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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Russian Saturday: Narcisse Blanc Сaron

Review and translation by Alena 

 Апрель в этом году выдался холодным и стремительным. Будто не апрель, а затянувшийся февраль, продвигающийся сквозь весну в ритме джаза. Чтобы сменить ритм и выровнять пульс, я искала аромат весенних цветов, который бы не был слишком холодным и слишком легкомысленным. 

 Narcisse Blanc Сaron в духах – интровертный и лаконичный аромат, вкрадчивый, приглушенно-белый. Цветы то ли в тени, то ли в сумерках. Нет ни утренней росы, ни тягучей полуденной сладости. Аромат открывается нежной маслянистой зеленью. Смесь альдегидов и нероли напоминает неролиевое мыло, которое лежит у меня в бельевом шкафу. Прозрачный жасмин, белая роза, приглушенный и бархатистый, как внутренняя сторона замшевой сумки, ирис создают необыкновенно достоверную аллюзию цветов поэтического нарцисса – Narcissus poeticus L. 

 Этот давний сорт не часто встретишь в наших городах. Однажды мне удалось найти целую поляну этих белых цветов с желтой сердцевиной и красной каймой. Я опустилась рядом с ними. Не знаю, как долго я там просидела, и с каким выражением лица, но подозреваю, что с идиотским. Очнулась я, когда услышала над головой тревожный голос женщины: “Вам плохо?”. Мне было хорошо. 

 Narcisse Blanc Сaron – замереть с нелепым выражением. И пусть весь мир подождет. 


 April this year turned out to be cold and swift. As if it was not April, but prolonged February, going his way through the spring in the rhythm of jazz. To change the rhythm and level of the pulse rate I was looking for a fragrance of spring flowers, which wouldn't be too cold and too light-headed. 

 Narcisse Blanc Caron in perfume is an introverted and concise scent, subtle, muted white in tone. Flowers are growing either in the shade, or in the twilight. There is neither morning dew, nor viscous afternoon sweetness. The scent opens with delicate buttery greens. A mixture of aldehydes and neroli resembles soap from my linen closet. Transparent jasmine, white rose, pale and velvety iris, like the inner side of a suede bag, create incredibly accurate allusion of flowers of poetic daffodil – Narcissus poeticus L. 

 This old variety is not common for cities around here. Once I found a whole meadow of these white flowers with a yellow corona and a red edge. I sat down next to them. I do not know how long I sat there, and what expression was on my face, but I suspect it looked foolish. I woke up when I heard an anxious female voice above me: "Are you feeling unwell?". I was feeling well. 

 Narcisse Blanc Сaron – to come to a standstill, with a ridiculous expression on your face. And the rest of the world can wait. 

 Narcisse Blanc Caron (Ernest Daltroff, 1922): Orange blossom, Neroli, Petitgrain, Orange, Jasmine, Rose, Iris, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Amber, Musk. Photo by Cecil Beaton

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Oud Stars by Xerjoff

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By Marian

Oud can be challenging. Sometimes pure oud oils smell too animalic, too funky, too smoky or too rough. Many of the “Western” interpretations don’t smell like “oud” at all.  Xerjoff, in their newly released “Oud Stars” line, has designed fragrances in which the scent of oud is clearly recognizable, yet they give a big nod to Western sensibilities by pairing oud with familiar notes that are more accessible, alluring and addictive!

In alphabetical order:

Al Khatt is based on Laotian oud, and clear vanillic notes testify to its Indo-Chinese pedigree. The Jasmine sambac is lush with berried fruitiness not always in jasmine absolutes, which can sometimes smell like tea, soap or heavily indolic. The subtle herbal dryness of oakmoss, the resinous succulence of benzoin and the velvety nuances of cashmeran add complexity and ornamentaion to this enticing Oriental bouquet.
Italian Bergamot, Jasmine Sambac, Cashmeran, Vanilla, Oakmoss, Laos Benzoin, Oud Laos

Fars is a province in Iran, its capital the beautiful city of Shiraz, known as “the city of gardens”.  Fars is a symphony of flowers, herbs and woods. The smoldering smokiness of cade makes me think of agarwood chips burning in a bejeweled mubkhara; the almost chocolate-y scent of patchouli is often present in the ouds from Indonesia, and the drydown of sweet nagarmotha is so similar to some of the notes found in oud that it is often used to adulterate it. The presence of bergamot, lavender and geranium makes this perfume seem a little lighter, brighter and greener than some of the other blends in this collection.
Italian Bergamot, French Lavender, cade , Egyptian Geranium, Jasmine Absolute, Cedar Atlas Amber, Santalwood, Patchouly, Haiti Vetyver, Indian Nagarmotha, Oud wood
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Gao- I love the way the plum-y leatheriness of the oud oils is offset by the exotic, bitter powderiness of saffron, the dryness of patchouli, the smokiness of cade and the glowing warmth of golden amber. A blend that is arid but welcoming, smoky yet powdery soft, and gourmand without being cloyingly sweet, is quite unique. I think this is more of a masculine scent because it’s very woody, but women who enjoy scents like Zafferano might really enjoy it.
A blend of Spanish Saffron with a touch of Iranian Saffron, Gurjum, Bois de Cade, Nagarmotha,  Indonesian Patchouly, Amber, Blend of Thai Pratchin Oud with Oud Laos (Udomsai)

Oud from India is considered to be amongst the most fecal, but in Mamluk it’s as tame as the caramel that takes center stage. This perfume is practically dripping with brown sugar, and when it’s combined with both vanilla and amber you can imagine that it easily falls into the dessert, rather than the desert, category. There’s a hint of naughtiness- sweaty bodies- contributed by the musk- and more than a little peach nectar from the osmanthus.  I would think that most people who enjoy gourmand fragrances wouldn’t be partial to oud scents, but Mamluk succeeds in combining these unlikely bedfellows in a way that gourmand AND oud lovers could both happily indulge their passion.
Italian Bergamot, Honey, caramel accord, Jasmine Garndiflorum, Osmanthus, Laos Benzoin Vanilla MAdagascar, Indian Oud, Crystal Musks, Amber

