Friday, September 30, 2016

Grace under pressure

What a mad world we live in, with a million different things to distract and dissuade us each day. How can there be so much information, politics and bureaucracy, with so little meaningful result? Oh, what would we do with our lives had we the time, space and money?!

I know that I'll do all I can to find time to paint - my 'thing' is painting landscape and, to quote Stevie Wonder, 'everybody's got a thing, but some don't know how to handle it..'.

Maria McElroy (Owner/creator and 'nose' of Aroma M Perfumes) has a thing, namely perfume, and she does indeed know how to handle it! Maria created the popular 'Geisha' series of perfumes, based on colours and moods. More recent launches are Vanilla Hinoki and Camellia, so when I noticed that Maria was arranging a draw for samples, I entered, but being a generous soul she said 'well, you didn't win the draw but I'd like you to try these anyway' and with characteristic generosity sent a couple of samples across the Atlantic.

Returning to the theme of a hectic world, when the samples landed through my letterbox a few days ago (I do love the sound of perfume dropping through my letterbox in the morning, to misquote the General from Apocalypse Now! Quite distinguishable from a phone bill) I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the whole process of trying the perfumes on skin, allowing associations to drift into my mind. I consider it therapy as much as pleasure, I suppose the two are inter-related!

Aroma M perfumes contain a high amount of natural essences or absolutes; they're created not just with the idea of perfume in mind, but also relaxation, or mood enhancement.

I'll offer my impressions of Vanilla Hinoki and Camellia below, but if you'd like to read my interview with Maria McElroy, click Here, also for reviews of her excellent Geisha Noire, Amber Rouge and Violet, click Here and for Geisha Green, click Here.
Let's start with Camellia, which was created as part of a natural skin care range.

People loved the scent and of course asked if it might be made into a perfume, so of course Maria obliged with this new perfume, launched in 2014.

Described on as an all-natural, smoky, balsamic white floral, this immediately impressed itself upon me as a gracious scent, slightly reminiscent of soapy bath-time (and I do enjoy soapy perfume if the soap in question reminds me of triple-milled Crabtree and Evelyn luxury soap!)

This also has what one reviewer described as the scent of 'lush red roses and a room filled with burning candles'. I love that description. The heart of the perfume is Japanese Camellia, with jasmine, neroli, geranium, gardenia, rose and frankincense, the last contributing perhaps to the smoky candle impression.

It's soothing, quite intense on opening. Into dry down I noticed the jasmine and incense notes more, and I found that it blended with skin in a lovely silky way, with subtle animalic hints (I thought it might be the honey-like effect of Grandiflora jasmine, which I love when it's blended well with accompanying notes).

I also really noticed the high quality rose, which reminded me of the rose in Frederic Malle's Un Rose, which also features large amounts of high quality rose.

That combination of rose absolute and neroli does create a soapy scent, but here, with soothing, healing geranium and Frankincense the perfume as a whole is wonderfully pretty, soothing and graceful.

Also somehow reminiscent of those gentle retro rose-scented creams. I'm reminded of the idea and mood of L'Artisan's Drole de Rose, which I also enjoy, though Camellia is more natural.

I was amused by the Fragrantica review by a man who observed; 'if a woman wearing Camellia would walk by me, I can only close my eyes and utter "Oh God, please rewind, over and over and over". Yes, I can actually see why that might be the effect, ladylike as this perfume is, the association with bath-time and skin could be enticing...!

Vanilla Hinoki was one I knew I'd appreciate, since I'm a fan of woody perfumes. But then, there's wood and there's wood, the latter being natural wood, with all its panoply of associations; forests, obviously, but also antique furniture, sun warmed forests, resinous tree bark, woodsmoke; all of which I find very relaxing, being very much an enjoyer of the outdoors.

Traditionally, woods in perfume tend to be associated with male perfumes, but it seems there's been a blossoming of woody perfumes for men and women recently, not just niche or independent and less conventional perfumers, but also mainstream.

Being drawn to woody perfumes, I've tried quite a few, and so it seemed to me that, unique as it is, Vanilla Hinoki seemd situated (mood-wise at least) between Van Cleef and Arpel's Bois d'Iris and possibly Tam Dao by Diptyque - in as much as it has the soft sweetness of Bois d'Iris, but also the natural woodiness of Tam Dao. The sweetness in Vanilla Honoki is entirely natural, no yucky candy floss or fudge, needless to say!

The thing that was different, though, to my nose, were the gorgeous lemony aspects. Top notes (according to Fragrantica) include bergamot, but apart from Hinoki (a Japanese tree which also has lemony aspects I'm told) there's also Elemi (a woody scent with aspects that are lemony).

As with wood, there's lemon and then there's lemon. This lemon reminds me of amalfi lemon in a classic Roudnitska perfume (he of Dior fame, Au Sauvage and Diorella etc), but also the lemonwood-sweet effect in Annick Goutal's wild, evocative and natural Ninfeo Mio; lovely, rich, deep, almost oily lemon, lasting, refreshing and relaxing.

