Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Queen of Green: No. 19 (Part Two)

Spring Chinoiserie. Rose Strang 2013

Following on from the Queen of Green: No 19  Part One (in which I looked at at the Eau de parfum and Parfum), today I'm sniffing, as I type, the Eau de Toilette and newest flanker No. 19 Poudre.

No 19 takes subtly different forms across different batches within the post 80s reformulations, never mind the differences between pre and post 80s.

So in testing post 80s samples I'm aware of the heavier reliance on vetiver than oakmoss for a lasting and authentic foresty greeness. (though the contemporary parfum and eau de toilette do contain small amounts).

Vetiver doesn't have oakmoss's slightly salty/marine damp bark quality, it's smokier, more astringent, but in a perfume composition it can lend a velvety, dark green quality, blending beautifully with rose and iris/orris. Oakmoss is lighter in feel, whereas vetiver feels very much of the deep earth (and it is the roots that are used)

In fact, truth be told I'm awash in a sea of notes and impressions right now! So rather than get into pernickety detail when there are 100s of different absolutes and aroma chemicals in these perfumes, I will talk instead about impressions/moods and the more obvious facts such as sillage, longevity, floral, green, dry or woody qualities and so on...

No. 19 Poudre
Jacques Polge, current perfume composer for Chanel, created No.19 Poudre in 2011, along with Christopher Sheldrake (perfume composer for Lutens)

He spoke about the fact that many perfumes owe much to No. 19 and that it was a perfumer's wish, rather than a marketing requirement, to create No. 19 Poudre, just to illustrate in a more contemporary form the classic combination of notes that makes 19 an icon of perfumery.

I'm not alone in finding that it immediately reminds me of my other favourite Infusion d'Iris by Prada, which was launched in 2007 - gentle, elegant, powdery with the sense of a warm, perfumed woodland breeze.

The velvety soft vetiver/iris lifted by neroli and orange citrus notes is very similar indeed. But the drydown is sweeter, with a sweet musk (possibly synthetic white musk?) and less lasting than Infusion d'Iris, whose dry down is more about benzoin/vetiver (warm/woody, soft/green). Some will find this prettier than Infusion d'Iris I imagine.

To me, Poudre doesn't really say No 19, as much as make a statement that Chanel were here first. They're right - it's why I immediately liked Infusion d'Iris, which reminded me of No 19.

Poudre is pretty, soft and gentle, not floral. Focused on the powdery aspects of iris (hence the name!) which can be more rooty, starchy or cox's pippin apple-like in other perfumes depending on how it's handled. (Here's an earlier post about iris Iris Perfumes)

There's very much less iris/orris in this than there is the parfum, which has immediate and distinct iris notes. In general, I'd wear Infusion d'Iris rather than Poudre, as I'm not so keen on the sweeter dry-down (perhaps due to the note of tonka bean which is quite sweet) but I can see what Chanel were getting at - here's a contemporary version of No 19, and let us not forget that Chanel (or perfumer for Chanel, Henri Robert) was here first in the 70s with this ground-breaking cool green floral.

No. 19 Eau de Toilette
With the Eau de Toilette we're back on familiar territory.
Here is the more bracing feel of No. 19 as we know it - it has a cooler feel, far more floral. There's oakmoss here, at least in a small amount. The florals are all those that lend a spring-like feel - hyacinth, rose and lily of the valley (bright, clean/soapy) and narcissus (creamier, richer but fresh too).

I find the Eau de Toilette delightful, the mood is uplifting, tonic-water-like, which is why it's so suited to hot days (what's more delicious than a tall glass of iced tonic water and lime in hot weather?!). Though it must be said there's no obvious citrus in the Eau de Toilette (a small amount of bergamot) it's more as though the scent from nearby spring hedgerows is drifting past on a warm breeze while you sip pure icy tonic-water. I love it!

No 19. Poudre doesn't seem so strong on galbanum, with its bitter green tang, than the parfum and eau de toilette, which is why it's probably most suited to people who prefer their perfume softer, and with what some might term a more pretty quality (sweeter, gentler in feel).

Ultimately, at the end of this exploration of all four versions, my feeling is that the Parfum and Eau de Toilette reflect the spirit of No 19 in its original form. I find the parfum the most elegant, austere and rich. Its elegance is about a classically French, refined blend of spring florals, its austerity in the fact that there's nothing sweet here - any prettiness due to the floral bouquet is tempered with green rooty vetiver, and the mysterious waft of iris/oakmoss.

The Eau de Toilette shares this austerity and elegance, but in a minimalist sense; less rich, more 'natural' in as much as its florals, though similar to the parfum, are lighter, giving way to drier, more savoury facets such as oakmoss and galbanum. I can see what Elena Vosnaki of the excellent blog Perfume Shrine means when she descibes it as one to wear with a white shirt and silver bracelets. Exactly. If perfumes can be compared to wine, the parfum and EDT are a cool glass of Chablis, flinty, green, timelessly elegant and refreshing

To round up, here are some of the best blog posts about No 19

And lastly, this is Jacques Polge talking about No 19 and the making of No. 19 Poudre
(Click on bottom left of b+w image to play film) -

Spring Sycamore. Rose Strang 2013

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Queen of Green: No. 19 (Part One)

Variously described as 'beautiful' 'haunting' 'icy' 'green' 'elegant' 'feminine' 'complex' 'haughty', 'classy' 'graceful' 'soft', No. 19 (which comes in three perfume concentrations each with its own unique style) can be all of these, and in Part One and Two I'm going to compare these different versions of my all-time favourite perfume, No. 19 by Chanel.

Today I'll introduce a little about the history of No. 19, then describe the Eau de Parfum and Parfum versions, then in part two I'll explore the Eau de Toilette and latest flanker - Chanel 19 Poudre

(You can skip straight down to reviews if the history part sounds a bit tedious!)

No 19 was my first perfume love, and although it was only later on that I began to collect perfume through my interest in Prada's Infusion d'Iris, it's true to say that Infusion d'Iris actually owes a lot to No 19 - in that style of elegant green/iris/vetiver perfumes.

The first Chanel I wore (back in the 80s) was Coco, and while I liked its luxurious scent, given its bombastic 1980s style it really wore me rather than the other way around. I was a creative type, not aspiring to be a high-powered business woman! I tried various perfumes, and on some level I knew that none were right, until in my mid-twenties I discovered Chanel's No. 19.

