Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Look Back at 2017; A Look Forward to 2018

I do not do a list of "best of" fragrances at the end of the year (although I love reading them) for two simple reasons. I did not get to test even a small percentage of the new perfume introductions this year, and my blog is more about scent memories or scents of place.  Lists that I enjoyed this year include:
Cafleurebon - Read their editor picks here
Colognoisseur - Read his best of here
Kafkaesque - For a list of perfumes you've never heard of but will now want, read here

Instead I am looking back at the year through my own personal lens, mainly what experiences my love of scent led me to this year. First and foremost was an interview I was able to do with master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian here. Besides the obvious thrill of speaking to this talented man I had two very specific gains. First, I went out of my comfort zone by just showing up at my local Neiman Marcus and requesting an interview, and Mr. Kurkdjian couldn't have been more gracious. For you extroverts out there this may sound like no big deal but for me it was a bold move. Secondly, after our interview turned more personal, I mentioned I had a trip planned to Spain where Mr. Kurkdjian likes to spend time. He recommended the area of Los Pueblos Blancos, specifically  Ronda, which I added to our itenary. It led to this review and added huge enjoyment to our trip as we would have never found this place left to our own devices.

The idea of fragrance as an art form continues to grow. I'm not in New York or London where there have been exhibits of this kind, but I was lucky enough to attend the Lush Gorilla Perfumes Vol. IV exhibit when it came to Dallas. I reviewed my experience here. It was fascinating to see an exploration of perfume expressed in both art installations and scented memories, and the theme of home vs. homelessness was a poignant one. I hope to be in the right place at the right time in 2018 to experience something like this again.

Looking back I see that my most often reviewed niche perfumeries were Zoologist Perfumes and DSH Perfumes. As I expressed here I am a longtime fan of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz perfumes and she has had an amazing spurt of creativity in 2017. Zoologist Perfumes continues to surprise me with its creativity and I look forward to seeing what perfumers Victor Wong will work with in 2018.  Mr. Wong seems to be a strong creative director by drawing very interesting work from the various perfumers who have worked with him. I must admit that these were some of the funnest reviews for me to write because the perfumes are often so unusual and one of my favorites was Bat which I wrote about almost a year ago here.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to record my combined love of travel and scent, two things that have always been intertwined for me. I realize these travel inspired perfume reviews are not for everyone, but that makes me appreciate all the more those of you who do me the honor of reading my pieces from time to time. My favorite travel inspired series of articles this year were a trip to India, which made me drag out many old favorites, and which I began writing about here. A short trip to Indonesia was creative inspiration (such a fascinating country!) and I started writing about that here. Lastly a summer trip to Spain inspired a whole new series of fragrance reviews which I wrote about here. 

I hope to be a little more prolific in 2018 but I will probably continue to write about perfumes that stir forgotten memories or fragrances that speak to me of place, rather than just blog about new scents as there are so many people who do that better than I can. I wish everyone a safe New Year's Eve as it's icy even here in North Texas, and may we all find at least one new scented love in 2018.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

REDUX: Silver Bells: Sparkling Perfumes To Wear This Christmas Holiday


I have had a busy month and have not kept up with reviewing but I hate to enter Christmas without a post. This is a re-post from last year and to date, it is the most read piece from my blog. I'm not sure why but I do love the picture from Dominique Corbasson. Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season to all!

Something about cold weather and the holidays makes me love wearing aldehyde perfumes. They are as sparkling and as effervescent as a fine dry champagne. They are crisp and chilly like a walk through Central Park in December. They feel dressy and special as befitting holiday parties and events, and go perfectly with gowns in satin or velvet, bedazzled heels, and sparkly earrings for ladies or the perfect outrageous cravat for the gents.

Aldehyde perfumes were popular in the 1960s but they gradually fell out of favor as a more natural approach to perfumes became popular in the 1990s, at least these are my memories. When I was a twenty-something I found strong aldehyde perfumes overbearing and obnoxious. I probably would have used the term "old lady perfumes" when describing them. But as the years ticked by and life experiences gained, somewhere along the way I changed my mind. Suddenly they seemed complex and mature compared to my everyday perfumes. There are many other bloggers that could tell you about the chemical process in aldehyde perfumes that cause the whoosh effect when the sprayed perfume hits the skin. I can't tell you why it happens but only that I love that rush of scent and that sensation of walking through a door into the cold chill of a winter day, the dry frigid air stinging your face and eyes. Some compare aldehydes to the pop of a champagne bottle and the fizz of the bubbles. My favorite time of year to wear these perfumes is in the cold weather when the perfume's amplified notes are muted by winter's chill and the notes feel sharp, silvery, and almost metallic, thus the reminder of silver bells in the song.

Clinique Wrappings was introduced in 1990 as only the second addition to the brand's line, twenty years after the debut of their first perfume Aromatics Elixir. Imagine these two strong take- no-prisoners perfumes and the gutsy statement that makes about how different the perfume market was then. Who knew that in less than a decade Clinique would be introducing the bland Happy and it's yearly flankers; meanwhile the Wrappings is rarely available on the Clinique counter or is hidden away like the relative that makes a bit of a scene after too much holiday tipple. If you want Wrappings you need to grab it around Christmas when Clinique makes it available. I must admit I forget about Wrappings every year until Christmas, when its name is subliminally triggered as I begin to wrap presents to put under the tree. Then when I spray it I am reminded why it is the perfect scent for this time of year. That rush that smells like frigid air. The green that smells like silvery fir needles laced with snow. Mind you, it's not a pine scented perfume, just very green. But at the beginning of the perfume's life on my skin it conjures the image of walking through a frozen forest, pine needles glistening with frozen ice glitter. Wrappings sparkles with aldehydes. There are a whole host of notes in this perfume but as was the custom of the era, no particular notes stand out. It is more a melange of floral and woody notes that eventually becomes more of a green chypre fragrance when the fizzy giddiness recedes.

A most traditional choice of perfume featuring aldehydes would be Chanel No. 5, but I prefer Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere.  As much as I'd like to wear the original for the grande dame she is, it comes off screechy and shrill on my skin. I find the Eau Premiere to have that champagne sparkle and pop without the bitter acrid edge of the original. This one is floral with heart notes of jasmin and rose. My bottle is from the original 2007 introduction of the perfume. It was reintroduced in 2015 and I am uncertain what changes if any were made to the formula. I don't think there has ever been a more perfect "little black dress" perfume created than the Chanel No. 5 in its various guises, and the Eau Premiere in particular makes me feel like I'm in my finery holding a bubbling glass of Tattingers.

DSH Perfumes Deco Diamonds was created by perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz as one of four perfumes to conceptually illustrate an exhibit at the Denver Art Museum in 2014, Brilliant: Cartier in the Twentieth Century. Dawn has had several collaborations with the museum and this one attempted to capture the luxury and sparkle of the Cartier jewels in the exhibit. Deco Diamonds specifically was created as a tribute to the Cartier diamonds worn by the Duchess of Windsor. The copy on the DSH website says, "She was bold, stylish, hard and a force to be reckoned with. Deco Diamonds mirrors this ferocity in a most beautitful way."

Deco Diamonds also starts with the zoom of aldehydes which Dawn describes as "a blazing and dazzling white sparkle."  Eventually the perfume becomes even richer as intense florals of jasmine, tuberose, gardenia and honeysuckle peep through the galbanum and aldehydes. But what distinguishes this perfume and makes it quite different from the two above are the animalic notes of   civet and hyrax. These animalic notes are much more intense  than the ones found in DSH Perfumes Chinchilla, which I reviewed recently here. I enjoy the combination of the sparkling dazzle of aldehydes and the strong, almost feral agressiveness of the animalic notes, and I think it perfectly captures the spirit of the woman it was created to emulate, Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. A confident man or woman could rock this perfume but it's definitely not for the timid.

These three perfumes for me capture the essence of bustling city sidewalks, window displays brimming with holiday scenes and people carrying an excess of packages to soon be transformed to gifts under the tree. They also give me a sense of cool, silvery metal, thus the tie in with the song below, the original Silver Bells from the 1951 motion picture The Lemon Drop Kid.

Disclaimer: In reading up on aldehydes and their use in perfumes several said that comparing their use to adding sparkle and fizz was an amateurish take, and that the notes can often be soapy or waxy. I am in no way an expert but can only state my opinions, and what I get from the aldehydes is described as best I can in the above reviews.

Top photo Dominique Corbasson. Tree photo Google image.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas Countdown: Dasein Fragrance Winter and Winter Nights

Winter Wonderland by Curious Bumblebee

Dasein Winter opens with an extremely fresh blue spruce and pine scent that makes me feel I've been dropped deep in an old forest, the branches laden with heavy snow. Or perhaps at the very least I am  at a fresh Christmas tree stand. There is an invigorating chill to this woody scent which feels cleansing and refreshing. Don't think room spray when you hear pine. There is a realistic freshness which makes you imagine the branches and the prickly stiff green needles. Lavender is listed as a note and usually I can pick lavender out easily but here it blends into the pine and spruce notes, adding an herbal oomph. There is something very peaceful and calming about this scent to me. I only wish that rush of freshness lasted a little longer, it is so stunning. Afterwards the scent settles down and softens, on me becoming more of a personal scent. After a few hours there is a faint honeyed sweetness that I sometimes get with lavender but the slight fragrance of the conifers is still present.

A Winter Forest Night by Moonlight by Lorinda Christene

Dasein Winter Nights is also a woody aromatic and although it is a very different scent from Winter, it continues with the same quiet contemplative air of stillness. Winter Nights has the forest element but the strongest scent is that of a fire smoldering somewhere nearby in the forest, perhaps from a chimney of some hidden cabin.  If you've been fortunate enough in life to be in a forest sitting in front of a campfire, you know the contentment and pleasure to be found there. In fact, I would go so far as to say if every child, rich or poor, could be exposed to nature and develop a love for the outdoors it would go a long way towards healing many of the problems we see  in society today. But I'm rambling. The point is that the scent provokes feelings of quiet well being. Notes listed are coastal forest, driftwood bonfire, cardamom tea, lavender, and wild musk. The campfire smell is the strongest scent initially but as the scent sits on my skin the forest note becomes more obvious, followed by the cardamom tea and lavender. Winter Nights changes quite a lot after several hours wear. The smokiness has disappeared and it has smoothed to a soft and pretty musky scent

Sam Rader, the perfumer and owner of Dasein Fragrances created both of these scents but Winter Nights was in a collaboration with Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors perfume. Ms. Rader's brief bio on the website mentions that her inspiration for starting Dasein was sniffing the air of Big Sur. This inspiration to bottle nature certainly shows in these two perfumes as they bring to mind memories of enjoying the great outdoors. The fragrances are available at Dasein Fragrance or Twisted Lily.

Here's a little Christmas music to get you in the mood for these fragrances.

The samples were purchased by myself from Twisted Lily.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Christmas Countdown: The Much Maligned Mugler Womanity

In a recent poll over at Fragrantica, Thierry Mugler Womanity was voted the eighth worst fragrance of all time. It was introduced in 2010 so evidently "of all time" has a relatively short band width. In this list it sits next to Angel, its more successful sister fragrance and possibly one of the most successful fragrance introductions of the 1990's. What this says to  me is that Thierry Mugler is not afraid to take chances and push boundaries when creating a new fragrance. Yes, Womanity is definitely different in the world of fig-based fragrances, and even now when I spray the  perfume, sometimes my initial reaction is a wrinkle of the nose. Eventually though the scent melds with my skin and becomes very moreish.


