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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

La Via del Profumo Italian Series: Giardini Segreti and Milano Caffè (And a Prize Draw!)

By Donna

Picture yourself in a secluded garden, with only the birds for company. It's an old garden; there is a film of algae in the pond and fountain, moss on the marble statues, and the trees are gnarled and bent, their advanced age masked only by the tangle of vines climbing their trunks. The walls might be made of stone, or an impenetrable hedge, and they keep the noise of the modern world out and allow the silence to settle in, broken only by the sigh of a gentle breeze and the murmur of water. Wide paths wind enticingly through this hushed green refuge, and at each turn there is a different vista, a new delight – the arching branches of an antique rose flaunting its plump pink blooms, a collection of aromatic herbs clustered around a sundial, a stand of elegant sky-blue irises, or a jasmine in full flower tumbling over a wall, spilling its exquisite scent throughout the garden. This is a garden of dreams and reverie, and if you happened to see a poet or noblewoman dressed in Renaissance garb walking around, it would seem like the most natural thing in the world. This is the magical effect of the new Giardini Segreti from La Via del Profumo, an homage to the hidden gardens and storied past of Venice. The main floral notes are jasmine and rose, decorated with herbal touches and resting on a base of soft leather, mysterious myrrh and a hint of the nearby sea that come from real ambergris, a rare and precious thing indeed in modern perfumery.

Of course, this is a very special kind of scent, made of completely natural materials in honor of the perfumer's adopted home country of Italy. The luscious jasmine Sambac in this fragrance is particularly sublime, and since my skin tends to amplify white florals, it is quite dominant at first, but that's fine with me, since I love jasmine, and the languid dreaminess of the composition speaks to my own personality as a lover of gardens, history, beautiful vintage objects, and good stories. The rose is the handmaiden to the jasmine here, adding a ripe fullness and plush comfort to the centerpiece of jasmine. I don't know what pure ambergris smells like, but its inclusion in this perfume seems to give in an overall patina of nostalgia and wistfulness, like the ineffable pull of memory experienced when looking at faded photographs of places you have never been, but to which you feel a deep connection, and you wish you could somehow become a part of that long ago scene, where all the rough edges have been erased by time, leaving only the watercolor beauty of happy memories and idyllic living. Wearing Giardini Segreti is like stepping into that fantasy world, and I never want to leave it.


In sharp contrast, Milano Caffè is a fragrance of modern life, of rubbing shoulders with your fellow urbanites in the crowded coffee houses, reveling in the hustle and bustle of city life while stealing a moment of relaxation out of your busy day. For a natural perfume you may find it to be surprisingly urbane and sophisticated if you are not accustomed to the formidable talent of perfumer AbdesSalaam Attar (Dominique Dubrana), and it sits on the skin in perfect comfort and assurance right from the beginning with none of the sometimes disconcerting rough stage that naturals sometimes pass through before they settle down and begin to coalesce.

It is by no means a coffee “solibrew” (for lack of a better term) or novelty scent, but a complex composition that also includes a profound chocolate note, dry woods, tonka bean, opoponax and warm spices. However, make no mistake, coffee is the star of the show, and it's a darkly bitter brew that hits the nose like a triple shot of the best espresso you ever tasted. The perfume's longevity is excellent and its development fascinating; it most definitely does not get too sweet over time like some other coffee scents, and it should find favor with both men and women. This is the kind of fragrance that almost makes me wish for winter so I can wear it all the time, and I feel a different kind of nostalgia with it – an overwhelming desire to visit a real Milanese coffee house. I have never been to Italy, but smelling Milano Caffè makes me even more determined to go there someday.

I am offering a sample of both perfumes to two lucky readers; sorry, you must live in the continental U.S. A. in order to enter the draw due to international mailing restrictions on perfume. Please indicate in the comments if you would like to be entered, and let us know if you have ever tried and fragrances from this line, and if so, what are your favorites? The draw will close one week after the publication of this post. Good luck!

Image credits: Garden: One of the real “secret” gardens of Venice, courtesy of Abdes Salaam Attar. Coffee: Original image from via
Disclosure: I received samples of these perfumes directly from La Via del Profumo at my request for testing purposes.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Not Guilty: Guilty Pour Homme by Gucci

By Tom

Well, this isn't going to be the most in-depth review I've ever written. Partly because getting a sample out Bloomingdale's in the Beverly Center is like getting wining lotto numbers. This time the place was so bereft of Sales Associates I didn't even have one there to sneeringly tell me they don't do that..

