Lemon Aid

Lemon-Slices

-  a review of Tauer PerfumesCologne du Maghreb

Certain things are a given in summertime. You can reasonably expect to survive the heat of July with a) a few mosquito bites, b) by moving from one shady spot to the next if you’re anything as fair-skinned as I and c) last but never least, by rejecting most of the contents of your perfume cabinet in favor of lighter, flirtier scents, unless of course you’re also like me and suffer a fit of heatwave-induced contrariness and roll out what my friend Ms. Hare calls ‘bombs’; those take-no-prisoners odes to opulence that do wonders for your mood if not for your 12+ hour sillage trail.

Today, dear readers, will not be one of those days. For today in my garret in Niflheim, it is an already warm, blue summer day with the promise of more heat on the way. It won’t be long before I turn on the fan and place it on the floor to the delight of Hairy Krishna and Janice Divacat. All my windows are as open as they can be with two cats under a rooftop, the blinds are down to keep out most of the heat and as I type these words, my hair is up in a clip and my iPig is blaring a favorite baritone. I am wearing precisely one item of textile since it’s far too hot for anything more – a tissue-thin A-line rayon dress that won’t make the mailman blush too hard should he arrive, but it’s the coolest item of clothing I own and I have no air conditioning apart from my fan.

Today is also the day I reach for a small vial I’ve been meaning to review for quite some time – Andy Tauer’s recently re-released Cologne du Maghreb, which was originally a 2010 limited edition he has now made part of his permanent collection.

You could argue that the European perfume industry as it exists today owes everything to the cologne – that refreshing if fleeting blend of citrus, flowers and herbs that has been applied to everything from skin to hair to babies, and even used as a mouthwash since Giovanni Maria Farina hit upon a lucky blend in 1709 and named it for his new hometown of Cologne in Germany, an homage also to the local belief that the waters of Cologne cured everything that ailed you, bubonic plague included!

If this eau de cologne by the great Andy Tauer (one of my Primeval Forces of Perfume) is another panacea for all things heat-related that plague me, then it can’t possibly hurt to try.

Famous last words!

If colognes – at least, the ‘classic’ variety embodied by brands such as Roger & Gallet or 4711 – strike you as uncomplicated, somewhat linear fragrances to mindlessly revive your melting self beneath a molten sun, then I have news for you.

Cologne de Maghreb is not one of those. Surely, we perfume diehards hoped for no less from the august Andy Tauer?

And just as we hoped, dear Andy delivered. For his Cologne du Maghreb is neither simple, uncomplicated nor linear in the slightest, yet it is very much a cologne, meaning it is as invigorating as a dip in a cool swimming pool (I can dream!) yet also every drop as sophisticated as all his perfumes.

It begins, like so many great perfume tales, with a blinding bright sunshine burst of lemon and bergamot. And I do mean… lemon. Lemon with a capital L, lemon with all its zest and juice and joie de vivre intact, a lemon that must be a close relation to one of my own heatwave standbys, namely homemade lemonade.

But under that citrus-y sunshine lies a verdant bite of herbs and an earthy, shady vibe from the Atlas cedar that on my skin is apparent from first to last. As it softens and fades, I detect a seamless aura of neroli and orange blossom (never, ever a bad thing in my book), a whiff of background rose and a whisper of lavender, but they’re very hard to tease apart unless I close my eyes and concentrate.

As it evolves and moves forward, the lemon stays in the background like a heartbeat in tandem with that luscious cedar, and it becomes greener and earthier when the vetiver and labdanum arrive treading softly, adding a touch of sunset amber to the greenery.

Unlike most Tauers I’ve been lucky enough to try, Cologne du Maghreb doesn’t last much more on me than approximately three hours or so, which is still quite impressive for a cologne.

I have generally speaking – apart from a vintage bottle of 4711 I acquired in a thrift store for reference – tended to avoid true colognes (as opposed to eau de cologne concentrations of certain perfumes) precisely because they’ve seemed a bit too simplistic, fleeting and linear for my personal tastes. In some hard to articulate way, they’ve failed to scratch my perpetual itch for Slaying Them With Sophisticated Sillage.

Now, with Cologne du Maghreb, Andy Tauer has upended all my preconceptions of what a true cologne can be, by making a cologne for the rest of us perfumista diehards. It is not boring, not simple, not clichéd or trite in the slightest.

Instead, it is the closest thing to bottled air conditioning I’ve tried all summer. While I very much doubt Cologne du Maghreb will cure bubonic plague like those famous waters of Köln, it certainly cures any summertime heat blues I might have. I’ll be buying a bottle as soon as I possibly can.

Perhaps I should just call it…

Lemon Aid.

Notes: Lemon, bergamot, clary sage, rosemary, orange blossom, lavender, neroli, rose, Atlas cedar, labdanum, vetiver and amber.

Cologne du Maghreb is available from First in Fragrance and Luckyscent.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Andy Tauer, for which I can’t thank him enough. Also special thanks to Jeffrey Dame and to Andrew Millar, who suggested a cure for my long and debilitating case of writer’s block.

