Vanilla Thrills

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– reviews of Aedes de Venustas’ Cierge de Lune & aroma M’s Vanilla Hinoki

Pity this orchid the Aztecs called tlilxochitl. Once upon a time ca. 1840, its fruit was a byword for all that was exotic, prohibitively expensive, New World and marvelously, epically fragrant like few other plants on Earth. Five hundred years after Hernan Cortés introduced it to Europe, it’s been reduced to a synonym for conventional, boring, safe, mainstream, middle-of-the-road and/or mundane. An awful letdown for one of the world’s two most labor-intensive and expensive spices, for tlilxochitl we know today as one of the world’s most well-beloved aromas – vanilla.

For a perfume lover, vanilla is its own kind of thrill. Vanilla has been used as a base note in perfumes since 1889 when Aimé Guerlain had the bright idea to add it (as the newly available vanillin) to Jicky in 1889, and ever since, vanilla has elevated untold thousands of perfumes, whether to add a touch of its own sultry heat and sweetness, to enhance or soften other, louder notes, or – this happens too – to amp up perfumery candy-floss basenotes to eleven. The aroma of vanilla – whether vanillin or vanilla bean – also has a remarkable effect on the human brain – it enhances all other sensory experiences. Those Aztecs were on to more than they perhaps knew, when they added those fermented and dried orchid pods to xocolatl, which was served as an aphrodisiac.

My own angle on vanilla came with a bang ten years ago, when I worked as a pastry chef apprentice in the town’s most prestigious bakery. There, I learned about the different vanillas and their uses; the deep, leathery incense tones of Madagascan Bourbon vanilla, the woody, spicy, almost dark-chocolatey tones of Mexican vanilla, and the floral-fruity perfume of Tahitian vanilla.

But I was a vanilla fan way before, as witnessed by my (then) appalled husband in an Albuquerque supermarket when I had a dedicated Euro-cook’s total meltdown over the barbaric and ubiquitous – to my purist mind – custom of selling vanilla extract, proudly proclaiming ‘with real vanilla’. In Denmark, vanilla existed for a large part of my life in one of only two available forms – as Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans, sold in glass lab tubes two at a time and as a proprietary brand of vanilla sugar in distinctive packaging, the same brand that sold the vanilla beans in tubes, and made with the same vanilla. The ‘real vanilla’ in that Albuquerque supermarket was vanillin made from lignin or wood pulp, not vanilla beans. Most so-called ‘vanilla’ aroma is vanillin of the wood-pulp or the castoreum variety, which also provides the natural aromas of strawberry, raspberry and, umm … castoreum. I wanted real vanilla beans, darn it, not what I considered ‘that McCormick travesty of vanilla’, since I knew well before I ever became a writer, whether love or vanilla, there’s no substitute for the Real Deal.

Vanilla has thrilled me no end as both flavoring and fragrance, in that gold standard vanilla, Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille, the limited edition Shalimar Ode à la Vanille Sur La Route de Madagascar that you may know by the name Shalemur, Mona di Orio’s Vanille or Téo Cabanel’s famous Alahine, to name but four stellar vanillas.

Now, I have two more vanilla thrills to add to the list, two very different vanilla-centric perfumes that are as far removed from anything dessert as you can imagine – aroma M’s new release, Vanilla Hinoki, and Aedes de Venustas’ new Cierge de Lune.

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The Queen of the Night

My grandmother, like green-thumbed grandmothers everywhere, had a spidery, spiky and not at all prepossessing plant in a very fancy ceramic pot in her bedroom window. This plant, a vaguely cactus-looking creature, was tended and coddled like a particularly fractious baby – watered with special plant food, repotted with succulent-friendly soil into another fancy ceramic pot once a year, and kept warm in cold weather. I believe she once told me she even chatted to it. What I know for a definite fact is this: she called it the Queen of the Night, not after Mozart’s famous ditto from his opera The Magic Flute, but after that magical event that happened on one single night of the year, when that frankly fugly plant bloomed into a drop-dead beautiful and drop-dead scented white flower that paid for all her dedicated care with its perfume. For years, she would watch for signs of its impending bloom, take pictures, and call to edify me with her description of ‘the best vanilla-y perfume in the world’. One year, I happened by complete coincidence to be there at the perfect time, and finally saw what all her fuss was about. The flower as well as its perfume really was all that, we both agreed, and I would never again complain about the time I had to spend dusting the volutes and crannies of that Art Nouveau flowerpot.

