The Very Best of 2013 – Worn and Adorned

sophiemagdalenecrown

-  Being the True Confessions of an Alembicated Genie

Oh, to be a perfume writer, you readers might think and sigh with envy, to sit at your leisure and wax poetic on the wafting wonders of the world. Imagine such a thing – to be able to translate concepts and PR releases, to read eaux and extraits as well and as easily as any bestselling novel.

Well, I hate to burst any soapy aldehyde-scented bubbles here, but the simple fact is… being a perfume writer/blogger is about on a par with being a writer of erotica – both are equally hard to do and for very nearly the same reasons. You are trying to translate the untranslatable into prose.

As a perfume writer, you are trying to capture the Muse as she flies from your skin to your nasal receptors and on to your pathetically limited (and verbally challenged) brain, trying to find a metaphor you haven’t already flogged to death five reviews ago.

When I left for Pitti Fragranze, I thought I would fly home on wings of incandescent inspirational sillage, fired up on all my jets with all the Things I Sniffed At Last and all the stories I would tell my readers. Wow, was I surprised when I came home and the very idea of wearing any perfume at all made me turn green, and as for writing about it… fuggeddaboutit! I had no other choice but to simply live out a few weeks scent-free to recalibrate my nose and my mind.

Sometimes, by Golly, you just want to enjoy a perfume without any attempts at analysis, storyline or opinion and for no other reason than it smells good to you. It enhances your mood, it floats your boat, it turns you on to other headspaces and mind places. What follows below is a collection of perfumes and adornments that did just that. Many have yet to be reviewed and to be honest only some of them will be, not for lack of will or interest, but simply because it’s just been that kind of year and this one could be worse…

Perfectly Simple and Simply Perfect

Serge Lutens – Encens et Lavande (Serge Lutens/Christopher Sheldrake)

The word ‘linear’ in perfumese is often used in a derogatory way, meaning a scent that doesn’t develop much from the initial spray all the way to the far drydown. But any artist will tell you that  ‘linear’ or ‘perfectly simple’ can be hardest of all to pull off successfully, and ‘simple’ nowhere implies a lack of complexity, meaning or context. When life ground me to a fine powder, when I was about ready to call it a day and a half, Serge Lutens’ haunting interpretation of incense – a thick, delicious fog of it – wrapped around a searing purple heart of lavender always, always made me breathe deeper and easier. It is exactly what it says on the bottle – incense and lavender. No more and no less and that’s already more than I deserve.

April Aromatics – Rose L’Orange (Tanja Bochnig)

April Aromatics’ owner and perfumer Tanja Bochnig took a very bright idea and made it even brighter and better than the sum of its parts. I love rose. I love orange blossom. Put the two together as effortlessly and as artlessly as Tanja did, and this is sunshine, love and laughter in a bottle, the happy, uninhibited belly laugh of a very happy baby, the thrilled giggle of the girl I never outgrew (and never will). It has made me smile more than I can tell this past year and still does today.

The Thinking Woman’s Incense

L’Artisan Parfumeur – Dzongkha (Bertrand Duchaufour)

A very dear friend gifted me a bottle of Dzongkha for my birthday last year – a great whopping 100 ml of it no less – and not exactly being short on perfume, I had the inspired idea to use it as a decadent (decidedly non-Buddhist) room spray, simply for the way it made me slow down and think. Dzongkha was sprayed onto the Tibetan prayer flag, the carpet, the bedding, the lightbulbs, and in an instant, I could just be… and think, contemplate and ponder without dashing madly around the racetracks in my mind. A wanton, wild extravagance, you might think, but oh, so worth it!

Liquid Courage

Neela Vermeire Creations – Trayee (Neela Vermeire/Bertrand Duchaufour)

In my younger days, whenever I needed a little fragrant fortification, I wore chypres to add a little titanium to my backbone. Unless I just gave in and poured Chanel no. 19 all over myself. Not any longer, since I came to discover that Trayee – a transcendent wonder of sandalwood, incense, oud, spice, bhang and fire is all I need to straighten my spine, face the world and take it on.

The Sweetest of Sins

Guerlain – Shalemur (Shalimar Ode à la Vanille Sur La Route de Madagascar/Thierry Wasser)

This is arguably the world’s sexiest lemur. Or the most utterly debauched yet fluffiest of vanilla/iris/lemon/tonka bean cupcakes, I’m not sure which. Whatever else it is, Shalemur has adorned my person quite often this past fall, because all sins should smell as sweet or should that be – all sweets should waft such sins? Sometimes, girls just want to get in trouble…

And speaking of trouble…

From the Swipe ‘Em Sideways Department

I have a separate section in my cabinet for Scents of Seduction. These are the ones that have definite ulterior motives, and they succeeded quite a bit more than I ever expected this past year.

Amouage – Jubilation 25 (Lucas Sieuzac)

My scent twin sent me a sample of Jubilation 25 (now known as Jubilation Woman) some (long) time ago with the ominous words: “If this isn’t you, then I’m a …” (Never, Suzanne!) It was an Amouage, so I set it aside for fear of the consequences, only to rediscover it this past summer and be blown to smithereens by its fruity-chypre glories. I wore it on a day when I sorely needed to feel as fabulous as possible, and succeeded beyond all imagining when a dashing rock-star poet commented on it. I can’t repeat what he said, but let’s just say there were… consequences. Always the best kind!

vero profumo – Rubj extrait (Vero Kern)

Another very dear friend gifted me with a treasure, this a small bottle of Rubj extrait, and somewhere in a peerless paradise, the white floral angels sang as down below a different kind of devil danced a tune or two of hot summer nights on velvet moonlit lawns. That devil was Rubj. I wear her – not wisely, but I suspect that’s the whole idea. I’m certain Vero Kern would approve.

And speaking of seduction…

Wafting Down The Rabbit Hole

The Devilscents

I’m not sure what to tell people when I say I rewrote an entire novel in just over a month. They give me strange looks and step slightly sideways as if they expect me to breathe fire and speak in tongues any second. What I can say is without a certain arsenal of perfumes, I rather doubt I could have. Just as I write everything to a set playlist, when I fell down the rabbit hole of my own story and its strange and eerie places as writers are wont to do, I needed all the help I could get to stay there, and what better help than the perfumes my story inspired? The ouroboros of inspiration goes around and around… I wrote a story, created the Devilscent Project, perfumes were made, sent and reviewed, and when the time came to knock a sorry mess into something fit for publication, I donned Olympic Orchids’ Lil, Dev #2 & 4, Neil MorrisDev #3 & Lilith, and House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev and Lil during the course of that month and waded into the verbal fray, metaphorical sword in hand. I’m proud to say I did it, proud to state it is now the book I wanted to write (but was unable to at the time, for which I thank the readers of TAG – you’ve taught me so much!), and ecstatic to know that the perfumes and the dear perfumers who rose so beautifully to that infernal occasion made the book that much better! True story. Ask Dev.

