Thursday, September 14, 2017

Travels In Spain, Part Five: Granada and the Alhambra

Reviewing: Rania J Cuir Andalou, L'Artisan Histoire d'Oranger, MDCI Nuit Andalouse

A visit to Granada would complete our tour of Spain's Andalusian region. We had stopped at the beach along the way after our departure from Ronda so our arrival was in the late afternoon. Catholic monarchs may have conquered this area in the 1400's but the city's medieval Moorish past is alive and well in the Albaicin, the old part of the city where we were lodging. Our accommodation was atop a steep hill accessed by thread-narrow streets with impossible 90-degree turns amongst claustrophobic walls, navigated in our now obviously too-large car. We gratefully arrived at our destination and after settling into our very comfortable apartment atop the hill we went to get directions to the city below. "Right at the bell tower, left at the carpet shop, past the lantern stall and down the hill," we were told.

The directions sounded a little bit like Peter Pan's directions to Wendy: "Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning." When we arrived at the bottom of the hill we were spilled into a rabbit warren of narrow cobblestone paths lined with stall after stall selling leather goods, colorful glass lanterns, fancy spices, and indeed, it did seem we might have stumbled into Neverland, or at least Morocco.

It truly felt as if we'd left Spain and sailed across the Strait to North Africa. It was admittedly a tourist trap of goods, but the food in the colorfully decorated restaurants was amazing and the place came alive at night.

I had brought a couple of leather-based perfumes with me and decided that Cuir Andalou by Rania J  perfectly reflects the smells and exotic attitude found in these shops of the Albaicin. Cuir Andalou opens with the smell of new leather, such as when you first purchase a quality leather bag. It is nice but fairly linear on my skin for the first thirty minutes and I am starting to be disappointed, as I found Jasmine Kama by Rania J (reviewed here) very interesting. I was expecting more than this. Just about the time I've forgotten about the perfume I suddenly start smelling something wonderful. My chin is resting in my hand and the scent wafting up off my wrist smells divine as the perfume starts to bloom. I'm still smelling the leather but it has been muted with the scent of flowers and a trail of smoke. As time passes I'm smelling the whole ambience of these lanes and the narrow shops filled with exotic goods. I smell the warm spices, the faintest touch of flowers in the iron window boxes overhead, dust, and earth. There is a curious combination of smoke and oud, like warm incense and candles burning against the cold stone of the sanctuary walls. This perfume feels as ancient as the streets I'm walking. Castoreum makes the leather more pronounced and gives it an animalic quality. Patchouli and vetiver give the perfume its earthy appeal. Notes of neroli, rose, iris, and violet are responsible for the floral mid notes and saffron adds spice. The base notes include sandalwood and oud.

If you can't tell from my description, I find this perfume very appealing. I often have trouble with leather notes so when I find one I like it makes me happy! To date my favorite leather perfume has been Bottega Veneta but this one is a contender. My only gripe; its longevity is not what I expected. It throws off such a mesmerizing glow for several hours that I assumed it would be one of those perfumes that I could still faintly smell at night and even into the next morning, but such was not the case. However that is easily solved by spraying again. This is another win for me from Rania J.

This is the Alhambra. It is why people come to Granada. Like a magical palace cast from tales of the Arabian Nights, the Alhambra looms high above the town of Granada, and it is one of the largest and busiest tourist attractions in Spain. In fact since we were going to be in Granada during August, the height of tourist season, we had to book tickets to view the Alhambra a couple of months in advance as if going to a concert. Show up without tickets and you probably won't be able to get inside. You can choose morning or afternoon viewings, and as I had read that most tour groups go in the morning slots I opted for the afternoon. It is a huge complex and it took us several hours to make our way through the grounds, palace, garden, and ruins.

As in Seville, my visit was not timed for the blooming of orange blossoms but since it is such an iconic scent of the region I decided to review two more orange blossom based scents. My fellow blogger, Undina, will probably be happy this is my last orange blossom review as I just found out she doesn't care for the note!

Pinterest image of Generalife Gardens in the Alhambra.

L'Artisan Histoire d'Orangers was introduced in 2017 and perfumer Marie Salamagne asserts that the inspiration for the perfume came in the form of a scented memory from a trip to Morocco. L'Artisan has not had a pure orange blossom scent (correct me if I'm wrong here) since the release of its limited edition scent, Fleur d'Oranger 2007. There was the release of Seville a l'Aube which features the orange blossom note, but it is really too complicated of a scent to call it just an orange blossom perfume. I have a bottle of the limited edition from 2007 and I will be comparing this new orange blossom scent to L'Artisan's older model.

Histoire d'Orangers has a beautiful opening, all gauzy and floaty with tendrils of orange blossom releasing their scent on the warm soft breeze. The orange blossom feels wispy and almost transparent and opening notes of neroli give green aspects of the plant to lend a scintilla of bitterness which balances the flower's sweetness. In contrast to this graceful opening, the 2007 limited edition version begins with the clash of fragrant cymbals as notes of orange blossom make a dramatic entrance to the stage, accentuated with great dripping lashings of honey. Whereas Histoire d'Oranger feels like you're strolling down the path and suddenly catch the scent of some distant orange blossom trees, the 2007 version feels like you've lain in a hay field bordered by a grove of orange blossom trees in full bloom, the scent of nectar is thick in the air, and the sound of bee's buzzing gives a somnambulant, almost tipsy effect.

