Monday, April 24, 2017

Interview with Perfumer Francis Kurkdjian: Talking About LVMH, New Perfumes and Looking Forward



Neiman Marcus in Fort Worth, Texas, just opened the new and updated store and they've been having a flurry of special events. Recently Francis Kurkdjian, perfumer extraordinaire, came to Neimans to talk about his line and sign bottles. Kurkdjian is such a prolific perfumer that it would take up a whole post just listing the fragrances he has created, and this was before he launched his own company, Maison Francis Kurkdjian Paris in 2009. His first great success was Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male launched in 1995 when he was only 26. He has amassed a large portfolio working for such fragrance houses as Burberry, Elie Saab, Indult, Narcisco Rodriguez; the list goes on and on. He has created one of my favorites of the house MDCI Parfums, Rose de Siwa reviewed here. Maison Francis Kurkdjian Paris has a portfolio of twenty perfumes, and I've reviewed a couple of favorites, Grand Soir and Petit Matin here.

When I set off for Neimans to meet Kurkdjian I explained to my husband who I would be interviewing and made the comparison he was a sort of Sting of the perfume world. I love so many of his scents and am a huge fan. When I arrived at Neimans the message that I wanted an interview had not reached Kurkdjian, but he couldn't have been more gracious about spending fifteen minutes  with me and letting me ask whatever I wanted. He was so easy to talk to and absolutely open. Top on my mind was the recent March announcement of French luxury brand LVMH acquiring a majority stake in Maison Francis Kurdjian, as they continue to expand in niche luxury brand fragrance.

Q: I'm interested in the recent news of the sale of a portion of your company.
A: Yes, we sold a majority of the company and my business partner, who is a co-founder and myself we have the rest of the company and we're still on board . We're still very active....I'm here.
Q: So your role is not really changing?
A; Not at all. It's a move that we would have done, that we would have to do, not maybe this year but within the next four years. There are not that many independent companies anymore and when you live in the retail environment you have to have the power, you have to be backed up by a powerhouse to be capable to get good spots, good point of sales, and at some point to grow. You have a level where you're too big to be small and you're not big enough to be big. And there is an awkward situation where I needed to do something. I believe because we were seeing a very good financial increase, I believe it was the right timing to give away part of the company. To negotiate it is always better if you are strong than if you are weak. We lost the majority but we are on the board. I keep my hands on the creative part. From the front nothing is going to change.
Q: I read in Persolaise blog that you had a really big increase in sales.
A: Yes, in two or three years.
Q: What do you credit that to?
A: Because you need your name to get out. It takes time. We're very young. We'll be only eight years old this fall and it takes time. I believe also that the portfolio is the right size now because we have about 20 perfumes, so you have enough proposal for the customer. If you launch with only two to four scents you might miss many people, because if someone wants vanilla, if someone wants wood; now the portfolio is quite structured. And you need to have a decent retail size so you can become profitable. Also the Baccarat fragrance (Baccarat Rouge 540)  helped a lot. It's very popular; right now it's our best seller. It's always the case when you launch a new perfume, the new perfume always takes over. This is how it works.
Q: Today I'm getting the Grand Soir. It works better on my skin than the Baccarat Rouge.
A: It might  be a bit acidic.on your skin.
Q: It's more of a winter scent for me because Singapore is hot and humid all the time. I was kind of leaning toward the Petit Matin but I really love that one so I think that's going to be it.
A: It's nice, I like that one. I like them all! I've never launched a scent that I don't like. It's hard for me to make the choice.
Q: You're still a perfumer that goes out of house too?
A: I'm releasing a scent from Burberrry in about ten days. I'm releasing something new for Elie Saab. Many things are in the works.
Q: I really like Ellie Saab. It seems like you have a really good feel for orange blossom perfumes, which I love.
A: With orange blossom? It was the brief. The brief for Ellie Saab was not about orange blossom. The brief  was to create a scent that would convey the idea of the Middle East without being woodsy or based on oud, so I thought that orange blossom was a nice twist. I like rose as well. I'm not familiar with jasmine. I put a little bit in some fragrances. I use jasmine as a booster but, I don't know why, I've never tried to create something big around jasmine.
Q: Is there any note or fragrance family that you feel you really have something left you want to say?
A: There are some, the only thing is you have to be careful when you launch them. Some themes are very trendy at some point and you might give the impression that you want to follow the trend. I've been working on  the leather accord for many years now because the first time I worked it was for my cousin, to create for her. Usually the perfume I'm launching has been created before for someone, most of the time. She had a small men's clothing shop in Paris next to mine, nearby the Ritz, and she wanted me to create a mens cologne for her, for the shop. And that leather note has been in her shop for a few years now. She doesn't sell it. She sprays only the clothing and it as if the man has just left the shop. I wanted to redistribute but now there is the big trend on leather. Everybody is launching a leather note so I am delaying it. I'm going to wait two or three years before we launch it. Now I am working on many. I have decided I want to launch a new couple. It's a long time since I have launched two partners.  I have to deliver things by August and I have no idea yet, so I'm trying to find inspiration where I can! I know I want something white but it doesn't mean anything so far. I don't know why I want something white ...
Q: White flowers you mean?
A: No. White something. White ambiance. I have no idea where it's going to lead me. I just know that white could be an option.
Q: So when you're not creating perfumes what do you do for happiness?
A: It a 24/7 life.  I play the piano. I love cooking. I love to host. I'm away very often. Two thirds of my time is out of Paris. Every time I come back to Paris, my home, my first thing is to call my friends, to see who is in town and host a dinner for 10 or 12 people. I love doing that. I go to the opera. I go to the museum. I have a passionate life. I know that I am blessed. That I know. There is not a day that looks alike. I don't feel I'm working, in a way.

There is another five minutes of interview, but it devolved into travel story comparisons and my asking advice for a summer trip to Europe. As I said, Mr. Kurkdjian is extremely easy to talk to!

Two things of personal note: I did get a photo with FK which he graciously posed for. I really try hard to conquer vanity but this photo was so horrendous (me, not him!) it will never see the light of day. And secondly, I really appreciate the time and kindness shown to me and cooperating with my ambush interview. It is so refreshing to meet someone who is such a success in their world but still comes across as gracious, humble, and grateful. Thank you, Francis Kurkdjain, and I can't wait to see what else you have in store for the perfume universe!

Top photo from www.theladylovescouture.com. Thank you to Neiman Marcus for providing this opportunity.

Friday, April 21, 2017

DSH Perfumes Gekkou Hanami


I went into testing DSH Perfumes Gekkou Hanami thinking I already had it figured out. It would be light and ethereal and pink. I was sort of right about the first two. On first application Gekkou Hanami has a moment of watery freshness, then citrus notes bring everything into soft focus. The citrus used is yuzu, a sort of Japanese grapefruit, and this citrus note in Hanami has a very definite Oriental feel to it. Unlike the brightness and zestiness of some citrus notes in perfume, this yuzu has a contained feel like the muted light shining from a Japanese paper lantern. Sake notes also add to this Japanese aura, contributing a very light fruity note as well as the creaminess of the rice used to make the sake.

