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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Scents of Place: The Artisan Advantage

By Donna

The debate over natural versus synthetic perfumes is ongoing, and both viewpoints have their proponents. It is generally agreed that mixed media compositions are usually the most successful artistically, while purely synthetic scents can lack character and seem faceless or cheap. Naturals often have issues with longevity and the unavoidable limiting factor of fewer source materials to work with. However, there is one thing that fragrances with a high percentage of natural materials can do that synthetics cannot, in my experience; evoke an actual sense of place, and “three dimensional” impressions of the real world. It is true that any aroma, not just of a perfume, can trigger a memory or an emotion. Fragrances can do it by design, and a skilled perfumer can orchestrate smells to bring forth a complex array of sensations. This is where artisan perfumery displays one of its greatest strengths – without accountants, focus groups and brand managers looking over their collective shoulders, they are free to follow their own ideas to conclusion and draw the rest of us into their world. I am highlighting just a few of these ideas from recent introductions by some of our most talented fragrance artists.

Shelley Waddington of En Voyage Perfumes created Rainmaker to celebrate her new hometown of Portland, Oregon (which is also where I live) and its unique cultural vibe. Appropriately, it has an ozonic note, but it also has a grounded feel to it. To me it smells like a wet day in the city when it has just been raining and the evaporating moisture fills the air, amplifying the smells of wet pavement, old trees, muddy earth, bark mulch, grass and crushed flowers under a dramatic sky. Anything with a petrichor note will capture my attention, and this one gets it just right. In other words, it smells very much like an idealized version of my own neighborhood, and if I step out into my garden on such a day I will have a very Rainmaker experience. It has a cologne-like transparency, yet it maintains its fresh appeal for a long time into the drydown, a testament to what a well-judged blend of naturals and synthetics can accomplish. Truly unisex, the appeal of this easy to live with scent is very broad.

The opposite of the cool wet Northwest is the desert, a place Amber Jobin of Aether Arts Perfumes knows well; Red Dodecahedron is the latest in her Burner series based on her annual pilgrimage to the Burning Man festival in Nevada. The immediate sensation from this fragrance for me is sun-baked dust sifting into everything; I have no idea how this was done but it’s very impressive. It does not stop there, but continues to develop into a sensual fragrance that includes black pepper, chamomile and a base of woods and resins including frankincense and sandalwood. It also has an animalic quality, bringing to mind the earthy denizens of Burning Man. After being in the desert sands, a cool beverage is most welcome, and her new Strawberry Sling perfume oil just hits the spot. This is a scent that emerged from the perfumer’s own experience of sipping a cocktail while smelling flowers blooming nearby, and it’s so delicious that it should have a warning label on it that says “do not drink.” A blend of lemon-scented natural essences results in the exhilarating zest of freshly squeezed Meyer lemons, mixed with a spot-on vodka accord accented with rosemary and a strawberry note paired with rose. I really loved this one, and I am hoarding my sample to wear when summer comes around again and it’s too hot for most other kinds of perfume. This is a textbook example of the kind of fun, offbeat work to emerge from the studios of indie perfumers who have free rein over their own work.

Sometimes a perfumer chooses to pay homage to Mother Nature in a more specific way; in The Voices of Trees, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes creates a scent that feels like an evergreen forest, with richly balsamic resin perfuming the air as the trees tower overhead, swaying gently in the wind. As narrow as its focus is, it is more than just a “smell” and works perfectly as a fully realized fragrance. I can’t open the vial without thinking of the woods behind my house when I was a child, a place where I spent endless hours among the pine, spruce and hemlock trees. Another recent DSH creation, the limited edition La Belle Saison evokes the sensation of fresh lilacs in the spring. Unlike virtually all other lilac perfumes, which are reconstructions that contain synthetics, this is an all-natural composition that gives the impression of lilacs without the usual photo-realistic aroma found in most of them, and contains no actual lilac. Instead, the effect is of being in a garden that has lilacs blooming but which also encompasses the other aromas of spring – green leaves, wet grass, drifts of scent from other flowers. It is as fresh and delicate as a rain-drenched panicle of white lilac blossoms, its beauty even further enhanced by its extrait de parfum concentration.