Garden in the Alhambra. 

The new Histoire d'Oranger begins to quietly build in intensity. The structure of the smell hasn't changed; it's just building steam and gaining more presence. The musk has entered the scent and to me it intensifies the gauziness of the orange blossom, amping down the sweetness to a manageable level and thus intensifying it's fuzzy comfort effect. Ambroxan in the base intensifies this aura, and with a tonka bean note adds  a slight creaminess to the scent. There is supposedly a note of white tea in the perfume but I don't smell it; for that matter, when I drink white tea I don't taste anything, so there's that. Meanwhile, my arm sprayed with the limited edition is smelling more like a jar of orange blossom honey than orange blossom. The beeswax has intensified and it is much heavier and more gourmand than the Histoire d'Oranger. I'm taking into account that my bottle is ten years old and the top notes may have dissipated somewhat. My memory of what it smelled like ten years ago is unclear and my tastes have changed since then anyway.

When comparing the two orange blossom L'Artisans side by side the new Histoire d'Oranger seems a bit pale in comparison to my 2007 version. But when I tested it again on its own I was able to appreciate the art of the way perfumer Ms. Salamagne has delicately rendered the orange blossom, making what can sometimes be an almost obnoxiously dominant white floral into a diaphanous white scent trail. I really enjoyed wearing Histoire d'Oranger and believe it deserves to stand on its own accolades within L'Artisan's stable of scents. However if you are not an appreciator of that flower I doubt this perfume will win you over.

MDCI Nuit Andalouse is the last of the perfumes I'm reviewing that were inspired by the Andulusian region of Spain  and it's a favorite of mine. I think all the MDCI perfumes are well done, but this one! It literally makes me swoon when I first put it on! My eyes roll back, I'm weak at the knees, and all the little happy! happy! receptors in my nose are bursting into the Hallelujah! chorus. Ok, maybe I'm laying it on a bit strong but this smells so good! The blurb on the Parfums MDCI  site describes Perfumer Cecile Zarokian's 2013 olfactory representation of an Andalusian night thusly: "An enchanting composition around the gardenia theme which carries us at the heart of a warm summer Mediterranean night, languid, with the rustling whisper of the fresh fountains and of voices and far-off signings (sic) which can be heard in the splendor of the gardens."

The listed opening notes are orange, violet, and green notes. There is something magical happening in that opening but I would never have been able to pick those notes out, not even the orange. The combination smells ebullient and lilting and serves as a launching pad for the next stage, the entrance of the gardenia, ylang ylang, and rose. These notes have never smelled better together. The creaminess of the ylang ylang, the lushness of the gardenia, and the primness of the rose, all together in one big beautiful bouquet. Later base notes of sandalwood, vanilla, and musk will soften and ground the bouquet. Once I'm about thirty minutes into the wear of this perfume the notes start settling down and my initial excitement abates. Several hours after application I mostly smell creamy vanilla and ylang ylang with a slight hint of the gardenia. At this point in the perfume's life, I've been to this party before; it's nice, I'll stay, but it's not sending me over the edge as it does initially. While it would be nice to live in the perpetual state of bliss that the first spray delivers, it's just not meant to be. Even in nature, beautiful scents are fleeting. If you are continuously exposed to something it loses its magic, at least that's what I believe. Clearly, I love this perfume, but if you don't like bursts of big florals or the creamy sweetness of ylang ylang and vanilla then this may not be your cup of tea.

As for me: have you ever been someplace that is so beautiful that you think I have to remember this. Or had a moment that you think I'll pull this memory out next time I need to be reminded that the world can be beautiful. I have had several of these moments when I travel and a couple on this trip. The opening notes of this perfume is the olfactory equivalent of those moments: something that can't be sustained for too long or it would lose it's specialness, but oh, how beautiful it is while it lasts.

This wisteria is why I need to go back in the spring! Only a few blooms when I was there in August.

And now for Serendipity. The hardest thing in the world for me is to get rid of books. We had to clear out my parent's house eight years ago after my mother passed away, but I still have a couple of boxes of my father's random books that I wasn't able to find space for or rehome. During the time I was in the midst of writing this review I decided it was time to get those boxes off the floor. I went through the boxes and hiding at the bottom underneath the other books I found this.

When we were at the Alhambra there were several references to the writer Washington Irving, his stay there, and the book he eventually wrote called Tales of the Alhambra. I had decided I would seek it out to read once I got back home, so this discovery felt like a gift from my Dad who's been gone thirteen years now, delivered at exactly the right moment!

Read more about Spain, this trip, and my perfumes at Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.

