Thursday, March 29, 2007

Is perfume political? You bet!


In times such as ours every single matter that entails a minimum of two people has to make it through the media circuit and perfume is not an issue that has been left off the equation either.
It might seem rather heavy and ominous to title my post “is perfume political?”, because what reference does perfume have to political parties or administrations and so on and so forth? Let me explain myself.

In ancient Greek the term “polis” referred to the city states of classical antiquity. In those the voting system was not representational, but direct and frequent, due to such factors as lack of manual labour that would consume hours (slaves were doing it), closeness of people to the voting centre (the whole state was just the city), small percentage of active voting population anyway. Hence decisions were made on everything by “polites”, aka free citizens directly (the word derives from the Latin “civitas” which also means city). That entailed whether ships would get built for merchandising, who would be the committee to decide on theatrical competitions or whether the city would go to war with another city-state; and then indeed voting on such seemingly trivialities as whether they should allow preening or depilation to slave women (apparently not and it was a sore point for them).
You see my point. Everything becomes political in that sense. An active citizen who is considered an integral part of society (and they were adamant on the participation in decision-making on penalty of exile) has to take a stance on a wide diversity of matters pertaining to that society. This is a theoretical position of admirable conscientiousness. If only people were that active today instead of apathetic to what is happening around them…..

However that notion can get hued in sinister nuances still. And it has to do with that most ephemeral yet subconsciously influential matter of all: the olfactory stimulus.
Witness the case of a woman in Calgary, Canada, as reported by the Globe and Mail.com, who was asked by not one, but two different bus drivers to abandon the bus if they were to go on with their routes, because of her “offending” perfume.
Although I am tempted to give a good break down on said perfume (it was Very Irresistible by Givenchy) and why it would have such a dramatic effect, I feel that the core of the issue is more complex than just attributing it to overapplication or dislike of that specific composition by the bus drivers.
Reading the article and seeing the photo of Natalie Kuhn, a 25 year old chiropractic assistant I saw a pleasantly turned out black woman who seems tidy, professional and groomed and would be unlikely to wear such copious amounts of any fragrance, especially since her fellow bus passengers did not complain. Although the quote that making her sit at the back of the bus made her feel like “a modern day Rosa Parks” might seem a little excessive (hopefully we’re past such despicable lows in human dignity) it does seem that the repetition of the incident with a different driver was humiliating and a little suspect in itself, especially so as the first occurrence had already been publicized.

The matter takes on another political nuance as it is linked to the invasion of other people’s privacy as witnessed by the perfume ban on all municipal buildings at Halifax. The rhetoric behind this is that “with rising rates of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, irritants in the air can have a greater effect”. Of course health is a very serious matter and it is true that there has been an increasing percentage of asthma and pulmonary afflictions that are triggered by irritants in the air in the western world. However one would have good cause to pause for thought and wonder whether those irritants are mainly comprised of chemical substances in exhaust fumes, toxic substances in cleaning products and the ubiquity of artificially scented matter all around us in a consumerist world that uses the olfactory to sell more product inundating our perception and leaving us unable to take it anymore. Does everything from bleach to erasers to stationary to dry-cleaners’ bags has to be scented, I wonder?
Would cutting down on those, offer a palate free to enjoy an occasional whiff of a nice perfume on somebody? I think that it would.

There is also the issue of modern day perfumes being comprised almost in their entirety of synthetic aroma-chemicals (and it is sadly obvious that Very Irresistible is one of them), not much different than those used in the cleaning products industry which contribute to a catch in the throat reaction for many people who have obviously reached their limit and are justifiably (according to them, at least) embarking on Philippics against perfume en masse. Nevertheless the issue of re-introducing natural essences is neither economically viable in a market that is in to make as much as possible in the here and now domain nor practically doable with all the recent developments of which I have blogged about in the recent past.

The following comment cited in The Globe and Mail article made an impression of irrelevancy to me and I am sure I am not the only one: “Roedy Green, who said he has “a very keen sense of smell,” believes people often don't realize how much perfume they're putting on. The worst offenders are older people whose sense of smell has faded, he said, leading them to pour on perfume until they match the way they remember smelling as a youth”. Surely that does not apply to this specific case of Natalie Kuhn who is only 25 years of age and probably in full functional capacity of her olfactory abilities? Or is this a general bash against people who like to put on perfume perhaps a little more enthusiastically (to put it politely)? It seems so.
The accompanying comments from lots of readers who are almost all of them condemning the wearing of perfume is very revealing and just a bit foreboding on the direction the public is getting their opinion shaped.

On the other hand there is the opposite field of perfume enthusiasts who are not eager to back off their habit and sometimes provocatively insist in crude terms to carry on with impunity offending colleagues, fellow public transport passengers, and close friends and family, oblivious to the fact that toning it down a bit would result in a greater leniency from those perfume haters and thus would guarantee the continuation of the noble practice of perfuming. Ms. Natalie Kuhn did display such an obstinate stance, in my opinion, perhaps on the premise that it was her right to wear what she likes and assured in the knowledge that no policy allows drivers to refuse passengers because of their scent. Nevertheless the repercussions of such an incident might tilt the balance not in her favour and to the detriment of all of us perfume lovers. Is it far off the day when a general perfume ban would be introduced on all public transport, thereby practically eradicating our right to scenting ourselves lest we have a private vehicle (and it shouldn’t be a convertible missy, mind you!!)? We have to stop and wonder: if smokers -who have been also practically exiled from civilised society in recent years due to their habit- had been a little more considerate and less headstrong about their right to light up whenever and wherever and all present company be damned, would we have reached a point where they are the outcast of society? I think not.

For that reason and with that reasoning, I would pray for a little compromise on both sides of the argument.


