Sunday, September 30, 2018

Travels In France, Part Five: Hill Towns Near Grasse: Gourdon & St. Paul de Vence

View of Gourdon from road

The area around Grasse and close to the French Riviera is so rich with destinations for perfume lovers. While you may not find designer name brand perfumes, what you will come across is beautiful scenery, great wines, fabulous food, and in many cases independent perfumers who operate on a small scale. Warning, this is more travelogue than perfume reviews but I couldn't wind up my travels to the south of France without mentioning some of these villages. My next reviews will all take place in Paris.

I didn't come across the tiny hilltop town of Gourdon in any of my research, but a friend with whom I was staying and knew of my love for perfume recommended visiting. It is a village that exists solely for tourism purposes now, with no more than four streets and a few small restaurants, but some artisan perfumeries have made this their home and I visited four enterprises, most selling their own blends and one offering perfumes from several houses that I hadn't come across elsewhere.

To reach Gourdon you travel on the Gorges du Loop, a beautifully scenic but sometimes hair-raising road that encircles a gorge with a river and waterfalls. It is a spectacular nature area but is also dotted with quaint villages worth a visit.

One of the perfume shops in Gourdon.

Shop interior. I purchased one of the tubular bottles on the top shelf right, a light and pretty Muguet Water.

Another perfumery selling lavender and their own perfume blends.

Shop interior.

A colorful pottery shop on the left.

Another perfume shop.

Another town just outside the loup which is more well known is St. Paul de Vence. It is also a hilltop town and due to its strategic positioning was a stronghold of the Provencial region in the Middle Ages and forward through the ages. In the early 1900's artists found their way to the scenic village and it drew luminaries such as Paul Signac and Marc Chagall. Today the village is one of the most visited in the south of France but it manages to maintain its unique character and a melting pot for artists. Even the cobbled pathways which you walk on are little works of art.

One of many beautiful doorways in St. Paul de Vence.

A courtyard of shops.

An art gallery.

St. Paul de Vence is full of beautiful pathways.

All the shops are so inviting.

This shop sold soaps and bath salts infused with flower petals.

The entrance and exit to St. Paul de Vence.

This is not a hill town but was only about thirty minutes away, on the coast near Nice, the Villa and Jardins Ephrussi de Rothchild, a pink palatial home on a beautiful peninsula on the Cote d'Azur. It is well worth a visit and the gardens are stunning.

 View from the Villa Ephrussi, looking towards Nice.

The fountains at Villa Ephrussi.

Another town mentioned by perfumistas is Eze, which is along the scenic Corniche drive from Nice to Monaco. Unfortunately I didn't make it there but it looks beautiful and offers shopping for perfume lovers.

If you enjoyed reading about Travels In France, please start at the first in the series, Travels In France, Part One: Everything is Lavender, found here.

All photos are my own.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Aroma M Introduces Geisha Botan, A Perfect Pick For Autumn Weather

Maria McElroy, founder and proprietress of Aroma M Perfumes, was one of the first niche perfumers I came across over ten years ago, in an era when niche was rare, new, and inventive. Maria is a true Japanophile, living and studying there for seven years. It was during her time in Japan that she came across a peony garden while visiting Ueno Park, and she was delighted by both the flower's beauty and its gentle rose-like scent. Decades later she has made a tribute to the peony, called botan in Japan.

If you follow Maria on social media you may have seen some of her travel photos with her handsome chef hubby, as she refers to her husband. She is possibly the most stylish traveler out there. You could easily put her photos in a 1960 photo album, when travel was for the stylish and sophisticated, and she would look right at home.

Maria McElroy, Barcelona 2018.

My previous experience with perfumes featuring the peony note is that they are bright young things, pink and pretty. Geisha Botan is a totally different peony. It is, I would imagine, no accident that Maria introduced Geisha Botan prior to autumn because it certainly fits into the season nicely. Readjust your idea of peony to something more like the flowers pictured below, deep and rich with muted wine-like colors.

Geisha Botan doesn't try to be a straight up representation of peony scent. Thanks to Aroma M's generosity I was able to test both the eau de perfume and the oil versions. I will be honest; normally I am not a fan of oil-based perfumes as often I can smell the scent of the oil carrier. But with Aroma M perfumes and oils, somehow Maria is able to imbue the perfumes with the DNA of her brand. Even though her various scents smell very different you are always aware of the Japanese/Asian vibe that is at the heart of this brand. Full disclosure, I own several of her oil roller balls: Geisha Rouge, Geisha Pink, Geisha Green, and Geisha Blue. I love both the beauty of the protective tubes wrapped in the decorative Yuzen papers as well as the convenience of the size which is easy to throw in a purse or pocket.

