One of the reasons I love perfume is because I am a chemist. I have been fascinated with the structure and scent of the molecules which make up my favorite perfumes. As much as the early years of this century unmasked the perfumers it also revealed the ingredients. As I wanted to know more about fragrance, I definitely wanted to know more about the molecules.
The entry point was through a molecule which is considered one of the most influential in all of perfumery; Iso E Super. I became aware of it through two perfume releases in 2006. The first was Terre D’Hermes. That was a revolutionary men’s perfume where perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena employed an overdose of 55% of it. It would make for one of the best perfumes of this century. There was a kaleidoscopic effect as it moved from dried mineralic earth to austere woody. I remember someone telling me on one of the forums it was due to this chemical called Iso E Super. I started educating myself on it through the scientific literature.
Almost contemporaneously fellow chemist and perfumer Geza Schoen would assist in my study. In the end of 2006 he would release Escentric Molecule 01. It wasn’t an overdose of Iso E Super it was only Iso E Super. Right about the time I was wanting to try and find a way to source some to smell it. Hr. Schoen provided that opportunity to me. It showed that it could be a perfume all its own. It also helped to illustrate the brilliance of M. Ellena now that I knew what had been amplified in Terre D’Hermes.
It made me accelerate my desire for knowledge of the ingredients that make up my favorite perfumes. Over the past years I have had the opportunity to speak with chemists who make new ingredients. I’ve been fascinated with the similarity to my job in drug discovery and their job of fragrance and flavor discovery.
It hasn’t just been the chemistry it has also been other scientific breakthroughs. Things like supercritical fluid extraction where organic material is exposed to extremely cold liquid and then extracted. Giving significantly different scent profiles then the traditional organic solvent thermal ways. The ability to distil small fractions within a greater distillation has led to fractions of well-known ingredients where a particular facet is enhanced. The biological digestion of patchouli to give Akigalawood.
All of this has expanded the palette of my favorite perfumers. It is one of the reasons perfumery remains so vital. An ever-changing roster of new materials allows for new ways to tell scented stories.
As much as I love perfume for the beauty, I am also deeply invested in the science behind it. It all started with Iso E Super.
Part of this challenge is also to think of visual art which is associated with scent. The painting “Fumee d’ambre gris” by artist John Singer Sargent does that.
Living in Boston for 18 years I first learned of Mr. Sargent through the murals that seemed to be all over the area. I was surprised to learn that he wasn’t a New Englander. That even though he was born to American parents he spent most of his life overseas. I first ran into this specific piece of art when I was living in Connecticut. I had a good friend who loved taking day trips to The Clark Art Institute Museum just a short drive north from us. I tagged along one day on his trip to The Clark only to be drawn to this painting.
john Singer Sargent
In the hush of the museum I appreciated the skill of using different shades of white to create most of the effect. I would later learn the technique is to add just a tiny bit of color to create the shading. At the time I first saw this I was just getting into perfume. I was probably wearing either Calvin Klein Obsession for Men or Estee Lauder Metropolis. I didn’t make the connection to the ambergris in the brazier and the scent I was wearing. The next time I would be standing in front of it that was almost all I could think of.
My appreciation of the scent connection came through my association with Editor-in-Chief of CaFleureBon, Michelyn Camen. One thing that blog is known for is her exquisite art direction. On a near daily basis she adds art to the words. She used “Fumee d’ambre gris” as an illustration of an Oriental perfume. Almost thirty years later I looked again with my nose and eyes in concert. I needed to visit it again.
I convinced Mrs. C we should go for a drive one summer day. I suggested visiting The Clark might be a fun time. She agreed and off we went. This time I was drawn more deeply into the subject of the painting over the technique.
I have always enjoyed the etymology of the word perfume. it comes from the Latin phrase “per fumus” which translates to “through smoke”. Here was a depiction of scent through smoke. A literal version of per fumus.
I was also drawn into who is the person in the paining. When I first saw it, I thought this was a nun of some religious order. Upon returning to it I realized this was a woman applying her scent of the day. As she stands above it the swirls of smoking ambergris are captured within her clothing. It is a person who wants to smell different. Which is what all of us who love perfume desire. The idea of standing close by as fragrant smoke envelops me sounds great.
