Thursday, September 17, 2009

Essentially Me: fragrance reviews (& draw) is an artisanal perfume company founded by Alec Lawless, whose book Artisan Perfumery or Led by the Nose we had reviewed on Perfume Shrine a while ago. The beauty of the company and the site is that you can order your own supplies and play around with real, genuine, authentic essences to see what the heck they really do smell like! You never knew what's the difference between Virginian and Atlas (Moroccan) cedar? They have both. You read about Guaiacwood (Paraway lignum) and get confused? Now you won't be anymore. You have never in your life come across broom or boronia? You have your chance to revel in those unique and paradisial smells. You hear about orris (the rhizomes of iris) and how it's super costly (and apparently not used in your commercial perfume)? For 44.99 pounds you can get your very own with a very high 16% irones ratio (this is the percentage of the smelly molecules in it) and use it to enhance your scents with the wonderfully earthy, powdery, delicate aroma that was prized since antiquity. Same for link lotus absolute, osmanthus, labdanum, oppoponax, oakmoss and so many others....

Being a purveyor of fine essences through his and his ex-wife's company Aqua Oleum, Alec Lawless was in close proximity with good materials for quite a long time. At some point he decided to blend his own scents for sheer pleasure more than their aromatherapy value (and who can blame him, it's ever so inviting to mix those delectable materials!) and, what have you, he seems like he knows a bit or two about the art. Alec uses his own copyrighted "system" of describing and differentiating between notes, baptizing them Heart (the main idea, the "family" classification if you please), Nuance (the character of the composition, the central cord) and Intrigue (the accessory notes that pique your interest and provide the desire to explore further, top notes and nosegays, so to speak).

The line currently includes 10 fragrances made from naturals with only about 1% of synthetics*, of which I am reviewing 5 today (you will find a link for more reviews of the rest on Scenthive at the bottom)

White Blooms
Heart: delicate white floral
Nuance: soft green balsam
Intrigue: warm woody.

If you have never smelled real essences from flowers you're missing on a whole brave world: the essences vibrate with a Kirlian aura, emitting their life-force on paper, on skin, wherever. Those dregs in perfume bottles that pass as floral fragrances these days do not possess even one iota of that kind of vibracy. White Blooms is expectedly an orgy of lovely flowers, of which orange blossoms, jasmine and the sweet honeyed mantle of beeswax comprise the very core. It's awfully pretty ~without being all "demure" like so many office scents are~ and it is positively optimistic: sunny, feminine, ambrosial, wonderful. "White Champac and orange blossoms cover a faint hint of pink lotus and jasmine. Delicacy is maintained by using absolutes of hay and beeswax to impart soft warm green notes, which are, in turn supported by a base of sandalwood, frankincense and a light vanilla courtesy of benzoin resin".

Heart: masculine floral
Nuance: balsamic incense
Intrigue: herbs and spice.

Let it be said that I am not an "amber person". I mentally picture those people ooohing and aaahing over the densest of amber fragrances as big, "wooly" personalities with terrific social skills, engulfing hugs and always a virtual pattisserie of things to offer in the remisses of their cupboards. Although I don't stand small myself, I am certainly none of the above and my house-warming gestures usually involve on-the-spot preparing of little amuse-bouche (Better not shop for sweet things if no-one is scheduled to appear on my doorstep I tell you!). Having said that, most ambers usually strike me as pleasant on the one hand, but too embulient, too "expressive", too sweet somehow; and usually they scare the hell out of me with their gigantic sillage-d tentacles! To its credit this Amber follows the prime example of Lutensian vision and adds a fat dollop of herbal and spicy elements that manage to give a culinary aspect (the housewarming bit of something roasting in the background) while it simultaneously gives a lightly cool aspect through frankincense and melancholic myrrh (essences I am especially drawn to). It makes me feel comfortable without having that heavy, petting aunt with the auburn curly hair insisting I tell her "all about my classmates and my boyfriends" and I can finally relax... "Subtle hints of spice, mint, caraway and thyme evolve on the skin to reveal a floral heart of jasmine, lavender, rose and clary sage. The base is provided by labdanum, frankincense, sandalwood and myrrh with hints of vanilla and patchouli".

