Spelling Eternity

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-  a review of Parfums Serge Lutens’ La Vierge de Fer

When rumors began to circulate some months back about a new Serge Lutens perfume named after a medieval torture device (I’ll be getting back to that one), you can imagine that a discussion ensued on a perfume forum I frequent as to what that name might imply in olfactory terms – or not. Never mind we legions of Serge Lutens acolytes will always be insatiably curious about the next launch, certainly curious enough to feed the rumor mills and grease the wheels of our own olfactory imaginations.

But a medieval torture device?

Some stated flat out they would rather drop dead than wear anything so euphoniously named simply for the associations that came with it, while others among us have many fond memories of a rock band bearing that name’s English translation and were already flashing the horns in anticipation, all allegories of the Inquisition or indeed our mortal souls be damned.

So let me start there. The Iron Maiden as it exists in the public imagination today was a hoax. No historical evidence suggests it even existed until 1793 when the German philosopher Johann Phillipp Siebenkees became inspired by a reference in St. Augustine’s ‘The City of God’ to invent a particularly chilling example of manifest human cruelty. The most famous, known as the Iron Maiden of Nuremburg, can be dated no earlier than 1802 and would have been patently counterproductive as a torture device.

Meanwhile, the diabolical duo of M. Lutens and Mr. Sheldrake pulled out the rug under all our fragrant and/or morbid phantasms with La Vierge de Fer and in the process confounded us all. Again.

Knowing something of Serge Lutens’ propensity for audacious and inventive florals, I could have half-expected something at least as outré as its name, but also – experience is a witch – I know enough by now to expect the unexpected, which was precisely what I got.

La Vierge de Fer is indeed a floral, indeed a novel interpretation of a lily, but this lily bears no resemblance to Un Lys. Forget all you know about lilies and take a walk on a wintry path where gothic flowers bloom, as it begins to bloom in a huge, frilly, feminine pouf of aldehydes as blinding white and frigid as snow.

The lily grabs those aldehydes in moments and keeps them close by as a demure lily of the valley sidles in between them, but both the lily and the lily of the valley are immaculately scrubbed clean of all their earthier memories, suspended in an endless aldehydic mid-air somersault like flying floral trapeze artistes, and the safety net of arctic incense, a touch of chilly vanilla and white musk waits an infinite space below as they swing back and forth between the perpetual lily, lily of the valley in a morally ambiguous aldehydic love triangle. Where aldehydes are usually used as top notes, here they’re present front, center and nearly all the way to the basenotes some long hours later, as cold and nearly as bleak as a frosty December night before they give way to the no less chilly, steely incense, vanilla and metallic white musk at the base.

After multiple wearings this past fall, I’m still not sure whether this is a perfume, a benediction of light or a curse along the lines of that Chinese proverb: ‘may you live in interesting times.’ I suspect it may be all three at once, but bear with me…

According to the enigmatic press release, La Vierge de Fer was partly inspired by Joan of Arc, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and even memories of M. Lutens’ mother. Yet I sense an artistic theme in many of Serge Lutens’ latest releases that not only runs counter to our usual expectations of former fragrant and etiolated Oriental bombast, but also makes sense in terms of further explicating a personal aesthetic. I was reminded of M. Lutens’ own photographed demoiselles, those pale, sublime, elegantly articulated creatures of perfection which seem to exist in an alternate, timeless universe that keeps the rest of us mere mortals at a distinct, chilly and intimidating distance even as we are helpless to surrender to their bewitching spell. Even as we wonder whether their peerless complexions and enchanting eyes are masks concealing another kind of prison.

So I wonder at La Vierge de Fer and the other recent releases that have also highlighted florals in new and compelling ways: La Fille de Berlin, which was the tale of a thorny rose, Vitriol d’Œillet, the fiery carnation with teeth, Bas de Soie with its cool, restrained hyacinth or De Profundis with its intimations of impending mortality and chill frissons of chrysanthemum, violet and incense. All are far removed from the usual olfactory tropes of ‘floral’, and all are usually recreated in plush, dense fashions, except somehow, M. Lutens and Mr, Sheldrake have lately created florals as diaphanous as chiffon even as they are no less plush than before.