When I first try Geisha Botan the EDP goes on bright and I can smell a honeyed peony, or more correctly I should say, a honeyed floral. Peonies don't survive the Texas heat so I've never actually smelled the true flower. The oil initially opens more quietly. I smell a muted version of the same notes, but it is softer and moodier. Opening notes of peony and rose are listed, and I am surprised I don't pick out an actual rose scent as usually it is very evident to me. I am assuming this is purposeful, as rose is being used to help simulate peony's scent. As the oil begins to warm on my skin I feel like I almost smell a trail of tender smoke. There was a similar trick to the wood note in Geisha Vanilla Hinoki, which I reviewed here; there is no smoke note listed in Geisha Botan, and in any case it is a fleeting and momentary impression.

Aroma M lists heart notes of sandalwood, vanilla, velvet woods and base notes of forest lichen, oakmoss, and musk. The vanilla makes a quick presence on my skin. I love the vanilla notes that Maria coaxes from her perfumes. Whereas the beautiful vanilla in Vanilla Hinoki was green and a bit smoky, this vanilla manages to be succulent while completely avoiding that sugar fix present in some perfumes that overload on the sweet note. This vanilla is influenced by creamy sandalwood, and whatever other wood notes are added to the perfume. It feels snugly yet sophisticated at the same time. This scent is unisex, veering neither masculine or feminine. 

After my first wear I was all prepared to say that while both versions are beautiful, I preferred the oil for the way it blossomed on my skin throughout the whole day, its presence seeming to amp up the longer it was on my skin. I put it on in the morning and it was still with me when I went to sleep at night. But skin is a funny thing. The next time I tested, the EDP version seemed to define each transition from note to note more clearly than the oil. The oil hummed softly on my right wrist while the EDP was twirling pirouettes on the left. So maybe it just comes down to which version you prefer to wear. Some like to spray a cloud of scent; others may prefer the personal nature and convenience of the roller balls. Either way, I think you'll be pleased.

Maria references Japanese irezumi (tatooing) with Geisha Botan. The peony has been a popular motif throughout the ages as it is so special in Japanese culture. With Geisha Botan you can reference this trend of wearing peonies on the skin without going all the way into inking the body.

Aroma M packaging is always spot on in keeping on brand and Maria has a gift for picking the perfect Yuzen papers, which she uses to wrap the tube of her oil rollers or illustrate the bottles. You get a pretty good idea of the mood and style of the perfume inside the bottle by studying the beautiful Yuzen paper and Geisha Botan is no exception.

From website.

As the perfume settles into my skin, and that is what happens with Aroma M perfumes--they seem to become a part of you during the time you are wearing-- I feel wrapped in a cocoon of gentle beauty and warm comfort. This perfume doesn't try to be a replica of a peony. Geisha Botan uses the peony which has a sacred history in both Japan and China, and puts the unique and always original Aroma M stamp on its creation. Although it would be lovely in any season, as I tested Geisha Botan on a rainy, cool weekend it was the perfect fit to transition into a new season.

Thank you to Maria McElroy for providing me with samples. My opinions are my own.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Travels In France, Part Four: Cassis and the House of L'Eau de Cassis

If the French Mediterranean coast was a string of pearls, first you would have Marseilles, an interesting and eclectic port city, but also gritty, bustling, and hard to navigate. In total contrast, the next town of size you come to is Cassis, almost hidden between a rugged national park and an equally inaccessible cliff-like coastline. If you continue the journey east you would come to the French Riviera, first St. Tropez, followed by Cannes, Antibes, and finally Nice, each more glamorous than the next. These towns are all breathtakingly beautiful, but when our car rounded a curve in the road and the picturesque town of Cassis with its small U-shaped harbor was laid out before us, I felt like I was driving back in time to an era when towns like this still remained undiscovered and uncrowded. It seemed too unspoiled for modern day living.

Photo from

Cassis is separated from Marseilles by Calanques National Park, a 520 kilometer protected land and marine area which is absolutely stunning in its beauty. One can take a cruise to view the hidden coves or the more intrepid can hike into the area, but there is little access by roads. To the east of Cassis is Cap Canaille, the highest maritime cliffs in Europe which make for a stunning drive, and where I took the top photo with its view of Cassis.

The Calanques.

North of the town are a small number of vineyards producing the renowned Cassis wine, and the even more well-known Bandol wine region is only a short drive away. The town is very walkable and easy to explore with narrow twisting lanes dotted by shops, restaurants, and living accommodation.

It was on one of those strolls that I came across a perfume store featuring a name with which I was not familiar, L'Eau de Cassis.

