Perfume Review: The Vagabond Prince Enchanted Forest

ench forEnchanted Forest is the first fragrance produced by the new perfume company The Vagabond Prince, which was started by the founders of the fragrance website Fragrantica (my favorite resource for notes lists). There’s some nice stuff there on the Vagabond Prince website regarding the artwork on the bottle and the lovely packaging – it doesn’t mean much to me, but as I’ve mentioned before, I’m something of an art Philistine (to the despair of my art-history major sister). Here’s what the creators have to say about it:

The fragrance was suggested by Nature itself. It’s the smell of the forest, when you step in it in the night. The darkness of the night keeps your senses alert, enhancing every smell and every sound you experience, including your own heart pounding. The night awakes your instincts, you need some time to get used to their language and feel as if you’re a part of this night forest that’s opening to you its grand beauty. Then the dense darkness steps aside and you can smell a delightfully moist fresh air.

Lucky Scent, one of the distributors for Enchanted Forest (it’s also available at MiN NY and at the Vagabond Prince website), shares this information about it.

Enchanted Forest is inspired by the endless sea of Russian forests and fairytales, as well as the most sensual ancient Slavic celebration named Kupala, rooted in the times of darkness, when all on the Earth knew its soul and its name (often too powerful to be uttered in vain or at all). French perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, the famous creator of fragrances for L’Artisan Parfumeur, Comme des Garçons and Penhaligon’s, built Enchanted Forest around black currant, the smell and taste of which are so beloved in Russia and many other countries where it grows.

I gather that a number of people who have tested this fragrance have been rather disappointed in it. Led by the mystical title and their own experiences with fairy tales, not to mention the ad copy, they’ve imagined it being a foresty sort of scent.

blackcurrantsFact is, it’s not. It is All Blackcurrant, All the Time.  The quote from perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour in the ad copy also mentions this angle:

“Enchanted Forest is the only perfume I know of that is built around blackcurrant as the sole raw material, to such an extent that one can say it is a CASSIS! My inspiration for this perfume was primarily the fruit of blackcurrant itself, from which I drew enormously the strength of the perfume. The blackcurrant is the MOST IMPORTANT fruity note of the range that exists in perfumery. Blackcurrant and the sulfur effects of blackcurrant are the basis for the reconstruction of almost all fruits that perfumers and flavorists know. It is HUGE!”

Okay, okay – leaving aside the ridiculousness of the all-caps emphasis, this is pretty much the deal. He’s right. Enchanted Forest is not about the forest, it’s about the cassis, top to bottom, front to back. Remember that, and you’re probably going to be okay, assuming that you like blackcurrant.  Clearly a number of people don’t.  It has acidic and sulfuric characteristics that often seem to evoke the scents of cat pee, sweat, and body odor.

I usually love blackcurrant, myself. A number of my favorites contain it. For example, Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune, though centered on grapefruit, is also chock-full of blackcurrant.  Cassis plays a large part in the delightfully neon-Gothic rose chypre L’Arte di Gucci.  Blackcurrant with raspberry, strawberry, and blackberry notes make up the deliciously juicy, natural berry notes of Hanae Mori.  It lightens the sweet woody-vanilla rose of Clarins Par Amour.  It adds to the strange, shape-shifting, green-into-floral-into-warm-oriental character of Guerlain Chamade.

fortunaprzodI first became acquainted with blackcurrant as a fruit when my college choir traveled to Europe for two weeks. In Poland we were contantly offered bottles of sok, or juice. The juice we drank most often was a lightly-sweetened blackcurrant cordial that I immediately took to.  (Ribena is similar, but much sweeter.)  Unfortunately, you can’t get it here in the US.  Wish I could – yum.

In any case, my experience with Enchanted Forest is that it’s not particularly foresty. It is, as I said, dominated by blackcurrant all the way through, almost to the very end. I love it.

