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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Adventures with Magic Mushrooms: DSH Perfumes Cuir et Champignon

By Donna

As the regular readers of this blog may remember, I am a big fan of the fragrance creations of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes. Her range is enviably broad, and she has the unique perspective of a talented visual artist, which has resulted in some truly innovative fusions of scent and color concepts. One of her talents is making fully realized perfumes using all-natural ingredients, although you would never miss the synthetics even if you already knew about that.

Now she has released yet another eagerly anticipated perfume that is different from anything I have ever smelled before – Cuir et Champignon, leather and mushroom. That's it – no sweetness at all except for a fleeting breath of forest aroma before it goes on the skin, then it quickly develops into a salty, savory, brothy blend of soft leather and very earthy mushroom. The mushroom note dominates at first, and then gradually the leather joins it as it softens down. In fact it is the saltiest perfume I have ever smelled; it leaves TDC's Sel de Vetiver in the dust in that respect, and Womanity by Thierry Mugler only allows a fleeting glimpse of its much-vaunted caviar note before it's buried in sugary sweetness, which was a disappointment for me. Cuir et Champignon has an almost meaty “taste” to it, which is the flavor called Umami, borrowed from the Japanese language, and it does take some adjustment to think of it as perfume, especially at first before the leather kicks in. I enjoyed wearing it by itself, when it eventually dried down to smooth leather and loamy earth, but the other notes listed never really developed on me – of course it's not all mushroom and leather, it has things like bergamot, clary sage, galbanum, chamomile, clove bud, honey, gardenia, sandalwood, tuberose, castoreum, civet, vetiver, guaic wood, cedar and tobacco. I didn't get these very much, because on my skin it's just mostly mushroom; that cépes absolute is mighty powerful stuff.

So anyway, I decided to try layering it with some other perfumes to see what would happen. I do not normally do much with perfume combining and it's usually an accident when it happens; if I forget that I put on something really persistent in the evening and then apply something else in the morning, I get a surprise. I generally go with the idea that the perfumer knew what they were doing and who am I to mess around with the delicate balance, but in this case I could not resist. Since Cuir et Champignon is salty, savory and earthy, I thought it would be perfect for toning down perfume that's a little (or a lot) too sweet or loud. Whatever I chose would need to have a strong character of its own to stand up to the cépes and have some compatible notes. I hit upon the idea of pairing it with some big-haired Eighties fragrances, and into my hopelessly disorganized jumbled eclectic stash I went to find some candidates.

My first experiment was conducted with the original Salvador Dali woman’s perfume from 1983, the one in the “lips” bottle with a white frosted “nose” cap. It's a floral/woody/ambery Oriental with a pleasing softness to it, but really very sweet, kind of like a slightly less extroverted Bijan for Women. Well, putting these two together was alchemy indeed, because I got something that had the firepower of the old Lanvin My Sin (remember, there is civet in Cuir et Champignon) while toning down the rather syrupy aspect of the Dali. (I found out that Alberto Morillas did that one, not exactly the style he is known for now but it makes me admire him even more.) Okay, I was really on to something here.

Next up, Aubusson's Désirade from 1990 – technically still in the Eighties and certainly in the style of the time, it's an Oriental perfume with pineapple, cassia, tuberose, osmanthus, lots of vanilla, opoponax, musk – you get the idea, big and bright and retro. It's something I love to wear at home or out, but never to the office, it's just too much. I tamed her with the mushrooms and the result actually reminded me of a Guerlain, an echo of Cuir Béluga with its leather note softened by heliotrope and vanilla. Now I don't have to spring for the Guerlain if I get the craving for it, I just need to keep these other two handy.

Then I got another wild idea – if Eighties perfumes can be quieted down this way, why not go even older and try it with an actual Guerlain? So I tried it out with my pre-reformulation Shalimar Parfum de Toilette. Oh yeah, baby! It made the grande dame even smokier and even a bit feral, and I got a little shadow of melancholy L' Heure Bleue action going on. Now I love Shalimar, but sometimes it gets too sweet on me, many things do; if there is any sweetness in a fragrance my skin will amp it up and throw it out there like radio waves. (I usually like it when that happens but sometimes I have to try to be civilized around other people and I can't fly my fragrance freak flag.) After blending Shalimar with the mushroom scent I think I will have to try it with Lonestar Memories or some other smoky, tarry thing with no discernible sugary notes and see what happens.

