• Scent Semantics no. 4

This month’s word for the Scent Semantics project is TASTE. Merriam-Webster defines taste in several ways, as either a verb or a noun. For the purposes of this post, I’ll use the word TASTE as a noun, and in this particular context/post as: 

  1. The distinctive quality of an experience
  2. Individual preference, inclination
  3. Critical judgment, discernment or appreciation
  4. Manner or aesthetic quality of such discernment

In other words, perfect for a blog post concerning perfume, inclination, appreciation and discernment. It is a marvel, universally acknowledged, that the evolution of a perfumista can create seismic shifts in the quality of an experience, individual preference, critical judgment and the aesthetic quality of that discernment. 

Closeup of the vanilla orchid

When I was given the next word for Scent Semantics, I knew precisely which perfume to write about. The Seismic Shift that was, and indeed is, Spiritueuse Double Vanille from Guerlian’s L’Art et La Matière line of perfumes, created by Jean Paul Guerlain in 2007. 

Spiritueuse Double Vanille, henceforward referred to as SDV, as indeed it is known on many Facebook perfume groups, was a definite seismic shift in my personal perception of Perfume with a capital P. I was never, ever, a gourmand kind of gal, until SDV – and indeed another much-lamented and now discontinued L’Art et La Matière perfume, Iris Ganache – upended all my personal expectations of what, precisely, would be a perfume I wanted to wear without wanting to eat it, and as we all know, no matter how swoonworthy the perfume, all perfume tastes horrible. 

SDV, the gourmet’s gourmand, is to my nose, the Vanilla to End All Vanillas. 

Vanilla as a flavor, inclination or taste has sadly devolved to become a synonym for boring, bland and decidedly conformist. Once upon a storied time, I trained as a pastry chef, and came to know a thing or two about that unassuming orchid that was neither bland nor boring and emphatically non-conformist. Any kind of vanilla heightens all other sensual perceptions, but especially taste, touch and aroma. 

Vanilla planifolia, the OG version, was once upon a time the byword for all things exceedingly costly, exotic and otherworldly. Native to Mexico, it since evolved into three distinct species, all with differing olfactory profiles; Mexican vanilla, closest to the orchid the Maya and Aztecs so adored, is woody and almost chocolate-y in character. No accident it was used as a flavoring in the Aztec drink xocolatl. Tahitian vanilla, on the other hand, is ten thousand shades of vanilla flower, floral and almost psychedelic in its profile, whether as a flavoring or as a perfume, and as any perfumista will tell you, the two are to all extents and purposes the same – indeed, what we perceive as flavor or taste is comprised more than anything of aroma – which is to say, smell. 

Finally, the most common vanilla, Bourbon vanilla, running the gamut between rich butterscotch and caramel, rum and whiskey and the barrels they’ve aged in, too. 

Which brings me back to SDV. Because it is all these things and all these vanillas and none of them. The über-plush silk velvet of vanilla perfumes – trust Guerlain to go all out with vanilla-to-the-max. 

Not two weeks ago, I moved cross-country to a new job and a vastly different life. I brought my last dregs of a modest decant of vintage SDV with me for the purposes of this post, and it is everything I could ever want in a vanilla-centered perfume, in terms of evolution from bright to boozy, richly floral to softly spicy, with a l-o-n-g vanilla drydown that makes it perfect to wear on a cold day spent indoors baking cookies, something I’ve been known to do, before snuggling up with my vanilla-loving cat – and eating all the cookies.

Disturbing rumors breathe that SDV has been reformulated beyond recognition and repair, that it is a mere anorexic shadowy ghost of its blowsy, voluptuous self, that we might as well all look elsewhere for that seismic shift of vanilla greatness. I can neither confirm nor deny those rumors, except to say that it pains me more than I care to admit if they’re true. If anyone has anything to add, let me know below, so I can cry my vanilla-flavored tears, and not waste my money.