Make no mistake – La Vierge de Fer is a stunning, beautiful perfume. I find it not at all boring or linear. Although I do suspect those blinding, vivid aldehydes are not entirely benign…

And I’m reminded of a favorite fairy tale, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen in the depths of La Vierge de Fer. Where a little boy named Kai is afflicted with a splint of a goblin mirror only to see the ugly in the world, and is abducted by the beautiful Snow Queen to the far, far North, where he sits at a frozen lake trying to assemble a puzzle to spell the word ‘eternity’ to achieve his freedom.

In the fairy tale, he only succeeded when his childhood friend Gerda after endless tribulations found him by the lake and melted the splinter in his heart with her tears, and the puzzle spelled eternity as they left the realm of the Snow Queen and returned to the world, and it was no longer winter, but glorious summer.

And at long last, the lilies are in bloom beneath an infinite blue sky, spelling out that chilling, endless word…

Eternity.

Notes: (my own impressions) Aldehydes, lily, lily of the valley, incense, vanilla, white musk.

La Vierge de Fer is an exclusive eau de parfum available as a 75 ml bell jar from the Palais Royal in Paris, from the Serge Lutens website for EU customers and from Barneys NY.

With profound thanks to Jack for the opportunity.

Photo: Detail from Alexander McQueen’s Haute Couture presentation, Autumn-Winter 2008.

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.

 ______________________________________________________

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 Pantherine Ink

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 - a review of Serge Lutens’ Sarrasins

Once a creature of fable lived, old stories tell, and some say it was a very large, most fearsome cat, and some say it was an animal of another kind, but all of them agree it emanated a most singular and exceptional perfume, so sweet, so utterly delicious no animal save the dragon was ever able to resist it (why that was, they never tell), and all who encountered it were only compelled by that scent to follow it where it went.

Other tales say it was sacred to the god Dionysus, and whispered the incredible, that he rode it to his rites, so that all who breathed in the aura of his mount would follow deeper into the forest, and return with tales of divine madness and sublime mayhem, inspired by the perfume exuded by this being they called… panther.

I’ve wondered what that panther’s scent might be, wondered as I’ve sniffed and breathed and marveled through the many perfumes I’ve met whether this one or that would pass for a fabled panther’s emanations. So many were too dark or too light, promised everything yet delivered not nearly enough. I thought I would never find it.

I forgot that cardinal rule, you see – you never find such wonders so much as they find you.

Until that fabled night I came home to a fragrant letter from a friend and fellow writer to find a little vial of panther’s ink labelled simply… Sarrasins.

Jasmine is one of the Big White Divas of perfumery, that potent trio of orange blossom, tuberose, and jasmine, blooming its almost wanton, lascivious scent only at night, a scent that spans the range from fruity to floral coloratura soprano all the way to …horse stables. It takes no prisoners, leaves no one indifferent to its presence or able to ignore it. It dances well with rose and orange blossom and even with a great deal of care with the feral tuberose, but sweetest of all to my own mind is when jasmine is allowed to take center stage on her own and unfold in all her moonlit glories.

This far north, it’s much too cold for a jasmine to grow outside the greenhouse as it does elsewhere, and what most of my compatriots know as ‘jasmine’ is really mock orange or philadelphus which blooms at Midsummer and wafts a felicitous blend of verdant jasmine and orange blossom combined, yet it is no jasmine, has none of those indolic, heady, licentious threads that lead our minds down other garden paths and gives the epithet it has in both India and all over the Middle East – ‘the perfume of love.’

Would this Saracen secret in its tiny spray vial be that fabled panther’s aura, would I find an arcane epiphany inside its inky, Oriental purple-black depths?

An admonition was written on the vial. ‘DO NOT SPRAY!’ In capital letters, as if my faraway friend would not be held accountable for any fatal consequences if I did.

Naturally that only meant I had to spray, was indeed compelled to spray, all consequences be as doomed as I surely would.

Let M. Lutens tell the tale of Sarrasins:

Applied at night in a Moorish silence, it barely touches the skin before it starts to resonate, like a ritual conducted in gilded surroundings.

I sprayed that first night and many times since in a Nordic quietude, but resonate, it certainly does.

Sarrasins is no perfume of light and sunshine to my nose. Instead, it rushes out to greet you with a metaphorical bruise, purple on the skin, as if writing with calligraphy flourishes and indelible, unforgettable ink:

This is no ordinary jasmine.

Indeed, how could these Saracens be otherwise with this fruity, fragrant grape juice bruise that marks you so painlessly and far too late, too late before it vanishes before your eyes and yet…the deed is done, that bruise was there. As it disappears into a full moon midnight, you have been marked with a jasmine.

Such a one, and such a wonder, it unfolds a little at a time and all across its hours. The accumulated light and sweetness of the midday sun is here released only after dark, and heady, lush indolic pleasures, too. As it sings and blooms, it becomes airier, lighter and ethereal as the radiant shimmer on a moth’s wings, caught in the act of drinking in its floral secrets. The fruity bruise of the beginning becomes sweeter, denser and even more intoxicating, making you that moonlit moth, resonating from soul to heart and bloom to bloom with all the promise and portent jasmine is and maybe should be. The notes say carnation, yet my nose says osmanthus, a honeyed, silk organza overlay of sunshine memory that blows so softly away in the breeze, but the hour is too late, your doom is so close, your initiation from neophyte to zealous acolyte of that dark, complex heart of jasmine is nearly complete.

This ominous night is not over yet, the rite is not finished, there is one secret still to be revealed and one midnight-black candle yet to burn.

What I sense is no relation to any myths or fairy tales the notes deceive me with, but a texture between black glove leather, suede and thick-piled velvet all combined. This is an animal purr at a baritone pitch and timbre that tells that long ago story of a fabled beast they called the panther, rarely seen unless in fleeting glimpses in the forests in elegant, louche repose belying all its feral strength, scarcely known except as legend. A legend believed only by the credulous, the dreamers, the poets and the writers of impossible tales of improbable perfumes who are compelled by alchemical wiles, an occult sleight of hand and… a jasmine.

If ever a perfume could somehow embody that panther’s scent, a perfume to compel all who encounters it to follow where it leads, to glimpse into that secret midnight bloom and that gilded hidden knowledge, that writes its arcane soul on your skin in pantherine ink, surely, it would be a purple black and painless perfumed bruise known as …Sarrasins.

Sarrasins, created in 2007 by Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake, is available for European customers as a Palais Royal exclusive bell jar, and at Barneys NY.

Notes: jasmine, carnation, woods, musk, coumarin, patchouli.

With love,  thanks and eternal gratitude to Christos of Memory of Scent for the initiation, and to Ruth for sealing my doom –  with a jasmine.

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. :)

A Rose of a Manifold Stripe

striperose

- a review of Serge Lutens‘La Fille de Berlin’

So rich in facets and form, so varied in color and so infinitely complex the perfumes that lingers within its velvety folds, it’s no wonder the rose has so many names, and so many smell so sweet. Some roses imbue the ambience of a summer day when they sing on the skin and other roses emote in alto, moonlit voices of alto, starlit dreams.

By any other name it might well smell as sweet (as not all roses do), and yet somehow, I feel that simple syllable ‘rose’ is much too simple and much too short to encompass all the many stories a rose can tell on the skin. Or is it that such a short, euphonious name for such a beloved flower contains at least as many stories, dreams and associations as the petals we can count?

Now, we have another rose, another tale, another song a rose can sing in all its dulcet hues, a rose with a new, untold story all its own … La Fille de Berlin, the Girl from Berlin.

Supposedly, La Fille de Berlin was inspired by that golden cultural renaissance of Berlin during the Weimar Republic, when everything bloomed – the arts, literature, the architecture and even the people to such an extent that 1920s Berlin today is a byword for a certain exuberance of mind and spirit that danced on the edge of decadence, and only too often fell all the way in with a defiant, Berlinerisch laugh.

But let M. Lutens tell the story:

She’s a rose with thorns, don’t mess with her. She’s a girl who goes to extremes. When she can, she soothes, and when she wants …!