A Fool’s Paradise

fool-tarot-card-osho-deck

- on IFRA rules and new EU regulations

My original plan for a blog post was a perfume review. My backlog is not getting smaller, and I have all sorts of fragrant epiphanies dying for a touch of superheated prose. But life, as John Lennon once famously said, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Then two things prodded me with a lance and set off my inner Doña Quixota.

The first was a post on a Facebook perfume group concerning the possibilities opened up by new, non-allergenic fragrances and fragrance technologies. I’ll be getting back to that one later.

The second was a blog post by Kafkaesque concerning the new EU regulations on cosmetics and – a pivotal point – perfumes that may take effect by January of next year.

As of today, a petition to protest these proposed regulations and restrictions has gathered over 3400 signatures to protest the upcoming regulations and been given to the EU, along with an alternative to the proposed restrictions and bans.

So you don’t have to slog through a massive amount of turgid, brain-numbing prose, I should say that so far as perfume is concerned, the following three issues are first and foremost at stake:

-       A complete ban on oakmoss, tree moss and HICC, also known as Lyral, an aromachemical used to emulate lily-of-the-valley

-       Deliberating restrictions on citral (for all citrus-based perfumes and anything containing bergamot, which is at least 90% of everything, coumarin/tonka bean and eugenol, present in rose absolutes, concretes and essential oils

-       Deliberating labels on perfumes listing the substances they contain

The EU has also been considering severely limiting over 200 natural essences, oils and absolutes, all of which are (literally) essential to the production of perfumery as we know it today, whether mainstream, prestige, niche or indie perfumery.

Speaking of which…

They have also considered limitations on the sale and distribution of indie perfumes whose manufacture is based elsewhere – for instance, indie perfume houses based outside the EU. A requirement has been suggested that in order to distribute and sell indie perfumery, an EU-based business address will be required by law, which might be the death knell of those wonderful indie perfumes that aren’t IFRA-compliant (which is voluntary to a degree), meaning they contain ‘contraband’ substances, or lucky enough to have EU distributors or retailers.

This is the funeral bell of all perfumery. Or is it?

The Background

<sarcasm>We EU citizens should consider ourselves lucky to live under the aegis of a government so concerned with our personal health and welfare. </sarcasm>

Consider the indisputable fact that many of the potentially restricted raw materials have a proven cultural heritage that dates back at least 5000 years. Yet I don’t see any demonstrators or political activists waving placards near the famous frankincense trees of Dhofar or the fabled roses of Kazaniak in Bulgaria.

All of these proposed regulations and restrictions have been suggested solely for the benefit of potential allergenic effects, potential effects that down the road could mean litigation for perfumers and perfume houses.

Enter the tabloid headline: DIOR SELLS DEATH JUICE – CALLS IT “PERFUME”.

I’m certainly not arguing that perfume allergies don’t exist, nor do I want to disrespect the plight of those unfortunate people who suffer from them – sometimes excruciatingly so. I find it appalling that even unscented body products are often scented to mask the stench of the ingredients they contain.

But here’s the punch line: People who suffer from perfume allergies don’t buy or wear perfume.

The fragrant tachyderm in the room is what no one is saying. Not the EU and their hordes of political lobbyists representing the more sinister aspects of international politics, not the IFRA, certainly not the roaring, screaming silence of the perfume industry as a whole and with the exception of a few brave souls, not even the blogosphere, where most of us like to pretend that all is well, grand and divinely scented business as usual.

Because allergies and potential allergenic compounds are not the issue at all.

The Agenda

More fragrant food for thought – the IFRA, the industry regulator and watchdog that enforces (voluntary) regulations meant to ensure the safety of consumers, is not an independent entity – it is financed by Givaudan, Symrise and US-based International Flavors and Fragrances, in other words, the very perfumery companies it is supposed to regulate.

Let that sink in for a moment.

No matter what the label on the perfume bottle might lead you to believe, many times a perfume – whether mainstream, prestige or niche – originates with one of these companies. We perfumistas often kid ourselves that perfumes are discontinued due to IFRA regulations, but it is just as often due not to restrictions or the cost-effectiveness of materials, but to expiring patents of perfume formulae owned not by, say, a LVMH company (who own an appalling number of mainstream designer lines), but by – you guessed it – Givaudan, Symrise, Mane or IFF.

It’s interesting that LVMH or even Chanel have been so silent lately in this recent outrage, considering how much they protested when these proposed regulations and restrictions were made public. Then again, the perfume industry’s notorious conspiracy of silence is a public fact…

The plot thickens further.

Say the bill is passed in all its hideous, heritage-murdering glory. Will we all be doomed to a future of horrific sugar-sweet bubblegum fruitchoulis containing nary a single metaphorical rose petal?

Maybe not, since the rise of synthetic aromachemicals in the twentieth century have revolutionized perfumes and often, these materials are entire perfumes in and of themselves. If so many natural absolutes and oils are severely restricted, then they would be substituted with synthetic and/or nature-identical aromachemicals. Meanwhile, no one really knows the long-term effects of using these synthetics.

Synthetics provided by Givaudan, Symrise, IFF. Who naturally – such being the supply and demand of market economics – stand to make an absolute killing, and not just of a cultural heritage. In other words, it’s not about potential allergies or allergenic reactions to known perfume components at all. It’s about the money, sadly, just like so much else in the world.