Top Alhambra shot: Second Alhambra shot: from Architecture Arts and City. Wisteria shot from Pinterest. All other shots my own unless noted. Perfumes my own.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Travels In Spain, Part Four: The Costa del Sol and Keiko Mecheri Tarifa

Look at Tarifa on the map. It is on the southernmost tip of Spain, literally a short swim from Morocco (which is #1 on my travel wish list at the moment). I really wanted to see Tarifa's beaches. The photos looked beautiful but it was too far off our route as we traveled from Ronda to Granada. Plus there was the added complication of finding a room. When I went on their little meter at the top of the page was registering 98% full occupancy. The rooms that were showing up as available looked like something I shared with friends back in the days of college spring break  and they were going for 500 Euro per night. Evidently everybody goes to the south of Spain in the month of August. So we didn't make it to Tarifa, instead swinging by Marbella for a few hours then making our way on up to Granada.

I suppose I'm a bit of a beach snob. I've lived in Southeast Asia for so many years and it's so easy and inexpensive to get to tropical beaches in the South China, Andaman, and Java Seas. Plus my husband is Australian and really, their beaches are stunning. Minus the sharks, of course. So the whole idea of renting a beach bed for the day with the strangers next to me being mere inches away seemed a little weird. Plus the water is cold! However the egalitarian nature of the experience appealed, and I would not have been any happier had I been on the beach of one of those expensive, out-of-my-budget resorts sequestered behind their unwelcoming guarded gates. Honestly! Power to the people, and all that.  Beautiful views, though, and I did like my umbrella! And with the touts walking around selling fake purses and sunglasses, I thought I was back in Bali! Anyway, the photos of Tarifa looked more like the beaches I am accustomed to and I didn't want to miss the chance to review this perfume that Keiko Mecheri dedicated to this particular beach in Spain.

Keiko Mecheri Tarifa is one of the perfumes in her Dreamscape series, seven scents inspired by travel. Tarifa is situated on a cusp of land overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet. Morocco is a quick ferry ride away and the Moorish influence is strong. Tarifa opens with orange blossom and petitgrain and in the first moments demonstrates a slight bit of bubbly soapiness but it is very understated. To up the citrus meter is Tunisian orange blossom and Calabrian bergamot. I can smell orange blossom but it is very fuzzy and hazy, like it is encased in a white musk. There is no fruity orange smell; instead the woody aspects of the petitgrain take front and center. The base notes are amber and spices and whatever spice notes are used, I can't pick them out. The amber adds warmth and a bit of "lying in the sun" beach vibe. The whole thing is sunny and pleasant but it fails to rock my world.

I like many Keiko Mecheri perfumes and I don't not like this one but it's not my favorite way to wear orange blossom. When I wear orange blossom I like it to be realistic, like the flower, or showy. My favorite I own is a bottle of L'Artisan Fleur d'Oranger realeased as a limited edition in 2007. I also love Elie Saab which is all glamour and pizzazz. Tarifa is unisex but leans more masculine and it emphasizes the petitgrain and bergamot notes. The orange blossom gets somewhat lost on my skin. It is nice, certainly inoffensive, but not different enough for me to want to add it to my collection. Anyone looking for a less floral, more woody orange blossom perfume may find this is what they want and I also think it will appeal more to men.

For more stories on Spain and the perfumes I wore go to Part One, Part Two, or Part Three.

Top photo Google map image. Perfume sample my own.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Travels In Spain, Part Three: Los Pueblos Blancos & Ronda With MFK APOM

When I was originally planning our trip to Spain I knew nothing about Los Pueblos Blancos and the town of Ronda. During my interview with perfumer Francis Kurkdjian last spring,here, he mentioned that he liked to vacation in southern Spain. (This is the last time I will name drop in this article!). I told him I was going to the south and asked for his best recommendation and he said that he really enjoyed the Los Pueblos Blancos region, home of the white washed villages, and he specifically mentioned Ronda. Well that was good enough for me and Ronda was added to our itinerary!  I am pleased to have found this beautiful and laid back corner of Andalusia. These small villages scattered throughout the Sierra de Grazalema Park typically have houses with whitewashed walls and tile roofs lining narrow streets that are often next to impossible to maneuver with an automobile. Ronda, one of these villages perches precariously atop cliffs straddling the great gorge El Tajo and is known for its bridge spanning the gap and also as the home of Spain's oldest bullfighting ring. American writers Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles were part-time summer residents here and used the area as inspiration.

We only had one day and night in Ronda but it was a relaxing stop between the sightseeing marathons in Seville and Granada, and later my daughter mentioned it as the place she'd most like to go back and spend more time.  I decided I needed to review something from Maison Francis Kurkdjian since he was the reason I discovered the place. It's a bit of a reach to say that these scents in any way remind me of the area but I decided to go with two of Mr. Kurkdjian's early works, APOM pour Femme and APOM pour Homme.

MFK's APOM pour Femme and it partner scent, Homme, were introduced in 2009, the first year that Mr. Kurkdjian started his own atelier. APOM pour Femme, which stands for "A Part Of Me", is described in copy as "a bit of oneself to leave with others." It is a yellow floral with strong woody undertones and only three notes are revealed: orange flower from Tunisia, cedar wood from Virginia, and ylang ylang. This was inspired by a trip Mr. Kurkdjian took to Lebanon. In my interview I told the perfumer that orange blossom seemed his signature note, he has had so many perfumes in his own line and in perfumes he's created for others that feature the note. He looked surprised when I said this but to me he is masterful with its use.