It’s not just places that can be conjured up by a fragrance. In the masterful Memento Mori from Aftelier Perfumes, natural perfumer Mandy Aftel has advanced her alchemical art yet again with a stunning creation that is sure to bring to mind not only familiar places, but a human presence. Just inhaling the scent from the vial resulted in a swirl of emotions and half-remembered flickers of the past. I felt as though I had arrived home on a cold winter night and entered a place filled with warmth; standing in the doorway of a comfortable old farmhouse filled with the sweetness of wood smoke and the funky dampness of drying-out wool coats, the lingering aftermath of baking, and most of all the musky, physical embrace of a beloved person. It is remarkable how much this fragrance evokes a living being; if you have ever held a sweater or robe that belonged to someone you loved and missed and breathed deeply of it to bring them closer, you have some idea of what Memento Mori is like. It almost feels too private to wear in public places, being meant for either solitude or closeness; on skin it gradually becomes almost unnervingly intimate, like skin-to-skin contact with a lover, and capable of bringing strong emotions to the surface unbidden. It is powerful and beautiful, but not in the least pretty. It may seem strange to ascribe such power to a perfume, but I think anyone who smells this will fall under the same spell.

Image credits: Rainy day wallpaper from; Vintage strawberry patterned (actual) wallpaper detail from Etsy seller wallpaperyourworld; “Lilac Party” wallpaper from; lighted doorway at night wallpaper from
Disclosure: I received free samples from all the perfumers whose perfumes I reviewed in this post.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Coming soon - more perfume posts!

Sorry for the long hiatus; sometimes life just happens and time gets away from us. We will return soon with perfume reviews, giveaways and more!

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

We have a winner! has spoken, and the winner of the Zoologist Perfumes Hummingbird sample is Stacey Walls. Just hit the "Contact me" on the right and give us your mailing address. Congratulations!

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Fragrance takes flight as Hummingbird and Bat join the Zoologist Perfumes menagerie – and a prize draw!

By Donna

One of the most distinctive new brands in the crowded sea of niche perfumery is Zoologist Perfumes. Creative director Victor Wong had an original idea, cruelty-free fragrances inspired by the animal world, and in 2014 the first three fragrances of his vision were launched. Beaver, Panda and Rhinoceros are wildly divergent in style, but each one has its own charm. Mr. Wong is a fascinating man of many talents who tells the most marvelous stories, and the Zoologist label designs reflect his sense of humor and whimsy.

I was sure I would adore Panda when I read the list of notes. It had everything I could ever want in a floral-green scent, but when I finally did try it, there was an obstacle in the way of my full enjoyment; vetiver. This very popular perfumery material can be a nemesis for me, especially in its greener state versus the dark roasted vetiver as exemplified in Bruno Fazzolari's Lampblack. In Panda there is just enough vetiver to overrun the delicacy of such notes as bamboo, osmanthus, green tea, lily, mandarin, orange blossom, moss, and more things that I adore. That said, I can tell that it is a very well-done fragrance, and if my own nose and skin chemistry did not turn fresh green vetiver into old, stale vase water, I would indeed love it. It was composed by talented perfumer Paul Kiler of PK Perfumes.

Mr. Kiler also composed Rhinoceros, which could not be more different than Panda, and its aggressively masculine style is both wild and wonderful. I was skeptical of this one, and as sure as I was of liking Panda I “knew” that Rhinoceros was not for me, but what can I say, I do love it. It is a leathery scent with sturdy aspects of rum and tobacco in synergy with the pungency of pine, sage and lavender. This is well-trodden ground (see what I did there?) but the difference in Rhinoceros is that it is not trying to be polite and civilized like so many well-regulated mainstream masculines. It has all the classical elements writ large, but it is not crude or loud by any means, just big and strong and unapologetically so, like its namesake. After the first couple of hours it mellows to an expansive, glowing drydown, a hearth-side feel that is most pleasing. I do not usually wear masculine fragrances (as opposed to unisex) but that is really just a social construct in most cases, and I really enjoy wearing this. It is free of the unfortunate markers of mainstream fragrances meant for men – it is not sporty or fresh and it has none of those huge synthetic woody-amber molecules that tend to wreak havoc on the sinuses of the unsuspecting. Whoever decides to wear this, just do it with confidence and don't worry about labels. Rhinoceros makes me happy whenever I put it on; it's funny that a perfume with the name of a wild animal with a formidable weapon and a reputation for being near-sighted and cranky turns out to be a comfort scent.

