Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Scented Paths: The smell of Texas Mimosa or Silk Tree, genus Albizia Julibrissin

I walk my dog every day along a suburban path built around a creek that holds an amazing amount of wildlife, considering that it is surrounded by houses. On my latest walk I came across these beautifully scented trees that were so common in my childhood but rarely seen today, what we call a Mimosa. One of my early memories is climbing our mimosa tree and in the early warm months of summer being enclosed in this temple of scent, a powerfully sweet smell emitting from its fanciful pink puffs. In Texas and the Southern US these are called mimosa trees, so when I first starting becoming more interested in perfumes and heard about the mimosa scent and the spring blooming of mimosas in France, I was so confused and shocked to see pictures of trees covered in yellow blossoms. Had my parents been calling this by the wrong name my whole childhood? To confirm this confusion, in 2014 Jo Malone came out with a cologne called Silk Blossom, and the photos showed the beloved pink puffs that I called Mimosa. I was convinced that I had been mislead all my life, sort of like how many years ago I taught a troop of Girl Scouts I was leading on a campout that the howling we were hearing in the dark distance was coming from gentle prairie dogs, which I described as being something like a dingo. In reality it was probably coyotes, as I found out a couple of years later that prairie dogs were mole like creatures that neither howled or resembled a dog. Thus do false narratives get spread. Anyway, I thought this was the case with the mimosa, aka, silk blossom tree.

Then when I did some digging I found out that where I live the tree is actually called Mimosa, even though this is a bit of a misnomer. It is also sometimes referred to as a Persian Silk Tree. When I was young they dotted our suburban neighborhood but it is now considered an invasive species and not sold in plant nurseries. As they aren't particularly long lived, they are mostly seen in more wild outdoor settings.  Then yesterday when I was delivering Meals On Wheels, I saw a Mimosa in the yard of one of the clients, a remnant from the past in this aging neighborhood.

The smell is lovely but so hard to describe. To further confuse things, I plucked a blossom from one tree which smelled totally different from a blossom that came from a tree much further down the path. If you've never smelled one, I'll try:

What a mimosa/silk tree blossom smells like:
-- Slightly sweet, but not as sweet as orange blossom
-- Slightly floral, but not as indolic or green as jasmine
-- Slightly fruity, maybe apricot or peachy, but this is faint
-- Blossoms from one of the trees had a strong scent of the white juicy rind that remains, after you've eaten away the watermelon
-- It's a delicate scent, hard to pin down

What a mimosa/silk tree blossom does NOT smell like:
Jo Malone Silk Blossom, introduced in 2014 and reintroduced this year.

I have always loved these fanciful pink puffs, so fuzzy and delicate. They remind me of the hair on the old Dr. Seuss characters, Thing 1 and Thing 2.

To me the blossoms smell like if fairies had a winery and made pink, slightly sweet effervescent brew. It is one of those ephemeral scents that is hard to pin down and probably even harder to replicate in a perfume. You can hold a gardenia or orange blossom and smell, and the scent is strong and ever present, unchanging. These delicate blossoms will give you a beautiful whiff of scent, then the next minute you can't smell anything no matter how hard you inhale. Then it's back again. Like I said, ephemeral.

Has anyone tried Max Mara Silk Touch which was released in 2007. It is supposed to have the scent of silk flower but I've never smelled it. Please let me know if you are aware of a perfume that more truthfully replicates this scent.

Photos of mimosa tree my own. Dr. Seuss is Google image.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Scenting Inspector Gamache: An Interview With Novelist Louise Penny

You know you're a fragrance nerd when an author's mention of fragrance in a book or the sight of perfume bottles on the vanity in a film sets your heart aflutter and your detecting instincts--"what's that scent?-- into high gear. Thus when I heard that Louise Penny, Canadian best-selling author of the Inspector Gamache mystery series, was going to be a featured speaker at the Adelaide Writer's Conference I was attending in March I decided I had to finagle an interview because you see, Ms. Penny scents Inspector Gamache!

