Honeyed Luxe

honey dripping

– a review of Parfums Micallef Le Parfum Denis Durand Couture

When most people think of haute couture these days, they think of the few designers left who are true couturiers, red carpet events, movie stars and celebrities, those made-to-measure evening gowns the rest of us can only imagine. You might wonder at the exorbitant price tags, the extravagant details, the level of skill les petites mains demonstrate in beadwork, embroidery, pleats, lace, folds and the razor precision of cut and fit.

As someone who has handled a true couture gown (a vintage Balmain from the Fifties), I’ve always marveled at the inside, which is where I think couture really distinguishes itself. For an haute couture creation is at least two gowns in one – not simply the gown the rest of the world will see but a whole hidden universe of built in improvement underneath to accentuate and emphasize and blur those human imperfections away the world never needs to know.

I can imagine that would add a lot of extra va-va to your voom, knowing that no matter what happens, you are truly stunning – inside and out and from every conceivable angle.

There’s nothing new about that fertile field of mutual inspiration between perfume and couture – indeed, it’s been a mainstay of fashion and fragrance since the days of Charles Worth.

Now, in this relativistic anything goes ready-to-wear age, we have another collaboration between perfume and haute couture, only this one comes with a twist.

Denis Durand, a couturier based in Cannes whose work was featured on several stars at the recent Cannes Film Festival, commissioned a perfume from the house of M. Micallef, and just as it would be fair to say Martine Micallef has a definite fragrant aesthetic all her own, so too Denis Durand has a distinct feminine fashion forward fingerprint, which is how Le Parfum Denis Durand Couture came to be – henceforth referred to as Parfum Couture.


If you think the creation pictured above is stunning, take my word for it – Parfum Couture is equally breathtaking – at least, it certainly took my breath away. This is a dizzying, impossibly opulent perfume bordering on the decadent, and if Denis Durand had hoped for a reflection of his eponymous designs in a Chantilly lace-wrapped bottle, made with all the precision, layers and meticulous care of haute couture, then Martine Micallef and her in-house perfumer Jean Claude Astier accomplished that intimidating task with flying colors – and all the intricate curves and twists of that Chantilly lace.

A chic blast of cinnamon – not the usual sweet cinnamon often found in perfumes, but dry and fiery –  starts the show with its own fireworks display, teemed up with tangerine, so say the notes, but this cinnamon takes no prisoners and I get only a holographic impression of a green tangerine – like the flash of a sequin or a startling, drop dead sexy detail under the Klieg lights – before it’s gone.

Parfum Couture reveals its secrets slowly and in stages, each curving back and forth, up and down through the top, heart and base notes like an appreciative eye looking up and down la ligne and enjoying the view. The notes say Bulgarian rose, orange blossom, honey, as if to find the olfactory equivalents of lace, satin, faille and velvet and somehow breathe all of them whole into one vision – and such a one…

Into the heart, peeking just a little down this devastating décolleté, a slippery, slithery, satin flash gleams, and at this point, I’m no longer thinking of haute couture so much as the timeless feline growl of Eartha Kitt. That cinnamon made you look, but this tigerish, sensuous growl is what keeps you looking – and sniffing.

Animalis and honey, says the notes list, and there was some speculation on the fragrance boards about what Animalis is. A combination of labdanum and castoreum – which goes a long way to describe the overall effect – or else a compound made by Synarome used in many perfumes to illustrate that slightly predatory, feral purr that underpins the structure of Parfum Couture along with that liquid, golden – there is no other way to say it – honey, like a silk charmeuse glissade cascading off a pearly shoulder.

This Chantilly lace babe is every bit as wild at heart as that dress pictured above would suggest, but there’s much, much more to this slinky siren, and she hasn’t finished with the likes of you just yet.

She’s also not quite so feral as she seems, for that honey, a wild, very natural smelling, floral honey note that sings until the end – at least on me – when some long hours later – say, watching the sun rise over the Croisette – a soft, musky sandalwood remains to sing of a Night  – and a moment? – to Remember.