The opening is pretty much cat pee/berry/citrus, in the classic manner of cassis bud notes, and I like that. It stays there for some time, with various green and herbal and pine notes passing through, but I never feel like I’m in the forest; there isn’t any underlying earthiness to evoke the forest floor. Instead, it’s maybe a garden full of blackcurrant bushes, backed up to a forest but not in it. I hardly notice aldehydes or the “alcoholic effects” notes at all, since I’m overwhelmed by this tart, aromatic, hyperrealistic berry. If I hoover my arm, I can pick up the fir and some sweet booziness (the davana, perhaps?), but the waft is still alllll blackcurrant. If you’re thinking that “fruity” is a cop-out, you’re thinking of frooty celebuscents. This is not one of those.  It is anything but airheaded, and it’s right on the verge of “don’t mess with me.” When was the last time a fruity fragrance, without a leather or chypre base, did that? I can’t think of one.

Half an hour in, I begin really picking up more herbal, green notes – the patchouli shows up as well as the rosemary and coriander seed, but they’re still dominated by the blackcurrant. I really get a stem-and-twig thing going on here, and I think I’m finding the vetiver.  About an hour after that, though, the fragrance seems very floral to me, with lots of rose – yeah, still under the blackcurrant, a ghost of L’Ombre dans L’Eau there – and some other floral notes, and I really love this part.  It goes on singing in this floral/tart berry/woody stem-and-leaf register for several hours, and it really is beautiful.

Six to eight hours later, the drydown has shed most of the notes that were prominent earlier, and it settles into a very lovely, cozy sweet woody thing: plenty of benzoin, some musk, some woody notes… the vetiver returns, the cedar shows up, there’s a very tiny hint of moss.  It’s gorgeous. It reminds me of the drydown of vintage Emeraude, perhaps drier and less vanillic, but it is just so comfortable and quietly attractive without being overtly plush like Emeraude.  As I said earlier, I love it.

I’m not sure what other people think about smelling it on me – I know that some of my family members gave me suspicious looks during the first hour, and then remarked favorably on it. And it may not be for you.  It does not, in my opinion, bear much relation to the usual Duchaufour oeuvre, which for me is a good thing since I often find his work strikingly dank, like old cold musty basements, and unwearable. If you’re looking for this to be “a Duchaufour,” like Dzongkha, you are going to be disappointed. Enchanted Forest really should have been called something like “Woodsman’s Cottage Garden,” but I doubt that would have sold any bottles, so there ya go: actual truth-in-advertising is sometimes not a good thing.

The notes list for Enchanted Forest is long, and I definitely don’t get all of these notes, but it’s interesting reading, at least.  (This info is directly from Fragrantica.) Top: pink pepper, aldehydes, sweet orange (traces), cassis flower, blackcurrant leaf, hawthorn, effects of rum and wine, rosemary, davana. Heart: blackcurrant bud absolute, CO2 blackcurrant, Russian coriander seed, honeysuckle, rose, carnation, vetiver. Base: opoponax resinoid, Siam benzoin, amber, oakmoss, fir balsam absolute, Patchouli Purecoeur, castoreum, cedar, vanilla, musk.

Here are a few other reviews of Enchanted Forest: Ines at All I Am – A Redhead; Signature AscentA Kafkaesque Life; Doc Elly of Olympic Orchids at Perfume Project NWThe Scented Hound; Mark at Ca Fleure Bon; The Non-Blonde; and a really hilariously snarky review by Jen at This Blog Really Stinks.  (As always, if you know of more reviews, please let me know.)


Simply Pretty: Micallef Ylang in Gold Perfume Review

ylang in goldIt’s Christmastime, and I’ve been making my grandmother’s boiled custard. First, I should explain: “boiled custard,” in the American South, is not your classic custard preparation. It is not the same as baked custard, and it is definitively not crème anglaise, either. It is more like a thin, drinkable sauce than a pudding. My grandmother Nell always made it at Christmas, and we’d have it at our family Christmas Eve dinner, poured over a slice of pound cake or spooned up from cups or small dessert bowls, with a dollop of vanilla ice cream slowly melting on top.

It is not a “fancy” dessert. No raisins or candied cherries or chocolate, no dustings of shredded coconut or dragees or chopped nuts adorn it. It tastes of egg, milk, sugar, and vanilla, and it is exactly as good as its texture is smooth.

