Friday, December 24, 2010

We Three Kings: Eau d'Italie - Paestum Rose

A rose among the ruins
Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
This is my final post in the We Three Kings series. Many thanks, first to Joanne at Redolent of Spices for starting this project with me and also to all the other amazing bloggers who joined us. Their posts have all been awesome and I'm so happy to have made so many new perfume-fanatic friends. Check them all out from the links at the bottom of this post.


After gold and frankincense, the Magi gave myrrh to the baby Jesus. Like frankincense, myrrh is another resinous incense, collected as tears from the damaged bark of trees.

Myrrh was the gift that symbolized death.  Way to ruin the festive mood there, Magi. Myrrh was an essential ingredient in ancient Egyptian funeral rites and was also commonly used in ancient times as a medicine to treat wounds and pain. Jesus was offered a cup of wine with myrrh in it before he was nailed to the cross. The taste of this medicine was apparently not so good - the word myrrh derives from the Aramaic word for "bitter."

What does it smell like?

Myrrh is a difficult note for me, I find it sometimes hard to isolate in perfumes, but, despite the origins of its name, I don't think it's a bitter smell. Myrrh to me is lightly sweet and woody, as you would expect a tree sap to be, It's not the intense, nose-tickling warmth of frankincense. Instead I think of myrrh as being a "cool" incense, if that makes any sense. Like smooth grey stones.

Myrrh works well in Paestum Rose, which is a perfume created to reflect the beauty of Paestum, Italy, a city famous for its ancient Greek temple ruins and its roses. Myrrh combines with a sheer rose to create a perfume that's light and cool on floral on top but also resinous and woody and comforting underneath. The rose is pale pink in my mind, and with a lightness like peony. A pink pepper spices it up and bridges the gap between the rose and the wood. The far drydown has something more piquant, maybe some black-currant, making it end sweeter than it began.

Paestum Rose is the smell of melancholy but also happy memories. Maybe I'll save Paestum Rose for the day after Christmas, a day for cleaning up wrapping paper and relaxing with a new book.

Merry Christmas everyone, and a fragrant New Year!

House: Eau d'Italie
Nose: Bertrand Duchaufour
Notes: davana, pink and black pepper, coriander, osmanthus,Turkish, incense, myrrh, opopanax, papyrus, Wenge wood

Please visit all these other blogs during We Three Kings week:

Three Kings Icon ©2010 Megan Ruisch 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We Three Kings: Comme des Garçons Incense Series - Avignon

Does heaven smell of frankincense?
Frankincense to offer have I.
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship Him, God on high.
Welcome to my second post of We Three Kings week. The first perfume I reviewed was for gold, and this post is dedicated to the second gift of the Magi: frankincense. Frankincense is the gift that represents prayer.


Incense has been associated with communication with the divine since ancient times. It's mentioned in Indian Vedic scriptures from 5,000 B.C., and in ancient Egyptian tablets. Burning incense was serious business to the Jews during the time of Christ's birth; "holy" incense was burned only on special alters, by priests. It seems we humans have always found the fragrance of burning incense special and uplifting.

The Comme des Garçons Series 3 Incense is devoted to the five main spiritual teachings of the humanity; each one associated with a particular type of incense. Avignon represents Christianity and is focused on frankincense.

Frankincense did not start to be used in Catholic churches until the 4th century. Also called Olibanum, frankincense was introduced to Europe by Frankish raiders, hence the name. It's an aromatic resin harvested from trees native to the Arabian peninsula and north Africa. When the bark of tone of these trees is damaged, sap extrudes that hardens into lumps called "tears." The best frankincense comes from trees that grow in the harshest of locations, sometimes attaching themselves to barren rock.

What does Avignon smell like?

It smells like a Gothic cathedral. I've never been to a catholic mass where they swing the censors of incense, sending fragrant smoke over the congregation, but I've read from other reviewers that Avignon is pretty close to the actual experience. The frankincense is desert dry and woody in a way that brings polished wooden pews to mind.

Avignon is dark and contemplative; it smells of huge open spaces and dim lights. It's sheer, as if looking through smoke, but long-lasting and has significant sillage. In the drydown, an herbal chamomile and a gentle hint of vanilla soften the austere Gothic outlines of the perfume.

I find Avignon very meditative and comforting to wear. It clings to the fur collar of my coat, and when I smell it I imagine flickering candles in stone cathedrals and the sound of prayer. This is my scent for Christmas eve.

House: Comme des Garçons
Nose: Mark Buxton
Notes: Chamomile, Cistus, elemi, Myrrhe, Incense, Patchouli, Vanilla, patchouli, palisander, ambrette seeds

Please visit all these other blogs during We Three Kings week:

Photo: Notre-Dame des Doms d'Avignon
Three Kings Icon ©2010 Megan Ruisch

Sunday, December 19, 2010

We Three Kings: Frederic Malle - Bigarade Concentreé

Gold I bring to Crown Him again
Born a king on Bethlehem's plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.
Welcome to We Three Kings week. This week, I and nine other bloggers (see list below) will each be reviewing three perfumes, to represent the three gifts of the magi: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The first up for me is gold, the gift that symbolized kingship on earth.

Gold is the colour of Christmas for me. Gold decorations are on my tree, gold paper and bows wrap my gifts, and golden candlelight fills the apartment in the evenings.  When I was a child, my sister and I would always receive a golden navel orange in the toe of our stockings. The smell of orange peel brings back memories for me of Christmas mornings.