Painting is "Demosthenes practising oratory" by Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Reverie au Jardin by Tauer: fragrance review


This must be the first review of Andy Tauer’s newest perfume in the line-up of his marvellous creations as I was honoured to receive samples of it ahead of time and I must admit that with each and every one of them Andy manages to evoke a different landscape and a distinct mood.
Andy worked on Rêverie au Jardin for quite a while, informing us through his blog about the process of creation which I find fascinating and a first batch that was kindly sent to me affirmed that he was working on something different than his previous offerings which were exploring the ambery musty rose (Le Maroc pour elle), the beloved dry and yet ever changing mysterious depth of L’air du desert marocain, the multi-facetious image of tarry leather (Lonestar memories) and the earthy delights of Orris.
This was an exploration into the depths of lavender, that classic note between herb and flower that is so often used in men’s colognes, yet it remains a conundrum as to how to interpret it in a fresh and modern way.
The name of the perfume which translates as Daydream in the Garden gives half the game away as the green promise is there, yet there are hidden pleasures to await in that secret garden still.

As Andy himself describes it in the accompanying flyer: “Rêverie au Jardin, a classical fragrance. Twinkling like a star. Caresses your journey though green lands”.
His vision was to create something that interpolates other interesting notes into the context of lavender from the high French Alps in order to show the bloom “in all its facets ranging from herbaceous, spicy green notes to sweet, clean flowers and woody, vibrant chords. I wanted to create a fragrance that captures this complexity and transform it into a perfume. A perfume that melts into the skin, and makes me dream of green lands and twinkling stars.”

It is perhaps time to admit that lavender is a note that rarely if ever catches my interest. Its medicinal character in the raw as well as that of clary sage as well is something that reminds me of mentholated back rubs for alleviating a cold and humidifiers brought in to calm affected sinuses and moody dispositions. It’s no secret I have long been tonsillitis-challenged ever since my childhood and thoughts of that ambience bring me back to unpleasant gulping with difficulty.
However lavender doesn’t have to breach into the medicinal and it can be warm and fresh as well with many admirable qualities; I believe Andy has captured most of them in this new offering.

The first batch I had received months ago was quite incensy and deep and it did not feature too much of the lavender-galbanum opening that the finished product does, which is certainly greener and crisper.
As the final product Rêverie au Jardin is first spritzed on skin a very fresh note of true essential oil of lavender hits the nostrils with the promise of green open lands and clear air like that on the Alps. The inclusion of galbanum, that bracing note of “tossed green salad” according to perfume guru Arctander that is makes a tour de force in Germaine Cellier’s classic Vent Vert is adding to the greenness and there is also a slight citrusy and spicy quality in there which is very welcome.
Yet soon the stroll along the green reveals hidden assets of a warmer nature, like clasping hands of a loved one and inhaling a little human warmth amidst the roses, the iris and the blooms. It is too often that a perfumer is at fault of opting for over-attending either to the top notes in order to catch an audience’s attention or alternatively the base notes in order to make the scent memorable and lingering. In Reverie au Jardin the progression is smooth and justified culminating in heart notes that feature the original incense mood of the first batch, without turning the perfume to a different olfactory family as it happens with Encens et Lavande by Lutens, a perfume that starts as a classic medicinal manly lavender to turn abruptly into an oriental mystic crypt.
In Tauer’s case there is less a desire to shock and more a desire to evoke a uniform vision. The progression into the base notes is seamless from the warm musky heart that is due to the rare and costly hibiscus abelmoschus seed (ambrette seeds, which were explored recently in Chanel’s no.18 from Les Exclusifs with more alarming results) culminating into woodier and balsamic accords of which rich sandalwood is more distinct to my nose married to a sweetish and cosy element which I find out derives from the lovely tonka bean, rich in vanillic undertones with a slight almondy touch, like a cosy cashmere scarf wrapped around the neck as the cool breeze is blowing upon dusk .
Andy also includes oakmoss absolute (to his credit!), vetiver, ambergris and cedar which undoubtedly contribute to the complexity and anchoring of the scent, yet they do not make their presence known per se which is testament to a good blend and a smooth development on skin.


The lasting power of the Eau de Parfum is quite good, with the warmer elements remaining poised for long, while the lavender never ceases to sing atop of them in varying degrees of pitch and it stays within a comfortable radius of the wearer meaning you won’t offend with the sillage but you will also definitely be able to smell yourself without gluing your wrists to your nose all the time.
Andy Tauer uses mostly natural ingredients, natural CO2 extracts, high quality essential oils, absolutes and resinoids. The result is evident in the luxury of the finished product that is as distanced from bourgeois as possibly but never veering into the faux-artistic that so many niche lines pass for novelty and innovation.
His Reverie au Jardin is truly beautiful and I can see myself, a self-proclaimed lavender foe getting a bottle of the cleverly, hip packaged scent for the summer season and revelling into green thoughts of faraway emerald lands.

Rêverie au Jardin officially launches April 21st 2007 and will be available from:

Luckyscents, Los Angeles, USA, click here

Luilei, New York, USA, click here

Eie Flud, Uppingham, UK, click here

Aus Liebe zum Duft, Bruchsal, Germany, click here

Tauer perfumes, Zurich, Switzerland, click here

Medieval art & vie, Zurich, Switzerland, click here

You can also visit this page to download the flyer, the bottle and the packaging of the new Tauer perfume.


Pic is of Holy Maze at Governor's Palace sent to me via email.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Interview: Konstantin Mihov of "Parfums d'imperfiction"



It is always exciting to learn how a perfumer's mind ticks and Konstantin Mihov is such a case: his mind has creative ideas and searches for techniques that might apply these ideas into tangible reality for the delectation of perfume lovers.
Here at Perfume Shrine we have dealt we his work once before, when reviewing Alice In Wonderland, a fairy-tale creation of mint tea and violets that brings us back to our magical and twisted childhood of Alice and the magical creatures she meets, seeing just how deep the rabbit hole is.

Now, Knostantin Mihov is revealing the thinking that goes behind his creations and the things that fascinate him about perfumery in the first place.
Let's hear it from him...

Talk to us about yourself a bit: what are you involved in, what do you do besides making perfumes?