The strange thing is, I can't remember how it was that in the early 90s I came to be in possession of a 7.5ml bottle of pure No. 19 Parfum. Nowadays this costs around £95 for 7.5ml  (roughly about two teaspoons-full of concentrated perfume).

I wore this as an art student, along with paint-stained, charity-bought clothes, and didn't appreciate what luxury I was dabbing on! I definitely did appreciate the perfume though. I remember its haunting drydown - like the softest perfumed wood-ash, wafting from my hair on a summer's night.

It expressed my love of nature, the peace of forests and meadows, but with something elusive and tantalising, which seemed just on the edge of the perfume. Now, at the age of 47, I'm absolutely aware that green spaces, the countryside, or wilderness, are essential to my peace of mind. It's what I paint about - trying to see beyond the layers. It's also how I earn my living, and this peace is what No 19 Parfum said, and still says to me.

But getting back to the more prosaic matter of that price though - £95 for 7.5mls! I know that those not as obsessed with perfume as I am might be expressing cynicism at this point - aren't we just talking about cleverly marketed branding? Yes and no..

Take No. 5 for example, everyone wore this during the 40s and 50s, Chanel realised that it was becoming ubiquitous and promptly signed up Marilyn Monroe as the 'face of No 5'. In an interview she was asked - 'What do you wear to bed?',

'Chanel No. 5' she replied (although in real life she mostly wore the appropriately fleshy tuberose perfume; Fracas by Piguet). Bingo! The price went up and No 5 became a Chanel exclusive luxury once more.
(update to text, she wasn't paid or signed up by Chanel but did make the remark, which caused sales to boom)

Although marketing does manipulate the human desire for things that are rare or difficult to find, this is not to say that Chanel didn't use the best ingredients, or have the best perfume composers (or 'noses' as they're called).

Chanel own their own fields in Grasse, France, where they've perfected the growth and extraction of perfume staples such as rose and jasmine - both of which feature in the heart of No 5 (giving that perfect alabaster cool balance of clean aldehydes and rose with underlying civet and heady jasmine suggestive of heated skin which No 5's aficionados know and love!).

Coco Chanel in her Paris apartment
As for Coco Chanel herself, No 19 (which refers to her birth-date of 19th August) was created for her by Henri Robert, just one year before her death. In an interview at the age of 86 she told this story about No 19;

Coming out of the Ritz, I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned around to see an unknown face. I was just about to tell him off in no uncertain terms, when he said to me, with an American accent: ‘Excuse me, I am with two friends who want to know the name of your perfume.’ To be stopped in the street by a man at my age, that’s not bad, is it?

Apparently she occasionally gifted No 19 to a favourite client or friend, but it wasn't released to the public until after her death. And although it never became as popular as No 5, it's always had its devotees. No 19 isn't everyone's cup of tea; on opening especially its notes are green, it lacks vanilla or musk, or any of the ingredients that traditionally make a perfume 'sexy', or typically feminine. It's often described as an 'ice-queen' or 'bitchy boardroom' perfume.

The 1971 launch campaign (which I don't remember as I was only 4 years old!) promoted the idea of an emancipated up-front sort of woman who's ditched her corset (as indeed Coco's fashions famously encouraged women to do). It was seen as the opposite of a demure wallflower - men of a traditional or gentle disposition might even find the woman who wears it intimidating, the adverts seemed to imply.

Coco Chanel in the 30s
Tanya Sanchez (who co-wrote the blockbuster perfume book with scientist Luca Turin - 'Perfume: The Guide' ) famously describes 19 as 'wire mother' as opposed to a more 'snuggly' mother. She adds that it's for 'women who have ever wished to know what it is to be heartless'. (on reading this I imagined a great fluttering of paper across the globe, as women everywhere threw their copy of 'Perfumes; The Guide' across the room in disgust while from the grave Coco puffed angrily on her cigarette)

It's an amusing, if slightly strange summary of a classic by a perfume critic, who would be aware of the different versions of No 19 - from the slightly icy and bracing Eau de Toilette (perfect for a hot summer) to the soft, classic floral EDP, and on to the deeper, more haunting pure Parfum.

Perfumers past and present are often indebted to 19, or inspired by it. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, who creates perfumes for the world's top perfume houses, describes his first reaction to it:

The very first memory was when I was 16 years old, when I left my province and I went to Paris. At that time I met a girl who became my girlfriend. She was a student like me and she was passionate about perfumes. She wore Chanel No 19, a beautiful fragrance and I was completely amazed by this fragrance on her skin. Until then I had no interest in perfumes or any kind of scent. 

As mentioned, Chanel's No. 19 is in three very different concentrations which, amateur though I am, I'll now describe to the best of my ability. If you were so inclined you could probably spend a lifetime exploring the various vintages, but for our purposes I'm focusing on those available today (which are definitely reformulations with less oakmoss since that's been increasingly restricted since the late 80s).

The question is, which 19 would suit you?!

Generally the strength of perfume depends on how concentrated the perfume ingredients are, in percentage to alcohol and water, i.e.:

EDT (Eau de Toilette) Up to 15% perfume
EDP (Eau de Parfum) 15 to 20% perfume
Parfum (Perfume Extract/Parfum Extrait/Elixir) 40% perfume

Chanel No.19 Eau de Parfum
As mentioned, any perfumes created post-1989 have been reformulated due to restrictions on oakmoss. So one of the first things I notice up close in the Eau de Parfum is the idea of oakmoss. Perhaps they've used a little of the real thing here, but there's also a synthetic version - it's twiggy, dry and crackling like oakmoss, but it's a little more salty and has less of those subtle smoky facets of oakmoss.

Other than that, the main difference between EDT and EDP of No. 19 is that the EDP uses a large amount of Rose de Mai, or May rose. In this post-80s version of the EDP it's soft, dewy and slightly sweet (not vanilla sweet but it has a sweetness).

Oliver Polge (current 'nose' for Chanel) reformulated the EDP in a way that's faithful to the original, but I'd say this version is softer and more floral. Instead of the drydown to oakmoss, there's more vetiver and the iris is subtle.

But it's still No. 19, with the classic green, slightly powdery and astringent notes thanks to iris (which smells quite 'powdery'), galbanum (a resin with a bitter green quality), vetiver (a lemony/smoky/dry scented grass root which has an astringent quality) and leather, most likely a combination of birch tar notes and synthetics to resemble a clean leather (i.e. not suede-like).