Hi-Tech Magic

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there is no such thing as a natural perfume, unless you place a fragrant flower behind your ear and call it a day. I will also say that so far as I am personally concerned, I have no particular bias one way or the other. I have natural – which is to say, containing no synthetics – perfumes in my cabinet that rival any stellar perfumes I could mention in complexity and depth.

Likewise, I’m well aware that many, if not most of the other fragrant wonders in my red IKEA cabinet of doom are known as ‘mixed-media’ perfumes, because synthetic aromachemicals can provide lift, body and longevity to truly make a perfume bloom. I’ve even encountered all-synthetic perfumes that have been interesting adventures on their own.

What really fascinates me are the technologies of headspace and fractionation, since they open up entirely new vocabularies for perfumers to work with.

Natural materials have an astonishingly complex olfactory profile. For instance, roses contain upwards of 10,000 different fragrant components, all of which give rose perfumes their spicy, earthy, fruity, fiery and musky profiles. Fractionation allows extraction of singular aspects of natural materials. If eugenol – one of the hotly contested components – is the issue, you can simply ‘weed’ it out of the rose. This has been one of the suggested remedies for banning oakmoss – simply remove the allergenic component, and voilà! Mitsouko is restored to all its former glory. (We can dream!)

Headspace technology is another new thrill for perfumers, since it allows for chemical analysis of aromachemical profiles from plants and flowers that are usually reconstructed, since they can’t be extracted from the plant. Gardenia and lily of the valley are two examples of using headspace technology for perfumery. This means that perfumers will still have a vast range of new materials to combine to infinity in any number of ways for new, exciting perfumes.

Having said that, any perfumer – or perfume aficionado – will tell you in no uncertain terms: there is no synthetic substitute no matter how well-made for the complexity, the richness and the depth of natural essences and absolutes. For all of them provide a perfume with its soul, its terroir, that one core component that elevates a fragrant concoction from simply smelling good (or bad!) to transcendental in a way no synthetics can.

Murder They Wrote

The cultural history of humankind has been scented since the dawn of civilization. Whether for reasons of devotion or seduction, trade routes sprang up to supply the temples of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China and history was made, agriculture bloomed to provide raw materials, statues of gods and goddesses were adorned with garlands of fragrant flowers, and perfumes and incenses were used to impart divinity and power. Indeed, in some cultures it is required to meet the divine appropriately perfumed, whether with the sandalwood paste of Hindu temples of India, or the oud blends so beloved in the Middle East.

Today, we consider Paris the epicenter of the perfumery world, but in fact, the olfactory heritage of France did not originate there but in Italy, when Catherine de Medici set out for France and her future husband with a band of Florentine perfumers in tow.

The court of Louis XIV was known as the Perfumed Court, and in those days before indoor plumbing and regular baths, everything aristocratic and prestigious was scented and perfumed; clothes, gloves (to mask the stench of tanned leather), wigs, letter paper, wallpaper, surroundings.

The demand for perfumery with all its associations of luxury led to an industry that gave us the jasmines and roses of Grasse, the lavenders of Provence and the storied, world-renowned perfumeries of Paris. Colonization gave perfumers other and more exotic materials to work with, such as tolu and Peru balsam, ylang ylang and agarwood.

It gave us Paul Parquet of Houbigant, Aimé, Jacques and Jean Paul Guerlain, Ernest Daltroff of Caron, François Coty, Germaine Cellier (one of my own personal favorite renegade perfumers), Edmond Roudnitska, Ernest Beaux. It gave the world a quintessential pride in a shared scented history, and an even greater pride in the artisanal craft and alchemy of its perfumers. On perfume bottles the words ‘in honor of my art’ were engraved in invisible, fragrant ink in essence and absolute.

Along the way, we also had Paul Poiret, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Robert Piguet, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, all fashion designers and visionaries who were quick to realize that even if a customer could never afford haute couture, he or she could afford that essential stamp of luxury, style and Parisian èlan by association; through a perfume.

Each and every one of these companies and their countless imitators milked the fragrant heritage of Paris and Parisian chic, luxury and seduction for all it was worth, and ever since, the rest of the world has been buying right into it, even as we knew we’d never in a million years be as fabulous as Jerry Hall in an Opium perfume ad or Marilyn Monroe between her sheets dressed only in Chanel no. 5, we could at least feel that way for as long as a perfume breathed on our skins and defined us.

But some time in the mid-1990s, shark fins appeared over the fragrant horizon in the wake of ubiquitous calone and aquatic perfumes. Perfume aficionados, myself included, began to notice that our long-beloved liquid definitions were no longer quite what they were. Some were discontinued, some were reformulated, but one thing became increasingly clear – the world of perfume was changing, and not necessarily for the better. Multinational conglomerate companies such as LVMH ate up renowned brands such as Guerlain, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, and then proceeded to brutally murder everything that made those perfumes special without even the common decency to give them a proper burial.

Yet even as the Naughties gave us the rise of the dreaded Angel clones, fruitchoulis and celebufumes, times were changing. With the advent of sites such as Makeupalley, fabulously scented nobodies ventured forth and began to review perfumes for a burgeoning audience eager to learn, and with perfume blogging – fortuitously timed with the rise of indie and niche perfumery in the public awareness – the fragrant landscape changed yet again, and the international perfume community wafted dangerously expensive temptations in its wake.

My own descent in the maelstrom can be pinpointed to the late summer of 2003 and a post on Makeupalley that told of the bottled emotions of a certain Serge Lutens. I let my curiosity literally kill me, lurking on perfume blogs I read religiously for over six years before I found out for myself just how true that evocative description was.

Within three years, we would have perfume blogs to edify and educate us – and meanwhile, niche and indie perfumery rustled in the underground and took off, starting the trends and creating the perfumes and the brands both my readers and myself love and adore to this day.

The blogosphere I became a minuscule but proud part of in 2010 celebrated not only those immortal classics of the twentieth century, but independent perfumery and perfumers. Andy Tauer, Vero Kern, Neela Vermeire, Ormonde Jayne, the meteoric rise of Amouage as a global brand, the blooming advent of breathtaking indie perfumers based in the US such as Aftelier, aroma M, DSH Perfumes, Neil Morris, Olympic Orchids, Envoyage, even Tommi Sooni in Australia, the perfumer as rock star…

As we say in my native Denmark… our enthusiasm would never, ever end.

And if not for the wretched EU, the lobbyists in Brussels or the heavily vested interests of the IFRA, we might have remained blithely, blissfully unaware of those shark fins on the horizon.

Truth and Consequences

As it was written, the truth of the EU proposal would basically mean the death of perfumery as we define it today. Perfumes would by necessity have to be reformulated to the point of redundancy, growers in Bulgaria, Egypt, Morocco, France, Italy and Tunisia would have to find other, more profitable crops, hundreds of thousands of people would have to locate other employment in an inhospitable economic climate, and every single brand you’ve ever heard of would have to close its doors – forever.

Yet strangely enough, very few brand owners and perfumers rose to the occasion and decried their impending doom and demise. One of the few who put his passions right up front was Frédéric Malle of Editions de Parfums, who came right out and said what very few dared, least of all global players such as LVMH and Chanel, both selling perfumes on a scale where you’d expect them to have a definite opinion and with the kind of industry clout to put some political muscle behind it.

There we were, even I, yesterday, wrestling with the research and my own definite emotional response to this potential horror, when Michel Roudnitska – son of Edmond and a fabled former perfumer himself – posted a link to an article in French about the coming regulations and some new considerations the EU is taking into account, in part because of the protests of perfume consumers and concerned EU citizens.

It seems that the EU will, among other things, revise its testing methodology to also include non-allergic people, to allow the use of certain aromachemicals and problematic natural materials if the allergenic compounds are removed before use, and at least listened to some of the arguments from both the industry, such as they were, and consumers themselves. Then again, it’s hard to argue with a 19 billion € industry…

As I type these words, I’m wearing a perfume, one of my recent fragrant obsessions I have yet to write about. It has haunted and taunted me in ways all the best perfumes always do, defying my attempts to decline it and pin down its inherent mysteries. It shouldn’t work, shouldn’t exist, and yet it does, and as it does, I am taken out of myself and away from my woes and cares in a manner only literature and music can compete with, and even so, this perfume needs no words to explicate it. It simply is – no more and no less.

As I wonder, as I think about its marvels and its majesty, I wonder if we, the passionate perfumistas, bloggers and perfume writers of the world, haven’t been living in a kind of fool’s paradise, breathing in the flowers and essences of this perfumed Eden, and forgetting about the crumbling ledge beneath our feet.

The results of the EU consultation will be made public in July.

Stay tuned.

The Winners Are…

And-the-Winner-Is-CP-Confetti

Random.org has spoken, and the winners of The Alembicated Genie’s giveaway draw are…

10 ml of Mohur extrait and a ceramic perfume disk:

Sara

Samples of Mohur Extrait:

Gisela & Silverlily

Please email me before May 28th at thealembicatedgenie@gmail.com with your contact information and address, so I can pass it on to Neela.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the draw for your comments and for enjoying this story/review!

Jamais Une Fougère

dyingfern -  on the perils of perfume writing

Whether justified or not, I consider myself an extremely privileged perfume writer. Not only am I lucky to have a plethora of dear and generous friends who send me wonders and marvels I might otherwise not know, I have also – rightly or wrongly – managed to make connections with perfumers and perfume houses over the past 3+ years who bear me in mind when new perfumes are released. I doubt it’s simply because of the free press they get, but because they maybe? hopefully? appreciate the idiosyncratic perspective I apply. Or so my vanity tells me.

As for me, I take this as the supreme compliment it surely is. Not only do I have something to look forward to in my mailbox besides bills, I also more often than not look forward to sinking my verbose teeth in these wonders. Because writing about perfume IS a privilege – and how else can I justify my own obsession, if not for the readers who want to know what I’ll write about next?

The thing is, I never know what will happen.

Sometimes, I’ve been borne away on a storied tide of inspiration.

And sometimes…

This post concerns one of those other times.