I went in to discover more about this perfumery, which dates its first creation back to 1851 when Lorenzo Salvaire created L'Eau de Cassis for a distinguished lady visiting from Marseilles. Today it is the great-great-grandson, Fabrice Cicot, who carries on the family tradition of creating perfumes in the little town of Cassis. The business was trademarked and reborn in 2005.

There are four shops in Cassis, and also storefronts in Marseilles, Bordeaux, Paris, and Grasse. At the moment the brand is only in France although it can be mail ordered. They have a fairly large offering which includes perfumes, fragrance waters, ambiance perfumes, and candles. I was very interested in the Fragrance Waters, many of which featured the word "Cassis" in their names, such as Weekend in Cassis or Miss Cassis. There were far too many to try in one go but I really liked the perfumes I smelled and wanted to leave with a memory of this little jewel of a town. I settled on Baie de Cassis, which translates to Bay of Cassis.

Baie de Cassis starts with an invigorating pucker of grapefruit, fresh like a breeze from the sea. Notes of blackberry and black currant give a dry, fruity aspect to the scent and remind me of the delicious wines I tasted in this place. The invigorating berry and grapefruit notes hold up for some time and make this a fresh and energizing perfume. Eventually notes of raspberry and rose will come into play and provide a soft, but not too floral, landing for the perfume. These fruit notes are not sweet; in fact you could classify them as tart. I am finding this to be a wonderful perfume to wear in the transitional season into autumn. I would loved to have had time to sample more perfumes from this line, as all the ones I tried I found appealing.

By chance, later in the trip when we were staying in Paris, I happened upon the store in the Marais. There I met Luca, the son of the perfumer Fabrice Cicot, but it was my last night of the trip and somehow I managed to lose both my notes and photos I took of him. Fortunately my recording was still findable. I found Luca to be, as so many perfume people are, passionate about his family's business. He said he loves Cassis but stated, "I don't want our perfumes to be a souvenir object. I want for us the notoriety of a perfumer." Luca said that the family is dedicated to making perfumes that represent the Mediterranean area they call home. It is his father who is the perfumer, and the line has grown from 25 in 2005 to over 40 perfumes today. 

Another appealing feature of the perfumes is the price. The 40 ml cylindrical bottles which come stored in a cigar-like tube are 40 Euro, and the 100 ml bottles retail for 59 Euro. Luca said, "For me niche perfume has become so luxurious in terms of price. I don't want to see our perfume become too expensive." He stated that having the perfume strictly in France for the moment has helped keep costs down.

Although this isn't the most easily attainable perfume for those of us not in France, if you ever make your way there keep a lookout for the L'Eau de Cassis Parfumeur. I found many beautiful scents to explore at a very fair price.

View of Cassis harbor from our humble but well-located hotel .

To read more about my French perfumed travels, go to Part One.

All photos not labeled are my own. Perfume is my own purchase.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A Visit With Olivier Durbano In Grasse and Perfume Reviews

Olivier Durbano's atelier is just steps off the main square in Grasse, at the start of a narrow twisting lane that if you followed to its end would lead to the perfume museums that illustrate the perfumed history of the town. The shop is small but full of curiosities that attract the eye. There are necklaces made of cool gemstones that look as if they might grant the wearer with mystical powers, once draped around the neck. There are scarfs printed in deep colors and prints inspired by the minerals and gemstones which are the source of Durbano’s creative flow. The shop has a glass front to let in light and allow passers-by to gaze in at the wares. When I enter the shop I feel immediately at home. I am a Virgo, an Earth sign. I prefer my travel in cars and trains over boats and airplanes; in ten moves I’ve avoided living in high rises in some of the world’s most populous cities; I like my feet and my house planted firmly on the ground. In this space with its polished stone floors, rustic wall of stone, wooden shelves, and large chunky minerals harvested from the Earth’s depths on display, I feel in my element.

The most eye catching sight in the boutique, however, is a row of perfume bottles, filled with colorful potions in shades of brightest gold, deepest indigo, cadmium red, and my two favorites: a rose wine pink and a purple the color of watery lilacs. The bottles look like potions from a wizard’s laboratory, and the inventor of these potions is himself a man of enthusiastic creative energy combined with zen-like calm, as if he absorbed all the most peaceful and pleasing properties of the stones that surround him.

When researching before an interview, I usually try to read other writer’s impressions so as to know what questions have already been asked numerous times and to get a picture of the person with whom I’ll be meeting. When doing this research before my meeting in Grasse with Olivier Durbano the phrase that came up repeatedly was, “he’s just so nice,” or, “he is such a genuine guy.” It sounded a little like platitudes but within a few minutes of meeting Olivier I understood; he is just so nice; it’s an aura you can’t fake.