There's a complex floral heart of hyacinth, rose, narcissus, lily of the valley and ylang (this probably varies in different formulations) but the main floral note is rose. As mentioned it's a dewy slightly sweet rose, which softens the perfume considerably. (it's possible this is due to the synthetic aroma chemical hedione which lends a moist quality to perfumes, opening up floral notes).

The feeling is still green though, lightly woody (cedar, sandalwood) and softly floral. Into dry down I notice iris more with its starchy inky, perfumed tones. I don't think anything in perfume expresses elegance so much as the combination of leather and iris.

Sillage-wise, I notice when I smell this on others how gentle it is in feel. I think it's the most approachable perhaps of the versions of 19. It's the most obviously feminine, in the sense that its texture is soft, powdery, and as mentioned slightly dewy in feel.

The longevity is quite deceptive, you may feel it's faded, but others can still smell it many hours later - an effect I've often noticed with iris and vetiver.

In summary, this is the softer, more feminine version of No 19 the rose is gorgeous and while it feels elegant and classic, I personally don't think it could be described as 'cold'. 'Proper' might be a way to describe it. In which case, considering that the original was meant to show a hint of daring - 'the up-front Chanel' perhaps it's debatable that this reformulation holds the original character in its entirety!

Chanel No. 19 Parfum
This too has slightly changed in reformulation, again there's more of a floral quality than I remember, but it has the unmistakable No 19 personality - it is slightly haughty and elegant, yet lovely, and into dry-down (thanks to the quality of ingredients) it feels natural. I find that this blends with skin, or lingers on clothes beautifully.

I can't remember if it was No.19 Parfum about which someone said 'this is how Galadriel must smell', but that would be a perfect description! The most obvious opening note to my nose is iris, or orris - which, as it's derived from the bulb of the iris plant, has a starchy quality. (I've described iris in some depth in a previous post Here). Iris tends to feel slightly haunting, or poetic, and there's been a resurgence of this note  in perfumery since around 2008.

Where the EDP is soft and dewy, the Parfum is more lean in feel, more distant perhaps. I sense more vetiver,, lily of the valley and possibly narcissus. In general, the feel is of timeless elegance. Into drydown that lovely perfumed forest quality that I know and love emerges, No 19 reveals its gentle side at this stage; a gentle mossy quality

To summarise (since I've already mentioned elves!) where Arwen might wear the EDP, Galadriel would undoubtedly favour the white and green aesthetic of No. 19 parfum - it conjures up morning light filtering through a canopy of trees, the scent of perfumed wood smoke lingering in the ashes of yesterday's fire, lily of the valley beginning to emerge from the mossy roots of an ancient oak. Peace and silence reign in the forest.

In Part Two, I'll explore the Eau de Toilette and the most recent flanker - No 19. Poudre

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A perfumed walk through Narnia

In last year's Christmas Perfumes blog - A Perfume for Christmas  - I covered many of my favourite Christmasy perfume themes; gourmet or incense themed perfumes, cosy/fiery perfumes, perfumes that remind us of red berries and cinnamon and so on. So I was wondering what I could suggest that might be a bit different this year, then I had it;  a perfumed walk through Narnia!

So without further ado, let's begin our journey with Lucy into the wintery magical land of Narnia..

Winter forest
Lucy's first foray into Narnia is of course into the woods through the wardrobe, and what could be more apt than Enchanted Forest!

Enchanted Forest by the Vagabond Prince
With this title and the Russia - inspired porcelain bottle I already feel like I'm entering a Narnian forest.

Enchanted Forest was released just last year. It's by perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, known for his unique take on perfume compositions.

At first sniff, Enchanted Forest is like Christmas in a bottle - a very uplifting scent of resinous green fir cones and juicy blackcurrant (actually a bit like cassis liqueur). Like most Duchaufour perfumes though, it has complexity, and includes among many notes - rose, pepper and civet, creating an abstract, rich backdrop to the fresh intensity of fir-tree and blackcurrant.
Into drydown, a warm, slightly dusty (not mouldy) patchouli mingles with resinous pine needles, evoking forest floor and a grounded feeling, more unisex than the slightly sweet berry/green opening...

...and is that a touch of animal in the dry down, or is it the the scent of approaching faun?

The Afternoon of a Faun by Etat Libre d'Orange
How literal can it get? Except fauns aren't real (or so we like to think). This perfume does actually smell quite goaty or faun-like into dry-down.

It has slightly singed notes of wood resin, there's a wisp of sweet rose in there, mingling with immortelle (spicy/warm maple syrup like scent) a nostalgic inky iris and cosy benzoin. But I definitely get goaty musk from this. It reminds me of Labdanum (resin from the rock rose plant) which can often smell like horse hair - quite earthy.

I envisage herbs, flowers and the remains of a bonfire, trampled into the damp earth by the cloven hooves of a dancing faun who's danced all night, then awoke at dawn with the scent of  musky sweat and fire-smoke clinging to his goaty/hairy body!

Not for everyone, and definitely more masculine than feminine to my nose, I love the creativity of this perfume.

Ah, I hear sleigh bells and sense a hint of evil in the air, it must be the White Witch with her dangerously tasty Turkish Delight...

Rose Otto Lotion by Dr Organic
This is the first time I've recommended a lotion rather than perfume, but Rose Otto Lotion by Dr Organic is as close as it gets to a Turkish Delight rose for me, it's very authentic and surprisingly long-lasting as a perfume. Rose Otto is made from the Bulgarian rose - and has a rich, sweet rose-scent rather than a lemony tea rose scent. I often use this as a base for other perfumes, especially those with smoky notes as there's something very classic about smoky sweet rose notes, to my nose.

Alternatively you might want to try  Keiko Mecheiri's Loukoum or Montale's Sweet Oriental Dream, but in my experience these smell more like almonds than rose-scented Turkish Delight

I doubt the White Witch would smell of sweet roses though, I'd imagine her scent as dark and dangerous, which to me conjures up -

Portrait of a Lady by Frederic Malle, an earthy patchouli/intense rose perfume with notes of dry incense. It's definitely a wild and slightly Gothic perfume, beautiful, but not necessarily comfortable. I tend to wear it on only the most dramatic occasions, and as it's so intense I've never needed to buy more than a 5ml roller ball decant, findable on the Perfumed (see links to right).