Now that Hanami has set the stage -- I picture the delicate beauty of geishas gracefully teetering on wooden getas as seen in Japanese woodblock prints -- we begin to smell the florals. Our geishas are transported to a path lined with sakura trees exploding with blossoms,  some of which fall then float in a nearby pond. The opening scent of yuzu has receded and now I smell light watery florals. The watery aspect makes it seem as scent caught on the breeze, airy and floating. In all honesty I've never smelled cherry blossoms, only some of the imitations with their candy pink juice. There was a Jo Malone version a few years ago years ago which failed to move me, and as much as I enjoy some L'Occitane scents, their cherry blossom perfume just smells like pink nothing to me.

Photo from etsy shop JapanLovelyCrafts

Dawn adds a mixture of florals, the dominant notes being sakura blossom and neroli. I think that maybe rosewater and waterlily are the notes giving me the "floating on water" effect which can also be translated as breezy notes. This soft floral is not at all sweet on me and imparts the feel of scent on a spring breeze. The florals hum quietly for quite some time, then eventually base notes of cedar and frankincense provide a soft landing for this gentle scent. The base notes are also very soft and mellow, continuing the air-like quality of Hanami.

On the DSH Perfumes site, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz describes the creation of Gekkou Hanami, which translates as "Sakura Gazing in the Moonlight", in this way.  "Hanami is the Japanese pastime of picnicking below the Sakura cherry trees while in blossom. The act of gazing at the blossoms as they fall like snow is an essential moment of beauty, and death. It is an integral experience for the Japanese culture."

If you are looking for a one note cherry blossom fragrance then you may be surprised by Gekkou Hanami. What I think Dawn has done is encapsulate the entire hanami experience: the sun fading into moonlight, the cherry blossoms scent on the breeze, perhaps a sip of sake, watery florals, and the gentle wood notes from the surrounding forest. Gekkou Hanami is a very pretty and somewhat contemplative scent to welcome spring, and beyond.

Top photo: Sakura Fubuki, Shower of Cherry Blossoms, 1940's woodblock print. My sample was kindly provided by DSH Perfumes.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spring Perfumes Reminiscent of Planting A Garden


I love the smell of cool damp dirt that has been slumbering all winter; digging a shovel in and turning out a dark crumbling lump of rich black soil as if awakening it from a sleep. Preparing the ground, pulling small weeds that may have sprung up, raking up the last of the fallen leaves, all to have a good base to plant seeds, baby plants, and especially my herbs, which I like to get in the ground as soon as the risk of frost has passed. These perfumes listed below in no particular order remind me of this spring ritual and the wonderful smell of dirt, herbs, and green leaves in my early garden, before the flowers have started to bloom.

Herb Man by Dame Perfumery Cologne
Jeffrey Dame prides himself on making colognes and perfumes that are easy to wear and smell great, rather than trying to present the wearer with a challenge. Herb man is the perfect example of this art. It opens with notes of  petit grain, lemon and bergamot which make it sound like a typical citrus cologne but the herbal notes come in rather quickly and let you know this cologne is about herbs, with notes of lavender, sage, and possibly rosemary. The lavender doesn't stand out as much as the sage, but all the notes are a well blended brew. There is a slight dustiness that may be from either the note of geranium or artemisia (wormwood) and to me this gives a slight "in the garden" vibe. I could almost think there is a very mild vetiver note here but perhaps it is the wood notes. I enjoy this scent. It starts out with a zingy rush from the citrus but quickly evolves into warm herbal overtones. It wears clean, slightly green, and not at all boring or common. This is marketed as a men's cologne but is unisex and something I would enjoy wearing. I would call this a casual cologne yet it's polished enough to feel at home in the board room.

Allegria by Rouge Bunny Rouge
Mint so fresh you want to break out the rum for mojitos. Bergamot, sour orange and grapefruit give a tart and crisp opening. Passion fruit adds a tart fruitiness. Intensely bright green notes dance around the citrus notes. Black currant leaf, Basil and Eucalyptus contribute to this green leafy feel. Buchu is a South African plant whose leaves have an intense aroma pungent of peppermint. With mint, eucalyptus and bucha you might think that this is an extreme mint perfume but the overall effect is a fresh and lively green. Other notes include mimosa absolute in the heart, and base notes of cedar, dry amber, moss, musk, hawthorn, and tonka bean. I feel that the cedar, hawthorn and moss are the most identifiable of these and make for an interesting ride.

The brand's own copy describes Allegria: "Fueled by lush greenery, this ecstatic aroma transforms all that was once black and white into vivid color." The perfume does have a feel of vegetation gone wild and there is a bit of sour bitterness hiding in the background that some might find challenging. I thought this made it more interesting and probably like no other perfume in your collection. It is fun and a bit zany, and my first thought was, "the perfumer (Sonia Constant) must have had a lot of fun making this." It's very creative and different and will definitely bring on a mood of "spring is here" or perhaps good to wear in winter when it seems spring may never appear.

Herba Fresca by Guerlain Acqua Allegoria
This perfume advertises itself as "the spirit of fresh cut grass and a note of green tea." This opens very watery than almost immediately fresh sparkling herbs make their way into the picture. A mint note is prominent, and it is spearmint; yes, the varieties smell differently. I grow mint in my garden for my obligatory ice tea, and it is amazing what a different taste and smell each variety of mint has. Spearmint has a bit sweeter note than peppermint and reminds me of the old Wrigley's spearmint and doublemint gum commercials. (Don't worry if this means nothing to you. It just means you're not as old as me.) I admire Herba Fresca for its lively notes and the feeling that you really have trampled through a field of herbs, crushing the mint leaves beneath your feet and releasing their pungent odor. The fragrance was meant to create the feeling of walking in a garden after the rain and the bright, clean freshness does give this impression of freshly watered and washed plant life. I mainly smell the clover and mint, although the green tea may be providing a fairly neutral background note.

This perfume was created in 1999 by perfumers Jean-Paul Guerlain and Mathilde Laurent. It is one of the few Aqua Allegoria perfumes by Guerlain that has managed to stay in fairly constant production, I would assume because of popularity.


Un Jardin Sur Le Toit by Hermes
This was the fourth in Hermes garden-inspired themed perfumes and they kept it close to home, this particular "garden on the roof" being based on the rooftop garden of Hermes headquarters at 24 Rue Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris. Previous additions all had foreign locales: Un Jardin En Mediterrannee (Mediterranean), Un Jardin Sur Le Nil (Egypt), and Un Jardin Apres la Mousson (India).  This 2011 creation by Jean-Claude Ellena keeps it light and simple.

Ellena scupted Un Jardin Sur Le Toit as a fun, light, and lively perfume, uncomplicated and easy to wear. On first application I get a creamy grassy green note. It is light and stays close to the skin. Eventually slightly sweet notes join, meant to represent the apple, pear, and magnolia trees of this secret garden. There are occasional flashes of herbs, rosemary and basil, to represent the green notes of the perfume. I will confess this one is a little light for me in both projection and sillage but I do find it very pretty and perfect for those who enjoy "keeping it close".