The drydown of Vanilla Hinoki is where I notice cedary pencil-shavings loveliness. The perfume is both tonic and relaxant, and it lingers most delightfully on clothes, in a way that few perfumes (those with synthetic lasting musks for example) do.

Thanks again Maria McElroy, for these perfumed, poetic moments of pleasure - good associations with all that's right with the world!

I've just returned to the city from a lovely trip to the Hebridean islands of Scotland, and these perfumes evoke the right mood to paint and recreate what I found there. So I'll leave this post with a silvery Rowan-Tree on the Isle of Harris, and a poem by a poet I met up with from the islands called Ian Stephen...

Should we plant a rowan here      
at the sea-loch side? 
The seed of red berries
for imagination,
to germinate
in this day
when leaves mould
and stars die

A hawthorn for healing,
spur and leaf balm.
Rooting for
the pair of us
and for us all.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Autumn in Edinburgh

After the recent Indian summer-like weather in the UK, I'm noticing a slight nip in the air to herald the autumn season.There's always those few days in later autumn when blustery winds strip the trees of most of their leaves, but that's not for a little while yet thankfully!

My perfume instincts also tell me Autumn is here, since on a whim I decided to spray a little Shalimar on one wrist and Geisha Noire on the other. These are both far more suited to late autumn and winter, but still, the fact I had a notion to sniff them is indicative, since their effect is cloying in hot weather but comforting when it's cooler.

There's a mood I always experience at this time of year when the trees are touched with gold and russet; a more introverted, contemplative or dreamy mood that I associate with the end of the Edinburgh festival. Nowadays the city centre streets are busy year-round, but a few decades ago  a certain peace and autumn mist seemed to descend on the city as the festival noise and tourists melted away.

I love the city in this mood, Edinburgh suits cooler weather, with its silver-stoned Georgian New Town architecture, or medieval atmosphere of the higgledy piggledy Old Town; the scent of woodsmoke floats on the air and autumn leaves skirl in the wind across cobblestones. ('skirl' sounds like something Scottish leaves do I think!)

Here are a few perfumes which I think suit this time of year (accompanied by my photos of Edinburgh)...

28 La Pausa, by Chanel
Strictly for iris lovers, 28 La Pausa is absolutely about iris. The accompanying notes (citrus in opening
notes, rose, possibly jasmine then vetiver and a light musk in drydown) are there to highlight iris's many facets, from chalky and rooty, to powdery, inky and ethereal. La Pausa seems to me a city iris, made for moody streets and poetic thoughts.

I can't describe it better than  Chantal-Hélène Wagner of The Scented Salamander whose impeccable nose seems to pick up on perfume notes that are just on the edge of my consciousness! 

 The scent is based on Iris Pallida. The perfume unfolds on a delicious sweet powdery accord of iris with pastel undertones of light mauves and greys. The powderiness then takes on a certain gourmand quality evoking rice flour. 

A wisp of turpentine and a modernistic dash of rubber mixed with the smell of black old records make their entrance lest the scent would become too romantic. Accents of hot iron and of a tired breathless subway in a heaving city almost make you grind your teeth in discomfort. 

Iris has decided to relegate its classically beautiful satiny ball gown upstairs in the attic and to don a metallic Paco Rabanne outfit instead to emit all of its natural metal-like cold aromas. The bottom note is soft and herbaceous.

Paestum Rose, by Eau D'Italie
An elegant and austere perfume well suited to wandering through the grand streets of Edinburgh's new town. Paestum Rose feels classic though it was created in recent years.

Rose, incense smoke, resins, pepper and bitter herbs combine in light yet distinct accords - refined and somehow cool or aloof in mood

Hiroko Koshino, by Hiroko Koshino
Not dissimilar in its way to Paestum Rose, gentler though, more a contemplative mood. The Japanese nameconjures up a tea-house in early autumn, a recently fired raku bowl holding lapsang souchong maybe, among scattered rose petals. Equally though, this might conjure up the scent of pot pourri in an Elzabethan house with a roaring fire on the hearth that releases the scent of old timber.

Aura, by Loewe
An entirely different mood, more daytime in the city, Aura is clean in top notes, slightly soapy, but the dry-down is lovely, like dusty sandalwood, very light with just a hint of rose

Cabaret, by Gris
This is a perfume I find quite haunting, there's a smokiness that's somehow reminds me of the scent after an
outdoor party - fresh but also ashy - a kind of ozone effect.

The unusual combination of lemony Frankincense and a clean yet soily patchouli reminds me of a churchyard too, hence perhaps the haunting mood!

Mon Jasmine Noir, by Bulgari 
I never got on board with Bulgari's Jasmine Noir, but Mon Jasmine Noir grew on me. Similarly to Cabaret there's an edge that seems quite ashy (though this is a more grounded, warmer perfume by far).

