The subject was roses: Natural perfumes by JoAnne Bassett
I have to admit that that one of my earliest exposures to the work of natural perfumer JoAnne Bassett was less than ideal – back in 2011 I was one of the bloggers reviewing submissions for Monica Miller's Summer of Patchouli Love project, and JoAnne's contribution (submitted anonymously as “Number 10” and later revealed with the name Têtu) was my least favorite of the group. As a former “patch phobe” I had a hard time with her full-on interpretation of the theme. However, having tried some of her creations since that time, it's safe to say that my opinion of her work has reversed itself to the point where I would be more than happy to have her make me a custom perfume, which is one of the services she offers.
Let's begin with Intimacy, a classic chypre in a decidedly vintage style, which is right in my sweet spot perfume-wise. It's slinky, deep-voiced and really beautiful. Had I not known it was a modern fragrance I would have sworn it was the kind of classic mid-century feminine that was once the rule rather than the exception, and it's even more impressive because it's all natural. Some of its ingredients are actually vintage, and when these are aged properly, they take on a smooth and polished character that's impossible to duplicate with new “raw” materials; vintage Jasmine, Mysore sandalwood, iris (orris) root and patchouli all lend their velvety qualities. It is enriched with Bulgarian rose and Rose de Mai, and of course real oakmoss, which is one of my very favorite things in perfume. The true chypre family has a worthy modern member; pardon me while I go change into my fringed flapper dress and rim my eyes with kohl. This is the real deal.
The ridiculously pretty I Love You is a perfect marriage of rose and gardenia that showcases the best of both flowers; I could not decide if it was a deliciously buttery rose or a sweet, rosy gardenia. It is made with tender Rose de Mai and delicate Tiare (Tahitian gardenia) so it is lilting and soft while still emanating the true essence of the dominant notes. It is a fairly bright scent, but not too highly pitched, which can be an issue with synthetic floral notes, of which there are none here. A subtle base of sandalwood enhances the florals. This would be an ideal wedding fragrance, as romantic a scent as one could wish for.
Malmaison is one of a collection of JoAnne's perfumes that pay tribute to historic characters and places – of course this one is about the garden of Empress Josephine, she of the famous rose collection and even more famous husband. Roses are here but so are many other flowers, including lavender. This is more of a classic French bouquet fragrance than a rose scent, and it's easy to imagine strolling through a sunny garden smelling each flower as you pass by. It is perhaps less complex than the others I have sampled but it's very charming and easy to wear.
When a perfume is named Opulence it had better deliver on the promise, and this one does. Rich neroli and orange blossom are supported by rose otto, vintage Mysore sandalwood and real ambergris. It is rare to find a modern fragrance that contains ambergris, and what it does for a composition is hard to describe – it just makes it “more” of everything somehow, radiant even, richer and fuller. The rose in this is deep, wine-like and bold, and I picture it as being blood-red.
In sharp contrast, Camille is an oh-so-tender floral with osmanthus, iris root (orris) and mimosa, but oddly enough it is not cool and pale as one might expect; astringent and a little sharp at first, the osmanthus develops into a warm apricot that smells a bit like a fruit tart just coming out of the oven and the mimosa is lovely without the slightly chilly feeling it sometimes engenders. Even the iris root is more inviting than aloof in this composition. It lasts well considering that it's both a natural and a floral. This one can go anywhere as it is sheer and subtle and very easy to wear.
The name alone would make me want to try Sybarite, and it more than lives up to its billing. The word itself has always been a favorite of mine; for me it does not mean decadence or debauchery, but just pure pleasure in all things beautiful, and everything about Sybarite the fragrance is gorgeous. I have a weakness for this classic style of floral blend where no one thing overwhelms the composition, it all just works in harmony. Roses, orange blossom, neroli, osmanthus, frankincense, oud and musk are some of the expensive materials in this perfume, and its longevity is very good. This may be my favorite so far, although it's hard to pick just one. All of its notes are things I love and they all mesh gloriously together.
One of the most luxurious scents in the range is Luscious Roses, which is exactly that – rich, rounded, lush blooms. As with many natural rose perfumes, it takes a little while to get settled in on the skin, and was even a little sour on me at first, but once it does begin to develop, it just gets better and better. It is reminiscent of true antique garden roses with their dense, almost powdery character and voluptuous archetypal fragrance that cannot be mistaken for anything else. I would not call it “jammy” per se but there is a bit of purple fruitiness lurking about in addition to the intense damask rose character, made even more sensuous with tuberose and frankincense. JoAnne seems to have a special talent for working with various rose essences in her perfume making, and if I were lucky enough to have someone create a bespoke fragrance for me I would ask her for a rose-centered one, in one of her stunning hand blown glass amphora bottles of course– or I could just wear Luscious Roses, since it's hard to imagine how it could be improved.
All the fragrances mentioned in this review and many more, plus bath and body products and custom perfumes, are available via JoAnne Bassett's Web site.
Image credits: Pink roses wallpaper from imgarcade.com. Amphora style perfume bottles from joannebassett.com, collage mine. Disclosure: The fragrance samples for this review were sent to me by JoAnne Bassett for testing.