Le Jardin Vert by DSH Perfumes
Rich, verdant soil, dark wet and crumbly. Perhaps a little mushroom compost is in there to amp up its organic richness. Tender plant roots, exposed to the soil as you dig your shovel in and turn the dirt to prepare it for the spring garden. The perfume is meant to represent the atmosphere of a garden: the rich soil, plants, and trees, but not flowers. It creates the smell of moss and woods, and uses mineral notes to give an impression of damp and green. To me this perfume smells like that fertile moment of joy and hope when preparing your spring garden after a winter's slumber. It is that feeling of earth, enriched by crumbling leaves and tree bark, ready to welcome fledgling plants and tender seeds. Totally unique, see my more extensive review here

There is only one other perfume I know of that comes close to this feeling of cool dirt in your hands that Le Jardin Vert give and that is Diptyque L'Ombre Dans Le Eau, which I reviewed in last year's five top picks for spring and you can read about here. Are there any perfumes that remind you of a garden in the spring?

Top photo by SusanTuttlePhotography. Other photos, www.rougebunnyrouge.com and www.hermes.com. All samples my own.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Guerlain Mon Guerlain


My first attempt at wearing Guerlain's new introduction, Mon Guerlain Eau de Parfum, was not a success. I don't know if it was the fact that it was the end of a warm day and I needed a shower, but the notes just turned into a sweet generic perfume such as can be found on numerous department store perfume counters produced by less illustrious brands. Fast forward to the next day, I sprayed Mon Guerlain again and this time my reaction was much more favorable. Perfumer Thierry Wasser along with Delphine Jelk have created a perfume featuring notes of lavender and vanilla. Lavender doesn't seem to be used a lot these days and has a reputation with some as being fusty or medicinal. I've always loved lavender; to me it smells fresh and invigorating. The challenge for Guerlain was to introduce lavender in a way that would not put off the masses. In my opinion they achieved this by taking a bow to today's mass market desire for sweet or gourmand perfumes.

As I said above, my first experience with the perfume was too much sugary sweetness, but now I think warm skin and  a warm day amplified this effect. One can't ever discount how skin chemistry can shift and how climate can affect the appropriateness of a scent. I suspect this might be more of a cool weather scent for me as in the heat my skin turned it into a sugar bomb with nary a touch of lavender in sight. That's hard for me to believe as now, on my third wearing of Mon Guerlain on this temperate day the lavender is very much present, although surrounded prettily by vanilla and tonka. The perfume ultimately smells like dainty lavender macarons to my nose.

Guerlain classifies Mon Guerlain as a "fresh oriental." I suppose to someone unexposed to oriental perfumes a case could be made but to me it is just too fresh and too clean to be a true oriental. Orientals tend to make me feel like I'm languishing on colorful Persian carpets with hookah pipes and spicy dishes but this brings more to mind skipping through a field of lavender sprinkling sugar crystals among the stalks. The lavender used in Mon Guerlain is a special breed: Carla lavender, which was also used in 2015's Mon Exclusif and Chanel's Jersey. Many reviewers have commented that they don't even get any lavender and I think this is because it's cushioned by the soft sweeter notes of the vanilla and tonka, along with iris which pairs beautifully with the lavender. At times I smell a dry almond note which could be from the coumarin. There are notes of jasmine to add a sweet floral touch. Wassler has a nice touch with jasmine and created one of my favorite jasmine perfumes for Guerlain, Aqua Allegoria Jasminora, sadly no longer available. A sandalwood note in the drydown adds to the creamy texture and as time wears on the perfume becomes like a blurry white musk.

I'm sure there is a market for those who want a gourmand perfume with the refinement of a Guerlain, which tips to the sweet side but doesn't take it too far . It remains to be seen if the lavender note will be liked or if it will be off-putting to consumers. As for the tie in with Angelina Jolie as spokeswoman, I am indifferent to celebrity ties in with products. I neither like or dislike her; I just don't care and to me the endorsement seems a terrific waste of money. I'm sure that Guerlain has a marketing team a whole lot smarter than me about these things who have figured that the celebrity exposure will pay off in the long run. What are your feelings about celebrities fronting perfume campaigns? Yay or nay?

Ultimately I like Mon Guerlain well enough, even though this category of perfumes is not one I normally seek out. The slight touch of lavender makes it more interesting to me, but if you aren't a lavender lover I would still give it a try as others have said the note doesn't stand out on their skin.


Photo and great recipe can be found at www.hintofvanillablog.com. Perfume sample from Saks Fifth Avenue.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Travels in India: Part Four


Reviewing: Parfums MDCI Rose de Siwa, DSH Perfumes La Reine des Fleurs and Oud Wa Ward by Berdoues

My husband and I had left a bit of wiggle room at the end of our India trip itinerary for spontaneity. When I was googling online for interesting places no more than a half days drive from Jaipur, the little town of Bundi kept popping up. Seemingly the destination for hippies, backpackers, or intrepid French travelers, Bundi was described as a sleepy little town with a magical forgotten fort castle. The castle had stunning murals that one can observe up close because the place is basically deserted. The town is unused to tourists so you walk down its narrow lanes totally free of the hassles that can besiege tourists in India. I recently saw the new Beauty and the Beast movie, and this little town with its hilltop fort reminded me a little of the Beast's castle; distant, sleepy and forgotten.

There is a fort at the top of the hill that looms over Bundi dating back to the 1300's. We made the rather arduous climb, accompanied by a troop of eager and curious macaques, to find that the fort lies in ruins although it is still an interesting place to explore. The palace is situated below the fort and building began in the early 1600's. The palace is not maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India so sadly it is gradually losing ground against the elements. However, this is also part of it's charm. It is as if you have stumbled upon a hidden place, perhaps the first one to view its beautifully painted walls for hundreds of years. We saw only one other person looking around as our guide led us through the palace.


The entrance to Garh Palace is through the Elephant Gate, two huge stone elephants meeting nose to nose. Like all the palaces we viewed, you enter via a steep climb but make a ninety degree turn to access the gate. This was to prevent enemy's elephants from gathering speed to crash through the heavy wooden doors. You enter into a grassy courtyard which would have been for the commoners, and the first floor above was where the royals lived and met with distinguished guests. It is full of beautiful carved elephants, fountains, tiled floors, and beautifully painted murals similar to the miniature style of Indian painting. One can imagine the opulence of life when the fountains provided soothing music, the tiled marble floors were spotlessly clean, and the Maharaja would have been sitting on his throne in all his finery. Musicians played from little balconies such as is pictured below.


Every inch of the bedrooms and gathering rooms were covered in exquisite mural paintings. Until recently one could wander into the castle and look at these rooms but due to some vandalism to the paintings you must now hire a guard who will unlock the rooms to view. The murals below are actually from another part of the castle, Chitrashala, which was built starting 1749 and features paintings illustrating the life of the Maharajas and Maharanis.