As the White Witch sends the enchanted Edmund on his way, it's almost time for Mr and Mrs Beaver to make their appearance..

Winter Woods by Sonoma Scent Studio
Sonoma Scent Studio is an independent one-woman perfumery, run by Laurie Erikson. With Winter Woods Laurie was inspired by the woodlands of the Sonoma Valley near California. 

She uses predominantly natural absolutes in her perfumes, so Winter Woods is a bouquet of beautifully natural oak, cedar and birch with wood resins and tangy green vetiver. What brings beavers to mind is the note of castoerum, a musky note that smells slightly urinous but in small amounts adds a furry warmth to perfumes. 

I definitely notice it in Winter Woods, but where it can be sickly in another perfume composition, here it lends animal warmth to a perfume that smells very outdoorsy and grounded. This is definitely the scent of the Beaversdam abode (minus the fish)!

But do I hear Sleigh bells again? Someone's hear to see you, but this time it's St Nicolas! Father Christmas, or Santa if you like..

He would probably smell a bit sooty and smoky, possibly slightly boozy too, so I'm going to go for another Sonoma Scent Studio creation -

Fireside Intense 
This is definitely the intense version of SSS's Fireside. You can take your pick from warm, cosy and smoky, or charcoal grilled and flamb├ęd in whisky! Fireside Intense has notes of birch tar (a leathery scent slightly reminscent of coaltar), whisky and sandalwood. There's something very cosy about it, but it takes a while to dry down into its more mellow, slightly buttery heart notes. It's probably perceived as more masculine than feminine, but I find it a comfort scent in cold weather.

Prepare yourself...the velvety paws of Aslan approach..

Let Me Play the Lion by Les Nez
Let Me Play the Lion is a tawny, warm perfume by Isabelle Doyen who's usually the in-house perfumer for niche French company Annick Goutal.
She has a wonderful way with resinous and woody notes and Let Me Play the Lion has a characteristically natural feel -

warmly spicy and resinous, with a touch of immortelle that turns slightly burnt-caramel-like into the heart notes. This is more medicinal - slightly more challenging than her usual style. (he's not a tame lion after all).

I'm tempted to skip the dark and tragic scene where Aslan is sacrificed by the shadier characters in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but we must face the darkness before light, and in fact the air of primeval ritual might be conjured up by Parfum Sacre Intense!

Parfum Sacre Intense by Caron
This is, as the name suggests, the more intense version of Parfum Sacre. Where the original's spicy nutmeg, myrrh and peppery opening becomes a gently salty sweet incense/rose, the intense version ramps up the rose, incense and pepper more at first, but then actuually becomes more gentle, even sweet into dry-down..

Heralding the dawn (and probably the most obviously Christian scene of the Narnia Chronicles) is the scene where Aslan is reborn..

Whether religious or not, an uplifting perfume that reminds us of sunrise can't be a bad thing, and to me that light touch is captured by Baiser Vole..

Baiser Vole by Cartier 
I've reviewed this several times, so suffice to say it's a fresh, dewy perfume which combines a peppery green lily with subtle vanilla that gives it a floaty, silky quality. 

The opening notes are almost clean and shampoo-like, but as it dries down it becomes more comfortable, and it's surprisingly lasting. I always feel uplifted by this perfume and although I associate it more with spring, I see no reason not to wear it on a crisp sunny winter's morning in the snow.

And as a reference to the swiftly concluded battle scene, as we approach the end of our perfumed journey...

La Vierge De Fer by Serge Lutens
Continuing with lily white floral theme,  in this perfume there's a subtle hint of sharpness with the addition of a slightly metallic lemony frankincense. This Lutens creation was inspired by the story of the Maid of Orleans, or Joan of Arc. The overall sense is of steely, yet delicate purity, like a cystal-clear drop from Lucy's healing elixir.

Lastly we have the happy scenes at Cair Paravel (not long before Lucy, Peter, Susan and Edmund return to Professor Kirk's house and WW2) so let's leave them in their seaside castle, celebrating and dining sumptuously with Mr Tumnus and the Beavers. 

Their feast might include dates, spices and citrus sherbets from exotic lands, or delicious vanilla-scented puddings, conjured up by scents such as Cimabue by DSH Perfumes - a comforting saffron, citrus, lightly spicy, vanilla perfume, or, since this is their coronation ceremony, the noble Santal Majuscule by Serge Lutens - a delicious concoction of chocolate and rose-scented relaxing into soft golden cushions...
Wishing you all fragrant Christmas holidays!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Serge Lutens Part Two

If the perfume as product were the end goal, it would be of no interest to me. When perfume is not a vehicle for the things that I hold dear to my heart, to my heart and soul, then it might as well be a salad dressing (especially since I do not even eat any!). 
(from an interview with Serge Lutens at Kafkaesque

In yesterday's blog I introduced Serge Lutens, and briefly explored woody and oriental perfumes. So, as promised, today's post will explore the florals, incense-related perfumes and some of Luten's more eccentric offerings...


In aromatherapy, floral absolutes or essences are sometimes referred to as 'euphorics', i.e. uplifting, encouraging a happier, or even transcendent state of mind. As it happens, my sister practices aromatherapy as part of her work as a therapist, so there have always been essential oils around for me to test and try.

There's nothing quite like natural vetiver with its smoky green earthiness to relax frayed nerves - it would be my first choice as a bath oil if I had a scary situation to face the next day. Florals have an entirely different impact though, it's true that rose absolute has a soothing, balancing quality, though uplifting at the same time, in contrast jasmine absolute's full animalic sensuality can be both uplifting and aphrodisiac, or confidence-boosting in effect. It's rarely given its full-on animalic personality in contemporary perfumery mind you, and there's quite a difference between Sambac and Grandiflora jasmine.

For example, if you try perfume classics such as Patou's Joy you might be aware of a urinal scent (most likely Grandiflora), then on the other hand Dior's Diorama veers more towards fecal (Sambac). In contemporary perfume though, these animalic aspects are often isolated, tempered with other notes or removed altogether to focus on jasmine's greener 'prettier' qualities.

One of the most renowned jasmine perfumes among perfume lovers is Luten's A la Nuit. While I know that this contains a blend of at least three jasmine absolutes, I'm only guessing that it's most likely Sambac jasmine, since it doesn't have the urinal aspect of Grandiflora (which I'm personally not keen on).

To describe Sambac as 'fecal' is not as alarming in perfumery as some might imagine. It really depends on its companions, and in A la Nuit, Sheldrake (Luten's in-house perfumer) has blended jasmine with grenadine (fruity), clove, benzoin (cosy/warm wood resin) and a clean musk (some musks are simply there to add longevity and have an almost soapy scent).

On first spray it's quite intense, with a camphorous, ripe banana fruitiness that feels quite powerful and almost reminds me of acetone, but within ten minutes it settles into a heady, uplifting authentic jasmine blossom effect that reminds me of the scent of jasmine bushes in the evening, somewhere warm, probably not the UK!

It's almost simplistic in its pure jasminey-ness, so it's not one of those abstract super-elegant French style perfumes which lend an aura of refinement. A la Nuit's effect is more like a blast of pure, unadulterated summer. It's definitely uplifting, if you like jasmine (one perfume reviewer described it as 'death by jasmine').

In this sense it's a classic Lutens floral - with a 3D personality, very authentic. Whatever your thoughts on jasmine, there's no doubting the quality.

Others prefer Luten's more abstract, arguably more refined take on jasmine - Sarrassins - it's a far more complex perfume with aspects of leather, developing into a more abstract, gentle floral blend into its heart notes.

Luten's Fleurs d'Oranger is an equally characterful take on orange blossom, though tuberose and jasmine play supporting roles.

Orange blossom absolute is mildly animalic, slightly milky in feel, very rounded and with a subdued soapy orange citric scent.

It's often confused with neroli which is also part of the orange tree flower but neroli is a distillation rather than an extraction (making it more citric in feel, hence its popularity in summer eau de cologne).

The addition of tuberose and jasmine pads out orange blossom here for a far more floral effect - in fact more like actual orange-blossom flowers before extraction (extraction processes don't usually retain the character of the real flower, which requires skill and blending by the perfumer). Tuberose in particular always has a 'fleshy' 3D oily/waxy petal effect (when it's strong, as it is in Piguet's Fracas, it reminds me slightly of petrol). In Fleurs d'Oranger there's also a fairly subtle note of cumin. Some find it quite distinct, but to me it just adds a subtle, spicy edge to what might otherwise be a typically pretty floral perfume. There's also nutmeg, citruses and hibiscus, but in general the effect is a floral statement so orange-blossom-esque that you can almost imagine it leaves a visible trail of sunny yellow behind you! It's definitely pretty, and very feminine, but not delicate, or indeed too 'clean, although into dry-down it becomes more mellow.

When it comes to roses, Lutens offers a choice between the classic powerfully lemony-fresh tea rose of Sa Majeste la Rose, the softly earthy beeswaxy Rose de Nuit and the velvety opulent La Fille de Berlin

Wearing La Fille de Berlin feels like cloaking yourself in deep crimson velvet, I find it somehow medieval in feel, like a damask-draped bed chamber

It's a rich fruity rose, with touches of violet and freshly crushed pepper, and a lingering note in the long dry down that reminds me of sweet wood ash - the powdery white remains of a wood fire, which all adds to the idea of an Elizabethan lady's chamber.

To quote Luten's text which accompanied its launch in 2013; A flower grown under the ruins, cut off from the world, it appears before your eyes; to all of us to open our eyes. I'm not sure whether Luten's story or the concepts behind La Fille de Berlin - the spirit of female survival in a war-torn city - influence how the scent is perceived, but I do think this is one of the most beautiful rose scents I've experienced. Perhaps it says something about the survival of love amidst cruelty - roses are romantic symbols after all, but the spicy pepper and nostalgic violet steer this away from innocent, pretty ideas of love and say more about roses aflame!

Other Lutens florals of note are Tubereuse Criminelle in which Lutens heavily enhances tuberose's menthol/camphorous heady aspects before the perfume settles into a classic fleshy tuberose with spicy hints, Nuit de Cellophane - a burst of soapy, heady, peachy florals which is perhaps more conventional in feel than his other florals and Un Lys - Luten's version of lily. Lily (and also lily of the valley) is a synthetic note in perfumery since it's very difficult to extract enough absolute or distillate from real lilies, so perfumer's interpretations vary quite widely. Lily of the valley tends to smell quite soapy (not least because the synthetic has been used so often in soap and cleaning products!) whereas lily tends to be slightly creamier/spicier in feel. I quite enjoy lily perfumes (read my previous post on lily perfumes Here if you like) and don't find this Lutens version to be among my favourites Again, it's slightly conventional - clean and pretty.

Photograph, Serge Lutens

Being the experimental artist that he is (Lutens was a famous photographer for Vogue in the 80s, also a dancer) Lutens can't be expected to remain within the realms of perfumery convention!

Even when they're not particularly palatable to me, I love the fact that Serge Luten's perfumes experiment with the unsettling, even ugly aspects and effects of perfume.

I mentioned l'Orpheline in part one of this Lutens blog, and I really can't think of a better description than that offered by a commenter on another website: 'malfunctioning android accord' - genius! It has a weird woody musk, combined with a strange electrified incense which does recall faulty electrics. With this perfume Lutens wanted to say something about detachment, reaching for intimacy but being denied. I seem to remember text which mentioned his childhood, and its lasting legacy; being halfway to the moon. Very poignant. If this is Luten's take on childhood abandonment, I'd like to offer him a warm blanket and a mug of cocoa if I ever get to meet him, though no doubt he'd shun such facile comforts!

Bas de Soie -  meaning 'silk stockings' - a strange floral woody perfume with overtones of hyacinth redolent of bathroom air fresheners, lent an extremely odd sulphuric quality which reminds me of the eggy aroma that remains on a plate that's seen scrambled eggs. I'm very mildly allergic to egg, so it might just be me that gets egg, rather than silk stockings, from Bas de Soie

Fille en Aiguilles - (Daughter of needles) Begins with the scent of unlit incense then grows increasingly cosy, until it's as if you're wearing the powdery ash of natural pinewood.

