Sunday, December 25, 2011

Guerlain Parfumeur VETIVER, a Gift

My first introduction to Guerlain's VETIVER held my attention. It is incredibly woody and aromatic, and evokes an olfactive memory so strong, yet impossible to pinpoint. It keeps me guessing. Perhaps it has to do with its use of Quinolines, which contemplates a fine and precise mix of diesel, leather, moss, tobacco, and earthy goodness. My nose also detects a gentle menthol note that gives the fragrance a gentle push forward, allowing it to take flight, perhaps suggesting the breeze, that Jean-Paul refers to (see below). Even after my extensive Vetiver perfume crawl at Barneys New York all that remained was my memory of Guerlain's VETIVER, created in 1959, I couldn't stop thinking about it. VETIVER is a bit of a trickster, initially it makes you think it's simple, but in fact when you live with it you begin to see that it is masterful in its abstraction and restraint. 

Holding the VETIVER box in my hand this morning I read these words: 

"The scent of earth after the rain, the cool breeze of an early morning, the aroma of tobacco...each of these was a source of inspiration which gave rise to my first perfume, VETIVER."
                                         Jean-Paul Guerlain, Perfumer

I wish everyone peace and happiness now and for the New Year. Thank you for visiting and sharing my interest in perfumery. Valerie

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fun at Sephora's Sensorium

I know it's over, but I have to say I enjoyed Sensorium, a perfume "pop-up" installation that Sephora and Firmenich delivered in the meatpacking district. I heard around town that fragrance insiders thought it was a bore, but I found it informative and dare I say, even fun :-). First up and literally written on the wall was the history, antiquity through present, and geographical mapping of perfumery that highlighted major discoveries, pivotal raw materials, and classic perfumes. The first entry reminded me that the word perfume comes from the Latin  word, "Per" for through and "Fumus" for smoke, through smoke. Nice image. The Sensorium experience was part museum and part hands-on. There were plenty of antique bottles to look at, one could smell the subtle differences between Vanilla from Mexico, Tahiti, and Madagascar, and there was a mini lesson on synthetic raw vs. natural raw materials and how "natural" doesn't mean it's better or good for you, the prime example always given is Arsnic. Then I went willingly into a deprivation booth of sorts and heard the very sad recordings of people who lost there sense of smell and suffer from Anosmia. Since the sense of taste and smell are intrinsically linked one of the haunted voices described her last memory and longing for a sour cherry lollipop. In the booth, a tasteless red cherry lollipop was offered, allowing for an empathetic moment. We then went through a room with different accord stations. The accords were uniquely displayed in hanging laboratory glass beakers, that dripped into one roller ball application on the bottom of each station, offering a hint of how a perfumer might begin to build a perfume. Finally, the installation culminated with four scented interpretations, Lucid Dreams, the most realized came from perfumer Pierre Negrin, and it was entitled, Creation, as one inhaled a kind of Rorschach image emerged on a screen in front of you. After, my friend an I happily sat at the perfume bar where we blindly smelled 4 different trays of fragrances, and yes, to my surprise, I found Kate Walsh, Boyfriend very appealing. Now I just have to find out who Kate Walsh is. All was well when I ended the evening at the pop-ups' cocktail bar, that offered a lovely pear and elderflower martini. Oh my, it was delicious and so fragrant.

Photo: Roy Lichtenstein, Aloha, 1962

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Beauty of Caron

My first introduction to Caron Paris was purely coincidental. It was Springtime and I was looking for a particular perfume, when I happened to stumble upon Caron. At first glance, I was attracted to their jewel-colored purse flacons, they felt good in-hand, and I thought they would be an excellent addition to my purse, or any purse, for that matter. They were emerald, ruby and gold in color, and as I looked at them on the counter, Caron's siren song was telling me to slow down and take a closer look. In August, at the Elements Showcase, I spotted the jeweled colored flacons again, and just behind them sat these incredible Baccarat crystal fountains that contained beautifully hued parfum extraits. The still life made me stop at write these words: The absolute beauty of Caron.

It wasn't until after these superficial introductions that I realized Caron deserved more time than I gave it. (See my November 6th post.) As I wore these parfum extraits, I was reminded that a perfume made in 1919 can be relevant in 2011, and a perfume house that has been around for 100 years can continue to evolve and stay current. Caron easily connects us to the past as it embraces the 21st Century on its own terms. 

Last week, Anne-Laure Marchal, from Caron agreed to meet me at their 58th Street boutique, and as she began to tell me about Caron's history two stories emerged. The first story centers on Caron's founder, Ernest Daltroff and artistic advisor, Félicie Wanpouille, and how their love affair and work were intricately interwoven and built the perfume house that we know today. The other story centers around a century of fragrance. Each of Caron's fragrances tell a story that reflects a certain time and place in history. As I stood in the opulent boutique, surrounded by the many fountain fragrances, I began to understand how rare this is and how fortunate that these fountains and especially the extraits still exist. Inside you will find there are choices and decisions to be made. To a novice that knows very little about perfume, this may be unsettling, but if there is a willingness to slow down and be introduced and educated, Caron is present and willing to guide. One can select a fragrance and Caron will commence the act of "drumming" or filling the simplest to the most ornate flacon. You have a choice of splash, purse, or puff ball atomizer, all in different sizes. Details such as Baudruchage, the technique of sealing perfume bottles by hand with a gold thread is still practiced, adding even more to its appeal. Before I left the boutique, I took a snapshot of a fountain and extrait labeled, N'Aimez que Moi. Its translation is love only me. Caron, I think I do. 

Photo:  Marble Siren. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

After the Rain

A different way  
After the rain 
Bead of water 
Yellow leaf
Sweet fragrant ghost 

Photo:  Still from Werner Herzog film, "Cave of the Forgotten Dreams"

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Caron and Courage

When the envelope arrived from Caron, I immediately tore it open. There were two perfumes inside: Tabac Blond and L'Accord Code 119. As these perfumes filled the air two things became very clear, first, these rich perfumes allow the past and present to coexist, and second, these fragrances are not wallflowers; they have depth and presence. 

A few days later, the complexity of Tabac Blond began to remind me of a novel that I started to read, but never finished because the story was so close to my own state at the time I feared I would find out what would happen to me. Like the novel, Tabac's sillage feels as if it knows what direction ones life might take, it also beckons its history and all the courageous women who have worn it before me. 1919 was the year that Caron premiered Tabac, and as you know some women in 1919 were busy smoking in public, voting, and being thoroughly modern, the pace of life was beginning to pick-up. At this very moment though, its box is still and sits on my desk. Its long-lasting trail radiates through the box and seems to reach out and tap me on the shoulder, reminding me to write about it and above all, to wear it. To tell you that Tabac Blond's powerful Leather and smoky-filled head note is supported by a mix of spicy floral notes, such as, Carnation, and its base is nicely tucked in Vanilla, Patchouli, and Amber almost seems fussy because it transcends all that's literal. 

Jump ahead to 2011. L'Accord Code 119 is a womanly fruity floral, not a girly one. It is centered around Cassis and unlike Tabac Blond it wears very close on the skin. In my twenties, I wore and loved L'Artisan Parfumeur, Mure et Musc, which is another fragrance centered around Cassis, but I haven't been able to return to it. L'Accord Code 119 has allowed me to revisit Cassis again, its notes of Black Pepper, Jasmine and Amber create a fragrance that is warm, sensuous, and grown-up, however its germ manages to brings me back to a time when a quality of fearlessness was easily accessible.

During the last month, I've been following the story of long distance swimmer Diana Nyad's attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. During the swim she was stung by a deadly Box Jellyfish not once but twice, but still continued to swim. She swam for 41 hours, but ultimately had to let go of something that she had trained two years for. After weeks of reflection on her loss, she decided to begin training again. This odd combination between Nyad's resilience and courage and these timeless fragrances resonate and remind me to rise up and be confident once more. The right perfume at the right time can do this.

Postscript, 11/27/2011, I wanted to clarify that I was wearing perfume extraits of Tabac Blond and L'Accord Code 119, not EDP. Extraits are more concentrated than perfume, they contain more oil and less water or alcohol. They are normally splashed/dabbed not sprayed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sniffapalooza Master Class with Marc Rosen

The last few days of October have brought a confusing mix of rain and snow, which made yesterday's event even more special, considering myself and many other fine perfume loving folks tracked through the  slushy streets of New York City to attend a Master Class with legendary designer, Marc Rosen. He was promoting his book, Glamour Icons: Perfume Bottle Designs, and speaking to us about his 40 years of experience in the fragrance industry. Rosen confirmed that although it's rare there are times when the bottle comes before the juice, but even rarer are the times when designer and perfumer come together to create a total experience, which was surprising given the intimacy between juice and bottle.

Rosen spoke with great ease and passion about his take on glamour and his love of design. He told a funny little story of his first triumph as a young designer, winning over the self important Charles H. Revson with his intuitive design for Moon Drops Christmas. Then he turned to the beginning of the 20th Century, highlighting important bottles from each decade, and ended with a hopeful note about the future of design, telling us now more than ever beauty and innovation are necessary. In his beautifully photographed book, the perfume bottles take on a life of their own, furthering his notion that a little luxury can "transcend our immediate circumstance." If we choose, perfume can be the "ideal self portrait," and what sits on the vanity does reflect our taste and style. What we look at can inspire us. He expanded on the idea of the importance of the bottle in hand. It is the ultimate in tactile communication, the silent salesman.  The bottle is an introduction to what might be inside. The weight, texture and color, can predict what the fragrance will smell like, and most of all it should make you should want to reach out and touch it.

Rosen designed KL for Karl Lagerfeld, in the early 80's. One day Rosen received a phone call from Mr. Lagerfeld telling him he was visiting the gardens in Versailles when all of the sudden the Concord flew overhead, this collision of 18th Century and 20th Century is exactly what he wanted his bottle to reflect. At first, Rosen was clueless, then he recalled Lagerfeld's runway shows and remembered how his models walked with fans in hand. As he meditated on this idea he began to see the fan as "a weapon of flirtation," certainly this would be an ideal symbol. Rosen said Karl loved it. The bottle graces the cover of his book.

This Master Class was presented by Sniffapalooza and hosted by the lovely Karen Dubin at New London Luxe in Chelsea.

Photo:  Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) watercolor on paper fan with bamboo support

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tallulah Jane: Anointing the Senses

Eleanor Jane picked up her perfume Leoti, and carefully placed it behind her right ear; she then gently turned her head ever so slightly to the right so she could apply it behind her left with extraordinary precision. She is not afraid to say that she reapplies her fragrances during the course of the day. Eleanor refers to it as anointing herself, and as I listened and watched her place her perfume on her body, I realized that her thoroughness drives her perfume line, Tallulah Jane. From first perfume draft to design, all the perfumes are handmade and hand poured. Jane is a natural perfumer, which simply means a perfumer who doesn’t use synthetic raw materials to create fragrances. Jane's fragrances are abstract and impactful, not what I normally think when I hear the words,"natural perfume."

My day with Eleanor began in the morning at the doors of MiN New York Apothecary in Soho. We arrived before they were open, but they let us in anyway. While I was busy dreaming of having a cocktail party in their memorable space, where mixologists actually make drinks to complement certain fragrances they feature; Eleanor already had blotters in hand and was busy smelling Kilian. As I admired Penhaligan's Quercus, she handed me a blotter with their Bluebell, and told me it was her grandmother's signature scent. There is so much to smell at MiN, but we kept going back to the dynamic label, Parfum D'Empire. She would hand me a blotter and ask, "Do you smell.....?", and that's how our day continued as we worked our way through the perfume boutiques of Soho and Nolita. At Le Labo, she marveled at their Ambrette 9, all the while, she was responsive and inquisitive; her love of perfume is strong and steady. As we left the final boutique, we settled at one of my favorite places, Housing Works Bookstore on Crosby Street.

Our conversation touched upon her fascination with the history of specific notes, like Coumarin, which was discovered by Sir William Perkin in 1868, our mutual love of YSL's, Poison, she landed a bottle at the age of 14. I was curious to find out how Jane narrows her palette while working, and found that her inspiration comes from nature, visual memories, and even words. Tallulah, her first fragrance, and my favorite is centered on her love of Jasmine, here she conquers Jasmine's polarizing reputation, by marrying it with Tuberose. It's memorable. Leoti, was inspired visually, after a long walk, she was pleasantly surprised by the wide expanse of a meadow filled with wild flowers in full bloom. Leoti is a blurry floral that is slightly anisic to my nose, warm and comforting. Hope was commissioned by the American Cancer Society, and a percentage of the proceeds are donated. This time a single word was her inspiration, "uplifting".  Notes of Madarin, Mimosa, Neroli, Champa Leaf, Fir and Amber base, are realized here.

After we parted, I was left with the remnants of our conversation. I was reminded that perfume can prepare us for the day, give us a second chance, a rebirth, if you will, as we go around, doing what we do day in and day out.

Photo: Abelardo Morell, Camera Obscura: View of Central Park Looking North-Fall, 2008

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Snapshot 3: My Sister and No. 6, "M"

One summer my sister and her friend took a summer job landscaping and mowing lawns. They were just 18, fierce, and the only girls in the back of a pick-up truck full of shirtless landscapers. At the end of the day, my sister would arrive home, super tan, sweaty and smelling of gasoline and cut grass. She would take off her permanently stained sneakers, immediately shower, change and get ready to go out. Prior to running out the side door, she would spray Rive Gauche on her body and clothes. Rive Gauche  and her adolescence trailing behind her......beautiful.

M is also beautiful. It screams adolescent rebellion, but the juice is contained and stays close to the skin. My first impressions: wild-animalic; leather; spicy/cardamon/warm; berry; deep purple center; grassy/diesel; some sweetness/anise; way sexy. I read somewhere that a fine fragrance will allow the skin to come through it, M does this. It is porous. Perfumer, Yann Vasnier collaborated with label, Ohne Titel, designers, Flora Gill and Alexa Adams, to create No. 6, M.  Gill and Adam's image grace the perfume's box; quite conceivably another pair of fierce friends.

If you don't already know, there are 6 fragrances created for Six Scents, Series Three; it launched about a year ago. All six perfumes were conceived by different perfumers and designers, and each represents the designers’ expression of how scent memory has shaped their adolescence and identity. 


Photo: Patti Smith, 1976, Bowery

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Around Town: Sortir le Soir


As I admired the still life on the coffee table, I was reminded that the items displayed might be a reflection of the person who arranged them, or at very least, serve as a silent introduction. There were books about Elizabeth (Babeth) Dijan and Patrick Demarchelier, a sculpted figure of a woman reclining, and a bouquet of white roses. 

The warm-hearted Susan Tabak, opened the door of her Park Avenue home for the New York debut of her premier fragrance, Sortir le Soir. "Sortir le soir" is a French expression that means to go out at night, (not to leave the night, as I had originally thought), and the name reflects what Susan loves to do most. She told me that she works hard all day, so when night arrives it's a reminder to relax and hence, go out. Sortir is centered around two heady whites, Gardenia and Jasmine, however, Tabak wanted the fragrance to remain light, sexy, fun, not too heavy. Sortir achieves this without being too sweet. Its green notes, aldehydic (effervescent) lift, and Amber base steers it away from trendy and lands it closer to classic.

On my walk home, I introduced the night air to Sortir le Soir; they happily swirled and swayed down Park Avenue, and I smiled as I realized it was the second silent introduction of the evening.