Najaf saw much devastation during the US invasion of Iraq. Perhaps this sweet composition is an expression of the perfumer’s wish that it experience a happier future. Osmanthus is the dominant note. In this juicy composition it smells more like apricot than peach, and a very faint bitterness reminds me of the pits hidden within an apricot’s delicate flesh.  The tobacco and herbal notes are barely discernable; vanilla and tonka add a subtle booziness, and musk contributes a furry warmth to this opulent, exotic perfume.
Woody notes, Sweet and Herbal notes, Osmanthus, Cedar and Patchouli, Santalwood, Vanilla, Tonka, Tobacco and Musk, Oud Wood

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“Zafar” means “victory” in Arabic and Xeroff has certainly succeeded in creating a perfume that is as sensuous, multifaceted and provocative as many of the Arabian perfume oils that are popular in the Middle East. Oud really stands out in this blend. No attempt has been made to tame or disguise it so its primal energy is unmistakable. To combine it with rose and musk is very much in the “Arabic” tradition, and for that reason this perfume seems especially “authentic”. The animalic snarliness of oud and the sweet earthiness of patchouli are the most prominent components of the scent, however they aren’t so strong as to obscure the crimson headiness of rose, the heavy sensuality of white flowers or the cool, herbal breeziness of vetiver. I began this review by saying that “oud can be challenging”. “Zafar” is a challenge worth meeting head on- it’s dark; it’s bold and it’s daring. Xerjoff has earned the laurels for creating this perfume, but I intend to share them by wearing it! 
Rose, Green Apple, Black Pepper, Neroli from Morocco, Oud Laos, matured over 15 years, White Flowers, Cedar, Incense from Oman, Vetyver Haiti, Musk

Oud Stars can be purchased from Luckyscent and MiN New York

Images, Detail of Interior of the Tomb of the Persian Poet Hafiz, Shiraz, Iran; Detail, Sheikh Lutfullah Mosque, Isfahan, Iran and Detail of the Dome of the Theological College, Isfahan, Iran, are by Robert Harding,

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

From the Closet (Again): Patou Colony

By Tom

Patou Colony is a brilliant scent that I shouldn't like at all. Created in the 30's to celebrate the French Colonies, it's a "tropical" perfume in which pineapple plays a major role. That's the part I shouldn't like: I like that fruit on a plate or in a juice, but couldn't see it being in a scent I'd like to wear.

Boy was I wrong..

Marina wrote that "the action in Colony takes place in a pampered, civilized oasis" while in Donna's opinion "it is so very sexy and grown-up, yet it has that hint of tropical romance to it that gives it such a charming character". They're both right. Pineapple here starts off fresh in an opening that if you didn't know better could peg as a Lutens one: sparkling fresh with spicy carnation. Then the fruits start to stew in their juices (and perhaps the tropic sun) becoming syrupy, balancing the flowers with leather and a fair bit of musk.

Colony is sadly, one of those Patou scents that went the way of the buffalo. There are bottles available online at some pretty heady prices. The good news is that the fabled house of Patou has a new owner, a UK company who also now controls Worth and Scherrer have bought the brand and has reached out to Jean Kerléo, Patou's former master-perfumer to work on the scents.  Maybe if we ask real pretty they'll bring this one back.  If they do a Google search on bottle prices they'll find there's an audience for it.

My source was a decant purchased at the Perfumed Court, where it is still available.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Some (Blush Blush) New Friends

Mini Reviews by Marla

The perfume gods have been kind this month; I’ve received two superb sample packs, one from Aedes de Venustas, and the other from the generous MiN NewYork. I’ve managed to clothes, paper, skin test a few (no rocks or scissors, yet). Here are my first half-dozen: ELd’O- Putain des Palaces- This made me blush and giggle. If you’ve ever walked down a hotel hall in a “colorful” section of Paris or Berlin and caught of whiff of people engaged in…you know…through a doorway or two, (and I’ve never been in such hallways, never!), you’ll know what this perfume smells like. It’s a powdery floral with…you know, and a tid tad of BO. EL d’O must have some hilarious stories to tell about their Scent Research Program…. I actually quite liked this one and found it kind of cozy and carnal.

ELd’O Jasmin et Cigarette- Yes, I know I’m about 5 years late to the ELd’O party here. I was a newbie blogger when this one came out. Never tried it. So sad for me, it’s incredible! I’m a jasmine junkie, true, and I do like my galbanum, but have you ever tried to get the balance right between the two? Very tricky. But they did it. It’s a low-key jasmine, airy and ephemeral, with just the right touch of ashy galbanum. Cool. Perfect.

 Aedes de Venustas EdP- That’s right, the new “Violent Green” one. OK, it’s rhubarb, it’s not violent at all unless you’ve never cut up real rhubarb for a pie. Then it might be a bit of a shock. It’s very well done, but there is a celery note wafting around in there, a Duchaufour trademark, that’s a dealbreaker for me. Can’t stand celery notes. I checked on Basenotes to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating it, and indeed, others (though not all), catch a whiff of celery, too. But I’m glad there’s a rhubarb out there, and let’s see more!