This time I know exactly what perfume I was wearing. It was its acquisition which sent me on this trip because it reminded me of the painting. I had just received a bottle of Amouage Amber Attar. This is one of the treasured attars of the brand I own. It smells like nothing else. Even the liquid clings to the stopper with a noticeable viscosity.
This time I stood in front of this masterpiece fully engaged through sight and scent. Standing at a sensory intersection where life is at its most beautiful.
Instead of reading or binge watching I’ve been spending some of my quarantine time in the perfume vault. One of the things I wanted to do was spend some time with my favorite perfume house, Jean Patou. I learned of Jean Patou early in my internet lurking on the perfume groups. When the nonsensical query of what the best men’s perfume is, I didn’t hear the names I knew. Instead this knowledgeable group asserted it was Patou pour Homme. I would hunt down a bottle soon after. It would begin my adoration of the perfumes as I began to acquire all of them I could. This collection of perfume has probably done more to shape the way I view perfume than any other.
Jean Patou was a fashion designer throughout the 1910’s and 20’s. His clothing was found on many of the women of the Lost Generation. He provided alternatives to the popular flapper style. In the mid-1920’s he branched out into fragrance. Hiring perfumer Henri Almeras they would make fourteen perfumes from 1925-1946.
Over these releases a distinct aesthetic formed. This is where I learned what it meant to have a single perfumer along with a single creative director form a tapestry perfume by perfume. The perfume Patou is known for, Joy, came out right in the middle. It remains one of the great floral perfumes ninety years on.
I came to know the other perfumes of the early Jean Patou when I purchased a still sealed set called Ma Collection. Inside were 12 X 2ml minis of almost all the early Henri Almeras Jean Patou perfumes. I would never get the opportunity to experience an entire collection in this way. As I worked my way through them each one spoke to me. There were subtle variations on a theme as the first three releases gave different carnation-based constructs. I think one of the reasons I adore carnation perfumes is because of Adieu Sagesse, Amour Amour, and Qui Sais-Je?.
Patou would have another period of greatness from 1972-1998 under the creative perfumer Jean Kerleo. The first perfume he did, 1000, would sear my love for another floral ingredient. He placed osmanthus atop a classic chypre base, If Joy was a floral which came out of its era the same was true of 1000.
Patou pour Homme does live up to its reputation as one of the best masculine perfumes ever. For all of that, it is the re-invention of the fougere in Ma Liberte that I think is the masterpiece of the Kerleo years. Adding a fresh floral heart amidst the spices and woods it remains my favorite modern fougere.
As I spent time over the last few weeks, I was struck by how similar M. Almeras and M. Kerleo were at pushing the edges. So many of the perfumes they made for Jean Patou would be the first of their kind. It is why the loss of this great house of perfume is so tragic.
If I had one perfume wish it would be for Jean Patou to be given the chance to be seen again in all of its glory.
One of the things about this challenge is it caused me to think back. To identify the first memory I have associated with scent. Being born in South Florida that memory should be the Florida Water which probably scented my crib. I don’t remember that. It turns out it is tied to another major event in a child’s life, the removal of training wheels from my bicycle.
It probably happened sometime in the mid 1960’s. I had convinced my father that I was ready to have the training wheels taken off my bicycle. I wanted to ride on two wheels like the big kids. It also was a freedom thing. With the wheels on I was confined to traveling only the sidewalk around my block. Once I was on two wheels there was more of the world I could see.
The first task was straying upright on the bike. It took us some time for me to get the hang of keeping my balance. I had a couple of decent scrapes on knees and elbows by the time I could keep myself going. Once that was accomplished, I had to go beyond the single block I had been seeing. I looked up at my father and asked if we could go to my grandmother’s house.
It was only one block over and one block up. It was like traveling to the moon. Undiscovered Country awaited. My dad smiled and said, “Sure, sport”. It was work to pedal my small bike with my child’s legs by the time we were close I was exhausted. The thing which helped was the scent of the gardenias in the yard of Grammy’s house. As we got close it was the smell of those flowers that let me know I was near my destination.
