A Past & Perfect Future

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- a review of DSH Perfumes ‘Passport à Paris’

I want you to imagine a right-angled triangle. At either end of the hypotenuse, you’ll find two revolutionary perfumes, and at the other end, a painting no less revolutionary than the perfumes. All three combine to tell one singular story, each contributing its part and its facets to the space described within those three points of reference, a story I shall attempt to tell…

Next, I’d like you to imagine a point in time over a hundred years ago when the future seemed so bright the world was blinded by its promise.

What would it have been like to be raised with a philosophy of a static, fixed life, and instead as you lived be constantly confronted with a present that offered the only given of the time and indeed any time – that of perpetual change? When you have been taught to see the world in representational terms; a perfume is a single flower of violet, lilac or rose (if you were respectable) or jasmine or tuberose (if you weren’t!)?

Just as a painting is a recognizable, carefully rendered image of a familiar reality, until a group of louche bohemian painters decide to rebel against artistic convention and orthodoxy and instead paint the shimmering air between themselves and their subject matter, and as they did, the world was taught to see itself anew, to see those careless smears of oil paint as representing people, places, captured fleeting moments in time and mood.

Claude Monet's 1870 painting, The beach at Trouville.

Claude Monet’s 1870 painting, The beach at Trouville.

In that restless, roiling age, another revolution waited in the wings, one perhaps anticipated by Guy de Maupassant when he wrote:

Ah! If we had other senses which would work other miracles for us, how many more things would we not discover?

It has happened on many occasions that I’ve wondered what it would be like to go back in time and be a metaphorical fly on the wall at, say, the Galeries Lafayette in Paris in the year 1882, when Paul Parquet of Houbigant presented his own heretical fragrant revolution to the world and decided to call it Fougère Royale.

Before that moment, perfumes were composed of natural essences and absolutes aspiring to be literal representations of the flowers that named them. Parquet gave an unsuspecting world something entirely new – an abstract and evolving perfume containing a synthetic aromachemical, coumarin (supposedly in a staggering 10% concentration), and with no known frame of reference at all, but instead, as Guy de Maupassant put it, ‘a prodigious evocation of forests, of lands, not via their flora but via their greenery.’

The world was never quite the same again, neither in art nor in the art of perfume, certainly not when Aimé Guerlain glanced sideways at Parquet’s creation seven years later and gave an unsuspecting world another olfactory revolution named Jicky.

Which brings me to the apparently limitless talents of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and her third creation for the Passport To Paris exhibition at the Denver Art Museum called simply ‘Passport à Paris’. And as so often before with Dawn’s work, this one has special and highly personal meaning for me.

Her three points of inspiration – Claude Monet’s 1870 painting, The Beach at Trouville, Parquet’s original 1882 Fougère Royale for Houbigant and Aimé Guerlain’s Parquet-inspired Jicky – all somehow fed into Passport à Paris to provide not just a lesson in the zeitgeist of the time, but also to redefine it to a modern audience that has perhaps forgotten that once not so long ago, there really was no such thing as a fragrant story in a bottle.

I’ve never known Houbigant’s original Fougère Royale, and unless I make it to the Osmothèque at Versailles (trust me, it’s on the bucket list!), I never shall. But it so happens I had an opportunity to sniff the 2010 recreation by Rodrigo Flores-Roux at Pitti Fragranze last year, and it blew me away. Maybe it doesn’t have the original’s freshness and verve, and perhaps it’s a plusher, lusher interpretation of Parquet’s seminal idea, but it is all of a piece and entirely a glorious fougère, and I couldn’t wait to sniff it again – and to own it some day.

Jicky, on the other hand, is another story. Because on a beautiful day in early May in Paris a long, long time ago, Jicky was the very first perfume the 14-year-old tomboy I then was chose for myself. Like all teenage daughters throughout all time, I defined myself in my mother’s despite. If she chose Mitsouko and Shalimar, then I would instead choose something she would never wear, something for me alone and the me I hoped to become; unconventional, audacious, herbal-green and with more than a few hints of the sensuality I hoped to find in my nebulous future. At the time, I also knew that my literary idol Gabrielle Sidonie Colette wore Jicky, and if it were good enough for Colette, who was I to argue?

I wore Jicky throughout my teens and well into my twenties until I learned to define myself in other ways through other perfumes, but then again, you never do forget your first love. Not if you were Aimé Guerlain in a past life, nor even a young woman with a secret aspiration to set the world alight with her words.

So you can well imagine that immediate rush of emotion, recognition and revelation when I sprayed Passport à Paris for the first time.

I nearly fell off my chair.

In an instant, I was brought back to those two moments – a surreptitious sniff and two sprays at the crowded Stazione Leopolda in Florence, and another far more pivotal point in time upstairs at the Guerlain boutique on that distant May afternoon on a sofa, when a smiling sales assistant, well used to gawky teenagers and their stylish mothers, proffered a storied perfume and I found a kind of self-definition in a bottle I could never have even hoped to imagine.

Passport à Paris is all of that, all of history and heritage and heresy, and yet… it is also, just like its inspirations, entirely itself and entirely new. Fougère Royale can never be what it once was and Jicky today is a wan, thin ghost of its former voluptuously curvy, decadent self.

Tant pis. I can honestly say I no longer care so long as beauty such as this exists.

I could walk you through its evolution, from the citrus song of its opening to its herbal, emerald-green, floral-tinged heart and on to a far drydown many hours later that hints of amber glints in the firelight embracing patchouli, ambergris and civet. I could tell you all of these are both apparent and discernible and yet… not. For here it’s not the olfactory words or notes themselves that matter so much as it is the overall feel and mood they emanate.

If ever a perfume somehow managed to convey the sinuous twists and turns of Art Nouveau, evoking an age of aesthetes and voluptuaries and a perpetual revolution and evolution of ideas, of art, of the art of perfume… it would be this one. That it manages, like all of Dawn’s historically inspired perfumes to appear both timeless and brand-new is a marvel.

I’ve read that some people have complained that DSH perfumes are ephemeral, transparent, discreet and fleeting. Not Passport à Paris. I have slept with it, woken up with it, worn it and adored it over twelve hours after applying it.

As a perfume writer, it happens I encounter a perfume so good, I catch myself thinking that if I don’t own it, I shall die of heartbreak and despair. More often than not, that fit of acquisition passes.

Not this time and not this one. Passport à Paris will be the very first perfume I buy next.

Because in attempting to breathe the past to life, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz somehow managed to evoke a perfect future unfurling like the fern above and a past that imagined the future as perfect.

If I don’t own such beauty, I shall die of heartbreak and despair.

Passport à Paris is available as an eau de parfum and as parfum directly from the DSH perfumes’ site.

Notes: Lemon, bergamot, lavender, palisander rosewood, mandarin orange, jasmine, Bulgarian rose, orris, clover, Australian sandalwood, amber, vanilla, coumarin, ambergris, Indian patchouli and civet.

Disclosure: A sample of Passport à Paris was provided by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for review. I’m not worthy.

Also a huge and grateful thank you to the very dear friend who sent me a sample of vintage Jicky parfum.

Ooh La Laugh Fraise

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a review of DSH Perfumes Amouse Bouche from the Passport to Paris Collection

In a winter that has dragged on for what seems like an eternity as one wet, super-extended November, life ground itself down to a dark gray powder as plaintive and as melancholy as any early Bergman film.

Melancholy is no state of mind with which to celebrate the coming arrival of spring. For spring, we need exuberance, beauty and above all things else, a perfume to put a smile on our faces, a cancan laugh on our skin and not a little sunshine in our souls.