Nothing captures the glorious, bright golden smell of orange peel better than Frederic Malle's Bigarade Concentrée. Based on a bitter orange essence developed specially for Jean-Claude Ellena, Bigarade Concentrée reminds me most of the smell of clementines. Every year I like to get a little wooden box of these Moroccan delicacies in December and the opening of Bigarade Concentrée smells exactly like peeling one of these little jewels.

As it warms up on the skin the intense bitter orange of Bigarade Concentrée becomes more sheer and floral with just a touch of rose, like a rose, orange and gold sunrise. Then another type of gold becomes noticeable, a beautiful sweet, golden hay note. Hay is like liquid summer sunshine; it's sweet and grassy and works really well with the orange and rose. A light dry cedar provides a base that compliments but never overpowers the other notes.

Bigarade Concentrée was a pleasant surprise for me. I wasn't expecting to fall in love with a bitter orange perfume, especially in winter, when I usually drift towards spices, incenses or warm ambers. Orange seems to me like it would be a summer scent. But after trying Bigarade Concentrée on a window-sniffing lunch break, I knew by the end of the day that I had to own a full bottle. From a deceptively simple list of notes, Jean-Claude Ellena created a golden treasure that I will wear year round.

House: Frederic Malle
Nose: Jean-Claude Ellena
Notes: bitter orange, rose, hay, cedar

Photo: Paul.Carroll
Three Kings Icon ©2010 Megan Ruisch

Please visit all these other blogs during We Three Kings week:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Coming Next Week- We Three Kings

We Three Kings

This Christmas I'm doing a special blogging project with nine other bloggers. We're calling it  "We Three Kings." Next week, from December 19 to 25, each of us will be reviewing three perfumes, one for Gold, one for Frankincense and one for Myrrh.

I love Christmas time, and I've always loved the story of the three wise men. It intrigues me that the gifts they brought to the baby Jesus contained two incenses. I love the idea that these gifts from the orient, considered precious enough to be fit for a King, can still be enjoyed today, 2010 years later, in perfume. It gives us a connection to the past and to Christmas that we can smell.  I'm happy that so many of the wonderful "perfume nerds" that I've met during my short time blogging agreed to join us in this celebration. Merry Christmas to all.

Please visit all these other blogs during We Three Kings week:

Three Kings Icon ©2010 Megan Ruisch

Monday, December 13, 2010

Caron - Nuit de Noel

Christmas in a bottle
Mistletoe hung from the gas brackets in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts and bottled beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires; and the high-heaped fire spat, all ready for the chestnuts and the mulling pokers. - A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
It's the time of year when I get nostalgic. I play all the traditional carols on a continuous loop and sing all the words. I pull out the neglected cookie sheets and bake shortbread from the old family recipe. I long for snow. This year, I think I've added a new tradition to my list, wearing Nuit de Noel.

Legend has it that Nuit de Noel was created by Ernest Daltroff for his lover, who loved Christmas Eve. I love an old-fashioned Christmas too. My Christmas must have candles, wine, family, and the smell of rich food cooking. Nuts and oranges and crackers and chocolate should be on the table. There must be a fresh tree with every decoration saved from my childhood miraculously finding a branch to cling to. Children and dogs should run a little wild. A real fire should be poked occasionally and new logs added. It's better if it snows, even if I have to drive to and from two sets of parents homes through the storm. Everything should sparkle, or glow or shine.

A woody floral with gentle spices and a warm amber finish, Nuit de Noel has everything I want; it's old-fashioned in the best way. It opens a little fruity and a little powdery, like Sheherazade. Then, it warms up with gentle spices. There is a classic, floral heart with rose, jasmine, and ylang-ylang, that seems dry somehow, maybe because of the oak moss. (I'm testing a vintage sample, so yay for oak moss!) The heart also has a beautiful smoky sandalwood. Under everything is a buttery, cozy, amber.

Nuit de Noel is like a beautifully set Christmas table. Everything in it is complex but well-blended and the notes are warm and jewel-toned. Nuit de Noel is to Christmas what Like This is to the fall. It's not a perfume of cold snow and pine trees, but one of soft blankets, candles, gingerbread houses, fireplaces and Christmas puddings.

House: Caron
Nose: Ernest Daltroff
Notes: Top notes are ylang-ylang, tincture of rose and jasmine; middle notes are sandalwood and oak moss; base notes are musk and amber.

Photo: Laenulfean

Friday, December 10, 2010

Jean Desprez - Sheherazade

Secret treasure

I have a secret. It's a store, a wonderful, impossible store. A hidden gem like something right out of  a fairy tale, where treasures you've only read about sit on shelves in glorious disarray, higglety-pigglety, the rare, the mundane, the outright discontinued, vintage and reformulated, all the perfume of my dreams. I'll share the address with you some day, but for now, I'll tell you about one of the samples I found there: the discontinued Sheherazade, by Jean Desprez.

Sheherazade, the woman, was a clever Persian queen and the storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights. Sheherazade, the perfume, is a sweet, powdery oriental with a woody, base. It reminds me a bit of Caron's Bain de Champagne, but darker and more complicated. The opening is like powdered sugar with a dark bitter note that I think might be the rosewood? I could have sworn there was leather in there, but the only notes I could find, at The Perfumed Court, don't mention any.

The powdery opening warms into a spiced fruit in the heart, with some rosy carnation and dry, rooty orris. The base notes continue the sweet, woody theme of the opening with vanilla, sandalwood and resins.  Sheherazade is an interesting contrast of light and dark, sweet and bitter, floral and woods. There's enough here to keep me interested, maybe even for 1,001 nights.

Sheherazade is now on my list of perfumes to buy when I get back to my secret store. It's a bit sweeter than my normal, but I like that it's deep, resiny and woody, complicated, and just different from the modern perfumes I own.  Hopefully my magical store will still be there when I have a chance to return, and won't have vanished like a mirage in the desert.

