Ooh La Laugh Fraise

pigstrawberries

a review of DSH Perfumes Amouse Bouche from the Passport to Paris Collection

In a winter that has dragged on for what seems like an eternity as one wet, super-extended November, life ground itself down to a dark gray powder as plaintive and as melancholy as any early Bergman film.

Melancholy is no state of mind with which to celebrate the coming arrival of spring. For spring, we need exuberance, beauty and above all things else, a perfume to put a smile on our faces, a cancan laugh on our skin and not a little sunshine in our souls.

Of all the perfume families I have become enamored with over the course of my life, few make me run for the hills faster than the dreaded fruity floral/oriental. In fact, the mere term ‘berry’ anything turns me green in all the worst ways. I am neither so young nor so naïve to think it necessary to waft any berry in my wake to add to my dubious allure.

Nothing pleases me more than to eat my words and give myself over with a rueful laugh to the wonders of my all-time favorite berry of all.

Strawberry.

Imagine it. A succulent, fragrant, red berry in front of you with all its promises of a carefree summer’s day dances its exuberant Galop Infernal around crème frangipane and a flaky, warm brioche. I double dare you not to feel your wintry cares drop to the flowering ground like so many superfluous woolen overcoats.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Amouse Bouche – part of her triptych of perfumes created for the Denver Art Museum’s Passport to Paris exhibition – is that kind of strawberry.

Amouse Bouche (the misspelling is an intentional visual pun) was inspired by the Paris of the Belle Époque and by a humorous sketch by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec called The Dunce’s Cap.

I dare you to look at that simple sketch without smiling.

I dare you to look at that simple sketch without smiling.

With such inspirations, it would figure that this is a) neither an ordinary strawberry nor b) an ordinary fruity-floral gourmand.

I don’t know what I expected, and you’d think I’d have a few ideas by now. Nevertheless, here it is. Yours truly, conquered by a laughing strawberry extravaganza as swirling and dizzying as any Art Nouveau curves, as lighthearted and flirtatious as the cancan dancers at the Moulin Rouge and with all of La Goulue’s unrivalled appetite for all of life’s most delectable pleasures.

Follow me now Messieurs et Madames, in through these ruby red doors into a sparkling, ever-present heart of luscious strawberry (with optional lemony champagne). Do you feel your cares melting away by the minute, can you sense how winter all but burns to an wisp of fog in your mind in that juicy, happy heart of light?

Come in, come in! Our show is only just beginning as all your winter-worn cares vanish like smoke in the limelight, for here come our belles of the ball in their strawberry skirts and their flashing black stockings, les dames fleuries, the blushing jasmine and the queenly rose, the neroli with her saucy winks and the ylang with her sunshine yellow laugh.

Cold? What cold? Impossible to be cold in such warm and happy company as the troupe dances out and in again as the crowd roars its approval, as the strawberries twirl in aldehyde champagne and dulcet buttery vanilla whirls its pas de deux with caramel until at long, long last, only the sandalwoody gloss of tonka bean and vetiver fade away as the sun rises over Montmartre.

When you know that in those hours in the magical dark only laughter and sunshine breathed, when all winter woes and worries fled far, far north. All that remained was the joyous memory of an ooh la laugh of strawberry bliss and even your soul was very amused indeed.

strawberrypiglet

Notes: Aldehydes, strawberry, bergamot, lemon, grandiflorum jasmine, Bulgarian rose, neroli, ylang ylang, butter CO2 extract, Tahitian vanilla, ambrette seed CO2 extract, caramel, tonka bean, Australian sandalwood, vetiver.

Amouse Bouche is available from the DSH Perfumes website, where sample sets of the entire Passport to Paris collection are also available and absolutely recommended.

Disclosure: A sample of Amouse Bouche was provided for review by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. For which I thank her with my words, a wink and a laugh and a half! 

Fleur Moderne

modernviolet

–       a review of DSH PerfumesVers la Violette from the Passport to Paris Collection

Pity the humble violet. Today, violet perfumes as they were originally made have a slight bashful whiff of Miss Havisham and Victoriana, of simplicity, humility and faithfulness, as if, in other words, the perfumes made from this modest but heavenly scented flower have somehow been imbued by default with all the loaded trappings of Proust’s notorious madeleine – offering nostalgia in a bottle.

It’s hard to imagine in these anything goes days, but once upon a time in the decadent, alluring Belle Èpoque era of Paris with its equally alluring swirling, whirling, dizzying lines and mysterious femmes fatales, with its Symbolist poetry, Pointillist paintings and louche air, back in the day when all the world was perched on the brink of momentous change, that shy little violet ruled supreme in the perfume world. Ladies of distinction and easy virtue alike were so enamoured of its sweetly fragrant, verdant spring air that violet perfumes were in effect the perfume bestsellers of their day.

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No matter what these mesdames and demoiselles of the Belle Èpoque might have thought to the contrary, those beloved, sweetly romantic violet perfumes did not in fact contain a single bloom, but another newly synthesized aromatic component that had recently arrived for the perfumer’s organ – ionone (alpha- and beta-ionone, to be precise). Coumarin may get all the justly celebrated press for Houbigant’s Fougère Royal and Guerlain’s equally revolutionary Jicky, but ionone was just as important, not least for the enormous bouquet of violet soliflore perfumes that began to bloom in liquid at around the same time.

Let those dandies and Des Esseintes-wannabes wear their narcotic ambers and tuberoses, their oh-so fashionable fougères, those ladies seemed to say.

‘Give me la violette and my heart shall always be an eternal Spring.’

I’m not sure about the previous statement, but it is a fact universally proven on this blog and elsewhere – I love violets. The flowers themselves are my favorite part of spring, candied violets do wonders in tandem with dark chocolate (never more so than in that great Baudelaire poem of violet, aroma M’s delicious Geisha Violet), and not a few other violet perfumes have also stolen my own fickle heart – Tom Ford’s Black Violet, Sonoma Scent Studio’s Forest Walk, the neon violet of Guerlain’s Insolence and perhaps my favorite of them all, Serge Lutens’ Bois de Violette. I also once managed to imbibe violet (violet liqueur is a thing) in the form of a virulent purple concoction known as Parfait Amour since hope springs eternal, but I didn’t find it there…

Hippolyte_Petitjean_-_Paysage

Yet somewhere in those curvilinear, asymmetrical lines of perfume, in the vibrant Pointillist paintings of Hippolyte Petitjean and the overall arc of the Denver Art Museum’s Passport to Paris exhibition now on show, perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz managed to reinvent this now classic perfume trope, le parfum violette, and make it new into something that feels not at all out of place or step with the 21st century.

Her inspiration came from Hippolyte Petitjean’s painting Village from 1893. I’m not sure it’s the painting above, since Google Images was not cooperating, but if Dawn were somehow hoping to translate that hazy, sun-drenched landscape painting into a perfume, she certainly succeeded.

For Vers la Violette is never less than violet, and nevertheless as state-of-the-art modern as this day, this moment, this instant I type away on a machine not even Jules Verne could have imagined. Just as I think I can say with some justification the august Aimé Guerlain could never have imagined anything like Vers la Violette, but if anyone could understand it as something more and more audacious than the mere sum of its parts, surely he would.

In my opinion, no one in perfumery today on either side of the Atlantic can touch Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ innate and slightly uncanny understanding of the historical context of perfumes. Whether recreating some of the fragrances of ancient Egypt or reinterpreting a comprehensive work of fashion as she did for her YSL retrospective, she not only manages to convey precisely what those pivotal perfumes meant and how they were perceived in their time, but also to refine them and improve them, and with Vers la Violette, she gives the world a violet to make the heart sing and the mind dream of purple haze over a country field, of spring and future possibilities.

Except somehow in this pale gold liquid filigree, an urban heart beats beneath it all which gives it an edge on the violet competition and takes it far away from any nostalgic memories of bashful blooms on a forest floor.

Make no mistake – Vers la Violette is also a pun – on ‘vert’, and green is precisely how it starts to sing. I detect bergamot, galbanum and lemon certainly, along with a quite a lot of violet leaf, but there’s nothing at all bashful about this purple flower. She sings a little softly underneath the orange blossom, the rose and the iris to begin with, which makes this about very much more and more multi-dimensional than simply ‘violet’, but when she finally enters the spotlight, she stays. And stays. Winding her delicate vines around that ethereal floral heart and on through a mossy, soft suede drydown with a hint of hot summer concrete splashed by a passing purple-violet thundercloud.

As much as I like violet notes, and violet leaves, and violet leaf perfumes with their grassy-green optimism, it’s this suede-y, violet-flavored wet steamy concrete thing that slays me. It takes a bit more than the mere name ‘violet’ to make me sit up and pay attention to what I’m sniffing, so I’m partial to the unusual, and Vers la Violette, for all its fabled historical associations with ionone, with violets, and with Les Femmes Modernes of Belle Èpoque Paris, is a most unusual violet. I’ve consistently called it ‘she’, but Vers la Violette is easily, breezily unisex and more modern and certainly more elegant than any mere blushing bloom could ever be.

I’m not quite sure how many more ways I can say I love it – most deeply and sincerely – except that sample vial is going fast, for give me a violet, give me this violet and I shall remain forever young…

Notes (from Fragrantica): Galbanum, bergamot, lemon, violet leaf absolute, cyclamen, orange flower absolute, ionone, orris CO2 extract, Bulgarian rose, wood violet, Mysore sandalwood, oakmoss, labdanum, suede, civet.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, for which I thank her from the bottom of my hugely grateful heart. 

The Very Best of 2013 – Part One

C4crown

–  the Genie’s slightly belated guide to the perfumes that defined 2013

I’m a bit surprised – to put it mildly – at just how quickly 2013 sped by, and such a year it was! A year of an unprecedented amount of releases, an unprecedented amount of hype and blather, and most of all, an unprecedented claim to olfactory epiphanies that were anything but.

