Okay, so if you read perfume blogs or are a member of a perfumista group on Facebook, you’ve probably heard that DSH Perfumes’ membership in the Natural Perfumers Guild was summarily revoked. I’m not going into much detail, but the Guild’s complaint seems to be that since not every single one of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ offerings are 100% natural with no synthetics, the Guild would no longer allow her to continue as a Perfumer member. I suppose that it’s the prerogative of a voluntary group like the NPG to come up with limitations on their producer membership. I was just appalled at the manner in which the membership was withdrawn. (See here and here for a few of the blog posts on the subject.)
Dawn’s work actually contains a very high percentage of natural ingredients, but she does use some synthetic items such as musk and woods materials in small amounts in some of her items, and she was very careful to only use the Guild’s imagery for the items that are completely botanical. It always seemed very clear to me which ones were and which were not congruent with the Guild’s outlines. You can read her explanation of her “Naturals” collection at the top of the page here. I admit that I am not very interested in investigating, much less purchasing, fragrance on the advertised basis of 100% natural. I never have been, to be honest: all-naturals tend to last less long on my scent-eating skin, and I tend to be a little skeptical of the idea that Synthetics Are Bad For You. It’s not that I mind an all-natural perfume, it’s just that there has to be something intrinsically wonderful about it before I’ll consider spending my limited perfume bucks on one.
DSH Perfumes was one of the very first independent perfumeries that I explored upon becoming interested in perfume, and while I haven’t loved every single thing I’ve tried from the website, it’s had an excellent success rate with me. The website is indeed a candy store full of goodies everywhere you turn! I’ve heard some frustration from other customers about the website itself being difficult to navigate, and I would probably have to agree: it’s slow, it’s difficult to search, it covers many many products. BUT. In my opinion, the task is definitely worthwhile. The site is divided into two major segments, the Parfums de Beaux Arts portion being more complex and high-art-focused, and the Essense Oils portion being more concerned with simpler fare. I’ve had good luck with items from both segments. I’ve particularly enjoyed samples from the Essense Vintage Collection, duplicates of long-gone or reformulated wonders such as Coty Chypre, Millot Crepe de Chine, and Prince Matchabelli Golden Autumn. (Sadly, the Vintage Collection will be phased out over time, as Dawn focuses more on her special projects and stocks dwindle. The truly stunning Chypre is already sold out.)
Despite my whining about 100% natural fragrances not suiting me, there are several of Dawn’s that have impressed me with excellent quality. Rose Vert is simply gorgeous from beginning to end, and the run goes a surprisingly long time on my skin; the eau de parfum lasts about six hours on me. Three Kings, while not being my favorite type of fragrance (it’s a woody-resiny, earthy concoction), is coherent and long-lasting and highly evocative.
So I’m spending my mornings this week in DSH Perfumes scents, in honor of the talented Ms. Spencer Hurwitz, and thought I’d share some mini-reviews of some noteworthy fragrances. Wording in green is directly from the DSH website.
From the Essense Oils segment of the website (all of these items were tested in oil formulation, though sometimes they are available as edp or water-based spray):
Duplicate of Faberge Aphrodisia: “A spicy oriental classic with a rich gorgeous heart and an animalic quality in the drydown.” Bergamot, neroli, Bulgarian rose absolute, carnation, jasmine, ylang-ylang, ambergris, Brazilian vetiver, moss, musk. Aphrodisia is really lovely in the heart, an opulent floral bouquet over an ambery base. Eventually it goes in the direction of Youth Dew (my personal Kiss of Death), so it’s not for me.
La Fete Nouvelle: “A country gathering amongst soft flowers and sun warmed plain grasses. This is a moment in time for sharing and enjoyment… a simple celebration of the day.” Bitter almond, fresh mown hay, lavender flower, American sweet grass, green wheat, toasted rice, sandalwood, tonka bean, treemoss, vanilla. I ordered this sample because I’ve been looking for an almondy scent something like the almond butter cream I use on my rough skin spots. I somehow missed the mention of lavender (it often gives me headaches), and I wasn’t expecting this lovely gentle thing to come out of the vial. It smells like the summers of my childhood: grass, flowers,and a faint cocoa-butter sweetness like warm skin with a trace of old-school suntan lotion. It is beautiful. Also, this is the first time a so-called “hay” note in perfume has actually smelled anything even close to real fresh mown hay; usually the note is too sweet and not grassy enough – or too green, and not sweet enough. This is Just Right on Goldilocks’ scale, although I still wouldn’t say this is a primarily-hay scent because of the creaminess. Nevertheless: summer in a bottle. I misted up from nostalgia.
