Sunday, September 30, 2012
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Russian Saturday: Ambre Les Nombres d’Or Mona di Orio: Испытанная морем
Все амбровые ароматы я испытываю морем. До недавних пор только один аромат выдержал это испытание: винтажный Shalimar Guerlain. Влажная, анималистичная, пахнущая водорослями и йодом Шалимарная амбра резонирует с запахом моря. Результат ошеломляет своей амплитудой. Нигде больше Shalimar не звучит так прекрасно, как рядом с морем. Я даже придумала ему прозвище: ShaliMare.
Амбра по своей сути очень дуалистична. Она соединяет в себе начала живой и неживой природы. Амбра пахнет морем, йодом, прохладой и жаром разогретых на солнце камней. В парфюмерии от амбры как правило остаются только раскаленные золотые угли, которые слишком горячо держать в руках, а бросить нельзя. Ожидания от амбры в ароматах у меня непритязательные: лишь бы не обжечься.
Ambre Mona di Orio превзошла все мои ожидания. Это второй после Шалимара аромат, в котором амбра пахнет морем. Аромат лишен привычной пирамидальной структуры. Ambre открывается солоноватой древесной нотой, смесью ветивера и кедра. По мере обрастания бальзамами и смолами, древесный каркас уходит на второй план. Аромат густеет, но как только начинает казаться, что он стал слишком сладким, появляется соло иланга. Амбра – ископаемое моря, а цветы так мимолетны. Влажная, чувственная прохлада тропических цветов уравновешивает тягучую сладость бензоина и ванили. В целом аромат видится мне темно-синим с вкраплениями коричневого: густые, глубокие оттенки еще не высохших красок.
Этим летом мне даже не понадобилось ехать к морю, чтобы испытать Ambre. Непрерывные дожди, гонимые с запада, накрыли город соленым колпаком. От холода я спасаюсь Аmbrе. Она согревает, не обжигая. Иланг не дает забыть о том, что сейчас лето. А что делать, если солнце отказывает нам в своей милости.
Ambre Les Nombres d’Or Mona di Orio: Test by the sea
All amber scents I test by the sea. Up until lately there was only one scent that passed the trial: vintage Shalimar Guerlain. Wet, animalistic, smelling seaweeds and iodine Shalimar's amber resonates with the smell of the sea. The result stuns by it's amplitude. Nowhere else Shalimar sounds so beautiful like at the sea. I even made a nickname for it: ShaliMare.
Amber in it's soul is very dualistic. It encompasses the beginnings of animate and inanimate nature. Amber smells like sea, iodine, coolness, and warmth of the stones heated under the sun. What is often left of amber in perfumes is the burning golden coal, that is too hot to hold in hand and impossible to drop. That is why my expectations of amber in scents are so modest: if only not to burn myself.
Ambre Mona di Orio exceeded all my expectations. This is the next scent after Shalimar where amber smells sea. This perfume doesn't have the usual pyramid structure. Ambre opens with salty wooden note, mixture of vetiver and cedar. As the wooden frame becomes covered by balsams and resins, it moves to background. The scent becomes thicker, but as soon as it seems to be too sweet, appears the solo of ylang. Amber is the sea fossil, and the flowers are so transient! Moist, sensual coolness of tropical flowers balances out viscous sweetness of benzoin and vanilla. In it's entirety I imagine this scent as dark-blue with brown speckles: thick deep tones of still wet paint.
This summer I didn't even need to go to the sea to trial Ambre. Constant rains, driven from the West, covered the city by a salty hood. I take refuge from the cold by wearing Ambre. It warms without scorching. Ylang does not let me forget that it's summer now. But what to do if the sun leaves us without it's mercy.
Ambre Les Nombres d’Or Mona di Orio (2010): vetiver, Atlas cedar, ylang-ylang, benzoin, Tolu balm, amber and vanilla.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
JoAnne Bassett Venus Amber
JoAnne Bassett is a California-based perfumer I was lucky enough to meet a few years ago and test out some of her wares. She invited me to meet her at a perfume event in Santa Monica and gave me samples of more of her scents. I'll circle back to review them since they're wonderful, but the moment I popped open Venus Amber, I had one of those moments.
You know the kind. The ones that you hope happen when you're home alone so you can sniff your wrist and moan "oh g-d" without causing too much of a commotion.
Venus Amber is simply gorgeous. Spicy, warm, woody, musky; it plays some of the classic notes of Bay Rum and other traditional "masculine" notes and lifts it to a higher level. Notes from her site:
"There are 25 distinctly different essential oils and absolutes that comprise this natural perfume.
It has a musky, spicy, amber accord. The soft powdery, drydown of the vanilla and benzoin gives way to the musky, ambrette seed and frankincense, cedarwood, cistus, and labdanum classic goodness.
Bay rum plays with rosewood, sage, cinnamon, and cardamon…to create a spicy melange.
The citrus notes of bergamot, blood orange, lemon,and yuzu add that extra lift, zing, and sparkle. The wonderfully sensuous jasmine and rose de mai accord play with your heart. The other special oils form a bond that holds it all together."
JoAnne lists this as a masculine, but were I female I wouldn't hesitate for a second.