Olivier studied architecture in Lyon, which taught him the elements of design and structure. He worked as a designer but was eventually led back to his love of stones, a pleasure from childhood, cast aside for many of his growing up years. While still in university Olivier began fashioning jewelry from gemstones and minerals, a passion he explored for some time. Then in 2005 he decided to enter the world of niche perfumery.

My family used to spend summer vacations in Colorado and one of my most prized souvenirs from that time was a boxed collection of rocks  I got from the old-time mining town of Silverton. I loved the colorful stones and for a time in college toyed with the idea of studying geology, so it is easy for me to appreciate Olivier Durbano’s fascination for the stones. Over time, making jewelry from the stones, he decided he wanted to interpret the individual stones to scents.

I visited Olivier Durbano at his shop in Grasse and he was kind enough to explain his creative process in producing a perfume, from concept to completion.

"When you are an artist you are a kind of canal, a medium, You don’t know from where you have an idea, you don’t know from where you have an energy. I try to be open to an idea. It’s respect about creation. You do the best you can and after that you say to people, you can see you can smell what do you think? Since the beginning, the process is the same. I take time to really feel the stone. When I feel, okay, this is the one, then I open my mind and emotion and I stay with the stone. We can say it’s a kind of meditation. It’s one year of my life, from the time of first creation. Step by step ingredients will come to me. Then I see images and stories. When I feel it's complete I go to the laboratory. It’s not my laboratory, I rent, because since the beginning I realize, if you think you need a workshop, your own laboratory, your own people, then it is not possible to do what I do. I work with a chemist. I take my time to test, test, test a perfume. Then one day you say, I don't have to touch it, it's finished. That's a special moment."

"To me a perfume is not when you first spray. Some people, they come, they spray, they say no, they say yes. For me you need to take time. It’s one hour later and you feel the alchemy with your skin and with your heart."

I asked Olivier some more specific questions about the process. 
Q:  I love the color in your perfumes.
OD:  For me in the beginning it was a fight because a lot of people told me no, you can’t do it. Nobody will use it. For me it was important. The color is a kind of language, it has an energy. I realize that even now some people don’t know about the stone but they can have a connection with the color, and then the smell. It’s a different door. For me to talk about amethyst without purple, I couldn’t do it.

Q:  I notice you’ve never used brilliant stones like diamond or ruby. Is that of interest to you?
OD:  At the moment, not. 

 Q:  Is there any stone or any perfume that means more to you?
OD:  Rock crystal I like a lot, for me it’s purity. Not necessarily the perfume, but the rock, in my life is very important for me.

Q:  When did you open your shop here in Grasse?
OD:  My parents are from here, in the foot of the city. I started the necklace collection in Lyon. I had a gallery in Lyon. I went to Paris. About six years ago I wake up in my parents house with a message—an intuition—to come back to the historical center. I wake up and say, ok, lets go. At eight o’clock I was here walking through the historical center to rediscover the city. I had the idea I had something to do here. It was not so easy, I was in Paris in the Marais. Then two years ago I decided to leave. In 25 days I close up my flat and showroom. I call my parents and say, can I come for some months in the family house, and I came. And I found this place in July. I had the key in the first of August. For me the city of Grasse is full of energy. For many years, she was forgotten, she was treated like a very bad city. And now there is a revival. It was very important for me to open something the best I can, beautiful and with respect for the city. Since I came I am more and more happy to be here. For me this is really the place to be.

Olivier Durbano was kind enough to share his collection of scents with me. I experienced them in the order they were created and it was interesting to follow the evolution. The first eight scents share a common thread, in my opinion; a touch of incense that gives them a certain spirituality and quiet resonance. With his ninth scent Olivier turned to stones from myths and legends or that are considered to have magical properties. Olivier emphasized to me that this is not a departure from the stones, just a different avenue. These are not scents that immediately reveal themselves; for me at least, you need to sit with the scent for awhile to experience it. Some of the scents spoke to me more than others, as is natural, but they all revealed a quiet beauty and gave a feeling of meditative calm. I will give my impressions below.

The Perfumes

Rock Crystal

The original fragrance that started it all in 2005 was Cristal de Roche, or Rock Crystal, and confession, this is one of my favorites. Rock crystal was thought by the ancients to be frozen ice, a sort of petrified ice, and over time it came to symbolize purity of mind, body, and spirit. The stone is symbolic of purity and cleansing. Add to this the power of olibanum (frankincense) which is also a scent of purification and is said to link man’s spirit to the divine. 

Frankincense carries prayers uttered by mortals towards the heavens.