A query email that starts out with the words, "this may seem like a strange request", does not fill one with optimism for a positive outcome, but I was delighted to receive word from Ms. Penny's publisher in Australia, Hachette Books, that they would add my name to her schedule. I have been reading the Inspector Gamache series set in the little Canadian village of Three Pines from the beginning, when Still Life was published in 2005. The series has now grown to include thirteen books with another debuting in November this year. Her books defy being pigeonholed. They have elements of the cozy genre; Three Pines, the setting inspired by Quebec's Eastern Townships where Ms. Penny lives, is the little forgotten village where all her readers would like to retire. But the stories offer a richness in character development and insights into life's bigger problems, a taste of which can be experienced by going to this Gamache series discussion website and the voluminous number of pages devoted to her fans in depth discussion of the books. There is a lushness to her writing and a vividness to the descriptions that make you want to occupy the spaces she writes about, for example, from her first book, Still Life:
"Wood smoke whispered out of the chimney to be grabbed by the wind and taken home to the woods beyond."
When I met with Ms. Penny her latest release and thirteenth book, Glass Houses, had recently been #1 on the New York Times and the Canadian Globe and Mail bestsellers list. I wanted to talk to her about the main character in her book, Inspector Gamache, Chief Inspector at the Surete du Quebec and crime solver extraordinaire, who it has been mentioned several times wears the lightest touch of sandalwood  cologne. Sometimes the sandalwood fragrance mingles with the scent of rosewater which is favored by his wife, Reine Marie. I'm a big audiobook listener so I can't search back through the books to find the first mention of scent, and when I asked Ms. Penny she wasn't sure of when she originally noted the Inspector's scent. Initially the mentions were more fleeting. From her fourth book, A Rule Against Murder:
"...Reine-Marie whispered in her husband's ear as she kissed him goodbye at the car minutes later, smelling his slight rosewater and sandalwood scent. As he drove away she waved, still in the world of his scent, a world of comfort and kindliness and calm..."
Again in her seventh book,  A Trick of the Light:
He was so close the young agent could even smell the Chief Inspector's scent. A very slight hint of sandalwood and something else. Rose Water."
But it is in her eighth book, The Beautiful Mystery, that Ms. Penny fully develops the idea of how this scent--sandalwood with a touch of rosewater-- comes about and in the process makes a profoundly beautiful statement about this couple's relationship as well as the importance of scent in the scrapbook pages of our lives. To set the scene, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Inspector Gamache's second in command and soon to be son-in-law, makes this observation.
"He'd picked up the chief at his home before eleven. At the door, Gamache paused to hug and kiss Madame Gamache. They lingered for a moment before breaking the embrace, then the chief turned and walked down the steps, his satchel slung over his shoulder. When he'd gotten into the car, Jean-Guy had smelled his subtle cologne of sandalwood and rosewater and been overwhelmed at the thought that this man might soon be his father-in-law. That Beauvoir's infant children might be held by this man, and smell this comforting scent. He also realized for the first time in more than a decade together, why the chief smelled of sandalwood and rosewater. The sandalwood was his own cologne. The rosewater came from Madame Gamache, as they pressed together. The chief carried her scent like an aura, mixed with his own."
Without further ado I'll go to the interview where I ask Louise Penny about how she came to scent her characters.

Q: Why did you decide to scent Gamache in sandalwood?
LP: The sandalwood came because my grandfather, who I adored, had sandalwood cologne, or he smelled of it. I don't know whether it was a soap or cologne or the shaving foam he used. So whenever I smell sandalwood, which is not really that common of a scent--it's quite old fashioned. So whenever I smelled it, it evoked those walks in the park when he taught me poetry, so I decided I would give Gamache that scent of sandalwood. I understand how powerful scent is to evoke a time, a memory, a feeling, and more than anything else and I wanted to have that ability.

Q: Madame Gamesh you scent with rosewater.
LP: Yes, that is a scent I use a lot. I've experimented. I've used Jean Patou, I've forgotten what it's called, but it's rose. It's a perfume and to be honest that was a little strong for me so I experimented with the rosewater.

Q: I wondered if you might prefer lighter scent because in your books you always mention the scent is just a trace.
LP: It's very light. I like eau de cologne rather than perfume.

Q: So what made you decide to add these details to your characters?
LP: I wanted the books to be sensual. It's important to me, vital really, that all of the senses are engaged, and one of the big ones is scent. Not simply the scent of someone's perfume or eau de cologne but the smell of the food, the smell of the seasons. Each season in Canada smells different so I wanted people to be able to smell the maplewood fire, the maple syrup, fresh mown grass, all of that. And when you describe it people can smell it and then it takes them back to their own often comforting memories.

Q: You create such a sense of place. Your scenes are very tactile. I also noticed you scented Annie (Gamache and Reine-Marie's daughter) in citrus and Jean Guy in Old Spice.
LP: Michael, my husband, used Old Spice so I thought I would throw that in. And now that he's gone, I use his scent.

Q: In your books your character has a signature scent. Does scent play much of a part in your life?
LP: It's huge. I'm really sensitive to scent. I love scent. Not just perfume, but bath oils, when I'm designing gardens it's always with fragrant flowers so I'm very aware of scent. I'm also aware, like most people are, of being overwhelmed by it so  I do think scent needs to be subtle, and have you come to it rather than have it overwhelm you. I think there are few worse experiences than being stuck on a plane with someone who's bathed themselves in some probably quite lovely perfume but way too much of it. I remember as a teenager when you first go out putting way too much on.