Done In By Splendor

It inevitably happens I have what I call Wayne’s World moments – moments I want to kowtow to the floor in front of the perfumer and yell at the top of my lungs: ‘I’m not worthy!’ Many friends have unwittingly sent me a few of these, and others – one I call Evil Incarnate, and I’m not entirely joking – sent these marvels knowing full well I’d freak. These count among my biggest freak-out instances.

Amouage – Epic Woman Extrait (Christopher Chong/Daniel Maurel)

Ah, Epic… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Twelve sprays on a freezing cold night nearly asphyxiated a rock star (plus everyone else in Scandinavia and most of Northern Europe that night) but did I care? No, and he hugged me goodbye anyway. If I thought the eau de parfum was perdition, I wasn’t at all prepared for the extrait. Swoon.

Krigler – Topaze Imperiale 13

The marvelous thing about Krigler’s Topaze Imperiale 13  – a flawless amber – is that it seems by some strange sleight-of-hand to be constructed upside down, beginning with a decadent sandalwood/patchouli/labdanum and then glowing in the dark with rose, oud, vanilla and orange blossom. In other words, it’s many things I love wrapped up in something that smells like a few handy million after taxes and expenses. I really don’t understand why it doesn’t get more love because by Golly, I’d love it to death and beyond.

Oriza L. Legrand – Chypre Mousse

Once a year these past two years, a perfume will alight out of the blue aether into a world that I suspect is not entirely prepared for it. Last year, MDCI’s Chypre Palatin blew all our socks off, and shortly before New Year’s, this apparition really blew my mind. You see, I cut my perfume teeth on chypres, and I never apply the term lightly – chypres oblige. As Chypre Mousse did by being improbably lush, velvety plush, loaded with thickly applied, musty oakmoss to the max (or whatever accords were used to approximate it) and a definite vintage heritage that ensures there is nothing at all like it, and nothing at all you can compare it to. I know my chypres. Trust me on this one.

Best Comeback Moment

Aftelier  – Cuir de Gardenia (Mandy Aftel)

Dear darling Mandy, you have been very much missed. Rumor has it there is a book underway (I don’t know if it’s true, but wouldn’t that be grand?), but then, you gifted the world with this outrageously sensual out-of-body bombshell of a perfume, and my poor heart has fluttered ever since. I will have much more to say about it, but for now, I can certainly say this much: I’m not worthy!

Score for The Memories

A great tip, a finished manuscript and money in my PayPal account is a dangerous combination. Especially when it involves two of my all-time favorite perfumes in a perfectly preserved vintage incarnation. With a few exceptions, I tend to stay away from vintage perfumes, unless I really, truly, absolutely adored them to death back in the day. For no better reason than this – not only do I live in the niche-free Empty Quarter of Northern Europe, it’s also vintage free, at least where I live. Surely kismet played its fragrant hand on the day I encountered two absolute (vintage) loves. And bought them.

Grès – Cabochard (Bernard Chant)

My mother had a thing for pulpy 70s paperbacks, which was how I first learned about Cabochard in an Irving Stone novel called ‘The Fan Club’ at an impressionable age. Not that many years later, I came across Cabochard in a Copenhagen department store, remembered the book, and bought it. It took me a while to come around to this sexy, slinky leathery green chypre, but come around I did – I was never without a bottle of it again for almost twenty years. When it was gone, I missed it sorely– for the memories, for its slinky-sexy Kim Novak-in-Vertigo vibe, for everything I felt I was when I wore it. So the day I found a vintage version, I bought it pronto and found it to be everything I remembered and loved. In other words, perfect for all the Hitchcock moments I anticipate.

Dior – Dioressence (Guy Robert)

My first Dior was the original Miss Dior, but no Dior quite grabbed me as the louche, bohemian and more than a little risqué Dioressence. Part green, part dirty, part dark and all feline, it wafted behind a short, busty punk in a blue Mohawk through several years of thrills and spills and can now work its green, feline magic on a short, busty blonde all over again. One can never be too louche past a certain age…

The Devil In The Details

I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity. (Diana Vreeland)

Sequestered behind my screen, I can pretend all I like I am everything I ever was, but as events no doubt will prove in the year to come, I can’t hide there any longer. This past year, the Genie ventured into beauty products, and although my main focus here will always be perfume, beauty is as beauty does and leopard print pjs will never do for public appearances. I was never more grateful for upgrading my image than when two spectacularly talented perfumers also ventured into skin and haircare…

 aroma M Camellia Oils

Perfumer Maria McElroy of aroma M ventured into haircare and skincare this past year with her Camellia oils (for hair, for the face and a delicious bath and body oil). I have this to say about them all – they are heavenly fragrant, highly effective and utter bliss to use. I’ll take ten of each to go, please.

Aftelier Ancient Resins Body Oil & Jasmine Facial Oil

With Aftelier, you know it will be good. Actually, it will be so good, you’ll be doomed – or spoiled for life – to revel in these wonders and know your face, your skin, your nose and your very soul will thank you for them forever.

Underrated Gratitude

Everything, so claimed James Burke once upon a time, is connected. Nowhere was this truer than when I encountered an issue  – vanity or narcissism, take your pick – and asked one of my Beauty Swamis about concealer. If I have a day I look better than usual, I can thank Gaia the Non Blonde, because she has never steered me wrong, starting with…

Ellis Faas – Concealer & Hot Lips

There are few things cooler than finding a perfect product that does exactly what it says it will, performs impeccably, and makes you feel well, perfect. Thanks to the Non Blonde, I bought a concealer to start, followed by two shades of Hot Lips – a lip stain of a different kind – and wow, what a difference! I’ll never need an excuse not to act my shoe size ever again.

Nars – Pressed Light Reflecting Setting Powder

It was a Nightmare Scenario. My first professional photo shoot at a time in my life I looked (and felt) about thirty years older than my already advanced age. I was mid-deadline (and nearly dead on my feet) and terrified I’d look like microwaved death soup on my dust jacket. A bit of research and a long Skype conversation with my awesome publisher (who knows these things matter!) landed this indispensible item in my mailbox the day before the shoot. It impressed the makeup artist and the photographer impressed me (and quite a few other people) no end with the results.

Dear Non Blonde. Thank you. Signed, a Blonde.

And as I look through my notes for these Best Of posts, somewhere in the borderlands between beauty and vanity, between fragrance and fragrant, connections and people, I think that in my own evolution as a perfume writer, as a writer and perhaps most of all as a woman these past three-plus years, maybe this is the greatest of all year-end wrap-ups and the greatest of all gifts – to know that somewhere out there on the other side of your screen, is a frothing, seething lot of truly inspiring people who believe as you do in the importance of capturing beauty – or the Muse – as she flies. And above all else,  in passing its wisdom on.

Here’s to the thrills and spills that lie ahead in 2014!

With profound thanks to Ida, Lucy, Ruth, Gaia, Tami, Tamsin, Claudia, Maria, Ellen, Neil, Alexis, Mandy and all those friends I feel so blessed to have in my life. 

A Kiss in the Gardens of Love

shalimarsrinagar

-       a review of Guerlain’s Shalimar Ode à la Vanille sur la Route de Madagascar

Dear M. Wasser,

We really can’t go on meeting like this. You in your elevated stratosphere at the venerable Maison Guerlain, and I, one lone perfume writer in the void you likely are not even aware of, even as I’ve applied my suspect prose to some of your works and on occasion been less than charitable in my estimations.