With its 2016 release Cierge de Lune, the New York perfume house of Aedes de Venustas brought me back to that night with my grandmother in an instant, and straight to that incredible, indelible bloom.

Cierge de Lune – which is the French name of Selenicereus Grandiflorus – translates as ‘Moon altar candle’, and if there’s any more mellifluous name for that flower in French or Latin, I’m not aware of it. Created with perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin, it sings beautifully both on its own terms and within the overall evolving arc of Aedes de Venustas’ perfume releases, all of which hold a special place in my personal olfactory dreamscape, and two of which I have literally loved beyond all hope of reviewing, because they’re now …gone, loved, worn, inhaled, thoroughly enjoyed and disappeared. I hope to curb my enthusiasm some day, but I might have to buy at least four bottles first.

A common theme of all the Aedes de Venustas perfumes is a singular sleight-of-hand effect: somehow, they all manage to be highly complex perfumes of a kind you’d expect in dense, plush sillage bombs and yet, their texture – and their sillage – is as sheer as silk chiffon. In other words, they’re all complex enough to satisfy any sophisticate’s perfume itch, but never so loud or obvious as to overwhelm your surroundings.

If you like your vanilla thrill to be a chewy, gourmand, wearable pastry cream, this is emphatically not that vanilla. On the other hand, if you too have a memory of that indelible flower – once seen and sniffed, never forgot – then Cierge de Lune will surely make your vanilla-loving synapses sing. It comes incredibly close to my own fond memory of cereus, from the subtle but immediately apparent vanilla – a special dense, woody, leathery and incense-y Madagascan variety – to the bright kick of pink pepper. Black pepper is in there too from the outset to the finish line, and adds its own earthy, slightly ashy, mineral chiaroscuro to the vanilla. If that were all, I’d be perfectly content.

It isn’t. For in minutes, just like the flower itself, it unfurls, opens and …blooms. There’s no other way to state it. A buttery, warm ylang ylang and the expansive feel of hedione underscore the vanilla and give it a distinct floral aura, if not any flower I’ve had the pleasure to meet before. A very sultry flower, I might add, fully able to carry that name, Queen of the Night, with all its associations of a magic flute, two star-crossed lovers and a fabled, fiendishly difficult coloratura F6 over high C. When the show is nearly over and the curtain comes down on this one night of glory, what we’re left with is a sultry, intelligent, superbly unisex whisper of amber, leather, black pepper and that breath-taking, woody vanilla, wrapped up in a flower you can never quite forget. It lasted the better part of eight hours with just two sprays, and elicited scores of compliments wherever it went.

 

 

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The Geiko’s Thrill

You may have heard of the vanillas of Madagascar, Réunion, Mexico or Polynesia, each with their own olfactory profiles. But did you know that Morocco – for centuries a prized source location of many things grand and aromatic – grows it, too?

Neither did I, until Maria McElroy of Aroma M chose a very rare (and most unusual) Moroccan vanilla for her latest Aroma M release, Vanilla Hinoki. Five years in the making, here is another vanilla nothing at all like the vanillas you think you might know.

Maria’s inspiration was that unique Japanese institution of the onsen, the hot springs baths often – as in the image above – associated with inns in the mountains, and also hinoki wood, used to build everything from palaces, Noh theaters, shrines, temples and bathtubs. Hinoki has a very particular fragrant profile; at once lemony and pine-y with incense undertones, and its remarkable pairing with the Moroccan vanilla she used is nothing short of inspired.