Talking about myself is perhaps the one thing that takes ages and that I am most clear about (at least when it comes to my current aspirations, ambitions, positions, etc. - if you ask about the past, I can sum it up in 5 sentences). At the moment, I am in my last year of BA degree in integrated social and cognitive psychology and I am currently in the process of finding another university for my PhD degree in theUK in social neuroscience. My aspirations are to stay in academia forever - PhD, postdoctoral fellowship, professorship, research, until retirement (possibly at different places, possibly in different countries - I consider myself citizen of the world). My current research interest varies and will perhaps continue to change and with each step in the academic development I will experience a new field of exciting insight and will probably be switching specialization areas from time to time. Currently, I am very much interested in gender differences in language use,attribution mechanisms, facial expressions and particularly smiles (oh, and yes, we are talking about basic research and not so much about applied research although I have done some applied things as well - currently I am working with several other colleagues on an intercultural competence e-learning programme for a big multinational company with head-offices in Germany).

My other hobbies include piano playing, bookbinding, and photography. For the latter two I haven't had much time lately (no surprise) and probably won't have time in a long time but I do still enjoy taking pictures at some particular events (recently I was taking photographs of a performance of the Vagina Monologues).
The one hobby which is perhaps never going to die whatever happens is piano playing.
I have been performing for the past 8-9 years (which may sound as a long time but I started too late) and I have never had the intention to make a career out of it but it certainly is very rewarding to set up a piano recital once in a while (my next one is on the 20th April), to invite your friends (as well as open it for the public) and donate all the proceedings from the entrance fee to a good cause. It is an extremely rewarding experience to stand in front of an audience and to literally play with their emotions. And although I am far from being a professional making no mistakes (in fact, I make quite many), it is for the sake of passion - and I think this manages to compensate for my mistakes and makes the people come again and again. My next recital, btw, is entitled "Alice in Wonderland: a Story in Characters" and is going to tell the story of Alice and all the people and creatures she meets in terms of musical pieces. The room will also be scented with my perfume Alice In Wonderland(the last concert was dedicated to the Ambient Rose and the room smelled of roses).

Sounds like you have a great time there, Konstantin! Tell me however how have you become involved with perfume in the first place? When did you first realize you liked it?

My entrance in the world of perfumery was "accidental". If it weren't for my aunt who is very much into botanical essential oils, basis oils and all these cosmetics (she makes everything that she uses herself), I wouldn't be doing what I am doing. I have always enjoyed fragrances but I would have never thought of making my own if it weren't for these first experiences.

Uh huh...those formative experiences are always interesting. Was there a specific incidence that inspired you?

My very first fragrance mixtures were made entirely of naturals and I do remember one that I wish I still had the formula for (it got lost in all the move from Bulgaria to Germany 3 years ago when I switch to another computer and lost some of the information I used to have) - it was a very raw green earthy and leathery scent -very much along the lines of Bandit but it was lighter and smoother and less sparkling. And I have been working ever since (that was about 7 years ago). Only about 3 years ago, did I discover the charm and possibilities of synthetically produced molecules (both that occur naturally in some plants and those that do not exist in nature) and have been experimenting with them little by little into rounding formulations, into accenting what is needed, and into providing nuances that could not be achieved otherwise.

Now that you mention Bandit...What were the perfumes that you held as prototypes or inspirations in your mind before becoming involved in perfumery? The perfumers who influenced you most?

In the very beginning of my perfumery obsession, I was familiar with the usual department store fragrances. And I always had the tendency to go for thicker, oriental type of fragrances although I did enjoy occasionally musky, woodsy scents. But as soon as I was introduced to Serge Lutens fragrances, I was fascinated beyond comprehension. And I still am - there isn't perhaps a single fragrance from his collection that I would not love to have a bottle of - they are all in their own right personal and in terms of the entire collection they create perhaps the most coherent and yet innovative palette that is on the market. And I am still inspired by his creations - his new ones (which show a certain change from the earlier ones)
as well as from the old ones with their magical connotations. I am also very much enchanted by Jean-Claude Ellena's minimalist style which is unattainable for me (I tend to have a less patience in the fragrance exploration that he does). I also admire the vision of Edmond Roudnitska - not so much the fragrances per se; rather the fact that he took his time in the careful evaluation of his fragrances and his critical evaluation of publishing only 16 in his lifetime.
I also must pay due respect to Andy Tauer who has also been an inspiration esp. considering the size of his small business and his reliance on natural ingredients much as I do.

Very heartening to hear for Andy who is a great person, no doubt about it. Speaking of ingredients, what ingredients do you mostly use and why did you choose to work with those? Is sourcing them hard to do?

I have a particular interest in flower absolutes as well as animalistic notes. With each perfume I have created so far (and maybe I should say that of all the mixtures variations, etc, I would consider only 3 to have been completed) there is a very different line explored in each. Alice in Wonderland relies on the synthetic representation of violets enhanced by natural woods, green essences and fresh citrus. Eleven Minutes (a perfume that was created specially for an exhibition) was centered around green absolutes with exploration of a particular citrus line in it. And O Alquimista (perhaps the next perfume that I will release) was an 8-month venture in exploring tobacco absolute, rose absolute, amber and plums to end in a typical Oriental fragrance with a touch of transparency and certain wetness - characteristics that are not typical of any of my other creations.
And this is what I find particularly enchanting and educating - the exploration of different nuances, different characteristics, different tastes.

Do you find there is a different aesthetic working with naturals or synthetics? Why? The topic seems to be somewhat controversial.

I would not really make a difference between synthetic and naturals when it comes to the aesthetic creation of the scent per se. There are naturals that smell absolutely vile and poisonous in their raw form but so do some synthetics. On the other hand, there are naturals that smell divine in their raw form and so do some synthetics. There are some effects that cannot be achieved with natural ingredients - for example, the creation of a musky note is challenging; velvety amber, suede, and some floral accords are unthinkable without the synthetics. And since I have never been driven by the idea of creation a scent with either natural or synthetic excluisively, I am treating them with equal respect - for me they are just part of the palette - and I use the entire range of the palette that is available to me. Alice in Wonderland would have been unthinkable without the synthetic violets or the coumarin.