Of all the perfume families I have become enamored with over the course of my life, few make me run for the hills faster than the dreaded fruity floral/oriental. In fact, the mere term ‘berry’ anything turns me green in all the worst ways. I am neither so young nor so naïve to think it necessary to waft any berry in my wake to add to my dubious allure.

Nothing pleases me more than to eat my words and give myself over with a rueful laugh to the wonders of my all-time favorite berry of all.

Strawberry.

Imagine it. A succulent, fragrant, red berry in front of you with all its promises of a carefree summer’s day dances its exuberant Galop Infernal around crème frangipane and a flaky, warm brioche. I double dare you not to feel your wintry cares drop to the flowering ground like so many superfluous woolen overcoats.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Amouse Bouche – part of her triptych of perfumes created for the Denver Art Museum’s Passport to Paris exhibition – is that kind of strawberry.

Amouse Bouche (the misspelling is an intentional visual pun) was inspired by the Paris of the Belle Époque and by a humorous sketch by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec called The Dunce’s Cap.

I dare you to look at that simple sketch without smiling.

I dare you to look at that simple sketch without smiling.

With such inspirations, it would figure that this is a) neither an ordinary strawberry nor b) an ordinary fruity-floral gourmand.

I don’t know what I expected, and you’d think I’d have a few ideas by now. Nevertheless, here it is. Yours truly, conquered by a laughing strawberry extravaganza as swirling and dizzying as any Art Nouveau curves, as lighthearted and flirtatious as the cancan dancers at the Moulin Rouge and with all of La Goulue’s unrivalled appetite for all of life’s most delectable pleasures.

Follow me now Messieurs et Madames, in through these ruby red doors into a sparkling, ever-present heart of luscious strawberry (with optional lemony champagne). Do you feel your cares melting away by the minute, can you sense how winter all but burns to an wisp of fog in your mind in that juicy, happy heart of light?

Come in, come in! Our show is only just beginning as all your winter-worn cares vanish like smoke in the limelight, for here come our belles of the ball in their strawberry skirts and their flashing black stockings, les dames fleuries, the blushing jasmine and the queenly rose, the neroli with her saucy winks and the ylang with her sunshine yellow laugh.

Cold? What cold? Impossible to be cold in such warm and happy company as the troupe dances out and in again as the crowd roars its approval, as the strawberries twirl in aldehyde champagne and dulcet buttery vanilla whirls its pas de deux with caramel until at long, long last, only the sandalwoody gloss of tonka bean and vetiver fade away as the sun rises over Montmartre.

When you know that in those hours in the magical dark only laughter and sunshine breathed, when all winter woes and worries fled far, far north. All that remained was the joyous memory of an ooh la laugh of strawberry bliss and even your soul was very amused indeed.

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Notes: Aldehydes, strawberry, bergamot, lemon, grandiflorum jasmine, Bulgarian rose, neroli, ylang ylang, butter CO2 extract, Tahitian vanilla, ambrette seed CO2 extract, caramel, tonka bean, Australian sandalwood, vetiver.

Amouse Bouche is available from the DSH Perfumes website, where sample sets of the entire Passport to Paris collection are also available and absolutely recommended.

Disclosure: A sample of Amouse Bouche was provided for review by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. For which I thank her with my words, a wink and a laugh and a half! 

Fleur Moderne

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-       a review of DSH PerfumesVers la Violette from the Passport to Paris Collection

Pity the humble violet. Today, violet perfumes as they were originally made have a slight bashful whiff of Miss Havisham and Victoriana, of simplicity, humility and faithfulness, as if, in other words, the perfumes made from this modest but heavenly scented flower have somehow been imbued by default with all the loaded trappings of Proust’s notorious madeleine – offering nostalgia in a bottle.

It’s hard to imagine in these anything goes days, but once upon a time in the decadent, alluring Belle Èpoque era of Paris with its equally alluring swirling, whirling, dizzying lines and mysterious femmes fatales, with its Symbolist poetry, Pointillist paintings and louche air, back in the day when all the world was perched on the brink of momentous change, that shy little violet ruled supreme in the perfume world. Ladies of distinction and easy virtue alike were so enamoured of its sweetly fragrant, verdant spring air that violet perfumes were in effect the perfume bestsellers of their day.

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No matter what these mesdames and demoiselles of the Belle Èpoque might have thought to the contrary, those beloved, sweetly romantic violet perfumes did not in fact contain a single bloom, but another newly synthesized aromatic component that had recently arrived for the perfumer’s organ – ionone (alpha- and beta-ionone, to be precise). Coumarin may get all the justly celebrated press for Houbigant’s Fougère Royal and Guerlain’s equally revolutionary Jicky, but ionone was just as important, not least for the enormous bouquet of violet soliflore perfumes that began to bloom in liquid at around the same time.

Let those dandies and Des Esseintes-wannabes wear their narcotic ambers and tuberoses, their oh-so fashionable fougères, those ladies seemed to say.

‘Give me la violette and my heart shall always be an eternal Spring.’

I’m not sure about the previous statement, but it is a fact universally proven on this blog and elsewhere – I love violets. The flowers themselves are my favorite part of spring, candied violets do wonders in tandem with dark chocolate (never more so than in that great Baudelaire poem of violet, aroma M’s delicious Geisha Violet), and not a few other violet perfumes have also stolen my own fickle heart – Tom Ford’s Black Violet, Sonoma Scent Studio’s Forest Walk, the neon violet of Guerlain’s Insolence and perhaps my favorite of them all, Serge Lutens’ Bois de Violette. I also once managed to imbibe violet (violet liqueur is a thing) in the form of a virulent purple concoction known as Parfait Amour since hope springs eternal, but I didn’t find it there…

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Yet somewhere in those curvilinear, asymmetrical lines of perfume, in the vibrant Pointillist paintings of Hippolyte Petitjean and the overall arc of the Denver Art Museum’s Passport to Paris exhibition now on show, perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz managed to reinvent this now classic perfume trope, le parfum violette, and make it new into something that feels not at all out of place or step with the 21st century.

Her inspiration came from Hippolyte Petitjean’s painting Village from 1893. I’m not sure it’s the painting above, since Google Images was not cooperating, but if Dawn were somehow hoping to translate that hazy, sun-drenched landscape painting into a perfume, she certainly succeeded.

For Vers la Violette is never less than violet, and nevertheless as state-of-the-art modern as this day, this moment, this instant I type away on a machine not even Jules Verne could have imagined. Just as I think I can say with some justification the august Aimé Guerlain could never have imagined anything like Vers la Violette, but if anyone could understand it as something more and more audacious than the mere sum of its parts, surely he would.

In my opinion, no one in perfumery today on either side of the Atlantic can touch Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ innate and slightly uncanny understanding of the historical context of perfumes. Whether recreating some of the fragrances of ancient Egypt or reinterpreting a comprehensive work of fashion as she did for her YSL retrospective, she not only manages to convey precisely what those pivotal perfumes meant and how they were perceived in their time, but also to refine them and improve them, and with Vers la Violette, she gives the world a violet to make the heart sing and the mind dream of purple haze over a country field, of spring and future possibilities.

Except somehow in this pale gold liquid filigree, an urban heart beats beneath it all which gives it an edge on the violet competition and takes it far away from any nostalgic memories of bashful blooms on a forest floor.

Make no mistake – Vers la Violette is also a pun – on ‘vert’, and green is precisely how it starts to sing. I detect bergamot, galbanum and lemon certainly, along with a quite a lot of violet leaf, but there’s nothing at all bashful about this purple flower. She sings a little softly underneath the orange blossom, the rose and the iris to begin with, which makes this about very much more and more multi-dimensional than simply ‘violet’, but when she finally enters the spotlight, she stays. And stays. Winding her delicate vines around that ethereal floral heart and on through a mossy, soft suede drydown with a hint of hot summer concrete splashed by a passing purple-violet thundercloud.