Inspired, because of that vanilla to start. This vanilla is thick, woody, smoky and not at all sweet – indeed, it’s arguably one of the woodiest vanillas I’ve encountered in a perfume. Another rabbit from Maria MacElroy’s mischievous hat was the fact it took me a few minutes to even register the vanilla at all, since Vanilla Hinoki starts with something of an olfactory shock. A sunshine-bright bergamot and spice kick to the senses – maybe the olfactory equivalent of that shock of heat you get when lowering yourself into one of those very hot onsen tubs? – kicks me awake and aware, but in no time at all, the green-herbal-woody-piney heart takes over and leaves me incapable of coherent thought beyond several deep breaths and a far less articulate if no less heartfelt ‘Aahhh!’

Ah as in … this is truly stellar stuff. That vanilla may be woody and smoky, but it’s been polished to a sparkling, effervescent fare-thee-well and behaves itself beautifully with the other star of the show, the hinoki, which makes those herbs do everything they’re supposed to; wind you down, relax you, and make you contemplate the brocaded Zen intricacies of existence. In a leisurely fashion to be sure, because who can be rushed when surrounded by such twilight beauty?

But wait! Once the drydown arrives – and all aroma M Geisha perfumes take time to develop and appreciate – it’s yet another, sultrier story, with sexy, smexy (yes!) leather, cedar and patchouli notes, in the event someone else should come close enough to appreciate it.

All of Aroma M’s Geisha perfumes exist in some highly evocative, creative space between the subtle Japanese olfactory aesthetic and Western perfumery traditions, but Vanilla Hinoki especially strikes me as more Japanese than Western. It owns a certain restraint, a very subtle delicacy and light polish rarely found in new perfumes today, yet it never seems alien or foreign to this Western nose, just evocative, contemplative and perfectly all its own creation.

I can imagine a geiko – a fully-fledged, mature geisha – taking it with her on her next sanity-restoring trip to an onsen, for her own private pleasure. Somewhere between the clean, fragrant mountain air, the heat of the onsen, the quietude of the Japanese countryside, she too will discover … there’s nothing at all ‘vanilla’ about Vanilla Hinoki.

The day I received Vanilla Hinoki, I presented my wrist to the Dude after a few hours to ask his opinion. ‘Do I need this?” I asked.

“It smells Japanese. In a good way. Oh. And yes. Yes, you do.”

One of my own favorite things about the aroma M Geisha line is the fact they come in both a roll-on perfume oil and as a spray eau de parfum. Both have amazing longevity on their own, but if all that Zen restraint is a bit much to ask, I can only recommend you get them both in your choice of perfume. Apply the eau de parfum, and then add perfume oil on your pulse points. You may not slay your surroundings with your sillage, yet you will be magically, wondrously, deliciously fragrant for the better part of 24 hours. Which is a thrill I have no problems at all announcing in public!

 

Notes for Cierge de Lune: Madagascan vanilla, pink pepper, black pepper, ylang ylang, Ambroxan.

Notes for Vanilla Hinoki: Bergamot, clove, cardamom, nutmeg, Moroccan vanilla, hinoki, cedar leaf, lavender, leather, patchouli, amyris, cedar wood.

Aedes de Venustas Cierge de Lune is available as 3.4 oz./100 ml eau de parfum at First in Fragrance, at Aedes de Venustas online and in their Greenwich Village store.

Aroma M Vanilla Hinoki is available as 50 ml eau de parfum and as a roll-on perfume oil  at Indiescents, Luckyscent, the Aroma M studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn and directly from the Aroma M website.

Disclosure: Samples of Cierge de Lune and Vanilla Hinoki were provided for review by Olivier Le Didroux of Beauty Entreprise and Maria McElroy of Aroma M. With thanks to them both for their faith – and their patience. I am never compensated or paid for reviews, and the opinions of the Alembicated Genie are entirely and always my own.

Image of vanilla orchid and night-blooming cereus, Wikimedia Commons. Image of Tsurunoyu Onsen, Akita Prefecture, Japan.