If you’re bracing yourself for the next barrage of mellifluous dressing down, I regret to disappoint you. This will not be one of those reviews, because as you are surely aware, s*** happens.

And in this instance, one of the greatest and grandest and most celebrated perfumes of the 20th century, an ode to love, to a garden or two, to a starry-eyed Moghul emperor and his dearly beloved, and to the perfume that somehow managed to wrap all of it up in one sumptuous embrace and sear itself into the memories of millions of women who wore it and the men who adored it…

Shalimar.

It pains me a great deal to say this, yet say it I must – much as I appreciate its splendor, its opulence on anyone who isn’t me, its sheer operatic scale of influence and scope, I am no acolyte at the temple of Shalimar.

You see, M. Wasser, Shalimar has one fatal, Freudian flaw.

My mother wore Shalimar. In fact, it was her favorite Guerlain, which is the very reason I can never, ever wear it.

For as all daughters must, I, too defined myself in my mother’s despite, and on that long-ago May day at Guerlain on the Champs Élysées, when all of its wonders were mine for the taking and it was time to choose my own manner of fragrant explication, I chose not Shalimar but Jicky. Life had yet its pleasures proved, and I was nowhere grown-up enough for this Grande Madame. I would have felt like a four-year-old dressing up in Maman’s hat and high heels, only to hear her laugh at my audacity.

No matter.

Nevertheless, I remembered watching you in the BBC documentary ‘Perfume’, and how you were given the unenviable task of rejuvenating this Grande Madame for a younger clientele, saw your trepidation at messing with a masterpiece, and who could blame you?

Stuck in my nowhere corner of northwestern Europe, Shalimar Parfum Initial was alas nowhere available until this past fall, when I encountered it in a Florentine department store, only to find myself bemused to discover that perhaps my own issues with Maman had made me more than a little biased for no good reason at all.

Because I adored it even if I am no longer young in the slightest. It stuck in my mind like all the best fragrant stories do, with a tantalizing ellipsis that implied… to be continued.

As it will, I can assure you.

One day, as friends with a common passion do, one dear perfume friend sent me a sample of your 2012 release, the euphoniously and impossibly named Shalimar Ode à la Vanille sur la Route de Madagascar, made to commemorate an exceptional harvest of Sambava vanilla, and whatever hesitations I might have had in my own biased history with La Grande Madame were swept away in an instant by a deliciously decadent vanilla cloud of… oh, be still, my beating heart!

I know it well. Your deft touch of decadent gourmandise has undone me before in the now sadly discontinued Iris Ganache, and Jean Paul Guerlain’s sumptuous Spiritueuse Double Vanille is one of my own exalted vanilla thrillers.

No doubt as Jacques Guerlain certainly intuited and Jean Paul was well aware, you surely know that vanilla has a rather unique effect on the human mind – it elevates our perception of all our other senses, whether tasted or inhaled.

You see where this is going.

Once upon a time not so long ago, I trained as a pastry chef, and came to know that not all vanillas are created equal. The flirty floral dolce far niente of Tahitian vanilla, the no less floral, earthier Mexican vanilla, which was used in this year’s Ode à la Vanille and that grande dame of them all, Bourbon Madagascar vanilla with so many woozy, boozy, woody, deliriously rich symphonies of aroma it’s almost an insult to call it mere ‘vanilla’.

So here we have your tribute to an exceptional harvest from Madagascar’s northeastern Vanilla Coast, a Sambava vanilla dancing in tandem with a reorchestrated Shalimar – less leathery and animalic than its grandmother, and yet, one thing about it really makes my sweet tooth ache.

The name. What was the marketing department thinking, apart from humiliating non-French speakers at Guerlain counters and having a good laugh at their expense? For quite a few people, French is quite bad enough, thank you. So for the purposes of this review and to distinguish it from its illustrious ancestor, I shall call it Shalemur.

And although I would not necessarily label Shalemur ‘cute’, it is certainly at least as fluffy as any lemur.

Certain elements of both your own Iris Ganache as well as Shalimar are immediately apparent – its seamlessly constructed iris-y bouquet de fleurs (jasmine and rose, so they tell me) but the dark, earthy iris heart dancing its own delirious tango with cedar and patchouli is only too happy to bring in the bright Malagasy sunshine for the journey too, the bergamot, the mandarin and the lemon adding their own macaron de citron laugh, but front and center finds this… vanilla. Warm, enveloping, sweet yet not sugary in the slightest, it’s the kind of megawatt superstar vanilla other vanillas aspire to be when they grow up. I’ve been hard-pressed to tease apart the many elements of Shalemur, because basically, who the heck cares when it’s this good? The perfume writer bangs her head against her keyboard in frustration, whereas the woman floats away on a fluffy cloud of iris, cedar and that dangerous, erotically charged vanilla, cooking up her dangerous, vanilla-charged dreams and the rest be damned.

Hours upon hours of them, and it’s all your fault, M. Wasser. Much, much later, Shalemur becomes woodier and darker, with incense overtones, opoponax hints and tonka bean shadings and it’s a marvel I have any intellectual capacity to think at all by now.

It boils down to an old Moghal love poem in perfume:

If there is a Paradise on Earth, it is this, it is this,

it is this.

Ring-tailed Lemur Love

Lemurs do it, too. This insidiously lovely, decadent, delirious ode to vanilla is a stolen kiss in the Garden of Love.

Whoever knew it could be found…on the way to Madagascar?

Yours most sincerely,

The Alembicated Genie

Notes for Shalimar Ode à la Vanille sur la Route de Madagascar: Mandarin, bergamot, lemon, cedar, iris, patchouli, jasmine, vetiver, rose, leather, sandalwood, opoponax, musk, civet, Sambava vanilla, incense and tonka bean

So far as I’ve been able to determine, Shalemur is becoming nearly impossible to find. But if you do, let me know!

With profound thanks to Ruth and to Maggie.

Photos: From the Shalimar Bagh gardens of Srinagar. And two lemurs of Madagascar.

Perfectly Lovely

351jardin-du-luxembourg-paris-41607 – a review of Guerlain L’Heure de Nuit

Dear M. Wasser,

For all your indubitable charms, I suspect you do not have such an enviable job as we perfume writers with our twisted imaginations think. When I sniffed one of your latest creations, launched last year under a great deal of fanfare in a centennial year of very great importance, I remember I thought how difficult it must be to wrestle creatively with all the late, great and haunting ghosts of all the eminences fragrants Mssrs. Guerlain who came before you, to carry their work forward into a new era and new times and that relentless chase for new customers, new challenges, new perfumes.

Don’t get me wrong. You are yourself a rock star perfumer who counts many, many perfumes as your creations, not a few of which I own myself and am inordinately proud to waft behind me in my own quotidian and not at all glamorous life.

I’ve also got a bit of a crush, but don’t hold that against me…

So I understand something about your creative predicament. It’s a filthy job in a sordid business, but someone’s got to do it – bring the glories of Maison Guerlain into the twenty-first century, that is.