As much as I like violet notes, and violet leaves, and violet leaf perfumes with their grassy-green optimism, it’s this suede-y, violet-flavored wet steamy concrete thing that slays me. It takes a bit more than the mere name ‘violet’ to make me sit up and pay attention to what I’m sniffing, so I’m partial to the unusual, and Vers la Violette, for all its fabled historical associations with ionone, with violets, and with Les Femmes Modernes of Belle Èpoque Paris, is a most unusual violet. I’ve consistently called it ‘she’, but Vers la Violette is easily, breezily unisex and more modern and certainly more elegant than any mere blushing bloom could ever be.

I’m not quite sure how many more ways I can say I love it – most deeply and sincerely – except that sample vial is going fast, for give me a violet, give me this violet and I shall remain forever young…

Notes (from Fragrantica): Galbanum, bergamot, lemon, violet leaf absolute, cyclamen, orange flower absolute, ionone, orris CO2 extract, Bulgarian rose, wood violet, Mysore sandalwood, oakmoss, labdanum, suede, civet.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, for which I thank her from the bottom of my hugely grateful heart. 

Three Faces of Iris

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-  a tale – and reviews! – of Xerjoff Irisss, DSH Perfumes’ Iridum and Serge Lutens’ Iris Silver Mist

At Florals Inc., the board of directors were thrown into a bit of a panic when Blue Lotus went missing and was nowhere to be found.

So Rose, the chairman of the board, had no choice but to create an opening for another floral, and with the help of the other directors, notably her close friends Jasmine, Tuberose and Orange Blossom, decided to accept applications from three irises to decide who would be worthy of a place with Florals Inc. One of the three might certainly qualify for a spot on the board and all its appurtenant thrills, and if it were exceptional enough, maybe another. Yet three irises were at least one too many.

”Yes, girls,” Rose adjusted her reading glasses and peered down the length of the gleaming mahogany table, ”I’m well aware this will be a very hard decision. Nevertheless, we need to make one. So Jasmine, please inform the others of our chosen candidates.”

As Jasmine rustled through her somewhat disorganized notes, Tuberose discreetly checked her text messages, Magnolia looked out the window at a New York September morning and Lily powdered her already flawless stamens, fully prepared to be thoroughly bored.

After an interminable wait, Jasmine sighed out several moonlit promises and pushed a button on the table in front of her. In an instant, a 3-D holographic representation of a dark, luminously iridescent iris shimmered above its mahogany reflection and exuded its scent. In an instant, everyone sat up to attention.

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“Candidate number one,” Jasmine’s sultry voice carried through the quiet boardroom, “is DSH Perfumes’ Iridum, part of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ New Kingdom collection.”

“Oooooooh,” cooed Orange Blossom, “this one’s not your ordinary orris.”

“Not at all,” agreed Rose. “For one thing, she’s much spicier, warmer and not a little feistier than they’re usually made, isn’t she? Quite romantic, too – all that cool earthy depth heated by all those Oriental spicy fires. Very West meets East. Antony and Cleopatra. Maybe with a slight intellectual suggestion of Caesar. This is an iris, after all.”

“Ah,” Magnolia exhaled a definite Southern breath, “but y’all, this iris is a smoky, slinky, sensuous iris. Not so earthy, but still whispering all her earthly pleasures.”

“It’s that deft touch of…” Carnation piped in, “sweet wood and resin, and is that saffron I smell, too? With the orris?”

“Genius.” breathed Heliotrope.

“A most excellent counterpoint to the spice.” Jasmine added her own ten scents. “And what I like so much about her is how perfectly she balances between her woody and her spicy selves, always remaining true to her idea but also somehow redefining it. Myrrh. Frankincense. They do me in, every time. She’s a new kingdom of iris, all right. She gives everything away, but you never know her secrets.”

“Those are always so much fun!” Orange Blossom laughed. “Seriously, ladies…isn’t that always the problem with iris? All that gravitas, all that heartbreak and melancholy. Puleeeze. Finally, an iris with all of its mystery intact, but also a bit of a smile tucked in its beard somewhere.”

“About time!” Tuberose put down her phone and leaned forward. “This iris is a stunner if you ask me, not that you did, and I should know, right ladies?”

“Yes….” groaned the entire board of directors in unison.

“So…then…” Rose eyed the others.

“We can’t decide just yet,” Jasmine felt obligated to point out. “For one thing, we still have two more candidates.”

“That we do.” Rose pushed the button, and the darkly shimmering iris that was Iridum disappeared with a spicy balsam sigh.

There was a slight pause as they all readjusted their focus and Jasmine rustled her notes.

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“Our next candidate is Xerjoff Irisss.” Jasmine pushed the button, and a showgirl iris sparkled forth, all earthy, rooty sass and class.

“Goodness, y’all,” Magnolia peered closer, “have the Ziegfeld Follies been resurrected as an iris?”

“Is that iris wearing vintage Lacroix?” Tuberose gurgled, hiccupped and then laughed, and everyone but Rose laughed with her.

“Now, ladies, please. Compose yourselves. We’re here to decide who gets to be on our board.” Rose glared around the room, and with a few muffled giggles, the laughter stopped.

Jasmine cleared her throat. “OK. No question about it – it’s an iris. It’s a lush, plush, thickly brocaded iris in petits mains embroidered couture. She’s floral to a very demanding degree. Yet there’s something that doesn’t quite add up somewhere, a piece of her puzzle missing.”

Lily gave the showgirl a very intent look. “I’ll tell you what she is.” Her silky alto voice slid easily across the table. “She’s the Second Wife Iris. You know, he’s made his pile and ditched the helpmeet first wife like all successful men do, and then he went out and landed himself this one, the younger, showier upgrade. She’s got a lot to prove, and like all younger models, she’s a bit… insecure?”

“That’s it!” exclaimed Jasmine. “It’s not that she isn’t beautiful, or lusciously floral, or even stunning in her own right. She is. My goodness. So why aren’t we completely bowled over?”

“Obvious.” Tuberose could cut any floral down to size, which wasn’t difficult if you were Tuberose. “Because she balances on the brink of just a little too much. You know that saying. Wear everything you think you need, and then remove that one thing to make your perfect impression. This iris doesn’t know that. So she piles on absolutely everything and adds five more things, just in case.”

“In other words,” Rose murmured, “she tries too hard and oversells her idea. Oh, I’m sure she’ll be quite convincing for those who are easily impressed or into maximalism,” she looked pointedly at Tuberose, “but I’m not one of those. I’m quite impressed with how she remains true to herself, though – this iris isn’t a quitter. She stays from top to base, all through her hyperfloral heart and well into the sweetly incensed drydown. And that’s my dilemma in a nutshell. She’s absolutely perfect, b-u-t…”

“But.” Jasmine pushed the button, and the showgirl vanished. Now, she had a beatific smile on her lovely white face.

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As the last candidate shimmered forth into focus above the mahogany, a collective sigh circled the room. She was monumental, perfectly delineated, made by an absolute master of the craft.

“You devil, Jasmine,” Rose breathed happily, “you saved her for last.”

“Indeed I did,” Jasmine’s grin held no regrets. “This, ladies, is Parfums Serge Lutens fabled Iris Silver Mist. You’ve heard the stories. Who hasn’t? Well, here she is in all her splendor.”

Every flower in the room reacted this time with a long drawn out “Oooooh!”

“I feel like my heart is breaking,” sniffed Magnolia. “And I didn’t even know I had one to break.”

“Someone’s changed the calendar.” Orange Blossom had a faraway look in her eyes. “This is early spring, when the first shoots show up to remind us all spring will come again.”