The perfume’s opening is light and luminous, and feels a bit icy and mentholated, like a scene from the movie Frozen. Maybe this is why I get images of Christmas. The opening notes of orange flower, coriander, cardamom, cumin, and black pepper contain no pine or menthol, but somehow this is the feel I get from the spices. The heart notes are a star lineup for me: frankincense, olibanum, benzoin, myrrh, and cistus. This does sound like the gifts of the Magi to the baby Jesus; only the gold is missing. Sometimes these notes can feel heavy and warm, but here they literally fly, drifting weightlessly like the frankincense smoke rising to the heavens.

My husband fell in love with frankincense on a trip to Oman and he really wants to take this one from me. The scent is uplifting, grounding, and for all my talk of Christmas, it is so transparent that it would be equally comfortable in the middle of the Omani desert. This was a strong start out the gates for Durbano perfumes back in 2005.

Amethyst is the second fragrance created by Olivier Durbano and it came out a year later, in 2006. In ancient times amethyst was said to be a talisman against inebriation and to protect against poisoning. 

Amethyst opens with a bright bergamot. Then the hesperidic note mixes with fruity notes of grape and raspberry and the spiciness of pepper. There is nothing sweet about these fruity notes; they soften the spice but are drained of any sugars. Rosewood and a faint incense tame the fruitiness even more, but it is ultimately the base notes of amber, vanilla, musk, and sandalwood give the scent a cozy creaminess balanced by soft woods. At this point I can smell grape very faintly. It is an unusual scent; not difficult or demanding to wear at all and is quite addictive. The scent is not like anything I have in my collection and it's comfortable to wear, like a pale purple cashmere scarf draped around the neck.

Black Tourmaline

In mineral lore black tourmaline is known as the protector, creating a shield of protection from negative energy. This applies to both human energy and environmental toxicity.  This is the gemstone that Olivier Durbano chose for his third perfume, Black Tourmaline, created in 2007.  Black tourmaline starts out with spicy notes of cardamom, coriander, and pepper. Heart notes of smoked wood, frankincense, leather, and oud give the scent the feel of a smoldering campfire, and in fact the black tourmaline stone looks like a piece of charred wood. Base notes of patchouli, moss, and amber deepen this aura. Later as the scent smolders it reminds me of five hundred year old churches I have visited in Europe, stone floors worn with hollows where feet have tread for half a millenia. Centuries of incense are imbedded in the cool stones and wooden crossbeams so that there is the redolence of smoke and burnt offerings. The scent offers ancient comfort. This appears to be on of the brands most popular perfumes, and no wonder.

Jade was introduced in 2008 and the transparent green liquid certainly brings to mind the gemstone it is meant to represent. Jade has been prized from the earliest civilizations as an artistic medium for carvings. It has beauty properties as it supposed to confer youthfulness, and jade supposedly confers prosperity and abundance, which is especially found in Chinese cultures.

Mint gives a cool opening to the perfume. Spicy notes of star anise and cardamom give the tea note an Asian feel. This is an interesting tea note. It flits in and out in strength but is distinct and dry. To these aromatic notes, jasmine and iris add a floral softness. Vetiver increases the illusion of grassy dryness, and a mate note adds to the dry, slightly bitter tea note.  This perfume feels green, and for me it’s a soft creamy green, similar to color of the stone it is meant to represent. This is a really interesting perfume and if you like tea notes or soft green notes you should give it a try.

Growing up in the American Southwest my associations with turquoise were the stones set in silver Native American jewelry and it brought to mind desert landscapes. Here though, in Turquoise, the fifth Durbano perfume created in 2009, think turquoise water. The perfume opens with a briny salt water feel. A note of turpentine is perhaps one element adding to the ozonic feel of the perfume. Elemi and oliban incense is faintly present. After some time the perfume takes on the feel and scent of seawater with all its seaweed and detritus. Heart notes of fragrant reed, lotus, seaweed, and lily literally float in and out of the scent trail. In its later stages  the scent takes on a softly muted blur with ambergris from the sea and myrrh. This is an ozonic scent but not the usual zesty fresh take those scents can have. Olivier Durbano grew up in Cannes by the Cote d’Azur and I’m sure this was a great influence when he composed this perfume. I had heard how stunning the turquoise water of the Cote d'Azur was but until I saw it for myself this summer, I couldn’t imagine the exquisiteness of the color.

Pink Quartz

Ah, now I come to my favorite from the line, Pink Quartz. Perhaps not coincidentally the pink quartz was always my favorite in my little box of minerals from my childhood. I loved the translucency of the color and the smooth crystals that made it look like pink rock candy. It is also the sixth perfume in the line. Olivier is very interested in the numerology of his perfumes and six is my lucky number. Coincidence?