When I spray APOM I am intially slightly underwhelmed. It is a bit fizzy with a very mild and muted orange blossom note, pretty but unremarkable; however, orange blossom is usually a bit of a rowdy showgirl so this refinement is in itself a bit remarkable. Slowly the perfume starts to warm up and this is when everything changes, for the better. Were you ever in scouting and tried that old chestnut of rubbing two sticks together to try to spark a fire? This is the sensation I get, a slow building of warmth. It has the feel of soft amber but as that note is not listed I'm not sure how this is created. The ylang ylang starts to become noticeable and it lends a touch of powdery sweetness and a warm glow. It's hard to believe there are just three ingredients in APOM, but if so, Kurkdjian has performed a bit of alchemy with the ylang ylang and cedar by creating the perfume's warm soft growl. This never feels like a "white perfume", as orange blossom can often translate. It feels fuzzy and soft but also elegant at the same time. Eventually the woody note becomes more prominent but is wrapped in a cashmere cloak of the mixed florals.

My greatest affirmation came later that day. I never get compliments on my perfume, and next to telling me how great my (grown) kids are, that is the most welcome compliment you could give me. I was at the library check out counter and the librarian said, "Wow, you smell really good. What perfume are you wearing?"

I had just been at T.J. Maxx and given myself a big spray of something called Macaroon Rose. "Is it this?" I asked, holding my right hand up to her nose.

"Definitely not!" she replied, wrinkling her nose.

 "How about this?" I offered my left wrist, the arm I had sprayed with Apom Femme  several hours before.

She smiled. "Now that's elegant!"

MFK's APOM pour Homme shares two notes with the Femme version, orange blossom and Virginia cedar, but drops the ylang ylang in favor of amber. It's opening is also orange blossom but in this instance it takes on the more neroli like aspect of the plant which is typically considered to be more masculine. Just like its sister, the scent begins to "heat" up as the amber comes into play. I'm not overly fond of the opening but once it starts warming up it's a nice spicy/woody mix that like the femme version seems to be on a slow boil, holding steady with subtle heat and intensity. At this point the orange is very subdued. I smell cedar wood, cinnamon, and the warmth of the amber. I am not one to shy away from male scents but in this case I definitely prefer the femme of the set. It seems more unique and ultimately I find the Homme version nice but not as distinctive.

If you've gotten this far and are still interested in hearing more about Ronda, we stayed in the most quirky, cool hotel called Hotel Enfrente Art. It has a history of being associated with recording artists who came to this beautiful town for a creative jolt, and the most famous of these is probably Madonna, who came in 1994 to record a video for her song Take A Bow. She wanted to shoot a scene in the bullfighting ring but was denied by the owner so these shots had to be shot at another ring. Today the hotel maintains a charming individuality and we were given a warm welcome. They have a help-yourself bar and a great free breakfast cooked by a cheery chef who served everything from chocolate crepes to mango/tuna cerviche. The small lobby features the front half of an old car and other quirky items are scattered throughout the hotel. The meandering garden has unusual planters and there is an area where you can sit in chairs mounted in a shallow pond, dangle your feet in the water and let the fish nibble at your feet. I think you need a sense of humor to appreciate this hotel. Don't expect marble bathrooms and chic white linens, but we loved it!

Our absolute favorite relaxation at the hotel was drinking our gratis wine and sitting on the pleasant balcony overlook with its fabulous view. Pots of herbs hung on one wall and there was a wisteria vine covering the other which would smell heavenly when in bloom. Here's my daughter enjoying the moment in the photo below.

For more on Spain travels and related perfume review see Part One, Part Two, and Part Four.

Top photo from Flickr. Other photos my own. Perfumes from my own collection.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Travels In Spain, Part Two: Seville

Reviewing: Dame Perfumery Soliflore Rose de Mai, Ramon Monegal Entre Naranjos, and L'Artisan Seville a l'Aube

After leaving Mallorca we traveled to mainland Spain, and despite Ryan Air's* best attempts to spoil the trip I think we all agreed that the next stop, Seville, stole our hearts. The city itself has numerous impressive and historic sights and it is entertaining simply to wander the twisty narrow streets, stopping for a tapas and wine, then moving on to the next place. My favorite tourist sight we visited was the Real Alcázar and its attached gardens. Real Alcázar started life as a Moorish fort about one thousand years ago but was conquered by Catholic kings during the Reconquista  beginning in the 12th century and during the 1400's took on its present appearance as a palace.

Seville in the 1400's was the epicenter of Spain's Golden Age. From here explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and Magellan came to plead for funding of their voyages from Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. No doubt they would have been awed by the beautiful palace halls of colorful tiles, courtyards with tinkling fountains, and glimpses of the green gardens outside through the arched doorways. Real Alcázar isn't as grand as more traditional castles like the one we viewed in Madrid, with their multitudes of rooms and lofty ceilings. But as travel writer Rick Steves describes: "The Alcázar feels like an Arabian Nights fairy-tale: finely etched domes, lacy arcades, keyhole arches, and comfy courtyards."