Venus Amber is available at JoAnne's website (link to Etsy site). Her Facebook Page is here. My sample was provided by the perfumer.
Image: Her website
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Foodie Sunday: Perfume Your Palate with Aftelier Chef’s Essences
As anyone who follows this blog knows, I am a big fan of Mandy Aftel’s Aftelier Perfumes. Her creative genius in making unusual and stunning fragrances from all-natural materials is legendary, as is her gift of communication through writing, mentoring and teaching about natural perfumery. Her other venture is closely related to perfume, but you can eat it – she has expanded her line of pure natural Chef’s Essences, made to enhance the experience of cooking and eating and a boon to creative types in the kitchen. (She co-wrote the book Aroma with noted chef Daniel Patterson in 2004, an experience that led to the creation of the Chef’s Essences.) She has been selling them on her Web site for a while now, and has recently collaborated with foodie favorite Williams-Sonoma to put six of the most popular Essences in stores nationwide. When Mandy asked me if I would be interested in testing some of these, naturally I jumped at the chance. She sent me samples of three of the Williams-Sonoma ones and two others that I thought sounded good.
The first one I tested had to be Sweet Basil, since basil is by far my favorite herb. I always grow several varieties of it in my garden, and then in late summer and early fall I make batches of pesto to freeze for use during the year. My recipe is simple, calling only for basil, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, fruity Grana Padano parmesan cheese, Romano cheese and raw pine nuts, It’s always delicious even after months in the freezer, but it’s never quite as good as it is when it’s freshly made. Just one drop of the Sweet Basil Essence made my favorite dish of brown rice pasta with chicken and pesto come alive, making it taste like it just came out of the food processorduring harvest season. It was amazing, capturing that unique aromatic muskiness of fresh basil leaves, and I plan to keep this one on hand from now on to punch up my pesto-based dishes in the off-season.
My favorite summer salad recipe is perfect for the Sweet Basil Essence too. I make this during tomato and corn season. It’s super easy and I never get tired of eating it. I call it Summer Bounty salad but it really just a variation of a popular type of corn salad. This recipe tastes best if all the ingredients are freshly harvested and at room temperature.
Donna’s Summer Bounty Salad
3 large ears fresh raw sweet (super sweet is best) corn
1 small or ½ large firm-ripe avocado cut in ½-inch cubes
I small Middle Eastern type cucumber, or any bitter free type, cut in half rounds
½-cup fresh tomatoes- if using Roma or slicing types, just cube them; if using cherry or grape tomatoes, slice in half. I like to use at least two different colors for visual appeal.
¼ cup (or more if you really like it) fresh sweet basil, rinsed and dried gently and cut into a fine chiffonade.
Flavored balsamic vinegar (optional)
Grape seed or olive oil (optional)
1 or 2 drops Aftelier Sweet Basil Chef’s Essence
Cut the corn off the cobs into a large deep bowl with a sharp knife. Add the Sweet Basil Essence to a spoonful of the corn “milk” and mix well. Add the avocado, tomatoes, cucumber and basil leaves; toss gently. If you like you can dress with just a few drops of oil and/or balsamic vinegar (I like fig or raspberry) but I find that the milk from the cut corn is enough “dressing” for me and I want to taste the flavors of the freshly picked ingredients. Let it sit for a few minutes to allow the flavor of the basil to permeate the dish. You can vary this recipe with many different things, like adding chicken or cubed tofu to make it into a meal, or add any raw vegetables of your choice for variety. There is no wrong way to do it!
Pepper is certainly a popular seasoning, but the Chef’s Essence version takes it to a new level. I like to make scrambled eggs on the weekend for a leisurely breakfast, and I make a good version I have fine-tuned using a non-stick pan, Himalayan pink salt, a dash of nutmeg and a grind of fresh pepper. I made them without the pepper and used a drop of the Black Pepper Essence instead, and I just could not believe what a difference it made. I am not even going to bother buying regular pepper anymore after trying it this way. The gentle heat of the pepper infuses the eggs through and through without being harsh or too spicy.
The one drop rule is important with this product – two can be one too many, especially in a small recipe, since they are so concentrated, and it’s best to shake a drop onto a spoon first so you can control the amount before adding it to the food. I discovered this with the Fresh Ginger Essence; I already had great success adding it to tomato and red pepper soup, and I deliberately overdosed a small amount of the soup to see what would happen. It was pretty overwhelming, so more is not always better. The other thing to remember is to use them near the end of cooking and when finishing a dish, since cooking them for a long time will destroy the volatile aromatics. Speaking of ginger, I also made an Asian style clear soup with buckwheat soba noodles, chicken and mushroom broth, dark greens and extra firm tofu. I usually season the broth with several things including powdered ginger, but I used the ginger Essence instead, added after I turned off the heat, and it was delicious.
The above three are among the Essences available at Williams-Sonoma. I also have a sample of the Cardamom, which is intensely scented and needs to be handled with care. I have enjoyed this in coffee, but be very careful, because if you use too much you will only taste the woody-bitter aspect of this spice. I also added it to brown Basmati rice that I made with Garam Masala spices and turmeric powder right after cooking, along with the Fresh Ginger essence, and it turned out really well and tasted more authentic than any other seasoned rice I have ever made. Cardamom is probably my favorite among the sweet spices and I am always looking forexcuses to use it. It will be a challenge to see how well I can control the flavor of this one in more adventurous recipes.
