Saturday, February 23, 2019

Balenciaga In Black And Perfumes Inspired By Fabric

Recently the Fort Worth Kimbell Museum hosted an exhibit entitled "Balenciaga In Black" showcasing many of the designer Cristobal Balenciaga's design from his long career. The exhibit was organized by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris. The first time I viewed the exhibit I was more interested in the designs of the clothing, but the second time I began to take in the nuances of the dresses and how certain fabrics were used for structure and effect. I noticed how many shade variations of black there are, depending on the sheen and style of the fabric.

Balenciaga In Black exhibit, Kimbell Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Autumn 2018.

My Mother was an accomplished seamstress and when I was growing up she made most of the clothing for my sister and me. It never occurred to us to feel cheated of "store bought" clothes as her creations were always so perfectly constructed. I learned at an early age to appreciate the distinguishing characteristics of fabric. Most of what came my way was utilitarian cotton, but for my Mother's dresses there was linen, with its dressy Southern vibe rendered more casual by the inevitable wrinkles that would follow the minute the wearer sat down. Satin was shiny and dressy but had a certain structure and took up space, especially if there were tucks or gathers in the design . Silk was sinewy and whisper thin, draping the wearer like a second skin. Taffeta had a sound; it crunched and rustled with movement.

Balenciaga 1956. Google image.

Cristobal Balenciaga was born in the Basque region of Spain and had a mother who worked as a seamstress so he began training in the industry at an early age. A noblewoman in his town recognized Cristobal's potential when he was only a teenager and sponsored him to train in Madrid. Success followed and Balenciage opened stores in important cities in Spain. Eventually the Spanish Civil War would force him to close these shops and seek refuge in Paris where his empire and reputation would grow. Balenciaga was always distinguished from other couturiers as the one who could take a design all the way from inception to completion with his own hands, and throughout his career he always had one design in each of his runway shows he personally sewed.

Crisobal Balenciaga in an advertisement for Le Dix perfume.

Balenciaga's Spanish heritage influenced his love of using black fabric in his designs. It referenced the black lace mantillas women veiled their heads with before entering the church, the solemn robes of the Catholic priests and church hierarchy, the uniform of the bullfighters, and the flounced lacy dresses of the tango dancers. By using so much black fabric in his designs, Balenciaga was able to call attention to the details that made his creations true haute couture. He understood the language of each fabric, how it draped, flowed, and moved with the model. If you're interested, here is a glimpse at the Balenciaga "by invitation only" show room, I'm guessing maybe early 1960s.

I would like to be writing about the perfumes Balenciaga released during the era he was designing, roughly 1920 through 1968. Le Dix was released in 1947 and was named after Balenciaga's address, 10 Avenue George V. This was followed by La Fuite des Heures in 1948 and then Quadrille in 1955.  Unfortunately I've never smelled any of these and I haven't had the best luck acquiring vintage scents on Ebay, so instead I thought it would be interesting to focus on scents that use fabrics as inspiration. At the Balenciaga In Black exhibit particular attention was given to the type of fabric used to make each dress and the information plaques that identified each creation went into great detail. Balenciaga's choice of fabric enhanced the final outcome of his design and allowed him to make structural works of art, such as the rose dress at the top of this post which seems almost like a stand-alone work of art.

A photo of the exhibit at the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

The first fabric-named scents that came to my mind when planning this post were Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Silk Mood and Oud Satin Mood. I don't own either of these so I went to my local Neiman Marcus on a couple of occasions to give them a try. I became confused if I was trying the eau de parfum or extrait versions of these, and to my nose they mostly smelled the same, just that the extrait was more intense and lasted longer. Oud Silk Mood is not what I expected, initially. With the word "silk" I expected a somewhat transparent perfume that floats and breathes. What I smelled on first spray was a synthetic plastic smell. Thankfully this faded quickly but while it was present it was very distracting. Maybe this was just a reaction with my skin. I looked at other reviewers experience on Fragrantica and they were almost all outstanding in their praise.

