Natural perfumer Anya McCoy is a woman who truly walks the talk; not only is she a leader in her field, a mentor to many others with an interest in naturals and president of the Natural Perfumers Guild, she really does have a garden of delights in which she cultivates many fragrant plants. In fact, when I first discovered perfume blogs a few years ago, I was delighted to discover that she was the very same Anya McCoy whose prose I enjoyed when she wrote articles for Organic Gardening magazine, which I had been reading since childhood. What a wonderful transition to make, from growing a garden to making all-natural botanical perfumes from pesticide-free ingredients. I have now had the opportunity to test all seven of Anya's current fragrances, and I am pleased to report that this perfumer's experience with formulating scents that she tests using many materials she grows herself has resulted in some excellent compositions.
Overall, something that stands out for me about the perfumes of Anya's Garden is how unobtrusive the presence of alcohol is; she uses only organic grain or grape alcohols, and there is no “alcohol burn” that needs to be waited out before being able to smell the fragrance as it was meant to be. The other pleasing feature about them is that even though they are all natural, there is nothing amateurish about them, which is understandable considering the source, and even the incense one, Temple, does not smell like a joss stick or head shop, but is instead quietly refined and beautifully balanced. Let's start with that one. Temple is an orange and oud scent, as odd as that may seem, but it really works. The opening is what I would call friendly, and the pulpy orange is quite refreshing. As it progresses into the incense stage, it gets a bit less sweet and more spicy and the character of the oud emerges. If you like oud but don't want to be clobbered over the head with it, this is an excellent choice. It was actually made to be used in aromatherapy, but it is not in the least bit medicinal-smelling. It is perfectly unisex and very wearable. It's one of the few incense perfumes that seems as though it would really work in summer humidity, which seems natural since Anya is based in sunny Florida.
Another one that smelled like a unisex fragrance to me is RiverCali, though it is said to be a feminine scent. For some reason it smelled smoky to me, almost like one of those “fireplace” scented home candles, though of course not that strong, which may be the result of lots of pink pepper. I have never thought of pink pepper as having that quality, but then it is usually not so dominant a note in fragrances. Maybe it's just me? Anyway, it segues into a pleasantly warm herbal feeling like a hay meadow after the initial impression, but the smokiness persists all the way through the drydown. I never got the roses and vanilla even with repeated wearing, although the citrus comes through, so something in my own skin chemistry is amplifying the other notes. Even the sandalwood escapes me for some reason. It does not really work on me, but I can see why it would be a hit with people who enjoy this style. I adore rose perfumes and they normally agree with me, so I don't know why I am not getting it. I am going to save some of my sample to try later to see if anything changes.
Fairchild is a tropical floral that has truly delicious top notes of pandanus and flowers, opening with a distinct lemony aroma, and a heart comprised of several different jasmines, champaca and citrus. It has that wonderful “banana jasmine” quality that is so addictive in perfumes. As it bloomed on my skin, I started to smell sea notes in sharp contrast to the lush blossoms; what was that about? I checked back to the list of notes and found that the base has seaweed, ambergris, smoked seashells and oakmoss – what a great combination! It's a true marine aroma, not that awful synthetic stuff. Anya calls it a “floral-animalic-marine.” That must be a whole new class of fragrance, and I am all for it. If you want a tropical perfume that does not have coconut or a cliched beachy smell, or a marine perfume that really smells like the ocean and not a chemistry laboratory, this one's for you.
Moving on to the gourmand scent of the bunch, StarFlower is really different and one of my favorites in this group. It's a white floral built around an outstanding tuberose based heart note, but the entirely unexpected opening is intense black cherry and bitter almond. If you thought that all the ways to do a tuberose perfume had already been tried, think again! The gorgeous floral heart is something I wish would go on forever, and the base notes of chocolate, vanilla, maple and nutmeg, combined with botanical “animal” notes, add another luscious layer. I just loved this sweet treat. It's like a flower-infused dessert in an upscale restaurant, and I want another helping; in fact, I want to skip dinner altogether and just have this.
