Saturday, August 17, 2019

Chilihead by Dame Perfumery

I was waiting for my Dame Perfumery Chilihead sample to arrive when I took this photograph at Woodshed Smokehouse in Fort Worth, the rather green Trinity River lurking in the background. The chili pepper margarita encapsulated every preconceived notion I had about this scent: lime juice, chili powder, chili pepper, spice, Ole!

When I got my sample -- this was for the oil, not the spray -- I did smell the lime and the chili along with a grassy dry tumbleweed note, vetiver? But in very short order there was also an unusual green note that I couldn't identify. The first thing that popped into my head was cactus! Now I know cactus doesn't really have a smell, nor is it in this perfume, but in case you haven't noticed, the cacti motif has been trending in popularity of late. I had been sniffing some "cactus" scented candles which had a creamy green fragrance. When I looked at the notes list for Chilihead  I thought maybe it is the celery note that is giving me this green, almost watery vibe. Celery is a plant-it's green-it's full of water, like cactus. Haveing taken you so far down this path, I must confess that the next time I wore Chilihead it was the dry, grassy notes and herbal nuances that I smelled more strongly, and this creamy green note was slight. Skin is a funny thing. So take the previous description with a grain of salt, I suppose!

After the initial opening moments, the lime and chili notes enter the picture. The scent is not as spicy as I imagined it would be but you can definitely smell the red chili pepper. Greenish notes include bergamot, celery, mint, thyme, galbanum, and vetiver. The celery, lime, and herbs are the most prevalent to me in the opening. Everything is very light green, fresh, and aromatic, as if you've gone to your herb garden and grathered an armful of the various plants.  A little later in the scent the dry vetiver and the earthy patchouli appear and the herbal notes become more background noise. Artemisia (wormwood) and cumin are used in Chilihead and this is what give the scent that desert ambiance and Southwestern cred , in my mind. You get the sense of open spaces dotted with spiky cactus and tumbleweeds, strings of red ristras hanging by the door on a sun-baked pueblo house, and a refreshing glass of aqua fresca dotted with lime slices. Cumin is an ingredient I use quite a bit in cooking, especially in my homemade red sauce for cheese enchiladas, so I am very familiar with its smell. Chilihead's scent only contains a light dusting of cumin, but you can find it if you know the note. Artemisia is a note that I became familiar with when reviewing some of Olivier Durbano's scents. It is earthy, dry, and can be slightly bitter or medicinal. Someone in Basenotes actually described it as "smelling of the desert," and it does lend that aura to this scent.

Dave Dame, Artist in Residence at Dame Perfumery. Photo from Dame Perfumery Website.

Jeffrey Dame is the creator behind Dame Perfumery based out of Scottsdale, Arizona, and his father Dave is pictured above in a photo from their website. I love this photo of Jeffrey's father Dave for so many reasons: the beautiful desert landscape is stunning. And Jeffrey's artistic father, Dave, who is so much a part of the creative process behind the bottle's artwork looks so at peace in this desert setting. He is responsible for the artwork on the Chilihead bottle.

The perfume eventually winds down to the base notes. The spice has become subdued and although the list of notes includes some heavy hitters: birch moss, tree moss, castoreum, civet, labdanum, myrrh, and olibanum, I can assure you that the final act of this play is a softly purring skin scent, earthy and mildly spiced.

My original impression of Chilihead was that it was fun and very unique, but more of a novelty scent. But as I lived in it for a couple of days I became attached to its scent of place, that dry desert. I thought it would be a summer scent of margaritas and mariachis, and it is all that. But I can also sense a touch autumn's promise in its fragrant dry down. It murmurs of dry earth, trails to hike, fragrant chili to spice dishes and warm the body from the inside out, and that soft warmness of a desert sky at sunset.

Top photo: Thanks to my daughter Allie for the hand modeling! Cactus photo: www.casavogue. Last two photos from Dame Perfumes website. My sample was included with a purchase I made from Dame Perfumery. The opinions are my own.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Bortnikoff Amber Cologne, Take Me To The Beach

I was not familiar with Bortnikoff when I tried their Amber Cologne. Because of the name,  Amber, I had certain expectations of what it would smell like; a shaker of citrus flavored juice melting down to an amber syrup, perhaps with a touch of leather. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The opening spritz of Bortnikoff Amber Cologne bursts with a slightly tart, lightly sweet citrus opening with sweet orange, grapefruit, bergamot, and lemon.  What captures my attention is a beautiful creamy note of frangipani! The frangipani flower is not that often used in perfume, and here I find its scent is very distinctive and life like. When I lived in Singapore I walked every day in the Botanic Garden which featured a grove of frangipani trees so I am very familiar with its buttery tropical scent and this perfume gives a beautiful olfactory snapshot. It is at this point that I begin to wonder why this cologne is called Amber Cologne, when nary a hint of that note has appeared.