 By Kilian Amber Oud- I’m turning into a serious Calice Becker Fangirl. I can’t think of a single perfume she’s made that I don’t want to wear. I love real Middle Eastern ouds and have a good collection of Asian oud incense, so I sure don’t need a Frenchified, watered-down Oud For Westerners. But this is just so soft, so gorgeous, so pillowy. I’m hooked. Westernized ouds can be lovely, as it turns out. I am contrite. By Kilian Love and ELd’O Divin’ Enfant—Tweety Bird vs. Godzilla. Love is the ultimate marshmallow, those lovely ones made in Italy for Pasqua, so goooood!! And Divin’ Enfant is Love with a skanky, leather- gloved fist waiting to punch you in the nose! I actually like them both. So, my usual question, do you have a mini review for me? Please, leave a comment!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Foodie Sunday: Happy Earth Day!

By Beth 

Happy Earth Day! I hope that wherever in the world you find yourself today that you take the time to stick your fingers in the soil, or breathe the air or simply take a walk outside and revel in the luscious springtime scents. I’m spending the morning out on the trail with my beloved horse Henry where happily, the ramps or the wild leeks as they're known in certain parts of the Appalachians arespringing up everywhere. There are acres of ramps in the woods that I ride in and every spring I saddle up and ride out to collect some. There is no moreexquisite fragrance in the woods at this time of year than the perfume of the moist soil and the scent of the wild onions and chives especially when some get crushed accidentally under hoof! Wild ramps can be eaten raw if you dare with fresh butter and salt or minced and mixed with butter , chevre and then slathered under the skin of a young chicken and put in the oven to roast. Be careful though for they are a very stimulating springtime tonic and often eaten to promote energy and passion. Ramps are legendary for their aphrodisiacal qualities. Enjoy one raw with butter and pink salt and you'll know exactly what I mean and be sure that you're enjoying them with someone that you love or want to get to know a lot better….a lot better!  

Speaking of Earth Day, without a doubt one of my favorite volunteer jobs is being a docent for our Cleveland Botanical Gardens. These gardens are award winning and lovely, with an incredible rose garden, a healing garden for seniors and one of the most gorgeous herb gardens thatI’ve ever seen. I must confess that I love them all and never tire of wandering among them, but it is the Hershey Children’s Garden that I love the best! Everyday in the Hershey Childrens Garden seems like Earth Day ! At the entrance of this garden there is a huge fountain that is actually a sundial and on very hot days the children splash and play among the jets like young billy goats while their mothers relax on benches in the shade, easily able to keep their eyes on the happy kids. They tag monarch butterflies every year and have the most incredible scarecrow building contest that you've ever seen in the fall. In this garden there are patches of fresh herbs and a playhouse with a sod roof. There’s a very happy berry patch surrounded by espaliered fruit trees and a vegetable garden and a pond with a little dock and lots of carp splashing around. A wonderfully huge tree house above it is filled with books and you can curl up safely in the branches eat your lunch and dream the afternoon away. I love to lie face down on the little dock with the children , tease the fish and afterwards play hide and seek among the stately wizard pines whose boughs drape towards the ground like Merlin’s robes! It's just one of the most magical places that I know of! 

 The Hershey Children’s Garden is designed to be a teaching garden of the highest caliber and it is here that our children learn all about their food and where it really comes from. It’s magical to watch as these kids, some who have never seen a garden let alone an apple tree, pick the sweet ripe berries and taste them for the first time. They pull radishes, lettuces and crunch the fresh carrots that still have the earth clinging to their roots. They get to taste the wild ramps that flourish on the back hill behind the tree house in the spring and be surprised by their sweet oniony taste . It's amazing to watch them make the sensory and physical connection between the wild oniony taste and the domestic scallion. Their world begins to open up to all the possibilities around their food and I just love being a part of that! One of the pathways through the garden leads to my favorite place of all, which is the compost pile. Ours consists of three bins that demonstrate easily how the compost is made from beginning to end and I adore the look of amazement on the faces of both children and adults when we come to the third bin and they realize that this is a simple demonstration of how dirt is made. In this garden our children can play in the earth to their hearts content and leave with a rich new understanding of their place in the world. As playful as it is, this garden is truly the most important of all the beautiful places found in our Botanical Gardens. It is situated on a piece of land the size of a city lot and enough food is grown here to easily sustain a family of 8. It is a shining example of what could be done to build sustainability from the ground up instead of reliance on foods that are brought to us packaged and completely unknown.

Through the mechanics of food science we can grow our vegetables in huge emotionally barren hydroponic farms, but truly there is no substitute for the taste of a vegetable or piece of fruit that has been freshly harvested fromrichly nutrient filled soil. The wines that we drink, the vegetables that we eat and even our meats are all fed by the minerals and vitamins that come straight from our earth. I love it when I drink a glass of Bordeaux and canliterally taste the soil that the grapes were grown in. I adore the taste of a potato minutes from the earth, brushed , unwashed and baked slowly in the coals of a campfire. Dressed with just a bit of butter and truffled salt there is no sweeter , earthier taste to be found anywhere. 

 Today in honor of our Earth and the robust and wanton sweetness that she shares with us so generously, I’d like to offer you my personal recipe for wild ramp, leek and potato soup. It’s different than most because the vegetables are roasted allowing them to become caramelized and sweet. 