My grandfather had built this house from Florida pine with an understanding of the airflow. There was no air conditioning just a number of windows which could be opened to capture any breeze. It would be given some help by overhead fans lazily spinning in the ceilings. Completely surrounding the house were gardenia bushes. Within the house there were bowls of water with a fresh gardenia bloom floating there gently scenting the air. Gardenias slowly begin to turn brown after they have been removed from the bush. I knew what time of the day it was just by looking at the condition of the blooms in the bowls.
I believe it is one of the reasons I enjoy gardenia in perfume because it has been the alpha scent. Gardenia fragrances have been part of the white flower style of perfume since they became a thing in the first half of the 1900’s. Most of the time they are lush over the top styles. One example I have of that is 1932’s Tuvache Jungle Gardenia. It is a prime example of the gardenia and tuberose pairing which defines the white flower genre of perfume. Gardenia would go out of style because it had become too strongly associated with what has recently been dubbed “old lady perfume”.
The two most recent versions where that concept was modernized are Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia and Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia. Then there are two which capture the raw scent of the soil along with the gardenia; JAR Jarling and Van Cleef & Arpels Gardania Petale.
I am not sure any of those have fully shaken off the undesired sobriquet of perfume for senior citizens. I don’t care because they all find that place where gardenia lives in my memory. A young child venturing out into the world beyond the front door. Destination: the gardenia scented yard of my grandmother.
At last year’s San Diego Comic Con the best thing I heard was there was going to be a new Star Trek series featuring Jean-Luc Picard. Actor Patrick Stewart portrayed the captain of the Enterprise in a wonderfully different way in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Capt. Picard was the antithesis to Capt. Kirk from the original series. Mr. Stewart was given more episodes and movies to add to his Captain. That resulted in a deeper characterization. The new series called Star Trek: Picard picks up the story twenty years after the last movie featuring The Next Generation crew; Star Trek Nemesis.
Along with watching Mr. Stewart play Picard again there was another reason I was excited about this new show. It was when I found out author Michael Chabon was going to be involved. Mr. Chabon’s novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay” is the best book about comic books ever written. I expected he might have some interesting ideas for Star Trek.
The first season extends themes which ran throughout the Next Generation series and movies. Using the android Data’s search to be more human. This was in juxtaposition to whether mechanical beings should be considered part of society or as a tool to be used. The idea was returned to often always taking the high road. Where Star Trek: Picard takes this is what happens when artificial lifeforms commit a terroristic act? Do good intentions disappear when lives are lost? These are the first questions asked which are evolved upon throughout the first season.
When we meet M. Picard he has left Starfleet to run his family winery. Over the first three episodes we learn the circumstances which lead him to life in the vineyard. Something happens which causes him to return to space. The remainder of the season is the resolution of that.
There is a new crew to meet, most of who I enjoyed getting to know. One of the biggest surprises was the return of a character I did not like previously; Seven of Nine. Seven was part of the crew on Star Trek: Voyager. Like so much of that series the character was poorly served by the writing. In Star Trek Picard her character is given more depth in much less screen time. The episode which features her “Stardust City Rag” is one of my favorites of the season.
There are callbacks to characters we have seen before. I thought they found the correct balance of nostalgia and forward motion. By the time two castmates from Next Generation appear in episode 7 it felt natural. Producing another high point in the season.
The only slight quarrel I have is the pace of the plotting over the final three episodes. Where the first three episodes felt like things were moving at impulse power. The final three had plot on warp 10. It took some of the power of important events down a bit because it happened so rapidly.
They slow back down for the final few minutes to hit one final, very important, moment. By the end Picard is on a new ship with a new crew heading to new adventures. I am ready to follow them.
Those who are close to me know I am not one for these “challenges” which spring up on social media. Thankfully, they also know me well enough not to tag me as someone to keep the challenge going. It has been an easy thing to ignore. Until there was a challenge that I did find interesting.
When I was part of the original team at CaFleureBon editor-in-chief Michelyn Camen gave Pierre Benard of OSMOART the opportunity to create a piece for the blog. I did not know M. Benard back in 2010 when his first piece was published. I would become an enthusiastic fan of his ability to tie scent, emotion, and art together in personal ways. Whenever I see there is a new piece from him, I always go right to it. It always provides a unique perspective on scent.