This palace, the last we saw on our tour of Rajasthan, was a little jewelbox of a place. I was carried away by imagining life within its walls. Roses were ever present when we were in Bundi, from huge stone bowls in our lodging to overflowing baskets of petals and bouquets from flower sellers on the streets. I picked three rose perfumes inspired by this magical place:  Parfums MDCI Rose de Siwa, DSH Perfumes La Reine des Fleurs, and Oud Wa Ward by Berdoues.


In Part Three I described how grass screens were used to cool and scent the Indian palaces. Water droplets wet the screens and scented waters added beautiful fragrance to waft through the palace as the breeze passed through the screens, or as they were fanned by an army of servants. Since Rajasthan roses are commonly distilled into oils, I imagine Garh Palace redolent with the scent of roses and I have picked three of my favorites to discuss and review.

Rose de Siwa by Parfums MDCI is the scent I imagine wafting through the palace as produced by the rosewater dampened screens. If I were rich this is the scent that would greet you as my doors opened, enveloping you in a cacoon of silky rose luxury. I don't mean to compare this to a room freshener; far from it! It is just that the scent is so beautiful I would love to be surrounded by its lilting tranquil notes. Rose de Siwa was created in 2006 by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian and is classified as a floral woody musk scent. It features top notes of litchi, peony and hawthorn; heart notes of rose and violet; and base notes of cedar, musk and vetiver. Notes aside, what I smell is the absolute freshest, most innocent and joyous rose scent ever created.

Sparkling notes of litchi and peony make the opening dance and soar. The perfume's name comes from the Siwa oasis in Egypt, which is surrounded by a dry and sandy terrain not unlike Rajasthan. The notes in the opening make me picture the palace's cool marble floors dotted with tiered stone fountains, the falling water providing tinkling background music to the court and the occasional errant splash providing cooling relief.

Photo www.lujoveiejeaindia.com. (Not Bundi)

The rose notes smell opulent and a touch fruity yet manage to maintain the feel of a freshly picked rose, innocent in its purity of scent. The rose has a cool note, as if plucked in early morning with droplets of dew lacing the petals. The scent of rose can have lend a sense of calm and serenity and this perfume very much affects my senses in this way. Violet can sometimes carry a perfume into powdery territory but this doesn't happen on my skin with this perfume. After a couple of hours the woody and musky notes began to mingle more strongly with the rose, slightly toning down its vibrancy. Another hour in and the perfume becomes more of a personal scent, but still maintains the beauty and freshness of the rose from the initial spray. 

The Maharaja spying in the women's palace. Details from one of the murals at Chitrashala.

How to scent a Maharani? I didn't have to look further than my own bottle of La Reine des Fleurs by
DSH Perfumes. Translating to The Queen of Flowers, what could be more perfect for an India queen in her palace? This is one of those perfumes that when you smell it you instantly know it's something special, and wearing it makes you feel dressed up and glamourous. It is truly befitting for a queen or a Maharani.

Maharani Gayatri Deva of Jaipur, the Jackie Kennedy of her era.

La Reine des Fleurs has the lush and grandiose feel of a vintage perfume, something I often find in perfumes created by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. The perfume opens with a rush of bergamot, mandarin and peach and it is succulent! The juiciness of the peach note is accented by the brightness of the bergamot and mandarin and the overall result is reminiscent of a peach freshly picked off the tree, its fuzzy skinned warmed by the sun, and so juicy that at first bite the sweet yellow-pink juice streams down your arm. When I am in Singapore some of the year I sometimes shop at Isetan, a Japanese department store with a grocery below. They import in-season special fruits and I recall being stunned the first time I saw the Okayama white peach carefully packaged and selling for $18. That's one peach, folks. I was stunned and amused but I'm here to tell you, if I could find a peach smelling of this rosy ripeness I would probably pay $18 to try it. 

The opening is followed by notes of rose: a mixture of Bulgarian rose absolute, Moroccan Rose Absolute, Russian Rose Otto, and Egyptian Rose Geranium. A touch of jasmine is indiscernible but amps up the lushness. It is an extravagant, palatial display of roses; picture the patterned marble palace floor scattered with velvety petals crushed under bare feet. The perfume is a collage lavish with wine red roses and luscious juicy peach. Is it peach perfume with rose or a rose perfume with peach? It shifts on my skin, with first one note dominating, then the other. La Reine des Fleurs is a head turner and at the time of this writing, it appears to be on sale at the DSH Perfumes site linked above. This perfume lasts for hours on my skin, and is even softly present the next morning.

A gathering of Rajasthani Maharajas, including Raghubir Singh, king of Bundi.

The Maharajas of Rajasthan were a special breed. Notice their luxuriant mustaches and their turbans, each elaborately twisted and contoured into a unique design. Mustaches and turbans were both important to the Rajasthani ruler as well as the common man, and even today these traditions continue. In the earlier eras they had to be fierce warriors to hold on to their riches, but they also appreciated and cultivated the arts and knowledge in general. Like male peacocks, their daily wear was elaborate and splendid. Imagine the awe they inspired as they rode atop an elephant passing through the streets of their kingdom. Such men inspired me to pick a masculine leaning perfume, yet also richly beautiful and continuing the rose theme: Oud Wa Ward by Berdoues.

The list of notes for this perfume is succinct:  patchouli, Turkish red rose, oud. But that doesn't tell the whole story. Rose and oud isn't a new idea but it's a popular one for a reason, they're the perfect marriage. Oud deepens the richness of the rose note but gives it depth and mystery. The subtle sweetness of oud wood makes the sweetness of the rose less pretty and more sensuous. This isn't the fresh rose of an English garden, but a wander into the enchanted forest with dark tangled trees and red roses with sharp thorns. The patchouli adds an earthy grounding and at times overcomes the oud and makes the sweet note recede. I like the way that in the first couple of hours this perfume shape shifts, even with so few predominant notes. There is a moment when the perfume reminds me of Atelier Rose Anonyme, but the oud takes Oud Wa Ward in a different direction. The Berdoues is richer and reaches for oriental roots with its oud notes. And even though I mention it leaning masculine it is still a totally unisex perfume. To clarify how much I like this: Oud Wa Ward, along with DSH La Reine des Fleurs reviewed above, were two of my very few full bottle purchases in 2016.

Rudyard Kipling spent time near Bundi in the late 1800's and was inspired to write Kim, otherwise known as The Jungle Book for Disney fans. At that time tigers freely roamed the nearby hills and hunting was a kingly sport. Kipling had this to say about Bundi:
"Jeypore (Jaipur) Palace may be called the Versailles of India; .... but the Palace of Bundi, even in broad daylight, is such a palace as men build for themselves in uneasy dreams, the work of goblins rather than of men."
My traveling partner and I agreed with Kipling. Bundi was such a special place that we cut short our last day of sightseeing planned for Delhi and headed straight for the airport, flying standby back to Singapore. I felt that nothing could top the dreamy spell that this fragile, crumbling castle of dreams and imagination had spun, and that this was the perfect exclamation point ending to our India sojourn.

I hope you have enjoyed my perfume picks for this last installment of my India travels. For more perfume picks see Part One,  Part Two, and  Part Three.

