Sunday, March 29, 2020

Senyokô: Reviewing Madama Butterfly II, Duo des Fleurs, Migration de L'Arbre and La Tsarine

Senyokô, a Paris-based brand that fuses French elegance with a touch of Japanese refinement, was brought to The Scent Room in Dallas in 2019, and this is where I first became familiar with the line. There are currently four very different fragrances and each perfume comes with a story. I was unsure what theme tied these together, so I spoke with Miaojian Zheng, Senyokô Project Manager, to get the idea behind the perfumed stories.

Senyokô was introduced in 2016 by Joseph and Eglantine Berthion to celebrate the birth of their beautiful daughter Emilie. Eglantine had immigrated to France from Japan some years before and married Joseph. The name Senyokô is a reference to two of Eglantine's childhood friends; one whose family name was Senda, and the other who was Yoko. She combined these names, then added the French circumflex accent mark to give the Japanese sounding name, Senyokô, a French influence.

The founders use elements of inspiration from the fine arts, including musical and literary references, and even tales told to Joseph or Eglantine at bedtime when they were young. Through these perfumes Eglantine hopes to illustrate "the texture of life". The idea of torn paper is used in both the beautifully illustrated boxes and the perfume caps. This reflects the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi, beauty in imperfection. The Senyokô idea is that "A piece of torn paper is certainly imperfect, but is no longer meaningless, just like life. Life is all about uncertainties and full of ups and downs, ... the texture of life." These words seem very prescient in light of recent dramatic world events.

The first two perfumes I want to review were both inspired by opera.

MadamaButterfly II
Google Image

Madama Butterfly has inspired fragrances in the past, and most have focused on the femininity of the beautiful geisha involved in the opera's tragic love story. In the opera the feckless Lieutenant Pinkerton turns his back on Cio Cio San, breaking her heart and her spirit, and she dies by her own hand. But pay attention to the II at the end of Madama Butterfly II. Here her story has been rewritten and she gets a second act. The betrayal does not kill her, but in fact makes her wiser and stronger, and she goes forward to continue to live life with strength and a renewed confidence. The fragrance reflects this growth in Cio Cio San's character. No longer is she a helpless geisha dependent on the love of her man, illustrated by light and whispering florals. Instead this new version of Madama Butterfly shows strength, steadiness, and contemplation. Her future story is unknown but she faces it bravely.

My experience with Madama Butterfly II is very different than that of some other reviewers. The notes appear out of sequence from their top, heart, or base position. On my skin a dry rooty iris (a heart note) is immediately apparent. It feel austere, woody, and earthy. It sets the mood: elegant restraint, contemplative, and reserved, rather than emotional. Next I get a whisper of the tagetes, or marigold to those in the Northern Hemisphere. Living in India for four years, marigold is a note I became very familiar with as it is revered there and used widely in religious ceremonies, its bright color representing the very vibrancy of life. The smell has a rugged dry and dusty earthy tone. Tagetes are popular throughout all of Asia and on my skin, which loves and amplifies woody notes, the dryness and a slight bitterness is emphasized. The opening of Madama Butterfly II also contains the tickle of pink pepper and a slight dusting of tart quince. Angelica adds even more to this dry earthiness, which is becoming the theme of this scent on my skin.

Then the galbanum slowly filters into the fragrance, but discreetly. Galbanum can be overpowering when used with a heavy hand, but here it is just a dusting of woody green. I smell a slight thread of incense, a smoke on a distant horizon. As the scent mellows the woody cedar and sandalwood only increase the dry melancholy and meditative aura. Eight different musks were used in the creation of  Madama Butterfly II, so that hopefully those with anosmia to musk would be able to pick up at least one of these. The musky notes carry the perfume through to its eventual ending.

It is worth noting that I never really smell several of the notes mentioned by others who have tried the perfume: raspberry, tulip, sakura blossom, and even the tonka bean. I'm sorry about that, as it sounds like these were included to reflect that more innocent side of Cio Cio San's personality. I put this down to the different way perfume can react with skin chemistry.

One of the themes of the Senyokô brand is chiaroscuro, a contrast of light and dark, and here possibly a contrast of French and Japanese elements.  Madama Butterfly II displays French elements in the sophisticated blend of numerous notes into an elegant whole. The Japanese aspect, at least in my story with this fragrance,  is the slightly bitter note from marigold, or tagetes. This note stands out to me. It's slightly bitter and sharp, yet compelling. In the fabric of the story of Madama Butterfly it could represent the difficulties faced in life--betrayal--tragedy. These are the experiences that offer a chance for growth and renewal. It also represents the idea of wabi-sabi which Senyokô embraces as the idea of imperfection in beauty. It is very French in those layered, blended notes, but the Japanese aspect --for me at least-- is this slightly bitter note of imperfect beauty, that one note that  stands out through the journey of the perfume, yet lifts it from being predictable.