La Dame aux Camélias

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– a review of aroma M Camellia Perfume

Very nearly every moment of our everyday lives, we are surrounded by functional fragrances. Items we use every day are scented, from cosmetics to detergents both personal and quotidian, from dish soap to body washes and hair care products.

Once in a blue moon, it happens one of these seemingly everyday fragrances is so good, so euphoria-inducing and mood-improving, I for one catch myself wishing they could be made into a perfume I could wear. If that proves impossible, I simply do the obvious if I can… wear it as perfume.

This was emphatically the case last year, when perfumer Maria McElroy of cult favorites aroma M perfumes and House of Cherry Bomb successfully ventured into cosmetics with her Camellia Oil line of hair, facial and body oils.

Not only do each and every one of them rank as among the best, most luxurious and effective products I’ve ever applied to my face, hair and body, they also contain the same fragrance, a celestial blend of jasmine, gardenia, neroli, geranium and rose, all anchored by a heartstopping, glorious frankincense that isn’t smoky in the slightest, but instead sparkles with all its luscious, shimmering lemony-earthy-green facets. If that weren’t enough, they also contain camellia oil, the beauty secret of tsubaki-abura that has kept Kyoto’s geisha beautiful for centuries.

It goes without saying I used up almost all my samples to the last drop for both reasons – they were simply that good!

Maria’s background as an aromatherapist was evident in the fragrance she created for her Camellia Oils. Who better than an aromatherapist would know the lure of luxurious self-pampering doesn’t end with how effective a product is, but also how it makes us feel when we anticipate its pleasures? In this case, mirror-finish, satin-smooth, healthy hair, and likewise glowing, velvet-soft skin from top to toe, and last but never least its transporting, heavenly fragrance?

After the many deserved accolades from beauty blogs, perfume writers and editorials and countless requests from her customers, she took the obvious next step and made a dedicated perfume available as both a high-concentration eau de parfum and a perfume oil like her other perfumes from the Geisha line.

So here it is on my desk in both versions – the eau de parfum and the perfume oil (a form of perfume I’m certainly addicted to, because it never overwhelms and lasts and lasts).

A lot can be inferred about my anticipation by my reaction the day I received it. Dear readers, I tore into that envelope with alacrity.

This was one of those occasions when I simply knew by hope, instinct or experience that it would not simply be good. It would be – so I hoped – at least as beautiful as the products that inspired it.

My hopes were not wrong.

In nature, for all their definite visual appeal (which even Coco Chanel incorporated into her aesthetic), camellias have no discernible scent. But if I were ever given goddess-like powers to decide what hitherto unscented blooms would smell like, I’d waste not a moment’s hesitation in decreeing:

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As for camellia, let it be this…

Camellia Perfume is a sibling of another perfume Maria created in collaboration with her House of Cherry Bomb colleague Alexis Karl. That perfume is Lil (for the Devilscent Project), an outrageously opulent floral bombshell, but Mademoiselle Camellia is nowhere so outrageous yet every bit as floral.

Instead, she seduces less by her presence but by her charming and seamless floral bouquet of classy, classic blooms; jasmine, neroli, gardenia, rose and geranium, which gives them all a viridian, fresh daytime edge, a flowery deep breath to invigorate and inspire you. The gardenia note in particular is slanted sparkling green by the geranium and does all it can to make those flowers sing.

Sing they certainly do from top notes to finish some long time later, but they also have an orchestra of luscious frankincense to accompany them. And such a virtuoso performance it is, too.

Frankincense, used for its fragrance for at least the past 5000 years, can veer in several directions in a perfume. With labdanum (another ancient perfume ingredient) for instance, it can be smoky, sensual and lascivious, yet here, it has been used as my most favorite frankincense type of all: the pure scent of the boswellia resin itself. Frankincense as it is used in perfume comes in three different varieties, each with its own olfactory profile. I’m not aware of what type of frankincense Maria used, but from the way it appears in Camellia Perfume, I’m going to wager my most favorite kind: Silver Omani, with its glorious piercing, pure lemon-meringue pine aroma, wrapping up those beautiful blooms with a bright, satin plume of happy, not at all a bad way to characterize the perfume itself, either.