House: Jean Desprez
Nose: ?
Notes: (From The Perfumed Court) Top notes of Aldehydic, Bergamont, and Rosewood Middle notes of Rose, Carnation, Jasmin, Ylang Ylang, Orris, and Cassia. Base notes of with notes of.... Vanilla, Sandalwood, Benzoin and Opoponax .

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sisley - Eau de Campagne

A day in the garden

I've recently fallen in love with green notes in perfume, and Eau de Campagne is a verdant wonder. Created by the famous Jean-Claude Ellena, Eau de Campagne has his sheer, luminous style. It seems lit from within by a green light.

After a bright citrus opening, Eau de Campagne smells of tomato stems, grass, and fresh cut herbs, like basil. The florals serve to lift the green notes and make them sing. The patchouli and vetiver add a hint of earth to the drydown. Even though there is oakmoss in the base notes, this isn't a dry green chypre. It's too leafy and alive for that.

Eau de Campagne is an afternoon spent in your garden on a sunny day. It would make an excellent gift for any gardener, or outdoorsy man or woman. The shower gel and body lotion are great as well.

House: Sisley
Nose: Jean-Claude Ellena
Notes: bergamot, lemon, galbanum, tomato leaves, jasmine, lily of the valley, pelargonium, musk, patchouli, vetiver, oakmoss, plum and basil

Photo: quinn.anya

Friday, December 3, 2010

Amouage - Memoir Woman

A balance of masculine and feminine

In my limited, pop-culture understanding, the concept of Yin and Yang is about the balance of male and female aspects. In perfume marketing, that's usually a no-no. Perfumes are divided between those for men and those for women and SA's will die of shock if you wander between the two counters. But perfume lovers know that, just as pink looks great on men and women look hot in tuxedos, perfume notes may seem masculine or feminine, but really, who cares? Crossing that line is not only fun, it should be encouraged.

That's why I find it odd when perfume houses release "Man" and "Woman" perfumes. Maybe they think that people will feel more comfortable buying a gender specific perfume. Maybe they're right. But, although I haven't smelled Amouage Memoir Man, I can tell you that Memoir Woman is not a feminine scent. In fact, it's a blend of masculine and feminine notes. It's an intricate dance of a perfume.

Memoir woman starts with a rather bracing wormwood note, combined with cardamom and pepper and clove. It's sort of medicinal and spicy and this is the point at which it seems most masculine to me and reminds me a bit of Mechant Loup by L'Artisan Parfumeur. Then it softens and becomes more of a comforting, spicy scent, like Like This by Etat Libre d'Orange. At this point it's perfectly unisex.

In the heart, jasmine and rose bloom underneath a trellis of wood. This is the most feminine part of Memoir Woman. The transition is a little surprising, just when I thought I had a spicy masculine scent, now I have a woody floral. But the story isn't over yet.

My favourite part happens about 12 hours after application, in the dry down, when Memoir woman becomes an old-fashioned leather chypre. Smooth, musky leather and lovely oakmoss are wrapped in a creamy, resiny labdanum. This part is either old-school feminine or unisex, depending on how you feel about perfumes like Bandit. I can't keep my nose away from my wrist once it gets to this point.

Memoir woman is a complicated, changeable perfume and one of the best Amouage scents I have tried.

House: Amouage
Nose:  Daniel Maurel and Dorothée Piot
Notes: Top notes: cardamom, mandarin orange, pink pepper and wormwood; middle notes: clove, incense, pepper, woodsy notes, jasmine, rose and white flowers; base notes: musk, french labdanum, oak moss, styrax and leather.

Photo: innpictime

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Perfume Casualties

When bad things happen to good perfume

Last summer I was in a car accident. No one was hurt, thank goodness. But I did lose something.

It was a chilly, rainy day, and I was driving north on my way to spend the last weekend of the summer at a friend's cottage. I chose Annick Goutal Musc Nomade as my perfume for the weekend. It has a comforting, cuddly feel to it, that I knew would go well with sweaters and flannel shirts. Plus it's light, and wouldn't overpower my hosts in a small cabin. I remember, I was even thinking about it as I packed for the trip, loving the way it was wafting discretely from my décolletage.  And then, boom.

In the aftermath of standing in the downpour, exchanging information and the sick feeling of adrenaline, I forgot entirely about the perfume, of course. But now, when I pull it out to wear and I sniff, I just... can't. I can't wear it anymore.

I have always avoided wearing perfume when I am sick, or when something upsetting is happening, like visiting a sick relative, because I feared just this sort of association. But I couldn't foresee the accident. I'm still hoping that the bad feelings will wear off with time and I'll be able to wear this perfume again.

How about you? Have you ever had a perfume you loved become associated with bad things, and had trouble wearing it again?

Photo: Gabriela Camerotti

Monday, November 29, 2010

Comme des Garçons - 2 Man

A warm winter fantasy.

Two line perfume review: Comme des Garçons 2 Man smells like a man building a fire, in his log cabin, in a pine forest, in the winter. It's deeply sexy.

House: Comme des Garçons
Nose: Mark Buxton
Notes: Top notes are aldehydes, nutmeg and caraway; middle notes are orris, vetiver and saffron; base notes are leather, incense, note dima and mahogany.

Photo: Espen Clem

Friday, November 26, 2010

Estee Lauder - Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia

Glorious gardenia

On a whim the other day, I bought a bottle of Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia. It was on sale at Winners. Sometimes I think this means that the old stock is being dumped because a reformulation is coming out. Or it could just be old gift boxes (it was packaged in a gold box with the body creme) are being cleared out to make way for the new Christmas stock. I bought it unsniffed because I remembered reading that it is one of the great gardenias perfumes, and a true gardenia is hard to find. They weren't wrong; Tuberose Gardenia is an astounding, rich, and life-like gardenia.