Also a velvety soft sambac jasmine and what I experience as a slightly metallic musk. It's redolent of nights out in the city somehow - the scent of metal, smoky aromas and faded flowers

Myrrh Ardente, by Annick Goutal
I like this in autumn, especially when the trees turn russet, at which time the sweet smoky incense of Myrrh Ardente seems to gently smoulder. It feels noble, adventurous - a scent you might find wafting from a Bedouin tent in the desert. Or at least that's what it brings to my mind! I can't imagine a perfume more suited to a stroll through the autumn woods with the faint scent of woodsmoke in the air.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


Today's Sunday walk took me to the hitherto undiscovered gardens of Inveresk Lodge, just outside Edinburgh. Late August sunshine cast its hazy spell on lush flowers and foliage and, as I drifted through the garden, the week's irritants and distractions gradually melted away...

It was in this dreamy mood that I entered a crumbling Victorian greenhouse were I was immediately enchanted by a warm sweet scent that at first made me think someone wearing beautiful perfume had just passed through. My friend pointed to an entire wall covered in dense jasmine foliage, baking in the tropically hot greenhouse which had absorbed all the heat of the day. Needless to say this density of heat is unusual in Scotland, so it's not often I have this tropical-like experience!

The scent effect was textured, I felt I could almost swim through the density of soft, pudding-sweet exotic jasmine, and I realised that part of the reason it wasn't immediately recognisable was because I'm used to the Sambac variety (the species used to scent Chinese jasmine tea) which is heavier, slightly more green, though still quite sweet..

This particular variety was Jasmine Officinale, probably the most intense jasmine scent, though its power is less heady or animalic than Grandiflorum or Sambac.

I've yet to smell Grandiflorum in its natural flower state, but it's definitely recognisable in perfume. Grandiflorum and Sambac being the two most common types of jasmine in perfumery.

Everyone experiences these scents differently, since some of us are anosmic to
certain aspects, such as the camphor-like edge of jasmine, or indoles (notes that are described as animalic and interpreted as urinous or fecal). I've mentioned these effects elsewhere on this blog, and though this is subjective, to my nose grandiflorum is urinous, lighter and more transparent, sambac seems more camphoric, soft-textured and pudding-like, though depending on how it's handled by the perfumer it can echo the effect of jasmine tea - pretty, green and quite leafy.

Few perfumes can interpret the precise effect I experienced today, and as soon as
you snip off a blossom the scent fades to something more grass-like, with just a hint of the variously milky, sweet, fruity, green or animalic scents of jasmine, but I've listed some of my jasmine perfume likes and dislikes below (and as always I'm wearing a few dabs of some of these for comparison!)...

A La Nuit, Serge Lutens 
Opens with a blast of what seems to be banana-scented acetate, and it's this opening that leads some to believe this may be 'death by jasmine', but within five minutes it calms, while still exuding a deliciously green, dense and slightly camphoraceous juiciness.

If you can imagine the heaviest, most languorous aspects of jasmine blossoms lingering on the air as twilight descends that's the effect of the appropriately named A La Nuit. To my nose it combines the green piquancy and indolic aspects of Sambac, with grandiflorum jasmine tickling the nose with that powdery almost honey-like effect. The animalic accents are there, but by no means overwhelming.

I find it greener in dry-down, Lutens hasn't tried to soften or prettify it too much with, for example, powdery iris or delicate violet. Having lent a squoosh of this to a friend quite recently, I can confirm that the initial blast calms very quickly to a very pretty natural green floral effect. As others have noted, it's very 'close to skin' after a few hours.

Others to try in this heady style are Montale's Jasmin Full or perhaps Nassomato's Nuda

Jasmine Rouge, Tom Ford
Since A La Nuit and Jasmin Rouge are two of the best known high quality jasmines, I've dabbed them on my left and right wrists for comparison..

The most notable difference is the initially more restrained and prettified quality to Jasmin Rouge, in contrast to A La Nuit. I immediately experience the sambac green-tea fragrant effect here, also a pleasant dewiness that's quite different to the raw, even slightly rough juiciness of A La Nuit.

Underlying this though, is the bite of  pepper, ginger, cardamom and leather. They're background notes, but perfectly balanced so that the dewy green florals are given a backbone, the greeness enhanced by cardamom. The effect is elegant, poised and definitely less full on flirty than A La Nuit, like an elegant French soprano trill as opposed to A La Nuit's Callas, cat-like intensity. (god these reviews bring out my pretentious streak!). The effect of cinnamon into drydown is almost powdery, again very lady-like. This is probably my favourite Tom Ford since the others can be a bit 'in your face'.

In dry down A La Nuit becomes more relaxed and natural. Jasmin Rouge seems less so, and more linear.

Depending on your sensitivity to animalic notes, this may remind you of Lust, by Lush Perfumes, though to me Lust is far more floral, I prefer the spice and leather background of Jasmin Rouge.