Anyway, how does it smell? The first spray is definitely rose and this in itself is a new direction for this perfume. All the others have been such a meld of the various notes, but this is definitely a rich and resinous rose. Grapefruit gives it a bright vibrant opening. In the background are spicy note additions of olibanum, saffron, and ginger. I smell the olibanum more than the other two notes; the ginger is definitely muted on my skin. The rose feels all enveloping, like a hyper-realistic rose. The rose note is supposed to offer a feeling of well being and this definitely brings a smile to my face. The rose notes keep on coming with heart notes of palma rosa and rosewood. At this point the rose becomes even more uplifting. Eventually the rose becomes more muted as the base notes of amber, patchouli, musk, myrrh and benzoin join in.

Pink quartz, also called rose quartz, is said to bring peace, calm, and happiness. It has been used as a source of love and compassion through the ages. Olivier had a bowl of water with big chuncks of pink quartz in his new studio (more on that later), I would assume to infuse the space with positive energy. Wearing rose scents has always been a source of peace and calm for me, and this living rose—because it seems so alive on my skin—instantly enhances my mood. If you like rose notes this must be on your try list.

Citrine is a member of the quartz family, and its name probably comes from the stone’s lemon-yellow hue, although it can also come in shades of orange. Citrine is said to glow with inner fire and celestial energy. The perfume represents this by opening with a citrus glow from notes of Sicilian citrus and wild orange. This uplifting zest is tempered with the spices of ginger and pink pepper. Elemi incense is gentle but has the scent of balsam, citrus, and woods. Elemi is harvested from the pili tree in the Philippines. The tree is known for its resilience, actually becoming stronger and more fruitful when battered by winds, drought, or torrential rain. It thrives with hardship, qualities that the oil is thought to impart. The incense note is not smoky, but has an almost medicinal smell. The scent glows warmly with a quiet inner fire. This is the seventh scent in the line and was created in 2011.

Heliotrope was the inspiration for Durbano’s eighth scent created in 2012 and the stunning red juice is an attention getter. Don’t be confused by the heliotrope plant commonly used as a note in perfume. There is nothing powdery in this perfume. Heliotrope was the ancient Babylonian name for the stone more commonly known today as the bloodstone. The stone is green but has red inclusions formed by iron oxide. The red spots take on the appearance of blood splatters. In the ancient world heliotrope was thought to have magical powers, including the power to grant invisibility.

The perfume opens spicy, dry, and hot with the note of red pepper as a standout. The elemi incense that Durbano often makes use of is here in the opening as well. To me it seems that this incense is more gentle than some. Olibanum, ginger, and angelica create more fire and spice. This is an extremely dry scent; for me it conjures images of the dramatic desert landscapes in Utah, with its fantastical red rock formations, in the American southwest. There is actually a note of heliotrope in the perfume and occasionally it pops out with that familiar cherry almond scent, but it is so surrounded by resins and spices that it is not sweet and the moments I smell it are very fleeting. As the perfume wears on I sense more the resin notes of myrrh and benzoin and the wood notes of sandalwood and cedar. This perfume stays close to my skin and I would call it more of a personal scent.

Lapis Philosophorum
The Alchemist by Joseph Wright of Derby, 18th Century

With Lapis Philosphorum, Olivier Durbano veers for the first time from using an actual mineral or gemstone for inspiration. This time he is inspired by a mythical stone, The Philosopher’s Stone. For ancient alchemists the Philosopher’s Stone was the holy grail, and would have been the ultimate discovery. They thought the Philosopher's Stone would facilitate their quest to turn ordinary metal into gold. But beyond that its power would be so great as to offer immortality.

"When I went to Philosopher’s Stone some people told me, 'Oh, you changed totally your collection'," said Durbano. "No. This is a continuity. It’s the same way."

Numerology plays a part in all of Durbano's fragrance creations and you can read about it on his website where he describes the meaning of the number for each stone. For his ninth fragrance this was especially important. "For Philosopher’s Stone, it was number nine. Nine means the end of a sequel and the beginning of something else, in the same way. So it was not possible for me to go with a normal stone. A mystical stone, it was the right time to do it. Philosopher’s Stone is interesting because it is also very spiritual.  There is message in all the legends of the stones to help you to learn about yourself."

