Wednesday, December 1, 2021

My Cultural Path: The Making of a Perfume Historian


I suppose it was all pre-mapped out for me in a way, but like Indiana Jones famously said “there’s no X marking the spot.” I found the way to being a perfume historian while enjoying myself.  

Thus begins my autoethnography article for The Autoethnographer, a new publication which focuses on how I mapped out a path for myself combining historical and archeological studies with perfumery. Dr.Marlen Harrison invited me in an interview to describe my fragrant beginnings and the cultural axis on which my olfactory impressions were formed.

In narrative inquiry we come across subjects shaping the matter through their own “digestion” of facts, so to speak. It’s a very interesting approach to fragrance especially, because beyond the scientific facts, which can only be unlocked with gas chromatography and a mass spectrometer, personal tales give a more telling and more engaging sense of what any perfume is about.


Personally, and I might be wrong, I do not believe that it is even possible to entirely exclude one’s own approach to inquiry. There can be no author-evacuated history, because the historian is a product of their own times, they belong to a school of methodology, etc. This is why history is not an exact science like chemistry, but it is also what makes it fascinating; it’s different reading different books.

One is always in motion with history, events of the past are in a constant interaction with the present. 

 These lived experiences are hard to shake off. And they do tend to come up whenever I think of smells, because they inform my perception, so in that sense they become autoethnographic. When I smell a purely “American” perfume I tend to expect something clean and impressive in terms of claiming an area of a square foot around the wearer. When I think of Far Eastern scents I expect the woody and airy incense of the temples of those regions, or of the humid jungle seeping into the mix. Sometimes the final impression is juxtaposed with those primal expectations, so the aesthetic approach in writing follows two paths, one of fruition and one of refusal.

Please read my entire piece here on the Autoethnographer. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Eau d'Ivoire by Balmain: fragrance review

One often sees young girls looking for a perfume for everyday -clean, that will be well liked by their entourage, that will make them feel feminine, and in full possession of the coolness of their youth. They're offered a pile of branded products in big department stores, and one tends to feel a little bit sorry for the embarrassment; too much choice, but too little distinction. Yet small gems await in the wings. Eau d'Ivoire is a cooler and more modern style variant of the re-launched Ivoire by Pierre Balmain (which gave us legendary fragrances like Vent Vert, Miss Balmain and Jolie Madame) a year later, in 2013. 


The relaunched contemporary Ivoire by Balmain is also beautiful, with an aldehyde arrangement of cleanliness and soap, less retro-"mommy" compared to perfumer Francis Camail's 1979 original Ivoire (for some funny reason, the perfumer's name always reminds me of Camay soap ...). 

In Eau d'Ivoire we're dealing with a bright, shiny, dominant magnolia that comes to the fore like a young girl at an event, who radiates natural beauty: fresh flawless skin,  sculpted features, loose lush hair, light-footed dance moves, a gaze with no hidden. You look at her and your mood lifts. 

The fragrance of Eau d'Ivoire has that deliriously attractive acidic feeling that men like so much, the freshness of initial spraying that is combined with the feeling of sophisticated musky skin-like haze underneath, which, although it speaks of cleanliness, does not scratch the nose with the sweetish acrid smell of fabric softener. The aldehydidic profile is weakened compared to the original Ivoire, but it is accompanying in a primo secondo fashion. A hint of soap, of the bath ritual, a feeling of well-being and softness remains on the skin when it dries, with a soupcon of clean fractalized patchouli. 

Eau d'Ivoire lasts a rather long time especially on fabric, but noses almost "destroyed" by a diet too indulgent in synthetic vanilla, patchouli and harsh oudh accords might find it undetectable. Solution? After a bout of gluttony, it takes a little fasting to re-evaluate the subtler nuances of good cooking. A break of sweet and acrid powdery smells will convince you of the truth of my claim. 

Parting shot: Eau d'Ivoire reminds me of the also optimistic beautiful Joie Eclat by Valeur Absolue. 



Church Mix Oil: Mystical Spicy Resin


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Eau d'Italie Magnolia Romana: fragrance review

 The beauty of the gigantic blossoms of magnolia is their happy citrusy freshness: I always find myself surprised that the sheer awe the blossom creates, in terms of visual volume (their size is quite something!) is transliterated into a scent that is airy, crystalline, and quite delicate. Spare a thought for the contrast of the heavy and trickily intoxication that jasmine absolute stands for in relation to the minuscule flower itself. In Eau d'Italie's Magnolia Romana the airiness of the blossom is highlighted through a very appropriate watery and ozonic accord that embraces the waxy flower, and makes it seem even fresher, as if it's still attached on the tree where it blossomed. 

beach pin by pinterest pinned by vera

The addition of a piquant green note (a hint of spice) and the clear orange blossom (which is treated to turn very soapy) are further additions which reinforce that impression of rejuvenation. This effect not only faithfully recreates the necessary natural ambience around the magnolia tree, it also corresponds well to the ambience implied by the brand's name: Italy. The company was founded on the premises of the Hotel La Sinenuse at Positano, a beautiful little town off the coast of Amalfi in the south of Italy.