Gardenias are the smell of fantasy. White, creamy and thick as birthday cake frosting, the opulent smell of gardenia makes me imagine shimmering pale silk and midnight trysts in southern gardens. Tuberose Gardenia smells the most like real gardenia of anything I've ever smelled that's not on an actual bush.

It starts with green notes like leaves and a little wood to add to the illusion of a living flower. The heady gardenia is paired with tuberose - there is a touch of wintergreen in the opening notes and I can just taste a hint of bubblegum sweetness later. As the perfume drys down, I smell much more jasmine, with its distinctive gasoline tang.  There's also a little indolic orange blossom and some cool lily in the white floral bouquet, but gardenia is the star.

Tuberose Gardenia is a compliment getter. It has significant sillage - just 1 little spray on my wrist and men passing me in the hall turned to tell me I smelled great. It also lasts straight through to the next morning. It's a perfume for a woman, not a little girl. I wouldn't wear this to hide in a crowd, or go to the pub, but I will wear it when I want to feel like the most beautiful woman in the world.

House: Estee Lauder
Nose: Aerin Lauder
Notes: neroli, lilac, rosewood, tuberose, gardenia, orange flower, jasmine, white lily, carnation and vanilla

Photo: vigilant20

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Sensory Questionnaire

Memory lane

Glass Petal Smoke has created a sensory questionnaire to get us thinking about our sense of smell. So here's my attempt to describe that most personal, ephemeral, and emotional sense.

Sensory Questionnaire

1. What does your sense of smell mean to you?

It didn't used to mean anything at all. I never really thought about my sense of smell until a few years ago, when an interest in perfume began. It was then that I began to realize that it gave me so much pleasure. The more things I smelled, the more I could smell, as if the act of concentrating on deciphering a particular perfume was somehow educating my nose. A year later, I could return to a perfume I had dismissed as too harsh or too strange, and smelling it again find that a landscape or a story or a painting now opened in my mind.

Now my sense of smell is entertainment and a joy. It's the spice in my day, the salt on the potato chips of my life.

2. What are some of your strongest scent memories?

Christmas means the smell of Christmas tree lot: snow, fir and pine trees, fresh cut wood. Car exhaust. Hot chocolate steam filtered through damp wool. Icicles have a smell, like pale blue sunlight.

The summer smells of wet streams and green moss and the little orange flowers that grew in the damp places in the woods.

The smell of shed behind my grandmother's old garage; old wood, mildew, the oil on gardening shears, mothballs and old silk crinolines.

3. What are some of your favorite smells (things in nature, cooking &/or your

Wood smoke in the air on a chilly fall night. Pine sap. Fresh lilacs. Pipe tobacco. The smell of baking bread when the wind is blowing the right direction in my neighbourhood.

4. Do you have any favorite smells that are considered strange?

The smell of hot, sun-baked dust and and grass and weeds by the side of a road (it smells like a cicada drone). The smell of my dog's temples.

5. Describe one or more of your favorite cooking smells.

Red meat grilling. Fresh basil.

6. What smells do you most dislike?

Vomit. Olives. Head shop incense.

7. What smell did you first dislike, but learned to love?

Scotch. The bitter green of galbanum.

8. What mundane smells inspire you?

The smell of sawdust. The smell of rain on hot pavement. The smell of fall: smoke, dry leaves and apples.

9. What scent never fails to take you back in time and why?

The smell of grass and clover take me back to being 8 years-old and roaming like feral children, between the hours of 8am and 6pm every Saturday, in the fields and woodlots behind my subdivision.

The smell of a hay is always the barn loft where we were allowed to play with the kittens that one summer and the smell of the ponies that brought us there still on my clothes.

The smell of dry corn fields and fallen leaves in September combined with Obsession perfume will always be the smell of illicit excitement.

All church basements smell the same. A quiet contemplative smell of old wood, old paper, old people, coffee and Peak Freen cookies.

10. What scents do you associate with memories of loved ones?

My mother smells of Diorissimo. My father smells of Irish Spring soap and Old Spice. My husband smells of coconut oil castile soap and whatever I'm wearing.

11. What fragrance(s) remind you of growing up?

Hot vinyl. Kraft Dinner. Cut grass. Playdoh. Pink erasers. Lily of the valley. Mr. Bubble.

12. What fragrance(s) remind you of the places you visited on vacation?

Lime and coconut and rum remind me of the Caribbean. Rose water and anise remind me of Turkey. Cedar reminds me of the cottage. Tiare flowers remind me of Bora Bora.

13. Describe a piece of sensory literature that is very magical for you.

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary, and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the Poconos, when wild blueberry bushes teemed with succulent fruit and the opposite sex was as mysterious as space travel; another, hours of passion on a moonlit beach in Florida, while the night-blooming cereus drenched the air with thick curds of perfume and huge sphinx moths visited the cereus in a loud purr of wings; a third, a family dinner of pot roast, noodle pudding and sweet potatoes, during a myrtle-mad August in a mid-western town, when both of one's parents were alive. Smells detonate softly in our memories like poignant land mines, hidden under the weedy mass of many years and experience. Hit a trip wire of smell, and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth. - Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

Photo: retro woods by carolune 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Window Sniffing - Meetup and Sniffa at Noor

Something old, something new, something borrowed...