Oud Silk Mood has a simple note diagram: oud, rose, chamomile, and papyrus. I admittedly have an extreme sensitivity to the oud note, so take this with a grain of salt, but I found that oud is eighty percent of the fragrance for me, followed by rose, then a little papyrus. The notes begin to meld together in what is a lovely smell, but still, not the diaphanous trail of fragrance I was expecting. Then there is a sea change. The papyrus note becomes more apparent and this makes the heavier notes drier and more airy so this eventually becomes more "silk-like". However when I view it through the lens of being a perfume representing a "silk mood", it's a big fail for me. It does not bring images of a diaphanous swatch of fabric embracing the wearer but is more heavy and solid. No floating is taking place!  A couple of hours in my patience begins to pay dividends. The papyrus is subduing the overwhelming oud and now the fragrance does begin to take on more transparency. Still, I am not won over. Sorry, FK, I love almost everything you create but Oud Silk Mood is a miss for me.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Satin Mood is a totally different story. Not only do I enjoy wearing this opulent perfume but I can imagine that it is meant to represent a shiny piece of satin fabric which has been turned into a gown fit for a princess. Satin has a formal appearance and it is glassy smooth to the touch, almost slippery. It has more heft than silk and can thus be constructed into more formal designs. Satin is a fabric rarely seen today except in formal gowns and it has a presence. Depending on the design it can stand out on its own with no structural help or it can lie sleekly along the curves of the body. In Oud Satin Mood the oud note is heavy and full of presence, but at least on my skin it is less commanding than it is in the Oud Silk Mood. Rose essence from Bulgaria and rose absolute from Turkey ensure that the rose note takes center stage and is toughened a little by the oud. The feeling is one of luxury and abundance. Vanilla adds a bit of sweetness and makes this scent feel smooth and sleek. A little benzoin makes everything better in my opinion, and here it combines with amber to give a warm sensuousness to the scent. Oud Satin Mood feels like something royalty would wear in olden days to let everyone know they had access to the best and aren't afraid to flaunt it. As a bonus, if you spray Oud Satijn Mood to go out at night you are going to still smell delicious the next morning, just in a slightly buffered version. When I compare the extrait to the original, the original is a more syrupy style of vanilla while the extrait seems more perfectly blended. The extrait also has notes of geranium and cinnamon, not found in the EDP. 

People are rather rapturous in their praise of these scents on Fragrantica and in reviews, and the longer they're on my skin, the more I understand. These are serious perfumes that unfold and reveal slowly. No need to rush to judgement.

Organza by Givenchy is another perfume that references fabric-- organza-- which is a a sheer silk. Although it's been so long ago that I tried this perfume that I can't accurately describe it, I remember not caring  much for Organza, which came out in 1996. However when the flanker Organza Indecence was introduced in 1999 it was very  popular and I bought a bottle (wish it had been five or so!) and I carefully use the remaining contents. The bottle itself is beautiful. While Organza had a similar lid but a straight body, Organza Indecence, which was supposed to amp up the sexiness of the scent, resembes the curves and flow of a woman in a long gown. In fact, the bottle resembles the Ballenciaga outfit above. Even almost twenty years later my bottle of Organza Indecence is full of the warm spice of cinnamon, the velvety liquid of amber and vanilla, a touch of plum, and earthy patchouli. It's feel is dark and delicious and this was the intent. While Organza with its white flowers was supposed to be "white" in attitude, Organza Indecence was meant to reference black organza by using woody and spicy notes. Organza Indecence does feel like something you'd wear for a night out. It is warm, spicy, voluptuous, and extravagant. I notice that Givenchy has reintroduced Organza Indecence in a less beautiful bottle, and I'm willing to bet it's a less beautiful scent.