To my own personal dismay, I wasn’t able to write or review nearly as much as I wanted to. This does nothing for my review backlog or my hugely guilty conscience, but I had a rather good explanation – 2013 was the year I became a published novelist, and naturally, that took priority. It also goes a long way towards explaining why October and November seemed to vanish in thin air. As a writer, I doubt I’ve ever worked harder in my life. This holds true even as 2014 begins, because ahead looms events like book launches and Getting The Word Out and dealing with other things that strike terror in my heart.

Yet 2013 was also a high water mark in other ways. Thanks to my fantabulous readers, I was able to purchase an upgraded computer, attend Pitti Fragranze (and what an experience that was!), and more than anything else feel the connection I have with my readers more than I ever have before.

And then, of course, there were the perfumes. One of the last perfume-related statistics I remember reading was this: as of the autumn of 2013, more than 1440 new perfumes were released. Which was more than the year before, and the year before, and the year… etc.

It’s getting to where I read about new brands being launched and I clutch my head in despair. With so many brands competing for shelf space, customers and their own slice of the ever-expanding perfume slice of the beauty industry, inevitably, corners are cut and shortcuts taken, and we end up with what I saw and sniffed at Pitti Fragranze – Eau de High-End Niche, which smells expensive (and all too often is), recycles themes from other, more daring/creative/inspired perfume houses and is in its own aspirational marketing way just as generic and soulless (if far more prohibitively priced) as any ‘mainstream’ brand.

For 2013, which was a year I’m not likely to forget any time soon, I’ve decided to do things a little differently than before. I sniffed more things in 2013 than at any other time in my life, so my own personal favorites in the year gone by will be in part 2 of my Best Of list. Meanwhile, you want to know what really rocked my planet in 2013…

Best Correspondence Between Brand and Perfume:

Donato Style Glam Monster (Donato Crowley/Kedra Hart of Opus Oils)

Donato Crowley, the LA-based stylist, photographer, artist and all-round Renaissance man, really knocked my socks off with Glam Monster, a glorious, sultry, super-unisexy take on all the very best parts of California and all the naughty bits, too. If ever a perfume somehow managed to wrap up an entire artistic statement in a bottle, it’s this one. My sample is all gone. That bottle can’t be far behind. I need glamour, too.

Best Novella In A Bottle:

AmouageOpus VII (Christopher Chong/Alberto Morillas/Pierre Negrin)

In the Just Kill Me Now department, Opus VII wins by default by a) showing just how wrong even a perfume writer can parse/interpret ingredients and b) then humiliating herself in full public view by publishing the first review of it. I said iris. Opus VII contains no such thing. What it does contain is a swirling, whirling, spectacularly moody heart of Gothic darkness I haven’t had enough of yet, and I doubt I ever will. This is Edgar Allan Poe, bottled.

And speaking of iris, only this time, it’s very much there…

Best Iris of 2013:

DSH PerfumesIridum (Dawn Spencer Hurwitz)

Iris perfumes – a definite love of mine since I first fell hard for Chanel no. 19 – tend to run towards the chilly end of the olfactory spectrum. Not so Iridum, which is a feisty, spicy, incense-laden iris revelation that was love at first sniff and holds its own next to that greatest of all irises  – Iris Silver Mist. For a dedicated iris lover, that says everything.

Best Unexpected Hit:

Chanel – Les Exclusifs Chanel 1932 (Jacques Polge)

Having only ever tried 28 La Pausa from Chanel’s Les Exclusifs collection at the time, I was not quite prepared for how much I liked this twinkling, sparkling little marvel of aldehydes, iris, jasmine and all things grand and glorious. It is always classy, never inappropriate (I’ve worn it to job interviews), and perfectly epitomizes the very best of Chanel in all the very best of ways. Unlike 28 La Pausa, it also lasts.

Best “Slay ‘em, baby” perfume:

Opus OilsBabylon Noir (Kedra Hart)

I’ll be the first to admit it – I’m biased. Babylon Noir was originally created by Kedra Hart for the Devilscent Project, but it launched to the general public on Valentine’s Day last year, and likely has been slaying scores of hearts and swollen heads ever since. I know for a fact that my bottle is often loaned to Ms. Hare for nefarious purposes with a 100% success rate, because that’s what best friends do – support each others’ nefarious purposes…

Best New Brands I discovered at Pitti Fragranze:

This was a hard decision, since I sniffed many, many things from many, many brands (don’t get me started on those bags of Pitti samples I haven’t dared touch yet) in Florence, but two dedicated perfume brands in particular stood out from the rest: Bruno Acampora and Parfums de Marly. I’ve worn several of Bruno Acampora’s oils (Iranzol was an instant love) and even a lethal dose of Parfums de Marly’s Herod over the course of this past autumn, and although I haven’t had enough time to do them the verbal justice they certainly deserve, they have taken my breath away.