It's always been a bit of an odd duck with its chainmaille cap, looking to me like the girl who came to the dance trying to look really hip and everyone else went for the classic little black dress style. And the name Womanity has an awkward pretentiousness. It differentiates itself from other fig perfumes which concentrate on emphasizing dryness, coconut aspects, or pair fig with vanilla. On my skin there is a slight aquatic note in the opening, yet it doesn't scream beach perfume. Next there is a sliver of fresh coconut, and before I can absorb that it changes to roasted coconut, and then that note disappears. All these rather weird smells begin to merge with the fig into a non-sweet gourmand, if that is not a totally contradictory phrase. There is a salty phase courtesy of the caviar note, and this lingers throughout the life of the perfume.

My family lived in Scotland in the 1990's. I loved my introduction to British Christmas customs. I say British, because the celebration of Christmas was banned in Scotland for 400 years. This dates back to Oliver Cromwell, the original Mr. Grinch, and his edict of the Reformation. After about fifteen years the British had enough of this nonsense and overthrew the edict but the poor Scots continued to be held by the law for another 400 years, until the late 1950's. The Scots began to celebrate Christmas and Boxing Day, but the biggest celebration is their own, Hogmanay, a four day celebration of the New Year. To be in a Scottish pub for a group sing along of Auld Lang Syne is as good of a description of personal bliss as any. There were some differences in the Christmas dishes as compared to my American version of the holiday. The Yule log was a favorite and one of my personal favorites, was figgy pudding.

I will never forget my three then seven-year-olds singing We Wish You A Merry Christmas in their school Christmas performance. When the class got to the line, "We won't go until we've got some, so bring it out here," their voices rang with ardent fervor and they couldn't help grinning at the inherent naughtiness of it. They are darling little cakes but I must say they taste infinitely better at a three hundred year old Scottish inn with fireplace roaring and the hills outside covered in a white blanket, only broken by the line of the stone fences, than in the steamy Christmases I've experienced in Singapore or the subdued cold of Texas winters.

All this brings me to Womanity. Many reviewers on Fragrantica mention how it smells like salty water on skin and they love it as a summer perfume. While I can definitely see how they might interpret the notes this way, I prefer my summer figs to be dry and austere like Diptyque Philosykos. I prefer saving Womanity for autumn and winter wear and at Christmas if always reminds me of figgy pudding. It is not exactly gourmand; it could definitely be a lot sweeter with fig as a note. Its caviar salty note paired with fig makes Womanity seem almost crunchy and dense, like figgy pudding. Ultimately on my skin it coalesces into a warm and savory fig perfume, which turns into a musky skin scent the longer it's on my skin. The sillage and length of wear is very good, like most Mugler's.

This will always be a polarizing, love-it-or-hate-it perfume. It's just too different to appeal to everyone. Looking at Fragrantica reviews, a few of my favorite dislikes:
VioletBlack: "Ashtray, salt, watermelon."
BettyNoir: "It smells like food and crumbs. Who on earth is buying this vile mixture?"
Adrienne99: "Cold, metallic, heartless. Makes me feel physically sick, stomach turns."

But there are also many who love it:
ktyhan: "Reminds me of Diana Krall's voice, cool and sexy."

How do you feel about Womanity?  Have you worn it?

We all have our fragrant memories that fire up the neurotransmitters and allow us to relive moments in time, and for me Thierry Mugler Womanity equals figgy pudding. Below is a rendition of this old Christmas tune.

Note: My review is based on my personal bottle which is about five years.

Photos are Google images. video.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The DSH Perfumes I'm Wearing This Autumn

I have been a big fan of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, the prolific perfumer working out of Boulder, Colorado, for a long time. In my saved mail folder the earliest order I can find is dated 2010, but looking at the order I know I had been a customer a few years before that. The DSH Perfume site can be a bit overwhelming for the newbie, there are so many perfumes on offer. I have some older bottles and samples that have been discontinued since I originally ordered. I have a special box, photo below, where I keep all my DSH samples. It's a bit embarrassing how many sample vials there are, and I may have to upgrade to a larger box soon. For those of you unfamiliar with Dawn's perfumes, here are a few of my old favorites that are in my daily wear rotation this fall.

Mirabella has a vintage feel. On the DSH website it is listed as both a floriental and a chypre and I would say both are true. Every time I review one of Dawn's fragrances I mention the large list of notes listed in full on her website and this one is no exception. Of all these varied notes the one that stands out the most to me is the spiced plum. This isn't a big fruity floral but reads quiet and dignified on my skin. It hums rather than sings. The florals blend to a muted chorus in the background. I do pick out a leathery touch of osmanthus. The fruit in this perfume is dry rather than overripe. If I had to do a short description of this it would be: Quiet Beauty.

Jacques Linard still life

 Le Smoking it must be said is "le smoking" hot! I love this sophisticated scent that starts out with bitter green notes and then evolves into a chypre. Several years ago Dawn created a set of perfumes called the YSL Retrospective Collection in conjunction with an exhibit at the Denver Art Museum which highlighted Yves Saint Laurent's long and creative career. Dawn chose to highlight outfits specific to an era but in scented form, and Le Smoking was a tribute to YSL's first tuxedo for women. There is a note of blond tabac which smells wonderful when worn in cool weather. This is a gender bending fragrance, just like the outfit is illustrates. My only complaint is I wish it was stronger on my skin because I adore this one.

I have written about another favorite, Kohl Gris, here. Every holiday season Dawn creates a new scent and Kohl Gris was 2009's entry, meant to illustrate the color charcoal grey as well as to refer to smoky kohl-lined eyes. The base of this scent is ambergris but I get spicy notes of clove and a refreshing pine. This is a favorite scent to wear at Christmas but I wear it earlier to get in the mood.