Coumarin...it's going to be a restricted commodity if that IFRA restriction thing prevails. But to return to Alice in Wonderland : it makes use of ionones for violet notes, you say. Did you find them easy to work with? What problems did you face, if any?

There are 3 types of ionones in Alice in various concentrations. Ionones are very diverse - the differences are very small but they can influence a mix
greatly. I find them really lovely to work with because they add a certain smoothness to a composition. On the other hand, they do not have any sparkle of their own and sometimes, it can be hard to create a sparkle without destroying their character. For Alice, I think the two types of Cedarwood (Virginia and Atlas) did the trick as well as the minute quantities of coumarin, vanillin, amyris and ambroxan.

It deeply impresses me that you openly talk about what goes into your perfumes. Why do you think there is such secrecy in the perfume world, in general, though?

I believe the secrecy is guided purely by the commercial grip that surrounds the perfumery world - in particular, it is amazing that commercial successes will get copied in all forms and shapes. And this is what drives the secrecy I believe. SinceI never envisioned this into becoming a large scale endeavor, I do not feel particularly threatened. Esp. when I do not aim at creating commercial successes (because that would mean that it is liked by many and I would in fact prefer if my perfumes are liked only by few but also not just liked but loved). And if a perfume works like a vision for some, this is all that matters to me. Besides, from purely statistical terms, the chances of recreating a formula given the initial ingredients are very low - and they get lower the more complex the formula is.

Too true. Which is your favourite essence to work with? What aspects of it do you like?

I particularly love Ambroxan - it is a synthetic molecule that has a very peculiar wet cardboard, leather, amber nuances and extreme diffusive power. I also like a lot guaiac wood concrete which has a very doughy quality which I adore. Rose and Jasmine absolutes are also favourites of mine along with benzoe and beeswax absolute. From the synthetics, I am always fascinated by melanol for its extreme strength and its ability to create the impression of water - pure water in a perfume. Tobacco absolute was a love at first sniff but it is difficult to work with. For example for my O Alquimista, only about 0.6% of the entire formula (of the concentrate) consists of tobacco absolute but it is so strong. And I used a lot of benzyl-benzoat to soften it (I found this combination to work quite by accident) and it works. I also like a lot some tinctures, in particular castoreum tincture which has a
fantastic leathery and quite animalic character as well. I also employ quite a lot of propolis tincture in my mixtures (there is a lot of it in O Alquimista and in Eleven Minutes) although it does not really have a strong smell - to me it adds a touch of density, smoothness and rounded sweetness. Propolis is one of the most wonderful things that I have smelled and I still dream of creating a fragrance that captures its facets (and beeswax absolute is very different).

What are your plans for the future? Do you see yourself expanding the line?
The line may expand little by little with inclusion of new scents from time to time but since this is not my day job if at all, any expansions will be problematic. I would of course dream of finding a cooperation with a small perfume producer or a company that can handle the publication of one or two of my perfumes but I personally would not have the capacities esp. with respect to the pursuit of an academic career. I see the whole adventure as a slow progression, a bottle here, a bottle there, a new perfume once in a while, perhaps retirement of old ones until requested again. The whole process may be also problematic in the coming year or so due to my probable moving to the UK and the need to find new suppliers and settling in the new place. So, the whole process is not going to be a smooth progression by any means.

Let's hope for the best. On another note, do you have any advice on those starting in perfumery?

Don't try to please everybody - if you make one person love your perfume, you should be proud. And aim at intellectual creations - something that tickles your brain - whether it will be the combination of notes, or the name in conjunction with the perfume, or the bottle - perfumery is rather an intellectual experience (I think it was Luca Turin who also said that perfumery is about chic and intelligence).

You are correct and I agree with this view. If you had one wish for the perfume industry what would that be?

The one wish I would have would be to break free from the consumerist society. However, as a psychologist (and someone not so blank in market economy as it may seem) I know that this is not possible in my generation. So, more realistically, I would simply request aesthetics (which is not the case for most of the 600-800 fragrances launched every year).

Thank you very much Konstantin for the interesting interview and honouring me with your time.

Thanks for giving me a chance to air my views.


Please visit Konstantin Mihov's site clicking here.


Artwork "Amateur Philosophers" by Jack Vettriano courtesy of Allposters.com

Friday, March 16, 2007

The bittersweet smell of laurels: 300 Spartans



Today I chose to include an adored poem that really depicts best of all just what the sacrifice of those tragic and noble 300 Spartans really meant. In an age when anyone can interpret facts any way one wants and present them for the sheer monetary gain at the box office, let's pause for a second and think how some things in life do mean much more and how not everything is for glory but sometimes it's for honour.
There is a difference.

The ancient epigram/epitaph by Simonedes, friend of Megistias (the Acarnanian seer, who foretold the death of Leonidas and his warriors) is immortal.
It went like this:
"Stranger passing by, go tell the spartans that here, obedient to their laws, we lie."

The poem I chose is much more recent, it doesn't pertain to the olfactory, yet it does evoke the bittersweet smell of laurels. The laurels of noble defeat...
Written by my favourite poet Constantine Cavafy, whom I have also reference while talking about Mitsouko.
It's called "Thermopylae" and is inspired by the famous battle as a lesson in life in general.
I leave you to enjoy it by yourselves.

Thermopylae

Honour to those who in life they lead
define and guard Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right,
consistent and just in all they do,
but showing pity also, and compassion;
generous when they're rich; and when they're poor,
still generous in small ways,
still helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hating those who lie.

And even more honour is due to them
when they foresee (as many do foresee)
that Ephialtes will turn up in the end,
that the Medes* will break through after all.


1903 by Constantine P. Cavafy (Kavafis)

*Medes (plural of Mede) is another name for Persians en masse (historically they were an older tribe who intermingled and interbred with the Persians)



Pic of classical statue of mid4th century BC courtesy of greeklandscapes.com.
Painting of Leonidas at Thermopylae by Jacques Louis David courtesy of wikipedia.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Eau de Cologne from Chanel Les Exclusifs: fragrance review

Eau de Cologne from Chanel is just what the doctor prescribed for those lazy, hot summer days when you don't have the mental energy to think straight and pick a scent that won't clash with the humidity and the heat.