Au Lait (a milk scent): “sweet dreams: a touch of warm milk before bedtime… what could be more cozy? Au Lait is a sweet milky skin scent that leaves your skin smelling fresh and creamy-sweet in the drydown.” Sweet cream, French vanilla, tonka bean, warm milk, ambrette seed, buttercreme accord, Special Formula X (a soft musky accord). This one made me giggle. It was a freebie tossed in with a recent order, not something I would have chosen on my own, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Au Lait smells pretty much the same all the way through to me, sweet and nutty and milky with a hint of coconut, and it reminds me of nothing so much as a Zagnut bar! As a kid, I was highly allergic to chocolate and absolutely forbidden to eat it by my mother, because it made me sniffly and snotty-nosed. I would have to turn over my plastic pumpkin to my dad after trick-or-treating so he could cull all the chocolate candy out of it, which still makes me pout and stamp my foot (these days, I just eat the darn chocolate and then go take a Sudafed). But then, I had to content myself with non-chocolate candy, and I was always happy to see a Zagnut bar in my Halloween stash. Composed largely of peanut butter, sugar wafers, milk solids, and toasted coconut, Zagnut was a nutty-milky crunch, and one of my favorites. I never see them in the stores anymore…
Duplicate of Coty Chypre (no longer available, so I don’t have access to the website’s description and I’m winging it here!): Bergamot, lemon, rose, jasmine, oakmoss, labdanum, patchouli, probably some other stuff I’m forgetting. I’m planning to review the DSH version alongside the 1970s-80s rerelease from Coty, so all I’ll say here is that Chypre blew my flipping doors off. It smells elemental and wild and earthy, and it stirs me in ways I’d never imagined – and I’m not all that huge a chypre fan!
Duplicate of Judith Muller Bat Sheba: “A green aldehydic floral with a heady, honey-waxy feel in its heart and a rich, earthy, animalic drydown.” Aldehydes, bergamot, galbanum, hyacinth, Bulgarian rose absolute, honey, jasmine, ambergris, Brazilian vetiver, civet, moss, sandalwood, vanilla. Whoa, mama. If there was ever a perfume that smelled like Gina Lollobrigida, here it is. Completely, openly, ridiculously sexy, with a rose heart so opulent and sweet and ripe that you might just faint from its voluptuousness, and a drydown that’s just to die for, with sandalwood and moss being prominent to my nose. Gorgeous. It really stinks that I have nowhere to wear this thing… otherwise I would wear it a lot. It has a big presence, even dabbed from a vial of oil! I have not smelled the original, but Barbara at Yesterday’s Perfume and Gaia at The Non-Blonde were very complimentary, and it sounds as if the DSH version is quite up to the quality of the original va-va-voom scent.
From the Parfums de Beaux Arts segment of the website (tested in edp, except for 1000 Lilies as parfum):
Vert pour Madame:. I expected to love VpM. I didn’t. It is wonderfully constructed, seamless, and beautiful, but it did not sing to me the way I had wanted it to. I’m not sure whether it was more floral or less floral than I had wanted, or whether perhaps it out-sophisticated me (certainly possible). Both Donna at Perfume-Smellin’ Things and Tarleisio at Scent Less Scentibilities loved it and can tell its praises more eloquently than I can, so go read their reviews and sigh with pleasure.
(Natural) Rose Vert edp: “In a dream, I am lost in fields of roses. They are dew-drenched and velvety against my skin. Their rich scent pervades my waking hours with remembrances of deep red and green.” Citrus oils, Bulgarian rose absolute, centifolia rose absolute, damask rose absolute, Moroccan rose absolute, Turkish rose otto, treemoss. This one is described as “100% Botanical,” and I wasn’t expecting it to last on me the way it does. It is truly, truly beautiful. I love me some rose perfumes, but there is something in this one that sends my heart sailing on the breeze. It starts out with a blend of citrus, including lemon and bergamot and something else I can’t identify – maybe lime? After that, there’s a good long ride on a magic carpet of roses. Dawn says “deep red and green,” but to me they’re a mix of sunny yellow, red, and all shades of pink. You know how sometimes rose scents can go a little sour and screechy? This one never does. It does have a tanginess to it, but it’s a glowy citrus tang rather than a mean rose sour. I don’t really smell the moss on its own; Rose Vert sustains its roses all the way to the end. More reviews: Donna at PST (brief), The Non-Blonde.