Q: In the interview you talked about a fourth wall and trying to engage all the reader's senses.
LP: The fourth wall ... generally when you read a book you're reading the words and with any luck you can see it, it becomes like a movie in your head. But you're removed from it. The ideal for most writers and certainly for me is that if that barrier  between you and the world that's being created comes down and you walk into the book, actually enter the action so you're no longer a voyeur, you're a witness, a participant. So you're sitting down in the bistro, you're having the food they've ordered, smelling the lamb and garlic and rosemary, smelling the wood smoke from the fire and you're feeling the warmth from it. You're seeing the bitter cold outside, the snow. You're actually completely engaged and the only way to do that as far as I can tell is to engage all the senses. Then you also have to make it empathetic. The final element has to be that you care about these people. The goal is that for the reader it no longer seems like a story, it seems real. You feel that these characters are friends.

Q: You created such a specific world. Did it come about slowly and organically or when you first started writing did you have it all pictured? Was it already in your head?
LP: I did. I sat down at the kitchen table before I started to write and I drew a map of the village...I still have it... I created the bookstore first, then the bistro, the bakery and so on. I know exactly where the different people live so it was very clear in my mind, not simply the geography of it, but the feel of it. It was important to me that it be a sanctuary, physically and emotionally for people because I think we all yearn for that these days.

Q: Speaking of sanctuary, I think you stated that you envisioned this after 911 . Is that right?
LP: That's correct. I think everyone understood something had shifted and that places that we thought were safe were no longer safe. In fact there is no such thing as safe anymore. That's a scary thought and I wanted to create a place that would feel safe. This didn't mean bad things didn't happen. Bad things can happen, it's not a magical place. but what makes it a safe place is the sense of community and belonging and friendship that can not be shattered. That love of each other is perpetual and permanent and that's what makes it a safe place.

Q: I read that you got a perfume made at Floris. Tell me about that.
LP: I've always liked Floris and everytime I go to London I go and visit Floris on Jermyn Street. I didn't realize that they would actually make a custom perfume. In the felt a little bit like Harry Potter, actually....I began speaking with someone there and they said, "Yes, we have a perfumer, she's in the back room." I left my first book Still Life with the perfumer. She read it and got in touch. I made an appointment with her and Michael and I  went. it feels like something from several centuries ago. There were all these glass vials and  it's like some mad scientist's workshop from the 1700s. She started just mixing things together based on reading the book and the description. She said sandalwood and rose wouldn't work very well together. I don't know why she mixed up other things.

I didn't understand why it  (sandalwood and rosewater) wouldn't work together. It does in the book! The problem is that after you smell ten things you lose your sense of smell and your judgement. We narrowed it down to three or four, then came back and narrowed it down to one. So there  is now an Eau de Gamache cologne. It has sandalwood and a lot of other things but I don't think it has rose. There may be a little, or other things that suggest rose. To be honest with you I'm not totally happy with it. I'd like another shot at it.

I've had some bottles made up and given to friends but I don't expect anyone else to  buy it. There's a map out now of the village of Three Pines but I've been resistant to that as well because I think people have an image in their mind and maybe it's best to just leave it like that. It's nice to imagine it.

Q: I had always imagined Gamache's scent would be from Penhaligon's or Floris, one of those mainstay traditional houses. Does your newest book have any references to scent?
LP: Yes, actually scent plays a huge roll in my latest book, The Kingdom of the Blind (coming out in November). Very early on in the first chapter, Gamache is sitting in this car and he's about to answer the phone and we don't know what it is but clearly it's a call he's been expecting and dreading. He wonders if in future when he smells wet wool and hears the tapping of snow on the roof and feels the cold chill will he remember this moment, and whether he will remember it with dread or with joy.

He talks later with Isabelle LaCoste about trying to recover from shattering events and to get out of that pain and sorrow. He quotes a WWI poet, Rupert Brooke, who wrote a poem which in it has a list of things he loved and missed during the war, and many of them are scents such as the crisp scent of fresh linen. It was a comfort for him during WWI in the trenches. He would sit there in the worst situation imaginable and remember the smells and the sights from home and it would give him comfort. That's how Gamache describes how he has gotten through the sorrow, he lists the things he loves including the smell of Honore his grandson, so scent plays a  in big role in his recovery, the idea of  how healing scent can be.


So the question is, how would I scent Inspector Gamache with sandalwood, incorporating the note of rosewater from his wife Reign-Marie's fragrance?

I was staying in Adelaide, Australia, at the time I interviewed Ms. Penny, and shortly after meeting her I reviewed the much discussed line of perfumes debuting from Australia, Goldfield & Banks, review here. White Sandalwood is a creamy, calming interpretation of sandalwood that despite the list of spicy notes wore very quiet and woody on my skin. I noted that some reviewers said they got a strong sense of the rose note in the perfume, but on my skin it was hardly evident. However, this is a beautiful sandalwood and if the rose note comes through could be the perfect answer to the scented puzzle.