It's true that magnolias don't grow in soils and climes that are not warm, being almost sub-tropical in categorization, and the environment of temperate Italy is adequately conductive, especially now with global warming (there's the lone nice side-effect of it...) So if you're living somewhere where the climate zone prohibits enjoying the elation and optimism that such a sunny, open blossom as the magnolia evokes, Magnolia Romana might do the trick, all year round, to bring Italian spring into your life.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Chanel No.5 L'Eau: fragrance review & marketing insights

 Chanel No.5 L'Eau, endorsed by the debutantes of the Chinese press, has been hailed as an innovation, but it's really "new old school". And I'm stating this in a positive light. It's a very likeable fragrance by Chanel which retains the spirit of the classic with a very contemporary sensibility of new beginnings and a freshness that differs from the exigencies of the 1920s, a century later. But its composition is not innovative, rather it makes abstract and elegant (in the mathematical sense) what has been passed down from tradition, in order to appear new. 

To wit, the use of aldehyde C8 is an addition that is not particularly modernist, nor is Australian sandalwood or the fractional-distillation ylang ylang that Polge père (Jacques) and Polge fils (Olivier) have been surely contemplating using for a couple of years now. The balancing act of the fragrance lies in judging how the citrusy freshness extends and rejuvenates the rose in the heart. And how an aldehydic fragrance appears non stuffed, nor "old lady perfume" (explained).

The core of No.5 L'Eau is shifted from the densely ylang and perceptible musk chord that dominates the modern varietals of No.5 to the delicate, wisp-like chord of citrus and rose. Almost a skin scent. By definition the concentration is light, ethereal, reflected in the choice of Lily-Rose Depp as the face of the ads. But why an ethereal version with a youth as the face?

It all started in the 80s when then in-house perfumer, the erstwhile Jacques Polge, created the first real "tampering" of the authentic formula to bring it up to par with the powerhouses of the decade of excess. When you have to keep your footing in the market that saw the original typhoon of Dior's Poison and the lead density of detonator of amber waves that was the original Obsession by Calvin Klein, you have to have a classy and elegant formula boosted to its logical limit. Ergo No.5 received a generous helping dose of the sandalwood synthetic Polysantol which effectuated that smooth, lactic boost that was missing from the earlier versions. No.5 Eau de Parfum is possibly not the "truest" No.5 but it is a satisfying edition that is made with great care.

Chanel continued to keep a very tight, and careful, modus operandi on any and all subsequent editions of No.5. I distinctly and fondly recall the No.5 Elixir Sensuelle which boosted the soapier smelling and muskier elements to render a less faithful but still sexy-as-hell body gel. It encapsulated what Coco Chanel herself had meant for No.5 to symbolize: a clean woman that wasn't at odds with her natural scent. The idea that women could be both sexy and not dirty. After all, her inspiration was a famous cocotte friend who smelled "clean", contrary to society women of the times "who smelled dirty" according to the French designer herself. 

The logical extension could only be manifested in something like Chanel No.5 Eau Première. Indeed praised by almost everyone in the industry for adhering to the original concept, without deviating too much, and at the same time bringing forth a new sensibility, Eau Première was critically praised by critics and bloggers, as well as connoisseur wearers only to be daunted at the fragrance counter by a relative indifference in its modern message. Eau Première, fabulous though it was, couldn't address the needs and wants of a youthful audience who knew No.5 from its legendary course and urban fashion clout, but did not feel confident in pulling it off in real time.

Unlike many, maybe even most, flankers by Chanel, such as Coco Mademoiselle and Coco Noir (extending and renewing the fragrance concept of Coco Eau de Parfum), which had little relation to their predecessor, No.5  l'Eau inherited enough of the original's nucleus to serve as a valid reimagining on the original idea.

Related reading on PerfumeShrine:

Coco by Chanel: fragrance review

Chanel No.19 & Heure Exquise: Twin Peaks

On Classifying Chanel No.19 & perfume review 

What's the True Story of Chanel No.5?

Cultural history: Exposition Chanel

Chanel No.5 Through the Years

Chanel No.46: fragrance review & history

I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire: Imaginative Fantasies

Chanel Les Exclusifs Misia: fragrance review [And a collective Chanel Les Exclusifs link.]

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