In Search of Serene


– When life winds you up, a trinity of perfumes to waft you down to scented bliss

Summer’s almost gone.

All of Europe south of the Alps may well be headed this August for the beaches, the mountains and other edifying locations, but here in the North at the tail end of a hot and sunny summer, dolce far niente is being put aside for that mad, determined dash for the Next Big Thing. Time moves on, and there’s none to waste.

Meetings are planned, agendas drawn up, emails and correspondence must be answered, blogs must be read, updates and tweets posted, and all in all, life has generally conspired this summer to make me feel more than a little frayed and frazzled around the edges.

To combat such unsettled states of mind, I turn as I so often do to some of my usual standbys, scents that never fail to soothe and console me.

Not so long ago, I dug into my sample stash out of curiosity (this is how most reviews begin), and discovered three creations that each in their own distinct ways manage to convey that elusive unicorn state of mind… serenity.

They are nothing alike, nothing like my familiar mood enhancers, but all three have that definite ability to smooth out those frayed strands of stress and confusion and convey the olfactory equivalent of a deep, deep breath to ground and center me. They have given me courage when I needed it and calm when I demanded it. Best of all, they have provided their own unique manner of fragrant transport, and if that isn’t a worthy pursuit of bliss, what is?

None of the three are literal representations of their names or their fragrances, but all of them convey that feel of their locations… elsewhere, otherwise and light years removed from the frenetic pace of contemporary urban life.


Life is a Beech

Sonoma Scent Studio Forest Walk

I’m lucky to live in a town that makes up in woods what it lacks in parks. Surrounding my town on steeply hilled sides are long, emerald swathes of ancient, unspoiled beech forest just fifteen minutes walk away from my downtown apartment, and if I seek serenity anywhere, I never fail to find it below the boughs of those gloriously soaring trees. All I have to do is breathe it in (the original meaning of the word inspire), and I am all of a piece and in one piece, too, and before I know it, happiness bubbles up to claim me, the ground rises up to embrace me, and suddenly, life is not quite so unbearable nor so frantic.

Last year, California-based indie perfumer Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studio participated in a collaboration with Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfume instigated by Nathan Branch’s ‘Letters to a fellow perfumer’ series, to create a woody scent Laurie chose to base on hemlock and fir balsam absolutes. I reviewed Mandy’s astonishing Sepia last year when it was released, but apart from one encounter with Laurie’s Champagne de Bois (which didn’t like me much), Laurie’s work was new to me.

Forest Walk completely took my breath away.

Laurie sought to recreate the sensation of a summer walk in the forest, with the scent of sun-warmed earth, bark, needles and an underlying pulse of flowers, and just as she might have hoped, she succeeded brilliantly.

Pine trees and redwoods might be hard to come by in my neck of the woods, but if anything somehow manages to encompass that overall sensory impression of a walk beneath the trees, Forest Walk manages to do just that. It begins so very green and leafy with a bite that is all galbanum and earthy, piney wood, but it isn’t long before a delicious jasmine-flecked violet note begins to bloom summery promises on that forest floor, and far, far away from that California inspiration, I am….there beneath those beech wood boughs, breathing it all in. As it evolves and blooms, a suggestion of orris and yet more and deeper woods come forward to embrace me with serenity, with grounding my many fragmented selves into one harmonious entity, a sensuous sandalwood accord interwoven with cedar and oakmoss, labdanum and a whisper of frankincense, in perfect counterpoint with a touch of ambery benzoin. It is ever so slightly sweet but never cloying, and by this time I’ve forgotten everything that ever ailed or vexed me, and remember only those dark green shades of centered calm beneath those soaring beech boughs.

If there really is a Heaven, they’ll have forest walks there, too.

Notes: Black hemlock absolute, fir absolute, Western red cedar, oakwood absolute, galbanum resin, jasmine sambac absolute, violet, olibanum, labdanum absolute, natural oakmoss absolute, aged Indian patchouli, New Caledonia sandalwood, orris, benzoin, earthy notes.


Chotto Matte Kudosai!

DSH Perfumes Matsu

No reader of this blog can be unaware of the fact that I worship at the altar of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ olfactory talents. Few other perfumers have such a stellar grasp of the history, heritage and subtext of perfume or such a vast range to play upon, and she has been slaying yours truly consistently for well over two years with no end, I’m thrilled to say, in sight.

As I’ve become familiar with her creations, I’ve come to discover that it’s all characterized by her exquisite sense of deliberation and restraint. Whether creating lush, Oriental dreamscapes or olfactory odes to past, glorious perfumes, all her work balances on a very finely honed, precise point, neither too much nor too little, but always just…enough. No one material or accord out-manoeuvers any other, and all that hangs in that exquisite balance adds up to so much more than the sum of its seamlessly blended parts.

Her new release Matsu is no exception to that rule. Matsu – Japanese for pine tree, and it’s also a girl’s name – can also mean…Wait! As in, wait…sit down, be entirely present in the now. To my jaded nose, Matsu is as close to bottled Zen as you can get.

A bright, happy burst of zesty bergamot jumpstarts my optimism as it begins, as green and as soaring as the bamboo forest in the image above. But sap and leaves – what you might call quintessence of tree – are close by, with a wisp of water lily and just behind and beneath it, the feel of a dense, old (and entirely benign) pine forest. That impression of pine has cleaning product associations for some people, but this isn’t one of those pine trees, this is another, wilder, deeper tree, as transparent as hand-woven silk gauze and as uplifting as a sunbeam through the forest.