The frangipani is supported by a light presence of jasmine sambac and vanilla. Frangipani always reminds me a little of vanilla because of its richness, so I find that the vanilla is just slightly amplifying this creamy aspect of the frangipani. At this point the perfume smells more like a floral cologne than a citrus, but if you're a man (or woman) who doesn't want to smell like a flower garden, never fear. These floral notes are subtle and wafting, and in my opinion, delightful!

Dmitry Bortnikoff got his fragrant beginnings as a distiller of rare ouds in Southeast Asia, and became one of the best known distillers of this art. He added sandalwood to his offerings and then went on to explore other rare ingredients. He eventually turned to making scents but prides himself as a distiller of one-of-a-kind elements that can not be recreated once used, thus his production for each perfume is limited to 50 bottles (if I am interpreting his website correctly). The next batch may not smell the same because he says each piece of wood smells slightly different, depending upon the conditions it grew under. Thus the Bortnikoff  brand can be construed as extremely boutique.

I think a nose that's had a little exposure to perfumes can easily pick out natural and fine ingredients. This is not to say that cheaper perfumes are bad; there are many amazing ones out there. It's just to say that the nose can sense quality and I sensed an extremely natural smell experience when I was wearing Bortnikoff Amber Cologne. 

Would it be too much hyperbole if I said that the floral notes and the frangipani in particular are transcendent? I could smell the frangipani, whipped with some of the citrus notes, for the whole life of the cologne. If the word Amber was a bit misleading, the word Cologne is not. This scent stayed fairly close to my skin. It projected a little more than a skin scent, but someone would have had to move in pretty close, I think, to get much of the scent.

I found the base notes of grey and brown ambergris and his own oud distillation from Sri Lanka to be very quiet. In fact, the oud must just be used like a pinch of seasoning because I can't honestly say I picked it out. The ambergris however is what begins to meld with the frangipani to give that beachy, ocean vibe. The ambergris note is subtle and sexy. It translates to skin dipped in the salty ocean and dried by the warm sun, the nearby trees wafting a scent of frangipani, jasmine, and the odd citrus tree. The marine scented sea breezes gently caress the skin and carry you away to an island break, at least in your mind. I believe it is because of Mr. Bortnikoff's pride in his distillations, in this case the ambergris, that led him to name this Amber Cologne. If you think of the scent as an overall experience--warm skin and ocean breeze--and the frangipani as a note that adds to this ambience, then the name begins to make sense.

I only had a sample of this perfume as it was in my Luckyscent sample pack that I reviewed yesterday, but this is really a scent that deserves to be sprayed with (pricey) abandon. I loved my first exposure to the house of Bortnikoff.

Top photo: Bottle photo from Bortnikoff website. I purchased my own sample.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Testing the New Citrus Perfumes in the Luckyscent Citrus Explosion Sample Pack

Citrus and I have an uneasy relationship. I absolutely love the scent of each and every citrus fruit but compared to other perfumes in my collection, they always seem to fall flat on my skin. About ten years ago I went to a Guerlain event at Neiman Marcus in Dallas. Sylvaine Delacourte was Guerlain's artistic director at the time and she was there in person and would quickly smell your skin and tell you which Guerlain perfumes suited your skin best. She said I had "milky" skin and that perfumes with wood notes and spices would blossom on my skin, as well as some florals. I have her to thank for introducing me to Angelique Noire and Guerlain Elixir Charnel Oriental Brulant, but she also said that citrus perfumes would always disappoint me, and mostly that's been correct. But I am the eternal optimist because I love citrus perfume's fresh sparkly openings, so I keep searching. Thus when Luckyscent advertised a new batch of citrus perfumes and  colognes for summer I had to try them. Here are my short takes.

Mancera Paris Soleil d'Italie

This perfume starts off with the traditional citrusy, slightly soapy opening which is so symbolic of Italian colognes. Calabrian bergamot, lime, and mandarin make up the citrus notes, and I find that neither the lime or mandarin particularly distinguish themselves, the bergamot having the strongest presence to me. There is a very nice scent of what is termed "watery notes" and it really does give the feel of an ocean nearby. There is a tiny thread of something that smells slightly woody and deeper. Initially I believe it is the cardomom I'm smelling, but then it could be either the ambergris, cedar wood, or patchouli.

I find this to be a very nice representation of this genre of scent and it gets quite a bit of love over on If I didn't already have several in this category, Mancera Paris Soleil d'Italie might be a good place to start, but as my perfume collection is, ahem, a little large, I probably don't need this.