Best Applied Epiphany:

Tauer Perfumes’ Noontide Petals (Andy Tauer)

One of my favorite moments at Pitti Fragranze was finally being able to say hello to Andy Tauer – and sniff ALL the Tauers, which I never had before. Andy will be another expensive person to know. I was also very curious to try Noontide Petals, which was getting a lot of press at the time. So after politely enquiring whether I was sure – Tauers are known for having the perfume half life of plutonium – Andy then proceeded to sweep me off my feet with Noontide Petals by spraying my arm. My nose was glued to my wrist the rest of the evening. It really IS… all that in a blinding burst of sunshine.

Best Perfume Reformulations:

vero profumo’s Voiles de Parfum (Vero Kern) & Neela Vermeire Creations Mohur Extrait (Neela Vermeire/Bertrand Duchaufour)

Interesting things happen when a perfume concentration is amped up. Facets only partly apparent in an eau de parfum can take on whole new multiverses of context and significance. Nowhere was this more evident that in vero profumo’s Voiles de Parfums line of Rubj, Kiki, Onda and Mito, because Vero Kern does not simply add more jus – she redefines and reconstructs her own work to breathtaking effect – as she did. Likewise, Mohur, Neela Vermeire’s no less beautiful perfume was redefined in extrait, and an already bone-chilling glorious creation was painted new in ever richer and more opulent hues. I thought it would be impossible to improve on the peerless Mohur. I was dead wrong.

Speaking of dead wrong…

Worst Perfume Idea, Ever:

O’Driu’s Peety (Angelo Pregoni)

Call me old-fashioned, call me a prude, call me whatever you like. Sometimes, I can admire the concept behind a perfume even if I can’t wear it. Sometimes, I love the perfume and ignore the concept completely. So let me just state that I truly admire the degree of chutzpah/audacity behind Angelo Pregoni of O’Driu’s Peety. It appeals no end to my inner post-punk iconoclast. That’s the idea. The reality of Peety, however, is just about the vilest thing I sniffed this year, mainstream launches included. Your mileage may vary. But this one turned me chartreuse in the worst way, and not just because it was sprayed upon a feather.

From The Bad Idea Department:

One word – oud. Enough of the oud already. Yes, it is a marvel of a raw material. Yes, incredible, astonishing perfumes contain oud. Yes, it has many facets and aspects that can all be shown in many revelatory ways. But dear Creative Directors and perfumers – who are you kidding here? Real oud is now a very rare commodity. Apparently, so is creativity. Which I frankly find hard to believe considering the number of new launches in 2013. Wait a minute…

How To Kill A Storied Fragrant Heritage, Part One:

Dior.

How to Kill A Storied Fragrant Heritage, Part Two:

Yves Saint Laurent. Belle de Opium. Manifesto. I rest my case, because once upon a fabled time, a fashion genius truly cared about his perfumes. Alas, they no longer do at either Dior or YSL.

Worst Aspirational Marketing:

I suppose it’s one thing to flat-out declare your indifference to 99% of Planet Perfume and set your price point accordingly. But since I suspect that 99% of perfume aficionados buy way more niche/indie perfume than the one percent (I could be wrong), I think Roja Dove is doing us 99% a serious disservice by creating something so flawless as Diaghilev in extrait and then pricing it in the exosphere of attainability, splits or no. If that marketing tactic doesn’t prove that life isn’t fair, I don’t know what does.

Best Witnessed Out-of-Body Moments:

I have a friend – tall, good-looking, young, green-eyed, a Scorpio (which figures), who recently stated he was in need of an image upgrade which also necessitated… perfume. His former staple Fleur du Male notwithstanding. So one evening chez Genie, I sat him down with some of the stellar contents of the Red Ikea Cabinet of Doom. And then, I experienced something most passing strange. He sniffed a perfume (Olympic Orchids’ Dev no. 2) and jumped off the floor in a flash. “Holy “#!”§€%!?. What IS that? That should be… illegal!!!” His doom was sealed with Amouage’s Fate Man. He’ll never touch anything mainstream again. Mission accomplished.

Most Extravagant Habit of 2013:

By this time, to my own surprise not least, I have acquired a LOT of perfumes. So it follows that I should use them in whatever ways I can. Mostly, I simply wear them, but in the past year, whether testing for review or simply my own decadent pleasure, I’ve taken to spray my bedding, my Tibetan prayer flag, my carpet and sometimes, the radiator of my living room. This was how I discovered that Janice Divacat is a definite Amouage fangal, whereas Hairy Krishna prefers Serge Lutens.

Greatest Vicarious Pleasure:

A friend I made in Florence took me to an English apothecary in a Centro Storico side street that also sold Frédéric Malle’s Editions de Parfums and Serge Lutens’ export line. I thought she deserved the very best and introduced her to Carnal Flower. She floated, she told me later, the rest of the afternoon on a cloud of tuberose bliss. I was so proud of her. And when I can, I’ll buy it for her in every incarnation. Because that much bliss to follow is so worth it.