Trade Wind
Heart: cool sea
Nuance: warm earth
Intrigue: warm wind.

There's nothing more difficult than creating a "marine" or "ozonic" fragrance with natural materials. I believe it's nigh impossible because that family strongly depends on the popularised synthetics of the 90s. Trade Wind manages to just skim Charybdis, by opting to borrow the warmer elements of earth with its rooty aroma (very discernible vetiver and woods) and folding them into saltier things (seaweed compliments vetiver well, both sharing a salty nuance). The result is not exactly a marine and it's not screechily persistent and piercing like most marines are, which is a good thing. "Seaweed absolute with mint and violet leaf conjure up the ocean whilst galbanum resin, sandalwood, and vetivert hint at the soft warm earth. Carried in the breeze are faint impressions of orange flowers, linden blossoms, hay and nutmeg

Heart: Precious woods
Nuance: rose and spice
Intrigue: Incense.

No prizes for guessing this is a Middle-East and India-inspired fragrance: the very elements comprising it, from rose to incense to spice, suggest the East and its bazaarss. Perhaps because it's such a traditional concept or because Lutens has spoiled me rotten with his own mirage of Felix Arabia with dried fruits and dirty armpits I wasn't impressed as much. "The haunting smells of the spice markets, the Arab love affair with the rose, fragrant gardens, precious woods, resins and incense. Sandalwood, frankincense and Cedar of Lebanon are blended with balsams to provide a complex woody heart. Rose Maroc, jasmine, orris and neroli bring floral tributes from surrounding lands. Citrus fruits, herbs and oriental spices bring nuance from the market stalls and the ancient mysterious opoponax suggests incense with help from frankincense and sandalwood".

Heart: violet leaf, tobacco
Nuance: Jasmine, rose
Intrigue: guaiacwood.

"Needs to be worn by a dark haired woman day or night if you have the confidence" is how Tangos is presented on the site. The thing practically beckoned me, calling my name. Dark hair, check. Confidence, check. Day or night wearing, check (I wear whatever whenever). Finding out it was originally made for a friend from Argentina based upon her choices of aromatics was titillating. The reality is it smells of many things that amalgamate into a musky, rose-tobacco mix with prominent florals in the framing. There is a bitter and also a sweet element antagonising each other and I feel like it should have been a little more feathered out so as to let the essences project more clearly ~this happens after a couple of hours on skin, I'd love it to be so from the start. "A deep green sultry forest (oak moss, violet leaf, vetivert Bourbon and tobacco) slowly releases complex floral bursts (jasmine, ylang, rose Otto, geranium Bourbon, vanilla and rose Maroc) with hints of herb and spice (hay, coriander, tonka bean)."

Please visit Scenthive for more reviews on the fragrances by Essentially Me.

I have a set of all the fragrances (minus the quantity I tried) for giving away to a lucky reader!

*Disclaimer on account of "Synthetic fragrance compounds usually have petrochemical-derived ingredients. The ones we use are about 50% petrochemical-derived, with the rest made up of turpentine derivatives (that is, synthetic molecules created from chemically processing alpha-pinene which is extracted from pine trees)”

Body Painting Jack O'Kundalini taking "Jack in the Pulpit" by Geogia O'Keefe as the starting point via Tangoing couple via

In the interests of full disclosure we have been sent samples of the line.


  1. Ooooh, pick me! Would love to smell these.

    (Serious question: do you really feel that hair color affects what perfumes one wears? I can see that one's coloring and general appearance might affect one's overall style personality, and in that sense might make a difference as to what scents one would choose, but I opine that not all dark-haired women have the same fragrance style.)

  2. Alec is having an open house reception at his studio in England today, and I'm sure your insightful reviews will put him over the moon. Thanks so much Elena, for always welcoming new perfumers with such an open mind and thoughtful reviews. BTW, have you seen Boris? I'll send a private link ;-)

  3. Whoop-de-hallelujah- do !

    I'm all excited here ;-)

    May I join the fray ?