During our interview when Ms. Penny stated that the Floris perfumer didn't want to mix sandalwood and rose I was perplexed, because I told her that when I traveled to India the previous year, rose and sandalwood was such a prevalent mix. But later I got to thinking, these perfumes had a heavy presence and it is always mentioned that Inspector Gamache's scent is light.

Maybe the best way to come up with the combination is to mimic the book; put sandalwood on one wrist and rose on the other and rub the two together. This would require lighter scents without too much else going on or other notes to complicate the scent.

Nest White Sandalwood is another interpretation of sandalwood that is in the lighter vein. The sandalwood is creamy and very pleasant. It is a soothing scent and although there is not much development or change on my skin, if you are looking for just sandalwood it is worth a try.

Floris London Santal is a classic sandalwood scent but notes of lavender, clove, and nutmeg might make it spicier than Inspector Gamache would wish! Some people say this wears as pretty much a straight sandalwood but others experience the spices if their skin chemistry chooses to amplify these notes.

For the rosewater, I have the perfect thing in my collection but the only place you can find it now is on Ebay, Crabtree & Evelyn Rosewater. Does anyone know what has happened to Crabtree & Evelyn? Their website looks quite different with fewer offerings. I assume they were caught up in the decline of mall shopping, as in the old days they could always be found at the nicer malls. I'm thinking it is maybe just US operations that have suffered, because there is still a thriving shop at one of the malls I used to visit in Singapore. In any case, this is the perfect light rosewater. There is not a lot to say about it; it's one note--rosewater--but it's light, refreshing, and uplifting.

In the absence of this I would recommend the cheap and cheerful Tea Rose by Perfumer's Workshop. It is cheap as chips and smell like rose, and nothing but rose, but sometimes it's just right. The only problem might be that some people find this to be a strong scent. In that case I would recommend Madame Gamache wear Insititut Tres Bien Fine Rose de Mai which I reviewed here. This is a watercolor of a scent; a pale yet vibrant rose that offers the beauty of the flower without ever overpowering the wearer.

My final suggestion to scent Inspector Gamache is not a cologne, but a soap. Ms. Penny mentioned that she didn't know if her Grandfather's scent came from a cologne, a shaving foam, or a perhaps a soap. When I lived in India for several years I became exceedingly fond of this soap.

Later when I lived in Singapore you could buy this in Little India, and I just discovered that it is available online, Amazon of course, here. This soap has a really pleasant sandalwood smell and it is one of those soaps that the scent lingers on the skin in a very light manner for several hours. 

Ms. Penny didn't mention being influenced by the healing properties of the scents she chose for her characters, but the first property that pops up for sandalwood is that it provides mental clarity, which is certainly perfect for Inspector Gamache. And the scent of rose is meant to be calming and uplifting, and this is one of the roles that Reine Marie plays in her husband's life. 

It was a pleasure to hear Louise Penny speak twice during the week-long writer's conference and then to have the opportunity to speak with her in person. Ms. Penny told audiences that although her books are mysteries, ultimately they are about life, love, and the relationships we form, and having that safe place where we feel cared for and appreciated. It's interesting how much you can glean about a person's character from watching these interviews. Ms. Penny is entertaining and charming. It's obvious that she wants to connect with her audience and show them a good time, and her stories were funny and often self deprecating. And when she shared the stage with a less well known author, Ms Penny seamlessly redirected the attention back to the other author when she felt too much of the interviewer's attention was being directed her way. 

I have always maintained that we scent lovers are sensualists, just like foodies or wine lovers, and for many of us these enthusiasms overlap. The love of life is in the details, and Louise Penny's stories are richly embroidered with these sensual, descriptive details that enrich life, while providing  a darn good story at the same time! I really appreciated her indulging me in answering my questions about Inspector Gamache's scent, which in reality only make up a couple of sentences in each book. If you haven't read her books and appreciate mysteries do yourself a favor and visit the little town of Three Pines.

Just hanging out with best-selling author Louise Penny!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Le Jardine Retrouve Perfume Revival Project: Pick Red, Green, Yellow or Black

Le Jardin Retrouve has a fun project going on right now and you can still participate. It is called The Perfume Revival Project. A huge file of formulas from Le Jardin Retrouve founder Yuri Gutsatz's long career as a perfumer were found in a forgotten box in the basement of the family home. Yuri's son Michel and his partner Clara Feder wanted to revive some of the perfumes and gave the pile of papers to in-house perfumer Maxence Moutte. He first narrowed it down to one hundred and from that made up eight into perfumes. The eight was narrowed down to four favorites and now Le Jardin Retrouve is asking their customers help in choosing which one of the four should be released. It sounded like fun and I had been impressed with the brands other releases so I sent off for the samples. They arrived beautifully packaged and with a handwritten addressed note. These are my impressions of the four, and let me state from the outset, I'm not good at identifying mystery notes!


This is a floral. Very languid. Makes me want to bring out my Southern drawl. It is a little lemony but very humid and steamy. At first spray I thought I smelled lily, but now it smells like jasmine, and a very green jasmine. This is not a heavy indolic night flower, but a sprinkling of the spiky white flowers over a green leafy bush. It makes me picture myself circa 1980's in a flowy floral dress, shady straw hat, sipping a mint julep under 100-year-old oak trees. I love jasmine (assuming that is what this is) and in fact I love all white flowers, so this feels pretty, airy, and feminine. It's my first sniff and so far, it's my number one pick!


This has a very herbal fresh green opening. I sense a  peppery note that adds a little heat and spice. As it settles in there is a slightly smoky feel that I sometimes get with vetiver. This one is not reacting on my skin in any exciting way. It is just kind of sitting there. This is a no go for me. Yellow still reigns.


This immediately feels elegant. I have been making travel plans to France all day and I can picture wearing this while strolling alongside the Seine, preferably holding lots of bags from perfume boutiques! It feels like a chypre to me as there is a mossy feel to the base. I can see this one being divisive; it's one of those you love it or you don't type perfumes. Honestly, I can't identify the notes but it has that feel of French perfumes, where it is not the individual notes but the sum of them together that makes the perfume special and elegant. I like this! It's one of those perfumes that after I put it on I look down at what I'm wearing and groan. It makes me want to up my fashion game. I still like Yellow but Red feels a bit more special. Yellow is now nudged to number two.


Wow! This one gets right to it! At first spray I am surrounded by a spicy cloud punctuated with shafts of brightness. There is a touch of smoke in the background. If it was a cold day this would immediately shoot to the top of my picks. Not that you couldn't wear this in the heat; it's just one of those scents that would be so cozy in the cold. I don't like to gender label scents, and I could definitely wear this one but I would really, really like it on my husband. There is a really nice masculine vibe. Something about it almost feels a little gourmand at the beginning. The citrus is mixing with some note that comes off slightly sweet to me, plus the spices amplify that effect. This is a really great scent and I think it will be especially popular with the male contingent testing the perfumes.

So my final verdict:

It is not too late if you want to participate in the project. You can go to the Le Jardin Retrouve website, or you can go to this page on Facebook for more information: Le Jardin Retrouvé & YOU. You are able to order the set through June 15, and the vote ends June 22nd. I will be interested to see which perfume wins. I don't know about the actual vote, but judging by people's comments on the Facebook page I would say Red and Black seem to be getting a lot of attention.

Samples and photos my own.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Le Jardin Retrouve

I have had these pretty sample boxes from Paris perfume house Le Jardin Retrouve for at least six months. I kept meaning to try them. All the reviews I had read were positive. I finally shook myself out of my sniffing lethargy and I'm glad I did. I liked all the scents and they seem especially fitting  for the spring and summer season.

Le Jardin Retrouve was started in 1975 by perfumer Yuri Gutsatz and claims to be the very first Niche Maison de Parfum. Yuri had an extensive background with perfume including a stint managing an ingredient factory in Bombay. After Yuri's death in 2005 the brand's presence waned until 2016 when Yuri's son Michel and wife Clara Feder revived the brand. The story is they sold their family home to finance this passion project and picked seven of the original fragrances to bring back. Clara has a background in media and created the striking art for the packages which has a modernistic impressionist vibe. She also writes the background story for each perfume, based on the premise of "found" gardens, a literal translation of Le Jardin Retrouve.

Verveine d'Ete is a very fresh and invigorating scent. Singapore Airlines used to carry a L'Occitane verveine scent in their bathrooms and it was always a pleasant wake up when you were hours into a flight and feeling fatigued. It is light, inoffensive, and could be worn with equal ease by a man or woman. The story written for this perfume begins, "1878. You walk in the Summer Garden in the heart of St. Petersburg. There was a refreshing rainstorm...". Notes of basil, bergamot, vetiver, and eucalyptus provide the bracing notes and oakmoss gives a smooth finish to the scent.

Citron Boboli is the other citrus perfume in the collection. The citrus notes of  Italian lemon, petitgrain, and orange blend together to remind me of the gorgeous scent the tiny blossoms on my lemon tree provide. There is a sweetness to this scent which reminds me of a confection, perhaps a lemon macaroon or cookie. It is not overwhelmingly sweet, just enough to temper the tartness. A hint of black pepper and cloves add a tiny touch of spice to the concoction. I find Citron Bobli very cheerful. The poetic inspiration for this perfume is the Boboli Gardens at the Palazzo Pitti in Italy.