The jasmine tea effect can also be found in  By Killian's Imperial Tea, and a beautifully light, green, summery version in L'Artisan's The Pour Un Ete

Gelsomino Nobile, Acqua di Parma 
This has some of the pudding-like aspects of jasmine officinale, but it's given depth with a hint of tuberose, and citric bite with orange. It's very summery and has a shady green quality that I really like, though I can't see which notes lend that green effect other than jasmine. It's refreshing, also quite unlike other jasmine florals so it could please those who tend to find jasmine cloying. Also it's not animalic.

Jasmin T, Bruno Acampora
This perfume is proof that all noses do not smell alike. Though I've read reviews describing this as natural, pretty etc, I think it smells like a toilet. It's overwhelmingly pissy, reminding me of facets of Joy by Patou. It must be genetic since my mum also gags at this sort of jasmine. No doubt it's high quality and authentic, but I don't find this beautiful as some others do.

Olene, Diptyque
Olene enhances the soapy aspects of jasmine, and though pretty I find it lacks the natural quality of those mentioned above.

Bearing in mind that a good jasmine perfume has to use aroma chemical effects to recapture the actual effect of the real flower (lost in the extraction process) this probably has little to do with quality, or lack of natural notes, since Diptyque usually do include natural absolutes for depth and authenticity. It's more to do with the addition of honeysuckle I believe, which I always experience as synthetic in perfume in its effect. Olene is soapy, yet with slightly urinous notes I find unpleasant, but many love this perfume so again it's purely subjective.

Songes, Annick Goutal.
Songes, meaning dreams in French, a very appropriate name for this soft, dense, slightly sweet tropical floral. I've yet to hear of a perfume afficionado who doesn't admire it.

Having said that, it does have the fecal or animalic aspect of sambac jasmine and to my mind if it had a bit less of this it would be my ultimate jasmine perfume. Then again, it might lose a certain dense humidity with less indoles.

Songes reminds me of the actual effect of real jasmine florals in the late afternoon - it exudes a warm, soft dewy quality even in the temperate summers of the UK. This is genius perfumery really and very typical of  Annick Goutal perfumes, which seem to mimic the actual atmospheric effects of the outdoors. Perhaps the most effective being Un Matin d'Orage which makes you smell as though you've spent the afternoon picnicing in a meadow then ran indoors after a rain storm, bringing the scent of rain-soaked trees with you (thanks in part to the aroma chemical petrichor maybe, though I'm not sure if that's the note)

What other jasmine-centred perfumes lose in terms of soft floral tropical effect, Songes captures with the inclusion of tiare, ylang and really lovely natural vanilla.

Lastly some more photos from today, let's make the most of summer while it's here...

Friday, August 19, 2016

Science of Olfaction

Electron graphic from

Yet more weird and wonderful theories to add to the science of smell...

A recent article (excerpt and link below) reports on explorations into ways that quantum physics might impact our everyday life.

You've probably heard about the famous studies by physicists Drs. S. Haroche and D. Wineland - that electrons can be in two places at once - leading to speculation on parallel universes (though of course no one as yet fully knows the implications).

Anyway, new observations on the way that quantum physics might impact other areas not yet explored in this context, such as photosynthesis of plants, also olfaction, or the science of smell are being explored.

There have been two theories on the science of smell; the earlier asserted that it was to do with molecule shapes interacting with the nose membrane. This didn't make sense though, since further observation showed similar molecular shapes could have similar scents, also disimilar shapes with similar scents.

Then, scientist Luca Turin (co-author with Tanya Snchez of 'Perfumes, The Guide') began to explore the idea of smell as vibration (I wrote an earlier post about the related documentary Here). His theories handily coincided with discoveries about particle behaviour explored in quantum physics.

It's quite fascinating really that we know so much about the way we see, or hear, but as yet there's still something of a shroud of mystery over the way we smell. So for those of you interested in this exploration, here's an excerpt from a recent report from (the original can be viiewed Here) ...

"There is one field that seems tantalisingly close to demonstrating the reality of quantum biology, though: the science of smell.

Exactly how our noses are capable of distinguishing and identifying a myriad of differently shaped molecules is a big challenge for conventional theories of olfaction. When a smelly molecule wafts into one of our nostrils, no one is yet entirely sure what happens next. Somehow the molecule interacts with a sensor – a molecular receptor – embedded in the delicate inner skin of our nose.

A well-trained human nose can distinguish between thousands of different smells. But how this information is carried in the shape of the smelly molecule is a puzzle. Many molecules that are almost identical in shape, but for swapping around an atom or two, have very different smells. Vanillin smells of vanilla, but eugenol, which is very similar in shape, smells of cloves. Some molecules that are a mirror image of each other – just like your right and left hand – also have different smells. But equally, some very differently shaped molecules can smell almost exactly the same.