Usually, I much prefer to write about perfumes that move me and take me places. I prefer to write positive reviews because even if it’s something I would never personally wear, I can at least show the courtesy to attempt to move out of my comfort zone and grasp the concept, the idea of a given perfume.

But every once in a blue moon I encounter something so bad, so terrible, so poorly executed I either hurl myself into a hot Jacuzzi of seething sarcasm or else repress the overpowering urge to throw in the towel and stick to writing Gothic erotica.

Not that long ago, I received a sample of a perfume from an indie perfumer who to the best of my knowledge and research has never been the benefactor of ‘free’ blogger attention. That fact is not the reason I won’t divulge the name or the link. If anything, this blog and the one preceding it have proven my worth and my love of indie perfumery. If perfume bores you these days, I dare say you’re looking in a lot of wrong locations – there is far, far more to perfumery than ‘designer’ or ‘niche’.

What yanked the beard on my personal goat was this: The perfume sample was quite simply one of the shoddiest, shabbiest-made ‘perfumes’ I’ve ever encountered.

How can a perfume be shabby? Simple – it falls apart on impact. Literally.

Believe it or not, perfumes are emphatically engineered. Built from the base notes up, they suspend their materials in mid-air; sometimes, it’s a symphony or a full-blown Met opera production extravaganza in three acts, sometimes a sonata, an impromptu or an etude. Hot messes happen too, and that’s fine so long as they’re unapologetic. So wrong in so many ways can be so very, very right. (Guerlain Insolence, here’s looking at you!)

Well, this particular ‘perfume’ is a sweltering mess of epic proportion. I’ll explain why in a moment, but bear with me.

My happiest moments in reviewing a perfume occur when I’m able to grasp something of the mind behind it. It’s not ‘terroir’, it’s not the overall gist, it’s a fragrant intimation of the soul who conjured it from the depths of his/her creativity – that metaphorical great, cosmic grid all true artists have access to and draw their inspirations from. It’s my obligation to that soul which compels me to write a review and to be as fair and as thorough as I can.

In retrospect, the reviews that have made me happiest to write are the ones where the soul of the perfumer or Creative Director wafted out and pulled at my heartstrings and I feel that I not only grasped the concept, I nailed it.

Or in this instance, nailed it to the Perfume Wall of Shame.

Because this perfume-that-shall-remain-nameless has no soul at all. No whiff of premeditation, no coherence, no personality, and so far as I can determine, it seems to be made by someone who doesn’t even like perfume.

I’ll let that last subclause sink in for a moment.

How in the name of sacred Saint Mary Magdalene – patron saint of perfumes – can anyone claim to make perfumes if they don’t like them – to wear, to sniff, to compose?

(*Bangs head in frustration on laptop keyboard. Deep breath.*)

Ok, then. Supposedly, this is a fougère, that fabled family of perfumes that heralded the advent of modern perfumery as we know it today. I’m no stranger to fougères and love quite a few, whether the amber-carnation-y wonder that is the modern Fougère Royale by Houbigant, vintage Guerlain Jicky, Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel, the fougère-ish, hyper-green, über-plush silk velvet density of Oriza L. Legrand’s Chypre Mousse, the flawlessly sparkling DSH Perfumes’ Passport à Paris or even that Amouage heartbreak-in-a-bottle called Memoir Man.

Well, for about five minutes, it’s true enough.

Ceci est une fougère, biensûr!

All the usual suspects are present and accounted for; lavender, carnation, tonka bean, oakmoss. For about five minutes, I’m quite content among the ferns and flowers. Next, without even the benefit of a shark fin on the horizon, I’m dumped into the sea with the chum wearing this horror story that wants to eat me alive and drag me down to the very depths of the damned below.

I would have thought that with the notes list, it would be impossible to go wrong: tonka bean, oakmoss, lavender, carnation, clary sage, clover.

My mistake. I’ve been spoiled/ruined by all the great things I’ve written about.

One thing I’ve learned since I began to write about perfume is that its greatness or lack thereof stands or falls on its base notes. This is where the engineering, the underpinnings of perfume construction show themselves most clearly.

This is where this ‘perfume’ falls completely apart without even the benefit of scaffolding. And where the anonymous ‘perfumer’ shows a) a lack of coherence b) a lack of understanding just what ‘makes’ a perfume not to mention c) infinitely worse – a lack of even caring.

This lack of consideration takes ‘lax’ to a whole new level of audacity. Instead, it stinks, and not in a good way. The base is bitter, shrill, and obliterates everything that made the first five minutes tolerable.

With just a little more work – and a lot more care – this could have been a perfectly passable perfume. Not ground-breaking, not revolutionary, not edgy – but perfectly acceptable nonetheless.

As it is now, I’m running to apply rubbing alcohol, dish soap and whatever else I can think of to scrub it off with a Brillo pad. (I did that, actually.)

Those sharks will have to live without their teeth in my hide.

More to the point, I won’t deign to give this <cough> creation the publicity I very much doubt it deserves. No names, no links, no anything.

Because this particular ‘fern’ died of a broken, disillusioned heart a long, long time ago. It never did receive a decent burial.

But one thing it does deserve is an epitaph:

To misquote René Magritte…

Ceci n’est fut jamais une fougère.

With thanks to the friend who inspired this review.

