Perfume for Uncertain Times

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I am not sure if there are ever “Certain Times” but I am surely acquainted with “Uncertain Times”. One of the things that happens to everyone is that in those moments of uncertainty we look to create certainty in the things which give us pleasure. For me the last few months have had a high amount of variability. Many of the relationships in my life are changing; for better for worse it is too early to know. All that I know is that there are more question marks then there have been for a while.

As I said this is when that which gives me pleasure is meant to be balm for the turbulence. That has seemingly changed too. In the past, I’ve managed to use my love of games, literature, or music to pick me up. This time those aren’t working as well as they have previously. What has been doing the trick has been perfume.

I’ve never really relied on perfume for this kind of comfort before. Yes, there are snuggly comfort scents which are similar to a fuzzy blanket but that is just feeling warm not necessarily less stressed. What allowed me to let perfume to soothe my soul was a classic aromatherapy formula for relaxation, lavender.

I had been having trouble sleeping waking up after three or four hours and staying awake until dawn. As part of a project I was spending an evening with Guerlain Jicky. When I say spending an evening I mean anointed with many sprays looking for nuance by overdosing myself with it. Like the idea of virtual reality I was inside an invisible orb of scent. Poking around with my senses as fascinated with the template of one of the earliest modern perfumes as I would be with a video game. Then covered in Jicky I went to sleep and slept for eight solid hours for the first time in weeks. I awoke refreshed with the remnants of the perfume the first thing I smelled in the morning.

Since that evening, I have been spending more intimate, contemplative time with my favorite perfumes. I have realized that the comfort I am looking for comes from the great perfumes. I’ve spent more time trying to understand the subtler construction techniques that my favorite perfumers use. What I’ve also learned is that everything eventually falls apart. The question is can it be used to build something new? I’m not sure I have that particular answer yet. What I do know is the art of perfumery is providing a place for me to elevate my psyche and calm my furrowed brow. That is as a good a prescription for the present as I can ask for.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things: Lavender

As we head into the days of the year when spring is close enough to hope for but winter still holds sway I turn to perfume for my jolt of the coming warmer weather. Lavender is a quintessential warm weather fragrance. Conjuring up purple fields at the height of summer just prior to harvest. Lavender in perfumery has been around since the very beginning. My favorites are the ones which show off both the sweet floralcy and the herbal nature. Here are five of my favorites.

Guerlain Jicky was one of the first modern perfumes, created in 1889, and lavender provided the focal point. Aime Guerlain would lay down the formula for the fougere that would last the next one hundred or so years. He married lavender with rosemary in the top. The rosemary is the key as it brings out the herbal almost medicinal nature of lavender. It heads to a heart of geranium before settling on a vanilla base characteristic of Guerlain. That you can still buy this, 127 years after it was created, tells you what a classic it is.

In 1934 perfumer Ernest Daltroff would create the template for the masculine lavender in Caron pour Un Homme. The concept of men wearing floral perfumes was a tough sell. M. Daltroff makes it work by taking a large amount of vanilla to go along with the lavender. This one almost entirely hides the non-floral character. A bit of amber and musk butch things up so any man can be caught wearing this.

The last of the traditional lavenders is Caldey Island Lavender by perfumer Hugo Collumbien, released in 1959. This is the version where the herbal character is displayed at the expense of the floral. That is done by using a mix of amber and musk. With no vanilla around to tilt one’s senses towards the sweet this is the most like the smell you get from picking actual lavender and smelling your hands afterward.

encens et lavande

There are two modern interpretations of lavender by two of the best modern perfumers which show how far perfumery has come since Jicky was released.

Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande was released in 1996 composed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake. Opening on a rosemary and juniperberry top accord it is the heart where the name comes to life. Lavender is buttressed by clary sage and an austere silvery frankincense. They provide a chilly effect that carries an icy beauty. A healthy amount of amber thaws things out. Incense and lavender go together like peas and carrots.

Hermes Hermessence Brin de Reglisse is what happens when you take the herbal side of lavender to its fullest effect. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena uses licorice as lavender’s partner. This is one of the most unique lavender perfumes out there because with all of the intensity of these two notes it is the addition of orange blossom and hay which round things out into an opaque masterpiece.

If you have never tried any of these lavenders because you think lavender is boring give it a second look I think these five will change that opinion.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Guerlain 101- Five to Get You Started

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I’ve now reached the point in this series when it is time to take on the Grand Maisons of perfumery. First up is Guerlain. This is going to be difficult because these are iconic brands with well-known best sellers. I’ve been wrestling with my thought process on how to pick five from a perfume brand which spans nearly a century. Shalimar and Mitsouko have been the standard bearers for Guerlain ever since their debut. The more I think of those particular perfumes they aren’t where I would send someone to start. Here are the five Guerlain releases I think provide the best introduction to the line.

We start with the very first release from Guerlain, Jicky. Created in 1889 by Aime Guerlain it is one of the seminal perfumes of the modern perfume era. M. Guerlain elaborated on the embryonic fougere architecture by expanding the florals in the heart. The base also is a bit of a nod to the future as Jacques Guerlain will take this base accord and eventually evolve it into the trademark Guerlinade which is the fingerprint which runs through the brand.

It would be eighty years later when Jean-Paul Guerlain would create a crisp green perfume called Chamade. It is mainly a hyacinth, jasmine and sandalwood construct. M. Guerlain takes these very powerful notes and in the eau de toilette concentration turns them into something which crackles with floral energy without shocking the senses.

GUERLAIN-habit-rouge

Four years prior to Chamade Jean-Paul Guerlain created one of the greatest masculine fragrances of all time, Habit Rouge. It was my first exposure to a very spicy perfume which comes after a brilliantly balanced citrus mélange on top. Cedar, patchouli, amber, vanilla, and leather finish this as fantastically as it started. This is one of those perfumes which never fails to make me feel dressed up even in jeans and a t-shirt.

Just after the turn of the 21st century perfumers who did not carry the surname of Guerlain were asked to create for the brand. In 2006 perfumer Annick Menardo composed one of the most transparent incense perfumes on the market, Bois D’Armenie. Based on Papier D’Armenie which is scented paper burned to add fragrance to a room. Bois D’Armenie sets its incense atop guaiac wood, benzoin, copahu balm. This is so light but at the same time so complex. It is the perfume I use to get people who have a resistance to the brand, because their mother wore one of the perfumes, to give it a try. Like the Mad Hatter this turns many into believers.

If Bois D’Armenie doesn’t pique an interest in Guerlain I pull out my secret weapon, Spiriteuse Double Vanille. Composed by Jean-Paul Guerlain it is a rich boozy vanilla which is like a warm drink on a cold night. It is my ultimate comfort scent. Way too many of my scarves still carry the smell of Spiriteuse Double Vanille.

Guerlain is a Grand Maison and even these five could be followed up by another five or ten or fifteen. The point of this series is to give you a foothold to start your exploration. If you start with these five I promise you will start one of the great perfume experiences there is to be had as you explore Guerlain deeper.

Disclosure: This review based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke