to expect of this one and I smelled it without reading the notes first, just for fun. I was quite taken aback, as I had never smelled anything like it and it was hard to pin down what I was experiencing. A cold, spacey blast of abstract florals followed by rather astringent yet somehow candy-like fruit – but what the heck is the fruit? For that matter, what are the flowers? Well, try Cherry Blossom, Osmanthus and Alaia flower – the last is one I have ever heard of being used in a perfume, and the note description on DSH perfumes is as follows: “A very unusual Chinese flower note with a bright terpenic / lemony hit in the top note mixed with cured fruit, green apple and an earthy musky feel in the drydown.” Okay, now I understand why it’s so unusual, let’s check out the fruit; that indefinable note is Quince, the perfumed fruit distantly related to apples, that is impossible to eat raw but has a wonderful and complex aroma. The full composition: Cherry Blossom, Lime Peel, Plum, Quince, Alaia Flower, Italian Neroli, Osmanthus, Sweet Pea, Violet, Violet Leaf Absolute, Atlas Cedar Wood, Cassis Bud, Incense, Musk. The incense is very chilly, sepulchral even, and there is no warmth at all to this fragrance. I could see wearing it in hot weather, but right now in the midst of the worst winter in these parts for many a year I can’t decide if I like it or if I just think it’s offbeat and extremely creative. I like the opening best; it’s quite a rush. I don’t know if there is anything else out there quite like this – I really doubt it.
Green is a recurring theme for DSH perfumes and one I myself am drawn to; it is my favorite color, or rather I should say the right green is my favorite color. I have no use for military drab or pea soup brownish-green, or what I always call landlord green, that lifeless so-called apple green that graces the walls of every cheap, rundown apartment ever rented to a college student. No, I need forest green, and malachite and emerald, and the greyed lichens and moss on the branches of ancient trees, the brightness of new leaves in spring – greens cool and deep and vivid. I also love green and green floral perfumes, from Aliage to Vacances to Envy to Calyx to Ma Griffe, so naturally I was intrigued when I saw that a number of these perfumes had a green theme, and the ones I obtained to sample are only a part of the collection of green DSH fragrances.
Celadon: A Velvet Green is a very smooth scent, not at all sharp as one might expect of a predominantly green fragrance. One of its inspirations is the painting Spring Veil by Helen Frankenthaler. Don’t let the fact that it has Cucumber in it scare you, as it is barely there, it’s much more grassy when it opens and this quickly becomes a soft and comforting scent with depth and even warmth. It is the aroma of a forest floor as you walk on it in the late spring, and the ferns release their scent as you brush against them while dappled sunlight comes through the tall trees. Balsam fir gives it an aromatic depth that lasts well on my skin, though I did wish it had been even more persistent, as I like it very much. The notes are: Clover Leaf, Cucumber, Lime Peel, Green Grass, Liatrix, Orris, Orris Root, Balsam Fir, Hay Absolute, Narcissus Absolute, Tonka Bean, and Violet Leaf Absolute.
Viridian is another kind of Green altogether, and there is nothing comforting about it – as a matter of fact it kind of scared me. Named after a vivid dark green artist's pigment, I found it to be very cold and astringent, and as green as anything I have ever smelled, almost chewy; like a mouthful of grass clippings – but somehow I can't get my mind around it. It does not smell anything like perfume – at all. It is utterly devoid of sweetness and has an intensely herbal quality, as though it is purely a concentrated tincture of crushed leaves, some of which might even be poisonous. Something about it makes me think it would smell better on a man, and indeed many DSH perfumes are easily unisex. But the green – it's odd and extreme, like a melted crayon or the mimeograph ink (yes, I am old enough to remember that) from grade school – when the teacher would hand out freshly copied lesson sheets, I would inhale the odor of the ink, and even though it was not what you would call a nice smell, it was compelling. That's what Viridian is – strangely compelling. I can see it being a scrubber for a lot of people because of its raw, vegetal character, but for a few it will be love. There will be no in-between. The notes tell the story: Top notes: Angelica, Artemisia, Bergamot, Celery Seed Middle notes: Aloe (accord), Chrysanthemum absolute, Galbanum, Orris Root Base notes: Australian Sandalwood, Brazilian Vetiver, Green Oakmoss, Lovage, Myrrh Gum, Patchouli, Violet Leaf Absolute.
Far subtler is Blue-Green: Arnica, a scent that whispers its cool message. It reminds me of a greener version of TDC Sel de Vetiver, a fragrance I really like, and I can imagine wearing this during hot, humid weather when any other perfume is too much. This fragrance has just a bit of that of saltiness to it, and it did not last on me at all – my winter skin ate it, even after I reapplied, leaving only a faint but very pleasant trace. I need to try this one again in summertime when a truly transparent scent is called for. The Alaia Flower makes another appearance her to contribute its lemony tang, and there is Armoise, also known as Mugwort, in the opening. Now you may well ask, what is that, exactly? Well, it is a type of Artemisia, commonly called wormwood (one species of which is also known as Absinthe), and it is used in herbal preparations and Asian cuisine – in fact, one of my favorite foods is buckwheat Soba flavored with the fresh leafiness of Mugwort, which gives a really interesting greenish tint to the noodles. (It is also a hallucinogenic, but that is neutralized when it is cooked, darn it.) Composition: Top notes of Armoise, Bergamot & Water lily. Middle notes are Alaia Flower, Arnica (another strongly scented medicinal herb) and Petitgrain. The base is Green Oakmoss and Spruce.