Top photo Google image. Other images my own unless otherwise noted. Perfumes from my own collection.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Travels In Inda: Part Three


Reviewing: Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan, Citadelle by Raw Spirit Fragrances, Andy Tauer PHI-Une Rose de Kandehar, and Garnet by Sage Machado


Jaipur was the third stop on our Rajasthan adventure and I was excited to see "The Pink City". It is much larger than Jodphur and Jaisalmer; loads of traffic, and much busier and more chaotic. We were staying in a beautiful place, Alsisar Haveli, larger and from a more modern era than the previous lodgings. It had a large courtyard which was a calm oasis to return to after a day of touring. 


 One of the main attractions in Jaipur is a visit to Amber Fort. I had thought that maybe amber played some part in the fort's construction or that it was named after the color of the walls, which are somewhat amber in hue, however it turns out I was wrong on all counts. The fort, which dates back to 1592, is a few miles out of Jaipur near the ancient town and former capital of Amer, or Amber (pronounced with the accent on the second syllable). Nevertheless, I carried on with my perfume of the day, Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens.

               Photo www.flashpackatforty.com
                                                       
Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan created by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake has been available to the consumer since 2000. It is from an era when Serge Lutens was looked upon as a niche perfumer and the perfume quickly gained cult status among amber lovers. I am one of those who appreciate amber in perfumes and this one stays true to the amber note, sprinkling in some extra goodies to make it more interesting. I have noticed in reviews some write about this as if it is a powerhouse amber, but on my perfume eating skin it is rich but never overwhelms and as it sinks into my skin it becomes almost airy in the later stages.

Along with the amber note which is present from the first spray, Fragrantica lists notes of coriander, oregano, bay leaf, myrtle, and angelica root. These provide a spicy lift in the initial opening of the perfume. Very occasionally for just an instant I will smell the coriander note very strongly. It is a sharp smell and although some people don't care for it, it adds life and interest with it's brief presence. Sandalwood and patchouli add substance but do not dominate. Myrrh, benzoin, and vanilla help make Ambre Sultan a rich and resinous accord but the perfume never veers toward gourmand on my skin. It remains lighter than the list of notes might indicate. I believe this is in part due to the herbal notes. I love the way they dance in and out, as quickly as a fish flicking its tail and creating a splash upon the still surface of the water. The herbal notes are that splash of water that makes a statement but then almost instantly is reabsorbed into the pond. As we trudge up the long and winding stone road to the massive gate of Amber Fort, Ambre Sultan seems a fittingly dignified and stately, yet luxurious, representation of the scene before me. Ambre Sultan may lean slightly masculine if you want to label it but I totally enjoy wearing the perfume and I can imagine the Maharajas rocking its gorgeous scent.

Touring the palaces of these Rajasthan cities and listening to the audio tours incites the imagination of how magnificently these royals lived. One feature that was described in all the palaces was the use of woven screens dampened with scented water for both a cooling and an aromatic effect. In Jaisalmer they evidently used rosewater to scent the screens but in Amber Fort they described using screens woven from Khas (or khus).


Khus, or wild vetiver, grows in Rajasthan and Indians prize it more than the cultivated variety. Its fiberous roots and reeds have been used for centuries to weave mats used for both flooring and as screens. In addition to being fragrant it is said to have a cooling effect. In the era when maharajas and maharanis lived in these palaces the mats would have been hung around the open exterior walls. Servants would have splashed water onto the mats so that the chance breeze would provide a fragrant cooling air conditioning action. If no breeze was present an army of servants would have been fanning behind the screens, no doubt. This method of air conditioning is still used in more primitive homes in India today, as well as at some of the open air temples. I love the idea of these scented screens providing an ancient version of home fragrance.

Citadelle by Raw Spirit Fragrances is the perfume I've chosen as a representation of the cooling fragrant air provided by the grass screens. First, a citadel is a fortress or protected city, so what an apt name. Citadelle is a vetiver fragrance but other notes have been added to lighten and brighten the earthy and woody notes of vetiver. I don't really know what the dampened wild vetiver screens smelled like but it is not hard to imagine that the sweet grass smelled less earthy than the distilled vetiver root. The opening notes of Citadelle are bergamot, lemon, and fragrant vetiver which give a bright and happy scent. There is a note of pear which adds a slightly sweet note to the citrus and contributes a softness to help tame the rooty tone of the vetiver. 

Marigold, or tagetes, is a note in the perfume and interestingly this flower plays a big part in Indian spiritual ceremonies. It has a distinctly pungent and slightly acrid scent that I think plays well with the woody notes of vetiver. The Raw Spirit website lists notes of cinnamon and nutmeg but I confess I don't really pick those up. Amberwood, musk, and cedar wood round out the base of the perfume but it is the beautiful Haitian vetiver that really shines. It is rooty, woody, earthy, with touches of green aromatics and gives the scent of nature and tranquility. I can imagine how refreshing a scent such a this would have been in the very hot Rajasthan summers as the grass mats were sprinkled with cool water droplets. Raw Spirits is an offshoot of the Nomads Two Worlds project started in 2009 by photographer Russel James to recognize the Australian indigeneous community, and which has since grown to include other marginalized populations. Recognizing that these communities were rich in culture and tradition, Raw Spirit sources rare or unique natural ingredients from these areas to use in the perfumes while providing an economic opportunity to the community. Vetiver is grown in Haiti and is used in Citadel, as well as another perfume from the line, Bijou Vert.

Image of Hawa Mahal from Foursquare.com

One of the most iconic images of Jaipur is the fantasic pink Hawa Mahal, translated to Palace of the Breeze, or Palace of the Wind. It was built as an addition to the Jaipur City Palace in 1799 to give the ladies of the zendana (women's area of the palace) a place to peer out on city ceremonies without being seen, as strict purdah was observed at that time. The 953 windows gave the wives and concubines of the court many viewpoints, and the windows are cunningly honeycombed with slanted slits that allowed them to gaze downward onto the streets below, yet be completely invisible to anyone looking up. The building, which is a fairly narrow facade, must have been a hive of activity during ceremonies and parades. The holes also provided cooling for the five story building. It was a beautiful pleasure palace, resplendent with colored glass which gave rainbow pools of light inside the confines. It is where the Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh came to spend time with the women of the court and also to keep cool in the summer, as the many openings in the latticed windows provided a breeze.

I imagine these beautiful ladies, locked away in the pink sandstone fanciful wedding cake structure, scented in a beautiful pink rose perfume such as Andy Tauer Phi - Une Rose de Kandahar. Rajasthan has a region that grows roses for distillation. Tauer's Une Rose de Kandahar uses a specially distilled and rare rose oil from Afghanistan's rose growing region, Nangarhar. What the two rose regions share is a dry, rugged terrain that is reflected in the rose's scent and I find that this austere landscape is represented and present throughout the wear of the perfume.