You don’t necessarily have to cook anything complicated with the Essences, as they are great for using in cold dishes, desserts and drinks too. I added just a drop of Strawberry Essence to a cup of Chobani® Greek passion fruit yogurt to make an incredibly aromatic and satisfying dessert. The sweet Essences are perfect for blending with vanilla ice cream to make your own custom flavors; imagine adding Ylang Ylang, Rose or Jasmine Essence to a high-end ice cream or gelato! My only problem with the Strawberry is that it smells so good I am tempted to wear it as perfume instead of putting it in food! I am planning to try more of these soon.
The possibilities for using these in mixed drinks are endless, as Mandy describes in this article that recently appeared in the New York Times, and mixologists are creating cutting-edge cocktails with them that defy the imagination. I don’t usually make mixed drinks at home, but a drop of Strawberry Essence transformed a nice glass of flowery Oregon Riesling into something special. Maybe I should take a vial or two of Essences with me next time I go out on the town.
Disclosure: Mandy Aftel sent samples of the Chef’s Essences to me at my request for testing purposes. They are available for sale on the Aftelier Web site and a limited selection of six varieties is available at Williams-Sonoma, in stores and online.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Summer Rerun: Vero Kern onda
Last week I reviewed the new EDP Vero Kern is debuting, Mito. She sent samples of her others to remind me of them (or to torture me, since they're so darned lovely) I've written about the EDP versions here, and the perfume versions of kiki and rubj here. Of course in the package was the perfume version of onda which I think is one of my five all-time favorites (clearly I changed my mind about me wearing it, thank goodness). I wore it to my friends mom's funeral in San Marino, in a suit, in 103° weather, outdoors and I wouldn't have changed it for anything..
My dear scent twin Gaia, the Non-Blonde sent me a sample of these for my birthday, lovely creature that she is. Vero is the perfumer that no less than Andy Tauer describes as his muse, and I can see why. The scents are startlingly simple while managing to seem incredibly complex.
On me Onda starts with a minted tobacco, the smokiness perfectly balanced with the brightness of the mint. It later becomes more complex as the vetiver comes in, seemingly ripped fresh from the earth and torn joyfully asunder. Colombina describes it as "an urban person's vision of bucolic utopia" while Gaia writes that it is "beautiful, dramatic and romantic". They are of course both correct: it's earthy yet glamorous. It's Garbo joyfully tearing a root from the ground with her manicured fingers, brushing the dirt and laughing, biting in heedless of the juice that may stain her Adrian gown. It's earthy, it's glamorous, it's gorgeous.... it's not me. I might be an old man, but I think that there are a few scents that should be ladies only, and although I could wear this, I really think it's best served by being worn by you ladies.
Onda is available at her website; it's well worth checking out.
Note: Available at LuckyScent as well
Labels: Vero Kern
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Heaven’s Just a Sin Away: The Devilscent Project, Chapter Two
The Devilscent Project is the brainchild of blogger (The Alembicated Genie), author and all-around provocateur Sheila Eggenberger whose novel, Quantum Demonology, poses a most intriguing question: What happens when you try to seduce the Devil? What trickery and charms must you use to ensnare the One whose home address is 666 Hades Circle? A select group of artisan perfumers has tried to answer this question with their mysteriously scented concoctions, all with this one thing in mind. Each was tasked with creating fragrances for the Devil himself and for Lilith, his eternal (and infernal) wife. A corresponding group of perfume writers was recruited to record our impressions of these potions. It works best if you read at least part of the book first to get the gist of the idea. (Warning: the book pulls no punches and is not for the faint of heart. Sheila takes us down to the very depths of depravity, and we beg for more.) Find their Devilscent Project writing on this page of Sheila’s blog and this page of Monica Miller’s Perfume Pharmer blog as they are published.
I was inspired not only by the book but by the perfumes themselves, all so different from mainstream offerings that some of them don’t even have a point of reference in conventional perfumery. I took artistic license and created my own story, with some parallels to Quantum Demonology but from another time and place. In the first installment, the scene was set. This is the second chapter of my exploration of these potent perfumes, so let us enter a shadow world, where we last left our characters in the darkness of the past...
The next few minutes are a blur to her, as the taxi wends its way through the foggy silence of the midnight streets. She has no idea where they are or where they are going, and the only thing she is aware of is him, his body pressed to her side and his arm holding her possessively; he need not fear her flight, she thinks, for where would she go? She is more than sixty years from home and her world is spinning out of control.
The taxi finally pulls over in front of a hotel with an intricate façade of stone, gilt and glass, an Art Deco masterpiece shining in the faint light. With a shock, she realizes that it’s already known to her, but not like this. The modern incarnation is a faded relic, forlornly accepting guests who are down on their luck, in a neighborhood ravaged by time and economic hopelessness. This is the same place in all its former glory, and when she steps out of the cab clinging to the arm of the stranger, she hears the sound of a piano coming from the lobby and sees the glitter of crystal chandeliers.