At this point my mind wandered into truly twisted territory. What if I mixed this earthy, humusy forest floor scent with something else that's also devoid of “feminine” character? What would happen if there was no vanilla or Tonka, no caramel or syrup to subdue? I thought about that for a while, and then it hit me: Miss Balmain, the most misunderstood of all chypre scents, dry and austere, a stiletto-heeled librarian forever in the shadow of her femme fatale sister Jolie Madame. I am happy to report that this was also a success. The truly magical combination coaxed some fragile blossoms out of Miss Balmain's steely heart and softened her up without adding anything remotely girly to her demeanor, while adding a green depth that seemed like it was meant to be, perhaps restoring what was lost in translation when Balmain started reformulating its fragrance line. (My bottle is pre-IFRA nonsense but not the original formula.) I felt like a genius after that experiment.

Finally, I came full circle and pondered if anything else in the DSH line would be a good foil for Cuir et Champignon. With such a wide range from which to choose, surely something would be suitable. I chose her very popular Cimabue, which is an intensely spicy and saffron-rich concoction that I did not quite get along with in the alcohol-based version but which I swooned over in the oil concentration, which is what I used for the layering. Well, it actually worked pretty well, adding an unexpected fresh note to the spices and taking the sweetness down several notches, which in turn shone a spotlight on the saffron and cistus at the expense of the sweeter ingredients. Cimabue is already a favorite with men, and I can imagine that they might be interested in an alternate way to wear it.

My conclusion was that this is really two perfumes in one. For those who want to wear it by itself, it becomes an earthy skin scent with little to no sweetness and decent longevity. It also shines as a way to tame the high notes of fragrances that could use a bit of smoothing out to make them more wearable while not obscuring their better qualities. It is a limited edition fragrance sold only at the DSH Perfumes Web site. One ounce of Eau de Parfum, which is what my sample is, is $100, and a one dram roller ball vial of the oil is $55; I can't even imagine how intense that must be! (Smaller sizes and a $4.00 sample vial are also available.) My small sample vial was sent to me by DSH for review purposes.

Image credit: Ceramic “Magic Mushrooms” from love♥janine's Flickr photostream via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.By Donna

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Clinging Vine: Serge Lutens Datura Noir

By Tom

Datura the plant is lovely, toxic and hallucinogenic. The 2001 release Datura Noir is true to the name. It's a venus flytrap of a scent, those lush white flowers draw you in; the almond cookie aspect of it reminds me that cyanide tastes of almonds. It's a big giant white flower party, fatty with coconut and overstuffed with tonka and vanilla. It's sexy, it's smothering; it's a force of nature. My scent twin ran from it, writing that it was like Audrey II from "Little Shop of Horrors" I sort of think if they ever remade "Sunset Blvd" (perish the thought!) Norma Desmond would wear Datura Noir, and Joe Gillis would still be dead in the pool.

Datura Noir is available at the usual suspects, $120 for 50ML. My review is of a freebie I received from Barneys as a gift with purchase.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

More Fragrances from La Via del Profumo: An Artist's Palette of Choices

By Donna

In my previous reviews of fragrances by AbdesSalaam Attar (Dominique Dubrana), the mysterious perfumer behind the Italian house of La Via del Profumo, I described a number of different styles that I had tested; from the fierce beauty of Tcharas to the tenderness of Tasneem and the fresh delight of African Night, I was impressed with the range of perfumes that one person can compose, and I was eager to delve into even more of them. I decided that I wanted to sample as diverse a palette as possible, including some that I would not ordinarily choose for myself, in order to find out just how talented a perfumer this man is. I was not disappointed.