Une Rose de Kandahar opens on my skin with an opulent burst of apricot and rose. This is not an English garden rose with it's sweet fresh scent but something more exotic and dark. A touch of bitter almond is quietly standing behind the curtain as if waiting for its moment.  Bergamot is listed as a top note but here it is not used to provide light, as is sometimes the case. There is an exotic presence about this rose that feels very much at home in my Indian setting. The note of cinnamon starts to add subtle spiciness and brings to mind the markets on the street with huge burlap bags filled with colorful spices. The bitter almond is a thread that runs through the life of the perfume. I have to inhale at my wrist to really capture the smell, but it adds a slightly acrid touch that keeps this perfume bone dry and also makes it interesting, rather than just pretty. Eventually notes of tonka bean and vanilla appear to soften the scent and on my skin translate to a slightly powdery texture, rather than gourmand. Notes of bourbon geranium, tobacco leaf, patchouli, vetiver, and ambergris join the blend over time. All these notes, with maybe the exception of ambergris, lend to the dry and slight earthiness of the perfume. 

I would say that this is a perfume you definitely need to test on your own skin before buying. The descriptions from wearers are all over the place: a gourmand, a patchouli rose, a tobacco perfume. On my skin I did experience most of these notes but it was very completely blended. The rose is there, but I don't necessarily think someone smelling my skin would immediately get that it is a rose perfume. Other than the fruity opening, this perfume wears very dry and it's easy to place it in desert landscapes in countries along the ancient Silk Road. This is a rather more exotic rose than others in my collection and I quite like it.  

 Image from Indulgy.com

Garnet by Sage Machado was another perfume that came to mind when imagining these ladies of the court, peering down from their gilded cage to view life in the palace and on the streets.
I have a few of the oils from Sage dating back several years. She is California based and has been producing perfumes and candles for over twenty years, as well as jewelry. The line has a hippie and bohemian vibe, both in presentation and the actual scents. I don't find them to be complex scents; they're simple and easy to wear, and tend to stay close to the skin. The diminutive size and roll on style bottle make the oils the perfect travel companion. The perfumes are named after gemstones and Sage used flowers and essence to give an olfactory vision of the precious stones. The red garnet reminds me of Rajasthan, where pinks and reds are seen everywhere. Notes are Moroccan red rose, gardenia, watermelon, blackberry, amber, patchouli, and vanilla. I get a slight fruitiness in the initial application, then a floral mix of rose and gardenia which just smells rich, no one flower taking precedence. The patchouli and amber appear fairly quickly (although my bottle is quite ancient so maybe not true on a fresher batch) and reinforce the hippie and slightly exotic edge to this perfume. It's all rather muddled and there is no unfolding of notes but I like the casual amber and patchouli vibe it imparts. In the Indian setting it brings to mind red and gold saris, evening air in the temple heavy with flower offerings and incense, hennaed hands, and arms lined with sparkling bangles. Although it stays close to the skin, Sage Garnet feels very right in this exotic place.

To wind things up, here are another couple of photo taken by me in this city of pink.

Ladies outside Hawa Mahal.

An elephant next to us in Jaipur traffic.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of Jaipur. For more India travel stories and perfume reviews go to Part One and Part Two.

Top imge, David Davis Flickr. All other photos my own unless otherwise identified below. All perfumes are my own.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Travels In India: Part Two


Reviewing Aroma M Geisha Noire, Route Mandarine by Manuel Canovas, and L'Artisan Patchouli Patch.

One has to be determined to get to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan's western most fort city. It is near the Pakistan border and surrounded by the Thar Desert. Because of its proximity to Pakistan no flights in are allowed so it takes over four hours driving from Jodphur through some bleak terrain to arrive at the Golden City. The sand colored fort is visible long before reaching Jaisalmer. It rises above the town like a child's fanciful sand castle and when we arrived in late afternoon it seemed to glisten with golden light. Our driver steered the car through winding streets, heading like a homing pigeon toward the looming fort. He finally drew up outside the impressively large gate and came to an abrupt halt, indicating this was as far as he could go. We were staying at a haveli inside the fort and only the small motorized tuk tuks could navigate the narrow lanes. We piled our luggage into the tiny vehicle and careened through the streets. These tuk tuk drivers only seem to know one speed and it is "bat out of hell" fast.

Entering the nine hundred year old fort my mind immediately flew to a memory from The Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Harrison Ford enters a desert town and walks into a scene of colorful turbaned citizens and merchants clamouring for buyers for their wares. Jaisalmer Fort is probably world's largest living fort, meaning unlike the other forts we visited in India, this one has occupants who live and work inside the walls. One thing I immediately noticed was how clean the streets in the fort were and how many people I saw sweeping to keep them that way. This stood out in comparison to Jodphur where the streets were quite dirty. We held on as our tuk tuk driver maneuvered through the labyrinth of small streets and alley ways, eventually coming to a stop in front of our accommodation.

 Women on streets of Jaisalmer Fort. Google Image.


We were staying in Hotel Victoria, a 300 year old multi-storied mansion hanging precipitously to the fort's outer wall. Our room had a demi balcony that actually jutted out of the fort wall. Sitting there amongst the pillows it took little imagination to picture myself as Jasmine waiting for Aladdin to fly by on his magic carpet. A rooftop patio gave a birds eye view to the city and desert beyond.

That's my balcony at Hotel Victoria, jutting out of the fort wall.

The interior of the fort is quite walkable and dotted with small shop stalls, multi storied dwellings, and exquisitely carved Jain temples. After an afternoon of exploring the fort we had our evening libations looking over the city and watching the sun set like a golden ball over the Thar Desert. I had brought along a decant of Aroma M Geisha Noire, described on the website as "The aromas of an exotic bazaar, the air heavy with spices but grounded in the soothing notes of amber and sweet tonka bean." I've had this for several years so I don't know if it has aged like a fine wine but I found this to be just what I was seeking on the chilly rooftop patio with the overwhelmingly exotic view. I felt wrapped in a pashmina that had been stored in a box with incense, resins and vanilla; supremely comfortable but at the same time enchantingly foreign.

Geisha Noire was launched in 2007 by Maria McElroy, the nose behind the Aroma M line. Her aesthetic is inspired by Japan, but this moody oriental perfume seems just as relevant on my Rajasthan rooftop. It is a balsamic amber, two notes which pretty much guarantee I will love a perfume. I find amber to be warm, sensuous and enveloping, and the balsamic resins only up the ante. Notes of sandalwood further the Indian vibe. Tonka bean and vanilla bring a creaminess to the perfume without adding sweetness. The oil version wears softly but emanates a warm glow for several hours and is even faintly detectable the next morning.

The next morning we toured the palace inside the Jaisalmer Fort. It is small compared to the other palaces we saw on the trip but was still absolutely fascinating. This palace had fallen into total disrepair and is undergoing a renovation the last twenty years. The fort itself is in jeopardy, due many think to modern plumbing. In addition to the Jaisalmer Heritage Trust, two charities have played a big part in this rescue and renovation. The American World Monument Fund placed Jaisalmer on its top 100 most endangered monuments site and channeled a donation into repairs to the Maharani Palace, one of five palaces in the overall palace complex. Jaisalmer in Jeopardy, started twenty years ago by a concerned British tourist, is also helping to try to save this unique little jewel of a fort.