Best Vicarious Pleasure, Part Two:

Furthering pleasure to a dear friend and fellow blogger, Caro of Té des Violetas, by sending her a decant of Fate Woman when Argentine customs impounded her own press sample. This made me happier than I can say, and Argentine customs be damned!

Best Fragrant Export Ever:

The ‘Mysore’/Santalum Album sandalwood plantations of Australia. This is the sort of thing that gives me hope for humankind – that we will never be without this most beautiful of perfumery materials. So long as we have sandalwood, we can endure anything. And now, we will!

Best WTF moment:

Kinski by e-scentric molecules (Geza Schoen)

My sister and I have vastly differing tastes in perfume. For one, she can wear no. 5 and I can’t at all, for another, she used to exude radioactive clouds of patchouli bombs and Obsession for Men. But when she bought Kinski to celebrate her own publication as an author, we both flipped over it. Impossibly louche, impossibly wrong, improbably sexy and possibly the greatest thing two 21st-century thoroughly twisted Sisters Brontë of dark, depraved literature could ever agree upon.

You have been so patient, dear readers, so forbearing. Thank you. You have read through my wrap-up of 2013 blather and are dying to know what skyrocketed to my very top in the past year.

Just as it happened last year, I couldn’t decide between three perfumes I had already reviewed (my criterion for making the list), so I could either roast over a slow fire as I decided which one would win or I could just wimp out and award the Genie’s Best Of 2013 awards equally to all three. They are equally great, equally grand, equally the stratospheric best that perfumery can offer. So without further ado…

Best of 2013, Part One:

Envoyage Perfumes Zelda. (Shelley Waddington)

Are you familiar with experiencing an artform – a movie, a book, a painting, a perfume – and you have that immediate rush of recognition and revelation? Not only is it good, not only is it something your intellect can appreciate, but your emotions chime in, your heart begins to flutter, and you get it in your bone marrow? You feel it, you think about it, dream about it, want to bathe in a vat of it. It won’t let you go. One of those out-of-body moments – they don’t happen often any more – for me this past year was Envoyage Perfumes’ Zelda. If there is a Heaven, they’ll have Zelda the perfume there too (the firebrand by that same name is already there), because it makes the angels (and yours truly) sing.

Best of 2013, Part Two:

Neela Vermeire CreationsAshoka (Neela Vermeire/Bertrand Duchaufour)

I am privileged to live in a world that has such dedicated perfume lovers such as Neela Vermeire in it. For her fourth launch, she took her time and no shortcuts at all when she created Ashoka with Bertrand Duchaufour. It is a) one of the most evocative, numinous perfumes I’ve ever sniffed b) has one of the most unusual developments I’ve ever come across and c) is arguably the greatest figgy, floral, leathery enlightenment in eau de parfum ever made. Yes, I said that.

Best of 2013, Part Three:

AmouageFate Woman (Christopher Chong/Dorothée Piot)

On the day Fate Woman (and Man) arrived, I remember my surprise. Amouage, who delivers epiphanies, decadent olfactory symphonies and full-blown Wagnerian oeuvres, had gone… did I dare think such a heretical thought? – a tad… mainstream? Well, almost/not quite/not exactly, but this is still very much an Amouage and very much an Oriental with no compromises or shortcuts of any kind. If this is the last chapter of the first epos Christopher Chong has to tell, I can’t wait to see what he’ll put into Volume 2.  But the biggest surprise was this: Everyone in my immediate vicinity – and I do mean everyone: Ms. Hare, my sister, my daughter, lovers and friends, complete strangers on the street, a makeup artist in Copenhagen on the day of my photo shoot – everyone loved it instantly without question or quarter. This has never happened before. So I gave small decants to them all from my press sample, and now have to hide the rest of it away in a secret location, or else it will be abducted/stolen by Ms. Hare and I’ll never, ever see it again. But one thing I came to discover for myself – the most incredible things have happened when I wore it. Such is Fate…

Best Perfumer of 2013:

Envoyage Perfumes – Shelley Waddington

Here lies a dilemma – one of my top three favorites was nominated Perfumer of the Year last year, so my apologies, M. Duchaufour. Ms. Piot – I suspect you have marvels and wonders ahead of you. If Fate Woman is any indication, you’ll very soon be exuding greatness of your own.

My nominee for Perfumer of 2013 goes to…Shelley Waddington, for creating Zelda and then, having the hugely flattering idea to send it to me to review. I sniffed it with an open mind and some expectations – I know she’s an exceptionally talented indie perfumer – but Zelda sideswiped me, stole my heart and never gave it back!

Stay tuned for Part Two, which was all I wore and (also) loved…

In Search of Serene

sensommerskov

– 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.

bogeskov

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.

bambooforest

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.

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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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Save the Genie! 12 more days to go, and we’re almost there! 🙂

Find out more here.

