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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ancient Fragrant Lore 4: the Hellenistic Era

"A natural fragrance pervades the whole coast of Saba {i.e. South Yemen} because almost everything that excels in scent grows there unceasingly, providing a pleasure to visitors that is greater than what can be imagined or described. Along the coast balsam grows in abundance and cassia and another sort of plant which has a peculiar nature: when fresh, it's very delightful to the eye but suddenly it fades (so that the usefulness of the plant is blunted before they can send it to us). In the interior there are large, dense forests, in which tall trees grow: myrrh and frankincense, cinnamon, [date]-palm and kalamos {a reed of the genus Cymbopogon} and other such trees with similar sweet scents;"


The above excerpt from Diodorus of Sicily, fragrant with the scents of the Middle East lands, the territories that Alexander the Great conquered and hellenized, comes from my article on the fragrances and cosmetics of the Hellenistic Period which has just been published on Fragrantica.
You can read it following this link and you're welcome to comment here or there.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Free Perfume & Body Products Giveaway

A chance to win a full set of 3 scented products (eau de toilette, body lotion and hand creme) today. Nice way of kickstarting the week, eh? Thought you might like it, so read on.


DownEast Basics has a new line of products and they kindly gave me the opportunity of hosting a giveaway for our readers. The DownEast fashion SCENTS in Sugar, Coconut and Fresh are available as lotions, hand creme and eau de toilette. Best of all the entire fragrance line is 100% organic and paraben-free so it won’t bother sensitive skin. They also include coveted natural ingredients like aloe, cocoa & shea butter and vitamin E, so you can cover yourself in your favorite scent while treating your skin to intense moisture and skin saving antioxidants. That's not so bad, is it?


Check out the entire line of Fashion Scents and tell me which one matches your style in the comments section below to be entered to win!

One randomly selected winner will win a full Fashion Scent set to include the lotion, hand creme and eau de toilette of their choice (US$35 value). Winner must be able to receive prize shipment to US mailing address.

Best of luck to all!!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Having a Custom Made Fragrance: an Experience to Savor

Years ago bespoke perfumery used to be a service reserved for the rich and famous and if you were short of either denominator it meant getting a designer fragrance off Macy's was the height of glamour in the perfume shopping stakes. Things are very different today, thanks to the market evolution and the emergence of a new consumer that is highly savvy thanks to the Internet, and the differentiation between lines, niches and customer demand demographics have opened up the horizon to services that do cater to an individual's innermost desires. My personal viewpoint has always been that going for a specially made perfume one lost a part of the mystique that a carefully woven story and an exquisitely designed flacon (and advertising) carried alongside for the ride. Plus what Jean Claude Ellena ~in a zenith of honesty~ quipped as serving an already formulated in the perfumer's mind mod to no one's being the wiser. Yet I can certainly see the appeal; there are lots of things to recommend it, and one thing that isn't brandished enough in the media (so read on, I reveal it along the way).

via beautifuldayphotography

One perfume lover describes an experience at La Jolla, California in these terms: "I especially loved our time with Lyssa at Tijon. This was a sensual experience with tantalizing sight, smell, touch, sound and taste!

- The shop is adore-able offering a european resort feel. They offer fabulous and unique gifty items for yourself and your favorite people.
- The fragrances made by Tijon are memorable. The experience of creating our own personal fragrances in their laboratory is unforgettable. We learned so much and had tremendous hands-on fun - all while dressed to impress in our lab coats!
- The music was classical offering some sophistication and creative inspiration.
- Yummmm. The fragrance class ended with a toast of champagne. Cheers!

Both of us love our custom and personalized fragrances. Mine was named Summer Stroll and my mom's was Santa Cruz Sand."