On the other end of the sweetness spectrum is Kaffir, a well-composed lime scent that really makes a statement. I have to say that it's refreshing to find a lime-based fragrance that is not paired with an ozonic or marine note and/or a synthetic woody-amber. Kaffir is a woody lime where the wood is real, sustainable agar wood in fact, paired with a leather accord in the base, and the lime (Kaffir lime is not a citrus fruit but a type of tropical leaf) is ingeniously mated with galbanum and tarragon on top, which makes it extremely green and therefore totally addictive to yours truly. In the heart are no less than nine kinds of jasmine along with oak extract. Kaffir lacks the juiciness of a true citrus but you won't miss that at all if you love lime. My only lament is that it did not last as long on me as I had hoped it would, considering the base notes, but it still had a presence on my skin at the end of a long day even though the lime character was gone, and the drydown is smooth and subtly leathery.
Since I am a White Floral Queen, of course I gravitated to the most recent introduction, MoonDance, a symphony of tuberose and jasmine with some really unusual companion notes. It is neither overly heady nor completely pure and innocent, but more of a fresh, nectar-like essence, like a newly opened tropical blossom. It opens with a cool green violet note that does not hint at all of what is to follow; this is a real stealth perfume. Once it starts to warm up on the skin, a transformation occurs as the tuberose slinks onto the scene, and it's the kind that has the almost camphoric aroma, though nothing of the magnitude of the weird yet wonderful Tubéreuse Criminelle. Then a rich Rose de Mai chimes in, along with jasmine Sambac and one of my favorite herbal notes, the fruity-green of apple-scented chamomile, which is just perfect with the florals, adding its rounded character while keeping the flowers fresh and dewy and only slightly “dirty” in a good way. MoonDance has excellent lasting power for a natural perfume, which can be attributed to the base of opoponax absolute, ambergris, two different types of sandalwood and African hyrax. (What's that, you may ask? Well the rock hyrax is a little herbivorous animal about the size of a gopher, and its petrified droppings are known in the perfume trade as Africa Stone. It's a cruelty-free way to add real animalic character to perfumes and it's a very effective fixative.) MoonDance reminds me of sultry summer nights in the country, walking barefoot in a garden on chamomile flowers after a sudden rain shower and smelling that delicious aroma from the crushed herbs under my toes. This perfume just keeps getting sexier on my white flower amplifying skin, and I just can't think of a better summer scent for a special evening. It deserves all the accolades it has received since its release.
Last of all is one of the more unusual fragrances I have ever smelled, and even though it is very much a masculine scent, I quite enjoyed wearing it. Pan is named after the mythical Greek satyr-god whose favorite activities were romping in the pastoral fields, playing the musical pipes and chasing nymphs, and not necessarily in that order. It has almost no sweetness although it has lotus and lavender in the top notes, and the remaining notes are cedar, ambriene, hay, patchouli and - billy goat hair! I kid you not. (See what I did there?) Yes, there is actual essence of male goat in this fragrance, and it's surprisingly good. I may be a bit biased here, since I love the odor of goats, as well as their milk and cheese; my family raised them and we drank the fresh raw milk right out of the bucket, finding it to be far superior to cow's milk. Pan does indeed smell of the strong musk of the he-goat, which in itself has a somewhat milky aspect along with the gamy barnyard smell. Believe it or not, I think it's a really sexy scent and I regret not having a male test subject for it. I can't imagine convincing anyone who is not a perfume lover to wear it unless I failed to mention the goat hair part until after they tried it out, and that seems a bit risky. It's for serious fans of this style, and you also have to like patchouli a lot to appreciate it. I think it's great fun, and very well done. For the adventurous perfume explorer, Pan is a must-try.
Anya's Garden perfumes are available by mail order from anyasgarden.com. Disclosure: My sample set was sent to me by Anya for testing purposes and it is the same set that is available for purchase on the web site. Image credit: “Hymn To The Great God Pan” painting by Hervé S. Flament, from fantasy art and sci-fi site epilogue.net.