“Nonsense.” Lily chimed in. “This is both the promise and the deliverance of iris. She knows how to keep her promises. Do you feel it – that verdant galbanum-bitter bite? Can you sense that hint of spice and fire – the one Iridum ran with and Irisss completely bypassed – burning just below it?”

“Hard to believe anything could burn in that orris chill,” Tuberose smirked. “And yet it does…freezes you to immobility, that an orris could be this much, this dizzying, this…what’s that word I’m looking for? Ephemeral?”

“Ghostly, eerie, Gothic – I’d say they all apply here,” Rose sighed for all of them.

“She’s a shapeshifter all right.” Jasmine looked at her notes and then at the iris that twirled her endless facets in the room. “Here, that chilly spring you mentioned, Orange Blossom, there that faraway wisp of woods and spice and fire, Lily, and somewhere entwined – is there any other word that fits? – around and through them all, somehow both the warp and the weave of her, is the orris. There’s no pyramid here at all, it’s all one eerie merrygoround…”

“And such a one.” Heliotrope looked as if she were about to swoon.

“She’s deathly intimidating.” For once, even Tuberose sounded humble.

“Only for being so wantonly perfect,” Rose went on. “Yes, that’s it! This iris defines herself in the spaces of her contradictions – she’s flawless and she knows it, but she contains a memento mori in her depths, both describing her time and her space and yet somehow, just to one side of it, just outside of it…”

“Poetry! From you, Rose?” Tuberose had located her attitude. “In case I weren’t impressed before, I certainly am now!”

“Shall I continue?” Rose asked with a twinkle in her eye. “We could go on for hours, ladies, and no mistake. But…”

“Precisely! But!” Jasmine leafed through her notes. “Now, I have to say it, she won’t be for just everyone, or anyone, come to that. I detect a definite hint of parsnip. She’ll have her detractors.”

“The wimps.” Tuberose waved dismissively. “Yes, she certainly will. Some will hate her and some will love her. I don’t think she’ll care, either way.”

“Why should she?” Orange Blossom. “If you’re that perfect, you’re beyond such paltry pettiness.”

“Or simply just beyond…” Rose stood up for the first time and pressed another button, this time to her secretary Marigold just outside the boardroom.

“Are we agreed then, ladies?”

“Yes!” they all declared with alacrity.

“Marigold, send them in, please.”

The three iris candidates walked in through the open door. Iridum, with her darkly seductive shimmer of spice, Irisss in her gold and purple finery, and Iris Silver Mist, tall and majestic, all standing a little uncertainly by the door as they looked around the hallowed boardroom of Florals, Inc.

“Ladies,” Rose began, “please understand this was an exceedingly difficult decision to make. We’ve decided to make room for two of you, which unfortunately means one of you will be rejected. This doesn’t mean you’re not worthy, it simply means we had priorities we were uncertain you could fulfill.”

Jasmine gathered up her notes. “Irisss, thank you so much for applying at Florals, Inc. But I regret to say that you were not chosen for the Board of Directors.”

Irisss looked stricken. One silvery tear made its way down her perfectly made up face. As she dug desperately for a tissue in her handbag, an elegant arm reached out and held on to hers and Irisss looked up at Iris Silver Mist, her question on her face.

“Madame,” Iris Silver Mist murmured, “a word of advice, yes? It is not necessary to try quite so hard.”

Irisss turned away with a rustle of silk brocade and nearly ran out of the boardroom, as the board gathered around Iridum and Iris Silver Mist.

“It gives me a great deal of pride,” Rose tried to regain some dignity in the happy noise, “to welcome both you Iridum and you, Iris Silver Mist to Florals, Inc.”

Just this once, not even Tuberose protested.

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Notes for DSH Perfumes Iridum (EdT): Bulgarian rose, cardamom, cinnamon, cognac, frankincense, beeswax, calamus, gaiac wood, myrrh, orris, saffron and tolu balsam

Perfumer: Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Iridum is available directly from DSH Perfumes’ website.

Notes for Xerjoff XJ Irisss (EdP): Bergamot, carrot seed, carnation, iris, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, violet leaves, vetiver, cedar, benzoin, musk, incense

Perfumer: Jacques Fiori.

Xerjoff XJ Irisss is available from Luckyscent, Parfums Raffy and First in Fragrance.

Notes for Serge Lutens’ Iris Silver Mist (EdP): Galbanum, orris, cedar, sandalwood, clove, vetiver, musk, Chinese benzoin, incense, white amber

Perfumer: Maurice Roucel

Iris Silver Mist is a Palais Royal exclusive and is available for European customers directly from the Serge Lutens website and from Barneys New York.

With my profound gratitude to Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Memory of Scent and Tami for the opportunity.

In Search of Serene

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- When life winds you up, a trinity of perfumes to waft you down to scented bliss

Summer’s almost gone.

All of Europe south of the Alps may well be headed this August for the beaches, the mountains and other edifying locations, but here in the North at the tail end of a hot and sunny summer, dolce far niente is being put aside for that mad, determined dash for the Next Big Thing. Time moves on, and there’s none to waste.

Meetings are planned, agendas drawn up, emails and correspondence must be answered, blogs must be read, updates and tweets posted, and all in all, life has generally conspired this summer to make me feel more than a little frayed and frazzled around the edges.

To combat such unsettled states of mind, I turn as I so often do to some of my usual standbys, scents that never fail to soothe and console me.

Not so long ago, I dug into my sample stash out of curiosity (this is how most reviews begin), and discovered three creations that each in their own distinct ways manage to convey that elusive unicorn state of mind… serenity.

They are nothing alike, nothing like my familiar mood enhancers, but all three have that definite ability to smooth out those frayed strands of stress and confusion and convey the olfactory equivalent of a deep, deep breath to ground and center me. They have given me courage when I needed it and calm when I demanded it. Best of all, they have provided their own unique manner of fragrant transport, and if that isn’t a worthy pursuit of bliss, what is?

None of the three are literal representations of their names or their fragrances, but all of them convey that feel of their locations… elsewhere, otherwise and light years removed from the frenetic pace of contemporary urban life.

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Life is a Beech

Sonoma Scent Studio Forest Walk

I’m lucky to live in a town that makes up in woods what it lacks in parks. Surrounding my town on steeply hilled sides are long, emerald swathes of ancient, unspoiled beech forest just fifteen minutes walk away from my downtown apartment, and if I seek serenity anywhere, I never fail to find it below the boughs of those gloriously soaring trees. All I have to do is breathe it in (the original meaning of the word inspire), and I am all of a piece and in one piece, too, and before I know it, happiness bubbles up to claim me, the ground rises up to embrace me, and suddenly, life is not quite so unbearable nor so frantic.

Last year, California-based indie perfumer Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studio participated in a collaboration with Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfume instigated by Nathan Branch’s ‘Letters to a fellow perfumer’ series, to create a woody scent Laurie chose to base on hemlock and fir balsam absolutes. I reviewed Mandy’s astonishing Sepia last year when it was released, but apart from one encounter with Laurie’s Champagne de Bois (which didn’t like me much), Laurie’s work was new to me.

Forest Walk completely took my breath away.

Laurie sought to recreate the sensation of a summer walk in the forest, with the scent of sun-warmed earth, bark, needles and an underlying pulse of flowers, and just as she might have hoped, she succeeded brilliantly.

Pine trees and redwoods might be hard to come by in my neck of the woods, but if anything somehow manages to encompass that overall sensory impression of a walk beneath the trees, Forest Walk manages to do just that. It begins so very green and leafy with a bite that is all galbanum and earthy, piney wood, but it isn’t long before a delicious jasmine-flecked violet note begins to bloom summery promises on that forest floor, and far, far away from that California inspiration, I am….there beneath those beech wood boughs, breathing it all in. As it evolves and blooms, a suggestion of orris and yet more and deeper woods come forward to embrace me with serenity, with grounding my many fragmented selves into one harmonious entity, a sensuous sandalwood accord interwoven with cedar and oakmoss, labdanum and a whisper of frankincense, in perfect counterpoint with a touch of ambery benzoin. It is ever so slightly sweet but never cloying, and by this time I’ve forgotten everything that ever ailed or vexed me, and remember only those dark green shades of centered calm beneath those soaring beech boughs.