When we came out of our palace tour there was a stall selling my favorite Indian street snack, bhel puri. This food doesn't really have a scent so I can't come up with a perfumed comparison. I'm just giving you the information so you'll try this delicious snack if you're ever in India. It might be worth mentioning that in two weeks of travel, eating at street stalls and small local restaurants, we never had even a whisper of a stomach bug. Just be sure you always drink bottled water.



The next afternoon we went on a camel ride into the desert. I had read warnings online of camel safaris with hoards of tourists riding flea ridden camels practically on top of each other in a small patch of the desert, not the experience I was searching for. I had read good things on tripadvisor.com about Pleasant Havali's camel safaris, so here we were, six tourists sardined into a small jeep, bumping through the desert for a couple of hours until reaching a deserted area where the camels awaited. After riding through the dunes on camels for a couple of hours, totally alone in the vast desert, our hosts cooked our dinner over a campfire under the stars. The desert was peaceful and the golden sunset made the whole place radiate with warm light. For this I was wearing my new favorite, Route Mandarine by Manuel Canovas.  I always miss the bargains at T.J. Maxx but I was lucky enough to pick up a bottle of this back in November. I don't know if Manual Canovas, an exclusive French fabric company, is getting out of the fragrance business as their perfumes seemed to have disappeared from online sites, though their excellent candles still remain for sale. You can pick up this perfume on ebay or a couple of perfume discounters and I would encourage you to do so...it's that good. So what does it smell like?

Route Manadarine's initial note is orange, but not in the zippy, zesty style of a citrus cologne. Underpinning the citrus notes of orange and mandarin are spicy notes of clove and cinnamon which give this perfume a sizzling warmth from the get go. The spices share equal space with the mandarin. I can already smell the amber radiating out and it is this note which makes this perfume smell so golden. It is as if a brew has been created from warm amber, radiant mandarine and oriental spice to concoct this beautiful scent. The scent intensifies the longer it is on my skin; I daresay it smelled even better the next morning after seeping into my skin all night. Middle floral notes include rose, orange blossom, jasmine, ylang ylang, and lily of the valley but the perfume never takes on a flowery vibe. These notes just enrich the beautiful golden brew, blending together where no one note stands out.  Patchouli and vetiver help ground the perfume so that the floral notes don't overwhelm. After hours of wear this still smells like a resinous mandarin perfume, but it keeps intensifying and becoming richer. Base notes of labdanum, vetiver, musk, vanilla, sandalwood make the perfume have a remarkable longevity on my skin.

Photo from www.IndianExcursionist.com

Route Mandarine feels golden. It reminds me of our evening of sitting in the desert on a blanket surrounded by waves of sand dunes, the sand warm from captured sunlight but gradually cooling as the sun sets on the horizon in a radiant display of yellow, pink, and orange. The amber opening of this perfume smells like liquid gold spilling out all around me, keeping me warm in the fading sunlight as the degrees quickly drop and the air takes on a chill. The resinous accords build the longer the perfume is on my skin and their warmth chases away any chill I might feel in the night air. 


Totally by accident we had great timing and were in Jaisalmer for the start of the yearly three-day Desert Festival. This ceremony has no religious significance and is strictly a cultural celebration of desert life, with contests, cultural events, camel races, and camel polo. One of the most eagerly watched competitions is the picking of Mr. Desert, in large part decided by the gentleman who possesses the largest and best mustache. I ran into two of the contestants striding through the fort gate the day before the start of the festival and in this setting they could have easily been extras strolling onto the set of a Game of Thrones episode. They come from the fierce warrior Rajput stock and both their decorative turbans and mustaches are badges of honor. They were an impressive sight, brandishing their swords in front of the ancient Jaisalmer fort. The splendid spectacle made me wonder, how to scent these Rajasthani warriors.

While it might seem they should be in a heavy or spicy cologne, I decided they wouldn't be into such an obvious display of masculine toiletry. I decided to scent them (in my imagination) with L'Artisan Patchouli Patch. L'Artisan takes the earthy scent of patchouli, which is often thought of as heavy and dark, and manages to make it transparent and bright. Patchouli got a bad rap in the 60's and 70's as hippie perfume with an overbearing smell. One of the definitions in the Urban Dictionary is "Patchouli: A plant that smells like a Grateful Dead concert." Perfume lovers know that it is an oil often used as a basenote in perfumes to add an earthy or herbaceous note. Depending on the patchouli it can take on green, woody, and even sweet aspects. 

A scattering of spices--star anise and caraway--lightly enhance the patchouli on the opening of L'Artisan Patchouli Patch. Notes of sandalwood, cedar, and vetiver are enhanced by the earthiness of patchouli. This is a patchouli that has had all the rough edges sanded off and wears like a silk scarf. People who don't think they like patchouli might be surprised to find they can appreciate this gentle rendition of the plant. The reason I chose to scent the Mr. Desert contestants in this oriental perfume is that it does have a light presence, a trademark of the L'Artisan brand. In this case the lightness really works, amping down the patchouli which can sometimes come across as overbearing in fragrances. This smells as if your skin has absorbed the dry pleasant smell of earth and the ambient elements and it has left a gentle imprint. Skin scented with Patchouli Patch projects a light earthy aura. It is airy and elusive, not at all a power scent that feels heavily applied. I can't see these masculine imposing men leaving a trail of scent in their wake but I can see them lightly scented with this gentle fragrance which could be thought of as a skin scent, simple and uncomplicated.

For India travels and scents Part One, go here. and Part Three, go here.

Top photo Google image. All other photos my own unless otherwise noted. Perfume my own.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Travels In India: Part One


Reviewing: Montale Sweet Oriental Dream, Rania J Jasmine Kama, and L'Artisan Tea for Two

My blog has gone silent in February due to unexpected travel. Realizing we had a bit of free time on our hands while in Singapore, with a quick weekend of research my husband and I planned a trip to Rajasthan. Over twenty five years ago I lived in India for a time but never properly got to see Rajasthan, the land of the kings. I was pumped to finally make this dream come true. Had I been departing from my home in the States I would have had countless choices of perfumes or decants symbolic of India to take with me. As it was, I had to make due with samples and bottles with me in Singapore but I managed to come up with a good selection of perfumes that will now forever be evocative of the cities we visited.

Our trip was to start in Jodphur, known as the Blue City for the blue paint that covers most of the houses. Blue is the color of the Brahmins who live in Rajasthan, and it is also said that the blue paint offers cooling properties to the houses and acts as an insecticide. We flew into Delhi and overnighted in a nearby airport hotel. I had forgotten quite how chaotic the traffic was in India's big cities so I happily left Delhi for a flight to Jodphur. This turned out to be a great city to start our journey. The inner city is very manageable for walking and there is no better way to get a feel for a place. We had decided to stay in havelis rather than the grand palace hotels, partly due to economics--they are fabulous but expensive! Also, we wanted to experience a more intimate experience with the city, and unlike the beautiful and luxurious palace hotels which are usually on the edge of town, havelis are clustered near the forts which distinguish the major cities of Rajasthan. Havelis are the old mansions built by India's elite hundreds of years ago, situating themselves as near the maharaja's palace in the fort as possible.

