Thursday, 30 December 2010

New Year Blogging Event: 2010 In Review

This year Sorcery of Scent is pleased to be a part of the 2010 End-of-Year blogging event in which 14 avid blogs revisit the year that was and hand out gold stars for the scents that impressed, and red crosses for those that failed to come close.
(Be sure to visit the full list of participating perfume blogs at the bottom of this post).

Here are my picks for 2010...

Most desirable Flacon of the Year: L'Abeille de Guerlain
Yes, it costs an arm and a leg, but who can argue that the spectacular bee-shaped Baccarat crystal flacon limited to only 47 pieces worldwide isn't just the bees knees? Je l'adore!

Niche Perfume of the Year - Womens: Fleur Nocturne - Isabey
Honouring their rich heritage well into the 21st century, Isabey have epitomised ageless charm and timeless sophistication with this lavish spin on their early 19th century classic 'Bleu de Chine'.

Niche Perfume of the Year - Mens: Cuir - Mona di Orio
Effectively a unisex release, Mona di Orio's Cuir is a brawny, balsamic take on leather which is sensuous, bold and commanding. Its woody, smokey quality makes for a resolutely rugged scent with animalic undertones.

Niche Perfume of the Year - Unisex: Pink Quartz - Olivier Durbano
Durbano's inspired spicy chypre Pink Quartz appeals to both men and women... its delicate rose heart is piquant with fragrant saffron and Somali oliban. It had tongues wagging all over Esxence.
Runner Up: Opus III - Amouage

Designer Perfume of the Year - Womens: Idylle EDT - Guerlain
Thierry Wasser's new eau de toilette version of 2009's Guerlain release Idylle is a gorgeous floral focusing on the Bulgarian rose facets of the original. Spirited, lively, sexy. A winner in my book.

Designer Perfume of the Year - Mens: 10th Anniversary Fragrance - John Varvatos
Citrus, cinnamon, precious woods and leather seen through a swirling incense smokescreen make JV's 10th Anniversary Fragrance an assertive and powerful mainstream release. As a 2010 limited edition, get it before its gone.

Designer Perfume of the Year - Unisex: Wonderwood - Comme des Garcons
Quirky yet classy, Wonderwood crammed every possible wood accord into one bottle, and still managed to create something understated, sophisticated, and very avante garde. Two thumbs up!

Best Reformulation of the Year: Onda EDP - Vero Profumo
The lavish old-world atmosphere of Onda extrait has not been lost in this brand new eau de parfum incarnation. In 2010, Vero Kern tweaked the topnotes in the EDP to add more infinite depth and character. 10/10!

Worst Reformulation of the Year: Opium - Yves Saint Laurent
Booooo! Hisssss! L'Oreal have destroyed an old classic. Not only does the new flacon look cheap and tupperware-like, the new Opium formula is now a sad shadow of its former self. Yves must be turning in his grave. Unforgivable!

Best Emerging Luxury Brand: XerJoff
XerJoff went from strength to strength in 2010 as they expanded their portfolio of exceptionally crafted fine fragrances. Superb craftsmanship, quality materials and meticulous attention to detail have catapulted them into the stratosphere.

On a personal Note...

This year I had the pleasure of truly discovering the house of Guerlain. It has been an infinitely rewarding experience, and one that I feel will be ongoing.
On the whole I probably spent much more money than I should have, and much more time on the internet than perhaps my family might have liked; but as Sorcery of Scent steps over the threshold and into its 4th year, I would like to thank YOU - the reader - for your valued readership, contributions, comments and support. You make what I do worth the effort and the time spent in this noisy swivel-chair!

Happy New Year! Many rewards and blessings be with you in 2011.


Check out the other participating blogs by clicking on the following links:

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days (Part 2) - Day V: Guerlinade

In 1998, celebrating their 170th year in perfume, Guerlain re-launched Guerlinade; a Jean Paul Guerlain creation based loosely on the original perfume of the same name created in 1922 by his grandfather Jacques.