Les Indemodables Chypre Azural

Chypre Azural was one of the original entries from Les Indemodables, a French perfume house that is relatively new, and it was launched in 2016. The fact that Antoine Lie, along with Florence Fouillet Dubois, are the perfumers for this brand caught my attention, as I am very familiar with Antoine Lie's work for the very excellent Puredistance line. Ms. Dubois is listed as the perfumer for Chypre Azural. I expected a sharp chypre-ish opening but it starts off super fresh and soapy, but with an orange note instead of neroli or bergamot. The citrus is sharp and nose tickling and I like it, but where's the chypre?

It is a good thirty minutes into the perfume's life on my skin that the chypre notes appear. I love a good chypre, and this transforms from a fresh scent to a super crisp chypre, exuding the vibe of cool, calm, and collect.

Google Image

You know that couple that always looks perfectly put together from their well groomed hair to their unscuffed shoes? The ones that look like they never sweat, even in the heat of summer? They're probably wearing Les Indemodables Chypre Azural. 

Nishane Safran Colognise

This perfume opens with the traitional cologne mix of soapy neroli, making me picture a barbershop with men in barber chairs lathered and awaiting a shave. But almost immediately a note of saffron enters the picture and the soapiness is replaced with a dusty note, which is the saffron. It is not as spicy as I expected and still has that cologne vibe. Top notes are passion fruit, pink grapefruit, and citron. Middle notes are saffron, pink pepper, and magnolia but it is the saffron note which gives a dry, dusty smell. There is a whiff of florals but more like a dried flower arrangement rather than a bursting fresh-picked bouquet. The dusty smell vaguely reminds me of the vetiver note, just not as grassy. Base notes are musk, ambergris and leather and it is the leather which dominates on my skin, although in a very mild way. At thirty minutes in the citrus note has totally faded and I am left with a dry, dusty (sorry to use that word so much, but can't think of a better one) leather. If you're afraid of leather notes this might be a good try for you because the note is ultra smooth and quiet.

Perris Monte Carlo Bergamatto di Calabria

This is a part of the Italian Collection by the Perris Monte Carlo brand and was introduced in 2018. With bergamot in the name I expected a very citrus opening, and the bergamot gives a contained aromatic, almost bitter, citrus smell which reminds me a little of limes. Although vetiver is listed as a base note I can smell its grassy, dry aroma pretty much from the opening notes. The middle notes are orange blossom, neroli, and jasmine and as they unfold the scent softens a little although I wouldn't say it seems floral, rather just a slightly sweeter citrus lift unfolds. Other notes are Egyptian rose, patchouli leaf, tarragon, and amber.

Mandarino Di Sicilia from www.

Perris Monte Carlo Mandarino di Sicilia

Like the one above, this is an entry in the Italian Collection for the brand. Here the citrus notes are creamy rather than sharp or bitter, with green mandarin, bitter orange, yellow mandarin and petitgrain paraguay. Orange blossom peeks through to sweeten and smooth these citrus flavors. Jasmine is present but very subdued and geranium gives that crisp, almost peppery smell to the scent. Base notes are cedro, amber, and musk. The combination of the delicate essential oil from green mandarin combined with the orange flower and jasmine gives a scent that reminds me of the lemon blossoms that bloom on my lemon tree. It is a beautiful ethereal and lilting scent and I prefer it of the two Perris Monte Carlo listed here, although they both have their attributes. It is obvious that these scents are made with high quality ingredients.

There were two more samples in my Luckyscent packet. I already posted about one of my favorites, Perris Monte Carlo Arancia di Sicilia  which you can read about here.  Tomorrow I will be posting about my other favorite from the pack and it's from a brand I had no previous experience with. If I had to name a favorite from the group of scents reviewed in this post it would be Les Indemodables Chypre Azural. I really enjoyed how it morphed from a citrus fresh cologne to a starched, cool chypre.

The top photo from The Luckyscent sample pack I purchased myself..

Monday, July 29, 2019

Perris Monte Carlo Arancia Di Sicilia

Perris Monte Carlo has introduced a new scent to their Italian Collection, Arancia Di Sicilia. The oranges highlighted in this scent are special to Sicily (Sicilia), and the trees grow on the slopes of Mt. Etna. They are blood oranges, or sanguilella, known for their bright red fleshy pulp and the red, not orange, juice they produce. Perris Monte Carlo are quite proud of the process used to  extract the oil from the fruit which yields a complex and aromatic product.

Imagine holding a blood orange in your palm, just plucked from the tree and still warm from the sun. You use your thumbs to pry into the skin of the fruit and pull it apart. That zesty burst of fresh orange is what you get in the opening note of Arancia Di Sicilia. It is a particularly vibrant orange aroma, like waking up to a beautiful sunny day in your white washed room with blue sea views and an orange tree outside. In addition to the strong orange scent there is a tiny touch of green, as if the fruit has just been plucked from the tree.