Eau des Delices was inspired by the painting in the Prado Museum by Hieronymus Bosch, "The Garden of Delights". I saw this painting in person last year and was blown away by the modernism of this artwork from 1503. Eau des Delices is classified as eau fraiche with its notes of  lemon, tangerine, bergamot, and petitgrain. What distinguishes it from the two above is the addition of lavender, which warms the citrus notes. It reminds me a little of L'Artisan Seville a l'Aube which also features citrus with lavender. I think I like the initial opening of the two citrus perfumes more, but I like the eventual dry down of Eau des Delices the best. It feels deeper with a bit of broodiness.

Sandalwood Sacre is a light, fresh take on sandalwood. I sometimes find stand alone sandalwood to be a bit musty and dry. I like the brightness that the petitgrain provides, like letting sunlight into a dark place. Notes of balsam, musk, oakmoss, and patchouli add depth to the scent but it maintains this aromatic shimmery light. While its sandalwood may not stand out alone as some sandalwood perfumes do, I appreciate the brightness and wearability of this. It is inspired by the idea of an Indian Hindu temple on the banks of the Nerboudda River. I really like this, if only it had some longevity on my skin.

Tubereuse Trianon starts with a surprisingly big blast of creamy tuberose. After the overall lightness of the previous fragrances I've tried I was expecting a watercolor tuberose, but it's definitely a presence. Listed notes are tuberose, ylang ylang, and coriander. The ylang ylang gives it a warm and sunny appeal. I sometimes get the sense I'm smelling frangipani, but it's not listed. I can't see this being a hit with those who don't like tuberose, but I love the flower and found this to be a very nice version. After the initial blast the tuberose does settle down to a quieter presence. The overall feel is tropical, languid, and creamy. The garden inspiration is the Trianon in the Garden of Versailles.

Rose Trocadero is the second floral in the Le Jardin Retrouve stable of scents. The first time I tried it I wasn't too fond of it. It just smelled like scented soap. The next time I got the sense of an aquatic rose. I read the copy and part of it says, "Before you; the Trocadero Palace. Suddenly a woman approaches. She is carrying a huge bouquet of roses and heads toward the Seine." So I asked myself, was this aquatic feel deliberate, ie, the Seine? Or was that just something I made up? The rose smells like tea rose to me, and something about this reminds me of rose scents I used to smell when I lived in India. I can't put my finger on why. Other notes are blackcurrant, clove, and musk. I don't smell the clove at all, which usually is a note that stands out to me. I don't dislike this, but so far it is my least favorite.

Cuir de Russie is classified as a floral leather and has notes of  ylang ylang, violet, patchouli, cinnamon, juniper, and styrax. When I was researching what others had thought about the line, Cuir de Russie was overwhelmingly a favorite with reviewers and it's easy to see why. I don't always love leather fragrances but when they work, oh! how alluring they can be. The violet and leather combo is beautifully done. The rest of the notes are a supporting cast of players. The story inspiration for this scent is the Ballet Russe at the opera hall. It's a good allusion which captures the delicacy of the leather and the fairy-tale beauty of the floral notes. I like this one more each time I spray it and I have to agree with my fellow reviewers, it is probably the most unique and the most memorable of the scents from the Le Jardin Retrouve line. When I sniff my wrist, it is easy to fall into the dreamworld that I am watching the ballet, the dancer's leather shoes spinning and gliding, surrounded by beautifully scented people in the most elegant of settings.

I really enjoyed trying the scents from Le Jardin Retrouve. It's hard to see how anyone could take a dislike to any of them, except maybe the florals, which have stronger notes. Perhaps there is nothing groundbreaking about most of them, but the quality of the ingredients used shine through and they are enjoyable to wear. You may order samples from the site here.

Top photo my own. Other photos from Samples purchased by me.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Celebrating Mother's Day With Iris: Serge Lutens Bas de Soie

Iris Garden ~ Ada Walter Shulz ~ (American, 1870–1928)

This is a true story.

My memories of my paternal Grandmother who died when I was only seven are of a stern woman dressed in a plain housedress, hair in a loose bun, and orthopedic shoes that made her look much older than her years. Life had not been kind. She lost her husband when her oldest child, my father, was only six, leaving her with three children to care for. The Great Depression was literally at her doorstep. Times were hard everywhere and especially in a small Texas farming town. I remember her in sepia tones of grey and brown, not much color in  her simple life. But there was one glaring exception. Every spring colorful showy iris, which ran in a bed that stretched from her small boxy house all the way to the street, would burst forth in a variety of gorgeous colors. The iris were so delicate, almost sensuous in their beauty. How did this shadowy woman I remember come to love these exotic blooms?

When my Grandmother died my father dug up many of the bulbs and transplanted them in our back flower bed. My Grandmother's garden had iris of many colors, but when they bloomed in our backyard they were all purple. Every spring we would be treated to a showy display for about a month, a living reminder to my father of his mother.