And it is now as good a time as any to dispel the myths around this type of scent named Eau de Cologne. Usually it is what men in the United States say they use. This is actually a tradition that has to do with avoiding the unpleasant connotations of the term Eau de toilette and not an accurate rendition of what they put exactly on their skin. Too many times you will hear men saying that and in fact what they use is Eau de toilette. The notion of why this is so undelicate a concept to grasp dawned on me after a discussion on the correct etiquette on asking to use a toilet in someone's house. I had been told that it's customary to say "bathroom" even if you're not going to actually bathe in there. Suffice to say that this particular delicasy of phrase has escaped my more sturdy european ears and we do use the term toilet aplenty. However faire la toilette is also the french term for preening and in that regard Eau de toilette fits in really well, as it is part of the ritual (hence the name of course).

Another type of mix up happens because Eau de Cologne is not just a concentration of a scent at the counter of any fragrance line, but also a special type of scent recipe, harking back to 1370 and the first alcoholic perfumed mix prepared for the Queen Elizabeth of Hungary. This got named Hungary Water and is still around today. However it took it a couple of centuries more, to become the Eau de Cologne that became famous in 1792 under the name 4711 Echt Kolnisch Wasser, after the homonymous town in Germany (Koln/Cologne) where it was produced. The house that produced it is called Muelhens (although now 4711 is owned by Wella), the name comes from the original address of the Muelhens shop and they claimed they got the recipe from a Carthusian monk nammed Farina who gave this as a wedding gift to William Muelhens. Its first name was "aqua mirabilis" (water of miracles) due to its stimulating, antibacterial properties that warded off disease and acted as a tonic. A different story attribues the origins to Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella in Florence (which was founded in 1612) where the monks manufactured the Aqua della Regina (water of the queen), made for Catherine de Medici who upon coming to Paris inaugurated the tradition of perfumery to the french capital. There suppossedly the recipe was copied by Paul Feminis and the vogue for eaux de cologne flourished well into the coming years. [You can read the history of Eau de Cologne on this link. ]

The classic recipe of Eau de Cologne includes bright citrusy notes of bergamot, petitgrain (the essence from the stems of the bitter orange tree) along with neroli and some fruit rind's expressed oil (such as lemon or orange), garlanded with herbs such as lavender and rosemary, the odd floral note (rose for instance, as is the case in 4711) and a light underpinning of a more sturdy base note that would anchor the scent so it doesn't evaporate into thin air too soon.

In Chanel's case the given notes for its new Eau de Cologne are:
neroli, bergamot, citrus, musk, vetiver.

Indeed as one sprays the succulent juice on the skin a burst of bright, sunny, slightly bitter citrus fruits explodes and envelops the wearer in a sunny vignette of times gone by. Like people dressed in striped maillots preparing for a swim in a cosmopolitan beach, eau de cologne always brings to my mind a memory of lazy languid summer days of yore when parents and granparents started for the beach with panache and straightforward style. Think those classic Breton matelots and you're there. Soon the whole sweetens and obtains a rounder neroli and musky ambience that is supported by a light yet sensual backdrop. It does not last too long alas, which is of course the nature of such fleeting things, like a quick dip in the refreshing blue waters, but it does provide so much enjoyment while it does.
The gigantic 400ml bottle is prefectly made for lavishing this on with reckless abandon.

Pic by Nick Moschos courtesy of eikastikon.gr

Friday, March 9, 2007

No.18 from Chanel Les Exclusifs: fragrance review



When I fist heard about the new line by Chanel, officially termed Les Exclusifs, or affectionately termed Les Prétentieux, the one which I was most in anticipation of was no.18. Named after the number of the Chanel fine jewelry boutique at Place Vendôme it is a scent based on ambrette seed , a vegetal and very costly ingredient that natural perfumers use for substituting real and synthetic musk in their perfumes.
I had envisioned a whole scenario of soft smooth aromas in my mind, lured by the promise of musk that is one of my top favourite notes in creation in most of its nuances and incarnations. Not even the prophet Muhhamad has been so entranced by the promise of musk as I have!

However my impression of ambrette seed largely derives from the oil distilled and the absolute used in perfumes which I have had the rare pleasure of smelling and not the unshelled variety of the seed which I later found out goes into the production of no.18.
Hibiscus Abelmuschus, aka ambrette seed, is a plant of the hibiscus family whose names derives from the Greek ibis (a kind of bird that supposedly eats it) and the Arabic Kabbel-Misk (which means grain of musk). Usually the seeds of the plant when they “hatch” are pressed for their precious oil which takes on a soft, sweetish, skin-like aroma. According to Mandy Aftel the smell is sweet, rich, floral and musky all at once.

Imagine my surprise and dare I say a little disillusionment when I actually got my decant and sprayed the precious juice on my skin. An acrid, pungent smell first hit me that was not the richness and powderiness I anticipated so eagerly.
In fact it reminded me of an anecdotal story I want to share with you. While still little I had a penchant for mixing brews and potions and generally messing with spices, aromas, pomades and yes, perfumes. I found the whole concept of it fascinating and wanted to see how different smells could be combined and nuanced. Spices and cooking are a logical introduction and having been blessed with a mother who cooked well and kept a lot of interesting stuff in the kitchen cupboards I took them out one by one and started experimenting. Once it was the cloves: crushing them, then burning them (they do produce a different, very smoky aromatic sweet smell when burned). Then the pimento and saffron: experimenting with boiling them or immersing them in oil like I had seen women do with basil, rosemary and thyme for aromatizing olive oil (and yes, this is a valid practice that produces mouthwatering results). The stage that really did me in was mace. It was a spice I loved sprinkled on creams and cookies and in meat dishes. It gave a rich oriental, middle-eastern flavour to everything and I loved its ambience. Little did I know that upon burning the unshelled nut in the fireplace (which is quite a hard light brown one) the pungent smell would pervade the house to a point of suffocation and produce fumes that would take eons to clear out rendering my parents furious at me and me nauseous of that smell for life.