Lapis Philosphorum is an usual scent and its opening makes me think of an alchemist’s lab with various unidentifiable smells. Picture a brooding scene from Harry Potter movies or maybe Merlin’s lair in Authurian legends. I think it is the white truffle that smells a little earthy and rooty. There is another very dry and rooty smell which may be the calamus, a root from India, that I have no idea what that smell is. It’s a little camphorous to my nose. This could be the menthol note. While I can’t say I love the smell it is certainly evocative. Eventually the resins and woods come into play: frankincense, opoponox, ambergris, myrrh, and mesquite for a dry woodiness. The resins give me the feel of a trail of incense smoke. Overall I find this scent a challenge. In the painting above you see the dark shadows in what appears to be an underground laboratory. This is the sense I get from the scent, earthy smells, odoriferous potions, and a feeling of damp and dark. Other reviewers have had wildly different impressions so it's just my impression, but in any case it is a very interesting scent picture. This is the ninth scent for the Durbano library and was created in 2013.


For his tenth scent and to commemorate ten years of scent creations, Olivier Durbano turned again to a legendary stone for inspiration. This time the stone plays a part in the legend from Greek mythology of Prometheus. This Greek Titan was credited with the creation of man from clay and in Greek mythology he is known as being a champion and protector of humankind. The legend says that Prometheus defied the gods by giving fire to man, hidden in a large fennel stalk. Zeus became very angry when he learned of this deception and chained the immortal Prometheus to a stone, where every day an eagle comes and plucks his liver out to eat, only to have it regenerate and go through the same torture the next day and the next. As far as revenge and punishment go, this one is pretty nasty. In some versions of the tale, Hercules eventually rescues Prometheus.

When I spray Promethee the first sense I get is of a big stone which I can in no way describe but if you’ve ever hiked in nature and climbed a big stone you may know it, the feeling of cool grey, dampness. Very quickly the distinctive note of fennel, signifying the fennel stalk in the legend, enters. If you have ever had fennel tea you may be familiar with this smell. Pink pepper and nutmeg add a dash of spice. Myrtle and cistus labdanum reference the Greek countryside, where this legend was supposed to have taken place. There are a host of other heart notes of which the only one I clearly distinguish is the fenugreek. They include narcissus, lily, lavender, sage, and storax. During this stage I get two main scents; first there is the scent of the muddled spices, the fennel, and the fenugreek. None of these are commonly used substances in perfume so this is definitely not like anything I’ve smelled before in perfumery. And just occasionally I do get a sense of the cool stone. Maybe I'm being fanciful and influenced by the legend, but it is there. The spicy herbal stage lasts for some time, eventually settling into a more musky and woody accord. The aroma it puts off is pleasant and has interesting notes but I can’t decide yet if it’s something I would wear. In any case it is an artfully arranged scent that will titillate noses with unexpected notes.

For Durbano’s eleventh perfume, introduced in 2015, he references an ancient Greek term for a glowing gold stone, Crysolithe. Today we think this references peridot or olivine but in ancient times chrystolithe is mentioned often; in the Bible, the Torah, the Qur’an, and other ancient writings. If Lapis Philosophorum is the stuff of wizards and sorcerers, then Crysolithe is brewed by a white witch in a cozy forest dwelling where healing potions are dispensed to those in need. 

There is a veritable herb garden in the opening minutes, and again, Durbano highlights unusual ingredients. There is hyssop which gives a mild mint-like tingle. Verveine and cumin, two very different green scents, tame each other so that the overall effect is herbal green rather than the uber freshness of verveine or the sometimes overpowering bitterness of cumin. Spice notes of ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper add warmth. (I am beginning to notice a trend with pepper. So far I think all the Durbano scents have featured the note, be it black, pink, or red.) These herbal notes create a very soothing, very pleasant scent that feels creamy green with gentle lift. Sage and rosemary heart notes add to the feel that we’ve wandered into a herb garden. 

“If one wishes to become wise and avoid extravagance, one must simply take the stone named Chrysolithe” – from The Book of Secrets, an 8th century spell book

There is something about this perfume that feels like autumn with the fragrant herbs and gentle spice notes. I find wearing Chrysolithe to be a very calming experience and it imparts a feeling of well being. Eventually vetiver and cedar wood will soften and blur the fragrance to a gentle dry down. I really like this perfume and I would be surprised if you have anything like it in your collection.

Lapis Lazuli
For his twelfth perfume, Olivier Durbano chose the stone Lapis Lazuli, revered from times of earliest recorded history as a “sky stone”. The stone is a deep blue and sometimes will be shot through with flecks and streaks of pyrite, commonly known as fool’s gold. The stone of blue so deep it is almost purple, combined with tiny pricks of gold glitter, can give the appearance of a night sky studded with stars. Lapis lazuli's history can be traced back as far as any stone because of its use for carvings and decorative use by ancient royals. As far back as 1271, Marco Polo records that the best mines for lapis lazuli are in the area we now call Afghanistan. Going even further back in time, Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist and philosopher, described the beauty of the sky stone. We know that Egyptian pharaohs used lapis to decorate their tombs and Cleopatra wore eyeshadow made of ground lapis, or so it is recorded. Painters have long relied on lapis to make paints with which to depict the blue of the sky. At some points in history lapis lazuli has cost more than gold.