Beginning with a style to which I do not normally gravitate, the amber gourmand Oriental, Chocolate Amber does not smell anything like the hair-raising concoctions of sugary overload that one might find in the department stores. Of course it's sweet with a name like this, but it's also interesting, which is more than I can say about the kind of things sold at Victoria's Secret stores. It's just not fair to compare them; Chocolate Amber is sexy and truly adult, deepened with Tonka bean and vanilla. Wearing this is a total commitment, a full immersion in sensuality and made me completely rethink my attitude toward ambery scents. For those afraid of chocolate in perfume, it's not that dusty weirdness that some chocolate scents can have; this is a luscious chocolate marriage made in aphrodisiac heaven, conjuring up the intimate connection between the sense of smell, food and sex. Wear it with someone you love and let nature take its delicious course.

Do you think you don't like fruity scents? It's can be a difficult style to appreciate these days, with so many fruity florals crowding the market, most of them cheaply made and inferior. What makes a fruit note in perfume is almost always synthetic; all those berries, lychees, mangoes, peaches and even apples are made of complex aroma chemicals that grew in laboratories, not on trees. The challenge that faces a natural perfumer is creating the smell of fruit with a very limited selection of available materials, other than citrus oils, there is not much actual fruit from which to choose. Well here is something truly impressive, a fruity perfume constructed from apricot-scented osmanthus flowers, blended with jasmine, vanilla and blackcurrant resin absolute, called Frutti Paradisi. All I can think of to describe this gem of a scent is that it made me think of old paintings of fruit in still life; darkened by age and varnish, still they glisten with life and tempting plumpness, surrounded by luxuriant flowers, spilling over in abundance from ornate bowls and emerging from deep background shadows to tempt the observer to reach out and pluck them out. This is a fruit perfume like no other, soft and understated and the polar opposite of all those “fresh” fruity fragrances that last five minutes before devolving into dull, plasticky dry downs and seem to be aimed at people who don't even like fragrance. Frutti Paradisi reclaims the genre for perfume lovers everywhere.

On the opposite end of the style spectrum is Hindu Kush, which combines the ferocious impact and adventurous spirit of Tcharas with a green intensity that is nothing short of mesmerizing. I simply cannot stop smelling this! It is definitely meant for men to wear, and indeed it is as bold a fragrance as I have ever experienced, redolent of dense pine forests, far Eastern spice bazaars and blazing bonfires. I adore smelling it straight from the bottle or on my own skin, but I think I would follow a man who wore this anywhere, just to be in the wake of his scent trail. At its heart this is a dry incense perfume, and it just gets better with every passing hour. With less of an “animal” character than Tcharas, I think it would be easier to wear for most people, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to every man out there. (Of course, this is for purely selfish reasons; I am just hoping I will be walking down the street someday and smell it on you.)

Samurai is an elegant surprise, being a spare composition of oakmoss, woods and a hefty amount of the best vetiver you ever smelled. Vetiver and oakmoss lovers, this is a must-try. It's a cologne style with linear development but there is nothing lightweight about it because of the profound base so rich in oakmoss, one of my favorite perfume notes. (He also included in the samples, at my request, a tiny vial of pure oakmoss absolute, and it's unbelievable. Now I really know why I love chypres so much!) A green so profound that it approaches the aroma of lime basil emanates from this wonderful perfume. Summers will seem cooler and life in general will just seem to make more sense when your day is grounded by Samurai. It's sophisticated enough for the boardroom and easy enough for casual wear. In fact, I can't think of any occasion that would be wrong for wearing it.

To obtain your own collection of samples or buy full size bottles, please visit the La Via del Profumo Web site. I dare you to make up your mind.

Image credit: Still Life with Fuit, A Glass Of Wine and a Bronze Vessel On A Ledge, by French artist Blaise Alexandre DeGoff (1830-1901), via

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Orient Express: Traversée du Bosphore

By Tom

L'Artisan is a house that I kind of have a love/meh relationship with. Frankly I think it's me. I admit it, I am an American, more specifically an (immigrant) Californian, even more specifically a resident of Beverly Hills, where the bling is big. I saw a Bugatti Veyron making a left onto Doheny from Wilshire yesterday and my only thought was that in white it looked like a blancmange.

We don't do subtlety.

L'Artisan is all about subtlety, and Traversée du Bosphore is nothing if not subtle. Meant to evoke "a listless day spent exploring Istanbul" I feel from the scent that the exploration would be more in the manner of an Agatha Christie novel, or better one of those sumptuous movies from the 70's made from them: there's leather and tobacco and fruits and nuts and saffron here, but while Uncle Serge would shove our face in it and add some camphor or armpit, L'Artisan keeps it safely in the Wagon Lit with the Hermes luggage, Pratesi sheets and attentive staff. There's musk there, but it is gentlemanly, like the man who opened your bed was slightly overworked.

I like this, really I do. I know it reads like I am damning with faint praise; I'm not. It's a literal representation of one of those Agatha Christie movies with Lauren Bacall or Mia Farrow: all the glamour with the unpleasant bits glossed over. You're crossing the Bosphorus, but you're doing it First Class. Sometimes, perfume-wise (to mix metaphors) I like to go below decks...

Traversée du Bosphore will be availble at the usual suspects soon, $155 for 100ML. I cribbed my sample from ScentBar

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Clinging: Vine by Strange Invisible Perfumes

By Tom

This past week I wore only one scent as part of an experiment, and it was interesting to find new facets to and and happily reaffirm my love for the dervish that is Muscs Kublai Kahn. But after that week in the sexy Mongols embrace, what to do? What to wear? Mark Buxton ain't gonna cut it.

The answer turned out to be Vine, a 2005 release by Venice (CA) based Strange Invisible Perfumes. In her review, Marina wrote she found it "repulsive and irresistible"; I don't know about the former but certainly agree with the latter. It has a deliciously winey aspect to it's fruity beastliness that I find hard to put down. It's one that a guy can certainly get away with in small doses but I'm sure would be stunning on a woman.

Sadly I don't see it on the SIP website, so perhaps it's been discontinued. I hope that it's only on Hiatus. We'll have to make that happen..

My bottle was a giveaway from attending Sniffapalooza LA

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Jo Malone White Jasmine & Mint: Cooling Down the Hot Stuff

By Donna

I adore jasmine perfumes, but you won't find me wearing a sexy bombshell like A La Nuit in public very frequently; this is a perfume ingredient that just gets bigger and bigger on my skin until I feel as though there is a cloud of it around me, entwining itself around everyone within reach. Unfortunately other people are not always fans of strong florals, but I have found ways to sneak them into my life without causing undue alarm to those close to me. My first Jo Malone fragrance was Vintage Gardenia, which combine the indolent florals with bracing cardamom and incense to make it the only gardenia scent I can wear to the office. Now I have discovered another under-the-radar white floral from this house that works for me, White Jasmine & Mint.

I had tried this 2007 release several times in the store, but I was a bit leery of the mint part. I do not normally wear anything with mint in the list of notes unless it's a light cologne with other herbal essences in it; I don't want to smell like toothpaste. However, I was intrigued by the idea of this fragrance and decided to take it for a test drive to see if it would work. I do like the unusual juxtapositions and contrasts in the Jo Malone line. They seem to have a color wheel theory of perfumery, where the main notes are balanced out by things that are the opposite of each other; not only the Vintage Gardenia but Amber & Lavender, Sweet Lime & Cedar, Wild Fig & Cassis. Jasmine and mint is certainly in this category of perfume notes, and at first it's a little bit strange and dissonant but that part doesn't last very long. The mint part is not at all reminiscent of personal care products, but rather a pleasingly grass-green and freshly cut burst that subsides after about fifteen minutes but never quite goes away. Once it has settled down it's not really all that minty, just something to keep the jasmine reined in and behaving itself. Now, no one loves a properly indolic jasmine more than I do, and I do own some pretty knockout perfumes, but for a “family-friendly” jasmine this is hard to beat. The floral notes also include lily, orange flower and rose which combine to remind me somewhat of another tender white floral that I really love, L'Artisan's La Haie Fleurie du Hameau. White Jasmine and Mint is not as wistful as that, but it is soft and pretty and it blooms on my skin just enough so that I know I am definitely smelling jasmine.