The mere opportunity to sit one-to-one with a dedicated team of specialists and discuss perfume is a perfumephile's idea of heaven, isn't it? Our resident sponsor, Tijon Fragrance Lab & Boutique has collected a cluster of testimonials showcasing the best elements of such an experience (with an emphasis on "the fragrance lab being incredibly well stocked and the employees/teachers being very knowledgeable", in the words of CoriB from San Diego):

According to Chu530459 from Phoenix: "I proceeded to the perfumery lab and learned how to go about handcrafting my own Fragrance. That was very interesting to say the least. I wished I had known about TIJON when I was planning a bridal shower for my daughter since the theme was "anything Paris". They have a large array of oils, 300 in all, for both men and women, that there's no way one could leave TIJON without having concocted something special!"

"My thirteen year old daughter and I spent a wonderful hour and a half here yesterday. The mix and match class was very informative and relaxing!" says Clsingh.

via beautifuldayphotography

One of the crucial factors that have me thinking about custom fragrance making is something that only a dedicated and informed perfumephile might think of: bypassing the constant let down of the fragrance industry, i.e. having one's beloved "jus" reformulated to a shadow of its shelf.
Surely having one's personal formula on file and the opportunity to have an endless supply of that particular formula is the surest way of bypassing that vexing situation? I read Bonnie V's testimonial with rapt attention (and salivating at the prospect of making my personal ultra-spicy, ultra-jasmine-y blend): "This is an absolutely, over-the-top experience. Very few people have had the pleasure of not only crafting their own perfume, but also learning about the history of perfume and the fascinating science of scent. Here is something super cool ... you get to name your perfume! Once you've created your perfume, the instructors then label the bottle (a classy glass atomizer.) Great news ~ they will save your personal "formula" in their database so that you can order more anytime."

Of course there are more options available (including Ayala Moriel in Canada, and in Europe too, where smaller fragrance boutiques and the private consultation to go with them are getting increasingly widespread).

I was therefore wondering: Have you ever had this experience of having a custom made fragrance? Do you recommend it? Please share the aspects you enjoyed in the comments.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Autumnal Closet: Building the Blocks

There comes a time in one's life that contemplating a build-from-scratch one's stylistic approach looks inevitable: moving house,  losing 40 pounds or starting a new career all signal that desire to demolish the past with a giant eraser and start afresh. Or you might just caught be in a rut stylistically, like, ahem, moi. A more prolonged than usual leafing through the hangers in my closet and perusing on the wardrobe shelves (accompanied by little exclamations "when did I ever buy this, I wonder!") confirms it: I have been acquiring endless variations of more or less the same style of clothes for years on end.

That's not so terrible, really. My style has always been classic dramatic (let me clarify: lean lines, mostly tailored items, basic, primary or jewel colors and lots of black & white with bold and stylish accessories/jewels). I figured early on that a) they wouldn't go out of fashion in 6 months so they'd withstand the investment, b) the color scheme suits my coloring and my lifestyle and c) you're never too fat for your accessories so one might as well let it all hang out with them and indulge a whim.
They've indeed served me well. Problem is…I got a bit bored. This is the moment to inject something…I don't know, different! The autumn and inter fashions have been inspiring: mod 60s look, medieval helmet hoods at Dolce & Gabbana, 70s wallpaper Prada coats, go-go boots, Mongolian knits, those deep blue Versace suits…and some lovely metallic makeup to accompany it.

So here are a few things I singled out. Do you like them? Do you have additions? Have you added things to YOUR wardrobe you'd like to share in the comments? Please do.



An open wrap style jacket. Preferably with leather sleeves. (Depicted the "Laura" jacket from Nordstrom, currently on sale). I have resisted these for long, reasoning if I'm going to wear a jacket I might have it buttoned to give a lean line. The reality is it's never too cold to button it up and when it is, I seek a full length coat, not a jacket.


A tile print shirt from Asos.com. Flowing and floaty, can be tucked in a skirt or worn over leggings or jeans. Boho-chic enough.



Two trends in one dress: blue & 60s motif, in a tried & true shape (and practical 3/4 sleeves). This Mango dress caught my eye because it can be easily dressed up (pumps and gold jewelry) or down (cardigan and flat boots).