Then something even more interesting happens. I smell a touch of cinnamon which cuts through the orange scent. It gives a beautiful and unexpected gourmand note. Next vanilla and almond essence join the cinnamon. Too much of either and this would turn into a creamsicle but that doesn't happen. The almond adds a fragrant softness to the scent, like morning haze or diffused sunlight, making the orange scent a bit fuzzy. The vanilla adds just enough sweetness to be mellow but not saccharine. The cinnamon is still simmering underneath. I find the cinnamon the most distinct. The almond and vanilla continue to be identifiable but not overpowering.


Although I always enjoy citrus forward scents, both for the fragrance itself and for the "positive mental therapy" their happy smell invokes, the linear trajectory of these scents can frankly sometimes be a little boring. These unexpected gourmand elements added to Arancia di Sicilia make it more interesting and should also make it a perfume that is as delicious to wear on a brisk autumn day as on a sunny one.

The view from Villa Sant'Andrea, Sicily.

Eventually notes of coffee absolute, labdanum, iris, musk, and amber deepen the scent and add a warm richness. The coffee scent is faint on my skin and the labdanum, musk, and amber have the most impact. Wearing Arancia Di Sicilia is the projection of the perfect day, on holiday in Italy. You wake up to the bright aroma of the blood orange trees growing nearby. At breakfast you are served the perfect fresh juice, then perhaps a pastry with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and almond. Eventually an espresso rounds out the perfect morning and will carry you through the day.

I find the scent very likable and easy to wear. Projection on my skin was fairly close to the skin and the scent lasted for four to six hours.

Top photo from Perris Monte Carlo website. I purchased my sample from Luckyscent.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Villa Nellcote by 19-69 - Sex, Drugs, and Rock N' Roll

The year was 1971. The Vietnam War raged on. Hippie culture had reached its apex. Woodstock had happened a couple of years before. Rock music was king and the drug culture permeated the creative lifestyle of the musicians. The Rolling Stones had to leave England or submit to a 93% tax rate so in the spring of 1971 they reluctantly made their way to the south of France for a two year pilgrimage. It would make a romantic bohemian story to say they all lived together in a big hippie house party at Villa Nellcote to produce the next Rolling Stones album, Exile on Main Street. The truth was a bit messier. Keith Richards had rented Villa Nellcote to live in with his paramour Anita Pallenberg and the other members of the band were scattered from Grasse to Arles. The grandeur and privacy of Villa Nellcote, located on the ultra-exclusive Villefranche-sur-Mer peninsula in the Cote d'Azur, made this the natural place for the Stones to gather and create music. There wasn't a recording studio nearby so the chateau's dank basement became a makeshift studio.

For a fragrance dedicated to the memory of a significant summer of debauchery and decadence at the Villa Nellcote, the opening is fairly sunny and a touch soapy. The perfume Villa Nellcote opens with the citrus freshness one would picture if standing on the balcony, looking at the expanse of cerulean blue water and the sunlit blue skies above. There is a watery effect that feels like breathing in fragrant sea air. Top notes of grapefruit, bergamot, lemon, and lemon flower bring on the sunshine. Elemi oil adds to the lemony tang but adds a deeper woody, peppery note. But wait! Underneath all this sunniness, I can already smell the mossy undertones which add a bit of mystery and formality to Villa Nellcote. The more formal notes seem to reference that this is, after all, an impressive French chateau with a somewhat storied history. It had been occupied by Nazi forces during WWII and it is located on what is possibly the most expensive real estate peninsula in the world. But in 1971 Keith Richards was renting Villa Nellcote for $2500 a month and it became a scene of partying, extensive drug use, and rampant creativity.

The villa was surrounded by lush and abundant gardens and the scent must have been a backdrop to the languid life that took place while the Stones were in residence.The heart of the fragrance is made up of floral notes but they are subtle and come across as aromatics rather than big florals. This aspect reminds me of some of the Chanel colognes. The green note of violet leaf penetrates and adds a dryness and slight bitterness to the fragrance. Floral notes of rose petals, jasmine, magnolia, and osmanthus are background noise, like walking past a garden but not discerning any one note. There is also a black tea infusion which I can't specifically discern.

"Upstairs, it was fantastic, like Versailles," said Keith Richards. "But down there, it was Dante's Inferno."
The beautiful sea views, the glitter of the jewel like coast, the magnificence of the 18th century mansion, these are all reflected in the lightness and sophistication of the opening of Villa Nellcote. But the actual recording work took place in a dank wet basement, plagued by dripping ceilings and power outages. The base notes in the perfume are cabreuva (a wood scent, I had to Google), cedarwood, patchouli, white amber, musk, moss, and guaic wood. These darker notes still wear gently and aromatically, but the moss does give the vibe of a dank cellar which was rumored to have been a difficult place to record.