If there really is a Heaven, they’ll have forest walks there, too.

Notes: Black hemlock absolute, fir absolute, Western red cedar, oakwood absolute, galbanum resin, jasmine sambac absolute, violet, olibanum, labdanum absolute, natural oakmoss absolute, aged Indian patchouli, New Caledonia sandalwood, orris, benzoin, earthy notes.

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Chotto Matte Kudosai!

DSH Perfumes Matsu

No reader of this blog can be unaware of the fact that I worship at the altar of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ olfactory talents. Few other perfumers have such a stellar grasp of the history, heritage and subtext of perfume or such a vast range to play upon, and she has been slaying yours truly consistently for well over two years with no end, I’m thrilled to say, in sight.

As I’ve become familiar with her creations, I’ve come to discover that it’s all characterized by her exquisite sense of deliberation and restraint. Whether creating lush, Oriental dreamscapes or olfactory odes to past, glorious perfumes, all her work balances on a very finely honed, precise point, neither too much nor too little, but always just…enough. No one material or accord out-manoeuvers any other, and all that hangs in that exquisite balance adds up to so much more than the sum of its seamlessly blended parts.

Her new release Matsu is no exception to that rule. Matsu – Japanese for pine tree, and it’s also a girl’s name – can also mean…Wait! As in, wait…sit down, be entirely present in the now. To my jaded nose, Matsu is as close to bottled Zen as you can get.

A bright, happy burst of zesty bergamot jumpstarts my optimism as it begins, as green and as soaring as the bamboo forest in the image above. But sap and leaves – what you might call quintessence of tree – are close by, with a wisp of water lily and just behind and beneath it, the feel of a dense, old (and entirely benign) pine forest. That impression of pine has cleaning product associations for some people, but this isn’t one of those pine trees, this is another, wilder, deeper tree, as transparent as hand-woven silk gauze and as uplifting as a sunbeam through the forest.

Matsu manages to confer that need to be entirely present in this moment, in this time, this space and this place. We humans waste so much time trying either to cling to moments past or invent future instants that might or might not arrive.

As it unfurls, it tells us all to breathe in deep, to center our being and calm our minds, to be neither too wired nor too relaxed, but simply…to wait until all is still within our fragmented selves in our harried, frenetic lives, when time somehow seems to stop beneath those evocative, timeless trees, and nothing exists (as is only too true!) except this moment and this time and this flawlessly restrained perfume confers its own perfect poise to this one perfect moment in time. One moment is all you need.

Or as the Japanese would say…chotto matte kudosai’… as in ‘wait a minute!’. With this minute, this perfume, this flawless liquid quietude that is neither too much nor too little, no matter how frantic or fast-paced your life might seem, you can.

Notes: Bergamot, citrus, leafy green leaves and sap, water lily, Australian sandalwood, gaiac wood, Brazilian rosewood, hinoki wood, musk.

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Primeval spaces

Keiko Mecheri Canyon Dreams

My peripatetic life has meant I’ve lived in quite a few places; Virginia, Florida, a few locations in my native Denmark. All verdant, leafy, green landscapes, all with their own advantages and drawbacks.

Yet none of those places and no experience I have ever had before could have prepared me for the sensory shock of the American Southwest. I heard stories of ‘nothing there’, heard travelers’ tales of the great, empty spaces and big skies of New Mexico.

My favorite painter Georgia O’Keeffe put it best:

And when you come to New Mexico, and if you come, it will become a magic that will remain with you for the rest of your life.

No fool, Georgia.

The thing is, in that vast and ancient land of immense skies and infinite horizons, you can’t search for its beauty or encompass its scope. It has to find you. When that happens, as it did for me and doesn’t for everyone, it indeed became ‘a magic that remains’.

Which meant I wasn’t at all prepared for what happened when I encountered Keiko Mecheri’s unbelievably evocative ‘Canyon Dreams’, thanks to a generous fragrant friend. Canyon Dreams gave me an instant flashback and magic carpet ride back to one of my most favorite, favorite places on Earth, the Jemez Mountains of so many happy memories and times and an unexpected verdant oasis in that seeming endless high desert to this urban post-punk catastrophe Dane.

Keiko Mecheri and her eponymous perfume line has bubbled at the edge of my perfumista awareness for quite some time. A Japanese artist now based in California, her vast and very diverse line of perfumes are renowned for their luxurious presentation and breathtaking quality.

Canyon Dreams, launched in 2012 as part of her ‘Bespoke’ series, is probably best described as a spicy Oriental perfume, but just as with Forest Walk and Matsu, it somehow all adds up to much, much more than its individual notes.

If left to my own devices and inclinations, going by the notes alone I would almost certainly never have tried it. Am I ever glad to be jolted out of my comfort zone, because I hate to miss out on new epiphanies!

It begins its song in a sunny key, all one endless blue sky breath of bergamot and tangerine, but the sky is just the celestial beginning. Soon, your attention turns to the warm, sun-baked earth beneath your feet as a dusky and even slightly dusty rose blooms, and this is where the magic begins.

I can tell you… sandalwood (a lush, creamy Mysore-type), patchouli and even one of my most dreaded notes – agarwood or oud. I can tell you all of this, tell you that if you run for the hills at the slightest mention of medicinal band-aid like I do, then you’re going to be so surprised. The agarwood used in Canyon Dreams is nothing at all like that, and if all those so-called ‘agarwood’ or ‘oud’s in fact were like this one, I would have signed up a long, long time ago.

Sandalwood, patchouli, agarwood – yes, that’s what the notes tell you, but they won’t say too much about the overall rich, velvet-opulent feel of these dreams, won’t convey anything about its complexity, its spicy, earthy, cinnamon-peppery-frankincense texture or the fragrant gasoline it adds to this writer’s already rather overheated imagination. It sounds so simple, so effortless, and it’s nothing simple at all. It would be suitable for any occasion and on either gender for purposes both innocent and not.

All perfumes are justly renowned for evoking memories and emotions – after all, it’s one of the reasons my own olfactory passions loom so large in my life. But Canyon Dreams brought that beloved, hard-to-find New Mexico location back to me, back to where the ground beneath my feet is scented with centuries of sunshine and heritage, where the water drops that hang in the air above the waterfall sparkle like diamonds and to where the ponderosa pines exude their spicy vanilla resin, where sage, mesquite and piñon, all the ambience of a wild and untamed place combine to wrap your cares and your very self in the ability to be here now in this moment, in this instant when you were caught unaware and were found… by an unexpected serenity I went to find, only to discover..

Serenity found me.

Notes: Bergamot, mandarin orange, rose, sandalwood, agarwood, patchouli.

With thanks to Ruth for Forest Walk and Carlos for Canyon Dreams. My sample of Matsu was provided by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz.

Sonoma Scent Studio Forest Walk is available from the Sonoma Scent Studio website.

DSH Perfumes Matsu is available from the DSH website.

Keiko Mecheri Canyon Dreams, from her Bespoke collection, is available from Luckyscent and First in Fragrance.

Image of Jemez Falls, New Mexico via Light Rain Productions.

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Save the Genie! 12 more days to go, and we’re almost there! :)

Find out more here.

Spring Flings!