I spent a lovely afternoon yesterday, at the perfume meetup at niche boutique Noor.  Thanks the Dan, who organized the whole thing, I finally met some other GTA scent-heads. I brought my samples, in all  their obsessively organized glory, and I even traded for a few new ones. The owners, Fred and Nahla, provided coffee and cookies, and the chance to sniff a few new things. As well as my favourites in L'Artisan, Diptyque, Comme des Garcons, Penhaligon's , Eau d'Italie and Delrae, Noor is now carrying Heeley and Costes and some amazing scented candles. I even got to sniff a couple of things that the store is not carrying... yet.

Here's what I remember best from Noor's secret stock of bottles that aren't for sale:

Robert Piguet Bandit: not as good as my vintage bottle of Bandit, but still a great perfume.
Robert Piguet Visa: too sweet for me.
Robert Piguet Futur: nice bitter-green opening, but the heart has something weird going on, like Secretions Magnifique weird. I want to try this again, it's complicated.
Robert Piguet Cravache: a nice anise, like sniffing sambucca.
Vero Profumo Rubj (extrait): really lovely floral with a ruby red grapefruit top note.
Vero Profumo Onda (extrait): gorgeous tobacco. Just the tiniest dab lasted all day long.

I also tried the new L'Artisan Traversee du Bosphore and Penhaligon's Sartorial but wasn't really drawn to either one. I might go back another time and pay more attention but there is just so much to smell.

I picked up a full bottle of Commes des Garcons Hinoki at last. I've been mooning over that perfume for more than a year and now it's cedar sauna with incense goodness is all mine. And I grabbed a sample of Diptyque Olene because I fell for the sweet jasmine/honeysuckle note, even though it's not seasonal. It's a very pretty spring scent, which is why I chose the painting above. That's also kind of what we looked like, all milling about smelling different things, the air fragrant with flowers.

I have something special planned for the week before Christmas, so it's time to start thinking about some gifts from the Orient... stay tuned.

Painting: Sandro Botticelli. Primavera c. 1482. Tempera on wood panel, 6'8" x 10'4 " (2.03 x 3.15 m). Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Roja Dove - Diaghilev

Glamour is not dead
As part of their exhibit to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Ballets Russe, The Victoria and Albert Museum collaborated with perfumer Roja Dove to create a new fragrance.

The Ballets Russe

In the early 20th century, an amazing confluence of art, dance, music and fashion was happening in Paris. At the centre of the this artistic playground was the influential company, the Ballets Russe and its founder, the Russian impresario, Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929). Under Diaghilev, the Ballets Russes collaborated with choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky and composer Igor Stravinsky. Artists who designed sets included Braque, Picasso, Matisse, Miro, de Chirico, Dali, and Utrillo. Coco Chanel herself designed costumes for four productions. The costumes and artwork (like the picture, right) of artistic director Léon Bakst, with their bright colours and swirling orientalism, had a great influence on fashion and design.

The Chypre

To celebrate this influential person, and the golden era of the Ballets Russe, Dove chose to create a chypre. Chypres were popular at the time and include some of the greats, like Coty Chypre and Caron Tabac Blond and legend has it that Serge Diaghilev used to spray his curtains with Guerlain Mitsouko.

Diaghilev, the perfume, is a true chypre, not a perfume that skips the oakmoss, adds patchouli and calls itself a "modern chypre." There is an uplifting citrus opening, a lush floral heart, and a warm, earthy base with oakmoss. But within this classic form, Dove has created a modern fragrance with transparency and complexity, like layers of chiffon silk.

What does it smell like?

Diaghilev starts with a sheer lemon-orange note that is slightly smoky. I always think that I haven't sprayed enough at this point; the old-fashioned bulb atomizer delivers such a fine mist. But as the perfume sits on my skin it seems to get stronger. Once the heart notes arrive it has significant sillage. And what a waft! Diaghilev is a sex bomb. Rowrrr. There's nothing animalic listed in the notes, but Diaghilev is a very, very naughty girl. It's a full and ripe and bed-headed in rumpled sheets kind of naughty. Diaghilev is a woman whose chic updo is a mess and her silk gown lies where it dropped on the floor last night.

The hussy heart of this perfume smells like some of the great vintage perfumes but done in a modern way. It's a "modern vintage" like The Party in Manhattan. The bottle features a figure by Baskt, Narcisse. Maybe that is why I keep thinking of narcissus when I smell Diaghilev, but it's not listed in the notes. There's rose and jasmine, a classic combo, and maybe baked peaches with spice, just a hint.  The base is sweet and dark and dirty and, of course, it has the necessary touch of oakmoss, without which it would not be a chypre.

I love Diaghilev. It was released by the V&A Museum in a limited edition, only 1,000 bottles, although I hear rumours they may make more. I bought it unsniffed, the first time I've ever done that, because I'd heard good things about it. I'd heard it was a chypre with classical bone structure and I knew that Roja Dove is a perfume expert and a connoisseur of the Grand Old Dame perfumes.

I'm not disappointed. Diaghilev is one of the few perfumes I wear that I want others to smell. You know how it is; I test so many different perfumes that most of the time I just want to keep my sillage under the radar. But with Diaghilev, well, let them smell the gorgeousness that is me.

House: Roja Dove for the Victoria and Albert Museum
Nose: Roja Dove
Notes: bergamot, amalfi lemon and orange; middle notes are jasmine and rose; base notes are vetyver, iris, patchouli, oak moss and vanilla

P.S. In my typical backwards fashion, I didn't read Roja Dove's beautiful reference book, the Essence of Perfume, before writing this. But I have a copy now and I'm looking forward to it. I may write a book review.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Video: Roja Dove interview

Roja Dove discusses perfume types and luxury. So what are you, an Oriental, a Chypre, or a Floral?

