Sunday, November 10, 2019

Histoires de Parfums Opera Collection - 1890 -Tchaikovsky's La Dame de Pique

Histoires de Parfums was founded by Gerald Ghislain in 2000 and his inaugural offerings were named after the birth year of various historical figures such as Casanova and Mata Hari. The boxes arranged side by side look like a library of scents, and since then he has added other characters to his scented collection such as Ernest Hemingway and explored other scented avenues. Most recently the brand has introduced five perfumes built around famous operas and named the perfumes after the date of their debut. This seems a good fit for Mr. Ghislain as he has a background prior to being a perfumer in producing Flamenco shows, and has other scents that reference the theater such as Moulin Rouge and L'Olympia Music Hall .

I have had a good experience with the perfumes of this house and I was eager to explore the Opera Collection. The first thing that struck me when opening my sample packet from Histoires de Parfums was the beautiful presentation, a rather weighty red box which just begged to be opened and explored. The minute I lifted the flap to reveal the samples, a beautiful and unabashedly strong blend of fragrances wafted up towards my nose, unable to be contained even though the hefty samples vials were tightly sealed.

I decided to first try 1890, which commemorates the debut of the opera La Dame de Pique (The Queen of Spades) by Tchaikovsky in St. Petersburg at the Mariinsky Theatre. The opera premiered December 19, 1890, and was such a resounding success that it remains in the theater's repertoire today. This is called Pitor Tchaikovsky's "dark opera", and this mood is caught by the perfume, 1890.

Tchaikovsky is flanked by the stars of his new opera, Nikolay and Medeya Figner, 1890.

From the first note this smells like French perfume. When I say something smells like French perfume I definitely mean it as a compliment, and to me this means the scent captures an air of sophistication, of honoring the past fragrance trends and not bowing to current passing fads. The collection of notes blend together seemingly effortlessly so that you don't think,  "That's a rose perfume." Rather each part is combined to achieve a greater whole; notes that when combined together soar and sing in a resounding chorus and become something greater than a singular stand-alone aria. The floral notes of orange blossom, rose, and jasmine in 1890 meld in such a way. Watch this scene as the heroine Liza and her friend Paulina share a song from the opera, combining two great voices, one soprano and one contralto, the different voice ranges complimenting each other and ultimately producing a sound more beautiful than a solo performance.

Histoires de Parfums says this about 1890:
1890 is the perfume of the Slavic Soul and the all-consuming passion for the Queen of Spades.With captivating smoldering wisps, Frankincense, Amber, Musk and Patchouli blend together like a seductive charm to which we willingly surrender.
Do you know that feeling when you walk into a theater for a big night out, be it a play, ballet, orchestra performance, or in fact the opera? When you walk into the lobby there is a hum of anticipation and as the performance draws near, a gong or bell draws the crowds through the doors into the interior sanctum of the theater. The best theaters draw a breath of awe from their audience. What might appear gaudy under daylight with bright red cushioned seats and gilded balconies, suddenly becomes a place of magic under glittering chandeliers and the dimmed theater lights. Mistakes and rough edges disappear and only enchantment remains.

When I first apply 1890 I get a rush of that anticipation; as if the scent is announcing a grand event like the first notes of the orchestra as they tune before the performance, and the audience readies.  This is not a perfume to wear in the daytime. It has a certain grandeur, like that moment when the velvet curtain parts to reveal the stage and you fall headfirst into another world. The first breathes of 1890 bring a honeyed orange blossom. Then the rose and orange blossom blend together with rich wine-like notes, their heaviness translating to a syrupy fortified wine or port. The jasmine has a touch of skank that at first made me assume there was civet in the perfume. These notes all wash over very quickly on my skin, even though they are the heart notes. There is a touch of dry leather buried under the cascade of deep ambered florals. These notes carry the chorus for some time, rising and falling in intensity.

Eventually the base notes of patchouli, amber, incense, and musk cast a provocative spell which echoes the passionate and ultimately unfulfilled love which runs through the storyline of Le Dame de Pique. The Histoires de Parfums site identifies 1890 as an oriental leather perfume and has this description: "Leather and Incense invoke an intensity of souls sensually smitten with loves twists and turns." As in most operas there is love, there is tragedy, and don't hold your breath for a happy ending. To summarize, in La Dame de Pique, poor young man with a penchant for gambling falls in love with engaged young woman. Young man and young woman fall in love. He accidentally kills her Grandmother, trying to drag the secret to her gambling success from her. Her ghost tells him the secret. He goes mad with gambling lust. Despondent young woman throws herself from bridge. Haunted young man soon joins her in death. The perfume echoes this solemn mood. The florals are not light and springlike but dark and teetering on the edge of decay. As the perfume wears well into the skin the base notes of patchouli, amber and musk dominate on my skin, with only a tiny whiff of incense. These notes, along with the jasmine and its slightly feral edge, mirror the play's message of the beauty of love and the danger that can destroy it.

I saw a review of 1890 somewhere that said as this was based around Catherine the Great's court and she loved roses, the perfume should have been an homage to roses. I always find it interesting to see how a perfumer will interpret a person, place, or event into scent, and although we might all have our own ideas, I can definitely see how 1890 takes a tragic play and interprets some of that somberness into a serious perfume. I found the perfume beautiful to wear but it does deserve the right occasion. It has a presence and if you don't appreciate that tiny sprinkle of skank in your perfume life you might find 1890 difficult to wear. I discovered for myself that with each successive wear I enjoyed the perfume more and more.

In the end, and this stage lasted several hours, I can still smell the ghost of the honeyed florals. The patchouli, amber, and musk work together quietly now to make a warm slightly spiced melange, with the occasional whiff of incense rising from the quiet remains. The skank note disappeared long ago and the scent feels comforting, but with a formal feel, a tailored cashmere coat rather than a casually drapped shawl.

I am looking forward to exploring the four remaining perfumes from the Opera Collection over the next few days so please follow if you would like to read more.

Top photo from Second Photo my own. Second is my own image, then Wikipedia image, image, and Google image.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Old Boyfriend Or New Boyfriend? Testing the Differences

Do you remember back in 2010 when actress Kate Walsh made a splash with her perfume Boyfriend? She was a regular on the very popular show, Grey's Anatomy, then got her own spin-off called Private Practice. The story goes that the idea for the perfume was born after a breakup, when she missed waking up in the morning having absorbed lingering traces of her ex's scent. Walsh was one of the few celebrities who really took her perfume debut seriously, going so far as to launch it herself, first on HSN, then Sephora. It was quite popular but eventually disappeared, more due to poor business decisions than lack of popularity. Then in 2018 Walsh decided to revive Boyfriend. 

I was curious if it was the exact same perfume because I've never read a definite answer. The perfumer is the same, Marypierre Julien. The notes look virtually the same. The original had plum, jasmine, lily of the valley, musk, woody notes, amber, and myrrh. The new version adds vanilla woods and benzoin, and takes away the musk. The biggest change is the marketing angle. The original played off the idea of wearing your boyfriend's perfume because you miss him, or it makes you think of him, and featured the tag line "wear him". The newer Boyfriend takes on a more modern attitude, with the line, "I'm the only one I need", and makes it her perfume. Personally I find the original concept a lot more appealing and certainly more romantic, but to each his own.

The original Boyfriend opens with rich opulence, which is interesting considering the original intent was to smell as if you had slept in your boyfriend's shirt, or absorbed some of his scent karma through touch, not directly spraying it on the body. But that first burst subsides from a roar to a steady hum. To me it smells like a man of successful appearance, and I picture him holding a glass of amber bourbon in a cut crystal highball glass, sitting on a plush easy chair of well worn grandeur,  framed from behind by shelves laden with books from floor to ceiling. In other words, my idea of a cozy scene. Boyfriend emits a smell of comfort and seems especially fitting for cooler weather.

The new Boyfriend goes on with a similar tone, but some of the richness is missing in the initial burst of scent.  It is still very cozy with its amber, vanilla, and benzoin notes, but it doesn't have the boozy swagger of the original. Perhaps this is an attempt to make it more hers, and not his. I would recommend the original to men as well as women, but the newer version lacks that masculine touch. This makes me picture a woman, or man, wrapped in a plush blanket, watching a movie on television or perhaps reading a book, cuddled down for the night. Still a cozy scene, but slightly less glamorous.

When I went to bed I thought the original was definitely the winner of the contest. But then when I got up the next morning I still had delicious lingering traces of vanilla and amber wafting up from the right wrist, but the left wrist with the original Boyfriend was silent. This could be to the fact that it's an older perfume, but in perfume years ten years shouldn't matter that much. I think if I rebought, and the only place I know to find the original is on Ebay, I would go for the newer version, just because it lingers longer. There are other perfumes that do what this does, wrapping the wearer in a warm vanilla/amber hug, but this is a good one to try if you are lacking that in your collection. Boyfriend is available at

Top photo Google image. Perfume samples are my own.