Cafe Noir is another one I've written about before but I can't leave it out as it's my favorite coffee scented perfume, and coffee is the essence of fall weather, right? I am going to copy myself as I have already expressed my love for the scent here. "I have no desire to smell like a mug of Starbucks brew but DSH Perfumes Cafe Noir doesn't disappoint. It is a much more sophisticated and multifaceted perfume than one might expect from a coffee-centered perfume. On the DSH website the perfume is described as an oriental that harmonizes notes of spices, wood, resins, and florals with the beloved black coffee note. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's perfumes always have a long list of notes and this one is no exception. This perfume feels rich, sophisticated and embracing. Notes of bergamot add brightness to the labdanum, benzoin, and balsam. Cinnamon adds spicy heat and a touch of vanilla smooths and sweetens. I occasionally smell a sliver of green, more a thread than a note. This is a delicious brew which uses the idea of coffee as a jumping off point, then expands on this by adding lots of luscious notes."

I am old enough to remember the original YSL Opium perfume which still exists along with various flankers. In the above mentioned YSL Retrospective for the Denver Art Museum, Dawn created a scent called Euphorisme d'Opium which was a lighter rendition of the eau de toilette version. Customers asked for a take on the parfum original and Fou d'Opium was born. It is an animalic spicy oriental, just like the original but without the shrieking notes that some experience with today's version. It has the beauty and depth but does wear quieter, at least on me, than the YSL version. It's a beautiful trip down memory lane.

Jerry Hall in an ad for the original YSL Opium.

Lastly let me mention Chinchilla, which I have already described here. It is a floriental that manages to be both cozy and sexy, and it's the perfect lazy day scent to wear when cuddled under a blanket, watching a tv marathon or reading a book, and sipping on a mug of tea.

This is just a starting point; the DSH Perfumes website has a huge variety of perfumes as well as sample kits, including one featuring holiday scents. You can click on each perfume's description to follow the link to the website. And by the way, these are all wearable for men and women.

My box of DSH samples!

Friday, November 10, 2017

D.S. & Durga El Cosmico

D.S. & Durga El Cosmico, created in 2015 for sale exclusively at the provisions store of the iconic far West Texas hotel cum campground by the same name, is now available to the public. You no longer have to travel to the back of beyond (although you should) to buy this perfume, but can find it both at the D.S. & Durga website as well as the usual retailers who carry the line. This perfume came about when Brooklyn Perfumer David Seth Moltz was intrigued by the idea of desert scents, plant life in the desert, and in fact the idea of minimalism. Paths crossed with Liz Lambert, hotelier and owner of El Cosmico, a campground in the high Chihuahuan Desert outside of the quirky little town of Marfa. El Cosmico sits a mile or so out of Marfa and offers tents, yurts, teepees, and old reconditioned metal trailers for the night, or you can come and pitch your own tent. It attracts modern day hippies, wandering artists, nature gypsies, or just normal folk in search of an experience out of the ordinary. For some the stay is a bit of a lark while for others it may be a weekend of soul rejuvenation. 

The Milky Way over the teepees at El Cosmico, photo by Savannah Williams.

I have been to Marfa and stayed at El Cosmico and I can tell you, the perfumer really nailed it. I wrote last year about the perfume Memo Marfa and although I loved the scent, I struggled to identify it with the place I had visited. There is no such conflict with El Cosmico. The essence of the place has been captured: dry desert air, the scent of fragrant desert wood, and the feeling of big open skies.

When I first spray El Cosmico the smell reminds me of the pinion campfire that burned the night we were there, even though it was May. The desert days are hot but at night the temperature plunges to very chilly depths. We were staying in a trailer and the pile of blankets on the bed, which had looked a bit silly in the warm afternoon, were much needed that night. You are basically staying in a big metal box that turns into a refrigerator at night. The opening notes of El Cosmico are listed as desert shrubs, desert pepper, and pinion pine. Pinion pine is found in the high altitude area of the southwestern United States in dry regions where Ponderosa Pine cannot survive. Pinion wood smells of pine when burning, but it is not the pine scent of the North Woods or the Christmas tree scent of pine. It is altogether drier and parched, without the refreshing scent of the green needles.

A scene at El Cosmico from

El Cosmico's heart notes are creosote and oak, and base notes are dry sand accord, khella, and shrub wax. Creosote is a desert bush that has evolved to survive in the harsh dry climates of the American southwest. It only breathes in the cooler morning time, and as temperatures rise it stops the photosynthesis process in order to survive. Creosote contains oils that smell of pine, citrus, rosemary, and wood. Khella has a herbaceous smell. To be honest, the perfume doesn't change a whole lot while I'm wearing it. It is not a series of notes unfolding one by one, but rather the snapshot of a place. Anyone who has been to the arid deserts which exist at higher elevations will recognize the smell of the pinon pine, the bone dry woods, herbal plants able to eek out survival in the unforgiving climate, and the sense of space and fresh air. To understand the perfume I'll tell you a little more about the place it commemorates.

People come to El Cosmico for different things. Marfa is an artistic outpost in the desert and El Cosmico regularly hosts music concerts. 

Others come for the quiet and the stillness. They eschew the fancier hotel in the one-stoplight town in order to commune more closely with nature. Marfa and this area of West Texas is in a swath of the United States that has less light pollution. To be under a velvet sky studded with twinkling bright stars is to realize what an infinitesimally small part of the universe you are. This is a wonder that sadly many young people today have never experienced. There is an observatory with a huge telescope not too far away and many people come for what they call "star parties". 

Stargazers at Marfa from

Some come for the art. There's the Chinati Foundation of contemporary art and the Instagram worthy Prada, Marfa store which was built as an art installation in the desert. I talk more about Marfa and the El Cosmico campground in my post here.

My trip to far west Texas and El Cosmico was several years ago in what would turn out to be the last family vacation before our three offspring graduated college and started their own careers and lives. My husband had left a job a few months before that had been extremely trying and we made the decision to take a few months off before he would look for work again. With three children in college, some of our friends and family were worried and/or curious about the timing of this decision. When I was preparing that year's annual Christmas letter, I wanted to post this photo of my husband and son in front of the trailer we stayed in at El Cosmico with the caption, "the rumors of our downturn in fortunes has been greatly exaggerated." I thought it was funny but the idea was nixed!