I was a bit frustrated testing this fragrance because my sample was in a little dabber and this is a fragrance that just begged to be sprayed. I felt like dousing myself in a spray of the slightly retro, cooling sunshine and moss scent. I liked the sophistication not always found in a citrus scent, a citrus with a veneer of French chic and sophistication that feels a bit dressy and polished. There is a slightly bitter green chord which to me signifies the decadence of this specific time and place. I like the aromatic cooling scent and I particularly like the mossy accord that lends a gentle chypresque feel. I do wish the scent was a bit stronger on my skin. It seemed to become fairly quiet only a couple of hours in. However, there was still a whiff of the mossiness the next morning when I woke up, albeit very close to the skin. This is a citrus with a little extra. I can picture a man or woman wearing this for a polished sophistication to present a cool calm against the heat of summer. Because of the mossy note I imagine this would also be a citrus that would transition well to cooler weather. I liked Villa Nellcote better each time I tried it. I wasn't initially wowed, but am to the point now I would like to own it.

The Swedish brand 19-69 was founded by Johan Bergelin and each scent is inspired by a cultural event, an era, or a setting. All the scents are suitable for wear by either gender. Bergelin says he chose the name 19-69 because, "The year 1969 represents an era of freedom, tolerance, and counterculture. It is also the year I was born."

**Apologies for lack of French punctuation marks. If anyone knows how to get them on blogspot format, please let me know!

The black and white photos are by photographer Dominique Tarle who lived in the Villa for a time, memorializing the moment with photos. The sample was purchased by me from Luckyscent. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A Visit With Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes and New Summer Introductions

Once upon a time there was a wizard of scent who lived in the shadow of the great mountains. From her small shop she created potions that enchanted all who smelled the magical fragrances. Her fame grew to the far reaches of the kingdom and seekers of beauty traveled from far and wide to try her creations.

Okay, I'm being a bit fanciful but it describes the excitement I felt when I realized that I would finally be able to meet Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, one of the most influential perfumers in my personal perfume journey. Her creations helped send me down the rabbit hole of the world of scent and opened my eyes to how creative this medium can be. In June I was visiting a friend who had relocated to Boulder, and the winding mountain road we took from her house in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains literally spilled me out at the intersection where Dawn's shop sits on the main road to downtown Boulder. Serendipity. 

The shop is small and my first thought was how can the large DSH Perfumes catalog of scents possibly be contained here? The space is welcoming and intimate and shelves line every wall, and there is indeed a large collection of perfumes on display.  A cozy couch provides a space for visitors to sit and let Dawn guide them through the scent selection process as the large selection can be a bit overwhelming for the uninitiated (but a bonus for those of us always looking for the next new thing). A small office behind the showroom serves as Dawn's creative area and holds shelves lined with fragrant essences as well as tokens of inspiration, such as a retro mink stole that Dawn refered to when creating  her recent series on fur scents. Packages are prepared for mailing in a small room that showed signs of lots of orders going out to eager customers. This small creative space reminded me of a queen bee and her busy hive of activity!

If you follow DSH Perfumes on Instagram, you know that Dawn regularly does live stream videos from her shop where she connects with her very loyal customers and describes new perfumes she is working on or scents that she think fit the season. Dawn is exactly as she appears on the videos, open and natural, and when we met it truly did seem that I already knew her. A lot has been written about Dawn and how she got her creative start in Boston before moving to Boulder, so I decided to ask about another topic which has always interestsed me, her association with the art world and how it affects her perfume creation process.

Me outside the Essense Studio, Boulder.

It was about ten years ago that I first became aware of Dawn's perfumes. This was back before Facebook was big, and a lot of fragrance chatting went on at and Basenotes, as well as the small number of  fragrance blogs that existed at that time. The perfumed project that  caught my attention was a collaboration between  DSH Perfumes and the Denver Museum of Art. The exhibit was about the court at Versailles, and Dawn created a series of perfumes called The Perfumed Court to illustrate fragrances that could have been worn by various members of the royal court at Versailles. What I found really fascinating was that she limited herself to using materials that were available in that era, and she did a lot of research to find out what scents the more famous historical figures would have been likely to use. I believe this sample set was my first order from DSH Perfumes and I loved the creativity of the marriage between scent and art. I asked Dawn to talk about how this association came about.

Dawn: "The very first time the DMA reached out to me was for the Artisans and Kings exhibit which were artifacts borrowed from the Louvre. They were artifacts that had to do with Versailles and Louis XIV, XV, and XVI. They wanted to do a show around artisans who worked for the King. They had a cheese maker, a winemaker, a baker. They were looking for something to do with all the senses and they wanted something for the sense of smell.They were looking around for a perfumer and they found me, and this is totally the kind of thing I like to do. I love research projects. They asked me to do a lecture on fragrances of the period. So I said, should I design something? And they said that would be great. And that was the very first time. I ended up making a collection of about eight fragrances and the museum would sell the collection during the course of the show. The program was such a success and they had such good feedback that now I'm on their creatives list and they reach out to me when they feel they're going to have a show that would be a nice pairing."