Flash forward many, many years. My father had died about eight years before. I was living in Singapore and had just flown out of the country after wishing my Mother goodbye, saying "see you at Thanksgiving". I had barely unloaded my bags when I got the call that my Mother had a cerebral aneurysm and was dying.  I rushed back, hoping for a final moment, but she slipped away sometime when I was over the Pacific. My memories at the cemetery are hazy and Dickensian in nature: dark brooding skies, cold winds, black garb and somber faces. In retrospect I realized this had to be my imagination. It was September. I know I wore a sleeveless dress. Where did I get these images? However for eight years I had no desire to revisit the burial place.

When my sister and I were cleaning out my mother's house one of my sister's friends made a loving gesture. She went to my Mom's house and dug up some of these same iris bulbs that had come from my Grandmother's house forty years before and transplanted them in my yard. For years their green leaves looked healthy but I waited in vain every year for the purple blooms which never came.

Last year which was eight years after my Mother's death, my sister was in town for a wedding. I decided I was finally ready to visit my Mother's grave. It was a gorgeous early spring day. As we drove down the country road leading to the small family cemetery we passed through a tunnel of trees lining the road, gently bowed and providing our path with dappled scattered diamonds of sunlight that broke through the leaves. We eventually came to the gate of the cemetery. It is a small rustic plot of land for extended family only, so uncrowded and perched on a gentle hill. There were patches of Texas wildflowers dotting the unmanicured ground: the blue of bluebonnets, pink primrose, red Indian paintbrushes. I was astounded. It was beautiful. Instantly all the dark unhappy images my brain had conjured for all these years were erased and I was left with the image of this peaceful scene.

As we drove home I felt the lightness of my heart. Trip completed we drove into my driveway. There in the bed by the drive was one single perfect, purple iris. It had unfurled since we left the house from a bud I had never noticed. It seemed like a magical exclamation mark from my Mother to punctuate the ending of a healing day.

This year the iris were plentiful and are a living reminder of my Grandmother, my Father, my Mother, and the ties and memories that bind us together as a family.

My Mother wasn't much into scent. A bottle of Wind Song that was there when I was a child was still half full when she died. She was always impeccably put together as so many women of her generation are: perfectly coiffed hair, neat matching attire. At eighty she had fretted that she was losing her waspish waist to the battle of lax muscle. She grew up in an era when good manners and graciousness were hallmarks of being a lady and she lived these values to the end. I sometimes long to hear what she would think about the degeneration of these attributes in the almost decade she has been gone.

So I have no scent memories persay to identify with my Mother, but these iris, passed down through the family, seem a good place to land on Mother's Day when I'm searching for a scent. There are so many iris perfumes to consider, and I hover over one of my top ten perfume favorites, Prada Infusion d'Iris. But what I ultimately decide on is even more perfect, and a scent I had forgotten, Serge Lutens Bas de Soie. The perfume created by Christopher Sheldrake was released in 2010 to mixed acclaim. I remember being indifferent to it at the time, and this was the era when Serge Lutens was everything. Some called it too shrill, too cold, too piercingly sharp. Most reviewers agreed, though, that the mix of hyacinth and iris created a perfume that transported the wearer to visions of blue. I also get this sensation, which goes along with my purple-blue iris just wonderfully.

On opening there is a moment of cool hyacinth. The scent quickly starts to expand, as if getting life from oxygen. It becomes more green, like the first signs of spring gardens when the weather is still crisp. The orris notes of the iris join in and the duo of iris and hyacinth compliment each other with their cool greenness. There is a definite French refinement to this scent. Bas de Soie translates from French to mean "silk stockings" and that is what the perfumer is trying to convey. The luxury and properness from an era when women's legs were always clad in stockings, preferably made of fine, almost invisible silk. My Mother used to tell me a story of how in World War II, when she was a sixteen year old working in an office, she would use and eyebrow pencil to draw lines up the back of her legs to disguise the fact that stockings were unavailable in the days of war rations. I feel I could time travel a bottle of Bas de Soie back to 1940 and into my Mother's hands and it would be totally at home in that era. Like my memories of my Mother, this perfume speaks of refinement and elegant style. Now that I have rediscovered Bas de Soie perhaps it will be my secret weapon to wear as an armor against today's moments of incivility, a talisman to reach for a higher standard. There is something rather regal about the smell of iris. Just as the flower is impossibly beautiful and extremely fanciful, the smell holds itself a bit apart. Is it austere or is it sensual? Is it cold or is it warm and embracing? To me iris is a bit of a mystery and Serge Lutens Bas de Soie is an olfactory illustration of that mystique.

My Mother, Norma. I miss you every single day.

Have a wonderful Mother's Day!

