Dead Letter Office: Judith Muller Bat-Sheba- Dead Sea Scrolls

One of the things that so thrilled me when I received my box of perfume rarities from my anonymous benefactor was the opportunity to try things I have only read about. As I was categorizing the samples I found one I had heard of called Bat-Sheba. I was surprised to find the next vial labeled Bat-Sheba, too. At first, I thought my donor had double-packed but then I saw two letters after Bat-Sheba one had “WM” and the other has “EO”. I tried to figure it out on my own, “extrait original?” “woody masculine?” I got one of the words correct, but I had to get some clarification. Turns out the letters stood for “Woody Modern” and “Exotic Oriental”. This would begin a kind of perfume informational archaeology to try and learn all I could about Judith Muller Bat-Sheba.

Judith Muller in Paris

Judith Muller was born in Hungary in 1935. After surviving World War 2, her family settled in Israel. She would find herself in Paris learning about perfume in 1962. It brought her into the orbit of perfumer Ernest Shiftan and his young protegee Sophia Grojsman. Ms. Muller wondered if a perfume could be made from Biblical ingredients. They would put their heads together and come up with a prototype perfume called Bat-Sheba. This was seemingly produced in a very small batch and I can’t figure out if it was ever sold anywhere.

Sophia Grojsman

Ms. Muller would return to Israel, in 1965, with designs on being an Israeli luxury brand. A pillar of that desire was going to be Bat-Sheba perfume. In 1968 there would be two releases; Bat-Sheba Woody Modern and Bat-Sheba Exotic Oriental. As far as I can tell Woody Modern is close in formula to the original Bat-Sheba formulation. Exotic Oriental seems likely to have been a different mod on the way to the original. One reason I believe that is both perfumes converge on the same base accord. The trip there is quite different.

Judith Muller

Woody Modern opens incredibly green with galbanum and cardamom. The cardamom is used to take some of the edge off the galbanum. The heart is a gorgeous honeyed rose accord. It is kept on the soft side but there are some green facets also added to continue the top accord. The base is all chypre as sandalwood, vetiver, musk, oakmoss, and patchouli form a classic form of that accord. What is interesting about the way it wears on my skin it is like the vestiges of an ancient version of chypre with a kind of mineralic aspect I can’t identify. This felt like the perfume of the seductress this is named after.

Exotic Oriental goes in a spicy direction in the top accord. Cardamom, cinnamon, clove are all things I detect. Lavender is added to provide a fougere-like feel to the opening. Rose is still the keynote in the heart but this time the spices replace the honey. It accentuates the spicy core of the rose. This results in a less lush heart accord than in Woody Modern. The spices lead seamlessly into the exact same base accord as described for Woody Modern. In the case of Exotic Oriental because of the spices this felt more like a perfume of Biblical ingredients.

Ms. Muller would sell her perfumes from her Haifa, Israel store. Most others discovered it when it was presented as part of the duty-free offerings on El Al flights to and from Tel Aviv. Housed in pretty little ancient amphora-like bottles they became luxurious souvenirs of an Israeli trip in the 1960’s. Those bottles have made them highly sought after by those who collect perfume bottles. It is one reason there is not more of them in perfume lovers’ collections.

Ms. Muller would continue to produce perfume releases until her last collaboration with perfumer Pierre Bourdon. They created Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 in 2005; meant to be a national fragrance of Hungary. She would pass away in 2012.

The reason Bat-Sheba Woody Modern and Exotic Oriental are in the Dead Letter Office is because they are victim of limited distribution. They were ideal perfumes of their time and even experiencing them now I especially think the green honeyed rose of Woody Modern would live up to the second word in its name.

I really enjoyed digging through the scraps of information that existed. I must credit the Cleopatra’s Boudoir blog with having the most extensive information on Ms. Muller and Bat-Sheba, if you’re interested to know more click on the link. At the end I felt like the story of Judith Muller Bat-Sheba was my own version of interpreting perfumed Dead Sea Scrolls.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by a generous reader.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Calvin Klein Eternity- Bridal Lilies

When I make my monthly run through the local discount store fragrance bins I have mixed feelings when I see what I consider to be a great perfume in there. On one hand, it gives that fragrance the chance to be re-discovered by a consumer for whom $20-25 is what they can spend to add a new bottle to their dresser. The flip side is the look how far this once lauded perfume has fallen. From the bright lights of the department store beauty counter to a giant “Bin O’ Perfume”. I must admit that I was surprised to see Calvin Klein Eternity there in the last couple of months.

