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.