Scene from Game of Thrones inside Real Alcazar.

So enchanting is this Moorish palace that it was chosen to represent the world of Dorne in the 2014 season of Game of Thrones. My daughter and I watch the show and were searching for familiar scenes. The first one we recognized was the shot of the water garden, where this scene below was shot.

As beautiful as the palace is, the gardens are equally stunning and one can imagine how the running water, the fountains, shade trees and lovely scented gardens would have offered such relief against the hot summers sans air conditioning. Reportedly the gardens are fragrant with orange blossom in the spring but as I was there in August I missed that pleasure, however there were numerous rose gardens and bushes of flowering jasmine. Arbors of wisteria lined some of the palace doorway entrances to the garden. Wisteria is a favorite of mine but also a spring bloomer; nevertheless the jasmine and roses sent sweet scent into the hot afternoon air.

Photo of Real Alcazar rose garden by

The scent I had with me that most perfectly recreated the beautiful scent of the roses in the Alcázar's garden is Dame Perfumery Soliflore Rose de Mai oil rollerball. This oil captures the rose in all of its sweetness, expressing the fragility of the cupped velvet petals atop a slender green branch. Perfumer Jeffrey Dame came out with a collection of soliflore oils in 2015 and 2016 and advertises them as,  "A true floral, alive and in full bloom. Lifting off into the breeze, floating through the air; adrift in a garden of earthly delight." This may sound like advertising hyperbole but in this case the words are entirely true. I have tried several of the oils and found them all beautiful, but there is something about rose. It is uplifting, happy, and always puts a smile on my face. More recently Mr. Dame has introduced the scents in 100 ml. eau de toilette sprays but I haven't had the opportunity to try these yet.

Anyone who has done business with Dame Perfumery knows that Jeffrey excels at customer service, is generous with samples, and has very affordable prices. Now when I smell Soliflore Rose de Mai I will always be reminded of this beautiful Moorish garden in Spain. The perfume is as named--a soliflore--so rose de mai is all that is happening here. But it is so beautiful and realistic and sometimes I just yearn for simplicity and beauty. Dame Rose de Mai delivers on both counts.

Seville is also known for it's beautiful cathedral, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See but more commonly referred to as just Seville Cathedral. It is the third largest church in the world and the largest Gothic cathedral, famously housing the remains of Christopher Columbus. It's central nave is an impressive 42 meters high, punctuating the wishes of the church elders who drew up the plans in 1401, "Let us build a church so beautiful and so magnificent that those who see it will think we are mad." While it is hard to get a feeling of reverence in the cathedral with all the tourists milling about, it is not hard to imagine how awed the attendees would have been five hundred years ago to enter this stunning space.  The cathedral has an adjoining garden with orange trees. When we were there in August the trees were laden with oranges; in spring I would have smelled the city's iconic orange blossom scent.

Photo of Cathedral oranges by

The orange trees reminded me of a scent I had brought along by a Spanish perfumer, Entre Naranjos by Ramon Monegal. Monegal's line is  based out of Barcelona (as all Spanish perfumers seem to be), the one big city I didn't go to on my trip. Monegal was a perfumer and creative director in Spain for many years before going independent and starting his own line in 2007. He created Entre Naranjos in 2011.

Enter the oranges, indeed! You have petit grain, you have neroli, you have orange blossom and bitter orange. This perfume opens with a parade of orange in all its guises. You get the bitterness of orange peel and the occasional sweetness of orange blossom. For a short time I can smell the amber glowing warm and spicy, giving the citrus more presence. As time passes the neroli is what I can smell the most, and it does eventually take on that slightly soapy air of a barbershop. This smells clean, uplifting and invigorating. Later the amber and Indonesian patchouli take the lead. The patchouli is especially nice and these notes give the orange a warm edge and more depth. The orange blossom seems to be the symbol of Seville and this perfume sparkles with orange. This has been done before and it's not groundbreaking but Monegal has done it very nicely and the quality of his ingredients shine through.