Of the collections Dawn has created in conjunction with the museum, she says that the YSL (Yves Saint Laurent) exhibit and the King Tut remain the best sellers, followed by Giverny In Bloom, which happens to be my personal favorite set. I asked how she approaches making scents for the exhibit.

Dawn:  "Sometimes, like with the Yves Saint Laurent, I go in advance and see the show and pick out what pieces I would like to speak about and be a part of my lecture. Sometimes I do my talks in the lecture hall and other times I will take people through the exhibit, give my talk, and have people literally smell their way through the exhibit, and so it becomes a multi-sensory experience."

Dawn's retro fur served as inspiration for a perfume series based on the smell of fur.

Dawn's creative output has seemed to me, an avid follower, to become even more prolific of late and I asked her if this was really the case. For instance, she recently introduced the Heirloom Collection of scents.

Dawn:  "I had this realization that I have all these notebooks full of ideas. I'm producing quite a lot but I have these creative needs so I have to deal with it. I consider myself an artist first and foremost and I treat this place more like an art studio than a perfume house. I'm making art and presenting it to my audience. But I realized that even though I am producing so much, I still have these notebooks with ideas that I would love to get to, but I don't want to do everything in a full launch that will be produced forever. I was talking to Michelyn Camen of Cafleurebon about this lament of mine and she said I should start doing limited editions and that I could do them rapid fire. It was really her brilliant idea to have this caveat that if you buy a signed and numbered limited edition bottle you get put on the registry and then you can buy it even after the edition is closed, so if you fall in love with one it can still be your signature scent. This way I can keep things to really small batches and be crazy creative and perhaps work with materials that I can only get a small amount of. I have lots of stashes of amazing materials that I want to work with, but can only get in a small amount."

Dawn partnered with Dave Kern of American Perfumer to produce Colorado which won the Independent Award at this year's Art & Olfaction Awards in Amsterdam. I asked Dawn about this partnership to create the award-winning scent, which has already sold out.

Dawn:  "The American Perfumer shop in Kentucky features only artisan American perfumers and is one of a kind in the US.  I was honored to be offered their first limited edition. Originally Dave Kern said, 'I'd love it to be where eventually we have all fifty states represented',  and so that's why it was named Colorado. I wanted to speak to the beautiful atmospheric aroma that you can find here. When the Ponderosa Pine bark is exuding its balsam and amber it has this very unique aroma, kind of like maple syrup and vanilla, so that aspect is the undertone of  Colorado. It has an airy conifer smell because in Colorado when you're in the mountains, even if you're in the forest there still feels like there is a lot of air moving around, not like the East Coast where the forests are more dense."

Dawn keeps an assortment of perfumes that never quite made it to market but are lovely nonetheless. They are for sale at fantastic prices so if you ever visit her shop do have a look. I couldn't resist picking up three originals: Jasmine Light, which is exactly what the name says but morphs into a beauty of a beach scent; Central Park In Spring, a bitter-green dry scent which I'm finding addicting; and Spring Rain, as clean and refreshing as a rain shower and then drying in the sun.

So what's coming next?

One project outside the DSH Perfumes umbrella that Dawn has upcoming is a collaboration with Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes. He commissioned her to create a perfume which will be called Snowy Owl, the notes of which she was not leaking when we talked back in June. 

As for DSH Perfumes, Dawn has some fun new fragrances she is introducing for summer. "I'm going to be doing a lot more launches, and by that I mean things that are not going to be limited edition or heirloom,"

"We're doing this thing called Summer Fun in June, July and August," Dawn said. "It will be semi humorous, fun ideas because I like that sort of thing. For June we're doing Avocado Toast - the hipster skin scent. It's an interpretation. If people are expecting it to smell  literally like  avocado toast, which has very little smell, then they are going to be disappointed because it doesn't smell like avocado toast. It takes the elements of avocado toast and amplifies them to create a perfume. A really fresh avocado has this green juicy quality. So it's green to creamy as it starts, then it shifts to warm and toasty. When you toast bread it caramelizes, so you have a little bit of that; not caramel exactly, but a sweet undertone. It was designed to be a skin scent and fun to wear, and just really delicious. It's easy to wear, not like a major perfume. I think it's fun to do things that are serious and things that are not serious."