The most truthful fragrance of the line may very well be Beaver, because it does smell very animalic and more than a little bit funky after an unexpected opening chord of airy linden blossom and iris with a crystalline, watery feel. This fleetingly lovely overture last for only a few moments before the muskiness emerges, and by this I do not mean those clean “modern” musks which are only so called because of molecular similarities to the real thing. Yet no animal musks, or other animal products, are in the perfume – it is all either synthetics or natural alternatives, and in this composition these accords smells about as close to nature as I have experienced in a contemporary perfume, redolent and rich, persistent and sweet in that peculiar gamey way of the animal world like a beaver's thick, oily coat, all through the magic of skillful perfumery. Beaver is meant to paint a picture of the creature in its natural habitat of secretive woodland pools and wildflower meadows, and it all comes together to do just that. It was composed by Chris Bartlett of the off-kilter Pell Wall Perfumes, a British niche company.

Hummingbird, launched late in 2015, is my favorite of the line so far in a close race with Rhinoceros, a soaring, joyous celebration of flight, flowers and sweet nectar, as light as air but as sweet as a summer morning. Shelley Waddington of En Voyage Perfumes lent her skills to this one, and it bears her signature aesthetic of lilting florals and sunny good humor. I have a serious weakness for floral scents of this general style, and no one does them better than Shelley. I had the privilege of smelling some of the original mods for this fragrance, all of which were really pretty, and I wondered which variation would make the cut. When I received my sample, it was even better than I thought it would be; the floral fantasy of honeysuckle, mimosa, lilac, and honey I had smelled before had been heightened by the addition of succulent cherry and plum flesh and delicious sweet cream, a hummingbird's wildest dreams come true. It is as light as air yet long-lasting, sweet without being too sugary, and a triumphant demonstration that there is such a thing as a really great fruity-floral perfume (which I already knew, despite the many disastrous offering in this genre). Hummingbird is simply ecstasy in a bottle and is practically guaranteed to lift the mood of even the most curmudgeonly among us; I dare anyone not to smile with sheer delight when they smell it for the first time.


Continuing with the winged theme, Bat is brand new for 2016 and is already garnering glowing praise. Its author is Dr. Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, and it is intense and original in accord with her unique bold style. It has a big presence, and it reminds me of something else in the top notes; fans of The Cobra and the Canary by Imaginary Authors (count me among them) will probably find a lot to like in Bat, which evokes initial imagery of a dusty barn to me. It does not have the “old engine oil” vibe of the IA scent, but rather more of a haunted feeling, with lots of wood. The wood is distinctly weird – dry and warm at first, it gradually becomes darker and damp and gets a little bit of “blue cheese” vibe to it; it smells very much like the underside of a board that has been lying out in the garden, and when you turn it over it has a loamy smell and lots of little critters clinging to it. I happen to like that smell so I was intrigued. I also get a strong herbal sense of artemisia, specifically Southernwood, which I used to grow, with its odd blend of medicinal camphor and citrus scent, although it is not listed as a note. Mixed in with these aromas are hints of fruit and something faintly metallic, and earthen dust; banana is listed but it's not sweet and jammy, it's the raspy slide of the inside of the peel. Overall, this perfume reminds me of the cellar in my childhood home where we stored potatoes over winter, and where I did not really like to go because even in summer the gloomy chill of the place permeated everything, and the resident spiders were huge. So yes, it's a very good rendition of a bat cave, or maybe that dusty old barn at the beginning is daylight, and the bats in the belfry only come out in the cool of the evening as the fragrance develops. For me it is more of an artistic statement than a perfume I would wear myself, as it is somewhat unsettled on my skin and smells different every time I put it on, but it is an impressive achievement.