Blue Silk byAgent Provocateur gives an interesting interpretation of silk. Agent Provocateur is the purveyor of luxury lingerie and all their scents are meant to be provacative and somewhat sexy. Blue Silk and its sister fragrance Lace Noir (which unfortunately I couldn't find to sample) were introduced in 2018. I found Blue Silk to be quite different from the other perfumes in the Agent Provocateur line. The fragrance does gives a feeling of silky lightness; the notes seem somewhat airy and don't hang too heavily. The use of spicy notes of pink pepper mix with juniper in the opening to give the feeling that this is not a "white" scent. After the pink pepper I smell a very subdued note of rose,  more of a floral aroma than an identifiable flower. The juniper mixes with citrus notes of mandarin orange and lemon to provide lightness and lift to the scent. Notes of peach and jasmine add to the silky feel, all very well blended. Finally notes of vanilla, musk, tonka, sandalwood, and vetiver give a cashmere like effect to the scent which wears soft and close to the skin. This scent feels unisex to me. There is a slight powderiness thanks to the tonka, but it's contained. The best thing about this scent is that at least in the United States it can be found at very reasonable prices at online discounters.

Grisette by Lubin is a perfume created to represent the young women who lived in Paris and worked as seamstresses during the Belle Epoque era. Many of them lived in the Montmarte district which was frequented by artists, writers, and other creatives. The young women were described as being full of life and flirtatious, and this perfume is meant to reflect their joie de vivre. They were part of the bohemian culture of the era, and while their daytime jobs involved sewing and milliner's assistants, their after hours exploits were known to involve modeling for artists and sometimes occupying a position above prostitution but less than a mistress. Opera immoralized some famous grisettes: Fantine in Victor Hugo's Les Miserable and Mimi in the novel which inspired Puccini's La Boheme. I realize this is all the wrong era for Cristobal Balenciaga, but since it involves the creation of clothing and Grisette is such a pretty perfume, I'm going with it.

Grisette does give the impression of light frivolity and a certain innocence, despite the original connotations of a grisette. It reminds me slightly of Annick Goutal's Petite Cherie or Teo Cabanel's Julia, not the scent, but the air of youthful playfulness. While I firmly believe that anyone can wear any perfume, this one is decidedly feminine.  At first there is almost a minty scent combined with the citrus. Everything is very fresh and lively. Then a soft muted rose, pink and pretty, not blood red and torid, mixes into the scent. There is such a tart freshness that I thought maybe a touch of lychee was in the scent, but no, I guess it is just a very sparkling grapefruit note, along with bergamot. The luminous citrus notes combined with a very soft and innocent rose last for a surprisingly long time on my skin. Eventually all the notes soften and iris, cedar, and musk combine to form a soft white veil of scent. The rose is faint now, and although a tartness remains, the brightness of the citrus notes are gone. In truth I love the opening and the first hour or two of Grisette. After that, it becomes softly pretty and much less present. Added later: I add this after going to bed and thinking that Grisette was all done. I woke up and my wrist was literally pressed against my nose. I was smelling a slightly spicy smoky aroma. As my brain fully engaged I realized that this must be the amber and incense notes mentioned in Grisette's list of notes, however yesterday they were nowhere to be found. It is literally more than twelve hours later that I finally experience these notes, and had my wrist not been pressed to my nose I doubt I would have noticed. For those who like their scents to stay close, though, this could be acceptable. For me Grisette is pretty and enjoyable but feels a little young to be something I'd reach for very often.

This dress has butterfly winged bodice. It was on display at the exhibit.

Shantung is a silk where slight irregularities are allowed to exist and it is recognized by its nubby texture. It is less formal than silk, think of it as silk with attitude. It's origins are traced to the Chinese province of Shandong where raw silk originated as well as the trading route known as the silk road. Shantung is an English bastardization of the city of Shandong, which literally translates to "east of the mountains", in this case the Taihang Mountains. I remember my Mother sewing a dress from shantung when I was a very young girl, and running my finger over the silky yet rough texture. This texture gives the fabric a sheen, and depending on the color, almost an irridescence. Shantung, which was used in some of the designs on display at the museum, allowed Balenciaga to play with black. With the right fabric is could appear shiny or matte, jet black or a dark silvery-grey.

Etro's description for Shantung is actually pretty spot on. "In the dew-laden air of an eastern morning, a sparkling note of mandarin blends with the sweetness of blackcurrant and lychee. Threaded with Somalian incense, cedar and cashmere woody undertones and carried in musk's sensual embrace, the fleshy corollas of rose and peony blossom in the heart of the garden ao create an even more mesmerizing effect."