As I’ve worn it these past few weeks, I came to discover Camellia perfume has a singular effect on my mood. In a September filled with not a few trials and tribulations, either of these versions has performed wonders in taking me to a happier, calmer place.

I said it before, I’ll say it again.

This is a perfume full of joy.

You now have no excuse for playing Camille or even paying homage to her real-life inspiration, the 19th-century courtesan Marie Duplessis.

But do spread a little happiness where and when you can, by paying your homage to this new and utterly delicious…

Dame aux Camélias.

Aroma M Camellia Perfume is available directly from the aroma M website as a high-concentration eau de parfum or as a pure perfume oil in a bottle that pays its own homage to yet another camellia lover.

Notes: Neroli, jasmine, gardenia, geranium, rose, frankincense.

Photo: Greta Garbo in the 1936 MGM George Cukor classic Camille. I like to think she’s sniffing this perfume. Duotone creation by me.

Disclosure: Samples of Camellia Perfume were sent by Maria McElroy. I’m not worthy.

Spring Flings!

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 – the Genie’s favorite Scents of Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

– The Greens of Spring

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

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

April Aromatics Unter den Linden

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

Balmain – Ivoire

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

DSH Perfumes’ Vert pour Madame

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

Jacomo Silences

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

Puredistance Antonia

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

Green With A Twist

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

Aroma M Geisha Green

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

Opus Oils Absinthia

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

Parfums Lalun Phènomene Vert

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

Vero Profumo Mito

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

Burning blooms

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

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

La Vie En Rose

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

Olympic Orchids Ballets Rouges

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

Parfums Lalun Qajar Rose

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

Serge Lutens La Fille de Berlin

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

Think Pink!

Caron Bellodgia

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

Ringing all the Bells

Aroma M Geisha Marron

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

Consider the Lily

Editions de Parfums Lys Mediterranée

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

All the flowers!

Aftelier Secret Garden

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

So tell me – what makes you bloom in spring?

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

The Adventures of Ms. Hare and Madame Hyde

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 – help to look as good as you waft!

As a blogger myself, I also read a lot of blogs. I don’t always comment as much as I know I should, but by golly, I read them. Of all those many blogs I read, not all of which are perfume-related, I have nothing at all but bottomless admiration for those intrepid ladies who (also) blog about the perilous business of beauty. My idols are not those countless twenty-somethings who wax poetic over the anti-aging benefits of Korean snail extract BB creams (I can’t take them seriously), but ladies like myself ‘d’un certain age’ who haven’t given up and packed it in. Who try stuff so I don’t have to as one of them succinctly states, who go where I can’t, test what I can’t afford or am able to obtain and always keep their sense of perspective in order, as well as their sense of humor.

Therefore, before I incriminate myself any further, may I say it: Jane, Gaia, Jen and CharlestonGirl ladies, I bow down before your utter, jawdropping awesomeness and dedication. You have never led me astray. And although this isn’t strictly speaking a perfume post, I’m no competition. Nevertheless – your stellar advice has changed my life in more ways than you know.

Yet, after a winter that has seemed to drag endlessly on and a milestone birthday ahead I dearly wish I could hibernate through if not bypass altogether, even impoverished perfume bloggers in the BFE sticks (that would be me) can sometimes get lucky and try things that neither cost the sun, the moon or all the stars but also deliver good on their promise without ever promising more than they deliver!

To that end, I recruited some help from my intrepid former roommate and present downstairs neighbor for an alternate perspective on some beauteous goodies I was dying to try. We can call her Ms. Hare. She’s 32, a definite Leo, and thanks to knowing yours truly, a reformed and dedicated lover of all things niche, including the contents of my perfume cabinet. Ms. Hare has a thick, wavy bush of dark brown hair – apart from the color the kind of hair I once had before age, offspring and years of coloring abuse caught up with it. She has taught me the proper use of a hair dryer. (And much else besides). She is therefore uniquely qualified as a test bunny for one particular product I shall get back to in a bit.