Now for the best part - Due to the generosity of Victor Wong, I have an extra carded sample of Hummingbird for one lucky reader – you must have a mailing address in the continental U.S.A. to win. Please leave a comment if you would like to be entered, and good luck!

Image credits: Hummingbird tableau and Bat bottle courtesy of Zoologist Perfumes. Rhinoceros at sunset via

Disclosure: The review samples were sent to me by Zoologist Perfumes and Dr. Ellen Covey.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Come in from the cold: Winter and holiday offerings for 2015 from Aftelier Perfumes

By Donna

Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes has made a habit of delighting us just when we need it most, in the dreary days of winter. This season we are presented with a new perfume, a different version of another, and a long-awaited addition to her line of organic artisan teas.

All new for 2015 is Vanilla Smoke, which through some sleight of hand actually smells more like real smoke than many fragrances with synthetic ingredients; the effect comes from a special extract of Lapsang Souchong tea that has been smoked over pine wood. I have to admit that smoky perfumes and I do not always get along, and when I first put this on, I smelled just like Henri Bendel's Firewood candle – one of the best there is, but not something I would want to wear on my skin. Fortunately this effect subsided as it warmed up and the vanilla note began to expand. It is a decidedly non-foody Madagascar vanilla absolute, deep and dark and woody, the perfect mate for the smoke. The composition is wrapped in a veil of real ambergris, which acts as the binder to make the whole thing seamless and velvet-smooth and gives it extraordinary longevity. This new introduction is available in both eau de parfum and extrait; the latter is almost supernaturally rich and dense and a bit less smoky to my nose than the eau de parfum; it's a showcase for the vanilla and ambergris. Wear it for the most special of occasions; it stays close to the skin, but those who do get close will be mesmerized.

I tested the fabulous Bergamoss when it was launched in solid form, and now it is available as a liquid perfume for a limited time. I may even like it better in this formulation, if that is possible; it is opened up, sharp and distinctive, punched up with a shot of bitter-green the way I like my chypres, yet still imbued with the beauty of the florals and the marvelous essence of the aromatic flouve grass. The bergamot is very forward in this version, while the solid is softer and mossier, with some sweetness added from the creamy base itself. The eau de parfum is striking, exhilarating, and vibrant, the perfume equivalent of a beautiful woman in a daring green dress who turns heads the moment she enters a room. We are so very lucky to have American perfumers making real chypres at a time when European firms are hobbled by EU/IFRA restrictions - I say bring it on, and since this is a limited edition, get it while you can, it is superb.


And the tea – oh my, the tea! It has been two years since the launch of the original three perfumed teas from Aftelier, which are wonderful, and the new Orange & Cardamom black tea, using flavorings from Aftelier's wonderful Chef's Essences, was worth the wait. Cardamom is my favorite of all the sweet spices, but dosing is key; too little and it can be overpowered by other aromas, too much and its highly pitched woody character can do its own overwhelming. This is judged just right, blending the sharp brightness of cardamom with a sweet and inviting blood orange, which also happens to be one of my favorites so far from the Chef's Essences line. The tea itself is top shelf rolled black tea pearls of exceptional quality, of course. This is a treat for cold mornings curled up on the couch and relaxing, savoring every sip, and a worthy addition to the lineup.

Image credits: “Golden Smoke” wallpaper from, art by T Glow. One of my favorite photos of actress Elizabeth Taylor, in a publicity shot from 1951's “A Place In The Sun.”
Disclosure: The samples of all the products in this review were sent to me by Aftelier Perfumes.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Foodie Sunday: New scented teas from Providence Perfume Company

By Donna

When I heard that Providence Perfume Company was introducing a new line of organic perfumed teas, I knew I was in for a treat, since I already love Charna Ethier's creative natural fragrances, and when I received them for testing I was not disappointed. All six varieties of these “A Poth A Care” loose teas are outstanding, and very different in character; there is something for everyone in this lovely selection.