I’ve read – not having tried it, since it’s at least as scarce as real orris concrete in my part of the world – you pulled off that intimidating challenge with admirable èlan when you modernized one of the greatest Guerlains of all time, Shalimar, and called it Parfum Initial. I’ve read great things about it. I’m sure it’s good. With any luck, I might get to try it some day.

Then, Marketing socked it to you with this one. A modernization of another of the Great, the Grand, that unquestionable twentieth-century towering masterpiece that is L’Heure Bleue in time for its centenary celebration.

I felt your pain. Really, I did. That had to hurt. It must have felt a bit like recreating the Mona Lisa – in acrylic paint. On cardboard. With a palette of no more than ten colors, in this IFRA-compliant age.

Well, I can almost hear them whisper down the hall, let’s face the facts people…L’Heure Bleue is unquestionably titanic. It’s also difficult, demanding, strange, melancholy, musty, musky, and a tad…their whispers grow even more sotto voce, as if the ghost of Jacques Guerlain might appear at any moment in broad daylight in those hallowed halls at Levallois-Perret to smite them dead for emoting such heresy…démodée. But it is L’Heure Bleue.

Noblesse oblige, after all.

guerlain l'heure de nuit perfume exclusive

Alors. A stunningly beautiful presentation, that goes without saying. With an equally stunning price tag. Limited distribution of course, since everyone wants what is difficult to obtain. We’ll launch it in the Les Parisiennes collection, for that prerequisite je ne sais quoi touch that always heads like a Cruise missile straight for the most superheated spot on their Visas.

I wonder, though. Did you sigh heavily as you dragged out Jacques Guerlain’s original notebook and wonder why you thought this was a good idea? I wouldn’t blame you.

En avant. The juice. Did you fail at your mission, did you pull all the alchemical rabbits out of your hat, were you thrown over the intimidating fence of all that history and heritage?

Noblesse oblige. Of course you didn’t. This is why you’re Thierry Wasser and why this humble D-list perfume writer is writing about it.

L’Heure de Nuit (I’ll be getting back to that name) wears its history right on its lovely face, with a modern orange blossom twist, and what’s not to love about orange blossom? Those cherry-tinged, anisic, bitter-almond, sparkling facets of heliotrope and violet are all present and accounted for as indeed they must be in an homage, before the orange blossom boogies in on the scene with her friends iris, jasmine and a tinge of rose, but really, the heliotrope, iris and the orange blossom are the stars of the show, with all their charisma intact.

L’Heure de Nuit is nothing if not charming. Orange blossom gets me every time. And iris. I’m really big on iris. Iris adds a bit of the original’s timbre and depth to the blend with its sober restraint, and heaven knows it’s not at all easy to restrain an exuberant orange blossom once she’s in the mood for mischief and gangs up with jasmine and rose.

At the heart, I can begin to see where this is going. As a centennial tribute, you have somehow managed to pull off a coup d’état, as if to say this is a younger and far less serious age demanding a far less somber perfume. L’Heure de Nuit is far flirtier and not a little flightier, and therein lies the problem. It seems to mistake one-liners and quips for the erudite wit and intelligence of the original, and at this point, I’m feeling a bit… peeved.

M. Wasser, don’t get me wrong. It is indeed intelligent, but somewhere in my bottle, I hear a blonde – in several senses of the word – giggle. As if you had somehow managed to find a girl – my sorrow to say, L’Heure de Nuit is indeed a girl, as opposed to a woman – just smart enough to pick pointers on how to appear brainy without the tedium of actually having to bother with the real thing.

I’ll grant you this – you took that astonishing magical whiff of flour in the original and turned it into patisserie powder puff, essence absolute of dried, ground almond meringues. Less the staggering gateau Napoleon of the original – so fattening – and more one perfectly made, melt-in-your-mouth Ladurée macaron, just to say you’ve indulged…a little. A Barbie pink macaron, I should add.

At this point, I’m not so much peeved as thoroughly disappointed. If the maxim holds true that a perfume’s greatness to a large extent is determined in its drydown – which is but one of my own criteria – then here’s where you were thrown off that horse.

The original drydown of L’Heure Bleue is nothing short of haunting. Unforgettable. You simply can’t get it out of your mind. This is what men will remember the morning after, this is what they will associate with you, this is why they’ll grab the pillow you slept with when no one is looking and what they’ll bury their noses to catch, this is what will drive them to distraction for days…and nights. That drydown is why they’ll call you. Trust me. I know.

Yet this babe is gone in four hours, leaving nothing behind but a flat, rather one-dimensional impression of laundry detergent white musk – and not much else. A memory? Of course…something along the lines of ‘last night’s blonde’. Who looked an awful lot like last week’s, if blondes happen to be your thing.

L’Heure de Nuit is younger, brighter, much fresher and lighter than the original. In the same manner no woman of my age can possibly compete with the physical loveliness of youth, for one simple reason: we know too much of the world, its whims and wiles and ways.

In that sense, you succeeded – again. It’s perfectly lovely. The problem is, it doesn’t have much else than that light, that bright, that youth to recommend it. No experience, not enough depth or substance. Only a sugar daddy’s Visa so she can actually afford to buy it at that price.

Now, about that name. Please do attack whoever cooked up the name with an oversized bottle of castoreum tincture. There is nothing in the slightest ‘midnight’ or ‘nighttime’ about this heure. Like all the prettiest, youngest blondes, she blooms best in daylight.

And in daylight, she’s perfectly lovely.

Sincerely,

The Alembicated Genie.

Notes: Heliotrope, violet, orange blossom, iris, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, white musk.

With thanks to Ruth. Without whom.

Photo of L’Heure de Nuit via a favorite inspiration, The Non Blonde

Les Très Riches Heures

thebluehourParis

 – a review of Guerlain L’Heure Bleue

What constitutes a masterpiece? Is it a perfumer’s sleight of hand, some alchemical and supernatural coming together of time, space and essence that all conspires to elevate what is basically a blend of essences and oils in alcohol to that elevated plane of epiphany that simply arrests your attention where you stand, makes your blood run hot or cold and unlocks a moment, a memory or an emotion?

This was brought back to me last year when I received a sample of vintage Guerlains in a package from a friend and fellow perfumoholic that also included one of those celebrated 20th-century classics, namely Jacques Guerlain’s 1912 L’Heure Bleue. Alas, whether due to faulty packaging or airmail pressure changes, the L’Heure Bleue had leaked all through everything, and that package was, shall we say, redolent.

What surprised me the most was my own reaction. This was, after all, one of the Great 20th Century Perfume Masterpieces, as everyone did declare. Jacques Guerlain! La Belle Epoque! Art Nouveau encompasses many of my polymorphously perverse aesthetic preoccupations. L’Heure Bleue would surely be a Cupid’s arrow pointed straight at ‘love’.

So why did that saturated package smell of heartbreak and tears? Why did I catch myself thinking Kate was almost certainly wearing this in the lifeboat as she watched Leo go down with the Titanic?

Masterpiece, schmasterpiece.

