Overture, Allegro, Andante

– a review of Doc Elly’s experiments with Golden Cattleyas

A while ago, Doc Elly talked about one of her orchid varieties, the Golden Cattleya, and how the scent of them changed as they bloomed – from heady and indolic to fruity-floral in the best and original sense of the word. So when she offered samples of her experiments with her Golden Cattleya orchids, which apparently have a distinctive scent reminiscent of orange, I jumped at the chance. I grew up in Florida surrounded by orange trees everywhere, so naturally, I’m a sucker for all scents orange.

It’s such a privilege to participate in a perfume experiment. Armed with nothing better than my nose and few preconceptions, I’ll never know where I’ll end up or what wonders I might find, and in no small part to Doc Elly’s creations and her excellent blog, I know quite a bit more about both perfume and scented orchids than I ever did. I have been taken to wild and wondrous places and times and known emotions I’ve all but forgotten. Now, I had a chance to dip my proboscis into something on the ground floor as it were, and with one of my all-time favorite notes – in perfume as well as life, and how cool is that?

There were three samples, labeled GC1, GC2 and GC3, each with a different focus of the Golden Cattleya’s evolution and with a different accent. I sampled each of them on Canson Arches watercolor paper and my skin at different times in the past two weeks, before I was ill and once I felt better.

One thing is apparent almost immediately – just as there is a Guerlainade, a Tauerade or even a Lutens/Sheldrake-ade, Doc Elly, too, has her own unique signature in each of her experiments, a distinct imprint of herself in the perfumes she makes. Even in the prosaic sample bottles labeled GC1, 2 and 3, I can tell almost immediately – these are her creations.

In each of the three, you’d be hard-pressed to tell these are different interpretations of the same orchid right out of the vial. Since I learned that orchids evolve as they bloom, I wonder if evolution has a serious sense of mischief. Orange blossom on the tree may be orange blossom from top to bottom and start to finish, a rose on the bush is a rose is a rose is a poem by Gertrude Stein, but orchids are full-blown symphonies with top notes as they begin to bloom, heart notes as they open further, and a final blast of scent before the end.

GC1 – we can call it The Overture. This is the heady, indolic phase of the bloom, represented by a definite civet note. I detect orange blossom as well as neroli and a touch of orange zest, something that reminds me of tea rose, jasmine, a little spice I suspect is nutmeg or mace, and finally that animalic whiff of civet softened by a bit of vanilla. There are certain aspects as it develops on my skin that bring my near-forgotten bottle of Narcisse Noir to mind, but in only a few minutes, it loses some of its oomph and becomes less sexpot and more classic in its construction. This stuff has some serious sillage, I found out when I sprayed a small amount and the kids in my son’s kindergarten class gave me strange looks, nostrils flaring. This is bold and slightly audacious.

GC2The Allegro. This is one happy orange, the orange-you-glad-to-meet me that dances out of the vial on a vivid colored trail of orange blossom, zest and lots of lovely vanilla, but thanks to another touch of spice and sass, never ventures anywhere near Creamsicle territory. The spice is sweeter and softer than in GC1, which makes me think of mace as well as cinnamon, but just the faintest whisper. I sense the evolution of the orchid in this Stage Two, and GC 2 strikes me as more accessible and less in your face – I can see this develop into a bestseller with just a little more vanilla. All joy, all sweetness and the glow of orange light blooming off the skin. Orange I glad I tried it? You bet! GC 2 would be perfect for those gloomy, gray, dismal winter days when you simply want to be the Compleat Pollyanna optimist and dance out the door in winter’s despite, carrying your own beam of sunshine with you.

GC3The Andante. This is the third stage of the Golden Cattleya, and thanks to a potent dose of sandalwood and incense, this one contains its own memento mori. This is the final blast of glory, the swan song of an orchid, and even though the notes are darker and deeper, there are echoes and chords of stages 1 and 2. GC 3 has a gravitas to it, notes in a minor but never diminished key that are no less beautiful for their dusting of Cattleya blues. The orange blossom and zest of the beginning is underpinned and teased out by that sandalwood and incense, and is there myrrh in there too, hiding behind that feather-brush of nutmeg? I ran this by my (platonic) Scorpio friend a few days ago, and he almost ate my arm. As it dries down, it turns toward a luscious orange chocolate, bittersweet and delicious. While I very much liked all three of them right out of the vial, this Andante stole my heart. There is beauty here, and a twinge of regret, but more than anything, an underlying song of glories past and present – and an intimation that “we’re not gone until you forget!” Memento mori – “but you won’t, will you?” Of the three, this one strikes me as the most polished.