Perhaps the gentlest of the group is Green Pearl, a classic green tea that is presented in the traditional rolled “gunpowder” style. It is so easy to drink and as smooth as one could wish for. When a tea is as unadorned as this it has better be of top shelf quality, and this is some of the best green tea I have ever come across, with a hay-like aroma and none of the astringency one might expect of this style of tea. Drink this when you are in a meditative mood, or when you need a calming influence.

I sampled Yuzu Breakfast when the weather was still very warm, and it's just perfect for a summer morning. The formula is a little twist on the tried and true orange spice formula – the tea is the bold black pekoe found in the major supermarket brands and such teas as Constant Comment®, but the citrus component here is orange peel and the amazingly aromatic Japanese yuzu fruit peel, which lies somewhere between grapefruit and bergamot and is very zesty and exhilarating. No other flavoring is needed, and you will really look forward to waking up with this in your cup.

Orange Blossom Oolong is so delicious I was wishing that it also came in perfume form while I was drinking it – maybe I can persuade Ms. Ethier to make some? I have always been a fan of the subtle yet complex flavor of oolong tea, and the other ingredients in the blend enhance it without masking its essential delicacy. It has a sublime orange flower and jasmine aroma and a soft, creamy personality. I am sure this one will be a favorite with true tea connoisseurs.

I have been an Earl Grey tea purist for almost as long as I have been a tea drinker, which is a very long time. I was a little bit skeptical of messing with the basic formula, but Earl Grey & Lavender won me over very easily. The lavender in the mix is very refined and sweetly floral, not at all soapy, and it's a perfect partner for the lively freshness of the bergamot. This is also a green tea version of Earl Grey instead of the usual black tea, which may be a concern to other purists, but it really works here.

For those who like a richly flavored tea with a fruity character, look no further than Brambleberry Rose. I really love this one, which combines fine black tea with locally grown organic rose petals, raspberries, strawberries, cocoa nibs and Madagascar vanilla. The result is a deliciously jammy rose tea, rich and incredibly fragrant. (It seems like most companies that make a rose tea just can't resist adding hibiscus, which makes the tea too puckery, but that's thankfully absent from this formula.) This is the perfect thing for high tea accompanied by delectable desserts and strawberries with cream, and another one that should be a perfume too!

Last but certainly not least is Violetta, which is just ridiculously good. Green tea leaves that have been dried with night blooming jasmine to impart a floral quality are blended with Tahitian vanilla bean, violet extract and blue cornflowers. It reminds me very much of those violet-scented pastille candies, but without the chalkiness those can sometimes have. The sweet violet scent is true and so very pretty, like a breath of early spring on the breeze, and the flavor is truly unique. This is a strong contender for my favorite along with Brambleberry Rose, but thankfully I don't have to choose. You just can't go wrong with any of these.

Image credit: Violetta tea label art by permission of Providence Perfume Company
Disclosure: I received my samples directly from Providence Perfume Company.

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Friday, December 04, 2015

Pagans and Petrichor: New Burning Man fragrances from Aether Arts Perfume


By Donna

Perfumer Amber Jobin of Aether Arts Perfume makes a pilgrimage each year that most of us can only wonder about; she attends the annual Burning Man festival in the vast Black Rock Desert of Nevada. This celebration of art, music, creativity, personal expression of every kind and any number of things that are almost certainly banned in Boston is an ongoing inspiration for her, and the “Burner” series of perfume oils is a tribute to its influence on her aesthetic. I am very pleased to review the two newest scents in the series, which showcase Ms. Jobin's impressive and growing talent.

