Monday, July 29, 2019

Perris Monte Carlo Arancia Di Sicilia

Perris Monte Carlo has introduced a new scent to their Italian Collection, Arancia Di Sicilia. The oranges highlighted in this scent are special to Sicily (Sicilia), and the trees grow on the slopes of Mt. Etna. They are blood oranges, or sanguilella, known for their bright red fleshy pulp and the red, not orange, juice they produce. Perris Monte Carlo are quite proud of the process used to  extract the oil from the fruit which yields a complex and aromatic product.

Imagine holding a blood orange in your palm, just plucked from the tree and still warm from the sun. You use your thumbs to pry into the skin of the fruit and pull it apart. That zesty burst of fresh orange is what you get in the opening note of Arancia Di Sicilia. It is a particularly vibrant orange aroma, like waking up to a beautiful sunny day in your white washed room with blue sea views and an orange tree outside. In addition to the strong orange scent there is a tiny touch of green, as if the fruit has just been plucked from the tree.

Then something even more interesting happens. I smell a touch of cinnamon which cuts through the orange scent. It gives a beautiful and unexpected gourmand note. Next vanilla and almond essence join the cinnamon. Too much of either and this would turn into a creamsicle but that doesn't happen. The almond adds a fragrant softness to the scent, like morning haze or diffused sunlight, making the orange scent a bit fuzzy. The vanilla adds just enough sweetness to be mellow but not saccharine. The cinnamon is still simmering underneath. I find the cinnamon the most distinct. The almond and vanilla continue to be identifiable but not overpowering.


Although I always enjoy citrus forward scents, both for the fragrance itself and for the "positive mental therapy" their happy smell invokes, the linear trajectory of these scents can frankly sometimes be a little boring. These unexpected gourmand elements added to Arancia di Sicilia make it more interesting and should also make it a perfume that is as delicious to wear on a brisk autumn day as on a sunny one.

The view from Villa Sant'Andrea, Sicily.

Eventually notes of coffee absolute, labdanum, iris, musk, and amber deepen the scent and add a warm richness. The coffee scent is faint on my skin and the labdanum, musk, and amber have the most impact. Wearing Arancia Di Sicilia is the projection of the perfect day, on holiday in Italy. You wake up to the bright aroma of the blood orange trees growing nearby. At breakfast you are served the perfect fresh juice, then perhaps a pastry with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and almond. Eventually an espresso rounds out the perfect morning and will carry you through the day.

I find the scent very likable and easy to wear. Projection on my skin was fairly close to the skin and the scent lasted for four to six hours.

Top photo from Perris Monte Carlo website. I purchased my sample from Luckyscent.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Villa Nellcote by 19-69 - Sex, Drugs, and Rock N' Roll

The year was 1971. The Vietnam War raged on. Hippie culture had reached its apex. Woodstock had happened a couple of years before. Rock music was king and the drug culture permeated the creative lifestyle of the musicians. The Rolling Stones had to leave England or submit to a 93% tax rate so in the spring of 1971 they reluctantly made their way to the south of France for a two year pilgrimage. It would make a romantic bohemian story to say they all lived together in a big hippie house party at Villa Nellcote to produce the next Rolling Stones album, Exile on Main Street. The truth was a bit messier. Keith Richards had rented Villa Nellcote to live in with his paramour Anita Pallenberg and the other members of the band were scattered from Grasse to Arles. The grandeur and privacy of Villa Nellcote, located on the ultra-exclusive Villefranche-sur-Mer peninsula in the Cote d'Azur, made this the natural place for the Stones to gather and create music. There wasn't a recording studio nearby so the chateau's dank basement became a makeshift studio.