L'Artisan Seville A L'Aube was released in 2012 to great fanfare. It was a collaboration between blogger Denise Beaulieu and perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, bringing to life a scented memory from Seville's Holy Week which Beaulieu wrote about in her book The Perfume Lover. Three years before this perfume would be conceived, a contributor to National Geographic's Intelligent Traveler blog used this phrase to describe the Holy Week scene: "During Semana Santa, the sweet smell of azahares (orange blossoms) muddled with incense and loads of candle wax permeates the city." This familiar scene is also described by Ms. Beaulieu in her book, The Perfume Lover. 
I am in Seville, standing under a bitter orange tree in full bloom in the arms of Roan, the black-clad Spanish boy who is not yet my lover. Since sundown, we've been watching the religious brotherhoods in their pointed caps and habits thread their way across the old Moorish town bearing statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary...In the tiny white-washed plaza in front of the church, wafts of lavender cologne rise from the tightly pressed bodies. As the altar boys swing their censers, throat-stinging clouds of sizzling resins - humanity's millennia-old message to the gods - cut through the fatty honeyed smell of the penitents' beeswax candles."
 Denyse Beaulieu, The Perfume Lover
I tried a sample of L'Artisan Seville a l'Aube shortly after it was introduced in 2012. As I recall, there was a lot of fanfare about this being a great orange blossom perfume. Orange blossom is one of my favorite notes and I had fallen hard the year before for Elie Saab perfume, a joyous explosion of orange blossom crafted by Francis Kurkdjian. So I tried Seville a l'Aube with this preconceived notion of what to expect and all I remember is being underwhelmed. I don't remember my exact impression but I do recall thinking, "where is all the orange blossom?" Knowing that I was going to be in Seville, I had to give this perfume another chance so I ordered a sample and patiently didn't touch it until I was in Seville.

The heavenly radiant heights of the cathedral and the darker, moodier floor below.
Photo from

This time I opened my mind to whatever the perfume wanted to tell me. Whereas before I had looked for a ground-breaking orange blossom what I found this time was that the bright sweet orange blossom is just the beginning of this story. The petitgrain lends a green briskness overshadowing the sweetness of the orange blossom. As the scent unfolds I smell the honeyed beeswax, representing the candles lit by the penitents. Beeswax can sometimes have gourmand elements but here there is almost a feral smell as if digging into the hive where all these busy creatures live and withdrawing hands dripping with unfiltered honey. This stage lasts for around an hour and doesn't totally agree with me. Half the time I wore Seville a l'Aube it had this unsettling effect and I found the honey note unpleasant. Skin chemistry is a funny thing, though, and a couple of the times the honey note was beautiful, rich and floral.

So you might think that the honey note would have been the end of my interest in this perfume, but not so fast. The base notes of this perfume contain olibanum, benzoin, and lavender, but not just any lavender. This is Luisiera lavender from Seville area and its scent it markedly different from the average lavendula, emitting aromas of apricot, dried fruit, leather, and cognac. This is a beautiful and meditative lavender, and when combined with the rich darkness of benzoin and olibanum it's simply gorgeous. I'm a lavender lover and for me Seville d l'Aube is not the perfect expression of an orange blossom perfume, but of lavender. The bright opening notes mimic the glowing heights of the Seville cathedral and the lavender lends a contemplative tone representative of the stone floors and somber darkness of the cathedral's more earthly level. Toward the end of the perfume's life on my skin I can still smell strains of the orange blossom filtering through the darker notes of the lavender, and if I was prosaic I would compare it to the light passing through the stained glass windows of the cathedral, bursting into gorgeous shards of glimmering color splayed on the cold gray stone floors. I am still on the fence about whether I need this one in my life. Reading other reviews on Fragrantica it's clear that this perfume performs quite differently on people so your experience may be totally different than mine.

After only a couple of short days in Seville it was time to move on to our next destination. Read more at Part One Part Three, or Part Four.

*Ryan Air is a budget airline within Europe. When we bought our tickets there was no mention that if we didn't check into our flight online in advance of the flight we would be charged a fine. A notice was sent to my email the day  before the flight but we didn't have internet access so showed up to airport without having checked in and were charged an extra fifty euro per ticket plus tax. We saw it happening to other people around us and I think it's a real rip off to unwary travelers who have never flown the airline.

Top Photo:  Two Game of Thrones photos from Perfumes were all my own.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Travels in Spain, Part One: Mallorca with Keiko Mecheri Isles Lointaines

My vacation to Spain started on the beautiful island of Mallorca and I have my friend "A" to thank for deciding to celebrate her birthday with friends on this idyllic spec in the Mediterranean Sea off the Spanish coast. I'm not sure that Mallorca would have ever been on my travel radar otherwise.  We were situated on the southeastern  coast near a national park. Our base was Santanyi, a quaint town with golden stone buildings, picturesque bell towers, and a string of umbrella clad cafes in the town square. In addition to the well known tourist beaches there were secret hidden swimming spots accessed by a trudge down rocky paths lined with scrubby trees, suddenly opening to tiny perfect turquoise swimming beaches bordered with white sand. Most of my beach experiences have been around Asia where I've lived the last many years and I have a repertoire of perfumes that smell of sultry jasmine, coconut sun block, and sea water that I reach for when going to these destinations. I sensed that Mallorca's beaches would be a different experience and wanted something out of the ordinary to commemorate my introduction to European beach life.

A recent purchase of Keiko Mecheri Isles Lontaines seemed to be a good bet so I decanted a large sample and off we went. Keiko Mecheri is one of those brands that has been around for quite some time and has a large number of perfumes on offer, but it is not always the easiest brand to find. Ms. Mecheri is most known for Loukhoum, a perfumed ode to the Turkish treat Rahat Loukhoum which became one of those cult perfumes everyone wanted to try. I've sampled several of Ms. Mecheri's perfumes and I always felt that Loukhoum, the one that brought her the most attention, was a little out of character from her other offerings. Personally I love it but it's a powerhouse whereas I find most of her perfumes to have a certain restraint.