Sadly, it was that bitter childhood memory that the initial impression of burned pickles emanating from my no.18 sprayer produced in me. Of course I might be exaggerating because the effect is not nearly as strong as all that, although the whole scent is obviously orchestrated around the solo violin player of ambrette seed, there is no doubt about that.
The effect is certainly not ordinary at all and it only bears a slight resemblance to some oudh fragrances I have smelled and the likeable weirdness of Timbuktu by L’artisan Parfumeur.
Maybe this is an omphaloscopic post and I am analyzing this too much. The point is this medicinal, strange element deterred me from appreciating the full spectrum and possible beauty of no.18. I braced myself for the development, which soon came in the form of sweetish woody and fruity notes of a non-descript nature that in my humble opinion deter from the more daring opening that although repulsive to me personally due to the associations might be a strong pull to people who are interested in the adventurous, distinctive and different. The base is also a little synthetic smelling as if the natural aspect of ambrette seed is anchored with materials invented wearing a white robe, which is a bit antithetical to the promise of a rich vegetal smell.
The modernization of the concept so that it would not recall a natural artisanal perfume, but one issued by a pedigree great house does not work to its favour I think.

Jacques Polge has revealed in an interview that this is his favourite of the line-up and I can see how a person who doesn’t like oakmoss (as discussed before) and is an oriental lover would prefer this. It is certainly the most innovative of the lot and I dearly wish I had the virginal mental and olfactory make-up to really appreciate no.18. As it is, I am unfortunately unable to. It would be like uprooting a mighty tree out of my brain.




Art photography by Chris Borgman courtesy of his site.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

31 Rue Cambon from Chanel Les Exclusifs: fragrance review

The Chanel perfume from the line Les Exclusifs that goes by the address tag 31 Rue Cambon is named after Chanel's main boutique in Paris and also the day-time appartment above it that she used as a study and reception room for friends.
The contrast between the baroque apartment and the more austere composition of this scent is intentional according to Jacques Polge who created it, as he did with the whole new line.

31 Rue Cambon is an experimental chypre that omits the classic oakmoss note of the standard chypre composition and is touted as a "dry, musky, nutty scent." I think Serge Lutens tried a similar stunt with his Chypre Rouge, last autumn, which does not smell particularly chypre to me.
Here the formula starts indeed with a dry element that is sparkling and radiant. The substitution of oakmoss has resulted in a novel iris-pepper accord that according to dr.Turin is used here for the first time to render the impression of sensuality and powderiness that would normally be provided by the sensual backdrop of oakmoss and married to different batches of patchouli for the mossy feel. According to an interview of Polge in French paper Le Figaro, Polge is not a great fan of oakmoss anyway, because he finds the smell bitter. A self-proclaimed oriental lover, mr.Polge had to search for exotic varieties of patchouli growth to substitute the moss element that is needed in a chypre composition and came up with a new style. Which is not really chypre smelling either. In fact I would call it a chypre-oriental, if pressed to classify it and you will see why as you proceed.

The green spicy burst at the start gives way to softer accents following the herbal notes and the bergamot-rich top. The iris note here is neither earthy nor ethereal, as we’re sometimes used to perceiving it. Instead it hangs there twisting and turning in little waltz quick steps with the spiciness of the first olfactory hits when you spray the juice to your skin. The piquancy of pepper is very welcome and never overwhelming which suggests a restrained hand.
As it stays on it starts to develop more powdery and flowery aspects like –seemingly- hyacinth with rose and jasmine that remind us of the traditional heart of a classic chypre, yet the whole is based on a woody ambience of sandalwood and possibly amber that reminds me a lot of the soft sweetish echo of other perfumes in the line, like
28 La Pausa and Coromandel. Despite their initial claim that “we tried to do fragrances which are very different from one another” I think they also tried to lend a homogenous quality in them that would identify them as Chanel. I don’t think that could be very doable in so diverse a collection, but it does have familiarity with those and with other Chanels,as discussed before.
The lingering base of patchouli is as far away from headshop and earthy varieties as possible and certainly less pronounced than in Coromandel which seems a little more current and sensual in feeling.
In fact 31 Rue Cambon is quite Chanel in style as it aims at timelessness and probably the most elegant of the new lot.
Maybe because of those elements of wood and amber the lasting power in this one is not bad. It’s definitely not fleeting like the green fairy of Bel Respiro or the pretty posy of 28 La Pausa, but then it isn’t as satisfyingly lasting as Coromandel either, which is a pity.

The general effect is slightly aloof and certainly elegant, which will account for its marked success with people shopping Chanel and wanting to complement their expensive clothing and accessories with something fragrant in completely magnetic bottles (and I utter that last bit both figuratively -as the caps close magnetically- and figuratively).
Whether it is the best chypre in the last 30 years, as it had been initially hailed almost a month ago, remains to be judged upon subsequent applications and the test of time. I think it was rather an ambitious claim to begin with.


Art photography by Chris Borgman courtesy of his site.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Coromandel from Chanel Les Exclusifs: fragrance review



In the whole line of Les Exclusifs, one scent stands as trully lasting and sillage worthy. It's Coromandel, a dry ambery oriental advertised as "an oriental fragrance using a tree resin called benzoin, which has vanilla-like properties" inspired by the chinese lacquered panels that were abundant in Chanel's apartment, Coromandel denoting the company producing them and not the style of the panels.
The baroque appartment of Gabrielle/Coco Chanel on Rue Cambon, although not her place of actual abode (she used to stay at the homonymous suite at the Ritz in Paris), served as a background drop of her innermost luxury hedonist. And it was the basis of inspiration for another one of Jacques Polge's perfumes, Coco original, a spicy oriental, back in 1984. In it indeed a very opulent composition is evoking odalisques spread on leather sofas, weighted down by copious amounts of bronze and antique gold jewels.