La Vierge De Fer - inspired by Joan of Arc, this is a shining metallic incense/lily evoking Joan of Arc on the battlefield in her shining armour with lily representing the purity of her faith, and incense her religion, or possibly...the pyre? To quote Luten's accompanying text;  She will give birth to our most beautiful monsters. That is how, a little rusty by dint of doubts, my steps have rejoined La vierge de fer (the Iron Maiden); that lily amongst the thorns.

Iris Silver Mist is Lutens in poetic Goth mode, since iris (or orris root as it's called in perfumery) is ultra-enhanced here and its earthy/inky/starch aroma is perceived as somewhat sad, nostalgic or even funereal for some, but for others almost comfortingly rooty - it reminds me of roast parsnips and carrot juice - natural and earthy, I don't find it haunting as some people do.
Last but not least, Lutens range also extends to 'comfort or gourmand scents' - perfumes which relax and soothe the nerves or, if they're 'gourmand' give a comforting feeling, reminding us of being in the kitchen or feeling nourished. A few of the best known being Chergui -a tobacco/hay accord which feels cosy and slightly traditional, like a fedora-wearing 1950s dad, and Jeux de Peau a blend of sunny apricot, wheat and milk combined to wholesome effect, Five O'clock Gigembre - warming gingerbread, and Rahat Loukoume - Turkish Delight with almond/cherry aroma.

I've left out many, many other perfumes, and as mentioned this is intended more as a whistle-stop tour of Lutens most well-known perfumes. If you're intrigued though, and want to explore further, many other bloggers have written about or interviewed Serge Lutens. I recommend the following...

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Serge Lutens

 It is the memory, forgiveness and like this, what we have today, it was able to survive: From the dust. It is not only in the feminine but it also has no plural. It is the wake of my life, that which remains when all has disappeared. It is the invisible which, veil after veil, there where it is forgotten, fades into grey.

If you're struggling to make sense of that quote, don't worry - you're not obtuse, it's just Serge Lutens in characteristically obscure French form, describing the inspiration of his latest perfume creation - L'Orpheline.

Where others might reject a difficult past, or allow it to dominate life to their detriment, Lutens has made inner conflict his creative life's work; he seems to embrace every facet of loss or abandonment, expressing his ideas with dark poetic imagery inspired by his childhood years, which were scarred by war and the loss of his mother at an early age. He claims himself that many of his 70 (and growing) perfume creations are a sort of ode to this personal narrative. Each perfume is launched with a short story, or semi poetic prose, which unearths yet another layer of his conflicted psyche.

'Unearths' is a deliberate choice of word since there's something slightly dark about Lutens with his swept back hair, pale visage and preference for dark velvet lounge jackets - if he auditioned for the part of Dracula he'd pass with flying colours. On the other hand, people have described him with adjectives such as 'endearing', 'vulnerable' and 'sensitive' - he's even referred to by perfume bloggers and industry insiders as 'Uncle Serge'!

Where some may find his semi abstract, intense outpourings pretentious or obscure, others feel that this adds to the mystique of his perfumes. Still others might feel that all this intensity sits strangely with a luxury item such as perfume - surely intended as one of life's simple pleasures.

Whatever your perception, if you're interested in perfume, you're probably interested in Serge Lutens, because many of his perfumes are truly lovely, some ground-breaking, others uncomfortable, or surprising - they range from rich velvety orientals and charmingly strident florals, to thin, screechy or metallic offerings, one of which - L'Orpheline (The orphan) I've heard a blogger describe as 'malfunctioning android accord'.

I haven't tried all of his perfumes, and I'm just an appreciator, not an expert so all I can offer is an introduction for those who've not explored these perfumes - a whistle-stop tour, and my impressions which I hope will be of interest to those who have explored Serge Lutens perfumes.

It's not Lutens himself who composes the perfumes, but rather the perfume creator Christopher Sheldrake. Lutens is more artistic director of the process, and it's true to say that Sheldrake's perfumes are quite different 'animals' outside of the Lutens influence.

With around 45 perfumes to choose from (those I'm familiar with from testing, sampling or owning), I've decided to create a two part blog and I've separated perfumes into loose categories - 'floral' 'woody' and so on. So without further ado, let me begin with the most loved..
(Part 2, florals and oddities, can be viewed Here)


Feminite du Bois

Lutens and Sheldrake became famous with this woody/fruity perfume, which was unusual for the fact that its dominant note was cedar - not usually associated with female perfumes - hence the name; 'the femininity of wood'.
This was first launched in the 90s for Japanese company Shiseido, then re-lanched as part of Lutens new perfume company based in Paris, around 2009.

I've already devoted an article to it, which you can read here
But to briefly describe Feminite du Bois, the keywords I'd use are grounded, autumnal and natural. It's not a cocktail hour/swish dress sort of perfume -  its nutty, rich, plummy/spiciness seems more ideally suited to an Autumn walk snuggled up in wool. It's a sensual perfume (cinnamon, plum and cedar combined are slightly 'sweaty' in effect) which is why, though I'd describe it as having a sort of natural elegance, it wouldn't be my choice for very formal events, but that all depends on style and personal choice.

Such was its popularity that the central note of cedar was enhanced to varying effect in several perfumes with wood or 'bois' accords, such as Bois de Violette, Bois et Fruits, Bois et Musc and Bois Oriental. The titles are self evident, but of this group Feminite du Bois and Bois de Violette would seem to be the most popular. My personal favourite is Bois et Fruits which focuses on a slightly warmer, softer spicy/woody/fruity accord - arguably easier to wear since Feminite du Bois has an almost wood workshop intensity (think of the scent of newly sharpened pencils and the scent when you first uncork a bottle of Shiraz).

Other woody accord perfumes by Lutens/Sheldrake are Chene (Oak) and Cedre. Chene's woodiness is tempered with an accord of sweet, spicy rum - perhaps more cosy though also (arguably) more masculine, Cedre's woodiness is considerably altered with tuberose, more of an oriental (warm/spicy/amber) floral with background woody notes.

Luten's orientals express a variety of ideas of the Middle and Far East, sometimes the 'real thing' - a literal olfactory translation of a Moroccan bazaar with the pungent scent of spices, leather and dates, for example, or romantic translations of the Middle or Far East - a Westerner's imaginary take on the exotic. He also lives part of his time in Morocco, so it follows that immersion in Moroccan culture would lead to inspiration.