Shantung by Etro does seem to draw inspriration from its Chinese Silk Road origins. It opens with an incredibly fresh and juicy blackcurrant note. It is reminiscent of Diptyque L'Ombre Dans L'Eau's opening of blackcurrant. The note is tart in Shantung and this is further accentuated by a litchi note, fruity and slightly sour. This gives the feeling of a morning in the garden before the sun has burned away the scents; the buds which will unfurl toward the sun later in the day now are fresh and green. There is a feeling of fresh and new nature and there is a certain delicacy to the scent. As rose and peony enter that delicate fruitiness is emphasized even more. The peony is much stronger than the rose on me. There are also mandarin to add lightness and brightness, and again is a nod to the Chinese origins of shantung silk. This initial freshness stays for some time. Eventually the scent becomes more muted with notes of wood and musk, and there is supposedly incense but quite honestly I never experience it. Shantung is a really lovely scent that I am tempted to add to my collection and I think it is a good representation of this Chinese silk fabric, capturing it's lightness and fluidity, but adding a spunky twist on ceremony.

The Etro description for Shantung describes the silk as unexpected in it's pebbley uneven surface, and some of the piquant notes in Shantung are meant to mimic this surprise element of the fabric.

There was a long span of time when the house of Balenciaga didn't release a perfume. To the best of my knowledge Cristobal was released in 1998, and other than two flankers, that was it until 2010 when Balenciaga Paris was introduced. This perfume did not try to mimic the big perfumes from the past for which Balenciaga was known, however I think Perfumer Oliver Polge, working under the direction of Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquiere, captured the elegance of the Balenciaga history. In a longer review here I wrote that Balenciaga Paris is elegant and refined, but even though it is a soft floral chypre it shows great retraint. I smell violet petals scattered on a cement sidewalk wet with rain. But what I smell that really connects this scent to the current discussion of fabrics and couture clothing is that Balenciaga Paris reminds me of freshly starched and pressed clothing, a garmet with sharp pleats ironed to precise folds or a crisp collar ironed to rigidity. There is a smell of steam against cloth that reminds me of well cared for and beautiful clothing. This facet of the scent is even more present in Balenciaga L'Essence, a floral green flanker to the original launched in 2011. Olivier Polge was also the perfumer for this one and he took away a bit of the prettiness to make it a statement on tailored, pressed clothing. It's a great scent to make you feel fresh on hot days. Grab it if you can still find it; it's becoming less available.

I would like to end with a very brief tribute to the holy grail scent named after fabric, Crepe De Chine by F. Millot. It was launched in 1925 and disappeared ages ago except occasionally can be glimpsed for sale on Ebay. Several years ago I bought a sample vial of the vintage and it was the kind of scent that makes you despair that as cliched as it sounds, they really don't make scents like this anymore. It smelled like elegance in a bottle and was so rich and evocative. I'm not saying the scents are in any way the same, but two modern day fragrances that give me that same all-out glamour are Puredistanc Warszawa and DSH Perfumes Vert Pour Madame. 

The Balenciaga exhibit was very inspiring and the cut, elegance, and attention to detail of the clothing made it understandable why scents were so grand, back in the day.

Color photos my own. Vintage photos Google images. Perfumes my own except for MFK. Thank you to Neiman Marcus for those.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Oud Wa Ward by Parfums Berdoues

Oud Wa Ward by Parfums Berdoues is a scent of rose and oud, a combination about as unique as peanut butter and jelly, but let me tell you why I liked this scent enough to spring for a bottle when it came out about three years ago. Oud Wa Ward was one of a trio of oud scents put out by Parfums Berdoues, the others being Oud Wa Vanilla and Oud Wa Misk,neither of which worked for me. These three heavier scents came out a year after the one hundred year old company had reinvented itself with the introduction of six Eaux de Colognes, each scent referencing a country and emphasizing three notes of raw material which I wrote about here. These scents were light yet had more heft than the average cologne. In the same manner, Oud Wa Ward displays the richness inherent in the marriage of rose and oud but it wears somewhat softer than many similar scents in the market.