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 – the Genie’s favorite Scents of Spring

After a long, dismal and dismally cold winter that seemed as if it would never end, Spring has finally…sprung. Even here in the North, even now as I wriggle my sockless painted toes in the glow of the sunlight through my window, and the cats show off their bellies in the warmth.

It’s finally Spring! Time to throw open those windows, time for those deep breaths of sunshine you can feel from the roots of your hair to the tips of your toes, time to wake up, smell the flowers and feel utterly, totally alive in a way the dreary depths of January just can’t muster.

When all of nature is bursting at the seams and exploding right before your eyes, those thick, plush ambers and Orientals seem a bit, well…obvious. Time to pack away those olfactory cashmere and lambswool sweaters and bring out the silks, chiffons and Egyptian cottons of the fragrant world, time to waft a little springtime of your own in your wake, for who knows what can happen when everything you breathe and all that you see exudes hope, new beginnings and promises that may – or may not – be kept?

Because you never know where a spring day may take you, or the glimpse of a flower may surprise you, so long as you carry the spring where you go.

Here, you’ll find the Genie’s own favorite Spring flings, the ones that put the spring in my step and the smile on my face, in an April shower or the depths of a May flower, so long as it’s Spring, my very favorite time of year.

Spring perfumes veer toward either the green, floral or green and floral, and this personal list is no exception. Perhaps one of the most famous of spring perfumes, Dior’s Diorissimo, embodies spring best of all, but since I haven’t had the privilege of trying it since sometime in the Eighties when we were both very different creatures of Faërie, I’ve had to omit it from my list. Some of them you might recognize from this blog or elsewhere, but all of them are loved and adored, and never so much as in the merry month of May, when all of Nature beckons us all to come out and play.

- The Greens of Spring

If ever a color sums up a season, surely it would be green? That scorching chartreuse that burns away all horrid memories of dun and brown, gray and white and lets in the sunshine for our souls.

If you love those great, glorious greens of old, if you could once be encapsulated in all the phrase ‘green/floral chypre’ contains, these are the ones to look for and breathe for.

April Aromatics Unter den Linden

Although linden blossoms in high summer in my part of the world, is there anything quite so honeyed or verdant as the perfume lurking within those fragrant yellow blooms? I think not, since Unter den Linden comes as close to my own inner vision of an exemplary linden blossom perfume as any I’ve ever tried.

Balmain – Ivoire

Ivoire has been with us since 1980, and last year was reworked and redone for a new and hopefully just as appreciative audience. Ivoire – I own the vintage EdT – is a green floral chypre that is consistently surprising, perpetually beautiful and perfectly seamless.

DSH Perfumes’ Vert pour Madame

Lots of potions lay claim to that hackneyed phrase ‘hope in a bottle’. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ tribute to those green wonders of our misspent youth doesn’t have to, simply because it is – hope in a bottle. Soft, elegantly restrained and effervescent as all the best greens are, this is suitable for both Mesdames and Messieurs.

Jacomo Silences

This underrated classic (if not by perfumistas), a close cousin to the rosier Chanel no. 19, is unique in that it manages in the space of its evolution to bloom through both spring and summer. From that lovely lemony lily-of-the-valley opening to the almost austere, dark, mossy depths of the drydown some very long time later, you’ve wafted a May morning, a flaming June noon and a hint of July thunderstorm, too.

Puredistance Antonia

I must have heard it not a few times before I ever tried it, but sometimes, the hype over a new perfume doesn’t do it justice in the slightest. Annie Bezantian’s Antonia for Puredistance is nothing more and never less than the flawless spring of your most fevered January dreams. Totally modern and totally timeless.

Green With A Twist

Spring reminds us workaholic writers of the sweet joys of dolce far niente, of sitting in the sunshine with a pastis enjoying the passagiata of a spring afternoon, entirely present in the moment and entirely content to be nowhere else but there watching the world go by. The perfumes below somehow wrap up the whole experience in several happy ways, and whether you prefer a pastis or the more subversive pleasures of La Fée Verte is entirely up to you…

Aroma M Geisha Green

Geisha Green is without a doubt one of the best and most bracing of absinthe perfumes I know, bright with that bittersweet twist of Artemisia, sweet with the promises of violet flower and leaf and herbal with a fabulous thick licorice facet that almost makes me want to drink it if I could over a sugar cube. As it is, I get to wear it, and dream of those passagiatas under sunny spring skies.

Opus Oils Absinthia

Another sweeter and more floral take on the fabled absinthe is Opus Oils’ Absinthia, which somehow manages to pair glorious wisteria, a sinfully sweet vanilla and that decadent wormwood and turn it into a green fairy with a positively wicked gleam in her eye. Et in Absinthia ego…

Parfums Lalun Phènomene Vert

If you prefer your greens strictly that – a bracing herbal kick in the winter doldrums to shake you awake and aware that yes, indeed, it’s time to come alive again, Phènomene Vert will deliver. Glorious on a guy, gorgeous on a gal, with a deft touch of jasmine to hint of the wonders of summer to come.

Vero Profumo Mito

One of the wonders of 2012 was Vero Kern’s spectacular Mito, an unusual green-floral take on all things marvelous, magnolia and green as a breath of fresh air in a beautiful Roman garden on a May afternoon. Wear Mito and write your own springtime myth any way and in any shade of green you please.

Burning blooms

In the story of Ferdinand the Bull, one magnificent bull had no intentions of moving from his flowery meadow just to fight in the bullring, and so he wouldn’t have, if not for a bee in those flowers…

There are no bees in these flowers, just all the fragrant wonders of the blooms themselves, so sit back, breathe in and live for a moment and a flawless, odiferous flower. This bouquet of wonders counts all my own favorite blossoms, and not a few of my own favorite florals, too.

La Vie En Rose

Spring arrived so late in my part of the world that I can’t expect to see the roses bloom until well toward Midsummer, but whoever needed an excuse to wear the Queen of Flowers on a gorgeous spring day? Not I!

Olympic Orchids Ballets Rouges

If it were somehow possible to drown within the depths of a rose, a rose so perfectly rendered people have turned to see the bouquet that wasn’t, Ballets Rouges would surely be it. I’ll happily dance a pas de deux with this rose on any spring – or summer – day.

Parfums Lalun Qajar Rose

This rosy wonder is a magic Persian carpet ride through the roses, with all the twist and turns of Sheherezade’s fairy tales, with its leaps and bounds and flourishes woven in to the weft and warp of pomegranate, rose, a tiny dab of oud and coffee too, just to color you surprised.

Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin

So it’s not Her Majesty the Rose, it’s the Girl From Berlin, and such a lovely, soft rose she is – or so you’d think before she surprises you with that chypre-like bite. This is a rose that is as young as heart as you wish you were on a May afternoon, and who is to say wishes can’t come true?

Think Pink!

Caron Bellodgia

It wouldn’t be a proper spring list without at least one classic. Caron’s sunny, spicy Bellodgia is pure olfactory sunshine from its peppery opening kick to its spicy sunlit carnation heart, and whenever I wear it, I can’t help but laugh – that May skies can be so blue, that life can feel so effortless and carnations made so perfect.

Ringing all the Bells

Aroma M Geisha Marron

Lily of the valley is not a note I’ve usually sought out, since the ones I’ve tried have made me feel I wasn’t frilly – or girly – enough to wear them. The exception to that rule is another aroma M creation, Geisha Marron, which pairs a lily-of-the-valley with chestnut blossom and other wonders, and in an instant, I’m taken away to a spring day in Paris long ago when the chestnuts bloomed and a young girl’s life was changed forever on the day she truly discovered the art…of perfume. For some, it reminds them of autumn and roasting chestnuts, but on me, it’s a spring day in Paris a very long time ago when the chestnuts and the muguet bloomed and a perfumista was born.