Sensuality is one of the main associations many people have with Burning Man – the “let it all hang out” dress code and encouraging of uninhibited behavior results in a a potent stew amounting to what may be the largest gathering of free spirits on the planet. Black Rock City is the embodiment of this atmosphere, an earthy, sexy perfume that cannot be mistaken for anything ordinary or tame. Named for the temporary community of thousands that springs up every year and then vanishes at the festival's conclusion, it was created in 2010 and only released to the public in 2015; Black Rock City is Number 1 in the Burner series. It is 95 percent natural and combines timeless desert essences like sage, mesquite and cedar in a deep, resinous composition that somehow evokes the scent of warm bodies to my nose, even though it is also quite dry and woody. It has a subtle vanillic sweetness from mesquite blossoms – an essence I have never smelled in a perfume before now – and is grounded in a base of cedar and mesquite wood. This deceptively simple formula is very long-lasting and complex, and must be experienced on skin for the full effect, as it just keeps getting better as the hours pass.

On the opposite end of the fragrance spectrum, Reflection (Burner No. 6) captures the sensation of the desert after a rare rainstorm, ominous with thunder and lightning yet brimming with life as thirsty desert plants spring up virtually overnight and flowers open their blooms to the sky after a long drought. The sensation of rain-washed earth evoked by this fragrance is astonishingly true to life, and it succeeds where so many have failed in capturing the exhilarating post-rain aroma known as petrichor. I have never been a big fan of ozone scents (exception: Ms. Jobin's own Argent, see link in first paragraph), mainly because they almost never seem to get it right, but this one does, blending the sharp, penetrating character of ozone with the tender scent of flowers and the soft wetness of still rain pools. Sage, mesquite and cedar make appearances here too, along with cactus flower, yucca flower and sage blossom accords. Even though it shares ingredients with Black Rock City, the two fragrances are worlds apart in style; Reflection is a testament to the artistic possibilities of mixed media perfumery, being 45 percent natural and 55 percent synthetic. (Both fragrances are made in oil form equal to 45 percent extrait, so their longevity is impressive.)

The two can also be layered together for a truly unique experience; in fact, that works wonderfully well on my skin. The extremes of wet ozone and dry wood cancel each other out just enough to allow the lighter herbal and floral notes to shine, like the breath of green plants rising from the warming earth as the rain evaporates under the desert sun. I give an enthusiastic thumbs up to them both, either by themselves or in combination.

Image credit: Lightning storm in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada wallpaper photo via
Disclosure: I received my samples for testing from Aether Arts Perfume.

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Sunday, November 01, 2015

Secrets in the night: Forbidden Love natural perfume from La Fleur by Livvy

by Donna

I only recently discovered the work of natural perfumer Olivia Larson of La Fleur by Livvy, but I was very impressed with her as an emerging talent. Now she is launching a new fragrance that elevates her work to a new level, and I am honored to be among the first to review it.

Forbidden Love is the story of a young Japanese man's hopeless yearning for a beautiful Geisha, a woman who is not allowed to have a personal life but who must always follow the strict rules of her profession and submit to duty over emotion. I will let the perfumer's own vision speak here:

I see her silhouette as she gracefully floats in Zori. Her obi tied in a simple knot. The nape of her neck is exposed as she turns around the corner at the street lamp. She has no idea that I wait for her passing each night on the way back from the tea house. Her kimono smells of a rich scent; a combination of orange blossoms, vanilla and lilies laced with tobacco. The Cypress trees and full moon heighten my senses. At that very moment a gentle waft of burning incense catches my breath from temples nearby. I am in love with her but she can never love me back for it is forbidden to love.”

This timeless theme has been translated into a fragrance that bypasses the usual Orientalist cliches and truly touches the heart. It is tender and wistful, a scent of longing, subtle yet richly layered. Every major ingredient in this perfume has a connection to Japan, including something I thought I would never encounter – real lily essence. Virtually all modern “lily” fragrances, even the best ones, are constructions assembled from various aroma chemicals, since the lily blossom only yields her precious oil grudgingly, and the process of extracting it is too laborious and expensive to be done on a large commercial scale. Ms. Larson has found a source for the real thing, a natural oil made from the majestic Lilium auratum of Japan, which is famous for both its dazzling beauty and its powerful scent. I knew I was experiencing something very special the first time I smelled this fragrance; the inclusion of vanilla brings to mind another Japanese lily, Lilium speciosum, with its exquisite “French perfume” aroma. Most people are familiar with the popular florist lilies 'Star Gazer' and Casa Blanca' which are bred from these iconic Japanese blossoms – now imagine opening a bottle of perfume and having that amazing smell emerge.