So this review is from a healthy spritz.

"Guilty" is one of those fragrances that is frankly mis-named. Sort of like years ago when Vendetta came out- I liked it, but there was a darkness missing that I thought should be there with such a name. Let's just go to the Bloomindgale's Website and look at some of that ad copy, shall we?

"Young, fearless, with impeccable taste, the wearer of Gucci Guilty Pour Homme is a hero for our age – exuding charisma and more than a little dangerous."

Uhh, not really.

Not to say what's there isn't very nice. It's a nice little lemony thing with touches of mandarin and a little greenness that moves into a standard fougere territory of lavender. They talk about a "defiant touch of pink pepper" but I never got it. Mind you, I did like what I got- it was perfectly pleasant and the woody patchouli at the end was very nice, if rather anodyne. The patchouli in particular is perfect for a patcho-phobe: light as a feather. The word that occurred to me when wearing it was "pleasant." In my head the wearer of Gucci Guilty Pour Homme is the sort of stalwart chap who's more likely to have the oil changed in your car for you than he is to ravage you in it's backseat- and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that..

$80 for 3 ounces practically everywhere. I tested at Bloomingdale's.

Image: stolen from Bloomie's


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Foodie Thursday: Lemonade

By Tom

Although it's nowhere near as hot as it is back East. it's been warm here as well. It's been into the 80's so in addition to lighter scents, I've been interested in drinking. Not booze mind you because I don't like drinking when it's hot. I was out today and dropped into Fatburger for lemonade. Fatburger has great lemonade- not too tart and not too sweet and you can taste that it's really fresh. On a hot day there's practically nothing better.

Ina Garten (TV's Barefoot Contessa) has a great recipe at the Food Network Site that's just fresh lemons, superfine sugar and water (linking and not copying in case of copyright violation.) For those averse to sugar you could play around with the recipe substituting Stevia or another sweetener. Alternately you could play with limes, grapefruit or a combination of two or all three.

So what are you drinking this summer? Let us know in the comments..

Image: Wikipedia Commons

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New Horizons in Fragrance: Aether Arts Perfume

By Donna

Every so often it's good to discover something that makes you rethink your position, or your taste, or whether or not you can be persuaded to like something you were firmly convinced you could never embrace. Well, I just had to eat my hat about marine/ozonic fragrances because I have discovered one that I really, really like, in the most unexpected way. It is Argent by the talented new perfumer Amber Jobin of Aether Arts Perfume in Colorado. Even more impressive, it is not only a member of a perfume family that I have professed to dislike overall, but it has mint in it, which is a notoriously difficult note to incorporate with other perfume ingredients. Argent is airy and refreshing, minty-cool without being a cliché of the “toothpaste” variety, and thoroughly enjoyable to wear. According to Ms. Jobin, she was inspired by the idea of the stratosphere (also known as the “ether”) when making it, and it's easy to visualize all that arching blue space when smelling it. Coriander, silver fir, petitgrain and rosemary keep the mint company on top; I think the rosemary is the key to tying them all together and keeping the mint from being too dominant. Floral notes, pear and watermelon chime in, followed by a base of musk, frankincense, galbanum (one of my favorite notes), seaweed absolute and cedar. I love that this has real seaweed as well as the Calone of of the melon note, which makes it actually smell of the ocean. I have tried all natural fragrances that use seaweed and seashells and of course mainstream fragrances using synthetic marine notes are everywhere; I have never experienced them together in the same scent, and it's wonderful. Kudos to the perfumer for this winning entry into the fragrance world. I should not really be surprised, because Ms. Jobin has apprenticed with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes for the past five years, and is continuing to learn from one of our best American perfumers.

Argent is a marvelous summer fragrance and so is A Roll in the Grass, which is just what it sounds like, with a twist – some of the “grass” is good old marijuana, or cannabis, in a fragrance inspired by the Burning Man festival “Rites of Passage” theme in 2011. Fortunately it's the green pre-smoked note that's in the perfume, so you won't get any funny looks when you wear it. There is plenty of fresh-cut grass of the other kind in here too, along with basil, oregano, fir needle, galbanum, a good “dirty” jasmine, rose, patchouli and oakmoss. Sound familiar? Yes, it's a real honest-to-goodness chypre, nice and sharp and vivid green, one of my favorite styles and very nicely done. This is exactly the right thing to wear to a barbecue, lawn party, outdoor concert, or just to kick back and relax in your own backyard on a hot summer evening. It can even be a stealth perfume for wearing to work; it's sophisticated enough for the office like all its kind, and only you will know that the Mary Jane you have on has nothing to do with your shoes.