Matsu manages to confer that need to be entirely present in this moment, in this time, this space and this place. We humans waste so much time trying either to cling to moments past or invent future instants that might or might not arrive.

As it unfurls, it tells us all to breathe in deep, to center our being and calm our minds, to be neither too wired nor too relaxed, but simply…to wait until all is still within our fragmented selves in our harried, frenetic lives, when time somehow seems to stop beneath those evocative, timeless trees, and nothing exists (as is only too true!) except this moment and this time and this flawlessly restrained perfume confers its own perfect poise to this one perfect moment in time. One moment is all you need.

Or as the Japanese would say…chotto matte kudosai’… as in ‘wait a minute!’. With this minute, this perfume, this flawless liquid quietude that is neither too much nor too little, no matter how frantic or fast-paced your life might seem, you can.

Notes: Bergamot, citrus, leafy green leaves and sap, water lily, Australian sandalwood, gaiac wood, Brazilian rosewood, hinoki wood, musk.


Primeval spaces

Keiko Mecheri Canyon Dreams

My peripatetic life has meant I’ve lived in quite a few places; Virginia, Florida, a few locations in my native Denmark. All verdant, leafy, green landscapes, all with their own advantages and drawbacks.

Yet none of those places and no experience I have ever had before could have prepared me for the sensory shock of the American Southwest. I heard stories of ‘nothing there’, heard travelers’ tales of the great, empty spaces and big skies of New Mexico.

My favorite painter Georgia O’Keeffe put it best:

And when you come to New Mexico, and if you come, it will become a magic that will remain with you for the rest of your life.

No fool, Georgia.

The thing is, in that vast and ancient land of immense skies and infinite horizons, you can’t search for its beauty or encompass its scope. It has to find you. When that happens, as it did for me and doesn’t for everyone, it indeed became ‘a magic that remains’.

Which meant I wasn’t at all prepared for what happened when I encountered Keiko Mecheri’s unbelievably evocative ‘Canyon Dreams’, thanks to a generous fragrant friend. Canyon Dreams gave me an instant flashback and magic carpet ride back to one of my most favorite, favorite places on Earth, the Jemez Mountains of so many happy memories and times and an unexpected verdant oasis in that seeming endless high desert to this urban post-punk catastrophe Dane.

Keiko Mecheri and her eponymous perfume line has bubbled at the edge of my perfumista awareness for quite some time. A Japanese artist now based in California, her vast and very diverse line of perfumes are renowned for their luxurious presentation and breathtaking quality.

Canyon Dreams, launched in 2012 as part of her ‘Bespoke’ series, is probably best described as a spicy Oriental perfume, but just as with Forest Walk and Matsu, it somehow all adds up to much, much more than its individual notes.

If left to my own devices and inclinations, going by the notes alone I would almost certainly never have tried it. Am I ever glad to be jolted out of my comfort zone, because I hate to miss out on new epiphanies!

It begins its song in a sunny key, all one endless blue sky breath of bergamot and tangerine, but the sky is just the celestial beginning. Soon, your attention turns to the warm, sun-baked earth beneath your feet as a dusky and even slightly dusty rose blooms, and this is where the magic begins.

I can tell you… sandalwood (a lush, creamy Mysore-type), patchouli and even one of my most dreaded notes – agarwood or oud. I can tell you all of this, tell you that if you run for the hills at the slightest mention of medicinal band-aid like I do, then you’re going to be so surprised. The agarwood used in Canyon Dreams is nothing at all like that, and if all those so-called ‘agarwood’ or ‘oud’s in fact were like this one, I would have signed up a long, long time ago.

Sandalwood, patchouli, agarwood – yes, that’s what the notes tell you, but they won’t say too much about the overall rich, velvet-opulent feel of these dreams, won’t convey anything about its complexity, its spicy, earthy, cinnamon-peppery-frankincense texture or the fragrant gasoline it adds to this writer’s already rather overheated imagination. It sounds so simple, so effortless, and it’s nothing simple at all. It would be suitable for any occasion and on either gender for purposes both innocent and not.

All perfumes are justly renowned for evoking memories and emotions – after all, it’s one of the reasons my own olfactory passions loom so large in my life. But Canyon Dreams brought that beloved, hard-to-find New Mexico location back to me, back to where the ground beneath my feet is scented with centuries of sunshine and heritage, where the water drops that hang in the air above the waterfall sparkle like diamonds and to where the ponderosa pines exude their spicy vanilla resin, where sage, mesquite and piñon, all the ambience of a wild and untamed place combine to wrap your cares and your very self in the ability to be here now in this moment, in this instant when you were caught unaware and were found… by an unexpected serenity I went to find, only to discover..

Serenity found me.

Notes: Bergamot, mandarin orange, rose, sandalwood, agarwood, patchouli.

With thanks to Ruth for Forest Walk and Carlos for Canyon Dreams. My sample of Matsu was provided by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz.

Sonoma Scent Studio Forest Walk is available from the Sonoma Scent Studio website.

DSH Perfumes Matsu is available from the DSH website.

Keiko Mecheri Canyon Dreams, from her Bespoke collection, is available from Luckyscent and First in Fragrance.

Image of Jemez Falls, New Mexico via Light Rain Productions.


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