Luca Turin, a chemist at the BSRC Alexander Fleming institute in Greece, has been working to crack the way that the properties of a molecule encode its scent. “There is something very, very peculiar at the core of olfaction, which is that our ability to somehow analyse molecules and atoms is inconsistent with what we think we know about molecular recognition,” Turin says.

He argues that the molecule’s shape alone isn’t enough to determine its smell. He says that it’s the quantum properties of the chemical bonds in the molecule that provides the crucial information.
According to Turin’s quantum theory of olfaction, when a smelly molecule enters the nose and binds to a receptor, it allows a process called quantum tunnelling to happen in the receptor.

In quantum tunnelling, an electron can pass through a material to jump from point A to point B in a way that seems to bypass the intervening space. As with the bird’s quantum compass, the crucial factor is resonance. A particular bond in the smelly molecule, Turin says, can resonate with the right energy to help an electron on one side of the receptor molecule leap to the other side. The electron can only make this leap through the so-called quantum tunnel if the bond is vibrating with just the right energy.

When the electron leaps to the other site on the receptor, it could trigger a chain reaction that ends up sending signals to the brain that the receptor has come into contact with that particular molecule. This, Turin says, is an essential part of what gives a molecule its smell, and the process is fundamentally quantum.
“Olfaction requires a mechanism that somehow involves the actual chemical composition of the molecule,” he says. “It was that factor that found a very natural explanation in quantum tunnelling.”

The strongest evidence for the theory is Turin’s discovery that two molecules with extremely different shapes can smell the same if they contain bonds with similar energies.

Turin predicted that boranes – relatively rare compounds that are hard to come by – smelled very like sulphur, or rotten eggs. He’d never smelt a borane before, so the prediction was quite a gamble.

He was right. Turin says that, for him, that was the clincher. “Borane chemistry is vastly different – in fact there’s zero relation – to sulphur chemistry. So the only thing those two have in common is a vibrational frequency. They are the only two things out there in nature that smell of sulphur.”
While that prediction was a great success for the theory, it’s not ultimate proof. Ideally Turin wants to catch these receptors in the act of exploiting quantum phenomena. He says they are getting “pretty close” to nailing those experiments. “I don’t want to jinx it, but we’re working on it,” he says. “We think we have a way to do it, so we’re definitely going to have a go in the next few months. I think that nothing short of that will really move things forward.”

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Not to be confused with the Arabian instrument of the same name, Oud is a secretion produced by the Agarwood tree (or Aquillari Tree).

It's been used in Arabian perfume for centuries and appeals to the Middle Eastern preference for strong, rich scents made from high quality natural ingredients. It's only in the past few years that it appeared as a new, trendy note in Western perfumery, intially in niche perfumery.

As such, it was very much embraced by hipsters in the same way I suppose as Marx brothers-esque joke beards! (thankfully we seem to have to reach peak-beard some time ago, co-inciding with the unfortunate rise of the man-bun)

So it's true to say that oud gets a bit of bad press in perfumista circles for this reason; once marketing teams decide it's a trend there's no stopping its ubiquity. I'm kind of surprised not to see it sprinkled in cocktails or salads, like pomegranate seeds or whatever the latest fad is!

Nonetheless, it was and is a welcome change from fruity, sweet patchouli style perfumes, which I'm far from alone in loathing. Most oud in contemporary western perfume is synthetic, since the authentic stuff is so rare, difficult to make and therefore expensive. Similarly to ambergris, oud varies in quality and effect due to an ageing process. In perfume it's quite difficult (for me anyway) to tell if it's the real thing, I've only tried one or two Arabian perfumes with a touch of oud, and in my far from expert opinion, I'd suggest the real thing is more challenging, the synthetic versions seem softer-edged and seem to have added synthetic woody musk of some description.

If you're into perfume you don't need a description of how oud smells; it's very distinct. From the Arabian oils I've tried I'd describe it in its authentic form as initially sharp, tarry, medicinal, sour, very dry, astringent and smoked in effect. The medicinal quality has been described by some as smelling like old-fashioned cloth plasters, which is pretty accurate. If you can imagine a woody germolene scent or a touch of TCP left on aged wood, that's about right.

It may sound unpleasant, but what it seems to do is refresh the nose, perhaps the foody equivalent might be a touch of mustard. I can absolutely see why it's enjoyed in the Middle East - the dry quality is astringent and the effect in hot weather would be refreshing in an entirely different way from, say, a citrus scent. Perhaps more lasting. For example (to use another food and drink comparison) you can see why green tea is enjoyed in hot countries- the tannin astringency is far more refreshing than a sticky, sweet drink could be. Citrus is cooling in effect, yet it does have a slight sweetness.

I think the other advantage of oud might be that it blends so beautifully with those classic notes of Arabian perfume, such as strong rose, aber and woody resins, which is why most oud-based perfume whether Arabian or Western, usually pairs rose and oud. Personally I love the combination. It lends a little dirt and depth to rose, yet unlike patchouli (often paired with rose) it's not cloying or heavy due to its dryness and the smoke-like effect. Add incense notes to this and it creates yet another harmonious facet.