Top painting, Iris Garden, by Ada Walter Schultz. Iris painting, Marianne Broome. Perfume my own.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Moscow Mule from Juliet Has A Gun

A Moscow Mule is the uber-trendy drink made so popular in recent years that it is now a ubiquitous summer selection at most bars. It has also spawned an industry selling the copper mugs in which the drink must be served or it's not a Moscow Mule. It is the alchemy of the vodka hitting the copper, the ice chilling the copper walls of the mug, the ginger beer spritzed with a squeeze of lime, that make this perfect marriage of a summer drink. Now Perfumer Romano Ricci has used this as inspiration to launch a perfumed version of the iconic drink, Juliette Has A Gun Moscow MuleIt is a light easy-to-wear take on the popular drink traditionally served in a hammered copper mug. 

A Moscow Mule consists of vodka, lime, and ginger beer, and the perfume follows this directive. At first application there is the tartness of bergamot, followed by the spiciness of ginger. Ginger can take over a perfume if used too generously, but here it just adds subtle spice to the brew. JHAG Moscow Mule contains Iso E Super, which lends a woody but transparent aspect to the scent. 

In the heart notes you  find apple essence, sandalwood, and a touch of extreme amber. For me these notes blend with the base notes of Norlimbanol, a molecule from Firmenich, the Swiss flavor and fragrance company. Norlimbanol gives a dry woodiness to perfumes and on my skin Moscow Mule settled into a woody, slightly musky scent after the initial zest and spice. If you've drank a Moscow Mule on a warm day, you know that the vodka washes down deceptively easy when mixed with the ginger beer. The ice cold feel of the drink is exaggerated by the copper mug which holds and amplifies the chill factor, and sometimes you can almost taste the metallic copper. There were a couple of times during the life of the perfume I could sense that sensation of metallic tang.

Romano Ricci, pictured above, is the founder and perfumer of the Juliette Has A Gun line of perfumes. He has fashion and perfume in the bloodline: he is the great grandson of French couturier Nina Ricci, and grandson of Robert Ricci who founded the family perfume empire. Romano could have joined the family business but instead he forged his own path, starting his company in 2005. Francis Kurkdjian was a co-collaborator on early perfumes in the line but Romano is now the sole perfumer. He has brought a certain irreverence and playfulness to the line. The newest introduction, Moscow Mule, is a good example of this relaxed attitude. I found Moscow Mule to be a light, fresh and effortless scent to wear, very casual and relaxed. I didn't smell it strongly on myself but got a compliment the first time I wore it so I guess it has more projection that I realized. If you are looking for a new scent to welcome summer or if you're a fan of the copper-clad cocktail, Moscow Mule should be on your radar to try.

Top photo from All other photos from Juliette has a gun. Perfume provided by Juliette has a gun.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May Day with DSH Perfumes Muguet Cologne

Today the French celebrate May 1st as La Fete du Travail which is like our Labor Day in the USA. But it is also La Fete du Muguet, or Lily of the Valley Day. The tradition started all the way back in May 1, 1561 when King Charles IX was presented with a bouquet of lily of the valley, given to wish him luck and prosperity in the coming year. He must have liked the gesture because legend says that every year thereafter on May 1st he presented the ladies of the court with a small bouquet of the flowers.

There are many beautiful lily of the valley scents, the most famous being Christian Dior's Diorissimo, which has stood the test of time and is still famous today. Muguet perfumes are generally sweet and the lily of the valley is a distinctive white flower with a smell that is delicate and virginal, its scent bringing to mind the opening days of spring and the earth's renewal after a long winter.

This year I decided I was in the mood for something different and reached for DSH Perfumes Muguet Cologne.  On her website, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (DSH) says that while she had men in mind when creating Muguet Cologne, it's really for anyone. It is probably difficult for the average man to pull of wearing muguet perfumes which veer ultra-feminine, but Muguet Cologne features the lily of the valley note encased in a light green woody fragrance.

When Muguet Cologne is first applied the woody and aromatic notes are strongest on my skin. This is a cologne, so the overall feel is light, airy, and transparent. There is that moment when it seems like the scent merges with your skin, and it's almost like there is a pot of fragrance being stirred as various aromas rise up. Woody notes of virginia cedar, sandalwood, violet leaf, and Brazilian vetiver provide the base. Aromatic notes of patchouli, frankincense, and balsam are present but muted. Light citrus notes of bergamot, lemon, and grapefruit provide a faint sparkle. The muguet note only makes an appearance on my skin after the other notes have settled down. It is a green rather than a sweet version of the flower. In all honestly had  I not known it was lily of the valley I probably wouldn't have been able to identify the floral green note as my nose is not that sophisticated and DSH fragrances are always well blended. While there is definitely that masculine cologne vibe to Muguet Cologne, I am very comfortable wearing it and find it to be an easy aromatic with a fresh and spring-like appeal.

DSH Perfumes Muguet Cologne is 100% natural, unless it is shipped overseas, in which case the alcohol content is slightly modified to meet international shipping requirements.

Happy May Day everyone!

Top photo Google image. Bottom photo from Sample my own.