As they enter through the heavy front door held by a man in formal livery, she catches a glimpse of the hotel bar, where men in dinner jackets and women in evening gowns smile, laugh and clink their champagne flutes. A dapper black man plays a familiar tune on the grand piano; she thinks it’s something by the Gershwins but in her current state of mind, she can’t remember the name of the song. The air is faintly blue with smoke from unfiltered cigarettes and cigars; this is most certainly not 2012 anymore!
They enter a wood-paneled elevator, which is operated by another uniformed attendant, this one a smiling woman wearing white gloves. It rises slowly to the penthouse floor and they step out, still connected to each other. As the elevator closes ponderously behind them, the doors to the hotel suite swing open as if by magic on silent hinges, and they step inside. More chandeliers, but smaller, of baroque design and holding real candles illuminate the foyer and emanating a sweet and smoky beeswax scent, while a fireplace gives an orange glow to one corner of the huge room. A table for two is laid with formal place settings, but the linen cloth is an unexpected shade of blackish garnet; only the starched napkins are snowy white. All around the room, on small tables, on shelves and in wall sconces, are massive bouquets of deep red roses that match the table setting perfectly. The dining chairs, like all the furniture in the room, are upholstered in crushed red velvet, and velvet throws decorate the long sofa near the fire. Something smells heady and sweet; it’s the roses, as redolent as warm raspberry jam, and their scent mingles with the aroma of an extravagant chocolate confection topped with glistening cherries on a silver platter, its glistening ruby filling oozing from between its rich dark layers. An ice bucket beside it holds a magnum of Dom Pérignon champagne, something that she has never actually seen before, let alone tasted. It is simply overwhelming, especially since the stranger is still holding her and she can smell the leather of his coat as his body heat rises from it. (Perfume: Dev by Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume.)
“Sit down” he commands, and she perches on the edge of one of the chairs at the table. He takes a single candle in a heavy silver base and touches it to the chandelier, then puts it on the table. A manservant with pale skin and slicked-back white hair steps from the shadows behind the entry door and pours two glasses of champagne, which he places before them. Then he cuts into the rich dessert and serves them each a large portion. Having done this, he backs away, bowing slightly, and leaves the room by a side door. She hears a key turn in the lock and turns to her mysterious companion. “Who are you? What do you want with me?”
He smiles that smile again and says, “You may call me Devon, and I think you know why I have brought you here. You…fascinate me. I want to know much more about you.”
She ponders that for a moment. “Somehow I have a feeling I won’t find out very much about you.”
“Ah, but that is where you are wrong, my dear Lila.” She is startled for a moment – how did he know her name? But of course he does, he seems to know everything so far. He goes on, “Before the evening is over, you will know things very few mortals have been allowed to discover, and far more than some have done. Consider yourself privileged to be here with me. Now, please have some refreshment and relax.”
She grasps the stem of the champagne flute with a trembling hand, as much for courage as anything, and takes a long drink. She has never tasted a wine so wonderful, and it sends a burst of effervescence right to her core. She had not thought she could eat any more after her hearty diner meal, but when she takes a bite of the chocolate dessert, it is as though she was starving, and she can’t get enough of it. So sweet and rich, yet with a bitter edge; the innocent looking cherries are imbued with a hypnotically strong liqueur, and the chocolate is as dense as night. She eats eagerly, and then catches herself and looks up at him cautiously. “How do I know you have not put something in this? Have you drugged me?” She begins to panic and glances around wildly.
“My dear, I want you fully awake, so do not fear; this is just a pleasant interlude before the evening truly begins.” She sees that he has drunk all his champagne but he has barely touched the chocolate. “Come now; let us sit by the fire.”
Something fierce and uncontrollable is sluicing through her body; is it the stranger’s presence, or was there really something in the food? She is past caring by now and allows him to lead her to a broad sofa. They have barely sat down on the soft velvet when he takes her in his arms, slowly lowers his head and kisses her lips. He tastes of champagne and musk and danger and she cannot help responding. Drugs or no, her veins are running with intoxication and there is no turning back. How can he be so warm and alive yet so aloof at the same time? Everything that has happened tonight has destroyed her equilibrium and this is breaking down her last barrier. She wraps her arms around him and feels his barely controlled strength as her hands explore his back. He presses her against the cushions and starts to unzip her skirt; she shifts her weight to make it easier for him and starts unbuttoning his shirt. He is silent now but his breath catches as her body is revealed in the firelight, and somehow his eyes are no longer blue, but dark and urgent. For her part, she has never seen a man so perfect, like a Greek statue come to life as his clothing is cast aside. When he finally draws her to him and their bodies are flesh to flesh, all thinking stops and there is nothing but sensation, more intense than anything she has ever known. She has no idea how long it lasts, everything else is obliterated, and all she can hear over the blood pounding in her veins is his voice murmuring to her in a strange language, and when they are sated and she thinks she can take no more, he picks her up and carries her into the bedroom. They fall into a huge bed that is surrounded by even more bouquets of blood-red roses, and it begins all over again as her hunger for him blazes anew for what seems like hours; how can it never be enough?