It's been ages since I've worn such a long skirt. Interestingly enough it might be just the fresh shot I need. I'd pair this Mango skirt with a black body-suit myself though.

Likewise, I never really bought a hobo bag (structured is my thing, so totes and messengers fit the bill most of the time I'm not required to carry a clutch). The Diane von Furstenberg "Sutra" (depicted) in deep cherry has me thinking other thoughts nevertheless.



A studded headband is an ingenious idea of adding a little rock chic without the perils of thighs bulging inside pleather pants. Lo risk, high pay off. This one in mint should contrast with my natural hair color just fine!

Going out of my comfort zone includes embracing the metallic bronze and coppers around for fall 2014. Though I have flirted with copper lipsticks (mind you, in the warmth of summer when I have some semblance of a tan) the eye decoration in warmer tones has been beneath my usual greyish, blueish and tone-sur-tone choices. But Lancome's Color Design eyeshadow in Kitten Heel is inspiring, the subtle shimmer forgiving of any mismatch to my natural skintone. Probably the next addition to my trousse de maquillage.

And on to you!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Santa Maria Novella Gardenia: fragrance review

“The house smelled musty and damp, and a little sweet, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead cookies.”
~Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Smelling the little known Gardenia by the Florentine pharmacy brand of Santa Maria Novella, thanks to the inquisitive generosity of a special reader, I am reminded not of cookies exactly, but of cachous, the French candies that are composed of minty, bitter elements (minus their licorice), and of another candy conflated, popular with elder ladies, those chalky rounds flavored with violet and aniseed but seemingly without much sugar. Gardenia, you see, has the rare ability to go for the effect of not one, but two candies at the same time, eschewing allusions to syrupy delights, as it goes about its business; more the ghost of candies past than real ones.

Domenico Ghirlandaio, detail from Visitation, at Capella Tornabuoni at Santa Maria Novella, Florence

But that's half the story. In Gardenia there's detectable camphor on top, a hint of mothballs, surely lent by either a small tuberose facet (close kin to natural gardenia, but its advantage is that contrary to gardenia it can be sufficiently extracted), or via organic chemistry.
The mushroom dampness that evolves in a potted gardenia plant surfaces too in the Santa Maria Novella perfume (much like it did in the since discontinued Velvet Gardenia in Tom Ford's Private Line of fragrances), the earthiness of the soil in which the stems grow, the greenery, the humid air of the tropics that is its natural habitat. The end result smells little of the total that makes a lifelike gardenia perfume (all the more so a soliflore, a fragrance imitating the scent of a single flower), highlighting in odd focus elements of the live gardenia, like a super-sized vision through a microscope, germs appearing like monsters of the abyss or engulfing other micro-organisms via tentacle-like arms and legs: the green, the undergrowth, the musty note, the camphor….they're there in giga size. It also adds elements that are unfamiliar to our perception of the gardenia plant, copious ionones, smelling like violets & wood, and anethole (the molecule recognizable in anise).

It feels green & mauve, not white. It's demure long dresses in dove grey rather than a silky top over a hugging the curves pencil skirt. It's unkempt chestnut hair in matted tresses rather than glossy waves licking bronzed shoulders. It's John Dowland's I saw my lady weep, not Manuel de Falla. It's melancholy with a dash of neglect and abandonment, rather than boiling passions. To me at least.

For a photo-realistic gardenia fragrance you need to access either the discontinued Yves Rocher Pur Desir de Gardenia (in which the effect is rendered via jasmolactones) or Estee Lauder's Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia (in which the latter floral effectively upstages the usually diva- esque former one). Santa Maria Novella's Gardenia is an atypical one, a "difficult" to get scent but quite interesting all the same, and probably better appreciated as an earthy, non sweet violet scent trampled in undergrowth than the waxy petaled white flower of the tropics that induces ultra-romantic reverie.
(For one such, read a different take by Jane Daly)

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