    BTW- E-
    May you and your loved ones be inscribed in the Book of Life for a Sweet New Year ;-)

    Kisses to you.
    [The wild mushroom basmati soup is simmering, and the spiced fresh apple honey cake is in the oven...sit down!]

  4. Anonymous14:55

    Dear E,

    Please include me in the draw.

    I love your reviews! Laughing about the "amber person" description; I stand with you on the dangers of stocking sweet things as a matter of course. Not sure yet if I am or am not an "amber person" as my exploration of the individual notes in perfumes has barely begun, but I know I am an "incense person". Am always a bit concerned that others see me as a pasty-skinned (on account of never leaving the dim confines of some damp old cathedral)and humourless individual who must be wearing a hair shirt under the dark habit;) Would love to read your idea of an "incense person".

    Thank you as always

  5. Roberto15:05

    Hi , again here, reading your really good reviews and also to ask to be entered in the draw, many thanks!!!

  6. JAntoinette15:09

    Mmm, Tango. I'll admit I skimmed down through the names to see which one I believed would suit me best. I jumped right over Trade Winds (I'm not a marine person), but after reading your description, my interest is officially piqued. Thanks for the intriguing reviews.

  7. Oh my!! I am trying so hard not to be that "heavy, petting aunt with the auburn curly hair insisting I tell her 'all about my classmates and my boyfriends'". LOL! Seriously, I do feel that these scents would help me achieve that...[insert winning and slighty ingratiating smile here].
    Love your writing!

  8. Rappleyea16:14

    Okay now - "Kirlian aura" and "Those dregs in perfume bottles that pass as floral fragrances these days do not possess even one iota of that kind of vibracy." - you're speaking my language now, E.!

    As I think I've told you, I've been an aromatherapist (therapeutic, not perfume blending - aches, pains, bronchitis, toxic spider bites? I'm your girl!) for 15 years now, and since I HAVE smelled these essences, it's been really hard in these reformulation mad times to appreciate the perfumes being produced.

    And most of the "natural" lines I've tried don't smell like "perfume", but rather simple blends I could have blended myself.

    Long winded way of saying, your review of the Essentially Me fragrances makes me want to order samples ASAP - if I don't win the draw that is ;-). But then don't your reviews always do that!

    P. S. Read the header of the post below "Parisienne Limo Sex?" and died laughing!

  9. Anonymous17:32

    Would love to be included in the draw, but I'm afraid I don't fit your description of an amber person! I have some crazy scent-devouring skin, and with all of the physical activity I engage in I need scents that have lasting power if I am to enjoy them for more than an hour. Ambers are one of the few things that I can count on smelling good and having staying power. I've yet to meet an amber that didn't smell wearable on me.
    I am particularly intrigued by your review of Tango, and Strangely enough, Tradewinds (you had me at Vetiver and Nutmeg, seaweed be d@mned!)


  10. Well, heck! Between you two I have no chance of resisting Essentially Me.. Some of these fragrances sound like a good match, and I'm always looking for smaller-scale perfumers to try. So, please enter me in the draw!

    (And I agree - I am so not an amber person but always opt for incense. Wonder what it says about personalities? )

  11. These sound lovely especially intrigued by Tango. Although with my penchant for Amber you must think I am sort of bear of a person.

  12. They each sound wonderful! May I please be included in the draw for these natural scents? Thanks so much...

  13. Anonymous19:31

    Dear E,

    I just realized I asked to be included in the draw but never left my name. I'm the fourth comment (just after chayaruchama). Apologies.

    Natalia (the incense person)

  14. Elena,
    I'm so glad you and Trish together reviewed the whole set of Alec's fragrances. I am intrigued by each one. Please count me in the drawing!

  15. Anonymous20:00

    Put me in the give away.

  16. Michelle21:12

    Hi! These sound divine! Please enter me in the drawing for the samples! Thank you! :)

  17. Elena,

    I loved reading your reviews, especially for Tango! And I completely agree with you about White Blooms, what a gorgeous blend of white florals with the unexpected sweet resinous warmth of beeswax! Of the five you reviewed, that is the one I spent the most time with and really enjoyed.