As dawn tints the sky outside, sleep finally comes, but not for long as they reach for each other yet again; she is trembling with exhaustion but her craving for him is still strong. Finally, he pulls away and looks at her lying there, as rumpled as the bed but flushed with desire, and the ripe scent of her body tells him that she is satisfied as never before. She looks at him and smiles slowly; she has never felt more female or more powerful, for after this night she knows that he has fallen under her spell as surely has she is under his. (Perfume: Lil by Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume.)
She is famished now, and as if reading her mind, he gets up and slips on a black silk robe, then holds a robe of red satin out for her. He pulls a braided cord near the bed and the strangely silent white-haired man from the night before enters by yet another door, pushing a linen-covered trolley. He clears away the wine glasses from the night before and quickly lays out a hearty breakfast before retreating. They devour it like winter-starved wolves, laughing and relaxing; all the tension of the night seems to vanish with the sun. The world seems to contain only the two of them and the city outside is but a bauble at their feet, existing only for their amusement. She has a moment of practical clarity, and wonders aloud what she is going to wear; he leads her back into the bedroom and opens the door to a walk-in closet, which is lined with exquisite dresses, coats, hats and shoes, all in her size. She thinks to herself that it’s a perfectly preserved vintage collection, and then she remembers: in 1946, these are all brand new. She turns to him and asks, “What should I wear? Are we going out now?”
He smiles and takes her hand, then turns her around to look at herself in a floor-length mirror. “Where would you like to go, my dear?”
“I don’t know – I was going to say home, but I can’t do that, can I? Where can we go?”
“Anywhere you would like. The day is ours until evening, when I have planned something special, and we have a rendezvous with some friends we will be meeting for dinner. But first things first – we can’t go anywhere looking like this.” His smile turns wicked and she ruefully agrees.
He touches a wall sconce next to the mirror, which swivels on silent hinges to reveal a sumptuous bathroom of sea-green marble and tile, with racks of fluffy towels and a dressing table covered with bottles and jars of fine soaps, oils, and bath crystals. A bathtub with gold fixtures and filled with steaming water looks big enough to swim in, and scented candles line the shelves. Their robes fall to the floor and he helps her into the bath, which is scented heavily with the essence of roses. They soak in a haze of pleasure until it finally begins to cool, and they reluctantly step out onto a soft rug. Then he turns to select something from a nearby shelf. It looks oddly like a stone, but as he begins to caress her with it, she realized that it is it is some kind of cream, but not at all what she would have expected; instead of smelling like flowers, it is musky and earthy, sensual with herbs, resins and a hint of dark chocolate, and it seems to impart the fleshy aroma of his own warm body to her skin. It is soft and melting, and she sighs with delight as his gentle ministrations turn her skin to silk. Then she takes it from him and returns the favor, the warmth of his skin making it smell even more intensely sensual. (Perfume: Dev solid Massage Lotion Bar by Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals/Perfume Pharmer.)
Finally they go back through the mirror door and select clothes from the wardrobe. He is dashing in a dark charcoal suit and instead of the black leather coat from the night before, he sports a dove grey cashmere coat, but the bright scarlet scarf remains. She lingers over the beautiful dresses and finally chooses a tailored suit of soft brown tweed and low-heeled shoes of garnet leather. A veiled hat and a soft camel wrap coat complete her preparation, and they go out to the elevator. The same smiling woman greets them, but the lobby below is quiet in contrast to the night before. Out on the street outside it’s cold and blustery but he whisks her quickly into a waiting car; of course it’s the taxi from last night, but the driver is now dressed in crisp navy blue and white. A short drive later, they are in front of the city’s biggest department store, looking far more impressive than she remembers, until she remembers….
He tells the driver to wait for them and they walk arm in arm into the store, stopping now and again to touch the sleeve of a mannequin’s coat, smell a bottle of perfume or hold a crystal glass up to the light. She tries not to exclaim over the prices on the labels, but it’s hard for her to believe that a crystal bottle of the finest French perfume could ever have cost only fifteen dollars! And the beautiful clothes – when and why did people stop dressing like this? She smiles at the thought of the severely dressed sales clerks in their black dresses and pearls waiting on customers wearing baggy shorts, fanny packs and T-shirts with rude slogans on them. They leave the store and walk down the street looking into the windows of jewelry stores and millineries, occasionally going in to browse. After what seems like hours, they have lunch at a dimly lit restaurant after which he pays with cash. This reminds her that there are no such things as credit cards in this time and looks once again at her watch, but her trusty digital is gone, replaced by a delicate timepiece trimmed in gold with an alligator band.
She meets his eyes. “When did this happen? I don’t remember putting this on!”
“Of course you don’t – I put a spell on you first.” She is not sure if he is joking or not.
“Am I losing my mind now? What is this, some kind of crazy dream? Who are you, anyway? I only know your name, but that means nothing.”
“You will find out soon, my dear. All will be revealed tonight. I told you, we are meeting some good friends of mine.”
Back at the hotel, she finds that her ensemble for the evening has already been laid out for her. It is a beautifully draped sleeveless gown of bias cut heavy satin the color of hammered copper and matching opera gloves. Black velvet slippers with topaz trim and tiny heels beckon her feet. A mirrored vanity table holds a silver tray of hairbrushes, hair ornaments, cosmetics, powder puffs and perfumes. As she gets ready, she thinks of how easy it would be to get used to this. She twists her hair into a chignon, remembering a similar style on a chic woman in the restaurant where they had lunch and hopes it will help her blend in. She usually wears it loose, but she decides that would look odd for a formal occasion.