Where some perfumers toy with the idea of exotic spices, Lutens is characteristically full on. These perfumes do more than hint at Middle Eastern perfumery, they often ladle on actual, literal everyday scents of the Middle and Far East in a style that some find heavy, and others beautifully authentic. Lutens orientals would rarely be described as delicate

Perhaps the most known or infamous example is the humorously named Muscs Koublai Khan - the title of which immediately evokes ideas of warrior horsemen traversing the windswept plains of Mongolia, as does the perfume.
Transport yourself back to the Middle Ages in Mongolia, imagine the scent of someone who's traveled for many weeks on horseback, the scent of leather, spices, the sweat of tired horse and tired self - and there you have Muscs Koublai Khan - a love or hate sort of perfume, for obvious reasons!

The oft used term 'animalic' describes perfumes which have facets of urine, sweat, faeces or earthy notes inspired by soil for example (originally perfumes literally contained animalic notes, extracted from, for example the civet cat or musk deer, until animal rights concerns ensured these were banned).

Nowadays these notes are synthetic, partly they exist because they add longevity to perfume. For some, such notes are sexy, for others they have the opposite effect sought from perfume - whether or not you like MKK will depend very much on whether you like to feel elegantly refreshed by perfume, or to have your inner animal enhanced.

Speaking personally, I mostly get horse-sweat from this perfume, and the underlying authentic rose absolute lends an almost soapy quality, as rose in perfume often does. Similar to the equally 'barnyard' L'Air de Rien by Miller Harris, I find this oddly comforting, but not necessarily easy to wear. (I worked in horse stables as a girl so the scent of hay makes me feel nostalgic).

In contrast, there's the cosy, slightly sticky sweetness of Santal Majuscule; definitely one of my favourite Lutens. The listed note include rose, sandalwood and cacao, but I also get something a bit similar to maple syrup - a sort of balsamic smoky sweetness that's balanced by a milky/sour/nutty sandalwood and opulent rose. (By opulent I mean that this particular rose is more a damask, velvety rose, than a lemony tea rose).

It's a wonderful perfume for frayed nerves, and it's a crowd-pleaser - very relaxing, grounding and just pretty enough to be a good unisex perfume.

Other Lutens orientals include Arabie - a richly fruity, spiced sweet-date scent, which definitely conjures up Middle Eastern market places - it's a lovely scent, authentic and rich, but personally I'd associate it more with room fragrance than skin perfume.

Cuir Mauresque- leather imbued with the scent of spices, strikes me as ahead of its time (it was created in the mid 90s). Leather perfumes have become more popular as have spicy perfumes, notably Dior have quite recently created an exclusive (i.e. expensive, difficult to find) range a few of which explore this theme.

Others of note - El Attarine (a sticky honey/spicy scent) and Fumerie Turque probably worn more by men since it smells of spiced tobacco, a lovely scent, but not all women would want to smell like this.

I have a lovely cigarette case embossed with butterflies in which I keep a few self-rolled cigarettes with liquorice paper for when I'm going out (I know, it's a shocking habit) and sometimes I store whole spices in it, it's quite a nostalgic scent, very different from manufactured cigarettes.

Ambre Sultan is Lutens take on amber, all perfume houses have a take on amber (usually wood resins, sweetened with vanilla).  Amber perfume oil has been available in Indian shops for as long as I can remember, it's characterised by a woody warm, tingly scent that conjures up the gemstone itself - golden tawny in feel. Lutens take on amber is balanced by herbal or balsamic notes, less sweet, more unisex in feel - it's another of Lutens most popular perfumes, satisfying for those who feel disappointed with somewhat prettified amber scents such as Balmain's Ambre Gris

In tomorrow's post I'll explore Lutens extraordinary 3-D florals, some are breathtakingly lovely, using several floral absolutes, others are just, well, breathtaking! I'll also describe some of the more unusual offerings, such as the aforementioned L'Orpheline, also Fille en Aguilles and La Vierge de Fer.

Lastly apologies for the recent absence (I haven't posted here for over a month!) this is largely due to the Scottish Referendum which practically eclipsed all other activities - but it's good to have my nose back in perfume bottles again.

Here's Lutens in casual-attire, relaxing in Morocco...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Lily Perfumes

A sea of lilies in the film of C.S. Lewis's Voyage of the Dawn Treader

At this time of year lily perfumes seem to blossom in the warmer weather, becoming creamier in tone, yet they can have an appealing green/peppery note too.

A common misconception around lily is that it's similar to lily of the valley (muguet), but though often combined these two are quite different florals.

One thing they do have in common, in perfumery at least, is that both are created in a lab through 'headspace' technology, or the process of chemically analysing the air above a flower. Famously, Edmond Roudnitska was the first to analyse the notes of lily of the valley in his exuberant spring floral Diorissimo.

Apparently both lily and lily of the valley don't yield enough perfume in extract to enable a commercially viable absolute or distillate (those with knowledge of chemistry could elaborate on why). You'd probably have to sacrifice acres of lily to yield a small amount of extract But as with all the best perfumes, aroma chemicals or synthetics add to the complexity, radiance and longevity of perfume.

To me, lily has a more 'sunny' feel, more sensual, waxy, usually slightly sweeter and in some interpretations there's something similar to vegetation about to 'turn' - a note of decay. Just think about a vase of madonna or stargazer lilies and you know what I mean. They also have what many perfumers have called a 'briny' or 'meaty' note. Lilies in their unfurling stage though, have green, peppery qualities - a smell you might associate with a high-end florists; crisp, fern-like and slightly spicy (I always think ferns in nature smell peppery).

Although lilies have sunny qualities, they also have funereal associations because of the fact they're used to adorn wreaths and coffins, which in turn means that they have spiritual  associations and therefore, for some, they represent purity.

Lily of the valley, in contrast, is brighter, cleaner, and in nature is far less heady than the lily with its more exuberant and waxy tones.

Lily in perfume varies quite widely and it can often become an abstract idea in the hands of a perfumer. Probably your favourite style will depend on associations and the aspects of lily that you enjoy (the following is by no means a comprehensive list, but they represent a few popular, iconic or interesting takes on lily)...

Crisp, spicy lilies
Baiser Vole by Cartier
Composed by perfumer Mathilde Laurent for Cartier, the brief for Baiser Vole was to create a popular, yet unique perfume to appeal to mainstream buyers. Laurent has composed some very high-end perfumes, so although Cartier wanted a crowd pleaser it seems they sought high quality too.