For me this is a good thing. There are occasions when I want a big fragrance, but much more often I need a scent I can smell but that will not permeate the radius of space around me. I like that Oud Wa Ward opens with a big opulent rose shrouded in a bright oud. At first it feels like a bit of an attention getter and a special occasion perfume. There is some fruitiness in the opening moments and a touch of smoke. Oud Wa Ward has that exotic Arabian souk feel but the oud has been tamed and for me the fact that it is not an oud beast is a good thing. I have to be careful when wearing perfumes with oud; I like mine somewhat sanitized and with a bright edge. I realize for others this will be the very thing they will not like about this perfume.

Rose and patchouli is a favorite combination of mine and Oud Wa Ward features a strong patchouli note. Patchouli can have a sweet and intoxicating scent and its overuse in some perfumes helped coin the term "fruitchouli". There is a rose-sugar-jam moment in the opening when the fragrance feels like it could turn into rose cotton candy, but the oud notes help balance this and the scent maintains a balance between rose--woody oud--patchouli. The rose note makes it lush and sexy, but after a while it becomes more faint and it is the patchouli and oud that will combine into a slightly sweet woody scent with occasional smoke which will simmer for hours. What started as a rich fragrance never  loses its lush aura but it goes from low boil to slow simmer.

There are many big, beautiful rose and oud scents out there by Maison Francis Kurkdijian, Kilian, Amouage, Lancome, Guerlain, Armani, and countless others. Oud Wa Ward may not be as lavish as these perfumes but it beats them in subtle wearability and price point, while still having rich presence and soft but continuous sillage. Try Oud Wa Ward if you like the idea of wearing a l rose and oud combination but some of the scents you've tried are just too much for you. This is a good scent to share as it would smell equally great on a man or woman. Lastly, the bottle is very attractive, much more so than it looks in the picture.

Top photo from Indian wedding shoot by Uma Studios. Photographer Uma Sanghvi, at

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Scents That Remind Me Of Chinese Lunar New Year And My Singapore Home

If you saw the movie Crazy Rich Asians you got a glimpse of Singapore, the setting for the story. It hinted at the vibrancy of this modern city, referred to fondly by locals as The Red Dot, and although only five times the size of Manhattan it packs a great deal of diversity of cultures and experiences into its small footprint on the map. Chinese Lunar New Year is an  exciting time to be in Singapore when the streets of Chinatown are festooned with decorations, savory treats symbolic of the holiday are offered for sale, and parades and fireworks offer amazing punction marks to finalize the celebration. It has been a little over a year since my husband and I left Singapore which was our home for fourteen years. During Chinese New Year the large population of expats leave the city to take advantage of time off from work to experience one of the myriad vacation locales nearby, emptying the city and leaving it to the locals for the holiday. My husband and I always stayed, enjoying the space that the exit of a couple of million people brought to the streets, and enjoying the colorful festivities. This will be my second year to miss the festivities but there are certain scents that bring thoughts of my time spent in Singapore back.

If I was looking for a specific perfume to recommend to capture the sights and smells of Chinese New Year it would contain the smell of gunpowder which hangs heavy in the humid air as the fireworks explodes in a dazzling display and as the small red strings of firecrackers sold all throughout Chinatown release their acrid smell with a pop, pop, pop. I don't have any such perfumes in my collection, so instead I will talk about some of the scents that bring me back to the many happy years I spent in Singapore with just one sniff.

Buddah Tooth Relic Temple, Chinatown, Singapore. Https://

First up is Chang Chang by En Voyage Perfumes. Perfumer Shelley Waddington created this perfume in 2012 as part of the Cosmologie Collection. My recollection is that this was part of a joint project between several indie perfumers to make perfumes based on the various elements of fire, water, air, earth, but I don't see any mention of this so perhaps I am remembering this wrong. On her website Ms. Waddington says that Chang Chang was inspired by the element of fire, specifically the sun, and is meant to express the bold elements of summer.