SDV changed everything – my inclination, my critical judgment, and my discernment in perfumery. It turned a non-gourmand lover into a vanilla fanatic, and added many orchid-colored dimensions to that aspect of perfumery known … as TASTE.

With thanks and love to Ruth the Perfume Dragon. 

Don’t miss the other contributors to the Scent Semantics perfume project!

Elena  https://theplumgirl.com

Daisy  https://eaulalanyc.com and https://www.instagram.com/coolcookstyle/?hl=en)

Undina  https://undina.com

Old Herbaceous  https://scentsandsensibilities.co

Portia https://abottledrose.com


Angel by Bernini.

Angelic, adj.: Of, resembling or pertaining to angels. 

In my own peripatetic history, angels are not my preferred form of supernatural being. If anything, I tend to gravitate to the other, darker side of that particular fence. Although I was baptized and later confirmed in the evangelical Lutheran faith mainly to conform to a cultural norm, both my sister and I were by and large raised without religiosity in any officially sanctioned form, which is not at all to say that I, at least, never sensed the presence of something other, larger and more numinous than myself. 

In my early childhood, I lived too isolated to have playmates, so instead, I made the forest that surrounded our house my playmates. The trees, the ants, the birds, the raccoons and their antics – they knew the score. I brought wildflowers as offerings to certain trees I loved, and when I could, would sneak peanut butter sandwiches to the raccoons, who would follow me around to thank me.

I knew of the concept of church, of course, knew grownups talked sometimes of something called ‘God’, but the word didn’t have any meaning for me. 

 Somewhere around age three or four, I became a raging pantheist. Faith in my view wasn’t some joyless congregation in a church, where you couldn’t kick the pews if you were bored and had to be silent, by God, or else

Faith was something I could live and breathe and touch in the trees and sense in the wind. No deity I could ever define would ever be as horrified as the grownups in our community to discover I played quite happily in a graveyard with my teddy bear, a doll and two old tin cans.

Aged all of six, my fate was sealed. By then, I went to Sunday school and sang in a Presbyterian children’s choir, because above all else, I loved to sing like an angel, so sing, I did. I tried to be a good little girl and do as I was told. I never made trouble or too much fuss. Things came to a head at the church Christmas party, however, when all the children at Sunday school received big, fancy Christmas presents in big, fancy wrapping paper with fluffy, green bows. 

Except me. When I asked why, the grownups in my life retreated to a corner of the church. They argued and hissed. I followed behind. I didn’t understand. God was love, so the grownups said, and forgave everything, so they said, and I had tried my best to be good, so why? One outstanding member of the church council had the last word: “I’ll be damned if I buy that demon whore child a Christmas present.”

I didn’t know what those words meant, but I certainly caught the sentiment behind them. Afterwards, I went only because it was the only way I could still sing in the choir, until that fatal day my curiosity could bear it no longer and I asked one question no one would ever answer. “If God is everywhere, then why do we have to go to church?” 

I was instantly expelled.

Ever since, I have had a questionable view of organized religion, angels included. It didn’t help when, aged eighteen and deadly curious, I set a library copy of Saint Augustine’s City of God on fire after reading and threw it (still burning) out of a sixth story window for its outrageous misogyny. To this day, press me hard enough and I will tell you I’m an unrepentant heathen/Vanatru/Wiccan/Pantheist/Tibetan Buddhist eclectic and my faith emphatically feminist to its core. 

Angels? I call them Valkyries, handmaidens of Freyja, who takes pride of place in my personal polyglot pantheon. Angels are intermediaries between divinity and humanity, between Heaven – or the celestial spheres – and Earth. When I thought about this post and about which perfume I would deem angelic, one perfume of all I own came to mind. 

Painting by A. Andrew Gonzalez

The Romantic movement of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, itself a reaction to the rationalist Enlightenment, elevated one sentiment above all others – the sublime. The sublime is that sense of something larger than yourself, something awe-inspiring, something frightening in its perfection and entirety. 

In other words, something angelic, at least as I interpret the word. For me, that perfume of angels is Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger.