I must confess that when deciding to buy this I was partly seduced by the bottle (inspired by the design of Cartier's flip-top silver lighter). I'm impressed that this perfume is affordable (in sizes of 5ml miniature also 15, 30, 50 and 100mls to suit your budget) yet combines this availability with a bottle that's sheer pleasure to behold and use. But enough of my havering about design and cost! What's the actual perfume like?

Essentially Baiser Vole is a green floral and has a peppery tang that's reminiscent of that catch-in-the-throat spicy greenness of freshly opened lily and it does in fact remind me of a florist's too

I first tried it at a perfume and poetry event held in a palm house in Edinburgh's Botanic Garden . There was a particular aroma that tantalized my nose, and when I investigated the perfumes on display I discovered it was Baiser Vole. When I bought it later, I was prepared to find my perception of peppery greenness and airy lily was affected by the scent of greenhouse from the Botanics event, but it was green and peppery exactly as remembered! The opening notes feel rather clean, but settle quite quickly.

Laurent has created a beautiful and, I think, unique accord of airy lily, pepper, green notes and the tiniest hint of vanilla. Elena Vosnaki at Perfume Shrine describes it as 'meringue' like and that's about right.

Elegant, slightly quirky and contemporary,  it also makes me think of Scandinavian houses and experimental salads! Great quality in every way.

Anais Anais by Cacharel
An icon of lily perfumes, popular to this day though it was first introduced in the 70s.

As an arty teenager I gravitated toward the more unusual or enigmatic perfumes. But in recent years I've taken the occasional sniff of Anais Anais when in perfume departments and was surprised at the rush of nostalgia! It's a beautifully composed perfume with main notes of lily, hyacinth, lily of the valley, with a complex floral accord, a tiny touch of leather and oakmoss.

Anais Anais is now very affordable and widely available as it's still a best seller

Un Lys by Serge Lutens
This appears to have a touch of lily of the valley or lilac alongside lily and musk, lending it a slightly crisp tone, or perhaps fresh is more accurate. Again a green floral, yet quite soft in feel. Very popular amongst lily fans for its authentic lily feel, this is however a more 'clean' take on lily - transparent and, though lasting, delicate in feel.

Lys Mediterranee by Frederic Malle
This is on the cusp of 'crisp', especially in top notes, but it quickly develops on skin into a very creamy (not buttery!) textured lily. It feels elegant, thanks in part to its tingling aspect of ginger - again this is a lily paired with a spicy note to enhance lily's naturally peppery factor.

But perfumer Edouard Flechier has added an unusual marine note - a salty quality that's extremely subtle but lends this glowing white perfume an airy quality, like lily scent on a breeze

Sunny lilies

Gold by Donna Karan
This is unusual for its golden and warm amber notes alongside lily, which for me creates an odd juxtaposition of grounded and ethereal at the same time. At other times I associate it with a tropical or beachy feel - a creamy or even oily texture that recalls sun tan lotion.

It conjures up a sun-tanned relaxed feel - warm skin and soap. I bought it during my lily quest, but gifted it to my sister who suits this golden style far more than I do (she has abundant reddish gold hair!).

Excellent value and usually findable on Ebay

Lys Soleia by Guerlain
Reviewed in my previous post on summer florals - the appropriately named Lys Soleia is perfect for carefree summer parties - a perfume that seems to let its hair down, it has a fun loving feel to it, yet it's beautifully composed. Where Karan's Gold feels creamy and sun tan-oil-like, Lys Soleia is 'buttery'. I don't mean rancid butter mind you, more a sort of cream cake feel, and this is combined with one of my favourite citrus notes, Amalfi Lemon, a proper juicy Mediteranean lemon. There's a very subtle astringent green note, probably palm leaf (listed in ingredients) and a dry down of slightly gourmand buttery vanilla/lily

One of the sunniest takes on lily in perfumery; it always seems to be smiling, like a slightly ditzy 'it' girl at an exotic beach party who never seems to touch down to earth. Not really 'me' again, but it is pretty!

Unusual lilies

La Vierge De Fer
'The iron maiden'! Refering not to the heavy rock band but rather Luten's vision of 
Joan of Arc - faith, courage and purity in shining armour. I love the fact that Lutens seeks more than a  'pretty' or 'sexy' crowd pleaser, but is it wearable?

It does have a metallic note (listed in its ingredients) but it's hard to tell how that translates without testing. There are some metallic notes in perfumery I find repugnant, but thankfully this is more about a luminous quality - the sun glinting on armour, than a taste of iron from the battlefield itself! It reminds me faintly of frankincense resin

La Vierge de Fer is mostly about the idea of a light glowing lily, and in that sense this is recognisably a very lily scent - waxy, fresh and in this version slightly cool and light, no butter, suntan oil or cream in the sunny or tropical lily sense, it's definitely not grounded in the senses. So in a way it's polite, elegant even, but the idea is of an ethereal transience. Although snowdrops have no scent, this seems to suggest the fragility and tenacity of these wild flowers. Very poetic

Passage d'Enfer by L'Artisan 
I reviewed this in an earlier post about perfumer Olivia Giacobetti (scroll down to review) but in brief this is the idea of lily and incense. Despite the name this feels light and summery, the incense is, again, frankincense-like in feel, but it's also woody, reminding me of sun-warmed antique furniture. In a sense it has something in common with Chanel's No 22 (white floral/incense) but Passage d'Enfer is more relaxed and soft, less spiritual in tone perhaps

The lily here adds a subtle, fresh and airy counterpoint to wood and incense.

Lys Fume by Tom Ford
A quick mention of Lys Fume as it's not strictly speaking a classic lily. There's quite an amalgam of notes in
this - lots of spice, nutmeg and ylang. Many people have mentioned notes of plastic and bubblegum and though that sounds a bit nasty it's actually a likeable effect. I associate those notes with some aspects of jasmine and ylang. Like all Tom Ford perfumes this feels designed to be noticed - a big night out lily!

And lastly on a similar trajectory of BIG lilies, Le Labo's Lys 41 combines tuberose with lily, and to be honest, since I'm a bit tuberose-sensitive, this cancels out the lily for me! But if the thought of one of Georgia O'Keefe's enormous flowers leaping from the canvas into real life and filling the room with ferociously floral fumes appeals (I quite like the idea of that in principal) this is for you!