Gardenia and sweet almond are listed as the opening notes for Isles Lointaines but for me the gardenia is muddled with the jasmine and tiare from the beginning to form a soft mishmash of white florals. Gardenia and jasmine can both appear as sultry or green in perfumes, but in this perfume they do neither. They are a poised and polished vase of white flowers with lashes of almond blossom thrown in. Not one of the white flowers is a solitary standout although jasmine makes itself the most present on my skin. The sweet almond note is soft and powdery without the strong foody note that some almond perfumes can have like this one from Prada. The sweet almond serves to cocoon the florals in a cottony soft cloud, keeping everything somewhat refined and reserved. If you are wary of white florals you may think they are fairly strong, but as as an indolic white flower lover I find them fairly tame. The scent gives me the polished beach vibe I'm looking for, more glam and and less Bain de Soleil and pina coladas.

Keiko Mecheri's inspiration for Iles Lontaine was a South Seas island  reminiscent of turquoise seas, breezy beaches, and sun-kissed skin. The florals do deliver the balmy, slightly humid feel of tropical flowers blooming near a sandy beach. Mallorca has a thriving almond orchard industry so it was the almond note in the perfume that made me think of it for my trip.  Mallorca's almond trees blossom in late January and February and evidently the scent is magnificent during the weeks the trees bloom. Sadly I didn't get to experience this but I've added it to scented trips I'd like to take, along with Provence in June and Isparta during rose harvest.

I typically don't like to label perfumes feminine or masculine but this one is very pretty and does lean very much toward the feminine to me. On opening there is a brief sparkle of citrus but the white flowers and powdery almond move in quickly and don't change much during the several hours of wear I get from a spray. In addition to the jasmine, gardenia and tiare the perfume also features notes of tuberose and rose. As the perfume settles in I smell creamy tuberose and it slowly becomes the most dominant of the white flower notes. Base notes are benzoin, amber, and vanilla. I mostly smell the vanilla and benzoin and they are subtle, not overdone, and amp up the creaminess factor. The florals project through the life of the perfume. The three descriptions that come to mind when I'm wearing Isles Lointaines are creamy, white, and powdery. The powdery note is soft, not a face powder scent but used to mute the floral's intensity. I enjoy this perfume but decided it really doesn't translate to a beach perfume to me. It is a very pretty white flower perfume that I would enjoy wearing any time of year but especially in the spring and summer.

For more posts on Spain travels and perfumes see Part TwoPart Three, and Part Four.

First photo: Pinterest image. Second photo: Sample from my own bottle.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Essence of the Park by Carthusia

In winter I like big complicated scents; scents that reveal new layers every hour as if peeling an onion and that speak of spice bazaars, incense filled cathedrals, or pine forests with campfires. In summer though, I like to keep it simple. I like perfumes that conjure descriptive adjectives like nice, pretty, pleasing, or light. It's one of those life dilemmas: this weekend do you feel like diving into a book by Dostoyevsky or Sophie Kinsella?

Carthusia Essence of the Park was a joint project released in 2015 by Carthusia, the small perfumery based on the isle of Capri and the Central Park Conservancy, self-appointed caretakers of Central Park. The story goes that an official from the Conservancy was vacationing on Capri and came across the Carthusia perfume store.  Carthusia perfumes are designed to relate to the flowers and plants of the Mediterranean and it was decided they would be a good interpreter of another park far across the water. Carthusia Essence of the Park was born.

Essence of the Park opens with light and lively greens and herbs. The smell is refreshing and effervescent, as if floating in the wind. I can also catch touches of citrus (lemon, tangerine) and the slight sweetness of honeysuckle. At this point the perfume is very much the sensation of various predominantly green scents growing wild in the park floating toward you as you walk the path. There is artemisia, also known as mugwort or wormwood. It lends an herbal bitterness that makes the scent more interesting.

The first time I tried Essence of the Park it developed very nicely and gave out quite a bit of sillage, lasting the whole day. On the second and third tries I have not been able to replicate these results. When I have differences like that I always wonder, was it something I ate that day? Was my nose clearer? I have no answers but the fact is on the second and third wears the smell was the same but it played out much lighter.

This reminds me a little of Un Jardin Sour Le Toit by Hermes. It opens with a similar green freshness but the Hermes is light green and bright whereas Essence of the Park feels deeper green and a bit moody, as if walking down a tunnel of trees, sheltered from the light of the sun. The florals are magnolia, honeysuckle, and linden blossom. I think both the honeysuckle and the linden blossom feel a little green also, so they blend in well with the greener scents. On my skin the magnolia is very light and doesn't stand out. After an hour the perfume starts to warm up, and by this I mean the smell hums a little as if heated by the warmth of the skin. It's hard to describe but on Fragrantica a couple of other reviewers noted the warmth. At the same time, I think this would be a great perfume to wear in warmer months, first because of its notes and secondly because the green seem like a cool answer to the heat.