For a fragrance dedicated to the memory of a significant summer of debauchery and decadence at the Villa Nellcote, the opening is fairly sunny and a touch soapy. The perfume Villa Nellcote opens with the citrus freshness one would picture if standing on the balcony, looking at the expanse of cerulean blue water and the sunlit blue skies above. There is a watery effect that feels like breathing in fragrant sea air. Top notes of grapefruit, bergamot, lemon, and lemon flower bring on the sunshine. Elemi oil adds to the lemony tang but adds a deeper woody, peppery note. But wait! Underneath all this sunniness, I can already smell the mossy undertones which add a bit of mystery and formality to Villa Nellcote. The more formal notes seem to reference that this is, after all, an impressive French chateau with a somewhat storied history. It had been occupied by Nazi forces during WWII and it is located on what is possibly the most expensive real estate peninsula in the world. But in 1971 Keith Richards was renting Villa Nellcote for $2500 a month and it became a scene of partying, extensive drug use, and rampant creativity.

The villa was surrounded by lush and abundant gardens and the scent must have been a backdrop to the languid life that took place while the Stones were in residence.The heart of the fragrance is made up of floral notes but they are subtle and come across as aromatics rather than big florals. This aspect reminds me of some of the Chanel colognes. The green note of violet leaf penetrates and adds a dryness and slight bitterness to the fragrance. Floral notes of rose petals, jasmine, magnolia, and osmanthus are background noise, like walking past a garden but not discerning any one note. There is also a black tea infusion which I can't specifically discern.

"Upstairs, it was fantastic, like Versailles," said Keith Richards. "But down there, it was Dante's Inferno."
The beautiful sea views, the glitter of the jewel like coast, the magnificence of the 18th century mansion, these are all reflected in the lightness and sophistication of the opening of Villa Nellcote. But the actual recording work took place in a dank wet basement, plagued by dripping ceilings and power outages. The base notes in the perfume are cabreuva (a wood scent, I had to Google), cedarwood, patchouli, white amber, musk, moss, and guaic wood. These darker notes still wear gently and aromatically, but the moss does give the vibe of a dank cellar which was rumored to have been a difficult place to record.

I was a bit frustrated testing this fragrance because my sample was in a little dabber and this is a fragrance that just begged to be sprayed. I felt like dousing myself in a spray of the slightly retro, cooling sunshine and moss scent. I liked the sophistication not always found in a citrus scent, a citrus with a veneer of French chic and sophistication that feels a bit dressy and polished. There is a slightly bitter green chord which to me signifies the decadence of this specific time and place. I like the aromatic cooling scent and I particularly like the mossy accord that lends a gentle chypresque feel. I do wish the scent was a bit stronger on my skin. It seemed to become fairly quiet only a couple of hours in. However, there was still a whiff of the mossiness the next morning when I woke up, albeit very close to the skin. This is a citrus with a little extra. I can picture a man or woman wearing this for a polished sophistication to present a cool calm against the heat of summer. Because of the mossy note I imagine this would also be a citrus that would transition well to cooler weather. I liked Villa Nellcote better each time I tried it. I wasn't initially wowed, but am to the point now I would like to own it.

The Swedish brand 19-69 was founded by Johan Bergelin and each scent is inspired by a cultural event, an era, or a setting. All the scents are suitable for wear by either gender. Bergelin says he chose the name 19-69 because, "The year 1969 represents an era of freedom, tolerance, and counterculture. It is also the year I was born."

**Apologies for lack of French punctuation marks. If anyone knows how to get them on blogspot format, please let me know!

The black and white photos are by photographer Dominique Tarle who lived in the Villa for a time, memorializing the moment with photos. The sample was purchased by me from Luckyscent. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A Visit With Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes and New Summer Introductions

Once upon a time there was a wizard of scent who lived in the shadow of the great mountains. From her small shop she created potions that enchanted all who smelled the magical fragrances. Her fame grew to the far reaches of the kingdom and seekers of beauty traveled from far and wide to try her creations.

Okay, I'm being a bit fanciful but it describes the excitement I felt when I realized that I would finally be able to meet Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, one of the most influential perfumers in my personal perfume journey. Her creations helped send me down the rabbit hole of the world of scent and opened my eyes to how creative this medium can be. In June I was visiting a friend who had relocated to Boulder, and the winding mountain road we took from her house in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains literally spilled me out at the intersection where Dawn's shop sits on the main road to downtown Boulder. Serendipity. 