Coromandel is described as "not innocent", as it is "weighted by frankincense" and "contains a hint of the heavier spices of the East".
Although I am a spicy oriental type, this sounded a bit like a rehash of Coco, of which for better or worse I a not a great fan and so before sampling I was almost certain that it would be too much for me, reserving instead my expectations for no.18. It soon proved that I was mistaken.
The initial impression is that of a citrusy, orange-like pipe tobacco mix rolled in powder, much like the one encountered upon meeting that vixen little scent called Fifi by lingerie designer Fifi Chachnil or a slightly less milky Fumerie Turque. In fact it could very well be a similar idea to that explored by the newer Burberry London for men.
Perhaps the orange impression derives from the inclusion of frankincense, a resin that sometimes gives off a sweet citric tang while burning.
A sweet lush note throughout is echoing subtly like vanilla pods immersed in fruity liquor and it opens up and expands on the wings of aged patchouli, mellow, soft, sweet and inviting. It would seem like the most glorious thing, if it were not for it being a little derivative of their Allure Sensuelle with a touch of Borneo by Serge Lutens and Prada thrown in for good measure. The influence Angel has had on the market in general is astounding to behold! Never mind that my favourite patchouli ever is Film Noir by Ayala Moriel.
Yet where Borneo is an inconoclastic dark patchouli laced with dark roasted coffee and Prada is an insolent single-minded young rebel that wants to shock her conservative environment in a relatively safe way, much like Muicia herself liked to do, Allure Sensuelle and consequently Coromandel do not dare push the envelope even in playful jest. They are not terribly innovative, although between the two Coromandel is much more complex and alluring.

Luckily, the pervading dryness along with just a touch of frankincense for a sense of mystery, not showcasing amber in any great degree all the while, provides a great balance to the sweeter vanilla elements and makes the whole not puff up in blue clouds of smoke, but stay the night on warm skin and well used sheets.
Sexy, yet not terribly imaginative. A cinnabar-hued brocade jacket, upper button undone with black camelia Chanel earrings. C'est ça!


Art photography by Chris Borgman courtesy of his site.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Bel Respiro from Chanel Les Exclusifs: fragrance review



In continuation of examining Chanel Les exclusifs a little bit closer, one cannot but notice that they are all inspired and drawing elements from olfactory creations past from the archives of the house.
Bel Respiro is another similar case, as is 28 La Pausa -discussed yesterday- in its own way as well.

Named after one of Mlle. Chanel's houses on the outskirts of Paris Bel Respiro is meant "to evoke stems, leaves and springtime". Does it succeed in this endeavour? It does in part. It draws inspiration by the verdancy of both Chanel#19 and some aspects of Cristalle, especially in the eau de parfum formulation (which incidentally was meant as a completely different interpretation of the theme of the old Eau de toilette by the addition of floral elements such as honeysuckle and lily of the valley, advertised with the tag line "Cristalle grows up!" when it launched in 1993). Even the vetiver drydown of Chance is making a hushed appareance, which in my opinion is Chance's one redeeming quality and the reason it just escapes from being irrecovably linked to my mind to images of teen girls sucking on a fruity lollipop.

The green bite of galbanum, a stemmy aroma that according to perfume guru Arctander evokes "green peppers or tossed green salad" is present lending a bracing start in the vein of Sisley's Eau de Campagne (devised by Jean Claude Ellena) or the classic Vent Vert by Germain Cellier. However the effect is much more timid in Bel Respiro, as if they are a little afraid to frighten the customer with too much of a herbal smell that would clash with their bourgeois attire. Despite that hesitation the start does evoke languid summer days, lying on the grass, the breeze through one's hair, not a care in the world.

This is soon betrayed by the homogenous sweetness that is prevalent in almost all of the new Exclusifs and is obeying to the dictatorship of the wearable. Of course for a scent to be wearable is not a fault per se. It's the relative lack of daring imagination that is a little disappointing to witness, because my expectations were so high. The sweetness is not unpleasant, it is classy with a promise of creaminess, however the lack of depth that is usually associated with creamy florals makes this pale and rather limp, as if it features an aqueous quality that I thought had been long abandoned (but I guess is not). It also gives the impression of a sweet posy of hyacinths subtly smelled across the numerous rooms of a grand mansion, decaying slowly in their vase. Don't get me wrong, I like a slight hint of decay and death in floral fragrances, but in this particular case the discrepancy between herbal opening and sweet drydown does not excite me. The minimalism displayed in the whole line is not convicing in its bouquet.

Chanel #19 and Cristalle in eau de parfum (also by Polge) succeed much more in marrying the deep emerald accords with the lush florancy, giving complexity and substance that sadly Bel respiro lacks. If Bel Respiro had that divine quality which I am seeking it would resemble the luminous feathered tail of a peacock.

It is not a bad fragrance; in fact if I had to choose, I think along with 28 La Pausa and Coromandel (contrary to my initial unsniffed expectations), they would be safe choices that correspond to most of my lifestyle's situations I envision them to be worn. However, to tell you the truthm I am not so keen on purchasing a full bottle of Bel Respiro simply for the reason that I am deeply enamoured of Chanel#19 which satisfies me on every possible level. Nice try, however!


Art photography by Chris Borgman courtesy of his site

Monday, March 5, 2007

28 La Pausa from Chanel Les exclusifs: fragrance review




As promised I start the week by reviewing in full the new Chanels, Les exclusifs.
You might have been a little bored by reading about them on the blogs by now, but I want to offer a tempered view that is completely no strings attached for the interest of balance.


Let’s start by 28 La Pausa.
According to the advertorial it is "a powdery scent based on the oil from iris pallida (known as sweet iris), one of the most expensive products available to perfumers..." and "named for a house Mlle.Chanel owned in the South of France” namely the villa on Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera.
Iris seems to be the one constant in niche perfumers’ obsession with coming up with rare and costly ingredients, and as iris/orris is currently the costliest ingredient to harvest this makes sense. After all someone had said before that everyone in the business wants to make a perfect leather, a perfect incense and a perfect iris scent. Seems to be de rigueur for some reason.
And judging by the issued offerings by Armani Privé, Lutens for Palais Royal Shiseido, The Different Company, Fréderic Malle or even more “commercial” products such as Dior Homme or Hiris by Hermès, iris features prominently on the stakes.
Iris is not just a flower. She is a goddess in the greek mythology pantheon, daughter of the Titan Thaumas and the Ocean nymph Electra, messenger of the Gods and goddess of the rainbow whose colour spectrum is not coincidentally called iris in greek, hence the English term iridescence and the same as the part of your eye that mesmerises with its coloured nuances.