I own several En Voyage creations: Poete de Carmel, Fiori di Bellagio, and the whole Souvenir de Chocolate collection, but I only have a sample of Chang Chang. My sample is several years old and down to the last drop and because of its age I think it has lost the opening note of blood orange that I vaguely remember. The other opening notes are marigold and solar notes, heart notes of summer blossoms in sweet cream, and base notes of white wood and musk. I am not sure what "solar notes" are but the effect they impart to my nose is a certain warmth. This warm effect is heightened with the very distinct smell of marigolds and a sweet cream richness. Marigolds are a much more revered flower in all parts of Asia than in the Western world, where prettier, more delecate flowers seem to get the attention. The bright colors of marigolds grace the alters of both Buddist and Hindu temples and their smell, which I believe mostly comes from their stems, is sharp, pungent, and slightly acrid. They also smell dry and a little dusty.

The way Ms. Waddington combines the scent of marigold with the very strong scent of sweet cream is a very unusual combination and brings one of my sharpest scent memory moments in relation to Singapore. When I smell Chang Chang I get an immediate image of visiting the Chinese temple, and even more so the Hindu temples in Little India. As you approach you would see a thousand little flickering flames from tiny candles. Some were tea lights but often they were little stubby candles which formed molten puddles of wax as they shrank into a waxy pile beneath the flame. Around the flames would be flower offerings of jasmine or marigold, but the marigold in particular had the more pungent aroma in this setting. Chang Chang brings this image to life for me, the creaminess of the melting wax and the pungency of the marigolds carefully placed by the candles. It is such a strong image that I don't think I could ever comfortably wear this scent because I am so overcome with this visual. However, other reviewers comment on the feelings of the warmth of sun, summer blosssoms, and an exquisite creaminess that the perfume gives them. It is an extremely unusual scent, and the one that has the most specific memory tied to it for me.

Bond No. 9 Chinatown is a romanticized version of a stroll down the crowded lanes of Chinatown in Singapore, or any other city where their is a Chinatown. I love its peach opening which is plush and sweet but before it can turn to candy Chinese five spice powder notes give some spicy feistiness to the scent. Gardenia and tuberose notes enter to give a floral sensuality but peony will eventually overpower these flowers and merge with the peach to give an exuberant and joyful fragrance celebrating the revered place peonies hold in Chinese lore.

From a Singapore-based artist,

Chinatown was the very first scent I wrote about on this blog, in part because it was a perfume that catapulted me into a serious love of scent. This perfume keeps transforming into something new on my skin, and really captures the sensation of strolling by the stalls of a Chinatown market. Here are some ripe fruits, here are some plush peonies, now we have a shrine with candles burning and dissolving into waxy trails with scents of paraffin and honey. Rosewood boxes emit a rich scent of wood and mystery. All these scents meld together to form a thread of scent that I can only describe as Asian and which instantly reminds me of all the years I lived in Singapore and other ports of call in Asia. Chinatown will always be a top perfume love of mine, not just because I love the scent but because of how it takes me on a time travel trip through chapters of my life that I longingly remember.

Another part of my scent memory of Singapore involves the beautiful scent of flowers from the many beautiful green spaces. Twice a year the jasmine bushes on my street would burst into bloom and an evening stroll was likely to turn into a euphoric smell experience. We lived in close proximity to the Singapore Botanic Gardens and in season after the sun set and evening dusk fell, the scent of jasmine would drift through the air like a stealth cloud of blissfulness, leaving gorgeous but fleeting scent trails in its wake. It was the very fact that this scent was hard to capture that made it so alluring. You could walk right up to a bush and bury your head amongst the tiny star like white blooms and smell....nothing. But two hundred feet away you might be surrounded by a cloud of green-jasmine-laced scent so strong that you wanted to sink to your knees in a swoon. One scent that has come close to capturing the beauty of these moments is Grandiflora's Madagascan Jasmine.