The shop is small and my first thought was how can the large DSH Perfumes catalog of scents possibly be contained here? The space is welcoming and intimate and shelves line every wall, and there is indeed a large collection of perfumes on display.  A cozy couch provides a space for visitors to sit and let Dawn guide them through the scent selection process as the large selection can be a bit overwhelming for the uninitiated (but a bonus for those of us always looking for the next new thing). A small office behind the showroom serves as Dawn's creative area and holds shelves lined with fragrant essences as well as tokens of inspiration, such as a retro mink stole that Dawn refered to when creating  her recent series on fur scents. Packages are prepared for mailing in a small room that showed signs of lots of orders going out to eager customers. This small creative space reminded me of a queen bee and her busy hive of activity!

If you follow DSH Perfumes on Instagram, you know that Dawn regularly does live stream videos from her shop where she connects with her very loyal customers and describes new perfumes she is working on or scents that she think fit the season. Dawn is exactly as she appears on the videos, open and natural, and when we met it truly did seem that I already knew her. A lot has been written about Dawn and how she got her creative start in Boston before moving to Boulder, so I decided to ask about another topic which has always interestsed me, her association with the art world and how it affects her perfume creation process.

Me outside the Essense Studio, Boulder.

It was about ten years ago that I first became aware of Dawn's perfumes. This was back before Facebook was big, and a lot of fragrance chatting went on at and Basenotes, as well as the small number of  fragrance blogs that existed at that time. The perfumed project that  caught my attention was a collaboration between  DSH Perfumes and the Denver Museum of Art. The exhibit was about the court at Versailles, and Dawn created a series of perfumes called The Perfumed Court to illustrate fragrances that could have been worn by various members of the royal court at Versailles. What I found really fascinating was that she limited herself to using materials that were available in that era, and she did a lot of research to find out what scents the more famous historical figures would have been likely to use. I believe this sample set was my first order from DSH Perfumes and I loved the creativity of the marriage between scent and art. I asked Dawn to talk about how this association came about.

Dawn: "The very first time the DMA reached out to me was for the Artisans and Kings exhibit which were artifacts borrowed from the Louvre. They were artifacts that had to do with Versailles and Louis XIV, XV, and XVI. They wanted to do a show around artisans who worked for the King. They had a cheese maker, a winemaker, a baker. They were looking for something to do with all the senses and they wanted something for the sense of smell.They were looking around for a perfumer and they found me, and this is totally the kind of thing I like to do. I love research projects. They asked me to do a lecture on fragrances of the period. So I said, should I design something? And they said that would be great. And that was the very first time. I ended up making a collection of about eight fragrances and the museum would sell the collection during the course of the show. The program was such a success and they had such good feedback that now I'm on their creatives list and they reach out to me when they feel they're going to have a show that would be a nice pairing."

Of the collections Dawn has created in conjunction with the museum, she says that the YSL (Yves Saint Laurent) exhibit and the King Tut remain the best sellers, followed by Giverny In Bloom, which happens to be my personal favorite set. I asked how she approaches making scents for the exhibit.

Dawn:  "Sometimes, like with the Yves Saint Laurent, I go in advance and see the show and pick out what pieces I would like to speak about and be a part of my lecture. Sometimes I do my talks in the lecture hall and other times I will take people through the exhibit, give my talk, and have people literally smell their way through the exhibit, and so it becomes a multi-sensory experience."

Dawn's retro fur served as inspiration for a perfume series based on the smell of fur.

Dawn's creative output has seemed to me, an avid follower, to become even more prolific of late and I asked her if this was really the case. For instance, she recently introduced the Heirloom Collection of scents.

Dawn:  "I had this realization that I have all these notebooks full of ideas. I'm producing quite a lot but I have these creative needs so I have to deal with it. I consider myself an artist first and foremost and I treat this place more like an art studio than a perfume house. I'm making art and presenting it to my audience. But I realized that even though I am producing so much, I still have these notebooks with ideas that I would love to get to, but I don't want to do everything in a full launch that will be produced forever. I was talking to Michelyn Camen of Cafleurebon about this lament of mine and she said I should start doing limited editions and that I could do them rapid fire. It was really her brilliant idea to have this caveat that if you buy a signed and numbered limited edition bottle you get put on the registry and then you can buy it even after the edition is closed, so if you fall in love with one it can still be your signature scent. This way I can keep things to really small batches and be crazy creative and perhaps work with materials that I can only get a small amount of. I have lots of stashes of amazing materials that I want to work with, but can only get in a small amount."

Dawn partnered with Dave Kern of American Perfumer to produce Colorado which won the Independent Award at this year's Art & Olfaction Awards in Amsterdam. I asked Dawn about this partnership to create the award-winning scent, which has already sold out.

Dawn:  "The American Perfumer shop in Kentucky features only artisan American perfumers and is one of a kind in the US.  I was honored to be offered their first limited edition. Originally Dave Kern said, 'I'd love it to be where eventually we have all fifty states represented',  and so that's why it was named Colorado. I wanted to speak to the beautiful atmospheric aroma that you can find here. When the Ponderosa Pine bark is exuding its balsam and amber it has this very unique aroma, kind of like maple syrup and vanilla, so that aspect is the undertone of  Colorado. It has an airy conifer smell because in Colorado when you're in the mountains, even if you're in the forest there still feels like there is a lot of air moving around, not like the East Coast where the forests are more dense."

Dawn keeps an assortment of perfumes that never quite made it to market but are lovely nonetheless. They are for sale at fantastic prices so if you ever visit her shop do have a look. I couldn't resist picking up three originals: Jasmine Light, which is exactly what the name says but morphs into a beauty of a beach scent; Central Park In Spring, a bitter-green dry scent which I'm finding addicting; and Spring Rain, as clean and refreshing as a rain shower and then drying in the sun.

So what's coming next?

One project outside the DSH Perfumes umbrella that Dawn has upcoming is a collaboration with Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes. He commissioned her to create a perfume which will be called Snowy Owl, the notes of which she was not leaking when we talked back in June. 

As for DSH Perfumes, Dawn has some fun new fragrances she is introducing for summer. "I'm going to be doing a lot more launches, and by that I mean things that are not going to be limited edition or heirloom,"

"We're doing this thing called Summer Fun in June, July and August," Dawn said. "It will be semi humorous, fun ideas because I like that sort of thing. For June we're doing Avocado Toast - the hipster skin scent. It's an interpretation. If people are expecting it to smell  literally like  avocado toast, which has very little smell, then they are going to be disappointed because it doesn't smell like avocado toast. It takes the elements of avocado toast and amplifies them to create a perfume. A really fresh avocado has this green juicy quality. So it's green to creamy as it starts, then it shifts to warm and toasty. When you toast bread it caramelizes, so you have a little bit of that; not caramel exactly, but a sweet undertone. It was designed to be a skin scent and fun to wear, and just really delicious. It's easy to wear, not like a major perfume. I think it's fun to do things that are serious and things that are not serious."

Find this recipe at

Other than the fact that avocado toast is probably my favorite breakfast, especially with fried egg on top, I had no clue what to expect from this scent. Well I'm here to tell you, avocados wish they smelled like this. The opening is a very creamy, yummy gourmand green. The caramelized toast  smell is experienced through notes of grain, warm butter, and a delicious amber-like accord which may come from the notes of immortale. It is a warm, yummy gourmand scent that wears extremely close to the skin. Dawn, if you need anymore ideas, I'd love to see a perfume featuring this burnt toast accord, but stronger. It has me wanting more.  If any of you tried last year's Jo Malone limited edition which included notes of grain it reminds me slightly of some of these scents, but better.

Another recent addition to the DSH Perfumes line is Royal Grey Cologne. Customers had been clamouring for Dawn to make an Earl Grey tea scent and this all botanical perfume is the result. 