Calvin Klein Eternity was released in 1988 as the follow-up to their extremely successful launch of Obsession three years earlier. At this time in the 1980’s Calvin Klein was a brand which had attained the highest levels of exposure a designer brand could aspire to. Much of that had come on being provocative in a sexual way, Calvin Klein was the latest examples of the old adage “sex sells”. Which was why when the press release for Eternity came out it used as its inspiration Mr. Klein’s 1986 marriage to Kelly Rector. This was a pivot to the purity of love which by itself was interesting. Ann Gottlieb was responsible for the creative direction and she chose perfumer Sophia Grojsman to work with on Eternity.   

Sophia Grojsman

Mme Grojsman was in the middle of a twelve-year run at the beginning of her career from 1978’s White Linen through to her masterpiece Lancome Tresor in 1990. Eternity falls in the middle of that run temporally as well as aesthetically. There is a cleanliness reminiscent of White Linen and the fully rounded rose of Tresor was just beginning to take shape as she worked the same with muguet for Eternity.

Ann Gottlieb

Eternity opens with a fresh top accord of mandarin and freesia. This is some of the fresher aspects that was so prevalent during this time in fragrance. The lily of the valley comes forth and it rumbles forward with power. This kind of floral intensity will become a hallmark of many of Mme Grojsman’s constructs; Eternity is one of the earliest examples. How she builds the intensity is by also adding in smart supporting ingredients. In this case marigold to amplify the green parts with narcissus doing the same for the white flower aspect of the lily of the valley. It is supported by a sturdy sandalwood foundation as the final piece of Eternity.

Eternity has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

One of the reasons Eternity has probably fallen into the discount bins is that intensity it exudes. At the moment, it doesn’t seem to be congruent with current fragrance trends. In its heyday, Eternity was inspired by marriage which made it a popular wedding day perfume for many brides in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It is a great perfume from a great creative team and for the price it is hard to beat that marriage.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Estee Lauder White Linen- Blinded by Sophia’s Light

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In all of perfumery there are only a handful of perfumes which can be said to be true game-changers. One of the fun things about writing about these masterpieces decades later is it allows me to see with perfect 20/20 hindsight how influential they are. One of these few is Estee Lauder White Linen from 1978.

estee lauder white linen

As I’ve written about before the 1970’s were when women began to buy perfume for themselves. As they began to enter the workplace they still wanted to smell good but they wanted understated. The perfume companies were all looking to find what these working women wanted. One thing was for sure in 1978 few of the Estee Lauder releases like Youth Dew, Azuree, Alliage or Private Collection were going to be seen as office-ready. Estee Lauder probably saw this market segment slipping away and needed something to entice them back. Somewhere along the line Estee Lauder got the bright idea to combine the new class of synthetic musks together. To achieve this they enlisted perfumer Sophia Grojsman.

Again using that perfect hindsight this was an early opportunity for Mme Grojsman to compose in what will become her trademark of big bold blocks of synthetics. White Linen is full of this style as she strives to capture the smell of crisp clean linen freshly ironed.

SOPHIA_GROJSMAN

Sophia Grojsman

Mme Grojsman first employs Hedione and its expansive jasmine-like quality as a cloud on which an assortment of aldehydes can also become fuller. Hedione is an ingredient with all the indoles removed from jasmine essential oil and it is a perfect choice to provide a matrix for the aldehydes to insert themselves into. The heart is a whopping boatload of synthetic musks lead by Galaxolide. Galaxolide had only been used in fabric softeners and soaps up until that point. Mme Grojsman’s choice to use it adds that laundry fresh smell by co-opting the molecule responsible for it. The rest of the musks are used to construct that crisp cotton accord. Every time I get to this point of White Linen I am blinded by the bright white olfactory light Mme Grojsman has created. A base of a couple of synthetic woods and we are done.

White Linen has 20-24 hour longevity and average sillage.

White Linen has been a consistent seller for almost forty years. It’s longevity is testament to the enduring desire for many perfume wearers to want to feel like a freshly laundered cotton sheet. That time has allowed it to find its way to the discount bins where 1oz. can be found for around $25. One other interesting fact is because this is composed almost entirely of synthetics it hasn’t been significantly changed. The dreaded reformulation hasn’t changed things. To find a true masterpiece of perfume for this price it should be hard to pass up.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke