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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.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such an interesting read, thank you, and it is leading me into temptation ....... I feel another purchase coming on.

I know what I don't like about rose perfumes, but can't quite work out why really. I don't like thin, sharp ones that turn funny on my skin, and I don't like the ones that smell urinous (like stale pot-pourri) or others that are just cheap laundry musk. But I do like soft, powdery ones, or rich, full blown types. A current favourite is OJ's Ta'if which is almost gourmand, but not sweet, and I often use Annick Goutal's Rose Absolue, because it is just like an essential oil. And of course Cartier's So Pretty which is for me a more wearable Nahema (which I sometimes think has that pot-pourri note).

A chypre that I hanker after right now is the old version of Jacomo's Silences which sums up for me what I perceive chypre to be - it's all green!


3:37 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ta'if is gorgeous, and Wing and a Prayer Perfumes has some lovely, powdery roses as well that are worth testing. Silences is really green! Another chypre' you should try is Niki de St. Phalle, it's totally unique.
And do give Ballets Rouges a try, I think it has all the makings of a classic.

6:19 AM EDT  
Anonymous tammy said...

Oh, this was such a fabulous post, thank you so much. I can't tell you how much I enjoy hearing from the artists who create perfume.

Rose chypres are difficult for me.

Rose is by far my favorite note, but I have trouble smelling it among too many other notes. AG Rose Absolue is my favorite, and I also love Caron Or et Noir, Elisabethan Rose and the Bvlgari Rose Essentielle.

I love straight up chypres like Niki de St. Phalle and Y.

But I have yet to find a rose chypre that works for me. L Arte de Gucci and Malle's PoAL were unmitigated disasters on me. So were Andy Tauer's and the other one that gets so much love...gosh, Lumiere Pour Soir, or something like that.

But of course I am lemming Ballet Rouges something fierce now!

12:13 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, interviewing Ellen was a lot of fun, she has so much to say about perfumery, it was fascinating.
I'm glad you mentioned the Bvlgari, it deserves some love- I found it a charming and ethereal rose, beautiful in hot weather especially.

2:04 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Oh my gosh, I must try Ballets Rouges soon! I love chypres but a good rose chypre is hard to come by these days. I adore Une Folie de Rose by Rosine, and I am hoarding L'Arte di Gucci when I can. I am also lemming Serge Lutens Rose de Nuit and FM Une Rose - FB-worthy, both of them!

Amouage Lyric Woman is a fabulous rose scent too, and smells like a "vintage" to me in the best way. I like my rose scents to have depth and not fade too quickly. Not surprisingly, Nahema is a favorite! I fell for it all the way back in 1979 and I love it still.

Good to know about the IFRA-compliant oakmoss - I can't get enough of that stuff. No oakmoss, no chypre. End of story!

12:24 AM EDT  
Anonymous annemariec said...

Hi, fabulous post, thanks. I have been sampling Ballet Rouges in the last few days and I love it. How do you find the diffusion? To me the fragrance does not have as much throw as I'd like but I'm only dabbing from a sample vial. I have a feeling that this perfume is best sprayed. I;m going to try again this afternoon and apply a lot more.

1:02 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Flora, you would love this one. It does remind me of Lyric, but it's darker. And yay for oakmoss! I like Evernyl/Verymoss myself, but it smells absolutely nothing like oakmoss.

6:18 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I don't get a lot of throw, either, but I've been dabbing. For me, a little rose goes a long way (in tropical heat)so I prefer it close to the skin. I think spraying would definitely increase the sillage.

6:19 AM EDT  
Blogger Anat13 said...

I am trying this today. Absolutely gorgeous! The rose is not sweet at all and the oakmoss is amazing. Will definitely need more when my sample runs out. I'm not sure she's modified the web site to reflect this yet, but I asked whether they had spray samples and they just added 2.5 ml spray samples. Sillage seems good to me.

10:14 AM EDT  

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