At El Cosmico, 2011.

I will be upfront and say I can't separate my feelings for the experience that this perfume brings to mind from the scent itself. I can see how someone else might smell it and find it too linear or unexciting. For me, it conjures up the best memories of a trip to a place with an amazing landscape, a sense of isolation from the rumble of the everyday world, and the serenity that resulted. I think anyone who has experienced the desert southwest will recognize what the perfumer has tried to recreate.

One last note, while I was testing this perfume I went to a class my yoga studio calls Bliss that they only hold once a month. It is at night and the room is lit with twinkling strands of lights and candles. You basically hold stretch poses and there's no real work, which is bliss! The instructor comes around and adjusts your position and you realize the strength in the power of touch. It's very zen and this perfume was the perfect scent to help me enter that tranquil space.

The sample of El Cosmico was my own.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Guy Fawkes Bonfire Night and Penhaligon's Elixir

I was living in Scotland in 1997 in a little village called Banchory just outside of Aberdeen. For an American who loved history, castles, and beautiful scenery it was heaven. My husband and I eagerly embraced village life and tried to introduce our young children to as much of the local lore as possible, knowing this idyllic period couldn't last forever. When we heard there would be a big bonfire in the town square we were all in, having no idea this celebration in the UK every November 5th was based on the foiled attempt by Guy Fawkes and his compatriots to blow up King James I in the Palace of Westminster in 1605 in the continuous struggle between Catholic and Protestants. The anniversary date is celebrated every year with a huge bonfire into which an effigy of Guy Fawkes is thrown.

I went to the town center with my three youngsters expecting to see a modest pile of logs but instead there was a stack of wood, boards, even the odd chair in a pile that reached fifteen feet high and about one hundred feet wide. On top was the stuffed Guy. Someone lit the pile and in an incredibly short time the whole structure was a huge conflagration. I was awed but at the same time a little terrified as no one seemed to be in charge of this potential disaster. I clearly remember watching a shower of sparks fly over a mother wheeling a baby carriage way to close to the fire, oblivious to what was over her head.

Flash forward ten plus years. I was sniffing a new perfume by the very British Penhaligon's called Elixir. With the first whiff I was brought back to the bonfire night. I had smelled smoky scents before but something about this one reminded me of that autumn night in a beautiful little town on the banks of the River Dee. The perfume was introduced in 2008 and the perfumer is Olivia Giacobetti. The listed top notes are eucalyptus, cinnamon, and cardomom but I smell smoke, albeit a very fragrant smoke. The initial smell is all bonfire, then the eucalyptus comes in. This smoky stage lasts quite some time but eventually the floral notes of rose, orange blossom, and jasmine join in but on my skin the rose is the most prevalent.  The base features benzoin, incense, and wood. The overall effect is of a cozy fire in the fireplace with spiced wine and fresh branches of fragrant eucalyptus in a nearby urn.

It is always cool when a fragrance associates with a memory. Elixir is not a scent I can wear anytime if year, but in fall or winter it's grand and the closer it gets to Christmas the better this one smells. Something about it's notes speaks to me of the holiday season.

Photos Google image. Perfume sample my own.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Zoologist Perfumes Part Nine: Camel

The Courtyard of the Copic Patriarch's House in Cairo by John Frederick Lewis

Zoologist Perfumes will be releasing their twelfth scent, Camel, on December 8, 2017. The perfumer for Camel is Christian Carbonnel who works for his family's fragrance company in Spain. A chance meeting between Zoologist's Victor Wong and Mr. Cabonnel at the 2016 Art and Olfaction Awards ceremony led to a collaboration and the creation of a new Zoologist perfume, Camel, as well as a rework on a perfume previously released, Panda. I have said in past reviews that I am often surprised, in a good way, by the direction Zoologist's various perfumers have taken in interpreting their perfume creations. This time I was hoping the perfume would center around the romantic idea of the camel as "the ship of the desert" and I was not disappointed.

When I first sprayed Camel I thought I was smelling vetiver, because the opening note is earthy, rooty, and dry,dry, dry. Vetiver is listed as a base note so I believe it is frankincense that is used to provide this arid opening which brings to mind the camel's trek across the barren desert of sand.  The scent of frankincense can also veer fruity and spicy and here I believe this enhances the other opening notes of dried fruit and palm date. These dried fruit notes do indeed smell dry rather than plump and succulent, and this gives the perfume the scent of the fruit but none of the sweetness. A gentle trill of rose flits in the background as the scent begins to warm and develop. Then the heart notes are already starting to appear, rising like a perfumed cloud of smoke trailing from a censer. At this point the perfume's journey represents the camel's stop at an oasis or encampment for the trading of the wares he carries on his back.

Camel's listed heart notes are amber, cedar, cinnamon, incense, jasmine, myrrh, and orange blossom. I first notice the cedar and it serves to embellish the dryness of the perfume with its distinctive aromatic air. Then the notes become more of a melange, mixing the spices with the floral notes of jasmine and orange blossom. There is the scent of smoke from a distant fire through the note of incense. The inclusion of amber gives Camel the structure of an oriental perfume: the amber for warmth, spice for a touch of the exotic, and rich floral notes to add a touch of sensuality. There is a slight touch of sweetness as the perfume blooms.

A Frank Encampment In the Desert of Mount Sanai by John Frederick Lewis

The base notes of civet, musk, and oud perhaps sound heavy but here they are delicately managed. The addition of sandalwood, tonka, and vanilla cloak the more animalic notes in a soft wrap of comfort, mimicking the tired camel at the end of the day gratefully shedding his heavy load and nestling into a bed of sand as the hazy desert dusk sky fades to inky blackness.