I had never sniffed anything so utterly heart-wrenching in my life.

The package was thrown out.

Some months later however, my curiosity was piqued when Guerlain released L’Heure de Nuit as a tribute to L’Heure Bleue, and having a bit of a crush being a Thierry Wasser fan, I couldn’t let this one pass me by. I added myself to a split. I wanted to review it. (And so I shall!) Then again, I felt I couldn’t be fair unless I knew something of the original L’Heure Bleue, ‘so if you have a smidge of vintage to spare…’ 

You see, I also knew that that first impression had been very pop-culturally biased (James Cameron has a lot to answer for, let’s say), and exceedingly unfair.

The perfume fairy I can thank for this review obliged me by providing hugely generous samples of vintage L’Heure Bleue in extrait, parfum de toilette, eau de toilette and eau de cologne. If all those priceless treasures couldn’t convince me, nothing could.

At long last, somewhere between them all and their sparkling facets of Jacques Guerlain’s original concept, I, too felt many cerulean shades of something so intense, I could only express them by wearing a perfume…

You see, whether it was a far more open mind or else these four slightly different variations on a theme, somewhere between the extrait and the eau de cologne, the blockbuster scales fell from my eyes, and icebergs and penniless painters were thankfully the last things on my mind.

Twilight is an hour that has a special literary significance in Paris, when day and night are both poised on the brink, in countless tales it is the hour of assignations and dangerous liaisons, of heated moments with a secret lover before returning home for dinner en famille, for alors, we are French and take a practical view of these matters…

Legend has it that Jacques Guerlain set out to create a ‘blue’ accord to capture that magical hour of twilight, or as he famously stated:

I felt something so intense, I could only express it in a perfume.

As for me, I have rarely felt something so intense as the emotions captured in the liquid golden filigree of this perfume.

It does indeed strike me as blue, in fact it could not be any other color, or any other mood. Melancholy comes in many guises, yet there is a particular kind of deliciously indulgent melancholy that invites its own reveries on rainy Sunday afternoons as the raindrops chase each other down the windowpanes in Debussy dances, when you are reminded of the ephemeral beauty of all you love, when life itself catches you by surprise and somehow stops you in a moment – looking out the window, looking up at a blue twilit sky so distinctively, so emphatically defining the color blue, no painter could catch it, and no poet ever capture it.

Somehow by equal parts alchemy, skill and inspiration, a perfumer did just that. He took anise and heliotrope with all their airy, licorice and Marasca cherry edible charms, wrapped them around a decadent, earthy, floral curvilinear heart with asymmetrical, sinuous Art Nouveau twists and turns. Orange blossom and carnation and violet, audacious and bold, rose and powdery purple violet tinged with a well-bred, exquisitely mannered tuberose, all whispering all their impossible fairytales of other times and other manners when the heart of life beat at a different, more contemplative and less frenetic pace, when beauty itself was defined by the unusual and the audacious, and L’Heure Bleue, coming as it did at the end of an era and at a time when perfumery itself was being reinvented, is nothing if not bold.

For long moments between the heart and the drydown, walking this fragrant bridge between day and night, between daylight certainties and midnight possibilities, there is a big, powdery puff of flour. Yes, I did say…flour. Just a little acrid, just a little bitter, just a little shocking.

I shall surprise you, L’Heure Bleue seems to say, to all my bittersweet pleasures prove, to show there is far more, and far different, than even you expect.

And then. And then…

And then, some very long hours later for the extrait and the parfum de toilette, a little less for the eau de toilette and the eau de cologne, comes the grandest, greatest surprise of all.

That spectacular mille-feuilles and crème frangipane drydown that made Guerlain so famous. Marshmallow accord, says my research, but yours truly trained as a pastry chef at one time in my life and am the veteran of many, many batches of both puff pastry as well as crème frangipane, and what my nose tells me is not so much marshmallow – or even marshmallow fluff – but crème frangipane wrapped around mille-feuille puff pastry. It could very well be the heliotrope which does have marzipan associations for me, or it could be that ‘marshmallow accord’ combined with that hint of ‘farine du blé’, but whatever it is, it’s nothing more nor less than…magic. Both sweet and haunting, and absolutely unforgettable. It’s hard to understand today when gourmands are so ubiquitous, but this sweet-toothed pleasure must have been a revolution – or a revelation? – in its day.

I’ll crawl out on a limb and say it – for me, one of the things that defines a masterpiece is precisely its ability to stick in your mind and hold on tenacious in your imagination, to make you marvel at the privilege to live in a world where such art exists.

If the maxim that all art is ‘of its time’, an expression of the preoccupations of an age, then yes – L’Heure Bleue is inexorably of its time and age. It is the quintessence of an era when all of art was in a state of flux as liquid as the dizzy curves of a Mucha poster, when Picasso painted in shades of blue, when the Ballets Russes danced and Apollinaire breathed all his finest selves into his ink and life seemed rich beyond imagining and ripe with the promises of a limitless blue future – a future, we know in hindsight, that was altered forever by the horrors that awaited.

I wonder if this hindsight is the reason for that specter of melancholy that somehow infuses it, or if Jacques Guerlain wanted to capture the beautiful Muse of twilight as it flew before him, before everything changed, before time marched on, before the moment and the fleeting mood of time was lost… forever.

The very best part of my discovery of L’Heure Bleue has been the sublime privilege to test it in all its vintage variations. The extrait is, well, perfection in execution and wear, the heliotrope-anisic heartbeat apparent from the start to the finish line some very long time, later. The parfum de toilette is more focused on the spicy carnation and rose heart, the purple-tinged drydown has a more prominent orris note. The eau de toilette (another favorite permutation) has a dancing orange blossom and heliotrope pas-de-deux front and center, and a slightly sweeter drydown. The eau de cologne somehow manages to wrap off of these into a lighter, more summery version before it, too, waltzes off in the twilight. The longevity is outstanding, except, naturally, the eau de cologne.

Meanwhile, between the many testings of L’Heure Bleue, I began to develop a theory…

To humor my own curiosity, I presented my friend Ms. Hare with L’Heure Bleue in extrait and its centenary tribute one night, to test my theory that the highest expression of the perfumer’s art would be immediate and apparent to someone with no grasp of its heritage or history.

After all, I was biased – by my own history with the house of Guerlain, with my boundless appetite and curiosity for all things fragrant, by being a perfume writer most of all.

So I applied the modern homage and the vintage on different arms, and didn’t say which arm was which.

“One of these,” I told the bemused Ms. Hare, “is a masterpiece of the perfumer’s art, and considered one of the greatest perfumes ever created. Which one?”

She sniffed both arms. She wrinkled her brow and concentrated. She sniffed again. She laughed at the anticipation on my face. Thought for another long moment, and sniffed again. Then without a moment’s hesitation, she pointed to one arm.

“That one.”

That one, which was all the trés riches heures and all the many twilit hues of…L’Heure Bleue.

4 L'Heure Bleue (tangledupinlheurebleue)

Notes: Anise, bergamot, orange blossom, heliotrope, tuberose, carnation, violet, Bulgarian rose, tonka bean, orris, benzoin, vanilla, musk.