Stupid Cupid

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

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

Romance? What romance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Expectations

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

Twenty Tones of Torrid

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

Folie-á-Deux

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

Surely, You Jest?

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

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

The Most Beautiful Love Stories

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– a review of DSH Perfumes’ YSL Retrospective Collection

If you ask me, the phrase ‘fashion designer’ has today lost much of the cachet it once carried. In a day and age when virtually anyone with a certain bent, a publicist and financial backing can write ‘fashion designer’ on their resumé, fashion has been diminished to fad, and all fads are as fleeting as a passing mood.

Yet once in a very different time, one fashion designer more than any other changed how we perceive fashion and style even today, even as so many modern fashion designers pillage his very heritage…one fashion designer changed the world, the clothes, and the lives of the countless millions of women who loved, worshiped and adored his work.

Yves Saint Laurent.

No other designer was quite so in tune with his times (sorry, Karl!), and no other designer has had such a definitive impact on how we even perceive those two words ‘fashion’ and ‘designer’. He was arguably the first couturier to conceive of that heretical notion ‘prêt-à-porter/ready-to-wear’ with Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, the first designer to claim that style was an individual statement rather than a sartorial dictate and the first to celebrate women of every ethnicity both on the catwalk and many diverse cultures in his designs. In terms of fashion, Saint Laurent is responsible for a very long list of firsts.

Yves Saint Laurent’s work was exhibited last year in a comprehensive retrospective at the Denver Art Museum – one of only two such exhibits in the US, and as she has before with their Secrets of Egypt and Cities of Splendor exhibits, indie perfumer par excellence Dawn Spencer Hurwitz offers her own olfactory tributes to six pivotal moments in Yves Saint Laurent’s career.

I’ll venture that in terms of paying homage to perfume history, no one does it better than Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Whether consulting ancient Egyptian papyri for the recipes for her ‘Kyphi’, ‘Samsuchinon’ or ‘Susinon’ (favorites of mine to this day) or conjuring the celebrated cities of the Italian Renaissance, she has shown not only a true dedication to the culture behind it, but also an in-depth understanding of the olfactory philosophies of the times and places she chose to evoke.

I was excited to receive these six odes to Yves Saint Laurent, both for the compliment Dawn paid me in sending them, but also for personal reasons. First, because one major personal perfume satori moment at age fourteen involved an Yves Saint Laurent perfume (and likely his clothes as well) on the Pont Neuf in Paris in the spring of 1977, and second because my mother loved his work to such an extent, she’s buried in an Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche dress. For the longest time, the only designer I could afford was an Yves Saint Laurent perfume or lipstick and sometimes both at once, but with that kind of armor on my person, the rest of it, as the saying goes…was immaterial!

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Ligne Trapêze

When Saint Laurent succeeded Christian Dior after Dior’s sudden death in 1957, he did it with all of France watching his every move intently. The house of Dior was, as one newspaper reporter stated at the time, a matter of national importance. At the tender age of twenty-one, Saint Laurent gave Dior La Ligne Trapêze, a move away from the strictly tailored and corseted designs of his predecessor into a looser, freer, A-form and altogether younger style. Dawn’s Ligne Trapêze is likewise a loose, free adaptation of the classic perfumes of the era such as the great Diorissimo. It begins with a bright, fruity, aldehydic champagne fizz. The peach listed in the notes is quite prominent along with the lemon, but then – just as perfumes used to, just as they rightly should if you ask me – it blooms. The whole opens up wider into a seamless, airborne bouquet of floral fantasy. I can detect lily-of-the-valley, the rose and the jasmine, certainly, and even a hint of heliotrope. I could tell you the notes, but if you love the great chypres of yore, with their endlessly fascinating twists and turns and surprises, Ligne Trapêze will be no exception, not even into the deliciously decadent drydown hours later when the civet and the castoreum growl their sweetly seductive, animal purrs before they, too fade away and leave a whisper of silky suede in their wake, as surely you will, too.

Notes: Aldehydes, amber, ambrette seed, animalia, Australian sandalwood, bergamot, Brazilian vetiver, castoreum, Centifolia rose absolute, grandiflorum jasmine, heliotrope, jonquil, lemon, muguet, orris concrete, peach, rosewood, Siam benzoin, suede accord, violet.

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The Beat Look

For his next collection for Dior, Saint Laurent sought his inspiration in the beatniks of the Left Bank, with their penchant for black turtlenecks and leather jackets, but fashioned by Dior in the most luxe way imaginable, in silks, cashmeres and… Crocodile leather motorcycle jacket, anyone? It must surely be a testament to the furore this collection provoked that I couldn’t locate a single image to illustrate it. (The above illustration was taken from Dior’s Winter 1958 collection) Dawn was inspired by YSL’s first eponymous perfume, ‘Y’, but whereas my memory of ‘Y’ was a rather fearsome chypre bête verte, Dawn’s is altogether softer and not nearly so demanding. Here is another aldehyde wake-up call, but in The Beat Look, the plummy, fruity top yields to more prominent florals. On me, the gardenia, hyacinth and the honeysuckle sing their cool, perfect arias quite clearly, before giving way with a grin to a superb leather base, and if that’s not a reference to that jacket (Heaven help me if I ever locate one!), I don’t know what is. I wore The Beat Look to work one day when I was sequestered for a few hours with some colleagues into what amounted to a large walk-in closet, and left The Beat Look behind me. The next day, one of my superiors came up and asked me what I’d worn, before she added plaintively, “Why don’t they make perfumes like that any more?” Luckily for us, Dawn does.