The Might of a Rose


-  a tale and a review of Neela Vermeire Créations Mohur Extrait

mohur2

Lahore, India – November 1627

So it had come to this. All her plans, her hopes and her dreams had come to nothing, reduced to ashes by her own brother’s betrayal. Shahryar had lost everything.

The power, the glory and might of the Mughal and all that was India would now pass to Shah Jahan, who had hated her from the moment sixteen years ago she wed Jahangir, who loathed the way she always favored his far more sensible brother Shahryar.

She had gambled everything on Shahryar, and so she too had lost all the power and influence she had acquired these past sixteen tumultuous years. Even her beloved was no more. Then again, perhaps she had lost him long ago to the lures of wine and opium.

Nur Jahan wrapped her shawl around her in the slight chill of this November evening, looked up from the missive in her hand and gazed unseeing at the intricate winding vines and flowers inlaid in the walls of her quarters.

“Majesty…” Akbar, her faithful retainer for several years, interrupted her reverie. “Asaf Khan has proposed that you retire to a palace here in Lahore with your rank and your privileges intact.”

“Has he now?” Nur Jahan had to laugh. “All my privileges, except the one that matters most, which he knows all too well.” She shrugged and knew with the ease of one who had reigned India in deed if not in name for many years that she would never show just how much her brother’s betrayal burned, never show her sorrow for fear Shah Jahan would have yet another weapon to use against her. One he would never hesitate to use.

“And yet, Majesty, would it be so terrible to have the time to dedicate to your interests? Your poetry, your music, your gardens and your perfumes? All without the distractions of rule, of court intrigue and the endless lines of petitioners at the jharoka receptions? You would no longer rule, it is true, but…” Not even Akbar was audacious enough to finish his own thought.

“There are many kinds of power and might, Akbar,” she snapped. At this late hour of the night, her voice showed the slightest hint of strain, as if everything transpired – the Emperor’s capture and death, Shah Jahan’s blatant refusal to obey her command at Kabul and this war of Jahangir’s succession – had somehow caught up with her.

“The power of poetry, the strength we gain from the music we love, the might of a perfect rose…”

NVCROSE

There was a thought. Nur Jahan stared again at the letter and saw not the black curves, dots and lines upon lines of doom and defeat, but instead the green leaves and dawn-pink petals of a fragrant rose, diamond droplets of dew glistening in the morning light in its silken folds. Such a rose as Jahangir had given her at Nowruz, the New Year so long ago, when she was no Nur Jahan but merely a widow and a disgraced diwan’s daughter named Mehr-un-Nissa.

What would it be, she wondered, to prove just what power a rose such as that could conceal, to leave as her epitaph not the just the Empress but the very woman she had been?

Very well, she thought. Let Shah Jahan have the Empire. Let him take it and rule it and ruin it with his extravagant ways and vaunting ambition.

She, once Empress of all India, would find her solace and her sustenance in her poetry, in her gardens and her charities, and in the perfumes she so loved, to dedicate her days and nights to the pursuit of a beauty so flawless, it could be none other than her own.

And so it came to be in the years that followed her exile from rule that she strove to capture all her myriad selves in her roses and in the perfumes those roses made, to somehow wrap up her essence as the epitaph she would choose to leave behind. It should contain the sharp, spicy scent of cardamom and coriander and pepper, to recall the laughing, lighthearted girl she once was so long ago in faraway Kandahar, perhaps with the jasmines she remembered blooming in the courtyard, and hints of the almond sweetmeats and pastries Jahangir once so loved to feed her. A dusting, like the powdered sugar on loukhoum, of the violets presented to her by those comical English in their outlandish garb, and a cool, purple touch of the elegant iris root from that remote land called Florence its ambassador had presented her with. It should contain the sharp tang of leather as well in happy memory of tiger hunts in the hillsides and the iron might she once wielded in a silken, fragrant glove, and the sacred, haunting trails of sandalwood, patchouli and oud that defined India as perhaps few other essences did. A sweet, luscious finish, as much as if to say that the Mehr-Un-Nissa she once was and the Nur Jahan she became were after all, one woman first, last and foremost.

All of these, the flowers and the herbs, the spices and sacred woods intricately embroidered onto the heart of a singular flower to prove the power of a woman such as Nur Jahan, and the might of her rose.

On a December day of chill and fog, when the Empress who once was Nur Jahan breathed her last, Akbar, an old man himself by this time, took her secret note and anointed it with that mighty rose perfume before he set it alight with a taper to release her story and her essence upon the wind for another to find and to remember… a woman once known to all as… the Light of the World.

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The Shalimar Gardens, Lahore, June 1947

On this sunny day, Edwina Mountbatten wasn’t sure what broke her heart the most, that she would soon say farewell to this wonder that was India, or that she had been fortunate enough to at least experience it and attempt to grasp and encompass all it was and now soon would become. Soon, these marvelous gardens would not even be Indian, but belong to a nation to be called Pakistan.

“It seems,” she said to her friend Jahawarlal Nehru as they walked, “such a pity and yet, such a necessity, that this will be another nation born of India’s ashes.”

“There is no other way, Edwina, as you well know.”