Meanwhile, there’s yours truly. I stubbornly refuse to make Botox or cosmetic surgery part of my future, but south does seem to be the general direction in which I’m heading, in spite of all I do, massive amounts of daily sunscreen for over twenty years and a year-round perma-pallor. And something has to be done. I’m not dead yet. Neither, much as it pains me to say, is my vanity. Which received a bit of a dent last year when a dermatologist diagnosed me with atopic dermatitis and put a serious cramp in my style.

What to do, what to do…

The Miracle Workers

Skye Botanicals African Gold Shea Butter

Shea butter has long been the ingredient du jour in the battle against dry skin, psoriasis and other epidermal ills. I had never encountered the Real, Undiluted Deal until Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals/Perfume Pharmer was sweet enough to send me a jar of Skye Botanicals ‘African Gold Unrefined Shea Butter’ when I complained about my horrible traitorous dry skin. This is – let me say it – marvelous, magnificent stuff. Bright yellow and with the consistency of a salve, I’ve used it on my face, the frayed ends of my hair, on scaly elbows, knees and heels, dry hands and everywhere else I could think of, which is basically – everywhere else. I haven’t woken up with the face of a twenty-five year old, but that’s OK, too. A little goes a long way, my skin and I have been on very civil speaking terms since and I never want to be without it again. As if those wonders weren’t enough, it won’t break out your skin or even the bank. Run, don’t walk, straight to Skye Botanicals and buy it. Your skin will thank you by looking the best it ever has, considering that compass is headed south…

Also from Skye Botanicals is the gentle Rose Facial Toner, which has not only convinced me to use toner after cleansing (this is called progress, darlings), but is also great for setting my makeup. Plus, it smells deliciously of wild roses. What’s not to love?

No Snake Oil In Sight

Aroma M Camellia Facial Oil

Skincare oils are suddenly everywhere, even here in the BFE boonies. Had you told me even six months ago I’d be a convert too, I wouldn’t have believed you. Aroma M’s incredible Camellia Face oil – concocted from camellia, carrot seed, golden jojoba, apricot kernel, evening primrose, virgin argan, jasmine, geranium, frankincense and neroli oils – was inspired by Maria McElroy’s expertise with both Western aromatherapy and Japanese Gion Geisha beauty rituals and not only combines the best of both worlds, but also does wonders to rehydrate and nourish the skin, even mine. I love nothing better than to eat my own words on facial oils. My skin adored it. I adored it. I woke up in the mornings without wanting a steam iron for my face. Although I still haven’t woken up with the face of a twenty-five-year-old, I certainly feel far more fabulous than I ever did! Which is also the perfect description of the scent – fabulous.

Aftelier Jasmine Face Elixir

Jasmine oil, so says my aromatherapy research, has anti-aging properties, works to calm the nervous system and relaxes. Mandy Aftel has combined the organic oils of grapeseed, sweet almond, rice bran, squalene, camellia and rose hip to concoct a heavenly, jasmine-scented blend. I’ve used it at night both over and under my night cream, and this has really put the capital G in my g-l-o-w. If that’s not a recipe for sweet dreams, I don’t know what is.

Aftelier Lavender Fresh Ginger Body Oil & Hair Elixir

Since I was brainwashed in childhood with Yardley’s English Lavender soap, I’ve had a soft spot for lavender in perfumes and body care products. I was a bit disconcerted to discover that this dark green gem has since been discontinued, but in the “I can’t believe it’s good for my skin” department, Lavender Fresh Ginger Body Oil checks all the boxes. It’s a favorite color. It smells utterly divine, with both the calming green, herbal and floral scent of lavender and the kicky, spicy fire of fresh ginger. It smoothes my crocodile hide to sensuously silken softness. It has also gone on the frayed ends of my hair with great results, so long as I remember a little goes a long way. All that’s missing is someone to appreciate it, but at least Hairy Krishna has been known to snuggle a little closer and purr a little louder when I wear this to bed. It  comes in several other varieties that are not one whit less delicious – for your skin and your senses.