Ms. Jobin has been profoundly influenced by the Burning Man festival and way of life; the third perfume I tested was also inspired by the movement. “Fertility” was the theme Burning Man in 2012, and in accordance with that, Inuus is one heck of a sensuous perfume. It is a mélange of floral, spicy, honey and woody notes, and to me it is a truly outstanding incense perfume, not very sweet despite the list of notes, and certainly suitable for unisex wear. Inuus (pronounced IN-oo-oos) was the Roman god of fertility and copulation – no romance, just sex, and no holds barred. Sambac jasmine and intense Moroccan rose hold court at first, then give way to a delicious blend of spices with white pepper and the slow burn of paprika. The base includes patchouli, sandalwood, benzoin, myrrh, labdanum, honey, beeswax and sumac, the last being a really unusual ingredient that is used as a flavoring in Middle Eastern cuisine. It adds a unique and pungent smokiness to the mix which I find to be quite irresistible. As with most perfumes in this general style, it only gets better the longer it's worn, and after several hours you might feel pretty irresistible yourself. Inuus is probably my favorite of the trio, but as I tried each one repeatedly I found new aspects to appreciate, and I would be happy to own any of them.

One thing I really like is that these fragrances come in oil form, in a strength equal to a 25% Eau de Parfum concentration, so a little bit goes a long way and will last well on the skin. Find these fragrances in the Aether Arts Etsy store; samples are available too.  

Image credit: Earth's stratosphere and the Moon from NASA Earth Observatory's Flickr library.
Disclosure: I received samples of all perfumes tested directly from Aether Arts Perfume.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Foodie Sunday : Tips and Tricks for a Summer of Fabulous Entertaining and Mousseline Peche by Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume!

By Beth

 A Summer party can be loads of fun and utterly lavish without breaking the bank! Here are just a few tips to ensure your success! I promise that if you follow these simple rules that everyone, including you will have a great time at your next soiree. After all, isn't that one of the best reasons to entertain as frequently as possible?  All that’s left to do is to sit back , relax and get ready to enjoy the accolades!

To begin with the best parties always create an air of anticipation ~ so why don't you forget the obligatory phone call and instead choose a theme and send out an invitation?  In this age of evite or Paperless Post a lovely invite is a snap to create and sets the stage for some serious excitement! Don’t be afraid to mix up the guest list. Your new friend from yoga and her husband might just become the life of your party!

Always make sure that you’ve planned a  “surprise inside”!  Sometime this summer I plan to invite all of my neighbors over to our patio for cocktails with a simple yet mysterious invitation.  Just wait until they realize that they’re walking into an evening of gaming and dancing. I’ll string fairy lights everywhere with lots of candles and fresh flowers on the table, There will be scampi sizzling on the grill, chilled vichyssoise and Royal Gin Fizzes around the poker table, cigars for the men and Cole Porter tunes on my Ipod!  I realize that because some of them do actually read this that it won’t be a surprise but never fear…I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve!

I love to serve one or two signature cocktails without an open bar and this is a trick that’s easy on your budget and so much fun. Champagne and fresh peaches are always a wonderful combination or a pitcher of sangria filled with fresh fruit.

My summer favorite is a refreshing “Not quite a Gimlet” made with cucumber vodka, sweetened with a bit of agave nectar , brightened with lime juice and served with fresh cucumber and balls of honeydew melon! My husband likes my special  skinny Margarita which is better than anything you’ll find in a bottle! Just take the juice of a lime, 1 ounce of tequila, 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier, 2 dashes of smoky chipotle chili powder and 2 tablespoons of agave nectar and shake all of it with ice and a cup of mango juice. Garnish with slices of fresh cucumber and watermelon!

 When it comes to food please don’t be a slave to your kitchen. This is the time to make use of all of the lovely takeaway that you’ll find in your local specialty grocer.  I've discovered over the years that my guests always prefer hors d'oeuvres over a heavy dinner during the summer which keeps everything festive and easy.