Thé Vert (Tea No. 1) is exactly that – and it’s equally “tea” and “green.” There is no sugar in this brew! This is a real find for people who are looking for that elusive tea fragrance that doesn’t turn too sweet on the skin like so many do. It has the light natural hay-like quality endemic to the tea itself and the moss accord, but it’s a gentle, subdued kind of grassy sweetness. I appreciate a good cup of green tea myself, and I really liked this fragrance. I found it soothing and suitable for any kind of weather – as comforting for winter as any ambery or woody scent, yet a perfect go-to fragrance for hot weather too. I would put this very near the top of the list of all green tea perfumes I have ever tried. Listed notes are simply Bergamot, Lemon, Green Tea, Moss and Sandalwood, and that’s pretty much all I need or want in a Tea scent.
For people who approach Rose perfumes with caution because they are too obvious or too cloying, there is Rose Vert – not technically in the Green group but I think it belongs here. It is a real departure for this style of scent and I can’t figure out how it’s done, as there are five different iterations of Rose elements in this scent yet it’s not very sweet at all and even starts out a little bit soapy/astringent. The secret must be in the top notes of citrus oils and the base that has no wood or vanilla but only tree moss. In the heart notes you will find Bulgarian Rose Absolute, Centifolia Rose Absolute, Damask Rose Absolute, Moroccan Rose Absolute, Turkish Rose Otto – yet it is more refreshing than sweet, a Rose of spring breezes and the lightness of the living flower. I have no idea how she did it but I like it!
Pamplemousse – what could be greener than Grapefruit? (Yes it’s technically Fruity/Citrus, so sue me. Anyone who dislikes grapefruit should skip to the next paragraph.) Pamplemousse is enlivened with vibrant green Bergamot and has Green Tea in the base, so I am putting it in this category. It is dazzling and fizzy, an exuberance of joie de vivre. And like Thé Vert, it does not go all sweet on my skin, as it is a true-to-life grapefruit right down to the bracing bitterness of the membrane and rind. This baby can only get better when the mercury rises. Top notes: Bergamot, Green Mandarin, Mandarin, Pink Grapefruit, White Grapefruit Middle notes: Italian Neroli, Lemon, Neroli, Pummelo Base notes: Green Tea, Tamil Nadu Sandalwood. (Alert fruit lovers will note that Pummelo is a close relative of Grapefruit, so it just adds another layer of tangy goodness to the composition.)
Now, for something a little different - how would you name this color, for a perfume called Prince: “indigo blue-black shot through with crimson red.” Sounds more like Night on Bald Mountain than anything else to me, but in fact Prince is the name of a seventeenth century textile that only the aristocrats could afford, and this inspired the perfume, and then a painting of the same name by DSH. This is another conundrum for me – it started out warm on my skin and then turned cold! I don’t recall that has ever happened with a perfume before. When first applied, a warm, hazy cinnamon and wood aura arose, mixed with sweet anise and chamomile. After a short time, however, the absinthe started in, and it was oddly fascinating, a thin acid-green thread running through it. Then the narcissus and orris kicked in and chilled the whole thing down to an almost mint-like degree. Just when I thought it was going to start smelling like Aquafresh® toothpaste, it changed again and the leather and tobacco began to emerge. After that it more or less settled down to that “manly” mixture plus an echo of the herbal absinthe and chamomile and deeper animalic notes. It reminds me somewhat of Serge Lutens Douce Amère, in which the bitter herbs of absinthe and tagetes tamp the sweetness of the white flowers down, and they are locked in eternal struggle, neither one gaining ascendance. In Prince it seems to be the animalic notes that are being restrained – barely – by the herbal components. If not for the acrid wormwood (absinthe) and the hay-like aromatics of the chamomile and tobacco, this perfume would be a rugged wild man of leather and civet. The longer it was on my skin the more manly it became, and it’s not the sort of man one encounters every day. This one is power-hungry, aloof, detached. He always wears a suit, he never lets his guard down, and it’s only when he smiles that you realize how dangerous he is. Notes are as follows: Absinthe, Lavender Flower, Narcissus Absolute, Star Anise, Wild Chamomile, Centifolia Rose Absolute, Egyptian Jasmine Absolute, Gallica Rose Otto, Orris, Sandalwood, Spice Notes, Ambergris, Castoreum, Civet, Cocoa Beans, Leather, Oppapanax, Tobacco Absolute, Tolu Balsam.
In the next installment of this series, I will explore some more men’s fragrances, as well as some very feminine florals.
Image credits: Green and pink veiled Aurora borealis from istp.gsfc.nasa.gov, taken in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The magenta-violet Aurora, also from NASA, was taken in 1958 in Fairbanks, Alaska.