Consider the Lily

Editions de Parfums Lys Mediterranée

Nothing turns me to absolute putty faster than a big, bold, odiferous bouquet of Easter lilies. (Now you know!) And although many, many perfumes claim to be lily perfumes, only one other I’ve tried is as beautifully rendered as Lys Mediterranée. It passes for spring and summer both, but surely, angels wear this one? If they don’t, then maybe they should?

All the flowers!

Aftelier Secret Garden

If like Ferdinand you think there is no such thing as too many flowers to sniff in the sunshine, then Secret Garden is a bottled bouquet of marvels from its fruity, herbal start to a delirious floral heart and a dizzyingly sexy drydown. Just so you’re reminded that not only sap rises in the spring, and there’s more than one way to bloom…

So tell me – what makes you bloom in spring?

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Note: I was reminded that I had forgotten to link to the perfumes previously reviewed here on TAG. This has now been amended, and where I’ve reviewed a perfume earlier, the title/name now links to my review. :)

The Most Beautiful Love Stories

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- a review of DSH Perfumes’ YSL Retrospective Collection

If you ask me, the phrase ‘fashion designer’ has today lost much of the cachet it once carried. In a day and age when virtually anyone with a certain bent, a publicist and financial backing can write ‘fashion designer’ on their resumé, fashion has been diminished to fad, and all fads are as fleeting as a passing mood.

Yet once in a very different time, one fashion designer more than any other changed how we perceive fashion and style even today, even as so many modern fashion designers pillage his very heritage…one fashion designer changed the world, the clothes, and the lives of the countless millions of women who loved, worshiped and adored his work.

Yves Saint Laurent.

No other designer was quite so in tune with his times (sorry, Karl!), and no other designer has had such a definitive impact on how we even perceive those two words ‘fashion’ and ‘designer’. He was arguably the first couturier to conceive of that heretical notion ‘prêt-à-porter/ready-to-wear’ with Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, the first designer to claim that style was an individual statement rather than a sartorial dictate and the first to celebrate women of every ethnicity both on the catwalk and many diverse cultures in his designs. In terms of fashion, Saint Laurent is responsible for a very long list of firsts.

Yves Saint Laurent’s work was exhibited last year in a comprehensive retrospective at the Denver Art Museum – one of only two such exhibits in the US, and as she has before with their Secrets of Egypt and Cities of Splendor exhibits, indie perfumer par excellence Dawn Spencer Hurwitz offers her own olfactory tributes to six pivotal moments in Yves Saint Laurent’s career.

I’ll venture that in terms of paying homage to perfume history, no one does it better than Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Whether consulting ancient Egyptian papyri for the recipes for her ‘Kyphi’, ‘Samsuchinon’ or ‘Susinon’ (favorites of mine to this day) or conjuring the celebrated cities of the Italian Renaissance, she has shown not only a true dedication to the culture behind it, but also an in-depth understanding of the olfactory philosophies of the times and places she chose to evoke.

I was excited to receive these six odes to Yves Saint Laurent, both for the compliment Dawn paid me in sending them, but also for personal reasons. First, because one major personal perfume satori moment at age fourteen involved an Yves Saint Laurent perfume (and likely his clothes as well) on the Pont Neuf in Paris in the spring of 1977, and second because my mother loved his work to such an extent, she’s buried in an Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche dress. For the longest time, the only designer I could afford was an Yves Saint Laurent perfume or lipstick and sometimes both at once, but with that kind of armor on my person, the rest of it, as the saying goes…was immaterial!

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Ligne Trapêze

When Saint Laurent succeeded Christian Dior after Dior’s sudden death in 1957, he did it with all of France watching his every move intently. The house of Dior was, as one newspaper reporter stated at the time, a matter of national importance. At the tender age of twenty-one, Saint Laurent gave Dior La Ligne Trapêze, a move away from the strictly tailored and corseted designs of his predecessor into a looser, freer, A-form and altogether younger style. Dawn’s Ligne Trapêze is likewise a loose, free adaptation of the classic perfumes of the era such as the great Diorissimo. It begins with a bright, fruity, aldehydic champagne fizz. The peach listed in the notes is quite prominent along with the lemon, but then – just as perfumes used to, just as they rightly should if you ask me – it blooms. The whole opens up wider into a seamless, airborne bouquet of floral fantasy. I can detect lily-of-the-valley, the rose and the jasmine, certainly, and even a hint of heliotrope. I could tell you the notes, but if you love the great chypres of yore, with their endlessly fascinating twists and turns and surprises, Ligne Trapêze will be no exception, not even into the deliciously decadent drydown hours later when the civet and the castoreum growl their sweetly seductive, animal purrs before they, too fade away and leave a whisper of silky suede in their wake, as surely you will, too.

Notes: Aldehydes, amber, ambrette seed, animalia, Australian sandalwood, bergamot, Brazilian vetiver, castoreum, Centifolia rose absolute, grandiflorum jasmine, heliotrope, jonquil, lemon, muguet, orris concrete, peach, rosewood, Siam benzoin, suede accord, violet.

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The Beat Look

For his next collection for Dior, Saint Laurent sought his inspiration in the beatniks of the Left Bank, with their penchant for black turtlenecks and leather jackets, but fashioned by Dior in the most luxe way imaginable, in silks, cashmeres and… Crocodile leather motorcycle jacket, anyone? It must surely be a testament to the furore this collection provoked that I couldn’t locate a single image to illustrate it. (The above illustration was taken from Dior’s Winter 1958 collection) Dawn was inspired by YSL’s first eponymous perfume, ‘Y’, but whereas my memory of ‘Y’ was a rather fearsome chypre bête verte, Dawn’s is altogether softer and not nearly so demanding. Here is another aldehyde wake-up call, but in The Beat Look, the plummy, fruity top yields to more prominent florals. On me, the gardenia, hyacinth and the honeysuckle sing their cool, perfect arias quite clearly, before giving way with a grin to a superb leather base, and if that’s not a reference to that jacket (Heaven help me if I ever locate one!), I don’t know what is. I wore The Beat Look to work one day when I was sequestered for a few hours with some colleagues into what amounted to a large walk-in closet, and left The Beat Look behind me. The next day, one of my superiors came up and asked me what I’d worn, before she added plaintively, “Why don’t they make perfumes like that any more?” Luckily for us, Dawn does.

Notes: Aldehydes, amber, animalic, Australian sandalwood, bergamot, Brazilian vetiver, Bulgarian rose absolute, centifolia rose absolute, civet, East Indian patchouli, gardenia, grandiflorum jasmine, green oakmoss, honeysuckle, hyacinth, leather, mirabelle plum, musk, neroli, orris, peach.

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Le Smoking

It’s hard to understand today the impact Saint Laurent’s justly famous Le Smoking had on womankind as a whole, not simply the lucky ones (Catherine Deneuve included) who could afford it. A woman highlighting her femininity in men’s clothing was nothing new – George Sand in the 19th century, Marlene Dietrich in Morocco in 1930 – but in Le Smoking – or a knockoff – and heels, any woman had the impact of a pulse bomb. The ever-stylish Lauren Bacall – a longtime Saint Laurent fan – was once refused entry to a fancy restaurant  for wearing it.  It is just as timeless, as empowering and as relevant today as in 1966. For Le Smoking, Dawn bottled up the sum entire of female subversion and an era, too. As a green chypre, it had me, no question, at ‘Hello!’ Green, bitter, and not compromising in the slightest, it is as smoky, as sensuous, as intriguing and as perfectly sexy as anything can be in black wool crepe and stiletto heels. From that initial galbanum glow until that buttery, leathery, mischievous, delicious smoke ring of Mary Jane and tobacco, this is an instant time travel and an instant and still relevant aspiration – that classics will always endure, and as surely as M. Saint Laurent knew and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz certainly does, sexy is not so much the clothes and accoutrements of femininity, but an attitude, and Le Smoking – both the outfit and the perfume alike – has both in spades and to spare!