GC 1 and 3 could be worn by either gender, whereas GC 2 has a definite feminine vibe, at least to my nose. If I had any preconceptions, I would have expected to swoon over GC 2 – since I love orange and vanilla notes, separately and together. But to my own surprise, GC 3 stole the show and my heart, and Doc Elly, if you ever make any full bottles of this, let me know.

I’m doing what I can to spread the word!


In a final aside, thank you – ALL of you, for all your well-wishing when I was so wretched with cold/walking pneumonia. Can I just say that your wishes did at least as much as the antibiotics? It’s good to be back! ☺

Image: Doc Elly’s Golden Cattleyas. No other image I found did them or these scents so much justice! 😉

13 thoughts on “Overture, Allegro, Andante

  1. I am drooling over these! I have an already jampacked To Try List and am surely adding some of Doc Elly's brews to it. If only these were labeled and ready to ship to me…!

  2. Very interesting! To be a part in the process of the creation of a perfume, how wonderful is that! I received my samples (and Elly very generously added many more to my package!) and out of the 17 I received only 4 are not my cup of tea. That is an extraordinary good average! 🙂 If I only had more time, but I won't want be rushed with these beauties either, they deserve my full attention. Thanks again, T for this find and for your review!

  3. Jen, you should try Doc Elly's creations. I guarantee you, they are highly unique! Who knows, maybe we can persuade her to develop those Golden Cattleyas? I know I'd be thrilled with GC3 – it was that beautiful! You think if we clamor loud enough that we might have a chance? 😉

  4. B, you're absolutely right – it IS wonderful to be part of the process, not least for the insights we can gain along the way as to how our bottled passions are created. Don't rush your discoveries of Doc Elly's samples – they are worth it. I can't wait to read your take on them, too!

  5. JoanElaine – I can't recommend Doc Elly's scents enough. You really should try them, if only to have your faith restored in perfumery again – and she's very generous with her samples. I have not a few more I need to review…

  6. Tarleisio, You did an amazing job of tracing not only the evolution of the orchid's fragrance over the course of its flowering, but also my creative process as I fussed with different versions of the perfume. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are the order in which they were created. Number 2 is the one that I've been sending out as samples, but when I added the sandalwood base, I liked it a lot better myself. I'm glad to hear that you like it, too. I think that's going to be the final formula. Eventually I'll get it, and some other things officially listed on my website. Thank you so much for your wonderful reviews!

  7. Doc Elly! Thank you – I'm glad you liked my review! I tried to do justice to both the flower and the perfume, and as I think I made clear, I very much liked all three, but GC 3 is the one I want to buy, wear, and knock 'em sideways with!

    My reviews would not be what they are without something to review, and it would never have happened without your generosity or your talents as a perfumer. Lucky me – I have not a few more to write about. 😉

    Feel free, should you be inclined, to link to my reviews on Olympic Orchids, and thank you again for all the opportunities to expand my olfactory vocabulary!

  8. As a musician and composer who has been growing orchids as a hobby on and off for over 30 years (and a childhood resident of Central and East Coast Florida) I really appreciate Tarleisio's poetic review of Ellen Covey's Golden Orchids. I agree that Ellen has developed her own unique signature in her fragrances. Having been around orchids for a long time I can also confidently say that Ellen's fragrances are the most true to orchids that I have found. I can also say that her Scents of Place take you on a scent vacation! I live in the Pacific Northwest and her Olympic Rainforest is really just like being there (without having to put on your rain gear)! Gail

  9. Gail – thank you for your comment! I'm in no position to determine the accuracy of Doc Elly's orchid scents – only how they breathe to me as scents on their own, so I'll take your word for it! Although, prompted by those orchids I reread 'The Orchid Thief' recently, and they really are like no other flowers on Earth.

    What I do know is just what a talented treasure Doc Elly is – for her nose, for recreating some very complex olfactory profiles of orchids – surely no easy task in itself, and yes, for creating scents of place that are like no others I've encountered.

    I've tried to do them justice the only way I know – with words – and with music, because as a musician would surely know – they sing, too! 😉

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