The remaining notes mesh with the lily and vanilla as gracefully as a Geisha's movements. Lotus and orange blossom enhance the floral beauty of the lily, cypress adds an element of green mystery, and tobacco leaf, benzoin, green tea and vodka hint at the atmosphere of the private rooms where wealthy men pay exorbitant prices to be presented with the talents of her ancient art behind the sliding screens; the tea ceremony, classical dancing, the spare, haunting music of the Shamisen, and clever conversation that makes a man feel flattered and important. Yet it is he who in thrall to her charms, much as I am enamored of Forbidden Love; at last I have found the lily perfume of my dreams.

This perfume will be available for purchase at La Fleur by Livvy's web site beginning on November 1, 2015. You can also read what some other perfume bloggers think about Forbidden Love at Fragrantica, Çafleurebon and Art and Entertain Me.

Image credit: Forbidden Love images provided by La Fleur by Livvy; lily photo and collage by the author.
Disclosure: I received my sample for testing from La Fleur by Livvy.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Impressions of Genius: DSH Perfumes Giverny in Bloom Collection

By Donna

Perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes has recently released the results of yet another collaboration with the Denver Art Museum – her eighth! - and once again she has demonstrated why she is one of the finest perfumers in America – and the world. The Giverny In Bloom Collection that accompanies the museum's major Impressionism exhibit is a perfect rendition of the artist's vision. There are four fragrances in the collection, three of which are actually the component accords for the final finished result named Giverny In Bloom. Each one has its own special character and is color-keyed to reflect its relationship to Impressionist art and gardens. Let's walk down the paths of Claude Monet's famous garden and see what we find.

La Danse des Bleus et Des Violettes is an homage to blue and violet blossoms, and its shy and wistful character is guaranteed to charm. Rich in violets, iris and heliotrope with a touch of lilac, it is ever so soft and slightly powdery; it reminded me of the delicate paintings on bone china teacups, yet it is no relic consigned to a display cabinet; a a breath of green and true to life floral notes keep it firmly in the garden. The violet is quite prominent here but everything is swirled together and so well-balanced that nothing is at the forefront for too long as all the notes have a turn in the limelight. For those who find most violet soliflores to be too melancholy, this would be a good one to try. It is not rain-washed and sad but restful, evocative of a shady corner where one stops to sit on a bench and contemplate the surrounding garden's beauty.


The more extroverted L'Opera des Rouges et des Roses is a celebration of reds and pinks, with plump roses and peonies jostling for attention with warm, spicy carnations and almost being upstaged by a sublime note of jasmine. This is a cheerful scent, rich and sweet, spilling over with abundance and joie de vivre, a garden party in a bottle. I love these “old-fashioned” style florals and I mean that in the best possible way; perfumes with exotic woods and spices are all the rage these days, but the skill required to create a mixed media floral perfume that is both original and interesting cannot be denied.                                                                         

My favorite of the three individual accord scents and the one that to me stands alone best as a finished perfume is Le Jardin Vert. Perhaps this is because it has one of my favorite notes in it – I just can't get enough galbanum, and there is enough of it here for my “green fix” and more; oakmoss, “dirt” accord, bergamot, pine needles – you name it, my favorite green and mossy things are all included, along with the ethereal breath of linden blossoms. This is a liquid vision of all those paintings of the bridge over the pond at Giverny, with weeping willows trailing in the water and lily pads covering its surface. The cool freshness of this perfume has been most welcome during this sweltering summer, and I have reached for it several times when the mercury rose to unbearable heights. 