 You will need: 

10 cloves of garlic 
About 20 Yukon Gold fingerling potatoes diced/ use your judgment and add more if they are smaller
2 tablespoons of raisins 
 2 large leeks , sand removed and sliced into rings, greens included 
1 bunch of fresh ramps, lightly brushed , not washed 
1 tablespoon of truffle oil 1 cup of chopped fresh herbs, sage, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, thyme 
2 quarts of chicken or vegetable stock 
1 cup of bottled hard cider 
2 pints of half and half (or unsweetened coconut milk) 
Salt and pepper to taste 
Rogue River Creamery 
Smoky Blue Cheese to garnish (or if you’re vegan , 1 cup of nutritional yeast and 1Ž2 teaspoon of organic liquid smoke blended into the soup for a cheesyflavor) 
Chopped fresh chives 

Take the garlic, potatoes and leeks and lay them on a baking sheet, salt and pepper them and add some chopped freshrosemary if you like. Drizzle with olive oil and roast until tender but be careful not to overcook. In a soup pot bring the stock to a simmer and add the raisins, herbs , ramps, hard cider and truffle oil. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes and add the roasted vegetables. Cook for at least another 15 minutes and then add the half and half to taste. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it’s a consistency that you like. Add more liquid if necessary. Heat through and pour into a soup bowl or tureen, garnishing with the crumbled blue cheese and fresh chives. This soup is wonderful served with a hearty whole grain bread and fresh butter and a simple glass of chilled white wine. I think that's all you'll ever need. Well, almost all you'll ever need… 

 So tell me…What are your plans for the day? 

All photos belong to Beth Schreibman Gehring with the exception of the photo of the wild ramps. This photo is courtesy of

Friday, April 20, 2012

Somewhere in Time: The Arquiste Fragrance Line

By Donna

One of the newest “concept” niche lines to emerge out of the seemingly constant torrent of new fragrances is Arquiste, and it’s set itself apart from the herd with two things: a novel idea and the talents of two star perfumers from Givaudan. After testing them I found the six fragrances (all launched at the same time) to be interesting and highly wearable with only one that was a real miss on me. The concept is really more of a scenario, a tableau of a captured moment in a richly imagined history. The fertile mind behind the perfumes is Mexico City native Carlos Huber, a prominent architect and designer with a penchant for historical preservation who poured his passion for the past into this series. I understand that more perfumes are in the works soon, and I eagerly await their arrival.

There often seems to be one weak link when a house releases multiple perfumes at once; for me it was Aleksandr, a masculine scent by Yann Vasnier with a disconcerting opening sequence that left me wondering with some dismay what it was going to do on my skin. As it turned out, this one has ozonic and aquatic notes in it, which explains everything; Calone and its ilk don’t play nice with my skin no matter how high the quality of the fragrance is. The juxtaposition of these with leather and fir balsam created a strange dissonance for the first few minutes that smelled for all the world like the ghost of valerian root, and if you know your herbs, that’s not what most people would want in a perfume. After that passed, the watery character persisted for quite some time until it finally settled down to a very nice but quiet leather. The inspiration for this scent, as with everything in the line, is an exact moment in time; in this instance that moment is a gentleman in 19th century St. Petersburg, Russia getting dressed on a cold winter morning to go out and fight a duel. There is nothing warm and fuzzy about Aleksandr, for it is as austere as can be, but once it gets to the drydown it is eminently suitable for men (and women) who like their fragrance to be lean, mean and elegant. Lots of people will love this; it’s just not my style.

One might think of Infanta en Flor as the polar opposite of a scent meant for a man on the way to meet his doom, even though it also has a leather note. It is a tender floral so soft and pretty that it reminded me of a fragrance I once had that was meant for children, although I wore it as a young adult. It’s not sugary or trite, however, but a really well done composition featuring orange flower, cistus (rock rose), immortelle and the gentlest suede-like leather. If only it had better longevity, but alas on my skin it was quite fleeting, lasting only a couple of hours. I had visions of young girls in pinafore dresses and ribbons in their shining hair while wearing Infanta en Flor and I can’t imagine a fragrance of greater innocence. Yann Vasnier is also the author of this perfume.

The masculine counterpart to Infanta en Flor is Fleur de Louis; while “she” is meant to represent a young Spanish princess, “he” is the embodiment of the youthful Louis XIV, all dressed up to meet his new bride in the heart of the Basque country in the year 1600. It is a woody floral that opens with citrus, and it’s both refined and restrained, though very likable. It also has orange flower but this time it’s paired with jasmine, powdery iris and cedar. It has a very bracing woody-green quality that smells like fresh twigs when you shred the ends off. A certain sourness pervades it but it’s the pleasant kind and it smells very much like something we used to call “sour grass” when I was growing up, a fleshy herb that we chewed on hot summer days to quench thirst. I never thought I would run across this aroma in a perfume; this would be an outstanding scent to wear in the dusty, muggy heat of August. I did find that it leaned toward the more “masculine” end of the spectrum, but it’s certainly wearable by anyone. It was composed by the prolific Rodrigo Flores-Roux.

A more boisterous citrus scent is L’Etrog, which opens with a delightful burst of Calabrian citron, which is an especially bright and pleasing type, and the scent is named after a regional variety of this aromatic fruit. There is an unusual surprise in store here; after the juiciness of the citrus and the lush green of myrtle leaves comes a deliciously sweet date note that lasts an impressively long time without becoming sticky or cloying, although it really is easily recognizable as date. I still don’t know how this fragrance manages to last so long since it’s virtually devoid of traditional base notes but I am in favor of it. The idea behind this scent, a collaboration between Yann Vasnier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux, is a medieval Mediterranean harvest celebration. If the year 1175 really smelled like this, please bring me a time machine! (I am not surprised at all that L’Etrog is so good - Rodrigo Flores-Roux also made my one of my favorite recent mainstream citrus scents for men, 2009’s John Varvatos Artisan.)

Another in the line that brought the talents of both perfumers together is Anima Dulcis, which is categorized as a “baroque gourmand” and I can’t think of a more suitable description. It starts out smoky and sweet like snuffed-out candles at a grown-up birthday party where the tastes and aromas of rich chocolate and vanilla desserts linger in the air, but it has just a touch of tingly heat from cinnamon and chili pepper that keeps that intense sweetness in check. So often I find that gourmands of this kind degenerate into a sugary jumble after an interesting but short opening; Anima Dulcis avoids this trap and just gets better as it develops and deepens into an ambery beauty with time. It’s one of those addictive eat-your-own-arm perfumes and a wonderful addition to the gourmand genre. This is one of my favorites in the line and one that I would like to own a bottle of. The concept is of nuns at a convent in Mexico City in 1695 preparing a recipe that has been kept secret for centuries until now, but even without the story, this fragrance stands on its own.