Starting at the end of April, with Ms. Camen, M. Benard challenged each person tagged to “post ten smell, perfumes or posters that infused your life”. Ms. Camen has dutifully tagged people who have tagged people and so on. Some of the best part of my Facebook feed has been seeing what various friends in the social media fragosphere have answered. Some I kind of knew and others were total surprises. None bigger than this time, for the only time, I wanted to play.
Then I remembered I have a blog. I also have only been receiving a trickle of new perfumes to consider for review because of the pandemic. Instead of doing posts about the best perfumes of the decade or something like that. I’m going to spend the next ten days doing the challenge with one post per day. Because I have a blog I can be as wordy, or nerdy, as I like. Join me on Monday for Day 1.
If you enjoy a brand it is almost a certainty, they will discontinue one of your favorites. Jo Malone has a couple of my very favorites which are no longer available. One is 2008’s Sweet Lime & Cedar. The simple juxtaposition of tart citrus and clean woods through a Southeast Asian lens is perfect for summer days. The brand has returned to that area of the world for inspiration with another citrus and wood; Jo Malone Yuja.
Yuja is part of the Blossoms in Bloom collection. Starting with the iconic Orange Blossom by the brand’s founder it also includes last year’s Frangipani Flower. For 2020, creative director Celine Roux asked perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui for two new compositions. Besides Yuja, Waterlily is the other. I thought that perfume accentuated the first part of the compound word over the second part. Yuja is also part of a popular genre of fragrance too. Sometimes it all comes down to how the creative team seeks to make just enough difference. That is what I experienced with Yuja.
Yuja is the South Korean version of yuzu which is an Asian version of lemon. When I’ve smelled the real thing, I am struck at the significant green scent it has. Very often when it is used in perfume it tends to hew more towards just being lemon in Asian clothing. In this case Mme Bijaoui seeks out the green and accentuates it with herb and wood.
The yuzu is the first thing I smell. It is given some focus with a smidge of petitgrain. Framing the edges in preparation for clary sage to shine a spotlight on the green in the center of it all. Lavender picks up on the herbal while adding a fleeting floral to this part of the development. Fir balsam provides the woody version of green as the yuzu nestles within the needles.
Yuja has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Yuja is going to be a great choice for the warmer days coming. It is refreshing with a satisfying twinkle beneath the citrus. Mme Bijaoui makes this stand out because she found the green.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by Jo Malone.
I learn things in some of the oddest ways. Soon after we moved to the Washington DC area we were out at one of the best restaurants in town. When the waiter came over with a giant pepper mill, I demurred. One of my dining companions asked me if I knew the name of it. I was then informed it was called a Rubirosa. When I asked why I got more than I expected.
The name comes from a famous playboy of the 1950’s and 60’s named Porfirio Rubirosa. He was one who lived up to that sobriquet. He traveled all over the world as “the inspector of embassies” for the Dominican Republic. There were rumors he was also an assassin, but he was more well-known for his ways with famous women. Which brings us back to the large pepper mill. Supposedly the waiters at the Paris restaurant Maxim’s called their large pepper grinders Rubirosas because they were said to be as large as his, ahem, “personality”. I thought that would live in a file drawer within my mind without any use. Then I received my sample of YVRA 1965 L’Essence de Flamboyance.
Yvo van Regteren Altena
YVRA is the line from Dutch independent perfumer Yvo van Regteren Altena. He released two previous perfumes in 2015 and 2017. For 1965 he was funded through a Kickstarter campaign at the end of last year. M. van Regteren Altena was inspired by the life of Sr. Rubirosa for this perfume. What that translates to is a throwback leather fragrance it is not hard to imagine a playboy of the time wearing. The perfume is a pretty simple construct,
It opens with the briefest of citrus before baie rose takes over. This is a nice version of that ingredient with the herbal quality and fruity nuances evident. An austere church-like incense comes next with some intensity. It gets more amplified as a refined leather accord completes the central trio. It ends with a dark patchouli and some synth woods.