Although Madama Butterfly II  has a very feminine name, I find this scent to be very unisex. On my skin the florals are muted to transparent traces in the drydown. It is more about the musky and woody notes. I have a feeling that this is a perfume that could vary widely, according to skin chemistry.

Duo des Fleurs

This perfume is based on one of the most famous songs from any opera, The Flower Duet from Lakmé. The song is a beautiful blending of the soprano and mezzo-soprano voices, which in the perfume is illustrated by blending the lighter jasmine with  the deeper note of rose. The story of this opera is similar to that of Madama Butterfly, except this time it is a young Indian woman who falls in love with a British colonial soldier, with a similarly tragic ending. The Flower Duet is sung just before Lakmé meets her true love. She has come to the river with her maid to bathe and is charmed by the beautiful flowers. Here are a few words from the aria. Have a listen; I think you will recognize the song.

OpusBoa on

Flower Duet  Excerpt (English Translation)

Under a dome of jasmine
With the roses entwined together
On a riverbank covered with flowers, laughing in the morning
Let us descend together
Gently floating on it's charming risings
On the river's current
On the shining wave, one hand reaches
Reaches for the bank, where the spring sleeps
And the birds, the birds sing
Under a dome of white jasmine.

Duo des Fleurs  opens with an achingly beautiful wisp of jasmine. I love jasmine and in the past I've favored indolic-heavy jasmine florals with skank aplenty. Maybe it is that these times are challenging enough without my perfume being confronting, but I find that what my heart searches for now is beauty, and oh my, the jasmine in Duo des Fleurs is that!  The fragrance opens with a delightfully spring like jasmine which literally seems to flit and drift on gentle breezes. There is a lot of green in it, and as it settles into the skin it's intensity builds, flirting toward that more sultry jasmine scent but always falling back on the side of innocence.

As pretty little jasmine twirls around the stage she is joined by another, beautiful rose. The rose is a deeper floral note, more serious than the playful jasmine. But when they twirl and blend together their scent becomes greater as a whole than with their two separate entities. The jasmine becomes less green and the rose becomes more playful. One seems like a fresh young girl. The other like an alluring woman.  Senyokô used 400 jasmine sambac and 100 Bulgarian rose flowers in each 50 ml bottle of Duo des Fleurs, and their quality and intensity is evident from first sniff.

Google image

Interestingly, if you look at the top and middle notes of this perfume they are very similar, emphasizing different varieties of jasmine and rose. I suppose this is what helps the scent build in its intensity. Top notes are: rose de mai, jasmine sambac, davana, and datura leaf. Heart notes are: rose otto, jasmine flexile, rose petals, and jasmine buds. So as you can imagine, we have the interplay between these two notes of jasmine and rose carrying on for some time. On my skin the jasmine dominates, and if you are a jasmine lover you must try this.

Base notes are musk, Mysore sandalwood, and mitti attar. The Mysore sandalwood and mitti attar are of course references to the opera's setting in India. A few years ago I did a series on travels to India, you can read about it here, and I picked up some local mitti attar. It is supposed to impart the smell of rain striking earth, but to me its strongest elements were that of the dusty earth before the rain pelts down. At the end of the perfume's life on the skin the flowers are gone and we are left with these earth elements and a gentle sandalwood accord.

Migration de L’Arbre

My first introduction to Migration de L"Arbre was at Scent Room in Dallas. The lovely Deborah Turner had received the Senyokô perfumes to try and to consider adding to the store's stock. She sprayed a big cloud of the scent around her, then used her hands to waft the fragrance toward her face. "I love this," she said.

I had a similar reaction when I tried Migration de L'Arbre. The scent immediately spoke to me, stirred some long forgotten memory I have yet to place, and just felt right on my skin. I confess it is my favorite from the Senyokô line, and there will be a bottle of this for me in the very near future.

The story behind this perfume is a rather sad one, Nankichi Nimi's short story, Last Year's Tree. A migrating bird rests on a beautiful tree, making his home here for some time. When the bird returns to the forest on its return migration, the tree is gone and has been turned to matchsticks. The matchsticks are used to light a lantern, and the bird sings a sad song to the flickering light. Eventually the stump generates new saplings, the tree grows again, and eventually the bird returns to die in the renewed glade. The idea here is the cycle of life, rebirth, and regeneration. The mood of the scent is the serenity that the smell of a walk through the forest imparts, but with joyful notes in the form of ripe fruit scents. The yin and yang of this scent is woods/fruits.