Thank you is not nearly large enough a word for Ruth the Perfume Fairy, who made this review possible in ways I couldn’t even imagine. I shall cherish these little bottles – always.

Also thanks to Helg of Perfume Shrine (where I found the presentation of L’Heure Bleue featured above) and Monsieur Guerlain, without both whose posts and encyclopedic knowledge this one could not have been written.

Stupid Cupid

cupid4

 – or…the Genie’s antidote to Valentine’s Day Disease

Close your eyes and imagine, say, Fifth Avenue in New York in mid-February. Imagine that today of all days, there’s no insane traffic, only a frenzied crowd awaiting the arrival of countless city dignitaries, Mayor Bloomberg and likely moguls such as The Donald himself, running bare as babies or in goatskin loincloths down Fifth Avenue in a haze of ticker-tape and confetti with whips in their hands. Women and girls rush forward with their hands held out for a lash or two to assure they’ll never need fertility clinics, hormone treatments or anesthetics during childbirth ever again.

Romance? What romance?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Lupercalia, arguably the origins of Valentine’s Day, although that is still a matter of some debate in academic circles. Replace Fifth Avenue with the Palatine Hill of first-century Rome, if that makes you feel better.

Of all the hyper-commercialized holidays on Planet Earth – never mind Planet Perfume – Valentine’s Day is the one I detest the most, and not just because a) I’m single b) will get nary one Valentine, box of chocolates or red silk teddy never mind c) an actual date because d) I’m a post-punk diehard cynic of a certain age wondering if Restylane will somehow galvanize romance back in my life. (Doubtful).

No, the reason I take such umbrage with this whoopee cushion-shaped holiday is the underlying assumption that romance is or should be dead the other 364 days of the year.

If that’s the philosophy of anyone who wants to survive a first date with yours truly, we’ll never get past that first cup of coffee before I invent a fictional friend’s domestic disaster that requires my immediate assistance and PDQ out the door, never to return.

You see, I’m such a hapless romantic, I believe in romance every day of every year. (I’m a former Goth, surely you expected no less?) I believe that if you truly have a heart’s desire, let it all out in every way you can, say it in every way you can, and say it on any other day but that wretched February 14th that comes built in with all sorts of fraught emotion and expectations. That’s just me.

Yet you, dear reader, have other and more delicate sensibilities, since you are only too aware that if you don’t do something, have something planned for that date, you are so dead. You are so dead, you’d make mummies look animated. You need help. You need a suggestion, a roadmap, anything at all…

You need a perfume that spells romance with a capital R, or caring with a capital C, or even, dare I write it, the infamous four-letter L word. Your choice as to whether it ends in an ‘e’ or a ‘t’…

But where to start? What to do? And that biggest heartbreak of them all…what to wear?

No worries, darling. The Genie goes where even Cupid fears to tread, and in no time at all, you’ll actually be looking forward…to red velvet whoopee cushions, cheesy greeting cards, chocolate covered cherries and champagne.

First of all, contrary to whatever La Perla might have you believe…

1) Don’t buy lingerie for Valentine’s Day. If you get the size wrong, you’re so doomed, and not the way you hoped for, either. Save that for some humdrum Wednesday, when your darling least expects it (and you know what size to get), where it might have better consequences than even you could imagine.

2) Chocolate is always, always good, unless you have one of those rare creatures who don’t care for it, in which case, you likely don’t read this blog. Buy the very best you can obtain. Handmade, Belgian (or handmade Belgian)…truffles, what-have-you. Make sure to have it beautifully wrapped (presentation IS half the battle) and kept cool.

3) Roses…OK, I’m not about to argue with the appeal of a dozen long-stemmed, red roses (hopefully, the fragrant kind), but be a little original here. Six tiny, adorable baby cacti might be just as effective. Three perfect red cattleya orchids, one for each heartfelt word? Two dozen adorable violets? The flawless Casablanca Lily that ate Manhattan? Thirteen tuberose blooms? Just be sure to get them from a proper florist, and not from the checkout line at your local supermarket. As I said – presentation is half the battle.

4) If your own pathetic attempts at poetry fail you and Hallmark fails you, too – buy a plain, cream-colored card with an envelope at a stationery store, ally yourself with the Web, and go hunt for the words of Pablo Neruda, Rumi, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Verlaine or even Lord Byron, if you’re that way inclined. If she/he’s a diehard cynic, you can’t possibly go wrong with Baudelaire. Ever. And if you do, then you deserve better.

5) Unless you have an idea of what your Valentine likes/loves – and that might not always be the case – don’t buy perfume. Honest. Just don’t. I have formerly been the owner of a few perfumes bought by well-meaning sweethearts I later came to dislike. But say…you do want to make that particular gesture of appreciation, only you don’t know where to start. You just want your Valentine to be the sexiest-smelling s/he can be. May I recommend the stellar Discovery Set from Ormonde Jayne. Whether a woman of mystery or a L’Homme Fatal, there’s sure to be a fragrant treasure for every taste, and it’s exquisitely presented. Perhaps s/he is a true cosmopolitan with a taste for sublime, fragrant adventure? Neela Vermeire Creations’ Discover Your India Set is a likewise beautifully presented passage to India in all its most opulent glory.

6) If your human whoopee cushion is artistic, I hereby point you to Jardins d’Écrivains, a French company who took famous writers as their inspiration for scented candles to write/create by. Tickle their inner Colette, tease out the closet Kipling or bring along the Baroness Blixen and write up a Serengeti lion hunt of your own…

Which brings us back to you and that agony of indecision. What, oh what to wear?

I’ll go on a few blanket assumptions here and say that Valentine’s dates tend to fall in one of four categories. Great Expectations, Twenty Tones of Torrid, Folie-à-deux and Surely, You Jest? Therefore, from the top…

Great Expectations

The worst thing you can do at this particular stage of affaires is to try too hard. But, oh! The possibilities! The butterflies! The 1001 Sighs of What-if! Which is not to say you can’t waft fabulosity and romance at one and the same time. And romance to many people means red as in…rose. Swipe that sweetheart off the floor in a rosy swoon with Aftelier’s Wild Roses, DSH Perfumes’ American Beauty, Olympic Orchids’ Ballets Rouges, Etat Libre d’Orange’s Eau de Protection, Amouage Lyric (M/W) or Neela Vermeire’s Mohur.

Twenty Tones of Torrid

With any luck, we know this one. At this stage it matters less what you wear than how quickly you can take it off. The beauty of perfume is…it stays! ;) This is when those super-sexy scents have their moments. Take them by surprise with the magnificent Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens, Opus Oils’ Dirty Sexy Wilde, Aftelier’s Secret Garden, Histoires de Parfum’s 1740, Amouage Memoir (M/W), Aroma M’s Geisha Noire, House of Cherry Bomb’s Immortal Mine (bottled sin!), Francis Kurkdjian’s Absolue Pour le Soir (ditto) or if you prefer a tumble on the wilder sides after midnight, Olympic Orchids’ Dev no. 2.