If you like your Orientals – and indeed, Parfum Couture is very much an Oriental – super-refined, super deluxe, super-powered and super surprising, then Parfum Couture is for you.

I can emphatically appreciate Parfum Couture’s curves and twists and catwalk turns. I do have one small problem.

Honey in perfume is one of my personal fragrant anathemas. I can eat it – as indeed I do. I can appreciate honeyed perfumes on everyone else but me. My skin amplifies honey notes to such an extent, it seems to expand them exponentially until they’re all I can smell for days afterward. Which is why I can never wear this wonder of fragrant and fashionable engineering, but I know plenty of people will, just to imagine themselves wrapped in the bespoke, breathtaking splendor…of couture, a honeyed luxe kiss they will surely make all their very own.


Notes: Ceylon cinnamon, Italian tangerine, Bulgarian rose, honey, orange blossom, Animalis, sandalwood, patchouli, white musk.

Le Parfum Denis Durand Couture is available at Luckyscent, First in Fragrance and Jovoy Paris.

Disclaimer: A sample was provided for review by Parfums Micallef.

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.


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


 – 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.

Eau de Maman


 – a Mother’s Day tribute

Of all the many guises of womanhood, perhaps none are so revered – and sometimes reviled – as motherhood. As I recall saying to an old friend two days after becoming a mother the first time myself:

From now on, everything I do or say will be wrong!

But when I think of mothers, as you do on Mother’s Day and your mother’s birthday and other days when your mother pops up unaware and takes you by surprise, I also and maybe even first of all think of perfume.

Because of all the many things that define and explain my own mitochondrial DNA – and thus, my mother – perfume more than anything is what I remember. All the many shades and colors of her existence and my own memories of her were somehow encapsulated in the perfumes she wore, her femininity, her ferocity, her passions and her perils.

She had me very young, at a mere eighteen, and although I was born a scant two months after a hastily arranged wedding to a dashing Creole, he was not my father, and I may never know who he really was or is.

Today, that doesn’t matter so much as the memories I know I have, and all of them – arranged chronologically here – are the perfumes she wore and the memories I have of a truly remarkable woman who cast – as the saying goes – a very long shadow behind her – in her daughters and in the many memories of the many people who knew her.

It was a rare day my mother didn’t wear perfume. I can’t honestly recall her ever wearing any drugstore or Avon fragrances – she knew what she loved and made no excuses for her choices – which were French, expensive, classical and timeless – much like she chose to define herself.

She was a petite, beautiful, passionate, eighth-generation redhead, and mostly was forgiven everything for much of her life because of it. So it should come as no surprise that my first memory of Eau de Maman was the likewise passionate, beautiful (and not precisely petite’):

Jolie Madame by Balmain.

My very first fragrant memory of her – I doubt I was much more than about two at the time – was being wrapped up in her beaver coat after being collected at the babysitter’s. There had been a party somewhere where she usually stopped both conversations and traffic, and as I cuddled half-asleep on the back seat swathed in fur, I breathed in Jolie Madame, with all its verdant opening promises and dark violet heart wrapped in a velvet-soft black glove leather that explained a few things about Maman and perhaps those grown-up parties I was surely far too young to know at the time. Even these many years later, I can close my eyes and breathe in the aroma of that Jolie Madame-saturated fur coat – and wish I had it with me still.

Later, as I was older, her tastes changed. She favored airier, lighter perfumes by then, perhaps because she had gained a certain level of confidence only maturity can acquire, or maybe it was something else, that heady time of rapid change and possibilities where optimism was in the…

L’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci

If post-war optimism had its own perfume masterpieces – and we know today it certainly did – surely, it was L’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci, with its dazzling chiffon beginnings and its sparkling, seamless, floral carnation pulse? This was one of my mother’s all-time favorites, an effervescent blend she might well have called Hope Springs Eternal, since it never failed to lift up her spirits and elevate her days, to fly away as perfectly as that crystal Lalique dove perched on the cap of the parfum that adorned her dresser. Then, some long time later, we moved to tropical South Florida, and she found the great escape that was an island, namely…