The opening: joyful yuzu, sharp pungent clary sage, aromatic juniper, and a dusty cedar. It is the scent of walking into a particularly aromatic forest, a dusty trail underfoot. We are only on the opening of this fragrance but it is already a glorious symphony of disparate notes, somehow blending together to offer magic. There are so many things going on; brightness, sharp pungency, woods, dust. Then a rather strong fruitiness emerges from the heart. Let me list the heart notes because they are just as much of a concoction as the top notes: elemi, mastic, guaiac, magnolia, osmanthus, pomegranate, and nigella damenscena absolute. The elemi and mastic intensify the pine, green, and woody notes and offer resinous tones. Guaiac is described as having properties that are sweet and deep, sour and fresh. The pomegranate is the first fruity note I smell and it is pulpy and ripe, succulent almost, yet subdued amidst all the green and wood notes. Then osmanthus comes in with its leathery apricot accord. Osmanthus doesn't always work on my skin, but here it is perfect— fruity, dry, and hypnotic.

The scent continues in this vein for some time, a magical forest of aromatic and fruity scents. Gradually the fruitiness recedes and the base notes of ambergris, vetiver, various woods, tobacco, and patchouli deepen and darken the scent until it gradually fades away.

I can't leave this perfume's description without naming the perfumer, Euan McCall of Jorum Laboratories in Edinburgh. He is responsible for all four of Senyokô's creations, and also has his own line. He is a very talented young perfumer and I will be writing more about him in the future.

La Tsarine

This take no prisoners scent is inspired by Catherine the Great, ruler of Russia from 1762 to 1796. Catherine managed to wrest the title from her despised husband who was the rightful heir to the throne but not loved by his people. She was a strong leader who could show both enlightened views yet be casually ruthless. But perhaps she is most known for her romantic exploits. She had a stream of young lovers during her reign and as she aged her lovers remained young, emulating a pattern of powerful men throughout the ages. She was a complicated and intelligent woman who lived life with passion and power. Catherine the Great's legend is explored in  the perfume, La Tsarine.

Here again Euan McCall weaves his magic. Using top notes of blackcurrant, honey, saffron, petitgrain, and clary sage, he manages to cast a perfumed smell where I am picturing a Russian forest. But then stronger notes are rising. The heart notes illustrate the feminine side of Catherine the Great: notes of tuberose, narcissus, jasmine, orange flower, dried fruits, and some cumin. But before I really even notice the heart notes, the base notes of civet and castoreum lend an animalic blast.  There is a pungent whiff of sweaty sheets and carnal knowledge. Costus, another base note, has been compared to the smell of a wet dog, so there's that. This all sounds shocking and perhaps unpleasant, but there are only a few moments where the notes are loud, then as if a switch has been flipped, everything calms down to a quiet purr. Now I begin to smell the floral notes. No one particular flower stands out, but I can smell a crushed mishmash of these blooms, all known for their sensuality.

Eventually an animalic leather note dominates. It is pleasant and mild on my skin, but wear may vary. I've read some reviews where users felt overwhelmed with the sexual aspect of this perfume, but I didn't find that to be the case and I enjoyed wearing La Tsarine. There were a few moments where it gave me a giggle and I wasn't sure I could wear this out of the house, but everything settled down and it became a skin scent and very subtle.

Senyokô's collection is worth exploring and each scent is unique.  I asked Miaojian Zheng what Senyokô has in store for us next. She says the new scent will be based from a book by famous Japanese writer Yukio Mishima and I can't wait for this interpretation.

In closing, Senyokô offers a very cute and reasonably priced box of samples. It is unique in that the cylinders are very slender and delicate with little rubber stoppers, like a little gothic chemistry set.

Excuse me, now. I have to go smell my arm with Migration de L'Arbre. Heaven!

Photos of bottles from the Senyoko website. I purchased the sample set used in writing this review.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Chloe Sevigny Little Flower by Regime des Fleurs

Chloe Sevigny, the indie-film actress with an off kilter beauty is not the normal Hollywood actor and one wouldn't expect a perfume she helped create to be a mainstream scent either. My greatest familiarity with her was years of watching Big Love where she played a prickly character, one part sugar to two parts venom. Her namesake perfume, Chloe Sevigny Little Flower, is a bit the same, a rose perfume with a twist.

Sevigny has a personal friendship with Alia Raza and Ezra Woods of Regime des Fleurs and was able to work with them to create a personal vision of what she wanted the perfume to be. She was a part of the testing process from perfumer Jerome Epinette's various formulas, but it was always going to be based around rose.