    Thanks for doing the reviews with me!


  18. Ooh, these sound marvelously interesting, and I would love to be included in the drawing -- thank you!

  19. Fernando23:51

    These do sound really good; please enter me in the draw.

  20. I am definitely one of those amber people! Those warm, thick, rich, luscious scents--I'll wear them all!

    As for skin tone governing what you can wear, I think that must be some kind of nonsense, because I am one of those very light-skinned Celtic types (red-brown hair, hazel eyes), and I can wear just about anything you can name, from fresh citrus colognes to dark, mysterious orientals. I think it's much more about the attitude than the skin colour.

  21. I very much enjoyed reading the reviews, these perfumes sound quite intriguing! I'm looking forward to reading the book!

  22. Oh man, am I ever an amber person!! I practically fell out of my chair laughing at that. Amber perfumes are long-time faves of mine, and your description fits me to a T. So please enter me in the draw!


  23. PhinClio05:01

    They all sound intriguing. Please enter me in the draw!

  24. Please enter me, I would love to try these, I have never heard of them! I am especially curious about White Blooms and Souk, although they all seem wonderful!

  25. M,

    not seriously, but I believe hair colour as a concept was conceived at the start of the 20th century when hair dyes were scarce and dangerous: they were taking natural colour as the basis to reflect complexion hues, which does have some scientific basis. And based on those beliefs, some manufacturers such as Patou did advertise their perfumes according to hair colouring:
    One example
    Another one

    Of course having said that, not all women of one hair colour (or skin type) like the same things or even suit the same things, because several other little factors are involved as well.
    I should probably devote a whole article to this. ;-)

  26. NPG,

    thanks for chimming in and glad it might provide a little mirth. Boris sure provided some hard laughs! :D

  27. Dear I,

    may this new Year be filled with every joy you so richly deserve, you and your loved ones. Thank you so much for your kind wishes and your thoughtfulness always.

    And of course you're in the draw. I think Tangos and White Blooms are calling your name. Amber too perhaps.

  28. Anon,

    thanks for your kind words. I am not far from your description either and I do consider myself an "incense person" (should make a little fun post on these typecast figures, it might be fun!) so that makes two of us, I guess!
    Mental note to satisfy your wish! :-)

  29. Roberto,

    thanks so much for saying so and best of luck with the draw!

  30. JA,

    it's only natural that we're drawn to some things and not to others. I found Trade Wind to be more of a vetiver-salty-ambergris almost like frag than marine. It's quite nice, for that sort of thing, taking in mind most marines hit you like a ton of bricks with that screechy "sea air" synth accord.
    Tangos should be good for your taste, I trust.
    You're in!

  31. D,

    dearest, yes, I know, and boy, does it produce a bummer for you when you never recognise those precious things in the commercial run-of-the-mill stuff! It's really sad...I tried one commercial scent recently and am battling on how to word my disappointment on how bad it impressed me as being...

    You're included in the draw and best of luck! And btw, do try Manoumalia as well, I believe this is the most "natural", true, earthy floral I have sampled in quite some time.

  32. Disteza,

    thanks for stopping by and for entering the draw and most of all for providing the view of the "scent eating skin" brigade: I hear there are some of you out there. In that case, yup, ambers do anchor themselves down pretty well and you can count on them, even if you're not the (playfully and not too seriously) described personality described.
    Yes, Trade Wind was a surprise: it's not really a marine at all!

  33. Eilein,

    small scale perfumeries deserve their time on the air just as much as biggers ones and I have always tried to give them the time of day. So glad that people get an interest. You're included!

    Incense persons: hmmm, a funny lot! ;-) They like to be all mysterious-like and dwelve in libraries behind fat tomes of arcana, all serious. They can be sensual though too!