 Fleurs d’Oranger takes me back in an instant to one very particular Monday in my life, a day that life would change forever, a day I experienced a joy so great, I had no words to define it but simply the emotion to decline it. I was eleven, just home from school, and this day, I was locked out of the house. So I did what I sometimes did, went around to the backyard and climbed one of the orange trees. I knew how to sidestep the thorns on the branches and knew where to place myself on one of the biggest branches. It was September, and the tree was full of Valencia oranges, slowly turning their signature color, but it would be another two months before they could be plucked and eaten. Still, a bunch of errant blooms remained, exuding their narcotic perfume in the hot Florida afternoon in a suburban backyard.

The most angelic bloom I know.

Out front, an occasional thud of coconut on the lawn could be heard, the bees buzzing in the grapefruit, key lime and lemon trees on either side. Further away, I could hear some of my classmates, also home from school, riding their bikes, tossing footballs, throwing Frisbees to each other in backyard pools. But here underneath that glossy green canopy, I was drunk on orange blossom, euphorically high on a favorite, tiny flower. I breathed in beauty and exhaled angelic, at one with the flowers, the ripening fruit, the tree itself rooted in that fertile earth where anything and everything grew. I knew nothing else, thought nor sensed anything else until some time later, I was startled out of my orange blossom reverie by a neighbor arriving to take me in for the night. For this day, I would become a sister, which explained why my mother wasn’t home. 

That memory would keep me warm for many years to come, until it was buried under that avalanche called ‘life’, only to come hurling back at hurricane force the day I first sniffed Fleurs d’Oranger. It was the scent of unlimited, sublime joy, the perfume of complete abandonment to a moment when time itself stood still, and I felt protected by that angelic presence – of orange blossom. Before I knew life, before I knew so many things that would later define and decline me. 

To this day, I can drop whatever foul moods may haunt me and head straight to that celestial nudge of a joy that could only and ever be divine … with Fleurs d’Oranger. I have not been without it for eleven years, and spray it on my pillows on the days I change the sheets. My current bottle is running low on this cold, snowy day. But what price should I pay for such an angelic perfume, such a breath of sublime? 

Whatever it takes, so long as it defines angelic

Follow Scent Semantics once a month and don’t forget to read the other contributions to our project below. 

Elena  https://theplumgirl.com

Daisy  https://eaulalanyc.com and https://www.instagram.com/coolcookstyle/?hl=en)

Undina  https://undina.com

Old Herbaceous  https://scentsandsensibilities.co

Portia  https://abottledrose.com



 – Scent Semantics nr. 1

Brave, adj. – to display courage. 

Courage in the face of adversity, courage to claim agency, courage to do YOU. Even if you feel as small as a dormouse, even when the world conspires against you, courage to claim your turf and be – BRAVE. 

Courage to claim agency and be BRAVE – and wear Serge Lutens Chêne. Wrap up warm in your most non-conformist, unconventional self, go! 

Go! Go and dare to do it anyway, dare to say “get out of my way”, go to defy the naysayers, the trolls, the party poopers, the rain on your parade and be BRAVE in your … 

Cloud of ancient woody-green oak and an oaken barrel of rum stashed in the shadows, liquid courage – but not too much, lest you lose your impetus and your way in that dark, dense old forest of naysayers. They are not your tree, not this tree in a fairy-tale forest, not your tribe who make your primordial sap rise a tide of brave that says YES, you can do this, YES, you got this, YES – this is YOURS and you will NOT apologize, not conform to a standard, not listen to that tinny, razor saw-edge voice in your head that seethes and whispers “Don’t!” and “Can’t!” You can – you are an oak that has stood your test of time and withstood centuries of gales, you are strong and mighty, you carry the spirit of Balanos with you where you live and where you breathe. The wind will pass through your branches, the rain will soak your roots, you will creak and groan in the howling winds of life, but you are alive, but you will, you must, you have no other choice but

To be BRAVE.