Folie-á-Deux

So you’ve made it this far, and have slightly less to prove. Does that mean an end to the rolling r of romance? Of course not! Now, you can cuddle up in blissful, mutual appreciation by taking it to the next level of l-o-v-e…with the incredible, edible Spiritueuse Double Vanille or Tonka Imperiale by Guerlain, Amouage Beloved, Esscentual Alchemy’s Moon Valley or Serge Lutens’ Santal Majuscule, and have an evening to remember as perfect as the two of you together surely are.

Surely, You Jest?

Oh, dear. Familiarity has set in. Or romantic rot. Or something. Therefore, it’s the perfect time to galvanize that human sofa pillow (or whoopee cushion) back to life and other four-letter L-words. This day of all days is not the time to be too edgy, unless that’s what it will take. If that means wrapping yourself in bacon in front of ESPN or finding alternative uses for Nutella, then who am I to argue? On the other hand, attitude is very much in the ambience you create. If you feel sexy, chances are, you act that way, too. So go ahead. You can’t go wrong with the classics. Dig out that half-hidden bottle of Piguet’s Bandit you were saving for a rainy day. That day has arrived n-o-w. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Get out of that sofa pillow rut and into another kind with Skye Botanical’s ‘Strawberry Passion’, or break out your inner rock star with Opus Oils’ M’Eau Joe no. 3 and prove that romance – rock’n’roll and otherwise – isn’t dead, and Stupid Cupid has nothing at all on you!

As for me, I’ve given up on Valentine’s Day. Whoopie cushions, cheesy cards, wilted roses and all. But I’ll never give up…on romance!

S*** Happens

fumes-854312_35689530

- a review of Guerlain’s Encens Mythique d’Orient

Dear M. Wasser,

Before I incriminate myself to such an alarming degree, I’d like to start by declaring myself an empahtic fan of your work, especially your astonishing work continuing the great heritage of Guerlain. Guerlain and all its perfumed wonders have a special place in my heart – for one, the very first perfume I ever chose for myself was a Guerlain – Jicky extrait, quite an audacious choice for an ingénue fourteen-year-old.

I fell for your own inarguable talents far too many years later thanks to a friend and distinguished perfume blogger named Carrie, who knew just what buttons to push in order to get me to invest my paltry fortune in a family – gourmands – I had formerly overlooked if not derided, and also to part with an exorbitant amount of money for a perfume I had never sniffed, and that was Iris Ganache. It was a purchase I have never had cause to regret unless to bewail its discontinuation.

So understand this pains me a great deal – more than you know. In my over two years as a perfume writer of ill repute and less esteem, I have broadened my horizons and expanded my limits to a degree never imagined before I began this perilous and ruinous descent into the odiferous maelstrom that is…perfume.

You could argue that I am perhaps a philistine, that I have no appreciation or knowledge of the terrors or delights of perfume artistry. To which I counter with the many exemplars in my cabinet from a diabolical competitor based in the Palais Royal. I rest my case.

In being one of your countless admirers, it follows that my devotion is such I’m prepared to forgive you a great deal and always give your work a second, or third, or even seventh chance as the occasion merits. Therefore, any new release from the house of Guerlain is cause for great anticipation if not excitement – a new Guerlain! How will dear Thierry Wasser astonish us now?

Such was my eager train of thought when yet another and seemingly unattainable series was released to much edification on Planet Perfume, and although my acquisition of these marvels was delayed by other factors known as “real” and “life”, eventually, Fortune deemed it timely that I, too – buried nose-deep in the Perfume Empty Quarter of Europe – should have the opportunity to sniff and to wonder at these new creations by your hand.

Lo and behold – the peerless majesty invoked in the collection known as ‘Les Deserts d’Orient’, and the one that called to me louder than any lonely djinn in a water gourd – Encens Mythique d’Orient.

I’m quite aware of the challenges inherent in a trio marketed towards an audience with somewhat different fragrant sensibilities than we milquetoast, spineless strawberry blondes languishing in the dimmest, bleakest outreaches of Northern Europe’s left armpit. I’m no stranger to ouds, mukhallats or attars, nor even to those heinous, screechy jasmines which ostracize you so deftly from all polite society. But I have a definite weakness for the many wonders of frankincense, whether Omani, Somali or Indian, so when a full set of Les Deserts arrived thanks to an enterprising friend, I wasted no breath and less time to head straight for the eponymous mythical incense of the Orient.

M. Wasser – my kudos to you. It begins in such a glorious fashion, all gold-embroidered damask and a slithering, silver-smoky undercurrent of L’Animale Fatale…less frank about the frankincense unless as an ideal of what incense could be. I regret to say I am transported…not to some elevated passage of the Rubai’yat or that eloquent turn of phrase Rumi was justly celebrated for, but rather…to one of those licentious, nay – salacious descriptions that run rampant throughout Sheikh Nefzaoui’s ‘Perfumed Garden’ which so delighted Sir Richard Burton and so dismayed the Victorian mind. I am neither deterred or dismayed – my own disposition is many thousands of leagues removed from the Victorian.

Then, some time later, you do shock me. For after that glorious, gold damask opening comes…not visions of the chic of Arabie, not the romance of a limitless desert sky nor even the sensuous secrets revealed by a hakim to an all-too willing pupil…but something so utterly unnerving, my words fail to quite convey the degree or extent of my dismay.

As I stated above, I’m no stranger to shock. But to quote the amusing American idiom…

WTF???

For what follows is best described by the image below:

16-Wet-dog-Alex-Romanov-1024x708

Yes. Wet dog. Not just any dog, but a hunting hound abandoned for hours in the driving, icy rain as its fellows bounded on with the horses elsewhere while it located a scent trail far more to its liking than any fox could muster.

To be fair, this sorry canine comes with an impeccable pedigree and a hundred generations of perfect temperament and training at the least. This is no mere back-alley dog. This is a Guerlain dog, and so more refined, more elegantly delineated than lesser-esteemed hounds, nevertheless, a wet dog is a wet dog, and a wet, cold and hungry dog – as surely this poor, unfortunate creature must be – is the sorriest, wettest, most miserable and thoroughly wretched creature of all.

At this juncture, I despairingly consult my notes as well as other, far more discerning noses of other, far more refined perfume bloggers, and all to no avail – the wet and wretched creature remains perched in the air above my skin with its reproachful brown eyes and its distressing, apologetic stance, and this irritates me no end.

You see, M. Wasser, I am a dedicated lover of cats – indeed, I’m owned by two – and by this time, more peeved than you can possibly imagine that this conjuration of a very luxurious perfume orchestrated by your magical hands and nose has incurred some cataclysmic shift in my perceptions, and with a creature I could appreciate quite fondly had the circumstances been rather better. Say, in real life, bounding through the meadows throwing sticks to catch, not wafting out of an opulently decorated and very hard to obtain perfume bottle, never mind perched on my wrist, dripping its melancholy, well-bred raindrops all over a priceless Ikea rug.

I refused to believe the obvious. It couldn’t be you. It had by necessity to be me, and my own pathetic limited, unsophisticated nose playing its tricks and practical jokes on my mind. So I gave it seven more tries on seven other nights that grew longer as time passed.