For the purposes of this blog, I've dabbed a few samples on my arms and wrists (I also tried on a couple of new ones on my travels today when I dropped into a perfume department) so here are a few below (in order of least to most liked!) ...

Another Oud by Juliette Has a Gun
Hmm, another frutichouli with oud, more like! The combination of synthetic ice-cream sundae raspberry and austere oud is utterly wrong, though humorous in a way - evoking an impeccably robed Muezzin of a Mosque being accosted by a lap-dancer wearing a pink vinyl bikini. Possible perhaps in this day and age, but just wrong!

Rose d'Arabie, by Armani Privé 
Very nice - oud warmed with amber, vanilla and damascus rose, yet it's far too light and fleeting for this price. If I had money to recklessly throw away, I'd buy this as a daytime oud/rose.

Oud Cashmere Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Much as I love others from MFK's oud series, this appealed the least to me, probably because it's a more masculine, harsh take on oud with a hefty dose of labdanum (a resin from the rock rose plant). I find labdanum quite goaty and sweaty, so it really depends on what it's paired with. In this case I find the combination of oud and labdanum too dirty and animalic -a bit like something left to dry on the bottom of a shoe, I'm sorry to say. For others though (and I think men more likely) this dirty aspect may have a pleasingly satanic beastiness to it!

Attar Al Kaaba by Al Haramain Perfumes 
The real deal, therefore a slightly more challenging perfume. I dab it on every so often just for that odd perfume hit which I think of as the equivalent to enjoying mustard! This is definitely medicinal at first, but into dry-down it becomes more and more like the lingering incense scent you'd expect to find on the clothing of someone who works in a Bazaar. The rose is powerful, quite clean and hard edged, the oud almost chlorine-like, but there's underlying amber and sandalwood, so that into drydown the effect is like rose-scented treacle (though not as sweet) quite more-ish. The name refers of course to the journey to Mecca and the black cube-shaped building at the centre of Islam's most sacred mosque, so the perfume is correspondingly challenging, yet rewarding in the end.

Oud Velvet Mood, by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
If you can imagine a velvety/dusty tarry effect, I think that describes the texture and scent of this perfume quite well. Dusted with saffron and cinnamon, the effect is warm and pleasing, though the tarriness of oud remains throughout. As someone who likes leather scents (which often use birch tar notes for the leather effect) I enjoy this, but I wouldn't describe it as feminine or elegant. It's more of an outdoorsy effect, which is lovely in its way.

Arabian Nights by Jesus Del Pozo
I really enjoyed this perfume from the sample I was gifted a while back by a generous member of Oud is balanced by an abstract, elegant bouquet of woods, rose, herbs and grasses. The effect is a very blended oud, not in-your-face yet distinct because of oud. I wore it first on a warm summer's day nd found it highly refreshing. This perfume is described as 'for men' but I think it's quite unisex.

Oud Silk Mood, by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
To me, this has exactly the right blend of that oud-y smoky astringent/dry bite alongside a beautiful rich, sweet rose and hazy musks, to make this elegant, intriguing and mysterious. It's very distinct and I'd say ideal for evening, especially when wearing something either ethnic and silky, or black with a contemporary, arty cut. It's stylish and unusual. Other notes include papyrus grass and chamomile and while I can't say I identify these notes alongside oud and rose, there is a haziness and dry quality that's really lovely. Excellent stuff!

Monday, August 1, 2016


Tuberose; a divider of taste to say the least. Despite the name it has nothing to do with rose. Rose can be described as anything from soapy or pretty to dark and gothic but it's not likely to be decribed as fleshy, voluptuous, carnal, buttery, decadent, strident or narcotic, as tuberose is.

Such is its reputation that in Victorian times it was believed it had a corrupting effect on young women, like Elvis's hips in the 50s!

It's instantly recognisable. If you think you don't know the scent, once you get a whiff you'll know it straight away - most recognisable in perfumes where its most strident qualities have been amped up, two of the most notorious being Piguet's Fracas and Dior's Poison. If you hate those don't let that put you off, since (as with all perfume notes) it depends which facets are highlighted and what's in the perfume composition.

Most tuberose in perfumery is synthetic, but there are natural extraction versions, perhaps the most well-known being tuberose steeped in natural coconut oil and used as sun tan lotion, especially popular in tropical islands such as Hawai.

Perhaps it's this last fact which leads us to associate tuberose with the idea of the 'exotic', or tropical holidays, and it's why a lot of tuberose perfumes contain coconut notes. Natural tuberose flowers on their own though are not very sweet. Like most tropical flowers the scent varies throughout first opening of the flowers to their point of decay.