These paintings in the orientalist style by John Frederick Lewis struck me as a good visual for the perfume. Lewis traveled extensively and lived for many years in what was then the Ottoman Empire. He was known for his exacting and admiring portrayals of Islamic architecture and life, and it was noted that he never painted salacious scenes of harem women as did many other orientalist painters. In a similar style, Camel has exotic notes but they are precise and contained. This is no flamboyant show of spices and overripe sweet fruit but rather the refined suggestion of these goods. This perfume tips toward exotic elegance rather than extravagant excess. Just as in the paintings, an exotic world unfolds but it is displayed in the most impeccable and polished style.

Camel wears rather gently on my skin and I most appreciate the period where the florals and spice mix together. I literally can't stop smelling my hand where I've sprayed.

To read more about Zoologist Perfumes you can start with my first review at Part One.

Thanks to Zoologist Perfumes for the sample of Camel.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

LUSH Gorilla Perfumes Vol. IV Exhibit in Dallas

I didn't expect to have a profoundly soulful experience when I went to the LUSH Gorilla Perfumes Vol. IV gallery tour in Dallas's trendy but slightly funky Deep Ellum arts district yesterday. One doesn't expect to encounter feel-good, teary-eyed moments on an excursion to sniff perfume on a Sunday afternoon but yes, that happened.

This fourth edition of the LUSH Gorilla popup grew from a chance meeting which turned to friendship which turned to a collaboration between Lush Perfumer Simon Constantine and Dallas-based artist Hal Samples. Samples often focuses his art and photography on the forgotten population, the homeless, and from this grew the exhibit asking the question, "What is home?" The perfumes are inspired from Constantine's and Samples' exploring memories of home but also asking the question, "what if you don't have a home?" LUSH has a long history of being involved in humanitarian projects. They were founded in the mid-90's in the UK to provide organic, cruelty-free products and since then have donated and raised funds for numerous humanitarian projects. This exhibit takes this credo to the next level, trying to make its audience experience empathy and perhaps question their beliefs through the use of art paired with scent.

The installations, which I will describe below, were very impressive and thought provoking but what really brought this whole experience full circle was a performance by the Dallas Street Choir, a group of homeless from the Dallas streets who participate in a choir originated and led by Dr. Jonathan Palant. The choir's motto is "Homeless, not voiceless." The venue for Gorilla IV was in an area just outside of downtown and some of the members sleep in the nearby shelters while others live on the streets. My recording of their singing didn't work out so well so here is a more polished performance from Youtube. Please watch, and if you can get through this without being moved than you've got a colder heart than me. :

The first installation is a replication of an experience Perfumer Simon Constantine had passing through a checkpoint in Lebanon where many Syrian refugees have tried to cross the border. The first perfume in this series is called Road to Damascus and features notes of  bitter orange and Damascus rose. The exhibit had a rocky path lined with rose bushes and orange trees. Next to it was a tent, representing a tent at the border where Constantine was invited in to have cardomom coffee, which he turned into a fragrance with the same name.

Other perfumes inspired by this trip were:
Manouche Zataar - A traditional Lebanese breakfast, this perfume reflected notes of sesame flatbread and various herbs.
Amelie Mae - Constantine made this raspberry tinged floral perfume as a tribute to his daughter.
The Secret Garden - Images of a garden based more on the perfumer's imagination than the reality of his own garden.
I'm Home - All trips end eventually. This one is a tribute to the comforting smells of home.  

Artist Hal Samples memories of his home life were not idyllic, but his happiest memories are of when his grandmother would sweep in and rescue him for a time. This inspired two perfumes, Sweet Grandma and Model. Sweet Grandma is a perfume with an old fashioned air, a tribute to the woman Samples remembers. Model, a more sophisticated scent, grew from Samples's discovery that his Grandma had an exciting life as a young woman, modeling for Vogue at one point. Here is part of the display below. You could pick up a phone and hear messages from his Grandma. We had this exact chair in our house growing up, same color and everything. Slightly creepy.

Several more fragrances were inspired by Samples' experiences.
Lamesh - An operation gone wrong left Samples with mesh inside his body which wrapped itself around organs and caused pain. A second risky operation removed the mesh, leaving Samples with a feeling of freedom. The fragrance with notes of blood and metal is just as unsettling as it sounds and walking through the installation with its grasping mesh layers was very creepy.
Blackcurrant Angel - This is a tribute to some of the homeless Samples befriended who have passed away.

One of the most interesting installations was the recreation of a water tank which played a significant part in Samples' artistic endeavors featuring the homeless. Samples met a homeless man in Los Angeles, Tachowa Covington. He took Samples to his home, an abandoned water tank which Covington had decorated in a quirky eclectic manner with cast offs, had added a floor, and even electricity through a generator. Samples was inspired and began a documentary on Covington's life but after three years of filming disaster struck. The avant garde anonymous artist Banksy stenciled the words "This looks a bit like an elephant" on the side of the tank and it was bought by an art investor, leaving Covington out on the streets and homeless once again. This inspired the perfumes Rentless and Tank Battle. 

I went to this exhibit with the idea of reviewing all the perfumes but it was simply too overwhelming and I didn't have enough skin space. Instead I decided to review the one that stood out to me, and happily its name sums up the feeling I had after viewing this inspiring exhibit. It is What Would Love Do? This scent was inspired by a woman Samples met named Janine (who would later become his wife) who had a habit of leaving inspiring notes for strangers to find, little literary acts of kindness. She put forth this bit of wisdom: When confronted with a difficult problem ask yourself, what would love do?

The photo at the top of this article is of a large board that asks the question, what would love do? Visitors have written in their own interpretations and answers to this question.  So finally, a perfume review of sorts. What Would Love Do? is a fairly simple perfume featuring tangerine, lavender, and benzoin. The tangerine opens with a bright peppy note but the lavender creeps in fairly quickly. At first the lavender is more herbal and bright but as it sits on the skin it becomes more moody and meditative with the cozy notes of benzoin entering the picture. The LUSH site describes the perfume this way, in part: "Love would wrap you in a lavender embrace and sing a lullaby of calm. Love would brighten the world with a tangerine fragrance, always ready to find the sun from behind a cloud."