Aftelier Ancient Resins Body Oil and Hair Elixir.

Originally custom-made for the legendary Leonard Cohen, this is the classiest skin-solicitous celebuscent ever – an oil with all the same benefits for your hair and skin as the Lavender and Fresh Ginger. It smells impossibly luxe, dense and incredibly deep – the olfactory equivalent of Mr. Cohen’s plush, silk-velvet baritone, and I have a thing for those…With frankincense, poplar buds, benzoin, elemi and labdanum. I’ll happily take Manhattan – right after I take this along with it. Or any guy who wears it. They have been warned.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Aroma M Camellia Hair Oil

No kidding, there we were, my friend and I – one bushy-haired brunette Amazon Leo, one pint-sized Doña Quixota Taurus with rather fine, limp, slightly wavy hair color-treated nearly every shade of the rainbow since the early Palaeolithic. These days, however, I stick in the general neighborhood of my own shade if slightly lighter, what with lighter being younger, or so they tell me. Basically, we both have fried hair, although I’ve had a haircut two months ago, so my hair is in better shape and with far fewer split ends.

To put it another way – we were both of us in dire need of some hair therapy, but in a manner of speaking from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Aroma M’s Camellia Hair Oil was created according to the very best and most effective traditions of hair care known to geisha – and Japanese women in general. They take protecting their skin and hair from the elements very seriously, and camellia oil has been used for centuries as a hairdressing aid, protecting and purifying the hair and scalp. It contains camellia oil, virgin argan and golden jojoba oils, and the essential oils of rosemary and Moroccan tuberose.

First impressions first – this is without question the most heavenly scented dedicated hair oil I’ve ever used, and I say this as a diehard tuberose lover and sometime user of Moroccan argan oil.

Ms. Hare and I used it in three ways over a period of three weeks. As an overnight hair mask, as protection before blowdrying, and as a pick-me-up on the ends before the onslaught of hair clips and elastic.

She noted her hair was in noticeably better shape than before. It was smoother, much less inclined to frizz in high humidity and far easier to manage. She did say – despite my warnings that a little went a long way – it seemed to weigh her hair down more than other oils, but she couldn’t argue with the results. Not so that ever stopped her. You can’t argue with a Leo!

Next, yours truly, wimpy-haired blonde. Whether wishful thinking, that sublime tuberose scent or just using a little less oil, since I began using aroma M’s Camellia Hair Oil, I’m no longer tempted by the idea of a really drastic haircut. My hair is definitely smoother, softer, more manageable and certainly glossier, and given I’m blonde, that’s not to be sneezed at. I’ve styled it, curled it, braided fishtails, blowdried it and French braided it, all with no ill effects. The bottom line –  I feel a bit like the girl in a cheesy 80s shampoo ad. Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. I’ll tell you my secret. It’s not my hair, it’s my hair oil.

You can keep a secret, right?

Everyone knows it – whatever can protect a delicate camellia flower – or a likewise delicate flower-like complexion – from the frost, snow and ill effects of a winter that seems never to end can’t possibly be bad!

Disclosure: Samples were provided for review by Skye Botanicals, aroma M and Aftelier. For which I thank them most sincerely!

Skye Botanicals products are available from the website and Perfume Pharmer’s Etsy store. Aroma M Camellia Hair and Face Oils are available from aroma M’s website and select retail outlets. Aftelier Face Elixirs and Body Oil and Hair Elixirs are available from the Aftelier website. With thanks to the intrepid Ms. Hare. And the very inspirational CharlestonGirl, the Non Blonde, Jane and Jen.

Photo: Dabney Rose. Used by permission.