 You can use wonderful prepared foods like peel and eat shrimp, already cooked asparagus that you can wrap with prosciutto and parmesan and mini crab cakes that are easily garnished with sauces and fresh herbs. The salad above is not my recipe and I have no idea who to attribute the picture to, but I will be making it for my next party. It's a fresh peach caprese and I think that it looks glorious. Fresh mozzarella, basil and peaches perhaps drizzled with olive oil , sea salt and some honeyed white balsamic? What could be better!

Serve a chilled blender soup like minted pea, chive and fresh cream in teacups for extra panache and sorbets are always  lovely served  as a palate cleanser in champagne glasses with edible flowers and a delicious store bought cookie. Slivers of roasted or smoked  chicken are elegant and delicious, especially when served on mini buns with aioli and arugula.

Serve everything on your prettiest platters, turn up the music and no one will wonder where it came from because they’ll all be too busy enjoying themselves.

 Dessert MUST be fabulous because it’s the thing that everyone always remembers so have fun with it! How about a delicious mini milkshake made with some great chocolate ice cream, spiked with chocolate vodka, peppermint schnapps and garnished with whipped cream and store bought dark chocolate straws!

 Remember that only you know what’s gone wrong! If the cake falls on the kitchen floor, scoop it up, put it in pretty glasses and top the whole thing with freshly whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Just relax and don’t make a big deal about it! 

My favorite rule of all ?  Become whoever you want to become for the evening!  I’m all about glamorous for a summer cocktail party! Evenings like these are a perfect occasion to dress up and as my mother always said, “Everyone behaves better in bowties and high heels!”

Don’t forget a wonderful fragrance! (Yes I know that I’m preaching to the choir!)  My absolute favorite thing this summer is a new scent named Mousseline Peche by Charna Ethier of Providence Perfumes. I actually have to say that Charna has  never created a fragrance that I didn’t love. Mousseline Peche did remarkable things on my skin, beginning as a sweet juicy bite of warm peach, but turning quickly into a sheer and subtly musky skin scent that was at the same time both sweet and sultry. This couldn’t be more Southern unless it was distilled from branch water straight from the Mississippi. Mousseline Peche is absolutely diaphanous … born of a truly inspired collaboration between Charna and Project Runway designer Jonathan Joseph Peters, this perfume is really one of the sexiest things that I’ve worn in a while with many fabulous accords that include peach, tonka , rose, yuzu and spun sugar!  (Spun Sugar? J’adore!)

 I am quite sure that Charna must have had a gypsy lifetime in the not so distant past. Everything she creates is literally dripping with sensuality and stirs up emotional images for me of Bourbon Street, Spanish moss and mystery. I even created a chilled soup in honor of this one…Frozen peaches and raspberries blended with prosecco , white peach juice, lemon verbena, unsprayed rose petals,  cinnamon and garnished with vanilla laced crème fraiche…Serve it well chilled in balloon goblets garnished with fresh basil and lemon balm, relax and enjoy a lazy, summer Sunday!  

Happy Foodie Sunday y'all....out to the garden I go!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Moon Bloom by Hiram Green Perfumes

By Tom

Out of the blue a couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Netherlands-based natural perfumer Hiram Green, who offered to let us sample his new scent Moon Bloom. In an email exchange he told me his story. Raised in Canada, he eventually relocated to London, where he had a store called Scent Systems, which specialized in niche fragrance. But he always wanted to create his own line. Closing his store and relocating to Gouda in the Netherlands, he has debuted his scent, Moon Bloom. He wrote:

"Moon Bloom, my debut fragrance is a tuberose themed eau de parfum. I choose tuberose because of its floral and un-floral qualities. I decided to bring out the fresh floral characteristics of tuberose by blending it with jasmine absolute and ylang ylang. There are some accent milky notes and spices alone with a rich resinous base. My aim was to create a soft and romantic fragrance that let the tuberose absolute shine through from start to finish.

I find mixing fragrance very much like mixing paints. Although my days of Art College are long gone, I get great pleasure in working with my hands doing something creative."

So how is it? It's great. A lovely tuberose with jasmine and ylang-ylang. That reads like it could clear a room, but it's extremely wearable. I love scents like Fracas, but they're tricky. One drop too much and it's like you're being beaten by blooms. (I went to a showing of "Sex and the City" at 10am on a Sunday and an audience member was releasing his or her inner Samantha with a heaping helping of Fracas. Which does not mix with the smell of movie popcorn at 10am, trust me) Others are just a bit too wan and timid, like Madonna's interesting (but ultimately failed) Truth or Dare.