We had picked Singhi Haveli, a four hundred year old mansion just a stone's throw from the magnificently impressive Mehrangarh Fort, and in a happy accident, totally distant from the more tourist area. This was the first sight that greeted me as we walked into the courtyard, rose petals in a fountain, always a good sign for a scent lover!

Singhi Haveli courtyard view.

This turned out to be a great base for our Jodphur adventures. The haveli had unique and quirky rooms, two lovely courtyards--one at ground level and another on the third level, and a small rooftop patio, great for viewing the fort after a day of being a tourist. I found you also meet interesting and like minded people in this more intimate environment. During our stay I often saw travelers sitting in the courtyard patio, sketching, writing in journals, or just reading a book. It was all very civilized, kind of like immersion in a E.M. Forster or Henry James novel.

The view of Mehrangarh Fort from my bedroom window.

We arrived late afternoon so decided to walk the backstreets to the market, rather than trying to see the fort that day. The streets are narrow and twisty. No cars allowed. The small tuk tuks can just fit through but motorbikes or the wandering cow are more familiar sights. As my husband and I walked through the market streets we came across this small perfume stand. Mr. Arora said his family had been in this spot for seventy years. It is called Arora Sugandi Store in the Sarafa Bazar. I sampled several of his oils and perfumes and walked away with small bottles of lotus and jasmine.

 

While I was shopping for perfume, my husband went across the dusty road to get a haircut. It came with a fabulous looking head massage.



The first perfume I wore in Jodphur was Montale Sweet Oriental Dream. This is an oriental vanilla perfume in the loukhoum style. Notes of rose, honey, almond, vanilla, and a touch of incense make this an addictive and exotic gourmand. The notes blend together and although the perfume is sweet it does not strike me as too sugary, just delicious and a bit of a comfort scent. After it has been on for a while and the notes settle down it is like being wrapped in a fluffy pink vanilla cloud with a decidedly oriental air. It fits my mood perfectly that first night as I sit on rooftop, drinking a wine, conversing with some interesting travelers and gazing at the fort. Jodphur is a fairly small and sleepy town, and this scent feels cozy but exotic. Compared to Keiko Mecheri's loukhoum scents, this one seemed less gourmand and more fitting to an Indian bazaar, rather than a Turkish one.

Mehrangarh Fort rises 400 feet above Jodphur, and perched atop a hill it looks impregnable and fiercely magnificent. There is a long climb up the hill to the gate and inside are museums that showcase items that illustrate the opulence of the era. The original fort was built around 1460 and literally carved out of the stone mountain. Other palaces and courtyards were added over the hundreds of years, so there is a mix of architectural styles.

View from courtyard in Mehrangarh Fort of Palace Wall.

Just a small number of rooms retain the original decor but it gives some idea of the attention to beauty that was a part of the Maharaja's daily life. Colorful glass embedded in doors and windows turns rooms into rainbow prisms of delight. Some walls are lined with intricately carved niches for candles, and it must have looked magnificent with the glow of flames at night. The image below is a common room inside the palace and is from the book India Song by London-based photographer Karen Knorr.


After touring the fort we had one more exploration of the market and I came across another perfumer. I was conservative with my buying as it was the first stop on our journey and I assumed I would cross paths with several other perfumers. Sadly this was to be the last one. Mr. Pinto's family also has sold oils and perfumes in the Jodphur market for around seventy years. His shop is Achalchand Punwanchand in the Katia Bazar.  The shop has the soliflore scents but they also mix some of their own formulas. I bought some mitti attar, supposedly the smell of the first rains of monsoon hitting the dry earth, captured in a bottle. Mr. Pinto encouraged me to buy a formula rather unimaginatively titled "W2", a name which reminded me of WD40. It smelled of lush roses, amber, and saffron. I demurred but he put a little on the sleeve of my tunic and this smell would haunt me the rest of the trip. I was an idiot not to buy it; it was beautiful.

Mr. Pinto of Achalchand Punwanchand, purveyor of "Indian Traditional Attars and Perfumes."

 Another perfume on my Jodphur wear list was Rania J Jasmine Kama. I only recently became aware of this brand but evidently this perfume was created in 2013. The Kama in the name of the perfume gives reference to the ancient Indian tome on love, the Kama Sutra. The opening is a delicate dance between bergamot and rose damascena. The bergamot gives brightness and the rose is a mere whisper that flits in and out. The jasmine quickly makes an appearance and smells very sweet and fresh, as if you are standing by a jasmine bush heavily laden with the tiny flowers.  The jasmine in this perfume is fluid and changeable.  At moments it is sweet and photo realistic, then the more indolic notes appear and it changes to dusky and sexy. Jasmine is a ubiquitous flower in India, threaded into chains for temple offerings and distilled into sultry oils for native perfumery.

Woman threading jasmine garland for offerings. From Anthropologie catalog.

The overall feel I get from this perfume is a slightly exotic jasmine, which makes it fit into my Indian odyssey quite well. Notes of rose and heliotrope join with the jasmine from time to time to give it a different scent, so it is not like wearing a straight up jasmine perfume. Later notes of patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla and musk join in to temper the jasmine and give longevity. The vanilla and musk notes are the most prominent to my nose and it is like creamy vanilla/jasmine jam or candied jasmine, if such a thing existed. In the later stages the vanilla creaminess disappears and the sandalwood and patchouli deepen the scent. It reminds me of a jasmine garland draped as an offering across a statue of one of the deities, with sticks of incense perfuming the surrounding air. I find Jasmine Kama to be a beautiful take on the jasmine note and different enough from other jasmines in my collection to warrant a bottle or decant.

India chai wallah. Photo from Flickr.

I took a decant of L'Artisan Tea for Two on the trip. This is a perfume I have flirted with buying and I thought trying it in India might push me over the edge. We were in Rajasthan in February so the days were crisp, sunny and cool. It was wonderful holding a mug of chai, draped in a warm shawl, and slowly starting the day with this warm spicy drink. Tea for Two was created by Olivia Giacobetti in the year 2000. MS. Giacobetti has created many perfumes for L'Artisan including one of my absolute favorites, The Pour Un Ete. She also made Cinq Mondes Eau Egyptienne, which very much reminds me of Tea for Two. 

Top notes are bergamot, star anise and tea, but I mostly get a smokey tea. Middle notes of cinnamon and ginger spice the tea and help give it the classic chai recipe flavor. Base notes of honey, vanilla, and tobacco make the perfume more grounded. This chai scent has everything but milk. I enjoy the deep smokiness of the tea and the spices but it remains very subtle on my skin and fades all too quickly. Although I enjoy the scent for what it is, it wears very linear and never seems to expand on my skin, so I reluctantly conclude that while this perfume might be evocative of the tea ritual in India, it doesn't please me enough to consider adding to my collection. If you like quietly aromatic scents this may be a pleaser for you.

This concludes the first leg of my India trip. Next up is Jaisalmer. For India Travels Part Two go here and Part Two go here.

Perfume samples were my own. Top photo Andrew Miller on Flickr. All other photos my own unless otherwise noted.