Traditionally, the name Guerlinade has become well known as the house accord or "red thread" that ties many Guerlain creations together - a series of notes (vanilla, jasmine, iris and rose) that are used in numerous Guerlain perfumes that serve as the house's own uniquely recognisable fingerprint. Jean Paul's interpretation however, does not follow the same olfactory trajectory. Rather, it is a celebration of flowers that uses a handful of the original components, as well as an abundance of others.

First of all, Guerlinade has a striking opening of bergamot (reportedly Calabrian) over rich florals. The florals are rather dense, and thus the bergamot is lost a little - really only furnishing the perfume with a crispness upon its initial application. Next, one of the featuring notes - and indeed one introduced for the first time by Jean Paul - is lilac. Bushels and bushels of the stuff! Anyone who has ever lifted the tiny star-shaped florets to their nose will instantly appreciate their use here... their perfume is assertive and almost spicy. There is also a feeling of 'rubberiness' that I glean from flowers such as lilac and hyacinth, and that aspect is also at hand in Guerlinade. Here, the lilacs are endearing and sympathetic, suggesting a slightly damp, sun-speckled morning in the springtime.

Perhaps following the traditional Guerlinade formula more closely, I detect an ample use of jasmine and rose, though the latter is possibly used less liberally than one might expect. (The rose facet is blended well, but used more as a supportive strut to underpin the more spirituous florals). There is a dry iris accord that works well, running parallel to a creamy tonka / vanilla base. The vanilla (supposedly sourced from the East-African island of Mayotte), lingers on the skin, carrying the delicious lilac through well into the drydown.

The beautiful Baccarat flacon created by Robert Granai for this 1998 edition was based on the design of a bronze Nepalese vase used in wedding ceremonies. Granai recognised the draped glass contours as being exquisitely feminine.
Guerlinade is an attractive floral oriental that is both sensual and captivating. Whilst it is not the exact same perfume as has been traditionally used to distinguish a Guerlain creation from that of another house, it is very Guerlain in its approach and appeal; an often-overlooked gem. Guerlinade has since been re-released in 2002 for a short time, and again in the Les Parisiennes lineup in 2005 (also now discontinued).
Get it while you can.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days (Part 2) - Day IV: Ode

It is no coincidence that the last perfume ever created by Jacques Guerlain was called "Ode", as it represented an olfactory milestone in his career; the final perfume poem in his body of work which spanned 65 years. It also marked the very first efforts of his then 18-year old grandson Jean Paul Guerlain who was set to ascend to the throne at 68 Champs Élysées.
Ode also marked a turning point in the style of perfume that was to emerge from the house of Guerlain in the decades to come. Jacques Guerlain's somewhat sombre, mature creations launched between the two world wars were soon to replaced with arguably more spirited, dynamic works of art under an enthusiastic young Jean Paul's direction.

I find the contrast in Ode's advertising noteworthy too. In one regard, the advertising almost has a funerary feel... an ashen harp-playing cherub is depicted perhaps mourning the end of an era; whilst in striking contrast, Ode is portrayed as being energetic and new-fangled against violet hues and bushels of verdant green. This visual inconsistency illustrates a perfume perhaps standing at the crossroads of tradition and modernity... one whose purpose was maybe to appeal to an existing, more mature market, whilst at the same time, was establishing a brand new one.