Find this recipe at

Other than the fact that avocado toast is probably my favorite breakfast, especially with fried egg on top, I had no clue what to expect from this scent. Well I'm here to tell you, avocados wish they smelled like this. The opening is a very creamy, yummy gourmand green. The caramelized toast  smell is experienced through notes of grain, warm butter, and a delicious amber-like accord which may come from the notes of immortale. It is a warm, yummy gourmand scent that wears extremely close to the skin. Dawn, if you need anymore ideas, I'd love to see a perfume featuring this burnt toast accord, but stronger. It has me wanting more.  If any of you tried last year's Jo Malone limited edition which included notes of grain it reminds me slightly of some of these scents, but better.

Another recent addition to the DSH Perfumes line is Royal Grey Cologne. Customers had been clamouring for Dawn to make an Earl Grey tea scent and this all botanical perfume is the result. 

Royal Grey Cologne is very bergamot forward and it is a brisk, fresh scent. It feels a bit oily, just like the bergamot oil they use to flavor Chinese black tea to make it in the Earl Grey fashion. The bergamot hangs around for a while but eventually the black tea note creeps in, and that is when I was rewarded with one of the scent memories that hits you ...poof... with a long buried memory revived by the smell of a forgotten moment. When I was very young my Grandparents lived in the Texas countryside and ran a few cattle. We would visit and I loved cramming into their small two bedroom house with all the cousins who lived nearby. My grandmother would brew dark black tea in preparation for the evening meal and the smell of the black tea in this perfume made me remember that moment. My grandmother would put several tea bags into a ceramic bowl that looked like an ear of corn. It is one of two things I took when she died and it sits in my kitchen today. The tea bags were an inexpensive brand, probably Lipton, but she used several and the tea was inky black. Then she would add in two full cups of sugar and the scent became syrupy and rich. I could smell the sugar melting as it met the hot tea. I didn't like sweet tea. My own Mom served us unsweetened tea with mint leaves and that's how I preferred to drink it, but the sweet tea did have a certain fullness and rich undertones that smelled delicious. Dawn describes this on her website as "the dense richness and liquor/floralcy of black tea." As the perfume wears the bergamot is still present but black tea notes along with very subtle floral notes provide a realistic and brisk cup of Earl Grey tea.

Gardenia Vitreaux is the third entry in DSH Perfumes Flowers for Men series. The name translates to Glassy Gardenia and is a modern take on the gardenia flower, which is usually represented in either a lush voluptuous form or with a tropical twist. Gardenia Vitreaux opens with a slight aldehyde lift, followed by notes of musk, ambergris, and eventually leather. This is a very different gardenia than you will have encountered before and does make this flower accessible to men who aren't drawn to the flower in its sweeter form.

Au Crepescule de Lavande, or In the Lavender Twilight was a spring introduction and April bestseller for DSH Perfumes. I went to Provence last summer and got to walk in the fields of narcotic lavender, breathing in their healing goodness and heady scent. Au Crepescule de Lavande perfectly catches that feeling of standing in a a field of lavender, bees buzzing, the air filled with herbal scents, sticky honey, and the soft fuzz of lavender buds. Dawn wanted to create a different sort of lavender perfume, not one with the feel of an aromatherapy session or day at the spa. "I wanted a full blown retro nouveau perfume that has vintage elements and an immense elegance," Dawn says on her website. I love the honeyed sweet herbal lavender mish-mash of notes that takes the smells of nature but gives it a slight gourmand spin and dressy elements that make it feel like a classic French perfume. I personally love lavender and Au Crepescule de Lavande is luscious and a must try for lavender lovers. This will be my next bottle order.

Dawn has added  a second perfume to her Nocturne series. The first was Je Suis La Lune, a jasmine laced ode to the moon. In her newest,  Vers la Voute Etoilee (Toward the Starry Vault) : Nocturne No. 2, Dawn looks toward the stars for inspiration. Dawn came across a piece of music with this beautiful phrase and was inspired to create a perfume. Dawn says on her website, "I hope that with Vers la Voute Etoilee you will feel yourself hushed among the night blooming flowers of summer as you breath in the awe inspiring stars of the heavens above."

When Dawn heard I love white flowers she told me that I would probably like Vers la Voute Etoilee and she was right. Dawn said, "It's based on night scented stock and there are not a lot of perfumes out there based on night scented stock. It will  have star jasmine and stargazer lily. It's starry, sparkly, so it will have aldehydes in it. And it's nighttime so there will be a chypre background. It will feel classical and retro."

