Bardalicious: Natural Perfumes Inspired by A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
As a fan of both William Shakespeare and natural fragrances, I was delighted to be invited to participate in a special project, led by natural perfumer Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy. Each reviewer was “assigned” a different group of perfumers from a group of sixteen international artists whose fragrant interpretations we would be testing with all reviews being published from June 14-24, 2011. We are celebrating the season of high summer and the mysteries of a summer evening, fraught with whispered romance, dangerous plots and irresistible intrigue. So come along and discover the secrets of the night!
Lisa Fong of Artemisia Perfume in Oakland, California has contributed an all-botanical scent called Orchard, creating the impression of walking among the trees after dark; perhaps for a secret assignation after drinking a mysterious love potion? Delicious chamomile gives a hint of apple scent, while vetiver brings the earthy greenness of the forest “breathing” in the night air. This evocative perfume reminds me of my childhood summers when the sweet scent of chamomile growing in our front yard spread all over the place whenever it rained. My sisters and I never wanted to come indoors even if a thunderstorm threatened; it was just too magical out there, with fireflies and lightning shows and the chirping of crickets, and the cool aromas of the night as darkness descended. Orchard smells very much like those long ago evenings in the country. It is composed of wild chamomile, vetiver, oakmoss, clary sage, jasmine sambac and mimosa, a mélange of summery memories in a bottle. I have always loved twilight time the best of all, and this fragrance captures that atmosphere using ingredients that tug at the strands of memory. It lasts fairly well for a natural, getting darker as time passes, just as the evening deepens into night. If perfume is memory, this one is a time capsule indeed, and I truly enjoyed wearing this lovely fragrance. It could easily be worn by either a man or a woman, and I think it would make an ideal hot weather perfume for anyone.
My next adventure was a frolic with Pan, the very naughty brainchild of Ambrosia Jones, proprietor of Perfume By Nature near Sydney, Australia. Pan is a wild fellow indeed, but as with many purportedly “masculine” fragrances, many women love to wear them too and this one really won me over. Pan reminded me of the more rustic perfumes from La Via del Profumo in Italy, which is saying a lot, because those are truly excellent compositions. It’s not as heavily animalic as my beloved Tcharas or as green and exhilarating as Hindu Kush, but it has its own distinctive character. Pan (The character of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a thinly veiled version of the mythical Greek satyr) has a dry, sun-soaked halo of herbal and piney warmth wrapped around its chypre base of dark oakmoss and resins. Rosemary and thyme combined with a spicy (yet not sweet) heart make this redolent of warmer climes, and it’s not hard to picture this mischievous being frolicking in the rugged hillsides above the Aegean Sea, chasing buxom women and laughing the days away. I don’t get too much of a “night” impression from this, but surely most of the trouble Pan/Puck gets himself into occurs in the midnight hour! He is up to no good and so is his namesake perfume, a lusty and rich concoction guaranteed to turn heads. In fact, I received an unsolicited compliment from a co-worker, who urged me to come closer so she could smell my perfume. Staying power is excellent, lasting all day with no problem at all and any confident man should really enjoy wearing it. However, he will have to pry it out of my hands first!
For something entirely different, the perfume called Robin (another name for the character of Puck in the play is Robin Goodfellow) from artisan perfumer Ane Walsh of Cambuquira, Minas Gerais, Brazil is like nothing else I have smelled before. It is made with many traditional perfumery materials with an added tropical flourish, the delicate scent of the lovely Pitanga tree flower, whose bright red fruit is commonly called the Surinam cherry. It imparts a soft, delicate aroma to the composition, somewhat like the mild, sweet moist effect of Ylang ylang. Robin is the character in the play that mixes up the love potion that causes the romantic confusion, and this lovely fragrance could certainly be used for that purpose. High notes of bergamot and Kaffir lime start it off with plenty of zest, and it soon becomes a gentle and mesmerizing sigh of Pitanga, jasmine and Night Queen. A base of ambrette seed, myrrh, frankincense, vetiver, agarwood and sandalwood adds a nice bone structure to the florals, but despite the list of notes, it’s anything but heavy or sternly woody. It really does have an air of mystery, a hint of danger within, which I suspect comes from the Night Queen flower, which is one of those heady tropical blooms that only releases her mysterious perfume after dark. The overall impression I formed of this fragrance is that it truly belongs to the summer nights when white petals unfurl in the moonlight and little creatures go rustling and scurrying about. Its main drawback is that it does not last very long on my skin, but while it does it’s marvelous. I have a special fondness for flowers that only release their perfume at night so I always welcome a perfume that creates a facsimile of their secret and sensual nocturnal lives. This delicate fragrance would be the perfect feminine counterpart to Pan for a romantic evening encounter.
From Vancouver B.C. in Canada comes an unusual fragrance by the talented and prolific (she also concocts perfumed teas and chocolates!) Ayala Moriel. Her Smiling Country is rustic and very dry, and it feels just like the humming of life in a late summer field overgrown with dry grasses and late-blooming flowers. When I was a child in New England we had a field that was never mowed or cultivated, and every summer the goldfinches would come and descend on it looking for seeds as they fattened up for winter’s long haul. What a sight it was, the beautiful little golden and black birds in a field full of waving goldenrod, wild asters and tall grass. Times were tough for my family and the day came when we had to sell that field, and two houses were soon built on the site. I was heartbroken, for they had destroyed the beauty of the meadow and the birds had no place to forage. Smiling Country is the very essence of that summery place, and when I smell it I can remember walking through the browning vegetation as the grasshoppers leapt out of the way and the seeds and weedy burrs clung to my legs. The perfume smells of burnished grasses and pungent Queen-Anne’s-Lace and fluffy goldenrod; I can smell familiar things like patchouli and perhaps labdanum, but it has a bone-dry herbal quality that makes me think of all these wild plants too. In these sleepy days of deep summer, the rich yet dusty smells rise in the heat of the day to a nearly overwhelming level, subsiding only in the gradual cooling of the evening. In the night time, the fields are alive with the sound of crickets, the unfailing harbinger of the coming autumn. Smiling Country is a remarkable evocation of that seasonal idyll, and I take my hat off to the perfumer who has captured it so vividly.
For more impressions of all the perfumes in this project, please visit these participating blogs:
Amanda Feeley’s online store and blog:
Esscentual Alchemy's Blog (Amanda will be sharing her own thoughts as each blog post is published.)
Image credits: A Midsummer Night’s Dream illustration courtesy of Amanda Feeley The illustration of Oberon, Titania And Puck With Fairies Dancing by William Blake, circa 1786, via Wikimedia Commons.