Ode is a bright floral perfume with one foot planted in the past, and one foot planted in the future. In 2010, we can now review all the Guerlain creations of the 20th century, and I can see where Ode embraced classic perfume styles with its use of aldehydes, jasmine and rose, but also gives us a taste of things to come... I sense a prelude of other Jean Paul Guerlain prefumes sitting just over the horizon: the likes of Chant d'Arômes, Parure and Nahema.
Ode is a rich floral that has been likened to Jean Patou's Joy, though I personally don't feel it bares much of a resemblance. Indeed, it does focus on jasmine and velvety rose, but Ode is pregnant with other surprises... I glean a very green accord lying beneath the floral fanfare in the opening spritz... a crisp green/floral accord much like muguet. This brisk virescent facet synchronises well with the aldehydes and lends a dry piquancy to the perfume. There is a slightly dirty facet too which I would attribute to tuberose... a fleeting sensation of carnal liveliness. My nose also struggles to pinpoint the cause of a rather transitory but delightful 'rubbery' facet... perhaps there is a whisper of hyacinth unfurling within. Some time later, the rose/jasmine duo recede a little whilst the aldehydes turn to powder, and a creamy vanilla base becomes apparent... there is a hint of muskiness in the base that shifts the honeyed nature of the vanilla in a more libidinous direction.

To my mind, Jacques and Jean Paul not only intended Ode to memorialise the efforts of a perfume master and mark the inauguration of a new perfume nose, but also to act as an olfactory aria to femininity itself. Now lost to time (despite ongoing rumours of a possible resurrection), Ode remains the one perfume collaboration between two perfume greats; a moving and impassioned marriage of ideas, and - of course - ages.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days (Part 2) - Day III: Véga (Vintage)

Few know that Jacques Guerlain had a significant interest in astronomy, and that he frequently pored over published dissertations on the subject. It is no surprise then, that in 1936 he came to draw inspiration from the 5th brightest star in the night sky, and one that has been referenced in ancient mythology for millennia: Véga.

Originally released in the iconic Baccarat "inkwell" flacon, Véga typified the new and innovative perfume stylings of the Art Deco age. Only 15 years earlier, Coco Chanel had released her aldehydic beast Chanel No.5 onto the world stage to great acclaim, which resulted in a mass tendency towards the use of aldehydes in perfumery. In answer to Chanel's ground-breaking creation, Jacques Guerlain released the aldehyde-rich luminous floral Liu in 1927, and revisited the aldehydic theme in Véga; though this time with a masterfully measured hand. Véga presented aldehydes in a vastly different manner - somehow scattered and diminished - as if the scent itself, much like starlight, had travelled for millennia across space and time.

Véga has all the markers of a classic aldehydic perfume but for one thing: a generous dose of vanilla. It opens with a sharp floral crispness that rushes to dry the back of the nose... bright neroli and ylang ylang accompany strong aldehydes through the topnotes, but a denser velvety heart of rose rests just under the surface. This strokeable rose accord harmonises with the powdery aspect of the aldehydes, and the whole heart of the perfume suddenly becomes very tactile. A dewy, thick vanilla note materialises, and adds a feeling of creamy, ambery warmth. This is where I feel Véga and other classic floral aldehydes diverge in style... it feels as if with Jacques Guerlain's interpretation, he has shifted the radio transmission a little 'off' to receive signals through a screen of white noise and static. The white/yellow florals are still there, but seem to be flourishing under a cream-coloured blanket of cashmere-soft vanilla. There is a lingering trail of subtle woods in the drydown: dry vetiver and what I expect might be fragrant sandalwood.

When pitted against the 2006 reissued version, the vintage Véga edt wins me over just by a hair. There just seems to be a celestial harmony between the notes that makes it slightly easier to wear than the modern release. As with the heavenly body itself, I feel the light of 1930's Véga might have changed ever-so-slightly in the time it has taken to reach us here in 2010.

Monday, 27 December 2010

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days (Part 2) - Day II: Cuir de Russie

Whilst detailed information is hard to pin down, Aimé Guerlain is credited with the creation of Guerlain's Cuir de Russie in around 1875, making it one of the world's first olfactory interpretations of Russian Leather; a theme that would be revisited many times by many perfumers in the late 19th century, and appear again and again well into the 20th. In order to explore the idea behind this perfume, lets take a brief look at what was happening in Europe at that time.