Fidji by Guy Laroche

A woman is an island, went the tagline, and Fidji is her perfume. This breathtaking fragrance – as far away from tropical perfume tropes as you can dare to imagine – defined her longest and nearly the best, and for that and another reason, Fidji holds a special place in my own heart. A green, ultra-feminine and peerless chypre – not a family my mother was normally inclined towards – it comes with another memory engraved upon my mind. Around age eight or nine, I had a habit of hiding in her closet. Not to hide, exactly, so much as to try to assume something of its feminine, floral wiles by olfactory osmosis, or else my mother’s fragrant, Fidji-soaked whims. Somewhere between the Pucci silk jumpsuit, the hand-embroidered flares, the eveningwear in their cellophane bags that swished in dizzy chiffon cascades to the closet floor, the shoes both high and low, all of them somehow exuding all her many perfumes – or else that perfectly rendered scent that was Fidji’s glorious blend of ylang ylang and carnation, galbanum and hyacinth, sandalwood and a vanillic amber lay the secrets of womanhood itself, and all I had to do for inspiration was to breathe it in… At seventeen, it was the only one of her perfumes I chose to wear myself, and so it became a secret we shared, my mother and I.

By then, I was already ruined for life, and how could it be otherwise with a mother who wore such wonders? Some mothers sit their daughters down for ‘the talk’ once adolescence hits but my mother had other ideas, and took me on a whirlwind trip to Paris instead, for now, it was time to make my own definitions, and to prove myself my mother’s daughter.

I’ll never forget that Friday afternoon on the Champs Èlysées at the door of the Great Temple of Womanhood known as the Guerlain flagstore.

My mother, still young, still turning heads even in Paris, gave me a certain assessing look, as if to establish whether there might be some hope in store for this gawky jeune fille, if even Ms. Bookworm might perhaps be able to metamorphose into a butterfly and slay a few hearts when the time came. Then, she said:

Never forget the importance of two things – a really good bra and…a stellar perfume!

Words to live by, and once again, much as it pains me to admit – she was right!

So I chose my own path to fragrant perdition that day and a very long time after – the fierce green chypres so in fashion at the time, for I knew – our mutual love of Fidji notwithstanding – I couldn’t choose what my mother wore, and that spring day in Paris, she shapeshifted again, and now her sights were set far away on the Opulent Eastern dream that was

Shalimar by Guerlain

Shalimar – that very French dream of a very Indian love story – is one of the most beloved perfumes – or perfume memories in the world. That it was incredibly complex, unbelievably lush and indescribably opulent somehow seemed to fit my mother at the time, and defined her personal aesthetic so emphatically and with such finality, I can never, ever wear it. The few times I’ve tried since becoming a perfume writer have made me feel like a three-year-old in Mommy’s heels and marabou boa, which is more than a little unnerving in your late forties. But Maman was nowhere finished with Orientals just yet, for along with Shalimar came another Eastern and far more modern and far more audacious dream, the olfactory fever vision that was

Opium by Yves Saint Laurent

In this day and age, it’s hard to understand what kind of impact Opium had on the female consciousness in the late Seventies and well beyond. These days, the fabled perfumes of the fabled M. St Laurent – personally involved with his eponymous perfumes to a degree that would appall many so-called ‘designers’ today – are no more than hollow, heartless echoes of their former glorious selves. Opium had the impact of a literal pulse bomb – on the wearer, on her surroundings, and on the public perfume consciousness, and certainly my mother’s, too. She slayed her surroundings and several masculine hearts with the fire and spice of Opium, and only relented in spring and summer with another fragrant souvenir from Paris that was no less famous and no less fragrant, the one and only

Diorissimo by Dior

This, the lily-of-the-valley to end all lily of the valley perfumes, was another of her ‘hopes in a bottle’, the green and verdant covenant she made to renew her self and her life every year with every spring and every sillage-laden step she took. I haven’t had the pleasure to breathe Diorissimo for a very long time, and thanks to those memories of my mother, I’m almost afraid to, for fear it will break my heart all over again. But even the heartstopping spring of Diorissimo didn’t stop my mother for long, for another classic made a brief appearance in all the midnight shades of