Tomorrow, my review of Roja Dove's new perfume!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Video: Beyoncé Banned in Britain

Beyoncé's commercial for her latest perfume, Heat, has been banned on British TV channels before 7:30pm because it has been deemed "too sexually provocative" to be seen by young children.

I think she just looks kinda oily. But I like the fire effect of the wall. Beyoncé's advertising team must be over the moon with happiness about the free press.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Perfume in the News: Le Labo debuts in Canada

From Saturday's Globe and Mail, Holiday shopping: Explore Toronto's neighbourhood boutiques:

Le Labo fragrances, $132 for 50 ml
For frequent fliers who buy perfume only duty-free, this New York line will take you on an olfactory adventure. Intoxicating formulations aside, the scents are composed and labelled by a specialist while you wait. Le Labo made its debut in Canada last week and is exclusive to 6, a beachy-chic boutique. 6 Roxborough Ave.; 416-960-8080;

When I get a chance to check it out, I'll give you a report.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Toronto Scent-Head Meetup

There's meetup sniffa n' swap this Saturday for all GTA fumies, at Noor. Check out Basenotes for the details.

I have several bottles that I bought hastily and now I think I will never wear. Like L'Artisan Nuit de Tubereuse, Havana Vanille and L'Eau de Navigateur. See a trend here? L'Artisan, it's not you, it's me. They're all interesting perfumes in their own ways, but... I'm just bored with them, you know? So, I think it's time we saw other people.  I'm thinking of bringing them along to see if anyone wants to swap. It may be a longshot, but why not? Or maybe someone will be interested in swapping decants.

In case anyone wants to trade decants, I'm going to bring along my full bottle list, my mini list and my samples list. I spent all weekend cataloging. I've never done a decant, but I have supplies being delivered. I'm hoping that swapping decants will cut down on those spur of the moment purchases that I later regret.

Heck, maybe I'll bring all my samples too. I'm inordinately proud of the way I've cataloged and organized them. I'll just need a better box to transport them in.

As for purchasing, don't worry retailers, I'm still your best friend. I have my eye on a lovely little bottle of Hinoki.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Penhaligon's - Elixer

A day at the spa

Created in 2008 by the talented Olivia Giacobetti, Elixer is a modern interpretation of the Penhaligon's classic Hammam Bouquet which was composed by William Penhaligon in 1872. While Hammam Bouquet was inspired by the smell of Turkish baths, the modern Elixer reminds me of a particular spa.

Near where I live is a water spa. Finished in warm wood and low, ochre-coloured lighting, it's a wonderful relaxing place to spend a couple of hours, sitting under waterfalls, meditating in the sauna, breathing the eucalyptus steam in the steam room, and generally wallowing in sybaritic pleasure. While lounging on poolside couches to catch your breath, kind women will bring you steaming cups of chai tea.

Elixer captures the experience of going to that spa perfectly. A warm, dry combination of woods, particularly cedar, and incense remind me of a sauna in much the same way as Hinoki does. A touch of eucalyptus is like inhaling the vapour in the steam room. The spices, cinnamon, mace and cardamom, along with a touch of vanilla, remind me of the chai tea. Although it's unlikely that Giacobetti has been to my spa, Elixer is an uncanny recreation of that place. Brava.

House: Penhaligon's
Nose: Olivia Giacobetti
Head Notes: Eucalyptus, Cardamom, Orange Blossom Absolute and White Cedar
Heart Notes: Red Turkish Rose Absolute, Egyptian Jasmine Absolute, Cinnamon Leaves, Mace and Rosewood
Base Notes: Benzoin, Tonka beans, Vanilla, Incense, Red Sandalwood and Guaicum Wood

Photo: Body Blitz

Full disclosure: I won my bottle of Elixer in a contest on Penhaligon's Facebook page.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lest We Forget

Remembrance Day occurs in Canada each November 11. It is a day of national commemoration for the more than 100,000 Canadians who have died in military service.

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Window Sniffing: Holt Renfew, Frederic Malle Counter

OMG, they have the booth!

So I spent my lunch hour monopolizing the time of the very helpful SA, Yonge, at the Frederic Malle counter in Holt's. What a fantastic substitute for food! My nose is full.

I was so excited to see that they have "the booth." It looks like a cross between an English red telephone booth and a space-age teleport tube. Perfume is sprayed into the booth, then you can enter or just stick your head in to experience the scent more fully than you can on a card. It's very effective and it saved me from covering my arms in tests and suffocating my coworkers later.

I also left with a couple of samples for more in-depth sniffing. I will do full reviews of the fragrances later, but I thought I would jot down my first impressions of some of these gems, before the memory fades.

Geranium Pour Monsieur: The first spritz made me laugh; mint and geranium! But I kept coming back to the card again and again. It is so interesting and strangely addictive. I don't know how I would wear it but I like it. Maybe the new Portrait of a Lady (which was not available yet) will give me a version I could love.

Carnal Flower: A wedding scent; this is a big white bouquet. It's more wearable than I thought it would be, though. I'm somewhat tuberose shy, but I liked this combination with lily, jasmine and orange blossoms. It's heady and thick and waxy white petals and completely gorgeous. Yonge tells me that women tell him they get tons of compliments in this one. I can believe it.

Le Parfum de Therese: This one I could see buying for myself. It's a rich progression from fruit and spices to flowers to an earthy leather base. Complicated and full-bodied. And the creator, Edmond Roudnitska, also did one of my favourites, Rochas Femme.

Cologne Bigarade: Lovely oranges! If it was summertime I would be dousing myself in this.