To no one’s surprise given my well known fondness for white florals, my other favorite of this group is the gorgeous Flor y Canto, a swooningly good floral mélange by Rodrigo Flores-Roux with the unexpected sharp tang of marigold (Tagetes) to give it a unique character. Tuberose, magnolia and plumeria combine to make for a luminous tropical perfume that manages to be both narcotically heady and refreshingly sheer at the same time, and I can’t get enough of it. I especially like the way the sharp herbal note of the marigold lingers on the skin and plays off against the petal-soft florals. The time in history for this one is the most dramatic of them all too; it’s the year 1400 in Tenochtitlan, Mexico (before it was even called Mexico actually) during an Aztec temple ceremony. I would love to wear it on a sultry summer evening; who knows what might happen with something this seductive? Anyone who is disenchanted with mainstream white florals and wants one that’s not too sweet and overpowering should really try Flor y Canto.

The Arquiste line is available online from their Web site, and in stores exclusively at Barneys New York locations. It comes in a 55 ml size for either $165 or $175 USD.

Image credit: Xochiquetzal, Aztec Goddess of the Arts, via Mesoamerican culture and history site

Disclosure: The sample set was sent to me gratis for testing at my request by Arquiste.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Off topic...

Image and video hosting by TinyPicBy Tom

Well, I got slammed this week with a lousy cold. I cancelled everything I could and am spending my week doing my taxes, dribbling and watching television.

Why does everything taste vaguely of tinfoil when I have a cold?

The last thing I wore was Ava Luxe Rasa Extreme, which I reviewed on The Posse last year. I didn't realize how tenacious it is: I dabbed on the rest of the sample my friend sent me on Sunday night and just sort of basked in it's lovely musky rosiness. I knew I was getting a cold from the tickle in the back of my throat so I wasn't going to shower and leave the house with a wet head. (Does anyone else get that warning? The slight achiness, chill and tickle that's like the temperature drop before a really ripping summer storm?) But I did need supplies, so out I went.

It was actually a little distracting.

I was wandering the aisles of the Beverly Hills Market (The cheapest and best market in my 'hood, with $3.99 lunch specials that are fab, in case you ever get here and need cheap eats) in my old LL Bean hoodie and jeans while shadowing me, or more to the point radiating off me was this femme fatale scent. I half expected to turn a corner and find Phyllis Deitrichson looking at this grubby little schlub that was I and wondering where the hell Walter had gotten to..

Ava Luxe Rasa Extreme is still, sadly discontinued. I read in comments that she can no longer get the ingredients so It will most likely stay gone. My sample is empty, so I can only hope that there will be some revival in the future.

I hope by next week to be back in the saddle, as it were..


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ballets Rouges by Olympic Orchids (Ellen Covey)

Image and video hosting by TinyPicReview by Marla

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on aldehydics that touched on retro perfumes in the niche/indie world.

And, if you write about it, you will find it. True, isn’t it?

Specifically, I discovered Dr. Ellen Covey’s Olympic Orchids “Ballets Rouges”, which leaves me breathless. Doc Elly, as she’s known in the blogosphere, is a perfumista and Nerd Girl Extraordinaire. She leaves me in the dust when it comes to her knowledge of botany, she grows and sells rare orchids, and now, she’s making some knockout perfumes.

My favorite flower is jasmine, in that pretty much any decent jasmine perfume will get my vote. I’m much fussier about roses. I wear a few of the Rosines, I love Rossy de Palma’s Eau de Protection, and Amouage Lyric is a great love. Malle’s Une Rose is wonderful, as well, but it tends to wear me, instead of the other way around. Doesn’t stop me from wearing it, though.

So I tried Ballets Rouges with some skepticism, figuring it would end up in my Meh Basket, as nearly all roses do. Not so. This one astounded me. An old-fashioned rose chypre’ with real oakmoss, and a cast of characters that left nothing out, and nothing extra. It’s a perfume of perfect balance and grace. I’m not going to bother with the notes because the overall effect is so seamless, a note list is not necessary. Sniffing is.

It can be hard for niche brands and indies to “edit”- that is, to find the right way to test a mod without going for the generic “focus group” that can gut an original composition. I wondered how Doc Elly worked with the formula for Ballets Rouges, seeing as it is truly a finished perfume with exquisite timbre and balance. Here’s what she wrote:

M: There are a number of "classic rose chypres" that have debuted with niche brands in the past few years. What I've noticed with some is that they could have used an editor; a few have "thrown in everything but the kitchen sink", others have struck me as mere sketches. With Ballets Rouges, it seems that nothing essential has been left out, and nothing extraneous left in. How did the formula evolve?

DE: The formula evolved starting with the classic building blocks of a chypre’ – bergamot, aldehydes, a floral heart, patchouli, oakmoss, and musk. The top and base are fairly stereotyped, but the floral notes can go anywhere. I chose to use rose as the centerpiece partly because it’s a classic perfumery note, and partly because I had recently formulated a rose accord that I really liked. I used ylang-ylang because it’s present in so many classic chypres, and seems to fit well.

I first assembled these basic building blocks, formulating top, middle, and base separately. Once I put them together and let them meld, I added small amounts of other notes to “finish” the fragrance.

In every art and craft there’s always a thin line between over-simplicity and over-decoration, and it’s one I struggle with every time I make a perfume. As in visual art, there needs to be just enough complexity, asymmetry and novelty to be pleasing and interesting, but if taken too far, it just gets ugly and messy.