Carthusia's Essence of the Park is a mostly green scent with interesting herbal and floral additions, none of which stand out from the main. It gives the impression of various parkland scents floating around and merging into one beautiful concoction. This is not a statement perfume but I found it very relaxing to wear...maybe the green and the connection to nature? The perfume was pretty and undemanding and happy to whisper around me without grabbing attention, and sometimes that is exactly what you need.

Carthusia Essence of the Park can be found at Beautyhabit and CO Bigelow in the US and at First in Fragrance in Europe.

Top photo vintage travel poster. Second photo from the brand. The sample was my own.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Parfum Satori Hana Hiraku

I love "memory perfumes". Those perfumes that at first sniff revive a long buried and forgotten recollection and flash it as if on a technicolor screen in my head. That was what happened when I tried Parfum Satori's Hana Hiraku.  I sprayed and was transported to Galveston, Texas circa 1967. My Mom, Dad, older sister, and I were visiting an older couple I'd never met before, a distant aunt and uncle on my Mom's side of the family. Willie and Estelle were jolly and welcomed us into their modest but comfortable home. My sister and I spent the day hopping waves in the Gulf of Mexico, my first exposure to an ocean. That night we went to sleep in a room whose walls hugged the sides of the fluffy bed, a window unit chugging loudly and blasting the room with cool air. I slept the sleep of the exhausted and the next morning wandered to the kitchen to breakfast. Aunt Estelle had picked a honeydew from her garden that morning and she sliced into the warm round fruit just as I walked into the kitchen. The fruity smell slightly akin to a cucumber crossed with a cantaloupe permeated the early morning air in that tiny kitchen with it's yellow formica table and chairs and ancient Frigidaire. I had never seen the celedon skin of a honeydew before, only the creamy orange of a cantaloupe. New experiences everywhere!

At first spray of Hana Hiraku I smell the most succulent honeydew melon. It is fresh, green, juicy and not really sweet. It is hyper realistic. You will think there is a piece of fruit on your arm. Enjoy the moment because it doesn't last long.  If you are not a fan of melon in perfumes...I'm raising my hand here...then you will find that this moment does not foreshadow the perfume's fragrant story. Like me, you will probably enjoy this fun moment. The melon scent is like a soprano hitting a high note but she is quickly joined by the background chorus of bergamot and galbanum which give that sharpness and a slight fizzle common in chypre perfumes, because here's the thing, on me Hana Hiraku wears like a chypre. Maybe this is my interpretation alone. Parfums Satori calls Hana Hiraku a dry oriental and Fragrantica calls it an aquatic floral.  Granted, the chypre whispers which is unusual, but it is a refreshing change for that genre and makes this perfect for summer wear. This is a Japanese perfume, created by perfumer Satori Osawa for the Japanese market, so restraint is key here. All the notes are there but the volume has been dialed way down. Japanese perfumes have a common thread that make them identifiable but is hard for me to define in words. If you are familiar with Maria McElroy's work and her geisha perfumes for Aroma M or some of DSH Perfumes newer Japanese influenced perfumes then you'll know the style.

After the unusual opening the note of magnolia unfolds. Magnolia can veer different ways for me. Sometimes it's lemony, sometimes it's a non-skanky gardenia, and sometimes it can have an aquatic feel, a bit like the lotus note. The perfume's middle notes are magnolia, jasmine, iris butter, tuberose, rose, ylang ylang, and blue chamomile. This sounds very flowery but the overall effect is blurred and subdued florals. For me the most identifiable of these flowers are the magnolia and chamomile. The tuberose and gardenia don't stand out but other reviewers have experienced this differently. Hana Hiraku softly hums, still with that slightly fizzy warmth, and it retains a demure face as one would expect from a Japanese-bred perfume. I like this combination of dressiness and elegance dealt with a casual and light hand. Every so often a wisp of the melon comes through as if on the wind but it's just a grace note at this point.

The perfume's base notes are unusual: miso, soy sauce, sandalwood, cedarwood, and beeswax. This is where perfumer Satori Osawa creates what she has termed a "dry Oriental". Typical Oriental perfumes have big bold base notes which may include resins, patchouli, or incense. Satori has added scent notes of miso and sweet soy sauce to add an earthly element to the perfume while referencing the interplay of the major notes in Japanese dishes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami. These notes aren't very identifiable to me but I think they are one aspect that keeps the melon and floral notes tamed.

This perfume wears quietly as I've stated but I was surprised at it's tenacity. A couple of times after about five hours wear I thought it had disappeared, only to have it rise up again. I got about four wears before my sample was gone and my appreciation for Hana Hiraku increased each time. I really enjoyed this perfume and now would like to try others from the line.

Here in the USA Luckyscent carries a small number of fragrances from the brand. I want to thank Rhys Y from Singapore who gifted me with a sample when I was there. He told me he had visited Satori Osawa's atelier and that she had given him some samples to spread the word. What he modestly didn't tell me was that he had written about that visit here on his blog The Scent of Man.

Photo from Parfums Satori website.