To me this fragrance is a snapshot of the ideal day that everyone deserves. To wake up with bright optimism for what the day holds, to encounter love, compassion, and understanding as you go about your day, and at night to be embraced by the love of family and sleep in warm comfort.  At the end of the day there is a whiff of sweetness and a touch of lavender, like a soft pillow or a comforting kiss.

I found the message of this exhibit to be perfectly timed as we enter the month of November, a time when we think about Thanksgiving and family, and hopefully when that spills over to think of those who don't have these advantages in their life. The most touching moment of the exhibit was after the choir sang and the audience asked questions. The question was asked, "What would you like people to know about being homeless."

One well spoken woman said, "Know that we aren't all drug addicts or prostitutes. Some of us were in corporate America but bad things happened. Many Americans are only a couple of pay checks away from being where we are."

Then an older gentleman,  very soft spoken said as he teared up, "Just see us. Acknowledge that we're people too."

This exhibit succeeded as an art installation in raising awareness and using scent to appeal to all the senses to accomplish this. Well done, LUSH.

Photos my own. Sample provided by LUSH.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Arquiste Ella & El and the Cannonball Flower

One of the best things about living in Singapore has been my almost daily walk through Singapore's Botanic Gardens. Other than the Tembusu tree which I wrote about here, my favorite flower is on the Cannonball tree. These flowers look almost prehistoric and are large enough to cradle in the palm of your hand. Their petals are thick and waxy but the mechanism that holds them together on the tree disappears once they leave the tree's lifeblood. They fall apart into pieces in your hand. The interior of the flower looks like what I would expect a Venus Flytrap to look like and evidently it is a favorite with bees. The scent is not as strong as the appearance of the flower would indicate. It's a not-quite-jasmine, not-quite-magnolia scent touched with a tiny drop of lemon, actually fairly delicate compared to many flowers in the gardens. I had always thought Singapore Botanic society should make a perfume from this so when last year Carlos Huber of Arquiste Perfumeur introduced El and Ella, the latter which features a note from the Cannonball tree, I was ecstatic. Everyone else was featuring blog posts about Studio 59 and the crazy disco days but I was just thinking, Cannonball Flower, yes!

Cannonballs from the Cannonball tree, Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The thing is, though, that Ella really is all about the madcap 70's when perfumes were big, fashion and hairstyles made a statement, and the frolics of celebrities in fancy NYC bars was considered a bit shocking. Little did we know it was really the age of innocence compared to today. When I first put Ella on my wrist I flashed back to my twenties, which was quite a few years ago! I used to wear a Ralph Lauren perfume called Tuxedo. It was one of those magic perfumes that not many people were aware of but whenever I wore Tuxedo it always drew attention. If I had known how short its life would be I would have bought every bottle I could find but one day it just quietly disappeared. I really can't remember exactly how it smelled but when I applied Ella it triggered something deep within my memory that brought me back to that time in life, when I was young and men flirted, I bloomed with youth, and the possibilities before me seemed endless. Looking at the two perfumes, Tuxedo and Ella, I can see that their notes are totally different and there is no way they could have smelled alike, but I believe that Ella perfectly captures that era, and that's why I had to have a bottle the minute I tried it.

I usually try to describe a perfume's notes but El and Ella really do harken back to that 70's era when perfumes were a glorious blend and the individual notes were not meant to take precedence. Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux took an inspiration from Carlos Huber's tribute to the memory of the glamour of Acapulco, Mexico in 1978, and specifically Armando's Le Club which was a hangout for the glitzy and glamorous. Mr. Huber is an architect by training but in truth a Renaissance man who is interested in multiple fields. He has combined his love of history and architecture to pick moments in time for scented inspiration. El and Ella are his foray into recent history and he has captured the moment as perfectly as if he lived it. My only slight complaint is that I love Ella so much that I wish it displayed the force field strength tendencies of perfumes of that era. It is a scent to be noticed but is treated to a lighter touch.

I can tell you the note list of Ella: The flower from the Cannonball tree, angelica root, rose, carrot seed essence, jasmine, honey, ambergris, cardomom, patchouli, civet, vetiver, cigarette smoke accord and chypre accord. What I can't give is a play by play of how these notes unfold. As I stated above, it's a fragrant story describing what I personally consider one of the best perfume eras of our time. Even with all the perfumes being released today, chypres make up only a small portion of this output, maybe because so many of the ingredients are unattainable today. If you like chypres I would definitely try Ella.

El is the masculine partner to Ella and though more familiar to today's perfumes, it also radiates a bit of vintage vibe. It is an anamalic fougere and opens with the classic and old fashioned notes of laurel, clary sage, rosemary, and Egyptian geranium. I can also smell the orange water in the opening and these notes combine to smell to me like a man who has lathered in very posh and richly scented Italian soap while showering in preparation for his evening out. Eventually notes of patchouli, oak moss and vetiver bring on the deeper darker notes present in fougeres. What makes this feel a bit vintage is the addition of honey, civet, and castoreum. They provide just the slightest thread of funk to this overwise traditional style of men's scent. In keeping with the 1970's Acapulco disco inspiration, I picture a tanned, well groomed man, shirt unbuttoned one button to many to be proper, a gold chain is perhaps around his neck. He starts the evening out smelling richly fragrant but as the hours pass, he dances, he sweats, his own natural pheromones began to integrate with the scent and it becomes something altogether more provacative. The scent never tips all the way over to a strong animalic on my skin and continues to waft the refined air of herbs and orange water.

In writing my review on Ella I was excited to explore the connection to the cannonball flower. If you would like to read a great review which delves deeply into the whole Acapulco disco connection, I highly recommend this review by The Silver Fox at A Scent of Elegance.