(Natural) Oeillets Rouges: “A charming and playful perfume of red carnations in full bloom… joyful as a day in May.” Bergamot, green peppercorn, nutmeg, carnation absolute, French red carnation, honey beeswax, amber, ambergris, myrrh gum, vanilla. Carnations are my birth month flower, and I happen to love them. One of the reasons I got into perfume was to find one that smelled like real carnations, and believe you me, I have smelled a lot of carnation fragrances. Some of them I enjoy very much (the lamented, austere Floris Malmaison, Guerlain’s flirty, creamy Terracotta Voile d’Ete, L’Artisan’s discontinued Oeillet Sauvage, and the delicately pretty Fragonard Billet Doux). Others are absolutely dreadful on me, all soapy and bitter and horrid (Caron Bellodgia, L’Air du Temps, Ava Luxe Oeillet Rouge, Comme de Garcons). Oeillet Rouges, though, is perfect: green and dewy, floral, spicy and sweet. It has a smoothness and grace, despite the spicy notes, that keep it fresh instead of dusty and cloying. I suspect that many aromamaterials that are supposedly carnation don’t play well with me, but carnation absolute – of course, the expensive stuff! – is Da Bomb. My very, very favorite carnation fragrance ever (I have a sample of Serge Lutens’ Vitriol d’Oeillet coming to me at some point, but it will have to go a long way to beat Oeillets Rouges). Another mention: Donna at PST. (Image link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mscaprikell/6105173/ )
(Natural) Secrets of Egypt: 1000 Lilies (Susinon) : “Susinon was a luxurious and strongly scented lily perfume that was made by the Egyptians as well as the Greeks, but the Egyptian version was thought to ‘excel most’. This fabulous fragrance was also used by Cleopatra to scent the sails of her royal barge, perfuming the air along the Nile as she sailed, proclaiming herself as Goddess and Queen. The exhaustive recipe for Susinon calls for spices and resins to first be soaked in fragrant wine and balanos oil to be prepared. When the oil ready, it is added to the spices along with 1,000 lilies. Interestingly, in our time a lily perfume would be almost exclusively worn by women, but for the ancient Egyptians, Susinon was one perfume deemed suitable for a man. * 1,000 LILIES PERFUME has been created for Denver Art Museum’s KING TUT exhibit, 2010.” Cardamom seed, cinnamon bark, fragrant wine accord, galbanum, Kenya lily, narcissus absolute, orris root, pink lotus, saffron absolute, Turkish rose otto, ylang-ylang, Australian sandalwood, honey, myrrh gum, sweet flag. This is another one of those 100% Botanical scents, and like Rose Vert, it lasts for several hours on me. I have parfum, and it radiates a bit less than Rose Vert edp, but this is such a scent of quiet happiness. I can’t quite associate the way it smells to me with my idea of Cleopatra, human embodiment of the Nile and the glory of Egypt, with her grandiosity and her gold ornaments and her goddesshood. I find the notes in 1000 Lilies difficult to pick apart; the central quality of the fragrance, in my opinion, is the lotus flower note, a watery floral quality that renders the whole thing delicate yet sturdy, like a painting on silk. I do not smell much galbanum in it, and everything else is so well blended that what it smells of is, simply, beauty, the kind that makes you catch your breath, between ecstasy and tears. Other reviews: Lucy at indieperfumes, Scent Less Sensibilities (can I come back in my next writerly life as Tarleisio, pleez pleez?), Donna at PST, Patty at Perfume Posse (brief).
If you have not yet tried any of Dawn’s hauntingly beautiful fragrances, may I encourage you to do so? You may have to persevere through the unwieldy website (currently being redesigned, as I understand), but you will be well rewarded. Go. I mean it, go. Check it out.
Why are you still here reading? Hie thee to DSH, posthaste!