Newly opened tuberose has what most perfumers describe as camphoraceous notes. I.e. moth balls, or an almost gas-like menthol quality. Also green. I, and many others, find the menthol aspects also petrol-like, and with some perfumes there's a hint of fruity bubblegum or (weirdly) popcorn. These scent-exuding qualities make the flower a raging success in the jungle obviously, no doubt attracting pollinators for miles around. If you add these strident qualities, the buttery or creamy effect and pretty floral aspect to the idea that beautiful flowers echo feminine beauty, you can see why so many perfumers want to capture its intensity. Its wilting notes remind me of decaying fruit (some say it's more like rotting meat, but to me it's quite similar to the decaying notes of madonna lily, or the smell that emanates from the dustbin outside a grocer's shop in mid-summer - fruit on the turn).

It does have some qualities in common with orange blossom, lily and jasmine, but as someone who's sensitive to tuberose (similarly to patchouli) I immediately recognise it in perfume; the difference is in that diesel/petrol butteriness - a certain cool, waxy solidity. Texture-wise I'd describe is as rounded, fleshy, with a quality I'd associate with womanly-ness as opposed to girliness. It has sophistication, but not neccessarily elegance, since elegance is usually associated with a sort of 'less-is-more' contained poise, tuberose cannot be contained, hence its diva reputation!

I've written quite a bit about other perfume notes in this blog (see 'Perfume Reviews A- Z')  and if you're wondering why I've not covered the notorious tuberose it's because truth be told I find it a challenge. Many people do, and in perfume forums we're liable to be dismissed as perfume lightweights, perhaps even envious because we don't have the requisite confidence, style or sex appeal to carry off tuberose-rich perfumes. Ouch!

My excuse is that when it's strong I find it headache-inducing. I'm not into loud, strident perfumes, also my appearance and behaviour would never be compared to that of Marilyn Monroe or Madonna (both Fracas devotees!)

The most high-end, popular and contemporary tuberose perfume at the moment is Frederic Malle's Carnal Flower, which according to many perfume commentors is sex on wheels, so I had to try a sample of course...

I did my best with it, but since a small squoosh to my left wrist was still making my eyes water and head ache after 4 hours, I gave up and washed it off just so I could get a decent night's sleep. As for its sexy reputation, well - headaches are historically a bit of a killer! I read of someone who doesn't like it but wears it on the back of her neck so she can't smell it but others can! I'm a strong believer in the fact that if you love the perfume, it loves you and vice versa. If you don't enjoy tuberose, it's never going to suit you in its more powerful forms.

Part of the effect of Carnal Flower is the menthol aspect which echoes the actual flower, it was this that made my eyes water, the tuberose (in this perfume the highest amount of tuberose absolute in perfumery) provided the inevitable headache.

Just google 'tuberose perfumes' and you'll soon discover that the population can be divided into swoon-iduced and migraine-induced reactions to tuberose. Never fear though, in the examples below I'll mention those that I find truly enjoyable, so if traditionally you've loathed this fleshy floral with the man-eating
reputation, there are some you might enjoy ..

Powerful tuberose
Tuberose perfumes with huge heft and presence, statement perfume for glamorous events

Fracas by Piguet
Often described as the reference-point for strong tuberose perfumes, tuberose in Fracas is accompanied by a host of white florals, woody notes and musk. Tuberose dominates though and this is one of the most distinct perfumes you'll encounter. Its statement or message suggests someone who enjoys attention and it's no surprise that it's a favourite with Madonna, also Marliyn Monroe. (Madonna lent her name to the contemporary perfume take on Fracas; Truth or Dare by Madonna

Other glamorously strident tuberose perfumes include Dior's Poison which darkens tuberose with intense purple-toned plum, also Armani's Giorgio and Amarige by Givency. 

Elegant Tuberose
Tuberose perfumes that tone down the strident effect,either through less tuberose in the composition, or with accompanying notes that soften it

Nicolai Parfumeur Createur Number One Sophisticated, slightly green yet buttery. This is a very elegant tuberose. Galbanum lends it bitter greenery while sandalwood does its thing of lending a soft velvety effect.It's less of a party tuberose, and could easily be worn in the daytime.

Amouage Honour Woman 
A pricy concoction and a silkier take on tuberose, with notes of frankincense, leather. It has the creamy aspects of tuberose and gardenia adds to this. Very elegant if quite conservative in tone.

Oscar by Oscar de la Renta 
Softened with sandalwood, less 'fleshy' in tone with the addition of clove, this is velvety in texture and quite complex, slightly dated these days perhaps, due its complex bouquet, but very sophisticated in effect

Soft and pretty tuberose
These perfumes enhance the creamy,  aspects while toning down the headache, partly because tuberose doesn't entirely dominate in these, but also because the accompanying notes have a softening or lighter effect.

L'Artisan La Chasse Aux Papillon
Though the opening is a bit bright, with white florals and lime blossom, in dry down this reminds me of suede, the soft effect is largely thanks to a buttery tuberose, minus the petrol and menthol.