M: How long were you working on it?

Image and video hosting by TinyPicDE: It took about a year from beginning of formulation to end of testing. I work slowly, partly because I have to deal with other activities in my life, and partly because I like to thoroughly evaluate at every step before moving on. I also need time to think about where to go with the fragrance, so even if I’m not actively formulating, I’m subconsciously doing so.

M: Do you have an editor, or beta testers?

DE: I am my own editor. I do have about a dozen beta testers to whom I send my fragrances for their reactions and opinions. I love my beta testers!

M: What's your process in terms of composing?

DE: I generally start with a well-formed idea of the fragrance before I begin actually formulating, both in terms of the idea I want to represent, the general “color, shape, and texture” of the scent itself, and the materials and proportions that will best realize the concept. I usually start with the base, since to me that’s the most important part of the perfume. It’s what will be smelled after everything else is going, going, or gone, so it should be as novel and pleasant as the rest of the fragrance. Once I’m reasonably satisfied with the top, middle, and base, I combine them by layering on my skin to see how they smell together, and tweak each component in whatever way seems appropriate to make them meld better, repeating this process multiple times. Then I actually combine the parts, and see what happens.

M: What inspired you to make a classic rose chypre’? Any particular perfumes?

DE: Although I love most vintage chypre’s, I don’t think it was any particular perfume that inspired me to make a classic chypre’. Instead, it started more as a learning exercise in creating my own variation on a tried and true classic formula. You could think of it as the equivalent of a jazz musician learning a “standard” chart and then improvising on it, in the process discovering why this particular basic melody and chord progression work so well, and how the same skeleton can be fleshed out in multiple, innovative ways. I sent my testers four very different experimental fragrances, one of which was Ballets Rouges, and it turned out that they liked it so much that it was “voted in” to be an official release.

M: What led you to use real oak moss?

DE: I used real oak moss because I don’t think the synthetic “oak moss” that’s available smells right. Patchouli and musk alone aren’t going to create a classic chypre’. The whole brouhaha about oakmoss is almost irrelevant given the availability of IFRA-compliant, low-atranol oakmoss, which smells like any other oakmoss, but is mostly free of the putative allergens of concern. This is what I use in production.

So there you have it, the backstory of the best rose perfume I’ve smelled in at least several years. And the best news is that Doc Elly does not believe in “aspirational pricing”. An ounce of the EdP is $40 through her website. You can find it here, or, you can try all of Olympic Orchids perfumes in a very reasonable sample set, which is also a lot of fun, and the probable subject of a future article.

Now, the question of the day—What do you expect in a rose perfume, or a chypre’ and have you found it lately??

(Disclosure: I’ve been reading Doc Elly’s fascinating blog for some time , and purchased her sample set.)

Doc Elly’s botanical blog.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

From the closet: Serge Lutens Rahat Loukoum

Image and video hosting by TinyPicBy Tom

Rahat Loukoum is a perfume that by all rights I should hate. I don't like sweet and I don't like fruity, but somehow I adore this. Marina calls this 1998 release "chewy", which is a fitting description for a scent that's named for the candy "Turkish Delight". It starts with a boozy hit of cherries as if you were starting the process of putting fresh ones up for the winter by boiling them in some sweet liquor, the boozy fumes palpable and heady. Almost immediately the candy starts to soften with almond and smoke. Well, soften isn't quite the word. It never becomes as soft as say, Lutens own Louve, which I bought at Barneys and abandoned when I acquired a bell jar of this. The hard-edged opening cooks down into a warm and sensual honeyed musk with just a trace of the opening spikiness in the heliotropic cherry/almond notes.

Today (Wednesday, April 11th) it's a rainy day in LA where the temps may, or may not hit 60. It's the perfect weather for this scent: cold enough to tame what could be a tiger of a scent and yet make me crave its warmth.

Rahat is sadly one of the ones that you have to be in Europe to buy. It's €125 for a Bell Jar and I have no idea if it will ever come to these shores. As a caution, my bottle is several years old, so I can't speak to whether it has been reformulated, If you've been to the Palais and can comment, please do.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Magnificent (Loathesome) Vetiver

By Marla, the Nerd Girl

Chrysopogon zizanioides is known to most perfumistas as Marvelous Vetiver. Or Stinky Vetiver. Depends on whether you love it (like I do), or loathe it (like a lot of other people do). It’s like patchouli-- a whiff of the ubiquitous khus elicits strong opinions! Vetiver used to have its own genus, but botanists decided it was actually close cousins to palmarosa and lemongrass, and it was chucked in with other “oil grass” -pogons. I hope its enjoying its new expanded family.

The grassy leaves are pretty much odorless, it’s the roots that are so fragrant (or smelly). They are distilled into medicines and perfumes, woven into fragrant mats and fans that became so popular during the Moghul Empire and Raj in India, and bundled into linen chests here in the Southern US to keep away fungi and buggles. You can even flavor your summer ice water with the roots! The top half, the grass, grows up to 8 feet tall. I’m growing some experimentally here on my sand dune. We’ve got big trouble with storm tide erosion and high winds and we need some special plants to buffer our living zone. Vetiver is being used on the islands to our east as just such a buffer, and it’s working out well. And its deep roots cleanse soils of various pollutants, too. My little pot of about 10 plants is nearly 2 feet high now. Alberto of Agriflora Tropicals, in Puerto Rico, specializes in vetiver, and he’s been a wealth of information on the lovely khus. He’s happy to ship some to anyone who wants to grow it themselves. (Disclosure—I get no commission from Alberto, I’m just a happy customer.)

My scent library contains several varieties of vetiver, some fractions and synthetics. They are:

1. Rhus Khus- traditional Indian attar, vetiver co-distilled with sandalwood. The strongest vetiver of the bunch! So strong it’s almost horse-radishy….