Notes: Aldehydes, amber, animalic, Australian sandalwood, bergamot, Brazilian vetiver, Bulgarian rose absolute, centifolia rose absolute, civet, East Indian patchouli, gardenia, grandiflorum jasmine, green oakmoss, honeysuckle, hyacinth, leather, mirabelle plum, musk, neroli, orris, peach.

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Le Smoking

It’s hard to understand today the impact Saint Laurent’s justly famous Le Smoking had on womankind as a whole, not simply the lucky ones (Catherine Deneuve included) who could afford it. A woman highlighting her femininity in men’s clothing was nothing new – George Sand in the 19th century, Marlene Dietrich in Morocco in 1930 – but in Le Smoking – or a knockoff – and heels, any woman had the impact of a pulse bomb. The ever-stylish Lauren Bacall – a longtime Saint Laurent fan – was once refused entry to a fancy restaurant  for wearing it.  It is just as timeless, as empowering and as relevant today as in 1966. For Le Smoking, Dawn bottled up the sum entire of female subversion and an era, too. As a green chypre, it had me, no question, at ‘Hello!’ Green, bitter, and not compromising in the slightest, it is as smoky, as sensuous, as intriguing and as perfectly sexy as anything can be in black wool crepe and stiletto heels. From that initial galbanum glow until that buttery, leathery, mischievous, delicious smoke ring of Mary Jane and tobacco, this is an instant time travel and an instant and still relevant aspiration – that classics will always endure, and as surely as M. Saint Laurent knew and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz certainly does, sexy is not so much the clothes and accoutrements of femininity, but an attitude, and Le Smoking – both the outfit and the perfume alike – has both in spades and to spare!

Notes: Bergamot, blackberry, brown oakmoss, Bulgarian rose absolute, carnation, castoreum, Chinese geranium, clary sage, galbanum, grandiflorum jasmine, honey, hyacinth, incense, leather, marijuana accord, neroli, orris, Peru balsam, tobacco absolute.

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Euphorisme d’Opium

In the late 1970s, overt drug references were simply just not done. The scandal of Opium – both its name, its tagline (‘For women addicted to Yves Saint Laurent’), its opulent world launch in a Chinese junk in New York harbor, even its Japanese-inspired bottle, were an instant, worldwide sensation and an instant sellout, despite being banned for import in many countries, even in the US. (They simply shipped it in non-descript packaging, repackaged it, and voilà!) If ever a perfume embodied the Studio 54 era of decadent excess and drop-dead disco glamour, surely it would be Opium? If people know nothing else of Yves Saint Laurent, they know Opium, for you had to live under a rock in the Gobi desert to avoid it in the late Seventies, or the countless imitations that followed it. (Cinnabar, anyone?) I had girlfriends who swore by it and wore it by the bucket in every permutation. My mother wore it for a time, before she moved back to her beloved Shalimar. As Oriental perfumes go, Opium was another gold standard of feisty, fierce spice-and-fire, and in Dawn’s version, it is nothing more nor one whit less spectacular than its inspiration. The carnation-clove-orange and cinnamon beginnings – a large part of what made the original so distinctive – are here dampened a bit compared to the Opium I remember, and since I recall Opium sillage trails so thick you could taste them (those were the days, people!), this is no bad thing. Instead, it’s Opium without quite so much of a perfume hangover the next day, brighter and lighter and altogether a glorious twist on a perfume so iconic, I don’t even have to locate my mini of the original. I close my eyes, and in a twinkling of that spice and that fire, in the benzoin, myrrh-laden, vanilla embers that spark and flame long, long hours later, I’m all there and still happily caught in that moment, singing “Hot Stuff” along with Donna Summer.

Notes: Aldehydes, amber, Atlas cedarwood, bay leaves, bitter orange, Bulgarian rose absolute, carnation, cinnamon bark, civet, clove bud, East Indian patchouli, Eastern lily, grandiflorum jasmine, honey, incense, mandarin, musk, myrrh gum, peach, pimento berry, pink peppercorn, Siam benzoin, spice, vanilla, ylang ylang.