Courage to defy those who would oppose you with your own brand of resistance and be BRAVE – and wear Eris Perfumes’ Green Spell. Give ‘em all a living, breathing, green jungle hell on a platter with your sillage, glow like a poison green beacon in the dark, and go ahead – dare them to defy YOU. You are BRAVE, covered in otherworldly forest flowers, wafting danger, wanting that knife-edge bloom of desire that pulses underneath the trees, take that green rush of daring, the Halloween glow that declares danger to the world if it denies you your place, your spirit, your right to exist. The naysayers shall not pass this bridge of BRAVE, you will break them, you will invoke your ancient powers and call upon the mojo you call all your own, you will cast this Green Spell and throw caution to the wind, let them talk, let them wonder, let them snigger behind your back, you have all your power and your spell on your skin, writ large in all the thousand shades of rumble jungle green. Let the parrots in their vivid plumes chatter on the cliffs, let the condors soar above it, let the monkeys down below shriek on their branches to the skies for all the world to know and to hear

that you are BRAVE. 

Courage to claim your turf, courage to always be who you are, courage to kick all convention to the curb and be BRAVE enough to wear vintage Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum. Paloma may well claim it but she is a Picasso, and who would deny her or her talents? You claim your own and cement them in this audacious rosy chypre, you wear it when you need to act, you need to do, you need to knock down the fences and be as BRAVE as only you would dare. And should they deny you, should they defy you, your leather castoreum oakmoss-soaked whip will smack them across the noses of all those bland, unscented conformist faces. You stake your claims to the multiverse every day you live, every time you breathe, every time you manifest your presence, your ideas, your right to do YOU, every time you wear ton parfum, and by Golly is it YOURS, y-o-u-r perfume that states everywhere you go, on all the world’s biggest neon-lit billboards, with blood-red Bulgarian roses and oakmoss, with leather and castoreum, with the capital C in Chypre, that you of all people, you of all creatures, you, yes, YOU on your tiny, blue-green world, you in your rosy, smoky-smexy-leathery candlelit corner … 

You will be, now, tomorrow, in all your futurities

You will be BRAVE. 

Follow Scent Semantics once a month and don’t forget to read the other contributions to our project below. 

Elena  https://theplumgirl.com

Sheila  https://thealembicatedgenie.com

Daisy  https://eaulalanyc.com and https://www.instagram.com/coolcookstyle/?hl=en)

Undina  https://undina.com

Old Herbaceous  https://scentsandsensibilities.co

Portia  https://abottledrose.com

With thanks to Portia, Suzanne (for Chêne) and Barbara Hermann.

A Sneak Peek

  • A new scented blog collaboration

Some time ago, I was asked if I would like to participate in a blog collaboration that combined verbiage with scent in a new and exciting way. 

The premise is this: The participating bloggers/Instagrammers would be given a word every month, and then find a way to link perfumes to that word. The form could be anything – collages, montages, short stories, reviews. Once a month, everyone would post and link to each other’s posts. The experiment would run for a full calendar year – twelve posts, twelve words and six participating blogs. We would take turns choosing a word, but the form and presentation was completely up to us. 

This concept goes live tomorrow, and the Alembicated Genie will be participating, because – words? Perfume? Isn’t that why I’m writing these words, and you’re reading them? 

Would you like to read more? 

The collaboration is called Scent Semantics, and is curated by a beloved voice in the blogosphere, Portia Turbo of A Bottled Rose. 

Follow us over the next year as we embark on this journey through perfumes, associations, moods, colors and scents. Read where it takes you. Gain new perspectives on the artform that is perfume, and hopefully expand your horizons a little or a lot. 

Watch this space. 

Participating blogs: 

Elena  https://theplumgirl.com

Sheila  https://thealembicatedgenie.com

Daisy  https://eaulalanyc.com    (https://www.instagram.com/coolcookstyle/?hl=en)

Undina  https://undina.com

Old Herbaceous  https://scentsandsensibilities.co

Portia  https://abottledrose.com