2. Bourbon vetiver- from Reunion Island. Supposedly the finest type, but I prefer the Sri Lankan.

3. Sri Lankan organic vetiver- softer and sweeter, with almost nutlike nuances.

4. Haitian vetiver- earthy and rooty with hints of fruit, the most grounding of the group. Rough and rugged!

5. Vetiverol- there are actually several of these patented out there with varying profiles. It’s usually considered a fraction of actual vetiver, but there’s controvery over whether it can be called a natural ingredient or not. To my nose, it has the simplest, and nuttiest profile of the group.

6. Vetiveryl acetate- a synthetic, a beloved aromachemical of Escentric Molecules (03 is allegedly composed of only this one.) Lighter and airier than the naturals.

There are many other varieties out there, and I’m always on the lookout to add more!

My favorite vetiver scents are an Indian attar of tuberose/vetiver, Lalique’s Encre Noir (the guy’s version), and the old standby, Guerlain’s Vetiver. Serge Lutens also makes a lovely vetiver potion, and Hove’ Parfumeur in New Orleans has a whole line of the softer, southern US type of vetiver- they even sell the root bundles for your linen chests. They won’t tell me what variety of vetiver they are using, but I suspect it’s a proprietary blend….

What are your favorite vetiver perfumes, types of vetiver, or fractions/synthetics? And if you’re in Zones 8-10, have you ever thought of growing it yourself??

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Sunday, April 08, 2012

Foodie Sunday: Happy Easter , Happy Spring and a Bountiful Bevy of Beautifully Sugar Spun Bonnets!

By Beth

Every now and then you've got to have a real treat (after all what's the sense of dieting if you can't!)…Last weekend in San Diego was such an event and found my husband, sister and darling brother in law enjoying a wonderful dinner in San Diego's abundantly blossoming Little Italy. After much deliberation we landed in a wonderful new Italian restaurant named Devanti Enoteca, where we were assaulted by the decadent aroma of truffles as soon as we walked through the door. The meal that followed was fabulous, perfect plates of luscious antipasti, fresh asparagus and egg, a chicken liver terrine to die for, roasted beets and fresh caponata, a truffled leek and mushroom pizza that was delightful and a truffled pasta that was every bit as exceptional as the one that we'd enjoyed at Nello only months before (san's the 250.00 dollars ostentatious price tag!) All was farm fresh, all was organic and trust me , it was all delicious !

After enjoying some pretty wonderful wine and food and the always good company of my hilarious foodie family we were just about to drive home when my brother in law Peter decided that it might be time for a wee bit of dessert and for that impulse there was absolutely no other choice but to walk to the absolutely astonishing Extraordinary Desserts, the restaurant owned by the talented Karen Krasne who I'm convinced is the incarnation of my long departed grandmother on my mothers side, a woman who I am told could drive men to pledge undying devotion after just one bite of her Oeufs a la Neige , a treat more commonly known as Floating Island Pudding. If you're sadly not familiar with Floating Island Pudding , it's a very old fashioned dessert, a soft and silky vanilla custard topped with clouds of perfect meringue. I'd only been to Extraordinary Desserts once before but remembered all too fondly a delicious Pavlova that I'd encountered there covered with fresh berries and just a bit of perfect chocolate layered between the meringue and drizzled with caramel laced with fresh passion fruit and guava sauce. Jim had never been , but my husband has blood plasma made of spun sugar so I knew he'd be game.

We walked the 12 long blocks to get there and were greeted by a crowd of laughing people who'd obviously had the same idea. We walked in and I though that Jim was going to pass out. I knew that I was. Extraordianry Desserts is always a beautiful restaurant, but this evening it was dressed for spring , Easter in particular. Trust me when I say that you've probably never seen desserts this gorgeous. Karen Krasne's recipes are indulgent, gorgeous and delicious; perusal through the cookbook of hers that I bought that evening shows mostly no less than 5 fairly complex parts that go into creating each of her amazing confections. But I think that you talented bakers out there might love the challenge so I've included here the link to the restaurant where you can buy the book. We circled the display cases for a few minutes and settled on several pieces that we purchased , took home and ate with absolute abandon. Truthfully, if you ever wanted to see the literal definition of joy, you'd have to look no further than my brother- in- laws face when he is eating something like this.Watching him eat a bite of each of these was hilarious and incredibly satisfying! A textbook vegetarian and serial meditator , Peters life is usually filled with my sisters absolutely delicious yet completely healthy cooking , however when the woman makes desserts watch out, because hers are absolutely as good as these, so much so that I bought her the cookbook in the hopes that she would make me the Yule Log next year at Christmas time. Truthfully, she's the only person I know of with the patience to do so!

No words that I write could ever do these justice so without further adieu please let me present to you this years showcase of incredible Easter desserts. No more elegant parade of confectionary bonnets will be found anywhere! IF you decide to buy the cookbook and get inspired please let me know. I can easily be on the next plane for a tasting!

Happy Easter to all of you who celebrate it and for those of you that don't, Happy Spring! It's sprung here with abandon on the North Coast , so much so that I'm going out today to lay out my gardens. My asparagus bed is providing me me all of the fresh asparagus that I could ever want to eat, so todays meal is simple, hard boiled eggs and pickled beets, fresh asparagus, some steamed baby potatoes dressed with parmesan and truffle oil and a sweet pea soup laced with mint. Dessert? Of course but it will be my favorite….spiced jelly beans , marshmallow peeps and one dark chocolate Cadbury egg!

So share with me some of your favorite Easter or springtime foods and please wherever you are and whatever you celebrate, have a blessed day!
The winner of the draw for the March 11th Foodie Sunday is Kareng! Please send Marina your snail mail addy and I will send you your delicious prize!