Narcisse Noir by Caron

I’m still not sure what prompted my mother to acquire Narcisse Noir, but knowing her, it could very well have been a late night viewing of ‘Sunset Boulevard’. It’s hard to argue against Norma Desmond or even the stunning Narcisse Noir. Harder still, since she had it only a few days, until that shameful evening her wretched oldest daughter – by now with several Gothic inclinations not even Gloria Swanson or Billy Wilder ever dreamed of – came for dinner, found it and…stole it! Trust my Scorpio mother to enact a chilling revenge of her own some time later, when she came home with the radioactive mushroom cloud that was

Parfum de Peau by Claude Montana

I’ve always admired Claude Montana the designer, whose Glamazon, Wonder Woman clothes embodied the excess of the Eighties perhaps more than any other designer of the time. But when this arrived on Maman’s doorstep, it caused an intervention by both her daughters. This patchouli-laden, musky, literally breath-taking (not in a good way) bombshell would do Thierry Mugler’s Angel in, and that says nearly everything you need to know about it. My sister and I howled our most eloquent protests so loudly and ferociously, within a week, Maman was frogmarched right back to our family favorite department store and ordered to find something, anything, whatever she could find that wasn’t…Parfum de Peau! She redeemed herself, this time for the rest of her life, when she chose

First by Van Cleef and Arpels

I’m fairly certain it was something more than sheer relief from Parfum de Peau’s monstrosities that made both my sister and myself equate all that was our mother with this incredible perfume created by that later perfume Le Corbusier minimalist we all worship today, and that is Jean Claude Ellena. To us, it smelled of the very best of the French perfume traditions, it smelled of money and Bentleys and diamonds in platinum settings, of Class with a capital C, of all the bottled beauty of a perfect summer day in a chateau garden in the Loire Valley. Maman, of course, saw First rather differently. As time went on, she came to see First as the embodiment of all her best and most memorable selves, as if M. Ellena had somehow managed to bottle not only all her selective realities but also her most fervent aspirations, and at long last, her elusive quest for a signature scent came to an end – with First.

As for my mother, pictured below on the day she wed my dearly beloved stepfather, she died much too young and much too soon, aged fifty-two after a two-year battle with breast cancer. Throughout our thirty-three years together, we loved and we hated, we fought and made up, we lived with and through each other in ways that all daughters and mothers do. As daughters do, I defined my own self in her despite, and as daughters also will, I’ve been confronted with the stamp of her when I least expect it. Both her daughters went on to become writers, and I suspect she had not a little to do with that, too.

She lies buried in a rural churchyard next to her mother beneath a Japanese granite garden light instead of a tombstone, imposing her own style and stamp among the more mundane epitaphs. Both her daughters buried her with a bottle of her beloved First, and even these many years later, when I least expect it, a tantalizing, faint trail of First will sometimes appear to haunt me, which is how I know that although she’s gone, she never left and is with me still – and always.


In memory of Alice Ruth Samuelsen Johansen Anderson Witt Caruana

(October 29th 1944 – January 7th, 1997)

And for all mothers everywhere, of children, of projects, and of creatures great and small. 

Image: ‘The Madonna of the Pinks’, attributed to Raphael.

Spring Flings!


 – the Genie’s favorite Scents of Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

– The Greens of Spring

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

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

April Aromatics Unter den Linden

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

Balmain – Ivoire

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

DSH Perfumes’ Vert pour Madame

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

Jacomo Silences

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

Puredistance Antonia

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

Green With A Twist

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

Aroma M Geisha Green

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

Opus Oils Absinthia

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

Parfums Lalun Phènomene Vert

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

Vero Profumo Mito

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

Burning blooms

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

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

La Vie En Rose

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

Olympic Orchids Ballets Rouges

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

Parfums Lalun Qajar Rose

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

Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin

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

Think Pink!

Caron Bellodgia

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

Ringing all the Bells

Aroma M Geisha Marron

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

Consider the Lily

Editions de Parfums Lys Mediterranée

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

All the flowers!

Aftelier Secret Garden

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

So tell me – what makes you bloom in spring?


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