The sunlight danced in the fountains and the mannered geometry and the blaze of flowers should surely soothe any melancholy hearts and make any spirit soar to stroll amid such beauty on a day like today, when the roses bloomed their promise of a new era and a new future.

He sensed her pensive mood as they walked, as he so often did, and bent forward to pluck a perfect rose he presented to her with a flourish and a smile.

“Did you know,” he began, “there is a story about this variety of rose?”

Edwina laughed. “I do so love your stories. You have so many!”

“One of my many pleasures,” he murmured. “Ah, but this story… is a story of the fabled Nur Jahan.”

“She was quite a woman, I gather.”

“Indeed so, and quite extraordinarily talented, so I’ve been told. They say that when Asaf Khan ‘retired’ her, she dedicated her life to poetry, to charity and to perfumes.”

“Perfumes! Only in India…” Edwina buried her nose in the rose. It was like no other rose –certainly, no English rose – she had ever known, lush, deep, both majestic and piercing in its scent.

“You forget, in India, perfume is definition, devotion and adornment all in one. Something for you to think about, perhaps? Or at least consider…” he went on with another smile as they strolled onward, a precious stolen hour of serenity amid the separation talks. “And so the story goes about a perfume Nur Jahan made, and such a perfume they say it was. They say it was all her essence and all of the world, not merely India, wrapped around the might of a rose.”

“The might of a rose. I must say that phrase has a certain… power to it.”

“Well, she was am Empress, after all.”

“But of course.” Edwina breathed in her rose. It made her own British roses seem so indistinct and pallid in comparison. “But what about it? Did someone ever find the formula? I do like the idea of such a perfume.”

Nehru watched the diamond droplets of water flash above the fountain in the sunlight and refract in the air above the pool. As he thought, as Edwina walked beside him with this extraordinary rose in her hand, she thought with a pang that she might never see this fabled garden and its beauty again.

“How does it go, this tale of Nur Jahan’s mythical perfume… Ah! Well then, they say that when she died, her retainer burned the formula and released it into the wind for another to find in time. Remember, this was not simply a perfume, not just a scent to wear, but the very quintessence of an Empress of India. So it would be powerful and immensely rich, as she surely was, it would contain all her majesty and all her secrets. Not something you’d buy in Paris, perhaps. Power and majesty are not to be trifled with.”

“Something of which I suspect Her Majesty was well aware.”

Edwina tried to open up her heart, her soul, her very pores to drink it all in… the gardens, the sunlight, the company of her extraordinary friend and this extraordinary story of a perfume that sparked a longing in her heart to know it, to wear it, to breathe it, to be remembered by its presence.

“Certainly! Nur Jahan ruled an empire, let’s not forget. With an iron hand, I might add.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a perfume that would say all those things to the world.”

“Ah, my friend, neither have I, and I am Indian, after all.”

“But that is such an extraordinary story! Power and majesty all contained in a vial of scent.”

“Sometimes,” Nehru’s thrilling voice trailed off as he looked into the distance, “it is better to take the sword than to surrender, fail or run away.”

“And should that sword be a rose?” Again, Edwina inhaled deeply from the rose in her hand. To her, it seemed as if this were so much more than a simple flower and so infinitely much more than a mere ‘rose’.

They walked on a while in the comfortable silence of friends. And then, Nehru looked at Edwina and at the rose in her hand.

“Remember…and this is something I can well imagine Nur Jahan saying herself…

‘Never underestimate the might of a rose.’

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____________________GIVEAWAY!___________________

Neela has offered to give away one ceramic perfume disk (for scenting drawers & closets) and a 10 ml decant of Mohur Extrait to one lucky reader in either the EU or the US, and a sample of Mohur Extrait to the two runners-up who comment on this post by midnight CET on Wednesday, May 21st. Mohur Extrait is a must-try even for those who don’t like rose - this is NOT your usual rose! Make sure to like Neela Vermeire Créations on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.  The winners of the giveaway will be drawn by random.org and announced here on TAG on Thursday, May 22nd. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.

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Notes: Cardamom, coriander, ambrette seeds, carrot seeds, pepper, elemi, iris, jasmine, rose, violet, almond, leather, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, oud, benzoin, vanilla and tonka bean.

Neela Vermeire Créations Mohur Extrait is currently only available as a limited edition directly from the NVC website for customers in the EU. For US customers, contact Neela Vermeire Creations at info@neelavermeire.com.

Mohur Extrait was created by Neela Vermeire in collaboration with perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour.

Disclosure: A sample of Mohur Extrait was provided by Neela Vermeire. The story and review are my own, but the historical context, people and events mentioned are as accurate as research allowed.

Painting: “Bani Thani”, by Rajasthani artist Gopal Khetanchi, with the addition of a 17th-century rose by yours truly.

Photo from the Shalimar Gardens, Lahore by Roland & Sabrina Michaud.

Rose petal photo from the flower market of Bangalore and presentation of Mohur Extrait bottle by Neela Vermeire. Used by permission.

 

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.