He emerges from the hallway, resplendent in formal black with a crisp white shirt and red tie. Is it her imagination or does he look different, sharper, perhaps a little angry or impatient? Before she can become concerned he smiles again and she finds it impossible to think, or even breathe. He kisses her bare shoulders, his hot breath lingering as he traces her skin with his lips. “Later…” is all he says. Then they go out into the night and the ever-present cab whisks them away from the city, past parks and over bridges until they are on a winding road lined with stately trees and impressive mansions, their windows glowing with light. The car turns into a broad driveway and climbs a steep hill before stopping in front of a brick gatehouse. A guard peers at them, then nods and presses a button, and a wrought iron gate opens silently before them. Around a curve they go and then a great house materializes before them in the dark, imposing and Gothic, with a somber stone façade and arched windows of leaded glass. It is mostly dark but there is a lantern over the front doorway to show the way. A row of long, shiny black cars lines the cobblestone courtyard and she is struck by how similar they look, almost military in their precision. She shivers, and not just from the chill of the evening. Devon helps her from the car and she holds his arm tightly as they approach the door, which swings open to reveal an ornate hallway. A silent man in black takes their coats, and then leads the way to a large reception room where formally dressed men and a few women mingle, smoke and drink. They all turn toward the entryway as one when they see who has arrived.
She notices that many of the men are in uniform but she cannot identify exactly what they are; they do look oddly familiar. One of the men puts down his champagne and strides over to greet them. He is balding and undistinguished except for his unusually pale blue eyes. He speaks in the same guttural language she heard Devon use the night before – now she can catch a few words and inflections and realizes that it’s German. He gives her a long look up and down but she can’t tell if he approves of her or not. He steps closer to Devon to whisper in his ear and she can smell his sweat and the rough wool of his uniform and something else, an overwhelming aura that creates a sense of unease in her. Devon smiles slightly and tilts his head toward her; it is obvious that they are talking about her now. The uniformed man looks into her eyes and she suddenly understands what her instincts are telling her. Cruelty emanates from those glacial eyes, implacable and calculating. It is not the sense of a sudden violent impulse, but rather of planning and deliberation, the gaze of a man who truly enjoys pinning a butterfly to a board while it is still alive and helpless. His malevolence is a living thing like acrid smoke in her nostrils, threatening to suffocate her. (Perfume: Dev 2 by Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids.)
Her companion turns to her and bows slightly. He speaks in English now. “Lila, may I introduce an old… friend of mine, Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann.” She stares blindly at the stranger, unable to think clearly as the infamous name registers in her mind and strikes her like a blow across the face. Then she sees it – on his uniform, along with the gold braid and the brass and the medals, one emblem stands out. A swastika has pride of place on his chest, a mesmerizing bull’s-eye of evil that makes everything else fade into the background. She feels herself falling as if through space and the room swirls around her. The last thing she sees before the black haze takes her is Devon, haloed in red, and smiling…
To be continued...
Image credit: Special effects flower photo by Donna
Disclaimer: All the Devilscent perfumes were sent to me for testing by the participating perfumers.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
The Sad State of the Goodie Bag: An Unattractive Whinge.
Okay, some of the local department stores have been having one of their Loveliness Week (named changed) where they have a gift with purchase. Back in the day (he typed, hitching up his old man pants) this really was a time to have saved up for. Annick Goutal would have a not-very-small sized Eau d'Hadrien with a purchase of a full sized bottle of whatever, and other houses had GWP's of almost equal worth. The store in question would also send you home with a shopping bag chock full of stuff: generous samples of various cremes and pots of gooke de femme (nod to Joe Keenan) and lipsticks in shades of beige that I couldn't use but would set out at work for anyone to take.
By the Aughts however things started getting tighter. Samples became smaller and smaller. GWP from individual companies also became less interesting. But I'd still save up my purchases to blow in Loveliness Week to get the freebie.
The last couple however, I've skipped. Mainly because they seem to do one every two months or so, and because the GWP consists of about 5 samples of stuff that frankly I should be getting for just coming in: a couple of beensy cologne sample and a smidge or two of eye cream, that I had to make a minimum purchase of $100 to get.
The one company I do have to say still has a decent freebie is Kiehl's. No matter how many Loveliness Weeks there are in a year, they still have a nice little GWP. Since I happen to be a big fan of their shampoos, body washes, shave cream and several of their face stuff I am happy to collate my purchases to hit the $85 to get their GWP.
But I really miss those Hadrien bottles..
Monday, September 10, 2012
The Primordial Scents Project 2012: Dance Into the Fire
The Primordial Scents Project spearheaded by Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals is even more ambitious than last year’s wonderful Summer of Patchouli Love. I was very happy that Monica asked me to participate once again in a whirlwind group event. Unlike the patchouli project, this is not a competition per se; the perfumes are not being blind-tested or ranked by the reviewers. We are all just giving our impressions of the perfumers’ “elemental” fragrances, each inspired by Air, Water, Earth, Fire or Spirit. The hard part was deciding which ones to focus on, since the writers had to choose only one or two elements. I chose Air, for which I wrote an introductory post on Perfume Pharmer, and Fire, which is the subject of this installment. You can find my Air scents reviews here. Please go to this page for a list of all participating perfumers and bloggers!