Royal Grey Cologne is very bergamot forward and it is a brisk, fresh scent. It feels a bit oily, just like the bergamot oil they use to flavor Chinese black tea to make it in the Earl Grey fashion. The bergamot hangs around for a while but eventually the black tea note creeps in, and that is when I was rewarded with one of the scent memories that hits you ...poof... with a long buried memory revived by the smell of a forgotten moment. When I was very young my Grandparents lived in the Texas countryside and ran a few cattle. We would visit and I loved cramming into their small two bedroom house with all the cousins who lived nearby. My grandmother would brew dark black tea in preparation for the evening meal and the smell of the black tea in this perfume made me remember that moment. My grandmother would put several tea bags into a ceramic bowl that looked like an ear of corn. It is one of two things I took when she died and it sits in my kitchen today. The tea bags were an inexpensive brand, probably Lipton, but she used several and the tea was inky black. Then she would add in two full cups of sugar and the scent became syrupy and rich. I could smell the sugar melting as it met the hot tea. I didn't like sweet tea. My own Mom served us unsweetened tea with mint leaves and that's how I preferred to drink it, but the sweet tea did have a certain fullness and rich undertones that smelled delicious. Dawn describes this on her website as "the dense richness and liquor/floralcy of black tea." As the perfume wears the bergamot is still present but black tea notes along with very subtle floral notes provide a realistic and brisk cup of Earl Grey tea.

Gardenia Vitreaux is the third entry in DSH Perfumes Flowers for Men series. The name translates to Glassy Gardenia and is a modern take on the gardenia flower, which is usually represented in either a lush voluptuous form or with a tropical twist. Gardenia Vitreaux opens with a slight aldehyde lift, followed by notes of musk, ambergris, and eventually leather. This is a very different gardenia than you will have encountered before and does make this flower accessible to men who aren't drawn to the flower in its sweeter form.

Au Crepescule de Lavande, or In the Lavender Twilight was a spring introduction and April bestseller for DSH Perfumes. I went to Provence last summer and got to walk in the fields of narcotic lavender, breathing in their healing goodness and heady scent. Au Crepescule de Lavande perfectly catches that feeling of standing in a a field of lavender, bees buzzing, the air filled with herbal scents, sticky honey, and the soft fuzz of lavender buds. Dawn wanted to create a different sort of lavender perfume, not one with the feel of an aromatherapy session or day at the spa. "I wanted a full blown retro nouveau perfume that has vintage elements and an immense elegance," Dawn says on her website. I love the honeyed sweet herbal lavender mish-mash of notes that takes the smells of nature but gives it a slight gourmand spin and dressy elements that make it feel like a classic French perfume. I personally love lavender and Au Crepescule de Lavande is luscious and a must try for lavender lovers. This will be my next bottle order.

Dawn has added  a second perfume to her Nocturne series. The first was Je Suis La Lune, a jasmine laced ode to the moon. In her newest,  Vers la Voute Etoilee (Toward the Starry Vault) : Nocturne No. 2, Dawn looks toward the stars for inspiration. Dawn came across a piece of music with this beautiful phrase and was inspired to create a perfume. Dawn says on her website, "I hope that with Vers la Voute Etoilee you will feel yourself hushed among the night blooming flowers of summer as you breath in the awe inspiring stars of the heavens above."

When Dawn heard I love white flowers she told me that I would probably like Vers la Voute Etoilee and she was right. Dawn said, "It's based on night scented stock and there are not a lot of perfumes out there based on night scented stock. It will  have star jasmine and stargazer lily. It's starry, sparkly, so it will have aldehydes in it. And it's nighttime so there will be a chypre background. It will feel classical and retro."

Vers la Voute Etoilee opens with a dewy, earthy floral note, as if the flowers have been ripped from the earth and bits of dirt cling to the roots. I have tried so many of Dawn's perfumes that I can recognize her fingerprint in certain notes, and this reminds me of a similar effect in Giverney In Bloom or l' Opera des Rouges et des Roses. It is such a realistic garden note and gives an authenticity to the florals. In addition to star jasmine, stargazer lily, and night stock there is black petunia. After the fresh lushness of the opening fades the white flowers become softer, almost a touch powdery. There is definitely a retro feel to the perfume. I get the slight sweetness of beeswax, as if there are candles flickering in our white flower garden bower. The florals have staying power on my skin, but the perfume eventually transitions into notes of oak moss, woods, civet, and musk. These notes also make Vers la Voute Etoille feel like it could have traveled through time. I really enjoyed the beauty of the white flowers conveyed in such an elegant manner. I can imagine I'm laying on my lawn in the garden of night blooming flowers as they emit a hazy sweet perfume, looking at the swath of twinkling stars above.