In fact, Nell never gave me her recipe. She’d say, “Well, you start with a gallon of milk – whole milk, mind you – and fourteen eggs.” Then she’d sigh, shake her head and go on, “It’s tricky to make. You’d just have to watch me make it sometime.” And then she’d leave the table. My aunts knew the recipe, and the trick, apparently; after Nell’s Alzheimer’s disease forced her to sit and watch at family get-togethers, Aunt Doris would sometimes bring a pitcher of boiled custard, to my father’s delight.

My mother recently gave me a copy of this recipe, scaled down and adapted for the microwave, and I made it for Christmas dinner, to be eaten with pound cake. It’s delicious: smooth, velvety, fragrant with vanilla.

Which brings me to Micallef Ylang in Gold.

Cast an eye over the notes list: tangerine, peach, lychee, bitter orange, geranium, sage, rosemary, artemisia, mint, ylang-ylang, rose, magnolia, lily of the valley, sandalwood, vanilla, musk, coconut, oakmoss. Pretty complex list, isn’t it?

The fragrance smells anything but complex. It does not smell fancy. It is simple, and simply pretty, a tropical-floral smoothie with plenty of vanilla and coconut, the perfect beachy refresher when you are longing for sunshine.

It’s well-named. Other reviewers have mentioned green notes lightening the floral pudding, but I don’t perceive them as a strong presence. There is a pretty, tangy citrus opening followed by ylang – big buttery floral YLANG, lots of it – and other floral notes. I can pick out the rose fairly easily, and the creaminess of magnolia. The base is dominated by vanilla, with more creaminess from the coconut and a cushiony musk.

The fragrance, which I’ve been dabbing generously from a 5ml sample graciously provided by Micallef’s PR company, has soft to moderate sillage (it would probably radiate a bit more when sprayed) and lasts about four to five hours on my skin, which is about average longevity for an Eau de Parfum for me.

It’s simple, yes. Despite that long list of notes, Ylang in Gold is ylang and vanilla and coconut, very simple, very smooth, and very, very pretty. When I’ve worn it, The CEO has trailed me around the house remarking about how attractive I smell (his fondness for traditionally-femme scents is legend), and who wouldn’t want that?

Sometimes simple is best.

Which brings me to That Bottle. I’ve heard some whining about blingy the packaging is, and how gimmicky the optional gold shimmer is, but I disagree. I like the shape of the bottle, and the crystals decorating it seem shimmery to me, a soft sparkle rather than a Las Vegas glitz. Dressed up, yes, but appropriately so. My sample did not contain the gold shimmer, so I can’t speak to that aspect of the fragrance.

A bottle of Ylang in Gold will set you back $245 for 100ml, gold shimmer or not. In the US, it’s available at Luckyscent.

Here are a few other reviews of Ylang in Gold: The Alembicated Genie, Angela at Now Smell This, Musette at Perfume Posse, and (brief) Eyeliner on a Cat. (As always, if you know of other reviews, please share in the comments.)


Perfume Review: Coty Chypre in vintage parfum. I mean, the furniture was moving.

It’s entirely possible that more has been written about this one perfume than any other. Chypre, first released by Coty in 1917, was one of the first widely-produced commercial versions of an accord – the classic bergamot-oakmoss-labdanum – that, according to some people, had long been in use in the Mediterranean. Some of the things perfume writers have said about it: Chypre defined a genre. Chypre was brutal and Fauvist and outlined in broad strokes the formula that would undergird dozens of better, more sophisticated perfumes. Chypre was “big-boned and bad-tempered” [Luca Turin] and uncomfortable, bony and angular. Chypre was not as striking or as classic as the great fragrances that would follow in its footsteps. Chypre opened up great swaths of territory to be explored. Chypre laid down the structure for jewels of the genre such as Mitsouko, Miss Dior, Jolie Madame, Cristalle, Femme, Aromatics Elixir, Bandit, Diorella, Givenchy III, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Estee Lauder Knowing, Amouage Jubilation 25, Acqua di Parma Profumo… It’s difficult to read any serious perfume writer’s work and not come across a discussion of Coty Chypre, which is only surprising when you consider that very, very few people who are interested in perfume have ever smelled it.