So, you may be wondering, what happens when all three of the base accords are combined to make the perfume called Giverny in Bloom? I really only need one word to describe it: magical. This is where the perfumer's genius reveals itself, in a thrilling symphony of scent and color that is worthy of a tribute to the master of Impressionism. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the many superb florals combined with the green, mineral, earthy and woody materials create the uncannily three-dimensional effect of a living place. Its overall character is that of a green floral, with the galbanum of Le Jardin Vert still glimmering through. I can close my eyes and imagine I am there in Monet's overflowing garden, surrounded by the sensory feast of aromas and colors, not knowing where to look next, the dizzying jumble of grass, leaves and flower scents rising in the warmth of the sun and my skin caressed by cool breezes. The alchemy of this fragrance is such that when I walked back into the room where I had sprayed it I few minutes before, I smelled strong echoes of the two grandest green florals in perfume history – Balmain's Vent Vert and Jean Patou's Vacances, the latter one being my favorite perfume of all time. The originals of those two masterpieces are sadly no more, but now Giverny In Bloom is here to bring those lost gardens back to life.

Image credits: Water-lily Pond and Weeping Willow; The Rose Walk, Giverny; and Branch of the Seine Near Giverny by Claude Monet via, all in the public domain.
Disclosure: My testing samples of the perfumes in this review were given t me by DSH Perfumes.

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Sunday, August 02, 2015

A beacon of light in the gloom: Bergamoss solid perfume by Aftelier

By Donna

Recently I was thinking about why I like chypre fragrances so much. Obviously I love the way they smell, but apart from that, the true chypres all share a common thread; they clearly owe much of their character to natural materials, and in general those materials are of good quality. From the high opening note of bergamot through the floral heart and down into the base of resins and moss, they are grounded in nature. Whether it is the animalic elegance of Miss Dior, the wistfully rosy beauty of Houbigant's , Demi-Jour or the bitter-green oakmoss overdose of Jean-Louis Scherrer, the chypre structure in all its guises owes its integrity to things that can't be made in a laboratory. (Don't even get me started with the so-called “modern chypres” that were born of necessity out of restrictions on naturals.) As much as I appreciate contemporary perfumes made into abstract works of creative art with the use of aroma chemicals, those which are made with nothing but those lack heart and soul, like a computer-generated image of a “perfect woman” whose expression is a vacuous stare and whose face is boring in its eerie symmetry. For the real deal, I reach most often for my collection of vintage chypres, made before the days of nanny states, bureaucratic overreach and multinational detergent companies acquiring perfume houses.

Now we have another entry in the genre that could easily be a throwback vintage scent, but it's an all new fragrance called Bergamoss from Aftelier Perfumes, and it is only available in solid form. Mandy Aftel wanted to make a true chypre fragrance and decided that it would work best as a solid. After testing it, I cannot disagree; it's so good I want to slather it all over myself and live in it 24/7.

Bergamoss is 100% natural, like all Aftelier perfumes, and it has the true chypre building blocks but with some unexpected companions. The exhilarating top notes of bergamot and wild sweet orange are bright and uplifting, like sunlight knifing through a dense forest canopy to reach the ground below. As the perfume warms on skin, it opens up to reveal a dreamy, expansive heart featuring ripe peach and nutmeg, a combination I have not encountered before but of which I heartily approve. This pastoral effect is heightened by the use of a most rare material called flouve, which is an absolute of a sweet grass that has a heartbreakingly beautiful aromatic character and gives the the wearer the feeling of being in a broad, romantic meadow filled with waving midsummer grasses drying into hay and interwoven with scented wildflowers. Of course, the base has plenty of real oakmoss, the cornerstone of all true chypres, along with antique civet and coumarin, the latter of which enhances the impression of the flouve. I have to say that flouve is my new perfume crush – every time I wear this fragrance I smell something different in it, as there seems to be no end to its aromatic revelations. The solid formula adds yet another dimension, with its sensuous, luxuriant feel when applied to the skin.

Bergamoss has it all – it's refreshing, bright, sweet, floral, spicy, green (literally and figuratively so), mossy, earthy, rich, animalic and profound. Classic perfume lovers rejoice; the art of the chypre is not lost, it's just living in the small studios of artisan perfumers who are keeping the flame burning.

Image credit: “Enchanted Forest” from
Disclosure: My testing sample was given to me by Aftelier Perfumes.

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