A big thanks to Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for welcoming me into her studio and being so generous with her time, as she had back-to-back interviews that day.

A big thanks to my friend Betsy Zink for the photographs of Dawn and her studio! And thank you to Dawn for providing me with these samples.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Sharkskin by DSH Perfumes, The Newest Heirloom Scent Joey Bishop, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin.

I recently got to visit Dawn Spencer Hurwitz' studio in the Rocky Mountains and she showed me some of the new things she is working on, which included the latest in her Heirloom Collection, Sharkskin. I am going to be writing about this visit to Dawn's studio this weekend, but I wanted to hurry and get the review for DSH Perfumes Sharkskin out as it is a limited edition and only available through the end of August.

I love learning new bits of trivia or history, and Sharkskin was such a vehicle. When I first heard the name Sharkskin I thought in a very linear path to a grey silvery shark. While Dawn is referencing the animal with her new perfume, she was also influenced by sharkskin suits which were embraced by the Ratpack in the 60s  and have enjoyed a recent renaissance in style. The slim, sleek-fitting suit, perfectly illustrated in the recent television series Mad Men, have a shiny sheen to the fabric which is supposed to channel visions of a shark skin.

When making Sharkskin, Dawn was channeling the cool sheen of the fabric used to make sharkskin suits, the silvery sleek skin of the shark, as well as the feel of cool water against the shark's skin. It is meant to feel cool and sleek on the skin, and as refreshing as a dive into cool ocean water. 

When I tested Sharkskin I found that Dawn has come up with a cooling, refreshing antidote for the steamy heat of summer. She calls it a "retro-modern fougere" in the tradition of a cologne. A fougere historically is composed of three main notes: a sweet floral, often lavender; an oak moss woody scent, and coumarin with its hay-like smell. The opening is a mixture of fresh citrus and floral, and the use of mock orange fulfills both these categories. It has the sparkle of Tahitian Lime, backed by other citrus notes such as lemon, bergamot, neroli and petitgrain. The lime opening is distinct but then I smell a slight touch of the soapy freshness that neroli and petitgrain can give. Quickly notes of mock orange sweeten the citrus. If you've ever smelled a mock orange, like orange tree blossoms it has a scent of sweet floral freshness and innocence. I have found that on my international flights they often put colognes containing orange blossom in the bathrooms for a fresh pick-me-up when the last shower is a distant memory. This aspect of the perfume represents the coolness of the sharkskin, be it a fabric suit or the leathery skin of the predatory fish. 

Eventually fern-like notes present, lending a sophistication and suaveness to Sharkskin. Dawn uses the traditional fougere ingredient of oakmoss to facilitate this transition, but there is also ambergris, Australian sandalwood, civet, and musk. There is the feeling of freshly ironed clothes and I find the mock orange provides the freshness but these fern notes give the impression of hot iron touching fabric, making it crease less and smooth. At this point a slight lavender note becomes apparent in the cologne. The coumarin can provide many nuances to the scent besides the new mown hay note with which it is most identified. Coumurin can give herbaceous aspects to a scent and sometimes has an undertone of powder and vanilla. Although I would never call Sharkskin a powdery scent, it does provide that cooling freshness that a dusting of talc can provide to sweaty skin.

DSH Perfumes Sharkskin is a fragrant armour against the humid, sweaty assault of summer temperatures. Whether you picture it as an uber trendy fitted suit or the metallic shimmer of sharkskin, the cologne keeps you feeling crisp and clean. It is very unisex and easy to wear. For comparison purposes only, in spirit this reminds me of Penhaligon's Savoy Steam or Balenciaga L'Essence, both of which I have reviewed here. The notes are different but they contain a similar clean, cooling, fresh pressed aura.

DSH Perfumes Heirloom Collection is a new invention this year to give a venue for the many creative ideas percolating in Dawn's mind. The designs will be sold for two months, then once it is gone, it's gone, with one exception. If you have bought one of the heirloom bottles you always have the opportunity to order more from Dawn, as long as she can source the ingredients. You can also subscribe to the heirloom subscription service if you don't want to miss out on any of the introductions.