By the late 1800's, internally, industry in Russia was booming and the middle class grew in number and influence, though unfortunately, in part at the expense of the peasants. As a result, revolutionary tensions were at hand. Externally however, Russia was an untouchable flourishing powerhouse whose intervention in the Balkans against Ottoman rule had clearly illustrated to the rest of Europe, their colossal strength and spirituous resolve. Russia was looked upon in envy as a glittering empire, despite her volatile political climate on the interior.

At this time of military engagement, it has been suggested that Aimé Guerlain was inspired by Russian military leather boots when producing this perfume, as Russian leather is distinguishable by its unique odour. Traditionally, real Russian leather is tanned with bark from the willow, larch or poplar trees, and then rubbed with birch-tree bark oil. The scent profile is very distinctive.

Guerlain's Cuir de Russie opens with what feels to me like bergamot, orange blossom, and perhaps galbanum; an enchanting flight which is citrusy, floral and slightly green, but reservedly so... it tapers away rather swiftly before a dryness begins to swell from beneath. A thin grey ribbon of smoke meanders up from the heart of the perfume and brings with it a very parched sensation. It feels as dry as a dusty coal mine, with a fine black curtain of soot shifting on the air. I also recognise a very smokey tarry birch accord which is quite bitter, in keeping with genuine Russian leather style. It is somewhat animalic - I wouldn't be at all surprised if there is a tiny huff of civet present, though it is paired well alongside the rich leather facets. What I also find remarkable, is that whilst the "cuir" aspect is quite commanding, the perfume still remains a little transparent... one is not overwhelmed with the dizzying aromas of a smoke cupboard or tannery. It manages to tippy-toe the fine line between being defiantly feminine and devoutly masculine.

Cuir de Russie has remarkable tenacity. As it lingers on the skin, I feel a shift from the smokiness of the leather to a rather lovely camphoraceous chypre base of dry vetiver and oakmoss... what I would call a 'signature' Guerlain treatment. Here one begins to garner a sense of the opulence and romance of the Russian empire; the gilded halls of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, or the patterned spires of St Basilis on Moscow's Red Square.
Aimé Guerlain not only succeeded in capturing the essence of Russian leather in his Cuir de Russie creation, but also memorialized the essence of that age.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

5 Rare Guerlains in 5 Days (Part 2) - Day I: L'Abeille de Guerlain

When Thierry Wasser was announced as head nose at the helm of arguably the world's most coveted perfume house Guerlain, he had some big shoes to fill. For almost two centuries, the family-run business nurtured and educated a single bloodline to sit in the perfumer's chair, passing on knowledge and expertise that remained a coveted family secret. When Jean Paul Guerlain stepped down as nose in 2002 and stayed on as advisor, much was expected of the new in-house perfumer Monsieur Wasser. All eyes were trained in his direction, and lips hushed as many sought to discover if Wasser could continue to uphold the celebrated legacy of the perfume giant. In 2008, Guerlain launched Guerlain Homme to Wasser's credit, though it suffered a luke-warm reception. In 2009 Idylle was introduced too. But in 2010, Wasser gave us L'Abeille de Guerlain, and everyone finally breathed out.

L'Abeille de Guerlain is limited to production of only 47 numbered flacons holding 245ml of perfume worldwide, hence it is not at all easy to obtain. The sculptural baccarat presentation is not only stunning to look at, but I also feel, befitting of the incredible elixir inside. Wasser was inspired by bees... the creature that has stood as the company emblem for centuries, and also represents the sovereign crown. Wasser "followed the bee" when creating this perfume, painting a picture of a summer garden speckled with blooming yellow flowers. L'Abeille de Guerlain is a tribute to verdant green, dense opulent florals and one whose queen accord is the narcotising note of mimosa.