Refractions in a Jasmine’s Eye

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-  a review of Amouage Opus VIII

In over three and a half years of perfume blogging, I’ve reviewed over five hundred perfumes. Some great, some spectacular and some… not quite so much. Some reviews have come easy and some have come hard, not because I hated the perfume (although that has happened), but because in order for me to haul out The Perfume Reviewer kicking and screaming (because she basically just wants to enjoy it), I have to find an angle, a hook, bait to reel the reader in.

In all that time and with all those marvels, nothing I ever review – and I’d like to emphasize this – is ever so hard to hook, angle or locate the bait as just about any Amouage.

Once upon a storied time – how can it be three years ago? – I dismissed Amouage as being too rich for my blood, just another hyped-up hyper-luxurious brand that couldn’t possibly live up to the accolades heaped upon it. I can’t afford even one of them. I’d cover my ears and sing “La-la-la, I can’t hear you!” when my fellow friends and perfume bloggers sang its praises on their blogs. Finally, I gave in to my own relentless curiosity and those verbal, knowing smirks from those same friends and bloggers and ordered two outrageously expensive Amouage samples of Epic Woman and Ubar at First in Fragrance just to knock them down to an approachable, human size.

The rest, as they say, is history. Whether I’ve surprised myself writing narratives or merely bathetic attempts to just capture my impressions in words, by all the patron saints of perfume they are, every last one I’ve tried, really… all that and so much more.

It pains me more than you know to bang my head against the keyboard and tell you their newest release, the Library Collection’s Opus VIII, is no exception to that rule. It also proves just as slippery and elusive to decline and define.

I’ve long had the sneaking suspicion that the unisex Library Collection is where Creative Director Christopher Chong lets his inspirations run a little looser and freer and gives his perfumers license to write literature in essence, absolute and accords. If Opus V could be called Carnal Iris, and Opus VI Odysseys in Amber, Opus VII was a bottled Edgar Allan Poe tale all the best and sublimely Gothic ways titled Spenser’s Forest.

Opus VIII is a new tale in a new setting with countless plot twists and turns, this one as blinding sunshine bright as Opus VII was moody, magnificent darkness.

I don’t know how or even why, since it’s listed nowhere in the notes or anywhere else I could find, but on me, Opus VIII begins as incendiary green as a morning in early May. Jasmine sambac is indeed a greener, fruitier variety of jasmine, which might explain why I was kicked awake and aware by an emerald green punch of fizzy, razor-sharp Persian lime.

Lime! Not mojito, not caipirinha and not at all margarita, but a warm, bittersweet green sunrise as a heliotropic jasmine begins to unfurl and that blinding bright gilds its edges and everything begins to glow, everywhere you sniff. Was that a hint of banana leaf? No. It’s that heady jasmine. Or else it’s the sensuous sparks of saffron and ginger firing up the floral fireworks.

But instead of your usual summer fireworks imagery, see instead a jasmine sambac chrysanthemum bomb exploding in an endless hall of mirrors, some convex, others concave, and yet others flat, wavy and in varying hues of blues, golds and greens. You just don’t know where to look, never mind how to sniff. The florals are distorted and painted large on scented woody billboards advertising alternative, gravity-defying magic carpet rides of what flowers are able to do in a perfume if they’re allowed.

Once thing is certain – they’ve never quite done this before.

Ylang ylang, with those custard and banana leaf undertones dances and flirts with the jasmine in perfect step with frankincense adding its own lemony, woody allure.

Like all the Opus line and indeed most Amouages, Opus VIII is incredibly hard to parse. Just when you think you have it all mapped out, the figurative magic carpet is pulled out from under you. Up is down and down is up. Jasmine is not at all jasmine sambac, but instead a phantasmagorical jasmine, no! Wait! Orange blossom! Yes?

No… it’s this spicy, woody superstructure elevating all the flowers up and up – or is that down?

Reflections? Refractions? I could apply both words equally well to convey my impressions. I’ve worn this on at least twelve occasions and worn twelve different perfumes – sometimes, it’s that jasmine sambac core that dominates and sometimes, it’s the woody superstructure that shares certain similarities with a few recent masculine releases, notably Fate Man.

What I will have to tell you is that this journey through a sunlit hall of mirrors takes hours and hours, and as you make your way through this jasmine sambac labyrinth, you’ll never know what you may find or even how to find it. This is possibly the most cohesive yet utterly discombobulating perfume I’ve ever sniffed.

To say I’m confounded is understating the issue. I suspect that’s both the raison d’être and the modus operandi of Opus VIII. To offer up reflections of flowers – some real, some imagined – swirling around a jasmine sambac vortex suspended in a spicy, woody, deliciously bittersweet base that by both inspirations and perfumers’ sleight of hand all add up to endless and endlessly entertaining…

Refractions in a jasmine sambac’s eye.

The Library Collection’s Opus VIII will soon be available at Luckyscent, MiN New York, First in Fragrance and directly from the Amouage website.

Notes: Jasmine sambac, ylang ylang, orange blossom, frankincense, saffron, ginger, vetiver, gaiac wood, benzoin, Jamaican bay.

Perfumers: Pierre Negrin & Richard Herpin in collaboration with Creative Director Christopher Chong.

Disclosure: A sample of Opus VIII was provided for review by Amouage. For which I thank the Very August Personage.

Illustration: M.C. Escher.