Grandiflora Fragrance is the brand of Saskia Havekes, Sydney-based florist and perfumer, who teamed with Perfumer Michele Roudnitska to present this realistic interpretation of Madagascan Jasmine. Technically this is really stephanotis, a jasmine varietal, but here it is a fresh and sweetly innocent representation of the jasmine bloom. It begins with touches of green, like the tender stem and stamen of the blooms. The white floral scent is creamy and sweet, and really does smell as if of nature. I have other realistic jasmine scents but what makes this one really special is it holds on to that opening beautiful jasmine note and doesn't let go. When I smell this I'm carried back to walking down my Singapore street. It was less than a quarter mile from busy Orchard Road with its tall modern buildings full of designer stores, yet our street was like living in a little village. It had a quirky Chinese grocery shack, a dirt floored 7-11 if you will, with his chickens roaming down our street and behind the high iron fence was a hidden gambling den for local taxi drivers. One building housed a small nursery school with the pleasant chatter of children playing within its confines. Small modest homes siddled up to the home of a millionaire. Even in the midst of the city we were surrounded by towering green crowned trees and tropical birds that would do fly bys from the nearby Botanic Gardens. The warm temperate night, the crescent moon hanging in the inky sky, the ever present humidity that seemed to amplify the scents of the night; all these images flow back when I smell Madagascan Jasmine.


When I first saw Singapore in the late 1980s it seemed to me an exotic and foreign place. There were wet markets where one bought groceries in outdoor stalls, Sunday puppet shows on street corners, and higgledy-piggledy laneways lined with Asian shophouses. The Raffles Hotel, which today can cost $1000 a night, was a crumbling relic with screen doors and falling-apart lawn furniture where one could sit and order a Singapore sling. It reeked of faded granduer, but Singapore was in the early stages of a metamorphis. Historic buildings were being torn down to make way for modern skyscappers. Along the river little hawker stalls and huts gave way to a polished new mall area of restaurants and bars to attract tourists. Through the 1990s it seemed that all traces of old Singapore would disappear. I wasn't there at the time but at some point the powers that be must have realized that they were loosing the hodgepodge of historical buildings that made Singapore unique and charming. Today there are still pockets of Singapore where you can find narrow shophouses converted to restaurants and boutiques, with their long shuttered windows and hanging lanterns speaking of a bygone era.

The perfume that perfectly encapsulates this experience for me is Tom Ford Fleur de Chine. Although Fleur de Chine is a limited edition that came out in 2013 and is mostly sold out online -- Sephora had it up until about six months ago but doesn't seem to now --  I still see it on many counters such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, but it is becoming increasingly scarce. To avoid ever having to worry about running out in my lifetime I sprang for the big 250 ml size. I tried this when it first came out, and to date the four in this Atelier d'Orient collection remain my favorite limited edition line ever released by the brand.

“For Fleur de Chine, I imagined the romantic and mysterious women from Asia’s cinematic past – from the ’30s femme fatale in a cheongsam and dark lipstick, to the ’60s Hong Kong heroine of In the Mood for Love. I wanted to capture that fascinating, exquisite and slightly scandalous feminity.”
– Tom Ford

I've looked at other reviews online and my experience is quite different from many of theirs, some of whom seem to experience Fleur de Chine as a white flower perfume. For me it is so much more complex. There are moments when it feels like an aldehyde perfume, then a chypre, then a no-holds-barred green scent. From the first moment I tried this back in 2013 the mixture of florals, wood notes and sharp green notes in the scent spoke to me of retro scents from a more romantic age. There was something about it that was distinctly Asian in feel to me, whether it was from the hinoki wood or the peonies, I'm not sure.

The perfume feels large and dense at first but quickly becomes something more manageable and with a scent cloud contained to my direct vacinity. There are creamy florals, in particular magnolia. Plum and peach add a rich deep fruitiness that is dry in texture. Styrax influences the oriental feel of the perfume, lending a spicy note that is further amplified by the benzoin and amber. Hyacinth adds to the feel of green notes that wash through Fleur de Chine. There are so many notes: tea, hinoki wood, peony, rose, wisteria. Most of the notes blend together in manner of fine French perfumes and in structure Fleur de Chine wears like a momento from the past, but perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, who just may be my favorite perfumer, managed to impart a thread of Oriental mystique that makes me reimagine my Singapore home every time I wear Fleur de Chine.

These are just a few of the perfumes that remind me of my many years spent in Singapore and in particular, the festivities celebrated there.

Top photo: Perfumes are from my own collection.