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