Moon Bloom manages what I'd thought impossible: a tuberose scent that's super-sexy but also eminently wearable- even by a white-flowerphobe. The scent has a green and milky aspect to it that smells a bit like coconut water- not pulpy, very light. The tuberose stays throughout the middle and the spicy-gingerbready drydown. Lasting power is excellent, especially for a botanical- even with a heatwave I was getting 6-8 hours out of it.

I've always written when I review a tuberose scent that I like them and appreciate them but would never wear them. I think I might have found my tuberose.

Moon Bloom is so far only available at his website, €135.00 for 50ML in the cute bottle with the pump or €25.00 for a 5ML spray. Both are refillable. We'll see if other stores pick up the scent. Aedes and LuckyScent? Halooooooo... I received my sample from the perfumer. Their Facebook page is here.

Image: Hiram Green Facebook Page

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy July 4th!

By Tom

Since the 4th of July in America is a holiday celebrating the creation of the country (mostly by eating ourselves into a coma, but that's okay) no perfume review for this week. If you get the fourth (and I hope the fifth) off, have a great long weekend. If you don't, I'm sorry. If you'd like to note your weekend plans wherever you are, we'd live to hear them.

Image of fireworks in Washington, D.C. from Wikipedia Commons

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Through a glass, darkly: Serge Lutens Une Voix Noire

By Donna

Whenever Serge Lutens launches a fragrance, the buzz in the blogosphere is always intense. Is it a “real” Serge as opposed to the so-called imposters like L'Eau Serge (which I happen to like a lot)? Is it weird enough? Avant-garde enough? Is it too conventional for purists? I can't think of another niche line that is freighted with such heavy expectations for its new fragrances. Since the company has launched fragrances in virtually every style and genre except green, which The Master claims not to like, and creates them with the finest materials, I have come to expect that I will like, if not love, everything from the house, and I don't care at all if it is strange or unsettling or just plain pretty, I just want more of them. (My love for Nuit de Cellophane, one of the scoffed-at scents, is not likely to abate any time soon.)

I guess I was expecting 2012's Une Voix Noire to be the gardenia equivalent of the ferociously beautiful Tubéreuse Criminelle, but it's nothing of the sort. It is sweet of course, and slightly smoky, but it's not a sillage monster. I have been testing it on some of the hottest days of the summer and it is never overwhelming. It is very lovely and even wistful; who could have thought that a Serge Lutens white floral could be so tender? It's not like any other gardenia and/or tuberose white floral I know of except one, and that, oddly, is Andy Tauer's magnificent, huge and overwhelming Loretta – Une Voix Noire could be Loretta's baby sister, sweet and shy and unwilling to call attention to herself. I can see how it's a fitting tribute to Billie Holiday – she let her vocal talent speak for her. She didn't shout her lyrics, and never needed to.

Une Voix Noire start out rather emphatically, but just when you think it's going to take over the world, it backs off and instead of getting brighter like other heavy white florals usually do, it darkens, like a reflection in an antique mirror, a shadow scent that intrigues rather than dazzles. Part of its sweetness comes from a rum note, tempered by tobacco; this is not the usual heady pipe tobacco, fresh from the canister, of the Arabian fantasies Chergui and Fumerie Turque so familiar to Serge fans, but a trace of smoked cigarette caught late on a summer evening, a ghost of a presence that lends atmosphere but does not intrude upon the floral beauty of the main gardenia note, which is ripe and glistening and has none of the sometime disconcerting “cheesiness” of other gardenia perfumes. It seems as relaxed and natural as the flowers pinned to Lady Day's hair, and it just makes you want to get closer to breathe in its elusive sensuality. This one seduces up close, quietly and insistently, as intimate as a performance in a tiny music club after midnight, and oh yes, I am sure that she would have loved it too.

Une Voix Noire is part of the Exclusive line, available at the Palais Royale du Shiseido in Paris for 130 Euro (about $170 USD), and for a lot more at Barneys New York, but at least you don't need a plane ticket to buy it online.

Image credit: Billie Holiday photo via, original source unknown; special effects mine.
Disclaimer: My review was based on a purchased decant of the fragrance.