Continue reading Perfume Review: Coty Chypre in vintage parfum. I mean, the furniture was moving.


Perfume Reviews: Micallef Collection Vanille fragrances (Vanille Cuir, Vanille Fleur, Vanille Marine, Vanille Orient)

Photo courtesy of Fragrantica.

The US distributor of Micallef fragrances, Hypoluxe, kindly offered me a sample set of Parfums Micallef’s newest fragrance line for review, and I promised my honest opinions of these four scents.

(I love PR review samples, but I always try to make it clear to the sender that I’m not going to praise a fragrance unless I like it. Most companies are very gracious about this stance, and I think in general that’s encouraging.)

The PR packet for Collection Vanille has this to say about the set: “A four-movement symphony on the theme of vanilla,” and [the collection] “consists of four fragrances combining the sweetness of vanilla with specific notes of leather, oriental, floral and water fragrance families… the collection has been created with the best natural oil of Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar.”

A word about my relationship with vanilla: I like vanilla, it’s the finest of the flavors1. That is to say, I would usually rather have vanilla cake than chocolate, and definitely I prefer vanilla ice cream. However, I’m not a huge vanilla fragrance fan. I like it as an accent, but probably the only vanilla-focused fragrance I ever really wear is Hanae Mori, and even then, I only wear it at home. (I really hate chocolate notes in perfume, for what that’s worth.) I do love my vanilla-accented Shalimar Light and my vintage Emeraude and my Parfums de Nicolai Vanille Tonka, and I enjoy my little decant of L’Artisan’s Havana Vanille (now Vanille Absolument). I used to really like Rochas Tocade’s smoky rose-vanilla, but these days my bottle of it smells more like ashes than anything else, and I’m not wearing it. Givenchy Organza, that vanilla-and-white-flowers extravaganza, is perfectly nice but a bit dull.

So I’m interested, generally speaking, in vanilla-plus fragrances, which these are. Here are my reviews, in alphabetical order. Continue reading Perfume Reviews: Micallef Collection Vanille fragrances (Vanille Cuir, Vanille Fleur, Vanille Marine, Vanille Orient)


We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: Guerlain Mitsouko, a sort-of Perfume Review

Let’s get this straight, right up front: I have tried. I mean, she’s the Empress. Ruler of all she surveys, epitome of style and grace and the Art of Perfume, often-cited as “the best fragrance ever.” Oh, the shame I have felt at failing to adore her! It’s me, isn’t it? It must be my fault. I have given the Empress plenty of skin time, plenty of chances to make her case with me, multiple trials in varying weathers, various concentrations and ages. All in all, I have worn Mitsouko in five different versions now, probably up over twenty trials now…

And… FAIL. Failfailfail. Only one of these concentrations has worked for me, and even that one was not love, so I hereby put the Empress back on her pedestal, bow low, and step away. Y’all go ahead and worship, I’ll not stop you. I’ve seen the greatness now, but not the love.

I tried modern Eau de Toilette first, early in my Fumehead Forays, back in 2009. I liked the ambery basenotes, but that was all: Mitsouko was shrill and musty, dusty and unpleasant, good bone structure in a really ugly dress. I swapped my decant.

Then at some point I realized that I typically do very badly with classic Guerlains in EdT formulation. They often seem harsh, sharp, un-blended. Stabby, even. Shalimar EdT? Hideous lemon-patchouli-dirty ashtray-powder bomb. L’Heure Bleue EdT? Hell’s Medicine Cabinet. Yuck. I made peace with Shalimar in PdT, a beautiful lamplight glow in a rainy evening with woodsmoke in the air. L’Heure Bleue in parfum smelled full and complete in a way that the EdT does not, all deliciously-medicinal pastry.

(I did love my small decant of Apres L’Ondee from the minute I bought it, though. And Chamade, which I first tried in vintage parfum de toilette, has been lovely in every version I’ve tried. But those are strongly floral; make of that what you will.)

So then I sampled Mitsouko EdP, and it was, well, not as awful. Again, I really liked that nice ambery thing in the base, but the rest of it seemed so… just wrong. Just wrong. Ditto for the sample of vintage EdT a kind friend sent me. People wear this on purpose? Gah.

Mitsy parfum (from a sample labeled “vintage” at Surrender to Chance) was peach and mustiness. Musty musty musty. HORRible. Beyond horrible. I mentioned the fact that I was Officially Giving Up on Mitsouko on a Facebook perfume group, and a longtime fan of it suggested that the oakmoss has gone off in this parfum. Someone who’s only recently come around to liking Mitsy swears that a vintage Eau de Cologne version is the only one she can possibly do; “no screaming,” she said, and “the peach is in the background.” Someone else recommended the EdC too, but the only way I know of to get it is to buy a whooooole bottle of it on eBay, and I just don’t think it’s going to work for me, so there I’d be, with a whoooooole 100ml bottle of Mitsouko EdC that I’d have to get rid of somehow…

And then, I went trolling eBay, Just in Case, and bought this beyond-cute micro-mini parfum of Mitsouko in this very-cute li’l box, just to try. The famous Louise says it’s generally a good iteration, from the early-to-mid-1990s, and she owns two of them. (You don’t know Louise? She’s good friends with March of Perfume Posse, the instigator of a whole slew of PP posts labeled “Blame Louise,” and the wearer of all kinds of things that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot dabber vial top, like Angel, but also of Datura Noir, which I like, and she’s BFFs with Mitsy. Also, she teaches middle school, which just leaves me gasping in awe.)

I could wear this. There’s no Mean Girl in this bottle. Everything is there: the bergamot, the milky peach, the jasmine. The labdanum and iris. The oakmoss. Well, let’s be honest here: the oooooooakmosssssss. This thing is All About the Oakmoss. Which, okay, if you are an Oakmoss Ho, I can see how Mitsy would be the ne plus ultra of fragrances for you. And clearly it is for a lot of people.

Also, it is symphonic in a way that makes me finally get why people swoon over it. I geddit now, okay? I geddit. Everything works together and swirls in the same direction and has this distinctive personality, and yes, it is autumnal, and rich and nostalgic and tapestried and masterpiece-y.

Yet I remain a Mitsouko Philistine.

It still does not speak to me in the way that its predecessor Coty Chypre does.

I’m still not absolutely convinced that there isn’t some sort of mental placebo effect going on when I test old Cotys versus classic Guerlains (particularly the old Guerlains that seem based on their Coty counterparts – like Shalimar and Emeraude, L’Heure Bleue and L’Origan), because the Guerlains are very good. Is it that all the old amazing Cotys are gone, either discontinued or crippled through ever-cheapened reformulations, and I’m such a sucker for The Love That Can Never Be? Or is it that I’m annoyed with everybody’s saying that Jacques Guerlain improved all of Francois Coty’s ham-handed creations, that Coty was after the shopgirls’ trade while Guerlain, more artful, pursued the deeper purses and discerning noses of sophisticated women?

Could be any or all of those. Or, I think again as I resmell my sample of gen-u-wine vintage Coty Chypre parfum from the vial, it’s simpler and more personal: M. Coty knew what would clutch at my heart, and he bottled it.

I don’t think it’s going to happen, Mitsy and me. I just don’t. I’m just going to let her go. I just heard this song on the radio last night, Taylor Swift in a semi-humorous vein, singing, “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” and it seemed so appropriate I had to laugh. Mitsy and me? Never getting back together. I’m never trying her again.  I mean, like, EVER.

Because, finally, I appreciate her. But we don’t love each other. And I am, finally, okay with that.

(Meanwhile, Coty Chypre? All those tiny parfum bottles of you languishing in Great-Aunt Mary’s girdle drawer in the highboy or Cousin Mildred’s attic? I know you’re out there somewhere. Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad. I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe…)

NB: My gen-u-wine sample of vintage Coty Chypre parfum came from Surrender to Chance, where it is ridiculously expensive but still cheaper than airfare to Paris to visit the Osmotheque. Just so you know. And the stuff is pristine, too: the bergamot’s a little faded, but there isn’t any nailpolishy weird topnote as I’ve come to expect from really-vintage perfume. Review coming soon.

BTW, I have no idea why some text is dark here and some is lighter gray.  I wrote this all in one piece on my laptop.  I keep trying to fix it, but so far no dice.


Garden Party in a Bottle: Ines de la Fressange

This fragrance, purchased for a song at an online discounter three summers ago – not even a whole song, to tell the truth, more like twelve whistled bars of an sweet old folk tune, maybe “The Happy Wanderer” – has become a summer staple for me, and more valuable with every new release of a so-called-”sexy” fruitchouli.

I was absolutely sure that I could blame Abigail of I Smell Therefore I Am for this one – but I can no longer find the blog review that I could have sworn she wrote for it, and so I can’t prove anything. (It’s possible that when ISTIA switched blog hosts a few years ago, the post disappeared into the cloud, but who knows?) Continue reading Garden Party in a Bottle: Ines de la Fressange


Perfume Review: Sonoma Scent Studio Forest Walk

Oh, and guess what, I LIED when I said I would post my review of the Calice Becker-composed Ines de la Fressange scent this week.  I really meant I’d post THIS one.  Because it’s been written for three weeks and was just lannnnnguishing in my “Ready to Post to Blog” folder, where I had (ahem) lost misplaced it. OOPS.

Forest Park

This is the newest offering from SSS (although I’m sure nose Laurie Erickson is at work on another scent, because that’s how she rolls), meant as a virtual-reality meander through a beautiful West Coast forest. Continue reading Perfume Review: Sonoma Scent Studio Forest Walk


Fragrance Throwdown: the Berry-Vanilla Gourmands Duke It Out

I’ve been saying for MONTHS now that Bath & Body Works Dark Kiss reminds me of Hanae Mori “Butterfly.”  Finally I got busy and did the comparison, so here are the blow-by-blow details…

Hanae Mori “Butterfly” (edt and parfum)

Notes: Blackcurrant, wild strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, peony, sandalwood, Virginia cedar, Brazilian rosewood, almond tree. Composed by Bernard Ellena. Given a four-star rating in P:TG. Tania Sanchez’ review says, in part, “terrifically trashy cotton-candy idea lifted straight from [L’Artisan] Vanilia… cheerfully bright berry notes… in a classic woody-floral setting… a bombshell gourmand, incredibly rich and strong…” Continue reading Fragrance Throwdown: the Berry-Vanilla Gourmands Duke It Out


Perfume Review: Cartier Les Heures de Parfum XIII La Treizieme Heure


When I first read about the “Heures de Parfum” Collection from Cartier, I mentally shrugged and said to myself, “Well, if I run across them, I’ll try, and if not, oh well.”

That’s still my feeling about the line.  But a kind friend sent me a sample of XIII: La Treizieme Heure (as always, please forgive the lack of diacritical marks, as they’re not available on the software I use for blogging), and although it was composed by Mathilde Laurent and had gotten terrific reviews, it didn’t seem very much like me.  Leather, smoke, patchouli and vanilla? Uhhhhh, no thanks, not my thang.

I wuz wronnnng.

The official notes list reads Not Very Me:  leather, maté, birch, narcissus, bergamot, patchouli and vanilla.  (Well, except for the narcissus, that’s Very Me.)  The description of the scent didn’t move me either, seeming both pretentious and sort of faux-dangereuse:  Mathilde Laurent called XIII La Treizième Heure “olfactive trickery, like a crime with premeditation.”  I don’t even get what that means.  Still less do I understand another quote from Ms. Laurent about this fragrance: “By smoke, I mean perfume. Smoke like a fascination, to be worn like a trap with intent.” Continue reading Perfume Review: Cartier Les Heures de Parfum XIII La Treizieme Heure


Perfume Review: Penhaligon’s Malabah

The name “Malabah” appears to be a variant of “Malabar,” which is the name of a region in India, the northern districts of Kerala state. It’s also the name of the horse in “The Rocking-Horse Winner,” D.H. Lawrence’s eerie little story about a fashionable family in debt, and a son that rides his rocking horse until he’s sure which horse to bet on in the big races. I have a manufacturer’s sample vial in packaging of hot-pink paisley and gold filigree, and I gather that the whole thing is meant to evoke India. Malabah was released in 2003, one of the few feminine-aimed Orientals in the floral-heavy Penhaligon’s line.

The scent opens with a big hit of citrus and tea, not quite the green-tea note I had expected but more a smoky black tea. This is followed by spices (cardamom, ginger) of the sprightlier sort, not the warmth of clove and cinnamon. A lovely rose note joins in quite quickly, and the ginger/tea/rose accord continues for some time before it’s buoyed up by a warm sandalwood and amber. The official notes list includes citruses, tea, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, rose, orris root, amber, musk, and sandalwood.

I can’t say whether Malabah really smells like India – probably not! – but it does fit my limited idea of India, with its tea and spices, rose and sandalwood. I had been classifying Malabah as a “lightweight Oriental,” of which there are fairly few, but I think perhaps the term “tea Oriental” might be more accurate. Continue reading Perfume Review: Penhaligon’s Malabah


Book and Perfume Review: The Perfume Lover by Denyse Beaulieu, and L’Artisan Seville a l’Aube

Oranges bénites / Blessed oranges

The subtitle for this book, by the author of one of the most long-running and influential/well-read perfume blogs, Grain de Musc, is “A Personal History of Scent,” and that’s a succinct description of what you’ll find inside its pages. We get all kinds of scented anecdotes, from perfume being banned from young Denyse’s home due to her father’s dislike of it, to her first exhilarating visit to a Paris perfume shop, to the shared bottle of “men’s” fragrance used by her university social group of young, intellectual punk-rockers as a sort of identity badge, right through descriptions of what she wore as a young freelance writer in Europe, what she wore at her wedding, and what scent became the symbol of a torrid love affair.

Perhaps more compelling to perfume fans than these stories is the story of how Seville a l’Aube came about, which is woven into the book. First there’s a chance meeting with Bertrand Duchaufour, then an invitation for her to come by his lab and learn more, followed by the story of how “the most beautiful night of [her] life” smelled and Duchaufour’s comment that it would make a terrific perfume. The seed – Ms. Beaulieu’s description of a Holy Week night spent in a Seville orange grove not far from the cathedral, standing with a Spanish boy and watching the religious festivities – fell on fertile ground, and much of the book is a step-by-step telling of how, exactly, a perfume is created. Continue reading Book and Perfume Review: The Perfume Lover by Denyse Beaulieu, and L’Artisan Seville a l’Aube


Perfume Review: Guerlain Après l’Ondée

"Irises in the old rain garden," from jthomasross (click to follow link).
“Irises in the old rain garden,” from jthomasross (click to follow link).

As I write, spring has budded outside. The daffodils came up a week ago; the hyacinths popped out shortly after. The grass has begun to grow tall and green up from its drab winter state, and I see the tall spiky leaves of wild onions growing up through it on roadsides. The cherry trees – from wild to domesticated fruit-bearing to Japanese ornamental – are blooming in froths of white and pink lace.

When I went outside this morning to take the boys to school, no fewer than six male robins were singing their heads off from different trees, claiming their territory.

Spring has really come. And so it is time to wear one of the loveliest spring fragrances in my collection, or in anyone’s collection: Après l’Ondée. Created by Jacques Guerlain in 1906, it is the softest and most wistful scent I have ever smelled. Contemporary with the Impressionist movements in painting and in music, it is a perfect expression of the soft-focus dreaminess of both Monet and Debussy, an indistinct swirl of violet and heliotrope gauzy as a silk chiffon scarf. Continue reading Perfume Review: Guerlain Après l’Ondée