Rose, Sevigny says, is her favorite scent and she was loyal to Comme des Garcons Rose Red and then tried Hermes Rose Ikebana after the former was discontinued. Little Flower is not a one-note rose scent by any means. The rose note seems to hide beneath some of the other notes, peeking out now and then but ultimately creating a beautiful base which the other notes play off of. It is an Ottoman rose oil and its scent is really beautiful. Other florals are honeysuckle, bleeding heart, and peony. It is the peony that I most smell, and I always love the way peony and rose work together to give an uplifting floral fragrance.

When initially spraying Chloe Sevigny Little Flower, a succulent juicy pomelo note makes the scent very fresh and alive, all of which give it the perfect vibe for a spring scent. Those of you in the Northern Hemisphere approaching spring, this scent holds the promise of that upcoming season of tender greens and soft florals. This is one of those perfumes with a lot of notes that flit in and out as if carried by a breeze. There is a tea note but it is light and in the background. Black currant bud gives that tangy and slightly bitter sharp edge, and in my opinion makes the perfume more interesting and dewy, but it is a note that can often overpower a scent. Here it doesn't.

The opening and its development is what I really love about Little Flower. Truly, it is like a harbinger of spring, as if the scent is floating into the house through a cracked window. Images of a newly sprouting garden laced with roses, peonies, wild honeysuckle and with tender green accents come to mind. The scent is lively and truly smells realistic of nature.

Sadly as is common, these high notes can't be sustained for too long. Palo santo incense and musk wait in the drydown, once the florals have softly faded. On my skin this moment comes sooner than I would like, but for that opening, I'm willing to forgive.

Top photo from The scent sample is my own.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Perfumista by Anatole Lebreton

I chose the image above to illustrate my initial feeling from a spray of  Anatole Lebreton's newest fragrance, Perfumista. The perfume is purposely intended to be a retro throwback to an age when perfumes had flair and presence. When I initially spray Perfumista it brings images of pink to mind. It feels dressy, sophisticated, and a little proper. It feels like a layer of confidence, where one spray will make you feel more polished, more elegant, like the best version of yourself.

That first smell of Perfumista takes me down a memory portal to the past, and those of us that were around and wearing perfume more than thirty years ago recognize that certain fragrance profile that signals a perfume of an older era. Perfumista fits that bill with its fuzzy florals melting into a mossy green background.

It is a subtle, very pretty chypre, but not in the forceful manner of some vintage chypre perfumes from back in the day. Perfumista has more than a nod to the past; it hearkens to some of the grand dame perfumes of a generation ago. At the same time it feels slightly modernized, acknowledging todays redrawn boundaries of not invading the user's surrounding space in a big way, or those in their orbit. How the chypre aspect of the perfume translates to me is like the quiet but persistent buzzing of a bee, cheerfully dipping in and out of petals sipping nectar, humming along, persistent but gentle.

So back to the opening. I've gotten ahead of myself. First is a pear note, juicy and sweet, which turns creamy as the opulent combination of Bulgarian rose and Indian jasmine appear. The rose is deep and rich, the jasmine sweet but sensuous. These are listed as middle notes but appear quickly on my skin. The top fruity notes— pear, plum, and raspberry— bubble up and give an effervescent quality to the fragrance. The beautiful floral notes mingle with the fruity ones and bring a joyful feel to the scent. The pear and raspberry are the stars at first, bright young things. But the plum stays longer, blending with the rose to give it a wine note.

The opulence of the florals stay present for quite some time. This is interspersed with the mossy green feel, and if you sense color from scent, this one feels very pink and green.

The deeper notes include patchouli, cedarwood, Peru balsam, and musk. These give the florals a woody and slightly balsamic aura as the scent begins to wind down to its conclusion.

Anatole Lebreton, who is from the Brittany area of France, came to the job of perfume creator via an indirect path. His resume includes stints in the theater, as a purveyor of chocolates and tea, a collector of vintage fragrances, and a past fragrance blogger. He began creating perfumes in 2014 and Perfumista is his sixth. The whole creation of this perfume was an interactive project between Lebreton and some of his customers. He guided the process of creating a perfume which would be an ode to perfume lovers of the world and pay respect to those great vintage scents. His test group went through the process with him, giving feedback and Perfumista is the result.

If you miss the grandness of perfumes of the past, if you love florals that are lavish and miss mossy notes that are velvety and plush, then Perfumista should be on your list of scents to try in 2020.

Top photo Google image. Bottle from anatole lebreton website. Perfume sample purchased by me from Luckyscent.