Now, I had eight wet dogs dripping all over the carpet. My cats…well, I’m sure you can imagine the unfortunate consequences. I had to draw the only conclusion I could. It wasn’t me. It was you.

Or else it was simply that this milquetoast wan exemplar of Scandinavian design not in flat packaging  and ‘d’un certain age’ didn’t have the pedigree, the breeding, the politesse to appreciate either the perfume – or that sorry dog in the bottle.

So I shall do my best to perservere as well as I can – through the remainder of Les Deserts d’Orient. I shall forgive you – for now. I shall even forgive you to such an extent, the friend who sent me this doomed dog has tempted me with something blue, brand-new and altogether more to my liking, and yes, M. Wasser, you made this one, too.

As for this malodorous endurance test, I shall attempt my own worst impersonation of the Gallic shrug you so excel at, and quote your own august self – again, with yet another fitting American term of opprobrium tinged with a little black humor unrelated to any the dogs might have brought in…

Shit happens.

Yours sincerely,

Tarleisio, the Alembicated Genie

Notes for Encens Mythique d’Orient: Aldehydes, neroli, moss, saffron, Persian rose, ambergris, musk and frankincense

The Les Deserts d’ Orient line is available from the Guerlain flagship store in Paris, the Place Vendôme Haute Parfumerie, Harrods and Selfridges in London, and in many locations throughout the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

With thanks to that perfumed friend – and an apology to the ghost of Edith Wharton.

Image of wet dog: Alex Romanov.

A Myth Beyond Time

sphinx2

- a review of Esscentual Alchemy’s reinterpretation of Guerlain’s Djedi

Among perfumistas, certain things are a given. You will always want more  – or different – than you have at any given time, and if you possibly can, get your perfumed paws on that elusive unicorn creature…the very rare, the super-exclusive, the myth. Some perfumes are precisely so rare, so mythical, so elevated into the stratosphere of near-unattainable that to simply own a sample is to elevate you by extension.

Few are more rare than Jacques Guerlain’s Djedi, if you can even find it at all. Created by Jacques Guerlain in 1926 at the very height of the Egyptian craze that followed in the 1920s after Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamon’s tomb in 1922, it is named for a fabled magician in a story of Khufu first mentioned in the Westcar Papyrus. And all the reviews I’ve ever read have mentioned just how haunting, how strange, how utterly removed from  the usual Guerlain vanilla patisserie sensibilities Djedi is, it might as well have been made by someone else entirely.

I’ve never tried Djedi that I can recall, so I’m not able to say. As serendipity would have it, it so happens I have the next best and far more obtainable thing…and that is Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy’s recreation/reinvention of this famous, strange oddity, and if Amanda’s version is anything at all like the original, all diehard perfumistas and lovers of vintage perfumes should take note, sit up and pay attention…

This is no mere ‘perfume’, no simple spin on a famous fragrance. Amanda Feeley has shown herself an eminently talented perfumer and participated in many group perfume projects including my own Devilscent Project. Lately, Amanda gave herself the creative challenge of recreating – or reinventing – some of those most beloved classics of yore, the ones we can no longer find, the ones we diehards dream about obtaining if only we could find them. When she told me about her work with Djedi, I couldn’t sit still, haunted by the specter of what I had read and thought about the original. Excited was not the word. Chypre! Animalic! Strange! Odd! I bounced around the living room, much to my former roommate’s delight, although she never did understand precisely what it was about this myth that had me bouncing off the walls…

Djedi! It was almost too good to be true…

So now I have it and wear it. Sacred Isis, this is stunning stuff.

It opens with a bitter, eerie, ghostly rose, if roses somehow had the ability to rise at a midnight hour from some underground crypt to haunt you. Haunt you it certainly does, growing ever more bitter-green by the moment as what must be vetiver (I didn’t get a list of notes) and oakmoss kick off their dust and emerge from their dry linen wrappings in all their timeless glory far more eloquently than Boris Karloff ever managed.

Bitter, yes, green, oh yes, dry as timeless desert sands, but so seamless, so elegantly restrained, as a luxurious, dark leather note emerges, I battle both my preconceptions and my meager attempts to find the words to express what I smell and no less what I feel, for as surely as I live and breathe, they really don’t make these marvels any longer. One layer, one moment at a time, Amanda’s Djedi breathes its mystery, patchouli (a definite vintage-feel patchouli), musk and civet adding their own feral growls to its power, giving the whole an edge, a force (yes, I said that!) of its own that skirts just this side of intimidation – precisely what I love most of all about chypres – that underlying breath of steel to fortify my spine. The drydown arrives after over an hour to remind me of other, later, famous chypres with their own razor edges and feline purrs, that fabulous leather/patchouli accord persisting for hours to follow on my skin.

I read in the reviews of Guerlain’s Djedi I could find that it was a perfume of sorrow and bitter mourning. Jacques Guerlain had somehow managed to add more than a little heartbreak into his creation. This version of Djedi has that characteristic in common with it, this is not something you would want to wear for a carefree, casual, happy-go-lucky day.  This is a perfume of perservering in the face of all adversity, of donning your armor and claiming your true power, of cloaking yourself in a myth beyond time to soldier on through your own challenges, no matter how small – or large. Djedi the magician of the original story had the power to bring the dead back to life, severed heads or no, and this Djedi too has that undercurrent of secret power behind it, to bring you back from whatever brinks you might have found yourself upon,to stand protected and secure when the time comes to roar those demons in the face.

Amanda Feeley’s Djedi will probably make most mainstream perfume consumers run for the hills. If you dislike leather, if you hate animalic perfumes, head straight for the nearest Nile crocodile and do not pass Go. It does have that emphatic vintage feel missing from most perfumes today, which is not to say it isn’t every bit as relevant or as wondrous as anything in the superlative best of indie perfumery today.

On the other hand, if you’re anything like me and many, many perfumeoholics I know, start a petition to have this made as soon as you can. Guerlain’s Djedi may be lost forevermore, thanks to IFRA restrictions, a tendency to play to the lowest common denominators and commercial interests, but thank all the Gods of time and timeless Egypt, we have Esscentual Alchemy and Amanda Feeley to restore our hopes that artistry really does exist, and even unobtainable, mythical perfumes can be resurrected or reinvented from beyond time, and when they are and you can wear them, you too shall rise like a Phoenix to burn again, burning through all those myths of life itself and even of your life, too – all those myths beyond time.

I didn’t receive a list of notes for Esscentual Alchemy’s ‘Djedi’, but Helg of Perfume Shrine gives the notes of Guerlain’s Djedi as: Rose, vetiver, musk, oakmoss, leather, civet and patchouli.

For reviews of the fabled Guerlian Djedi, I highly recommend Perfume Shrine’s, Dimitri’s of Sorcery of Scent, and Yesterday’s Perfume.

Esscentual Alchemy’s all-natural perfumes can be found here. Read the original story of Khufu & The Magician here.

Disclosure: A sample was made for review by Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy. For which I thank her from the bottom of my chypre/leather/oakmoss/vintage loving heart.