Photos my own. Scent purchased by me at

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Zoologist Perfumes Part Eight: Elephant

Elephant is the latest release from Zoologist Perfumes, brainchild of Canadian owner and creative director Victor Wong and the work of perfumer Chris Bartlett, who is also the creator of Zoologist Beaver. I should know by now not to try to predict in which direction the Zoologist perfumes will interpret their "animal" but I was sort of expecting elephant skin, aka their rough and distinctive hide translated into a leather based fragrance. I was wrong as it turns out, but I was interested to read that the final version of Elephant is very different than the perfumer's initial interpretation. Victor is always very generous in crediting his perfumers with their work and he always posts an interesting interview which give additional insight into the creative process. Click here is his latest interview with Chris Bartlett.

In the interview Chris states that initially his vision was of an elephant from the Indian subcontinent illustrated by notes of sandalwood, spice, and chai tea. At the point of the third prototype of Elephant he decided to take the scent a different direction, becoming more about the elephant's habitat and food foraging habits. This made the perfume greener and fresher. In the interview on the Zoologist website Mr. Bartlett states, "In my view, if you can pick out the individual notes in a perfume too easily, it's not finished yet." I will describe notes below but the perfumer succeeded in making this a unique scent, not defined by any one note.

So how does Elephant smell? At first spray there is a blast of very photorealistic green. Perfumer Chris Bartlett was going for the illusion of a hungry elephant stripping trees of vegetation, taking every last leaf and blossom then tossing the bared branches before heading for the next tree. There is a rawness to the green aroma in Elephant as if large leaves were snapped from the bark, leaving green wet sap oozing out of the torn foliage. This is a bright green smell, not the moody dark green of forest or fougere type scents. The intensity of the green aroma, used as a reference to the elephant's olfactory perception, made this image of my dog pop into my head.

Look at that nose, sniffing the wind. She has a bit of a long nose and when I take her for her daily walks it goes aquiver with the delightful scent of nearby squirrel, possum, and raccoon. Dogs clock in with double the genes that control our sense of smell, 800 to our not quite 400 olfactory receptors. A dog's nose is long, so how many more receptors would an elephant have with its very long proboscis? The answer is almost 2000, more than double that of the dog and five times that of humans. This is the sense of green I get from the first spray; the intensity that the elephant must feel when it finds a field of ready food. A green on steroids. I have no idea if this is what Victor and Chris were going for but that's my take on it. Only a few of the notes used to achieve this effect are listed, and they are tree leaves, Darjeeling tea, and magnolia. Mr. Bartlett also mentions violet leaf in his interview with Victor.

After about thirty minutes the green loses its intensity and a freshness enters, again to display the elephant's surroundings. Chris wanted to give the sense of fresh air.  Coming on the heels of this freshness the scent becomes creamier and almost milky. Some of the heart notes are cocoa (can't pick it out!), coconut milk (milk yes, coconut no), incense (light and fragrant!), jasmine (can't discern), and wood notes. With the scent's green fading to soft woods, the perfumer references the idea of the satiated elephant lumbering through the woods, now stripped of greenery. This velvety green is embroidered with a beautiful but faint trail of incense and it is imbued with a soft appealing creaminess, the same sort of creaminess that certain fig scents can display (minus the fig scent itself).

The entry of sandalwood sets the stage as the scent languidly drifts to a more woody dominance. Other base notes are amber, musk, and patchouli. I find the amber adds a very delightful warmth to the wood notes and slowly simmers with a touch of spiciness. This is my favorite stage of Elephant. It has become softer and a little more serious,  and on my skin at least is a more personal scent, apparent to me but probably not those a few feet away. It gives a sense of meditative beauty, which is a fitting tribute to these magnificent creatures. Once again Zoologist Perfumes has produced  a thought provoking study on the scent of an animal, in this case Elephant, and also created a very wearable and beautiful perfume.

See more reviews of Zoologist Perfumes starting here with Part One.

Top Photo Google image. Second photo my own. Third photo from Sample provided by Zoologist perfumes.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Jo Malone English Oak and Redcurrant and English Oak and Hazelnut

Jo Malone perfumes don't always work for me but one thing I can never fault is their marketing. They introduce seasonal fragrances with an unusual combination of notes that sound like something you can't live without. Their photo ads introduce worlds you wish you could melt into the page and live in their world. This new campaign for Jo Malone's new English Oak collection perfectly encapsulates the desire for cooler weather, falling leaves, and autumn magic. The elfin models perfectly suit the mood, well perhaps the girl is a bit more zombie than elf, but they add to the aesthetic of the ad.

I went through a phase where I burned nothing but Votivo Red Currant candles and I became addicted to their sharp tangy smell. The opening of Jo Malone English Oak and Redcurrant Cologne reminds me of these candles. It is piquant and the first spray made my mouth pucker. On subsequent sprays I didn't get quite a much tartness but it was always a realistic red currant note, juicy and almost acerbic. I really enjoy this note and it does have autumn connotations. There is a note of green mandarin which amps up the zest of the opening. There is a mid note of rose with white musk but the rose note does not stand out as distinct to me. On my skin the roasted oak note adds a toasty wood note which carries the perfume along after the redcurrant has faded. I love the opening of this perfume but find what follows a little bland, however I can imagine this will be popular with the Jo Malone customer base. I would be happy to have a bottle if someone gifted it to me.

The Acorn Fairy by Cicily Mary Barker.

The yang to Redcurrant's yin in this English Oak duo is Jo Malone English Oak and Hazelnut Cologne. The top note is a green hazelnut accord which is supposed to add a fresh, nutty feel. When I spray the cologne on my skin I get a strange chemical smell  tinged with a slight vanilla note. I couldn't get past the opening to give a review of the cedarwood and roasted oak notes. This one just didn't work for me at all but I see online that others quite liked it so perhaps this is just a skin chemistry issue for me. Try it--maybe you'll have better luck than me.

I usually find the Jo Malone line a little light for my taste, both in sillage and longevity, but as this is a constant I have accepted that their customer base approves and it works for them.

Top photo from Second photo Google image. Perfume samples from Tangs, Singapore.