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La Vie en Rose

On the day Dawn’s YSL collection arrived, after devouring the letter that came with it and the press prelease, too, I wasted no time and less breath in heading like a guided missile straight for La Vie en Rose, and this time, it was very much personal. Unlike Opium, which I never wore since some of my girlfriends did, I wore YSL Paris once I headed out of punkdom in my early twenties. I wore Paris in the eau de toilette and the parfum and the bath gel and the body lotion and sometimes all at once (true story), I wore Paris to work and on sizzling dates and girls’ night out, I wore Paris any chance and every chance I got. So far as I was concerned, Paris was the epitome of everything rose and everything perfect in my less-than-stellar life, and in fact, one boyfriend even asked many years later if I still wore it. What could I say? I loved it without reservation and inhibition, as you can only do in your twenties, and heaven help me, I’d love it still if it had not become reduced to a (misguided) rumor of its former glory. When a perfume so perfectly embodies a philosophy of life it inspires even the designer to make a dress such as the ‘Paris Bow’ pictured above, that means…something. So out it came, my little bottled wonder of La Vie en Rose, on it went, and then…this grown woman of jaded mien and grown-up responsibilities and (supposedly) grown-up tastes…cried. For La Vie en Rose is very much more than my own rosy-violet-linden tinged memories of my twenties, but more than that, it’s the Paris I remember, without being quite so bombastic, yet as perfect as only the very best recollections can be. From its first breath of fruity, green-tinged linden blossom through its epic, expansive rose-and-violet heart and without any of those rose-violet associations of lipstick I so dislike, this is the answer to that perennial question…Why do I love perfume? Because of perfumes like La Vie en Rose and perfumers like Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, because the best are so emotionally evocative, so utterly transporting in time and place, I can withstand anything at all, so long as I have beauty such as this to breathe. That’s why.

Notes: Aldehydes, Australian sandalwood, bergamot, cassis bud, Centifolia rose absolute, civet, French lily, French linden blossom accord, green clover blossoms, green oakmoss, heliotrope, moss, muguet, musk, neroli, violet, violet leaf absolute, Virginia cedar, wood violet, ylang ylang.

Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour

Named for an embroidered wisteria and yellow jacket and a classic French love song, Ma Plus Belle Histoire d’Amour is a floral perfume that could equally well be called Impossible April. Impossible, for how does it happen that wisteria and linden blossom waltz so well in tandem, and is the ozone (not a note I encounter very often) that keeps this bouquet so expansive and open all through, like the French doors flung open on a day of sunshine after rain, when all of nature blooms before your eyes? I dare you to tease out the blooms one by one, but I can recognize what must be wisteria underneath a brocaded, embroidered opening of bergamot and linden blossom, rose, a touch (a very light touch) of jasmine and ylang and certainly lily-of-the-valley, too, but all along this perambulation through spring, vanilla hums sweetly in the background with its friends sandalwood and musk, but so lightly, so elegantly, you don’t even notice some hours later when that door to this impossibly gorgeous April day closes, and alas, it is over. Then again, tomorrow is another day and hope springs eternal…

Notes: Australian sandalwood, bergamot, Bulgarian rose absolute, civet, Dassinia orchid, East Indian patchouli, French linden blossom accord, honeysuckle, lemon, linden blossom absolute, muguet, musk, ozone, sambac jasmine, vanilla, wisteria, ylang ylang. (All notes from DSH Perfumes)

It’s not hard to find traces (and outright theft) of the immense legacy Yves Saint Laurent left behind, in the many modern designers who steal what they find, in his extraordinary command of color and technique, or simply in that definition of style he was the first to advocate and so many of us follow even today. But these six perfumes are much more than cover versions of perfume songs we used to know, so much more than riffs over the familiar themes and tropes we now take for granted in perfumery. They are all imbued with that deft restraint Dawn adds to all her perfumes, never so overpowering as to leave you breathless in the wearing, but always, like the best of art and the superlative best in perfumery art, exhilarating, inspiring, and as flawlessly executed as any Parisian couture.

To be beautiful, a woman needs nothing more than a black pullover, a black skirt and to be in the arms of the man she loves. – Yves Saint Laurent.

To which I could add, but if you really want to knock ‘em down…wear any one of these heartstopping tributes. Because, as the Maître also once said…

My most beautiful love story…is you.

As indeed Catherine Deneuve and Laetitia Casta sang on the fortieth anniversary of YSL to a visibly moved Saint Laurent.

Sometimes, we perfumistas are very, very lucky, that the very best love stories can be bottled, too.

The YSL Retrospective Collection is available directly from DSH Perfumes, as 5 ml dram perfumes, as 10 ml. Eau de parfum sprays, and as a coffret set.

Image credits: Photos of ‘La Ligne Trapêze’ dress & ‘Paris Bow’ dress from designsponge.com, taken from the Denver Art Museum’s exhibition. Black and white photo of model in YSL couture by Jean-Loup Sieff. Photo of Dior suit, 1958 from oakcat.tumblr.com. Photo of Catherine Deneuve with Yves Saint Laurent in1966 via nastassie.livejournal.com. Photo of ‘Opium’ dress (1978) from the Costume Institute’s collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Disclosure: Samples were sent for review by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Whom I owe an oversized apology for such a belated review! 🙂