The real question is does 28 La Pausa offer the excitement necessary and the sheer beauty expected from the definitive iris scent? Because this is how the collection has been presented and lauded and we need to check if those claims are met.
The answer is two fold.

If Iris Silver Mist by Maurice Roucel is a crepuscular -if a bit difficult- creation of sheer chill and carroty bulb undergrowth and Bois d’iris is a slightly spicy green heavier silk, 28 La Pausa is a gauzy white cloth that barely covers but lets sweet pale flesh peek from underneath.
The earthiness of bulb undergrowth is there along with a sweeter development as the very light composition progresses through its stages exiting rather soon.
A very light touch of violet is lending a green and very soft quality along with a sweetish fruity tone while some version of synthetic white musk (similar to the feel of the drydown of Pleasures) is lurking underneath assisting the view of exposed skin as described above. It is in fact mostly reminiscent of the lovely Hiris by nose Olivia Giacometti, a hybrid between flesh and flower. Which really begs the question why get both…

On the other hand if what you’re seeking is simply a wearable iris in a killer stylish bottle with exclusivity cachet, this is it; which unfortunately breaks the bubble of the innovative and groundbreaking. Simply put the soul does not soar upon smelling this if you have smelled other similar renditions, even though admittedly it’s one of the nicest ones in the new line and completely agreeable and approachable. Polge is a perfumer not best known for his highly controversial work anyway, taking into account he is responsible for some of the more mainstream Chanel fragrances created such as Coco Mademoiselle,Chance and Allure Sensuelle (although one has to credit him for the creation of the wonderful Egoiste!)and here he smoothed iris beautifully, however rendering the whole a bit derivative and déjà vu, which is the major fault of the whole Exclusives line in my humble opinion.

28 La Pausa includes elements already found in the much more distinctive Chanel #19, a work of art by Henri Robert in 1970 that is assuredly more opinionated and bracing. Perhaps its fate is sealed if they keep releasing things that temper its audacious aspect and its truly insolent character of crisp white linen shirt and lots of silver bangles on a carefree day with your hair down. This would personally pain me a lot, especially since the news about oakmoss featuring as a dangerous substance almost compared to illegal drugs one might think is any ground to go upon. Hopefully they will not substitute it with 28 La Pausa and another Chanel Exclusif, Bel Respiro, both of which draw inspiration from their predecessor's elegant green bouquet.

So, if you want to have a beautiful Degas ballerina in your collection, look no further. If on the other hand you’re moved by more challenging Goya images, this will not fulfil your expectations sadly.


Artwork by Mary Beth Schwark courtesy of allposters.com

La parfumeuse chauve: a play in 3 acts


ACT I
It is a bright morning in the kingdom of Denmark. Everyone is leafing through papers, checking out their favourite internet boards and blogs and chitchattering merrily on scented subjects.
The characters:
1.the bearer of fragrance news (an integral part)
2.the innocent perfumephiles
3.the lone voices of dissent
4.the “expert” –wearing a hyacinth crown foiled in antique gold
5.the bewildered: silent parts
6.the commentator: whispers in italics

-"Look, here is the new X and Y perfumes, just about to be launched !"
-"Oh, wow, I didn't hear about it! Thanks!!"
-"Wow, that sounds delish!"
-"You know I read about it on Z blog and it sounds like it's le dernier cri on steroids! It's bound to be wonderful, they really know what they're talking about!"
-“Oh yes, it must be wonderful!”
-"Oh, oh, not another lemming! Must get this right away"
{enthusiasm is palpable now}
-“Where is this available? I must order some!”
-“do you think if I go to T shop they will handle out samples? It’s so niche…I would probably brave it and order that 50$ sample on-line” {50$ for a sample???}

Intemission while the whole board goes to order samples/ get decants/buys unsniffed....

ACT II
-"Oh, it's fabulous! Trust me, it's exceptional, I never expected it to be so me! You must try it"
-"I am swoooooning......it's so dark....so sexy......so deep......" {deep as the abyss}
-“What have I been telling you? Isn’t it the most intriguing thing ever since that other niche thing we heard about about 10 nanoseconds before?”
-"You know……I am alittle shy in bringing this up, but I have just tried it and found some difficulty in "getting it" but I will keep trying. It's worth it, I'm sure"
-Collective encouragement of good natured people: "Yes, keep on trying!!" {About the rest of your physical life, for instance...}
-"Now, I have tried and tried and can't get it to make it work. It must be my chemistry! Darn chemistry!! (the character is virtually sobbing)"
-“Ah..chemistry can be a bitch. It’s so unpredictable” {astronomy on the other hand is not}
-"It's really not that great, come to think about it.....It reminds me of a couple of things I have tested or even owned"
-“Hmmmmm…I wasn’t that impressed either. Too much cunning advertising maybe?”

ACT III
Big “expert” interjecting:
-"Of course it takes some expertise and finer "gout" to appreciate such things. I really liked it and I stand behind my conviction!"
{while selling the bottle as fast as possible }
-"Well, Z, I'm sure you're right, I just have to accept that my chemistry isn't as refined as yours. Must be those genes"
{or possibly that mercenary spirit instilled during hard, rationed days}
-“Yes, alas, we can’t all be satisfied with those difficult things for the select few. I wonder if I can swap it or sell it…while it’s still hot…hmmmm…”


CURTAIN
End of story: the great new release is tentatively brought up again from time to time to be met with disparaging or confusing comments by a multitude of late-bloomers who happened upon it by chance.....

The above is not a play by Ionesco. But it very well could be.


Pic comes from BPAL site.

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