Such a girl isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I consider all things ‘rose’, yet I’ve dived into enough roses – and a few Lutens perfumes – to know I should expect the unexpected and brace myself for this story of a girl from Berlin.

Having never tried those other, famous roses, Sa Majesté La Rose or Rose de Nuit, I’ll take La Fille de Berlin on her own terms, thorns and all, such being the price you gladly pay a rose…

She is no ordinary rose, no common cliché of ruby red, sunlit yellow or moonlight white, she is a rose of variegated hue, striped in folds of crimson and cream, reality …and dream.

The dream is all a rose, and the reality is a luscious, luminous rose in a photogenic pose. It breathes a husky, sweet, innocently raspberry-tinged song which tells me a violet is laughing in the mix somewhere. A violet without a hint of powder or lipstick, a violet that coaxes on this lovely rose to other places, places that crave the fire and heat of peppers pink and black and determination, places that demand instead of asking nicely, places unexpected.

Surely, I never did expect what happened next, for inside this glowing daydream of a rose lie her thorns and her backbone, with an icy-metallic twist. Not iron, not any obvious kiss of steel or stone, but altogether lighter, tighter and thoroughly new, titanium thorns you never thought to see through those rose-tinted glasses, a faraway taste of blood and kisses, the price you willingly pay for knowing this girl and this rose.

Ah, but she has so many stories, so many tales, and even this one is still evolving, still opening up its petals to bloom as you watch and you breathe, still reeling with the surprise of those thorns and that determination.

Now you know her secrets and you know to keep them well, for now she shows her softer, muskier self, now this rose will all her pleasures prove with her animal, feline purr, she’ll kiss and laugh the pain away to make you forget those fatal thorns, make you forget all you thought you knew in one blinding bright surprise, make you forget there ever was any other rose or any other girl than one unforgettable, indelible girl from Berlin.

When she wants…watch out!

With such a story and such an inspiration, the obvious association would be that most fatale of femmes, Marlene Dietrich as Lola-Lola in ‘The Blue Angel’, as she entices her ardent admirers ever onward to despair and ruin.

camilla horn2

Camilla Horn in 1927, hot off her breakthrough success as Gretchen in F.W. Murnau’s ‘Faust’

My impression is another one, another – regrettably forgotten – girl who came to Berlin and claimed it for her own, a girl who went on to fame and fortune, but a girl who somehow embodied not just all the allure of all ‘les filles de Berlin’, but also her many charms and her underlying innocence as Gretchen in F.W. Murnau’s ‘Faust’ (one of my own favorite movies), and that is Camilla Horn.

She is all of a piece as Gretchen, with all the hope and innocence of her kind – but with all that titanium will and determination.  All the many beauties of a rose of manifold stripe, all the seductive secrets of this…Girl From Berlin.

So long as you remember – she rocks …and she shocks! 

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Longevity is outstanding, and although this slants toward the feminine, this would be devastating on the right kind of man.

Notes: Rose, pink pepper, violet, black pepper, musk.

La Fille de Berlin is available from the Serge Lutens website for EU customers, and from Luckyscent and Barneys NY in the US.

Baudelairean Blooms


woodviolet - a review of Parfums Serge Lutens’ ‘Bois de Violette’

Among the many blooms adored by perfumers and perfumistas alike – the regal lilies, the imperious irises, the fatal tuberoses, sensuous jasmines, opulent orange blossoms and that Empress of them all, the rose – one tiny, unassuming spring flower stands half-concealed among this distinguished bouquet, not doing much to call attention to itself, unless it is to confer its own sweetly green air of innocence and youth, so charming yet so modest. Or else it reminds us of dear, departed grandmothers and aunts and their fondness for posies and pastilles, candied petals on chocolate cakes and tiny, mauve soaps languishing in a porcelain dish you never dared to use, stamped with ‘Savon Violette’.

There’s a vintage if not old-fashioned aura around the humble violet, something that smacks of nostalgia, bygone eras, scented with a tinge of melancholy and the ephemerality of time. Marry the violet to rose in certain proportions and you get the fragrance and flavor of lipstick, pair it with its companion violet leaf, and you have an approximation of spring-in-a-bottle, all exuberant greens and bashful blooms playing peekaboo among the greenery. Many of those violets are lovely, sugary, as sweet and as substantial as fleeting promises you just know will never be fulfilled.