Noix de Tubereuse by Miller Harris
Softened considerably with the round, powdery notes of tonka bean, also iris (orris root) and mimosa, this retains tuberose's sultry aspects while being easy on the nose. Very pretty.

Do Son by Diptyque
One of my favourite houses, inevitably their take on tuberose would be to my liking (though probably not to lovers of full-on tuberose). Do Son has subtle tuberose buttery roundness added to very pretty white florals - orange blossom, honeysuckle - alongside an easy-on-the nose white musk and woody benzoin. Perfect for summer and a very popular scent.

Unusual tuberose 
Niche versions, something a little different

Serge Lutens Fleurs d'oranger
This, as the name suggests, has more to do with orange blossom than tuberose, nonetheless its fleshier floral effect is partly thanks to tuberose's abundance, the unusual aspect is thanks to cumin, which lends a spicy, slightly sweaty tingle. Very pleasing, as long as you're ok with cumin!

Serge Lutens's Tubereuse Criminelle - a love it or loathe it perfume, so given my ambivelence to tuberose I was surprised to find I enjoyed it. I realise now it's partly that it lacks the bubblegum/fruity aspect and instead focuses on tuberose buttery/waxy roundness. Even the menthol hit in the beginning doesn't trouble me, it's moth-ball-like but I don't mind that as a smell, in fact I like it, far more than eucaylptus, which in perfume is an absolute 'no' for me, since I find it medicinal and eye watering, and which features in...

Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle
For some people this should be up there in the elegant or pretty tuberose categories but that's probably for those who don't find the eucalyptus and melon notes so unappealing. Even with sweet creamy coconut as a subtle note here, and the large amount of high quality green-toned natural tuberose absolute (I normally love green florals) it doesn't work for me.  find that the notes compete and clash, but for many thousands of others this is tuberose Nirvana.

Tropical tuberose

Isabey Panouage, Lys Noir
A 'darker' take on tuberose/lily, you'd imagine from the name. Folks who want a strong hit of tuberose may be disappointed, but it's definitely there. Fatty and fruity with soapy coconut,  the fruty hint for me echoes Dior's Poison. Coconut isn't listed in ingredients as far as I can see, but it's definitely there. There's some patchouli here too, but very light. It feels like a glam' summer party girl perfume - a simple, yet distinct effect. Not my scene but if you fancy the idea of a lighter summer-style tropical Poison, you'll like it!

Other popular tropical tuberoses include Killian's Beyond Love (sweet coconut, heady tuberose and pretty white florals) and Hiram Green's Moon Bloom, a fresh green, sweet take on tuberose, which uses high amounts of natural absolute.

For the authentic beachy feel of natural tuberose infused coconut cream try Aloha Tiare Eau de Parfum by Comptoir Sud Pacifique, or seek the cream itselfMonoi of Maui (Maui Tuberose) which can be found online and is considerably cheaper! I have a bottle of this and love to use it in summer, or for a relaxing face massage in the evening.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Back again!

I've let this blog fall by the wayside as I've had a lot on, but having recently logged in I notice in stats that folks are still tuning in, so apologies if you've enjoyed this blog and wondered what happened!

It's been a tough year; my dear dad passed away in April, and there's much to process. I've even taken a bit of a pause from my painting while me and family deal with practicalities.

I have many happy memories of my dad, to last a lifetime. I'd like to share a beautiful photograph (above) I took in June last year when dad and I took a walk to his favourite place. This is above the banks of the River Tweed, viewed from the back of Neidpath Castle in the lush, green lands of the Scottish Borders. It was the last time he was able to take a long-ish walk. It makes me smile (and feel tearful of course) to see him enjoying this spot.

Throughout our lives we've visited the River Tweed to enjoy picnics with friends and family. Here are two photos, from the 70s and the 2000's.The first is dad in his 40s with friends, the second shows him cooking for his grand daughter and her friends, the third where he's teaching them the fine art of air gun shooting!

I don't think there's any perfume that could truly evoke such special memories, but perhaps there's an echo in those green favourites of mine; Chanel No 19 EDT for the scent of spring, also Diptyque's Philosykos for its sunny summer aura of good times with loved ones. For the lingering softness of sundown next to an open fire near the river's edge, Prada's Infusion d'Iris with its dreamy notes of grassy vetiver, smoky incense and nostaligic soft iris.

I'll wear it on our visit to the river in summer next year, when we'll invite friends and family to scatter dad's ashes in creative style. Dad was keen on air rifles, history, noirish crime films and live music (similar to me, most of his friends were musicians) so I wouldn't be surprised if  folks set up some sort of ballistic mechanism by which we can transport his ashes into the sky, accompanied by a Lowell George tune ( Find a River ) maybe, or poem by Rabbie Burns perhaps!

Lastly, here's a link to one of his favourite songs by Burns, loved by many; as was Malcolm, our dear and much missed dad.

A man's a man for a' that

Perfume reviews shall resume as normal every week or so from now!