I sniffed everything at the counter, but those are the ones that stood out for me.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Violet week: CB I Hate Perfume - Violet Empire

It's all about the leaves

It's Violet Week! This is my last post in a little joint blogging with two other perfumistas. Check out the violet perfume reviews at Muse in Wooden Shoes and Redolent of Spices.

The Violet

What are we really smelling when we smell violets? The sweet scent is due to molecules called ionones, which were first separated from the violet flower in 1863. Since then, almost all violet perfume are created with synthetic ionones, making their manufacture much less expensive than using a natural oil, if you could even find one. Christopher Brosius couldn't find that natural oil, so he created an accord for Violet Empire that he called Violet Empress, to mimic the smell of live violets, and the way their shy perfume seems to fade and reappear over time.

The Inspiration

Brosius was inspired to create Violet Empire by the book A Natural History of The Senses, and its description of violets as being the favourite scent of Empress Josephine de Beauharnais, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. But recently Brosius blogged that he changed his mind about the proper time period for Violet Empire. He now feels that it's not so much an early 19th century smell as an ancient Minoan one. He was reading a book about Crete and the Minotaur when he created it.

What does it smell like?

The inspiration makes sense to me, because Violet Empire isn't really about the violets, it's all about the leaves. While violet flowers may not be used in perfumery anymore, violet leaves most certainly are. They have a spicy green smell that is very popular, especially in masculines

Violet Empire starts with a brilliant green. It smells like mint and grass and pine needles. This green veil is created with the spicy violet leaves and elemi, a tree resin with a minty-pine scent. After a few minutes the green is joined by soft, smooth woods. It's a beautiful, evocative scent - both fresh and comforting. It's also very unisex. The violets peep out now and again around the green woods, but they are never overly sweet or fruity, as in other violet perfumes. I smell them most after a few hours, when they are just a definite "purple" presence after the greens have faded.

I still wonder what Brosius was getting at when he said that Violet empire was about ancient Crete. Was the Minotaur misunderstood? Was he really a poor creature, trapped in a labyrinth by a king, dreaming of green grass, shady trees and tiny flowers?

House: CB I Hate Perfume
Nose: Christopher Brosius
Notes: Violet, Elemi, Violet Leaf Absolute, Rosewood, Mahogany, and Russian Leather.

Photo: violets, AC'63
Photo: Crouching Minotaur, Nicola Hicks

P.S. For all you Torontonians, you can find Violet Empire and other cool CB I Hate Perfume scents like I Am A Dandelion and Winter of 1972 at the darling Ewanika. Nope, they're not paying me anything to mention them, I just think the store is really cool and Trish Ewanika was a doll when I went in there and spent an hour sniffing the perfumes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Violet Week: Creed - Love in Black

A Spring walk in the wet woods

It's Violet Week! This week I'm doing a little joint blogging with two other perfumistas. We will each be reviewing three violet perfumes: a "high-end" expensive violet, a less expensive, medium-range violet, and a "low-end" violet perfume. Check out Muse in Wooden Shoes and Redolent of Spices this week for their reviews.

I chose Creed Love in Black as my "high end" violet perfume for the Violet Week reviews.

About Creed

Creed is a family-owned luxury brand, founded in 1760. The head perfumers are Oliver Creed and his son Erwin Creed. Historically, Creed has had many famous clients. Fleurissimo was commissioned by Prince Rainer III as a wedding present for Grace Kelly and Green Irish Tweed has reportedly been worn by Robert Redford and Richard Gere. Creed perfumes are expensive and use high quality natural materials and traditional infusion techniques. They are generally very linear, meaning they don't change much from first spray to far dry down.

About Love in Black

Released on the 40th anniversary of her marriage to a Greek shipping tycoon, Love in Black is a tribute to the most famous former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The colour black was chosen to represent her dark hair, black sunglasses, and chic black dresses. The bottle is created with black sand from Greece. The notes include cedar from Virginia, where she rode horses, and Greek wildflowers.

It takes a bigger stretch of the imagination to associate some of the other notes in Love in Black with Mrs. Onassis. Violet from Italy is noted only because she "visited" there, and iris from Florence because it was a "favorite city." Blackcurrent from France is used because that's where "her ancestors were born."

What does it smell like?

Love in Black is a binary fragrance for me. I smell two very different things at the same time: a sweet, bright violet note and dark woody cedar note. It's a bit like a a high note and a low note played at simultaneously and loudly. From arms length, throughout the day, I mostly smell the cedar and a rooty iris. If I smell my wrist up close, I can smell the violets and roses and other florals.

It's as if I am walking in a dark wet forest on a rainy spring day. I take a break to sit down on an old cedar stump and in the black earth beneath my feet I notice there are tiny purple violets beginning to bloom.

However, what other people smell on me is different. From the comments I have gotten, my sillage is apparently all sweet and fruity violets. The black current must be combining with the florals to leave a sweet wake behind me.

As I mentioned above, Love in Black is linear - what you smell when you first spray it on is what you'll smell hours later. It has good sillage and lasting power. It's a bit weird and not subtle, but I like Love in Black, especially on a rainy day.

House: Creed
Nose: Olivier Creed and Erwin Creed
Notes: violet, jasmine, cedar from Virginia, iris, cloves, musk, black currant and rose.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Violet Week: Balmain - Jolie Madame

Why Grandma, what big violets you have!
"Jolie Madame is a homage to woman in all the splendour of her charm, her experience, her appetite for life. I created Jolie Madame for a woman whose sense of adventure allowed her to follow her desires to their ultimate conclusion; to accede, in all her sensuality, to freedom of choice and a sense of being in control of every situation. For women whose uncompromising nature and taste for discovery and risk-taking gives them a love of adventure. Jolie Madame is the fragrance of adventure."  - Pierre Balmain
Jolie Madame was created in 1953 by the famous perfumer Germaine Cellier, who also created my beloved Bandit. Like Bandit, Jolie madame is a bold leather chypre, but where Bandit is green galbanum, leather and naughtiness, Jolie Madame is green violets, leather and smooth sophistication.

