Sunday, April 25, 2021

Kenzo Parfum d'Ete: fragrance review & reminiscences

The first encounter I had with this unique ethereal green floral fragrance was with its predecessor in the misty glass and plastic bottle with the huge dew drop on the leaf that served as cap. The 1992 Parfum d'été

It was an eventful summer for me, with lots of glorious escapades that marked my youth, and the company of this delicate green jasmine that sang on the verdant throes of lily of the valley was the perfect embodiment of that carefree summery disposition which remains a wonderful memory. Back then, all I knew about Kenzo was that he was a Far Eastern designer who resided in Paris. And the fragrance in my mind seemed to embody both ends of the spectrum, being light and cerebral, like I imagined the Japanese to be, judging by their elaborate tea ceremony, and at the same time insidiously sensuous and subtly sexy in a carefree way, in the way models on the French Elle magazine spreads used to sprawl under the sun in the French countryside; I used to devour those magazines. Alongside Kenzo Homme, a revolutionary aquatic for men with an algae-woody backdrop, for a long time these two represented the new fresh breath of air that the Far East blew into the perfume scene, for me.  

Enter 10 years later and the 2002 edition of Parfum d'été substituted my lovely bottle with a more architectural, sparser design. At first, I was afraid that the repackaging was worse, and therefore the experience would be tarnished as well (though reformulations were not as big, nor as well known as nowadays, but the aesthetic was part of why the first edition had caught my eye in the first place). Thankfully I was soon proven wrong. The spicy green top note remains, as if a drop of galbanum had been dropped into a giant vat of lily of the valley materials with a side helping of my beloved hyacinth; cool, dewy, and sharp at first, delicate and whispering later on with musk remaining on the skin for a long time, though subtly perceptible. 

As fresh as tomorrow! If only we could graft this mood onto ourselves as well, sometimes...

Monday, April 5, 2021

Perfume Collection (partial)

 A glimpse of the ongoing madness...

It doesn't seem to ebb. This probably 1/5 of the collection. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Baruti Onder de Linde: fragrance review

 Exploring the Baruti line, a niche collection by Greek perfumer Spyros Drosopoulos, based in the Netherlands, I found myself transfixed by Onder de Linde, which roughly translates from the Dutch as "under the linden trees." (Sounds dreamy, doesn't it?)

This extrait de parfum has a way of speaking of blue skies and honeyed blossoms in a modern, totally unexpected way, as the floralcy does not arise till halfway in the heart notes. It might be that it came right when we were facing a very ominous winter, with the hope of spring far in the air, so this promise of joy and uplifting optimism was a much needed glimpse of a better future. It acts like an anti-depressant, almost, on a weary soul. It's honeyed, but restrained in the sweetness, not veering into gourmand territory at any rate. It's neither powdery, which many fragrances in this genre tend to fall into, especially ones which couple the heliotropin and aubepine molecules into mimosa notes that embrace lindens. It's soft like a feather, enduring like the faith of youth in itself.

The brand implies added notes of pear and lilac, which I do not detect per se (and I do love lilacs), but the effect is nothing short of a magical late spring, early summer morning when the birds are chirping and you're on to the love rendezvous you've been awaiting all your life, or – more prosaically – the career step you've always hoped for. It's that joyous, honestly. 

With the assistance of Madeleine Hillen (perfumer's assistant and lab manager) and Maria Chetskaya (brand manager), Baruti is going forward, plunging into the demanding niche sector, where you have to put your money where your mouth is to survive among hundreds of companies building their portfolio of scents day by day, year by year. It's clear they're destined for a bright future!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Smell of Books

 That wonderful rich smell of books, old or new, with that inherent variation ingrained, which lures seekers of knowledge since at least the time of Egyptian papyrii. Bibliosmia is actually a word, found in the Macmillan dictionary, although not exactly officially sanctioned, but pending its acceptance.

via pinterest
Recenty Powell's and Demeter tried to convey that with the word "biblichor", a play on the scientific, yet poetic, word petrichor, for the scent that erupts from the rock and the soil after the rain. The suffix ichor (borrowed directly from the Greek ιχώρ) means "the blood of the gods", and honestly I could not think of a better word to convey the magical properties that a good book can convey. 

Scent must be at the heart of the following statistic by the UK Reading Habits survey conducted in 2015, which showed that 71% of respondents didn’t use e-books at all, and 76% preferred the traditional book to its electronic equivalent. Holding a book is a multi sensorial experience, with touch being the second best aspect of it; just imagine rolling your fingers over the exceptionally smooth pages of a glossy coffee table book with big pictures, contrasting with the slightly grainy surface of an old paperback you picked up at the very last minute at an airport to pass the time during a long and boring flight... 

Like with many things, the scent is embracing death and decay, as contradicting as that sounds. Perfumephiles have long known, through exposure to their hobby, that a certain degree of death is a necessary component of any potent and poignant blend. Flowers wilting into the fat of enfleurage, a traditional method of extracting precious oils, are slowly dying in front of the perfumer's eyes; essences mimicking the genital regions' scent of animals, prized in perfumery for centuries, inadvertently recall that the animals will not be reproduced after all. 

Bibliosmia is therefore also caused by the chemical breakdown of compounds within the paper, which give a sweetish smell, both figuratively and literally, thanks to the preponderance of vanillin in the final outcome. The slow death of the book, eroding through time, sometimes a very long time, is accountable for the bettering of the smell the longer the book sits. Paper contains cellulose and lignin (a polymer of aromatic alcohols, accounting for the yellowing of the pages as well). This breaks down to vanillin and turns sweet and enticing. Older books also contain other chemicals nevertheless, including benzaldehyde (the smell of almonds), furfural (also almondy), ethyl hexanaol (faintly floral), toluene (a sweetish smell), and ethyl benzene (sweet as well). The older the book, the more lignin it contains, and the stronger the scent. 

New books on the other hand hold the aroma of adhesives, paper, and modern ink as well. The smell of the Xerox room is unmistakable, due to the odor of the inks and petrochemicals. Modern binding adhesives can be based on co-polymers, one example of which is vinyl acetate ethylene, while the treatment of the paper with chemicals, although odorless to begin with, results in various reactions within which produce varied results via the emergence of volatile organic compounds. 

Chemicals such as sodium hydroxide, commonly known as ‘caustic soda’, can be added to increase the pH of the paper pulp and cause fibers to swell. These are then bleached with hydrogen peroxide, among other solubles, and mixed with large amounts of water. This water is also full of additives which modify the properties of the paper, such as alkyl ketene dimer which aids in making the paper somewhat water resistant. Newer paper has undergone processing to remove lignin, but cellulose breaks down all the same in newer books as it does in old, so the aroma is there, if somewhat different. 

 On the whole there is a dearth of scientific research on what exactly makes "new book smell", which I hope to be amended in the following years.

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