This project will be unfolding over the summer of 2012. The concept is about going back to basics in the most literal sense, making perfumes in the spirit of the building blocks of the Universe and life itself, in order to celebrate and pay homage to the unity of where we all come from, and using fragrance as language and the jumping off point for thinking about this subject. What could be more primitive in the best sense of the word, more primal, than the wordless communication of scent? Sometimes there are no words; this is about going deeper. I will attempt to do justice to them, but they are still only words….
The Fire scents are an outstanding group of great diversity and character. I was amazed at the range of these fragrances. Some of them are based on traditional ideas of fire, heat, smoke etc. and other take off in entirely unexpected directions. One of the most unusual is Loreena by Marian del Vecchio, whose work I had not tried before. Loreena was inspired by one of my very favorite singers, Loreena McKennitt and her song “All Souls Night” which speaks of the pagan ritual of lighting fires to mark the passage of the souls of the dead. The song is heart pounding and tumultuous, and the perfume is darkly disturbing, like a shivery cold night warmed only by a windblown bonfire. It has a heart of mystery – literally, because there is something different in here I just can’t identify, but it is very compelling and I could not stop obsessing over it. A coolness pervades it, so you might wonder what it has to do with fire, but if you listen closely, you can discern the swirling flames. It’s more about wildness and pagan emotion than actual fire, a state of unrest and primal emotion, a stirring of the blood. The only floral in this fragrance is lavender, all else being resins, gums, spices, grasses and woods – galbanum, clary sage, cinnamon, clove, vetiver cedar, frankincense, hyraceum, tonka bean, vanilla, ambrette seed, opopanax and labdanum. This is old-school perfumery in the truest sense and I think it’s wonderful.
Upon first smelling the marvelous Kiss of Agnayi by Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes my first thought was “ancient.” It feels like opening an old treasure chest filled with precious things and it has a quality like a smoothly polished river stone, which just becomes more beautiful as it becomes worn with time. Given Ms. McElroy’s talent with traditional Japanese perfumery techniques as demonstrated in her Aroma M line, it’s easy to figure out why this is so well done. (Kiss of Agnayi also reminded me a little bit of some of the big Oriental spice box fragrances such as Opium and Cinnabar, but in a much more subtle way. It does not club you over the head like those powerhouse types.) The notes were not released but I detected clove, cinnamon, Indian-style sandalwood incense à la the Sixties, woods, patchouli and something wonderfully animalic in the base, perhaps hyraceum? Somehow, it smells as though these aromas are emanating from vintage fabric, perhaps fragile old gowns or kimonos that were put away for safekeeping, or a velvet opera cape still redolent of the rich fragrances worn for many special occasions. I don’t know how this was accomplished but it’s a lovely effect, and the Fire theme is kept alive by the constant presence of clove and cinnamon radiating just enough heat.
In contrast, Shelley Waddington’s Chang Chang from En Voyage Perfumes could not be more modern or brilliantly dazzling; it is described as a solar scent and it certainly is a full-on homage to the power of the Sun. It is almost guaranteed to lift a bad mood, it’s so bright and open and just so darned happy, wearing it is like listening to that Sheryl Crow song “Soak Up The Sun.” Blood orange, marigold, sweet crème, solar notes, summer florals, fruity musk, patchouli, and sandalwood form the glowing orb that is Chang Chang. In mainstream perfumery, this general effect is usually achieved using harsh synthetics that overpower the senses. No such problem exists here as it opens with juicy orange, explodes with the exuberant solar notes and then segues into the sweetness of the heart. This is an ideal summer scent that shares some perfume “DNA” with 2011’s fantastic Vents Ardents, carefree and purely pleasurable. My only caution would be against giving in to the temptation to use a dozen or more spritzes a time, it’s so good. Longevity is very good so you won’t really need to use that much to soak up this sunny day in a bottle.
Speaking of the sun, Afternoon Slant by Dabney Rose is a gentle tribute to its warmth and light, a graceful meditation on a sleepy summer day. The opening of this fragrance is one of the prettiest things I have ever smelled and I only wish it lasted longer. If I had a full bottle of it, I would be spaying it every five minutes just to get the sensation. The perfumer did not release a list of the notes, but I got citrus and rose in the opening with fruity tea and grassy notes emerging as it developed, reminding me of sun tea made in big glass jars and allowed to steep for hours. It gradually becomes a cozy comfort scent, sweet like new mown hay, and ends up smelling like warm skin, as if the wearer had fallen asleep in a sunny window along with the cat. It could just as easily have been named “Afternoon Nap.” Like all Dabney Rose creations, it is all-natural and made with her own floral essences using enfleurage and distillation techniques, and organic grape alcohol imparts another pleasing dimension to the fragrance.