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Something Different: Body Shop Hemp Hand Protector

By Tom

Saturday was chilly and rainy in Los Angeles, so it was decided that my standing Saturday lunch with my BFF would be at The Beverly Center food court. I forget what I got (which shows you how memorable it was) and mall wanderage ensued..

One of the places I wandered into was the Body Shop, where my friend wanted me to smell the chocolate body scrub. Well, yes it's chocolaty. Disturbingly so. Like, I'm sure it's a great scrub, but I would have an insuperable desire for a Kit-Kat after it.

On a whim I tried the Hemp Hand Protector. As I've been coasting into, er, my late twenties I've noticed that the hands have actually needed some help. I'm not at the gnarled-claw stage, but a good hand-cream is needed.

This is great hand cream. Not greasy feeling, very hydrating and very long-lasting (even through a hand washing). It even smells nice. They list it as being for people with dry to extremely dry skin, but I don't consider mine to me that dry and I am seeing benefits, although I use about a corn-kernel sized amount..

$18.50 for 3.3 ounces at the Body Shop, where I purchased two tubes (2nd one 1/2 price)


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Eye Candy: Guerlain flacon bouchon coeur & Sonia Rykiel heart necklace

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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

I Hate Myself For (Almost) Loving You: Truth or Dare by Madonna

By Donna

I will be the first to admit that I was very skeptical when I first learned that pop diva Madonna was going to release a perfume. (Since she has finally joined the celeb scent crowd, does anyone else wonder what took her so long?) I knew she was a fan of big white florals, and I was even somewhat peeved when I found out that she wears, or used wear, a fragrance that was my own signature scent at the time, Creed's Fleurissimo. I got over that and I am no longer a serial perfume monogamist anyway, so I don't worry about silly things like someone else wearing “my” fragrance - after all, it's not as though we would ever meet at a party and have to face off in a cat fight for wearing the same perfume. (Also, I don't look nearly as good as she does in a cone bra.) She has also stated that she wears the famous Fracas, queen of the tuberose perfumes.

Madonna has gone with her long-favored style and introduced a tuberose-based white floral in Truth or Dare, which could have been a disaster in itself. In the book Perfumes: The Guide, Luca Turin remarked that perfumers routinely seem to just ask their clients if they want a Fracas or an Amarige these days when asked to compose a tuberose fragrance; thank goodness this is closer to a Fracas, albeit a warm and fuzzy version of it. It's not big or loud, surprisingly enough. When I first tried it I put on an alarming amount of the stuff at Macy's from a tester with a very liberally emitting sprayer, and I was afraid I would be unable to ride the bus home without offending virtually everyone, but it settled down very nicely.

It's impossible to talk about a tuberose scent without making comparisons to the touchstones of the genre. Fracas is obvious, along with Carnal Flower, and of course it's not on a par with either of them, but it is better than a host of others and is really more like a subdued and sweeter Balenciaga Michelle. I also find it to be close kin to the long gone Piqué by Redken if my scent memory serves me correctly, but it has a gourmand undercurrent of caramel and vanilla. This is not to say that it's syrupy-sweet, which it definitely isn't, but the caramel is just enough to give it a distinction lacking in most mid-range to lower priced tuberose scents. It also reminds me a bit of what good old Coty Sand & Sable used to smell like back in the day, but it's not as bright. Truth or Dare is also a product of the Coty fragrance empire in fact, created by Givaudan perfumer Stephen Nilsen, who also authored one of the better celebrity scents from a few years ago, With Love by Hilary Duff. The official listed notes are gardenia, tuberose, neroli, jasmine, benzoin, white lily, vanilla absolute, caramelized amber and sensual musk. It's almost as though someone sneaked into the laboratory and put a few drops of Prada Candy and a smidgen of Natori into an otherwise straight-ahead white floral, and I like the result.

Coty has done some very nice celebrity fragrances, notably Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely, but they have also released a lot of really bad and cheap-smelling mass market scents. I kept waiting for the money to run out on this one, but after several hours Truth or Dare was still going strong and smelling just fine. Projection is moderate and longevity is good, which is to be expected for a tuberose perfume, and overall it's smooth, wearable and not at all overpowering. My skin tends to amplify white florals but it stays pretty close; I would not call it quiet but it's easy to live with. You really need to be a tubey fan, though; even though it's not a sillage monster like Fracas or the original Carolina Herrera, it's still a Big White Floral at heart. I have a weakness for this type so I am predisposed to like it. (I just wish the perfumer had managed to sneak in some hydrangeas, even though only the climbing ones have a scent.) The bottle is really the only jarring note. It's a tippy, hobnail-edged opaque white flask that won't be mistaken for anything else on the fragrance counter, but it looks to me as though it belongs on your maiden aunt's dresser along with her reading glasses and rheumatism pills; vaguely medicinal and a more than a little Victorian, so its appearance is very much at odds with what’s inside. The team behind this fragrance really hit the mark with the formula so I don't know how a project with this much money and planning behind it could have ended up with such a weird bottle, because in every other way they played it safe. By “hit the mark” I mean that it's pleasant and wearable and not in the least edgy, and they are not going for niche marketing or the exclusivity angle; Macy's doesn't take those kind of chances and neither does Coty. So for those (including me) who were expecting or at least hoping for something as original as Tubéreuse Criminelle from the ever provocative Madonna, think again. This should be a moneymaker for all concerned, but in the final analysis it's just good, but not great.

Truth or Dare the fragrance is currently available exclusively at Macy's as Eau de Parfum, starting at $55 USD for the 50 ml size. Body lotion and shower gel are also in the line.

Image credit: Madonna wearing one of her signature costumes via, original source unknown.
Disclosure: I tested this fragrance in-store at Macy's on several occasions.

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