All the Jo Malones are called “colognes” but they are really Eau de Toilette (strength except for the house's “signature” scent called 154, an Eau de Parfum) and they can be surprisingly tenacious for something so sheer. This one keeps going all day on me, but I am not too surprised since white florals do the Vulcan mind meld on my skin anyway. I would feel perfectly confident wearing it in close quarters as long as I don't overdo it on application. It's definitely a floral scent for people who like to smell like the actual flowers instead of a more abstract effect, but in my opinion, if you are going to smell “literal” it may as well be of jasmine.

Jo Malone fragrances are available from their web site or at better department stores such as Nordstrom. $55 for a 30 ml spray is reasonable, and Jo Malone was one of the first perfume houses to offer everything in the line in a smaller size, something which I appreciate. This one is especially nice in the body crème, shower gel or foaming bath oil formulations, which really bring out the softness of the floral heart.

Image credit: White Jasmine & Mint promotional photo via

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Monday, November 08, 2010

'House Beautiful' prize draw winners

Tama (for the paper) and grizzlesnort (for the incense). Please email us your addresses using the contact me link on the right.

Friday, November 05, 2010

House Beautiful

By Marla

It’s the dead of winter, 20 below outside, a howling wind, and you just cooked fish with brussels sprouts for dinner. I won’t question your judgment on the menu, but your nose is suffering as you do the dishes. Do you open the window and risk being flash-frozen? No! Here in Northern Europe, we burn papier d’Armenie, small rectangles of paper infused with benzoin resin. This beautiful and practical form of incense has been used here since 1885, when it was developed in Montrouge, France. At that time, it was used both to deodorize, and also to disinfect rooms. Now we realize that the disinfectant part was a bit of wishful thinking, but the deodorizing/scenting function of papier d’Armenie is delightful. For a few years, there was a cancer scare about benzoin/benzene fumes (possibly due to the similarity of the words), but further studies have shown that of at least 72 things you can burn to scent your room, papier d’Armenie is the least likely to cause any health problems, and benzene levels are extremely low. So no worries there. Scent away.

Master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian has worked with the makers of papier d’Armenie to develop his own line of scented burning papers (Papier Encens), and I was lucky enough to take some home on my recent trip to Paris. I chose the “Lumiere Noire”, made to match his rose and patchouli perfume of the same name. To use the papers, simply tear one from the booklet, fold it accordian style, light one corner, blow it out, and let it smolder in a ceramic pot or holder. Your room will be scented with Lumiere Noire, Aqua Universalis, or APOM for about an hour or so. They’re available at Maison Francis Kurkdjian in Paris, or from his website, for approximately $20 per packet:

I’ve also been trying several types of “smokeless incense” from Japan in this cold weather, and have found two brands I really enjoy. The first, Shoyeido’s Xiang Do series, has two scents that have become household favorites, Peppermint and Forest. They burn down without smoke and leave a gentle scent of (guess) peppermint, and conifers. The second is Seikado's Kyoyama Sumi Ink (available at The latter smells exactly like the evocative camphor-spiced sumi ink of Zen calligraphy and sells for about $16 for a box of 200 sticks. I’ve tried about a dozen “smokeless incense”, and many do indeed smoke, and many do indeed fume. These two brands deliver, essentially smoke-free.

If you’d like to try one of the Kurkdjian papers, please leave a comment, and my house rabbit, Limette, will pick one of you at random. (I learned this technique from Grain de Musc’s cat, Jicky.) If you’d like to try a few sticks of Sumi Ink, let me know in the comments, and Limette will pick one of you.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Top Shelf: English Breakfast by Mark Buxton

By Tom

A few weeks ago I was at ScentBar and tried Anat Fritz, on the bottom shelf of of the mens section. Since what I was going to write about this week sort of flamed out I'm going with plan B; one from their top shelf which holds the lightest and most approachable ones.

English Breakfast is light and approachable in spades. It's clean with a capital "K". It's not that it's bad, mind you. It's s nice bright bergamot with s hint of dry woods. But I find that when you have to start making up stories of English businessmen on the bullet train to Kyoto eating a bento box and contemplating his day then you have a scent that isn't saying it for you. Since the scent has been marked down from $140 to $110 for 100ML perhaps I'm not the only one who feels that way.

At LuckyScent, where I asked for the sample, and where I'm going back to the lower shelves.

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