"A fragment of the starry firmament” – the description of lapis lazuli by Pliny the Elder in his book The Natural History, 79 a.d.

It could be argued that this brilliant azure liquid is the most visually stunning of the Durbano bottles, which when placed in a colorful line, from a distance take on the appearance of  string of party lights or the brilliantly colored stained glass windows in Rajasthani palaces. Perhaps because of this vivd blue I think I expected a perfume that would boldly seek attention with a pyrotechnic performance. This was not the case. The journey starts with a combination of tea tree and cypress notes for a cool clean and serene opening. Next artemisia, also known as wormwood, gives a  green bitterness to the mix. Heart notes are thyme, plant milk, spelt, and iris. I don’t get but a hint of the grain note from the spelt. The thyme accentuates herbal and aromatic aspects of the scent. Up to this point Lapis Lazuli has felt very much an Earth scent with its herbal and aromatic accents. As the base notes start to appear the scent becomes moodier and more reflective. Notes of elemi, tolu balsam, and ambergris imbue the scent with a warm, resinous fragrance. It is balsamic and begins to have that same meditative spiritual vibe found in many of the Durbano scents. The mood is quiet, reflective. Vetiver and cedar wood bring a dry woodiness which will stay with the scent until it eventually slips away like a trail of smoke in the sky.

Labrodorite No. 13
For his thirteenth creation in 2017, Olivier created Labradorite No. 13. Labradorite shimmers with internal energy and light and in mineral lore it is considered a magic stone, used by shamans and healers. In folk lore of the Inuit people, who are found in Arctic regions as well as Labrador, Canada, the shimmering northern lights, or Aurora Borealis, were captured in a stone that fell from the sky and this stone is now called Labradorite. The stone comes in various intensities of grey, but its beauty lies in the way it reflects light in shades in iridescent blue, gold, or green. Imagine a peacock’s fan-like tail and you get the idea.

My first impression of Labradorite No. 13 is of entering a dim woodlands. I sense trees, dampness, the smell of wet leaves underfoot. Then comes a totally unexpected animalic scent of castoreum and civet. This is new territory for a Durbano fragrance. If I had smelled this perfume before I talked to Olivier I would have had a lot of questions about his creative path to these notes but as I had not I will give you my interpretation. After reading about the Inuit legend, I interpret this as a Northern forest which is rainforest, but not in the tropical sense that we usually think about rainforest. The smell of wetness and damp vegetation, the leaves, twigs, and dirt surround. Then enters this animal note which could represent the beaver or bear that roam the forests known to the Inuit. In the midst of this comes a totally unexpected note, the scent of tuberose. This is not a creamy tropical tuberose. The flower can have an animalic aspect, and this mixes with the already present notes of castoreum and civit. With time the tuberose note is becoming stronger and the civit and castoreum notes recede a bit, but they will remain a quiet influence throughout the life of the perfume. As the perfume fades the tuberose note lightly slips away. I interpret this tuberose note as the iridescence in the stone; the scent addition that creates the shimmering illusion of light reflecting from stone

Coming Attractions?
Olivier Durbano has introduced a stone every year since 2005. When I asked him about what is in store for 2018, he had this to say.

“I will launch the new one in September. The last finishing touch was three weeks ago (this was recorded July 2018). Since the beginning I try to never talk about a new perfume before the launch, and usually it’s in Pitti in Florence. It’s like theater, I open and reveal on the first day of the exhibition.”

"I can tell you something about the new one. For the new one it’s the beginning of the same beginning," Durbano said, creating even more mystery. I will be looking forward to see what lucky stone has intrigued Mr. Durbano and how he will interpret it in scent. 

Another coming attraction that Olivier is very excited about is the opening of a new shop called Grace Concept Store just steps down from his current location. In addition to his line of perfumes, diffusers, and candles it will carry handmade accessories such as hats and totes as well as decorative items. I visited Olivier Durbano in July and at that time the store was scheduled to be opened by September. Here are a few photos from the new location to whet the appetite for the lovely environment this jeweler/perfumer has created in the small town of Grasse. I want to thank Mr. Durbano for his generosity in sharing his world with me!

I hope you have enjoyed reading about Olivier Durbano and discovering a little about his perfumes. If you would like to read more about Grasse and perfumed travels in France, start here.

Rock crystal, google image. Perfume bottles from Olivier Durbano website. Garden painting, All other photos my own. Thank you to Olivier Durbano for perfume samples.