All the same, something haunts me about violet, something that tugs insistent on the edges of my mind and gives me an urge to bury my face in a tiny bunch of violets in a woodland glade, something that makes me want to grasp that ethereal perfume and bite it…

Which means I’m no fan of those sweet, restrained, grandmotherly violets. I like my violets with a Gothic edge, their dulcet melody of early spring tempered with an alto counterpoint. In other words – a violet that surprises me.

Here is Serge Lutens’ Bois de Violette, and as any reader of this blog knows, any Serge Lutens perfume is nothing if not surprising.

Bois de Violette and I did not get along the first few times we said hello. A glorious violet, so said the reviews I read, so I felt more than a little cheated when I smelled the ashen cedar tones of pencil shavings, and nary one violet beneath my nose.

It was a red flag in front of this Bull! When all I wanted to do, just as in the story of Ferdinand the Bull, was to sit in a sunlit spring field and smell the flowers.

Some time ago, a perfumista friend asked me if there were anything I would like to try from her extensive collection, and when Bois de Violette came up in the conversation, I jumped at the chance to finally grasp these elusive blooms and banish the pencil shavings to the cedar box they surely belonged in.

Many have stated that Bois de Violette is the sister scent of Feminité du Bois, and it isn’t hard to see the family resemblance in their structure, or indeed to recognize the jazzy riffs of improvisation over a familiar theme of cedar – and surprises. For all her heritage, Bois de Violette is not another Feminité du Bois and has none of her sister’s plummy, Bourgogne-tinted depths.

Instead, she sings in a different, higher register, and begins her own violet revolution by conjuring forth a fairy forest in emerald tones of green, and somewhere in the background, an intimation of shadows with that pine-cedar accord that never remains too far away. This may be a forest, and fairies may dwell here, it seems to say, but secrets and ghosts lie somewhere just beyond. Heed them well.

Except you won’t, for next thing you know, the fairies arrive, which is to say, the very violets that give Bois de Violette its name, and those memories of old-fashioned, old-school, grandmotherly violets are banished forevermore to that cedar box of mementos they surely belong in.

These violets have other, wilder stories to tell, stories with sweetly worded phrases of twilit purple dreams and candied hexameter breaths of leather and anise that grow darker as the shadows deepen and the violets sing their siren songs of dark green cedar, and you listen enchanted as they fade, and the cedar steps forward again to remind you – the hour is getting very late, and not all that grows in this forest is what it seems, and not all that breathes is as entirely benign as those fairies that sang away the hours on your skin.

In this enchanted forest of Faërie lurks a Big, Bold, Cedar Wolf, and it just might bite if you’re not careful…

Bois de Violette won’t overwhelm your surroundings as you wear it. It stays close to you, but never strays.

Instead, this is what you would choose to wear for your own pensive pleasure, whenever the mood for a little needed introspection with just a touch of joy grabs you, when the melancholy grays of endless rainy afternoons are almost more than you can bear, and you want a peerless, perfumed reminder that some day, spring shall return again, and light and life as well, hidden in a woodland glade to catch you unaware.

As for me, with my predilection for the Gothic in les violettes, I find that Bois de Violette is a liquid bloom that Baudelaire would surely appreciate, if indeed he wasn’t referring to them when he wrote:

Charme profond, magique, dont nous grise

Dans le présent le passé restauré!

Ainsi l’aimant sur un corps adore

Du souvenir cueille la fleur exquise.

Or in a freer translation I couldn’t improve if I tried:

It’s by such charms that Nevermore

Intoxicates us in the Now –

As lovers to remembrance bow

Over the bodies they adore.

Parfums Serge Lutens ‘Bois de Violette’ is available at Luckyscent and directly from the Parfums Serge Lutens website.

Quote from Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Un Fantôme’ (1861), translated by Roy Campbell 1953, courtesy of Fleurs Du Mal.

With thanks to two perfume angels who made such Baudelairean blooms – and words! – possible.