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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Just Not That Into You: Annick Goutal Petit Cherie

By Tom

Longtime readers of this blog know that we are big fans of the scents created by Annick Goutal. As a matter of fact, for me Goutal introduced the idea of "niche" when Sables first hit the shelves at Berdorfs those many years ago. In the interim I fell for many more.

But not Petit Cherie.

I want to love it; I love the idea of her creating a scent for her daughter Camille, who is now carrying on with the company and creating her own unforgettable scents. I even love the name "little dear." But I am afraid the scent really, really doesn't love me. The fruits in the opening that start out so soft and innocently sensual start to get raucous and raspy on my skin, going from tender caress to temper tantrum. Then a crazily huge cucumber note comes in, then it's time to wash..

Petite Cherie is available at the usual suspects, including Nordstrom, Neimans and Berdorfs in various sizes and compositions, My sample was in a ScentBar giftbag I received at their Valentines Day event. If Petit Cherie works for you, please feel free to sing it's praises in the comments..

Image: Nordstroms


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book review: Scent & Subversion brings vintage perfumes to glorious life

By Donna

A gourmand leather and tobacco fragrance so good it belongs to a rare scent category for me: perfume so good I want to drink it. Dark vanilla and creamy white florals voluptuously bloom as leather, tobacco and civet rise up. Peach and plum add some bruised sweetness.”
    -excerpt from the description of Lanvin's Rumeur (1934) in
     Scent & Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume
     by Barbara Herman

As regular readers of this blog know by now, I have a serious ongoing love affair with vintage perfume. Most books about perfume seem to about the inner workings of the industry (Chandler Burr's The Perfect Scent) or reviews of currently available fragrances (Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez). There are also books about the history of perfume, or how fragrances are made, filled with pictures of Bulgarian rose fields and Middle Eastern spice markets. I enjoy reading all kinds of books about fragrance, but there has always been something missing. At last, now there is a book that celebrates the perfumes of the past and really tells us what they smell like: Scent & Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume by Barbara Herman. Many of you may also be readers of Ms. Herman's delightful blog, Yesterday's Perfume. The logical next step from writing reviews and giving us fascinating historical tidbits about vintage scents was writing a book, and I am so very glad that she did.

The book takes us on a decade-by-decade journey from the origins of modern perfumery up to the end of the twentieth century. Iconic fragrances such as Houbigant's Fougère Royale (1882) and Guerlain's Jicky (1889) were revolutionary in their time, marking the beginning of the era when synthetic materials were first used in perfumery; this advance made it possible for an explosion of creativity that continues today as perfumers use everything in their arsenals to make interesting, unusual and yes, provocative fragrances instead of the simple floral waters that were popular before that time. The “subversion” part comes from the hidden language of perfumes; the animalic and indolic essences used to compose them can speak louder than words and express the intentions of the wearer with no verbal explanation needed. This was also a time when women were finding ways to express themselves beyond the boundaries of hearth and home, and perfumery reflected this seismic cultural shift. Caron's fiercely feral Tabac Blond (1919) was made for covering up the smell of cigarette smoke, which was still a shocking habit for women at the time. Lanvin's My Sin (1924) is nominally a floral, but oh, what a floral it is, narcotically sweet, redolent, mesmerizing, with animal base notes that virtually growl. It is also one of my own favorite examples of what the now-banned nitro musks contributed to perfumery. Ms. Herman aptly compares their use in fragrances to the way foods taste and feel with and without butter, a perfect analogy; today's perfumes just can't capture that feeling.

The book is seductive in its own right – I could not put it down as I eagerly devoured every page. After an introduction that details the author's own developing fascination “real” perfume, the heart of her book is an overview of a broad spectrum of famous (and not so famous) perfumes through the years. Where possible, the main fragrance notes are also listed along with her own impressions. Many of the fragrances are those that I also know and love, and as I got into the later chapters I found “vintage” perfumes that I remember from before they were vintage, being a lady of a certain age myself. The author's descriptions made me look at them with new eyes, and now I want to rediscover such once-common gems as Revlon's Intimate (1955) and Moon Drops (1970) all over again. It is made even more enticing by the impressive array of vintage print perfume ads on almost every page, many of which I had never seen before and some of which are hilariously retro, and little-known historical details and fun facts about the perfume houses and perfumers that will be like so much catnip to avid readers.

What I found most engaging in this book is the unabashed love and enthusiasm it projects – this is not an “expert's” careful dissection of notes or a scientific treatise on perfume making. It's an extended fan letter written by a true amateur, someone very much like me, like us, like so many perfume fanatics who fall into the perfume world and get hopelessly pulled in by the romance, the history, the glamour, the personalities, and the sheer beauty of the perfumes themselves.

The book's third act is a bit of a surprise – it has a section that tells how modern perfumery is rising to the challenge of making perfumes that are neither bland nor boring, but continuing the heritage of the greats of the past, including Christopher Brosius of CB I Hate Perfume and Antoine Lie, the perfumer for the avant-garde house of Etat Libre d'Orange, known for its sometimes shocking fragrances and packaging. It is reassuring to know that today's niche and artisan perfumers are turning their backs on the corporate mainstream and its increasingly restrictive rules and making perfume that speaks from the heart. It ends with a very informative “Perfume 101” section on how to learn about perfume, how to start a vintage fragrance collection, a glossary, and a list of recommended reading. I predict with confidence that this book will be on everyone else's list of recommended reading from now on – it's indispensable, and more fun than should be legal. What are you waiting for, go get your copy!