Incendere is all about incense but unlike so many other incense perfumes it is virtually without sweetness, which lets the fine quality of the raw materials shine through. Cinnamon adds a simmering heat upon opening but it becomes more austere as time passes. From all corners of the globe come the most ancient of essences collected by perfumer Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Arts; Omani frankincense, Somalian myrrh, sandalwood cinnamon from Sri Lanka, Brazilian Tolu balsam, Moroccan cistus and a touch of Japanese Kyara aloeswood and oud. An incense freak could not ask for more. Many people are used to incense perfumes that are also sweet, vanillic and ambery, and this might take some adjustment – it did for me since I do like a bit of sweetness to my incense. It is very well balanced fragrance with no one element being too dominant and it has an elegance all its own, while still being about as “elemental” as possible with its back-to-basics approach to incense. Do not miss this one if incense and dry woods are your favorites.
It’s hot hot hot, it’s Caliente by Jane Cate of A Wing and a Prayer Perfumes. With a name like that you might expect something sharp with a kick, but it’s not so at all; it’s rich, indolent honey scent with an animalic base and a subtly spicy thread running through it. This one is a s-l-o-w burner and all the better for it. It is effortless seduction, just a sidelong glance as it casts its spell. It is in the vein of some of the old classics like Fabergé’s Tigress or Coty’s L’Origan the way it once was, a high-calorie Oriental that is nevertheless not a gourmand. It’s hard to believe that this effect was achieved with all-natural materials – I could swear there are some of those great old nitro musks in this juice giving it that seductive shimmer, and I am impressed that this effect was achieved without those long gone materials. I love honey scents so a new one is always welcome, and this is a new twist on the genre that is well worth adding to your collection. The base notes include amber, vanilla and the perfumer’s own custom tincture of tonka bean. The heart is a blend of iris and jasmine while the top notes are bergamot and petitgrain. So if you long for a rich retro Oriental floral but don’t want to take a chance on an old vintage bottle, check out Caliente.
Who knew that a Fire scent could be a white floral? Leave it to Juan M. Perez and his gorgeous Flor Azteca from The Exotic Island Perfumer. Mr. Perez has a special talent with tropical florals; his Nectar des Îles from 2011 was a masterful treatment of the genre and Flor Azteca, while it is worlds away in style, still manages to display the central note of tuberose to best advantage. You might think you have experienced all that tuberose has to offer but you would be wrong; this masterful perfume takes it in a completely new direction. It is a tribute to the tuberose flower’s native Mexico, surrounded by dense, dark chocolatl (The Aztec word for chocolate), datura blossom, warm ginger, Massoia bark, tonka bean, black copal (a tree resin used an ancient ceremonial incense), smoky woods and something new – an amazing mineral note of steaming hot stone, a nod to Mesoamerica’s famous cinder cone volcanoes. This fragrance works both as a rich white floral and as a delicious gourmand, and it’s hard to decide what I like the most about it. How about everything? The perfumer used the finest available tuberose absolute in this composition, and it shows; all the best aspects of the flower are showcased with none of the “chemical white floral” character of lesser mainstream scents that are allegedly made of tuberose. The chocolate and spice notes were made for each other and they mesh perfectly with the heady florals. When I sampled Nectar des Îles last year I predicted that this perfumer was a rising star whose work deserved a wider audience, and it looks like I was right.
Please check back and please read all about what other writers have to say about this series via the Primordial Scents Project page link, as it will be updated as new blog posts are published.
Image credits: The Primordial Scents Project logo courtesy of Monica Miller, art by Jessica Perlstein, special color effects by Donna. Sleeping cat on the beach from free-wallpaper-backgrounds.com. Flamenco dancer painting by renatadomagalska from deviantart.com
Disclosure: All perfume samples were sent to me and the other participating bloggers by Monica Miller for testing and review
Sunday, September 09, 2012
Foodie Sunday: The Rain is falling, the house is quiet, and all I want are last night's leftovers!
Thursday, September 06, 2012
Gag Me: Fame by Lady Gaga
First, let me say that I love Lady Gaga. I like her music, I like her look, I like her loyalty to her fans and her politics. I really like that she's not some anodyne auto-tuned meat-puppet with the career lifespan of a fruit-fly. She is the real thing.
Which makes Fame such a conundrum.
To quote Suzanna at Bois de Jasmine (who said it far better and tested far more in depth than I was willing to), Fame is a wimp.
I had read when it was announced that Gaga was going to be putting out a scent that she wanted to have the notes of blood and sperm in the juice. Now we all know that the famous Sécrétions Magnifiques pretty much covers that in spades (and in my opinion could clear a room) so it's not that hard to fathom that for something that is going to be sitting on the shelves at Family-Friendly Sephora they will have reigned it in.
But did they need to strangle it? Sephora lists the notes as "Belladonna, Incense, Apricot, Honey Drops, Tiger Orchidea, Jasmin Sambac." All I get is a rather loud fruity-floral mashup that fades quickly into a soft fruity-floral mashup that would occasionally come roaring back full force as if I was being beaten with a can of air-freshener.
I will say this for it: the bottle is cool looking, it's tenacious and it's cheap. But I expected more from a performer who isn't afraid to wear meat as fabric..
I was given the sample by my friend who asked for it at our local Sephora
Photo Credit: Sephora