  34. J,

    Tangos should be a good fit I should think. Maybe Amber too, perhaps a tad too herbal and non vanillic enough, but only testing should prove if so.
    I think the "amber person" description (which is of course purely a playful impressions) has to do more with personality than stature: do you hug people a lot and are extra-attentive to their needs? :D

  35. Scentmuse,

    of course you can! Best of luck. There is something for everyone I guess in the line.

  36. N,

    of course darling! I am noting it down as we speak!

  37. Amy,

    there were quite a few and we broke them up so we keep it short and sweet. Glad you liked it!
    Best of luck :-)

  38. Lulu,

    naturally, good luck!

  39. M,

    they're quite pleasant and some are very wearable (White Blooms should prove to be wildly popular)
    You're included!

  40. T,

    it was a real pleasure doing them with you and hope you enjoyed my impressions just as much as I did writing them down. I think White Blooms will be very successful commercially, it's quite beautiful and vibrant, you feel the pretty flowers sing together and they don't antagonise each other. (I love white blossoms)
    Loved reading your impressions as well!

  41. Natalie,

    thanks, you're included in the draw and good luck!

  42. F,

    of course I am! Good luck.

  43. R,

    there's no doubt that the skin-colour/type theory has some holes: one of which is that Celtic and Nordic types usually populate regions that are supremely fitted to warm, purring, ambery fragrances in the first place!! And certainly if we corner the perfumistos and perfumistas, I think we're excluded because we're so diverse and explorative.
    Yet it's a fun concept if one doesn't take it too seriously! :-D

    It's fun you're an "amber person": I bet guests are never left wanting in your house.

  44. TA,

    glad you thought so! I enjoyed the book a lot.

  45. Pamster,

    LOL, am I glad I made you laugh!! And corroboration from one of the guilty ones, what's better? :-)
    Good luck in the draw!

  46. Flora,

    of course I'm counting you in. I believe WB should be to your taste (well, anyone's taste, it's very very pretty)

  47. Queen cupcake,

    well, trying to refrain from too much petting is the first step and I bet you're quite lovable the way you are! :-)
    Hope you win, and, by all means, thank you for your compliment and your wit!

  48. rachaelg13:20

    it's amazing how such a generous giveaway brings out all the lurkers (guilty). please include me, and thank you!

  49. I very much love the bodypainting image you posted ; I would be tempted to print it & put it somewhere on my office wall, delight for the eye.
    I went to M. Lawless -i like is name ;) his book will surely end on my desk in the near future with the samples that are generously offered "avec achat". I am happy you made us discover this perfumer. his philosophy, his respect of natural product and essence of the generous vegetation his inspiring.
    Cheers ! V

  50. Anonymous17:30

    These sound interesting-- please put my name in the drawing.
    -- Gretchen

  51. Helg,
    I am hugged but not the hugger :-P. I actually really enjoy Ambre Sultan so I would probably enjoy the ambre. As for over attentiveness I do like to feed people but only if they want to eat (I'm never pushy unless its apple cake and thats because I think your mad if you don't want to try it.).

  52. Luba08:17

    Hello. I'm really enjoying reading your blog and thanks to you I've discovered beautiful niche fragrances but also forgotten "old" treasures. Maybe I'll buy one day the kit and try to create my own fragrance, but for the moment I'm busy getting my nose on as many samples as possible. I'm pretty sure I'll love Amber and Tangos. :)

  53. Rachel,

    yeah, isn't it? I admit I quite enjoy doing it for that reason as well: it helps me see my audience more clearly and it also highlights which scents/lines/concepts interest them more.
    You're welcome, you're in!

  54. V,

    glad you loved it (I liked the idea a lot myself, after all O'Keefe is a prime inspiration for that sort of thing) and even happier you got to know AL, this colourful personality!

  55. Gretchen,

    it's a deal, you're in!

  56. J,

    ah...that settles it! And you've got a point on the apple thing, no doubt! I wouldn't say no to you.

  57. Luba,

    thanks so much for commenting, it's really heartwarming you saying so and very much appreciated!! I'm so happy you are discovering things through the writing on this blog!
    I'm including in the draw and hope you find new beauties to make you quiver with pleasure.


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