Image credit: the cover of Scent and Subversion via
Disclosure: I purchased my copy of this book.

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Singing over the Bones : Roxana Illuminated Perfumes - Figure1:Noir

By Beth Schreibman Gehring

Before you read this, I must let you know upfront that I generally hate Patchouli based fragrances. Quite frankly they've all smell mildewy and dank to me.  I've never met one that I liked or that I felt smelled delicious on my skin at all. 

Until now.

A few weeks ago I came home to find a wonderful package from Roxana Villa of Roxana Illuminated Perfumes. Intrigued , I ripped it open and  discovered several samples of her perfume Figure 1: Noir and a beautiful postcard with an elegant description of the fragrance.  I am always prepared to love anything of Roxana's because in my mind she is one of the greatest of the alchemists working in the realm of botanical perfumery. I have seen first hand the care with which she creates her accords and her perfumes and have experienced her exquisite attention to detail many times. She is one of the only perfumers that I've had the pleasure of working with who is able to create remarkable tensions and relationships between raw materials, oils and accords; almost like a beautiful symphony that begins as a quiet thought and emerges as a full-blown musical love affair and finishes leaving the listener (or the wearer) with a subtle yet passionate whisper of the opening movement yet promising ever so much more.  

When I discovered that Figure 1: Noir was a patchouli based scent I was truly terrified , but I completely trust Roxana and her sensibilities.  My fear vanished instantly as I spread the luscious solid perfume over my wrists and throat and then I sprayed the sample of the liquid fragrance through my hair. I took a deep sniff…I was amazed and my feelings about patchouli in perfume simply evaporated in an instant.  

Frankly , Figure 1: Noir is a patchouli that I like to flatter myself was made just  for me. It's earthy and green and it's full of a remarkable freshness that I don't normally associate with a fragrance like this; yet I don't mean to imply that this is a joyous , 60's  sort of patchouli as thank goodness it's not even close!  This perfume is subtly musky and I'm fascinated by that because Roxana is adamant in her use of only botanicals, courageously eschewing almost all forms of animal based fixatives which technically are natural, yet generally extracted in the cruelest of ways. Where that sensual undercurrent of musk came from I do not know, except if I had to guess my thought is that it may have come from the black cumin, orris root and Mysore sandalwood that are part of this bewitching brew as cumin generally turns into something of a pheromone on my skin. I do recall smelling the freshly harvested wax from a beehive once and thinking that it was one of the most feral scents that I'd ever come to know.  

Roxana will use beeswax and perhaps the occasional bit of honey that she has harvested from her own hives so perhaps that's where the animalistic quality came from. Whatever , wherever though is really not the point. Figure 1: Noir is sensual and predatory in the most elegant sense of the word and is little black dress perfection.  I would never call this  perfume playful  because  it's really quite primal. This is truly the only Patchouli fragrance that I have ever enjoyed at all , probably because it's been created so carefully from the real thing and it's been used by one who is absolutely masterful in her ability to blend all of those notes. On a whim I grabbed another sample that I'd received from her about 6 months ago;  a lovely aged, syrupy drop of her Ivy based Hedera Helix  that I layered with the Figure 1: Noir. What happened after that was nothing short of alchemy and is a combination that I have returned to several times now, tempting me to say that it could easily become my signature scent. I am shamanistic and Celtic by nature and I am consistently captivated by the magic of this, often turning inward towards the mystical skeleton woman to sing over the bleached bones of the deep soul and the presence of the magical , wild nature that joyously emerges when you become aroused by all of life. Figure 1: Noir and subsequently Hedera Helix bring forth that wellspring of emotion in me that I find almost uncontainable, larger than life and yet quietly enchanting like the sound and scent of a icy forest. Both of these perfumes make me want to don my Irish wool cape and go for a walk outside in the softly falling snow because they are the sensory equivalent of a fascinating natural Haiku, all-knowing and yet not, quietly held, strength in check, sharing the same deep inhale and subsequent exhale of a sweet and prayerful winters breath that is gently turning towards the spring.   

Please note that Roxana will also be a featured speaker at this years World of Aromatherapy Conference that will take place next fall in Seattle Washington. To say that I am thrilled for her is an understatement!

 In her own words:

"It was a few years into my love affair with essential oils that I became aware of "aromatherapy" as a community and the various professionals within it. As an attendee of the first National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) conference in San Francisco I was in complete awe. The gala event took place in the Autumn of 1996 at the Palace Hotel. At the time I was a single mom working as a freelance illustrator with a strong interest aromatherapy. Essential oils had already become part of the holistic tool box while taking classes and teaching about the wonders of aromatics.

There are a few memories from the event that stand out like sign posts, etched into my psyche. One of them is Dr. Christoph Streicher telling his captive audience that when one decides to create a business using essential oils, you don't pick them, they pick you. The other memory is the awareness of a longing to be part of this community and one day a speaker.

With a great amount of gratitude I am happy to share that next fall, eighteen years from the first conference, I will be a presenter at the The World of Aromatherapy VII Conference in Seattle, Washington."

You'll want to be there!

Figure 1: Noir can be found in all its forms at Roxana's gorgeous new website!
 I do not know if Hedera Helix is available at this time and that's the beauty of botanical perfumes, like seasonal food we must appreciate them in their time and place! I have also blended Figure 1 : Noir with Roxana's lovely chypre based "Greenwitch" and found  the resulting scent to be nothing short of fascinating.