Vers la Voute Etoilee opens with a dewy, earthy floral note, as if the flowers have been ripped from the earth and bits of dirt cling to the roots. I have tried so many of Dawn's perfumes that I can recognize her fingerprint in certain notes, and this reminds me of a similar effect in Giverney In Bloom or l' Opera des Rouges et des Roses. It is such a realistic garden note and gives an authenticity to the florals. In addition to star jasmine, stargazer lily, and night stock there is black petunia. After the fresh lushness of the opening fades the white flowers become softer, almost a touch powdery. There is definitely a retro feel to the perfume. I get the slight sweetness of beeswax, as if there are candles flickering in our white flower garden bower. The florals have staying power on my skin, but the perfume eventually transitions into notes of oak moss, woods, civet, and musk. These notes also make Vers la Voute Etoille feel like it could have traveled through time. I really enjoyed the beauty of the white flowers conveyed in such an elegant manner. I can imagine I'm laying on my lawn in the garden of night blooming flowers as they emit a hazy sweet perfume, looking at the swath of twinkling stars above.

A big thanks to Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for welcoming me into her studio and being so generous with her time, as she had back-to-back interviews that day.

A big thanks to my friend Betsy Zink for the photographs of Dawn and her studio! And thank you to Dawn for providing me with these samples.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Sharkskin by DSH Perfumes, The Newest Heirloom Scent Joey Bishop, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin.

I recently got to visit Dawn Spencer Hurwitz' studio in the Rocky Mountains and she showed me some of the new things she is working on, which included the latest in her Heirloom Collection, Sharkskin. I am going to be writing about this visit to Dawn's studio this weekend, but I wanted to hurry and get the review for DSH Perfumes Sharkskin out as it is a limited edition and only available through the end of August.

I love learning new bits of trivia or history, and Sharkskin was such a vehicle. When I first heard the name Sharkskin I thought in a very linear path to a grey silvery shark. While Dawn is referencing the animal with her new perfume, she was also influenced by sharkskin suits which were embraced by the Ratpack in the 60s  and have enjoyed a recent renaissance in style. The slim, sleek-fitting suit, perfectly illustrated in the recent television series Mad Men, have a shiny sheen to the fabric which is supposed to channel visions of a shark skin.

When making Sharkskin, Dawn was channeling the cool sheen of the fabric used to make sharkskin suits, the silvery sleek skin of the shark, as well as the feel of cool water against the shark's skin. It is meant to feel cool and sleek on the skin, and as refreshing as a dive into cool ocean water. 

When I tested Sharkskin I found that Dawn has come up with a cooling, refreshing antidote for the steamy heat of summer. She calls it a "retro-modern fougere" in the tradition of a cologne. A fougere historically is composed of three main notes: a sweet floral, often lavender; an oak moss woody scent, and coumarin with its hay-like smell. The opening is a mixture of fresh citrus and floral, and the use of mock orange fulfills both these categories. It has the sparkle of Tahitian Lime, backed by other citrus notes such as lemon, bergamot, neroli and petitgrain. The lime opening is distinct but then I smell a slight touch of the soapy freshness that neroli and petitgrain can give. Quickly notes of mock orange sweeten the citrus. If you've ever smelled a mock orange, like orange tree blossoms it has a scent of sweet floral freshness and innocence. I have found that on my international flights they often put colognes containing orange blossom in the bathrooms for a fresh pick-me-up when the last shower is a distant memory. This aspect of the perfume represents the coolness of the sharkskin, be it a fabric suit or the leathery skin of the predatory fish. 

Eventually fern-like notes present, lending a sophistication and suaveness to Sharkskin. Dawn uses the traditional fougere ingredient of oakmoss to facilitate this transition, but there is also ambergris, Australian sandalwood, civet, and musk. There is the feeling of freshly ironed clothes and I find the mock orange provides the freshness but these fern notes give the impression of hot iron touching fabric, making it crease less and smooth. At this point a slight lavender note becomes apparent in the cologne. The coumarin can provide many nuances to the scent besides the new mown hay note with which it is most identified. Coumurin can give herbaceous aspects to a scent and sometimes has an undertone of powder and vanilla. Although I would never call Sharkskin a powdery scent, it does provide that cooling freshness that a dusting of talc can provide to sweaty skin.

DSH Perfumes Sharkskin is a fragrant armour against the humid, sweaty assault of summer temperatures. Whether you picture it as an uber trendy fitted suit or the metallic shimmer of sharkskin, the cologne keeps you feeling crisp and clean. It is very unisex and easy to wear. For comparison purposes only, in spirit this reminds me of Penhaligon's Savoy Steam or Balenciaga L'Essence, both of which I have reviewed here. The notes are different but they contain a similar clean, cooling, fresh pressed aura.

DSH Perfumes Heirloom Collection is a new invention this year to give a venue for the many creative ideas percolating in Dawn's mind. The designs will be sold for two months, then once it is gone, it's gone, with one exception. If you have bought one of the heirloom bottles you always have the opportunity to order more from Dawn, as long as she can source the ingredients. You can also subscribe to the heirloom subscription service if you don't want to miss out on any of the introductions.