Notes: Bergamot, blackberry, brown oakmoss, Bulgarian rose absolute, carnation, castoreum, Chinese geranium, clary sage, galbanum, grandiflorum jasmine, honey, hyacinth, incense, leather, marijuana accord, neroli, orris, Peru balsam, tobacco absolute.

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Euphorisme d’Opium

In the late 1970s, overt drug references were simply just not done. The scandal of Opium – both its name, its tagline (‘For women addicted to Yves Saint Laurent’), its opulent world launch in a Chinese junk in New York harbor, even its Japanese-inspired bottle, were an instant, worldwide sensation and an instant sellout, despite being banned for import in many countries, even in the US. (They simply shipped it in non-descript packaging, repackaged it, and voilà!) If ever a perfume embodied the Studio 54 era of decadent excess and drop-dead disco glamour, surely it would be Opium? If people know nothing else of Yves Saint Laurent, they know Opium, for you had to live under a rock in the Gobi desert to avoid it in the late Seventies, or the countless imitations that followed it. (Cinnabar, anyone?) I had girlfriends who swore by it and wore it by the bucket in every permutation. My mother wore it for a time, before she moved back to her beloved Shalimar. As Oriental perfumes go, Opium was another gold standard of feisty, fierce spice-and-fire, and in Dawn’s version, it is nothing more nor one whit less spectacular than its inspiration. The carnation-clove-orange and cinnamon beginnings – a large part of what made the original so distinctive – are here dampened a bit compared to the Opium I remember, and since I recall Opium sillage trails so thick you could taste them (those were the days, people!), this is no bad thing. Instead, it’s Opium without quite so much of a perfume hangover the next day, brighter and lighter and altogether a glorious twist on a perfume so iconic, I don’t even have to locate my mini of the original. I close my eyes, and in a twinkling of that spice and that fire, in the benzoin, myrrh-laden, vanilla embers that spark and flame long, long hours later, I’m all there and still happily caught in that moment, singing “Hot Stuff” along with Donna Summer.

Notes: Aldehydes, amber, Atlas cedarwood, bay leaves, bitter orange, Bulgarian rose absolute, carnation, cinnamon bark, civet, clove bud, East Indian patchouli, Eastern lily, grandiflorum jasmine, honey, incense, mandarin, musk, myrrh gum, peach, pimento berry, pink peppercorn, Siam benzoin, spice, vanilla, ylang ylang.

lavieenrose

La Vie en Rose

On the day Dawn’s YSL collection arrived, after devouring the letter that came with it and the press prelease, too, I wasted no time and less breath in heading like a guided missile straight for La Vie en Rose, and this time, it was very much personal. Unlike Opium, which I never wore since some of my girlfriends did, I wore YSL Paris once I headed out of punkdom in my early twenties. I wore Paris in the eau de toilette and the parfum and the bath gel and the body lotion and sometimes all at once (true story), I wore Paris to work and on sizzling dates and girls’ night out, I wore Paris any chance and every chance I got. So far as I was concerned, Paris was the epitome of everything rose and everything perfect in my less-than-stellar life, and in fact, one boyfriend even asked many years later if I still wore it. What could I say? I loved it without reservation and inhibition, as you can only do in your twenties, and heaven help me, I’d love it still if it had not become reduced to a (misguided) rumor of its former glory. When a perfume so perfectly embodies a philosophy of life it inspires even the designer to make a dress such as the ‘Paris Bow’ pictured above, that means…something. So out it came, my little bottled wonder of La Vie en Rose, on it went, and then…this grown woman of jaded mien and grown-up responsibilities and (supposedly) grown-up tastes…cried. For La Vie en Rose is very much more than my own rosy-violet-linden tinged memories of my twenties, but more than that, it’s the Paris I remember, without being quite so bombastic, yet as perfect as only the very best recollections can be. From its first breath of fruity, green-tinged linden blossom through its epic, expansive rose-and-violet heart and without any of those rose-violet associations of lipstick I so dislike, this is the answer to that perennial question…Why do I love perfume? Because of perfumes like La Vie en Rose and perfumers like Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, because the best are so emotionally evocative, so utterly transporting in time and place, I can withstand anything at all, so long as I have beauty such as this to breathe. That’s why.

Notes: Aldehydes, Australian sandalwood, bergamot, cassis bud, Centifolia rose absolute, civet, French lily, French linden blossom accord, green clover blossoms, green oakmoss, heliotrope, moss, muguet, musk, neroli, violet, violet leaf absolute, Virginia cedar, wood violet, ylang ylang.

Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour

Named for an embroidered wisteria and yellow jacket and a classic French love song, Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour is a floral perfume that could equally well be called Impossible April. Impossible, for how does it happen that wisteria and linden blossom waltz so well in tandem, and is the ozone (not a note I encounter very often) that keeps this bouquet so expansive and open all through, like the French doors flung open on a day of sunshine after rain, when all of nature blooms before your eyes? I dare you to tease out the blooms one by one, but I can recognize what must be wisteria underneath a brocaded, embroidered opening of bergamot and linden blossom, rose, a touch (a very light touch) of jasmine and ylang and certainly lily-of-the-valley, too, but all along this perambulation through spring, vanilla hums sweetly in the background with its friends sandalwood and musk, but so lightly, so elegantly, you don’t even notice some hours later when that door to this impossibly gorgeous April day closes, and alas, it is over. Then again, tomorrow is another day and hope springs eternal…

Notes: Australian sandalwood, bergamot, Bulgarian rose absolute, civet, Dassinia orchid, East Indian patchouli, French linden blossom accord, honeysuckle, lemon, linden blossom absolute, muguet, musk, ozone, sambac jasmine, vanilla, wisteria, ylang ylang. (All notes from DSH Perfumes)

It’s not hard to find traces (and outright theft) of the immense legacy Yves Saint Laurent left behind, in the many modern designers who steal what they find, in his extraordinary command of color and technique, or simply in that definition of style he was the first to advocate and so many of us follow even today. But these six perfumes are much more than cover versions of perfume songs we used to know, so much more than riffs over the familiar themes and tropes we now take for granted in perfumery. They are all imbued with that deft restraint Dawn adds to all her perfumes, never so overpowering as to leave you breathless in the wearing, but always, like the best of art and the superlative best in perfumery art, exhilarating, inspiring, and as flawlessly executed as any Parisian couture.

To be beautiful, a woman needs nothing more than a black pullover, a black skirt and to be in the arms of the man she loves. – Yves Saint Laurent.

To which I could add, but if you really want to knock ‘em down…wear any one of these heartstopping tributes. Because, as the Maître also once said…

My most beautiful love story…is you.

As indeed Catherine Deneuve and Laetitia Casta sang on the fortieth anniversary of YSL to a visibly moved Saint Laurent.

Sometimes, we perfumistas are very, very lucky, that the very best love stories can be bottled, too.

The YSL Retrospective Collection is available directly from DSH Perfumes, as 5 ml dram perfumes, as 10 ml. Eau de parfum sprays, and as a coffret set.

Image credits: Photos of ‘La Ligne Trapêze’ dress & ‘Paris Bow’ dress from designsponge.com, taken from the Denver Art Museum’s exhibition. Black and white photo of model in YSL couture by Jean-Loup Sieff. Photo of Dior suit, 1958 from oakcat.tumblr.com. Photo of Catherine Deneuve with Yves Saint Laurent in1966 via nastassie.livejournal.com. Photo of ‘Opium’ dress (1978) from the Costume Institute’s collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Disclosure: Samples were sent for review by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Whom I owe an oversized apology for such a belated review! :)