Jolie Madame is one of those classic perfumes that perfumistas rave about in vintage formula and grieve the recent re-formulations. Well, I've never smelled the vintage, but however wonderful it may have been, I think the current formulation is terrific. Violet perfumes aren't as popular now as they once were, and leather chypres are rare as well.  I bought my bottle of EdT this year at a discount, which I fervently hope is not a sign that Balmain is planning to discontinue it or change it too much.

On first spray, I smell a combination of aldehydes, violets and a sachet of dried rose petals, that has me thinking "Hello, Grandma." The opening of Jolie Madame has that old-fashioned perfumey smell that no doubt will make many think "old lady perfume." But hang on, because Grandma has a few surprises up her perfectly tailored sleeve.

The heart of Jolie Madame is the smoothest, buttery suede like the inside of a leather pocketbook that held makeup and violet pastilles. The leather creeps in like a shadow over the violets. Around the edges of the leather I can still smell the grassy, green violets, but I also smell a bouquet of rose, jasmine, iris and tuberose. The leather is slightly smoky, maybe Grandma had some cigarettes in that pocketbook as well.

The far dry down is just as lovely, the cedar, moss, vetiver and violet leaf leave a woody, earthy, mossy, slightly grassy smell like the best fairytale forest, dotted with violets. To me, Jolie Madame is anything but "old lady." It makes me feel sophisticated, powerful and slightly wicked, as leather perfumes do. Jolie Madame isn't actually Grandma at all, she's the Big Bad Wolf.

House: Balmain
Nose: Germaine Cellier
Head notes
: Petitgrain, Cloves, Neroli
Heart notes: Jasmine absolute, Orange blossom, Violet leaves, Tuberose absolute, Lilac
Base notes: Oakmoss, Patchouli essence, Tobacco, Cedarwood

It's Violet Week! Check out the violet reviews at Muse In Wooden Shoes and Redolent of Spices.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Opus Oils - Afraid of the Dark Collection

Lady Death, two vampires and a fiend for Halloween

It's that time of year, when glowing jack-o'-lanterns leer on porches, cobwebs and skulls become decorating staples and scary wee beasties creep in the shadows ready to pounce on candy. Don't you love Halloween? In honour of the delightfully dark day, I'm reviewing the Afraid of the Dark collection by Opus Oils.

The Afraid of the Dark collection has four perfume oils, Vamp, Ode de Vampyre, Lady Death and Charlie No. 5. The collection was released in 2009. 


Vamp is meant to be a lush animalic floral in a vintage style, with "smoky" gardenia, orange blossom and tobacco. But Marilyn Monroe vampire never appears. Vamp starts with an interesting smoky note, but I don't really smell the promised gardenia and orange blossom. Instead I get a quiet and, generic white floral for an hour and then nothing. I don't smell the tobacco or vanilla at all. Unfortunately, I do smell coconut quite clearly, which I'm guessing is the coconut oil the perfume is based on. I don't think that it's meant to be a noticeable note.

Notes: Smokey Gardenia, Blond Tobacco, Orange Blossom & Vanilla

Ode de Vampyre

Now this is more like it. I'll admit it, I'm a vampire junkie. Name the movie, TV show or book, I've seen/read them all. So what could be better than a perfume named for my favourite dark and brooding fantasy?

Surprisingly, Ode de Vampyre is a cheerful rosy wood perfume. Loads of cedar and sandalwood combine with a fruity rose in the heart.  I can smell a smidge of honey on the wood in the drydown. This one has good sillage and lasting power.

Notes:  Blood Cedarwood, Saffron, Dark Rose, Orris Root, Sandalwood, Black Agar, Vetiver, Honey & Temple Incense.

Lady Death

Moss covered stones, ethereal night blooming flora, midnight air, sweet anticipation of the last kiss from a ghostly apparition.

I think this is the most unique and interesting of the four perfumes, even if it is the hardest for me to wear. Lady Death features lily, a note I associate with death. But that's perfectly appropriate here. There is also datura, a night-blooming flower with poisonous and hallucinogenic properties. The datura flower attracts ghostly moths at night and is supposed to smell sweet, like jasmine. Lady Death combines lily with this sweet floral and a slightly salty oakmoss. The result is exactly the feeling of funeral bouquets and deadly flowers growing around damp cold stones.

Notes: of Datura, White Musk, Black Lily & Oak Moss

Charlie No. 5

The most controversial of the lot, Charlie No. 5 has apparently been banned from eBay. It must have something to do with its inspiration, the killer Charles Manson. When I originally ordered my oils, the image on the left was a picture of his creepiness.

Do you like amber? If you do, you'll love Charlie No. 5. This perfume is all warm, delicious base notes. The labdanum is woody and balsamic, like a walk through a pine forest, and the patchouli adds a hint of dark earth. The vanilla and amber are smooth and sweet. This is my favourite of the four perfume oils. Despite its infamous inspiration, it's a cuddly comforting scent and  perfect for those chilly dark October nights.

Notes: of Dark Amber, Aged Labdanum, Vanilla, Musk, Vintage Patchouli & Soft Amber

Happy Halloween my fragrant friends!

House: Opus Oils
Nose: Kendra Hart