1965 has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
In the press release it was mentioned that M. van Regteren Altena was inspired by the classic men’s colognes of the time. There were times where those callbacks were more obvious than others. Overall it made 1965 a new version of an old powerhouse. This one fit for a playboy with, ahem, “a big personality”.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample I purchased.
Unlike many when I desire a spring floral I tend to run away from rose in search of other parts of the garden. One flower which has become synonymous with spring is magnolia. Some of that comes from my grad school days in Georgia where it becomes one of the first scented flowers to pop after winter recedes. It also comes from owning some excellent perfumes which feature it. One of those is Grandiflora Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine.
Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine was released at the beginning of 2014. It was one of two debut fragrances for the brand. Grandiflora was begun by Australian floral artist Saskia Havekes. For her first two perfumes she invited two perfumers to interpret the same flower, magnolia. One was composed by perfumer Michel Roudnitska called Magnolia Grandiflora Michel. The other perfumer was Sandrine Videault and hers was named Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine. Each of them is excellent interpretations of magnolia. M. Roudnitska’s appeals to me in the colder weather when I want a fuller floral. Mme Videault’s take is to find magnolia just as it bursts from its bud.
What she noticed when spending time with the natural source was an inherent green that read as “chypre” to her. Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine is a fragrance which takes that in a different direction by the end.
At the beginning we get grapefruit and pepper. This is such a spring morning accord. The slightly sulfurous grapefruit and the pepper picks up the dewy green and damp soil of dawn in the garden. The magnolia appears next as if it has just peeked out from its bud. This is where that significant green Mme Videault noticed is given some space. I always expect it to get greener. Mme Videault has other ideas. The flower comes more clearly out, giving a velvety floral quality taking the lead from the green. Now that the sun has risen, and the dew has burned off, the afternoon breeze of white musks expand and lift the magnolia up to be appreciated. A subtle suite of dry woods provides the base accord.
Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine has 18-24 hour longevity and above average sillage.
This perfume represents a beginning and an end. It was the beginning of Mme Havekes Grandiflora perfume brand. She has gone on to add three more floral perfumes to the original two. All of them show the creativity she is known for in her floral designs.
It was also the last perfume made by Mme Videault as she passed away soon after finishing it. There are many who consider other perfumes she made as her best. I think Magnolia Grandiflora Sandrine holds that honor.
If you have never heard of Grandiflora or Sandrine Videault they both should be on your radar now.
Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.
Rodrigo Flores-Roux is one of my favorite perfumers because he creates perfume that finds ways of making the common, uncommon. He has done it again with tobacco in Xinu Ummo.
Xinu is the Mexico City-based independent brand creatively directed by Veronica Alejandra Pena. She opened her boutique in 2017 and released four perfumes. All of them were composed with Sr. Flores- Roux. I enjoyed all four with Monstera standing out among those early perfumes. At the time I wrote that this felt like the kind of perfume Sr. Flores-Roux might have made if he had started his fragrance career as an independent perfumer from Mexico. His path instead took him to becoming a perfumer for Givaudan. I still think there is that independent spirit lurking underneath, Ummo allows it to peek out.
For Ummo the idea was to make a perfume capturing the sacred nature of tobacco. Many of the indigenous people of North America used tobacco as part of their rituals. Ummo would take the shape of one of those rituals as a fragrance.
It is easy to imagine a penitent entering a sweat lodge as I wore Ummo. This is a claustrophobic tobacco perfume. It feels as if it has a pent-up energy which I enjoyed. There is a smart use of the flower and leaves of tobacco to create a development from green leaf to dried leaf.
Ummo opens with the tobacco flower. It is recognizable as tobacco in its early form. Using juniper berry and agave it is kept on the vegetal side of the profile. The more familiar tobacco appears with a scent of the sweaty scent of muscone. Overlaying it all is the floral sweetness of jasmine. The floral quality expands on the sweetness in the smell of sweat and tobacco. This is the heart of the ceremony. A leather accord provides more animalic facets. Tonka and honey add in their versions of hay and viscous versions, respectively. This is the moment where the dance among the smoke takes place until it ends with the rising of the sun.
Ummo has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you are looking for a different spin on tobacco Ummo is worth trying. I like the way it evolves from green to narcotic depths. Deep in a trance as I can find a place within.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample I purchased.