Mimosa has a distinct honey-like perfume... it is tenacious and luxurious, but with soft, powdery qualities that render it tender and graceful. It brushes over the skin like the tickle of a soft feather, and with its yellow velvety perfume, truly epitomizes the scent of summer. One can hear the ring of cicadas in their ears, and feel the sting of the sun across their legs. L'Abeille de Guerlain shifts and caresses like a soft summer breeze where the hum of the bees is carried on the air. A warm band of honey is apparent... not at all saccharine, and melds with the mimosa seamlessly. Tiny stars of jasmine and yellow ribbons of ylang ylang cartwheel over an orange-blossom heart... they are tender and tranquilizing; lulling you to nap with a book on your chest in a hammock strung between two trees. There is a sense of monarchial romance about this perfume... an elixir that harkens back to the perfume of immaculately maintained royal gardens, or lover's games of hide-and-seek in flowering, leafy labyrinths.

L'Abeille de Guerlain is both carnal and chaste, and ever so pretty! In my opinion, Thierry Wasser has certainly done Guerlain proud.
If you are fortunate enough to sample this verdurous golden essence, heed my simple warning before you hold it to your nose: beware... you will absolutely want to own it. And with a €12,500 price tag, in this particular fairytale - unless you are extremely well-heeled - there are no happy endings.
What do you think it would take to have them release this perfume in a less expensive presentation?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Penhaligon's - Terror for the Under 5's!

Prestige perfume purveyors Penhaligon's have a lot to answer to as last week they unleashed the "Olfactory Owl" - a man/morepork hybrid - on unsuspecting Londoners.

Mr. Owl is the feathered face of Penhaligon's, introduced to coincide with Christmas and who is creating a flutter all over the city as he hands out samples and vouchers, and - we suspect - frightens the bejesus out of little children. He may look very dapper in his Victorian finery, but there is no doubt in my mind that that bird-head of his is responsible for the mass terrorism of kids and adults alike. I don't know what the creatives over at Penhaligon's were thinking when they conjured this biological anomaly... perhaps they've been sniffing at the 'fumes marked with the jolly-roger logo?

Penhaligon's are trying to remain resolutely upbeat about their terrifying new member of the team, but have noted on their facebook page that reactions to the birdman have been mixed.

So what is your opinion? Friend, or freakshow?

I don't think I have to tell you which side of the fence I'm sitting on...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Andy Tauer Winner!

After several attempts at drawing a lucky reader from the pool of entrants and finding they had not left any means by which to contact them (as was requested in my competition post), we have finally found a winner!

Michael_M was the first name selected at random that fulfilled all the competition criteria! Michael congratulations! Sorcery of Scent will be in touch shortly to obtain your details to pass on to Andy so you can claim your prize!

Thank you to all who entered and left comments! I hope you come back often and bookmark this blog for future reviews and giveaways. Coming up soon: another five rare Guerlain scents will be reviewed over 5 days! Stay tuned!

All the best, and happy holidays!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Andy Tauer Le Cologne du Maghreb - Brief Review and Giveaway!

Today, Sorcery of Scent is proud to be a part of Andy Tauer's 2010 Advent Calendar Giveaway! Each day in December, Andy is giving away a 50ml bottle of his strictly limited edition fragrance Le Cologne du Maghreb. This scent is not for public sale, and has already become a highly prized perfume! More details on how you can win your own bottle below.

But first, a quick review.

When one hears the word "Maghreb" when associated with the work of Andy Tauer, one immediately thinks of his much-loved fragrance release: L'air du Desert Marocain. This fragrance release of several years ago embodies the aromas of the spice markets and soukhs and the dry, swirling desert sands. Where Le Cologne du Maghreb differs, is in its interpretation... this cologne evokes a feeling of a far-flung desert oasis... an Eden of lush green on a parched desert plane.

Le Cologne du Maghreb is a scent using 100% natural oils, and follows to some extent the format of a traditional cologne composition. It is a scent focusing on zesty citrus and dry woods, but this blend is resolutely Andy Tauer in its approach. It opens with a detonation of juicy citrus; bergamot, lemon, clemantine, grapefruit, lemon, orange blossom and neroli... each of which contribute to evoking a feeling of replenishment and rejuvenation with its lush, mouthwatering greenness. A rich heart of rose becomes instantly apparent and lends an exotic 'near-eastern' facet to the fragrance... it is velvety and soft and is balanced well against the sharp citruses. Cedarwood plays a starring role in the basenotes, as inspired by the trees of the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains... it communicates a sense of dryness... like the desert is near, just beyond the boundary of this extraordinary sanctuary.

An eau de cologne by concentration, Andy recommends it be worn liberally, as most colognes should. I find its longevity to be on par with an eau de toilette, but revel in its generous application also. Whilst it is not L'Air du Desert Marocain, it is certainly comparable as its sister scent... one that celebrates the fertile green of a desert sanctuary, whilst the dunes shift around it.


All you have to do to win a 50ml bottle like the one pictured above, is to leave a comment after this post. Please ensure you include a contact email address so that you may be notified as the winner. Le Cologne du Maghreb will be sent directly from Andy Tauer's atelier in Switzerland right to your door. Be fast, because the winner's name will be announced tomorrow, Sunday December 12.

Good luck!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

FAQ: How do I remove a perfume stopper that's stuck?

There is something to be said for those spectacular vintage perfume finds... the scents of yesteryear that you might have stumbled upon at a yard sale, or triumphed over others to win in an online bidding war. Fortunately more often than not, the item turns out to be well preserved for it's vintage, but occasionally the one thing standing between you and enjoying your ultimate fragrance find is the ground glass stopper - one that simply won't budge!
Possibly the most frequently asked question I receive from antique perfume enthusiasts is "How do I remove the stopper?" ...
With so many differing opinions online, I can only suggest the methods that have worked for me with maximum results and minimum risk.

Stubborn ground glass stoppers won't shift usually for one of two reasons: either the stopper has expanded slightly inside the neck of the bottle over the decades, or perhaps perfume residue has hardened between the stopper and the bottleneck, forming a glue-like seal. In both instances, I have on numerous occasions managed to remove stoppers with the following non-destructive method.

You will need:

The perfume bottle in question
2 plastic pipettes
A soft cloth
A few drops of of cooking oil
Access to a refrigerator/freezer
A good measure of patience

First of all, its a good idea to clear a workspace. Take your time and handle the bottle and materials with care. Start by giving the bottle a gentle wipe with a damp cloth (avoiding wetting any paper labels), particularly around the neck area so that surface dust and residue is minimised.

Step 1: Take the cooking oil and a plastic pipette and draw up just a small amount of cooking oil.
Carefully pipe the oil slowly and evenly in the small space where the glass stopper and bottle neck meet. Try not to flood the area, but be sure to turn the bottle slowly and ensure you have evenly oiled the rift. (The idea is that this will act as a light lubricant when the time comes to try and remove the stopper). Once you have piped the oil onto the neck of the flacon, set it aside for 15-20 minutes. Resist the urge to twist it at this point.

Step 2: Take the perfume bottle and gently place it inside your freezer. (Frost free is ideal so that there is no risk of damage to the paper labels). Leave the perfume to sit inside the freezer for approximately 20-30 minutes. The perfume itself won't freeze due to the high alcohol content, but the glass will shrink ever so slightly. After 20-30 minutes, remove the bottle and take it back to your clean work area. It is more than likely small beads of condensation will have formed on the outside of the bottle. Hold it firmly in the soft cloth at the base, and fold the cloth over the top of the stopper so you can get a firm grip of it. Applying a reasonable degree of pressure in a clockwise direction only, try and twist the stopper. (In the case of a perfume bottle with a fluted neck, then pull the stopper upwards with a very slight twist). You may need to attempt this several times. 9 times out of 10, here is where the stopper will pop off or hiss as it lets the trapped perfumed air loose for the first time in decades!

Step 3: Here you have to work rather fast. Set the stopper down for a moment, and immediately use the cloth to clean around and inside the open mouth of the bottle. Try and wipe up as much of any remaining cooking oil residue that might be present before it trickles down into the juice. Pick up the stopper and thoroughly wipe the oil residue from the stopper too (you may even see the tiny beads of oil on the surface of the cold glass). Take a look inside the bottle and see whether you can see any tiny drops of oil floating on the top of the solution. If yes, use a clean pipette to extract it.
If the stopper has old caked-on perfume residue around it, wash it off carefully under warm water with a soft cloth, and dry it thoroughly before placing the stopper back into the bottle.

Once loosened, (provided you do not get the bottleneck and stopper coated in perfume residue again), you should be able to open your bottle without any trouble each time thereafter.

Note: I would advise you not to knock the stopper on the side of a bench in an attempt to "shock" it into shifting, nor would I advocate heating the glass bottle in any way as the results can be both unpredictable and disastrous.

In extremely severe and unfortunate cases (usually if the glass is extremely thin and delicate or if the handler is very impatient), the stopper can occasionally snap off, leaving the decorative part in your hand, and a glass plug inside the bottleneck. This link provides the best possible advice I have found regarding a method to both salvage the perfume, and repair the broken stopper.

Happy vintage perfume hunting, people!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Scent and the Sexual Division of Labour

As far as perfume is concerned, have you ever given much thought as to why a the scent of a peony or a rose is immediately associated with a woman, and the aroma of leather or cedar automatically attributed to a man? For the better part of a century now, men and women have been wearing scents based on an antiquated stereotype: one that advocates men as hunters / providers (without whose efforts the family unit would cease to exist); and women as compliant (docile, uneducated) nurturers / gatherers.

The partitioning of perfume by gender is a relatively recent concept. Until the mid to late 19th century, soliflore (single flower) toilet waters were used by both men and women. At that time, a perfumer's orange water, rose water, or lavender essence was considered entirely gender-neutral. The first "blended" fragrances (one of the earliest of which was Aimé Guerlain's Jicky) using a variety of essences to create perfume "narratives" is where the division of scent based on gender began to take flight. In the instance of Jicky - it was a scent well received by men, however its wide appeal to women saw to it that it was later marketed to the female sex.

So I wonder, at which point in history were single scents assigned a gender?

Lets think about it. I surmise that it came about as a result of our social and economic climate at the time. At the turn of the last century, women were considered the guardians of virtue and righteousness and were expected to comply with this concept. With only a tiny fraction of women in the workplace (most as unskilled factory workers), they were assigned traditional roles as mothers and home-makers - those given the charge of child-baring, food-gathering and food preparation. Denied education in most circumstances, women resorted to menial methods to make money; selling handcrafts, flowers and food in local markets and stalls. Could it perhaps be then that single-scents followed suit and became associated with the roles women took on in society?
Even in modern times we describe feminine scents as 'soft', 'sweet', 'delicate', 'pretty', 'floral', 'fruity'...

Men on the other hand had greater access to education and worked as labourers, merchants, hunters, tanners, agriculturists, industrialists and so on... jobs that required brains and brawn. Is there any wonder then, why scents described as 'musky', 'woody', 'spicy', 'leathery', 'earthy', are commonly attributed to masculine fragrances? As 'blended' perfumes increased in popularity in the early 20th century, might the role of the male population at the time have had an impact on the raw materials used and the gender they were assigned?

I ask you, are we doomed to reek forever of the sexual division of labour?

Well, I don't know how soon we will move on entirely, but our social consciousness has certainly evolved some over the past 50 years. The 1960's saw a steady stream of women entering colleges and universities and emerging with degrees and doctorates; arming them with great skills and even greater ambitions. Nowadays, as we strive to find a sense of balance in our lives, our gender is playing more of a peripheral role in our careers, relationships and interests. Men are now child-carers and interior decorators, and women attorneys and fighter pilots. Perhaps this gradual turnaround resulted in the barrage of unisex scents produced in the 1990's, and continues to contribute to the blurring of lines between fragrances and their respective sexes today.

Whatever the truth, the future stands to reveal our next trajectory in perfume and the perfuming arts. I only hope I stick around long enough to observe it.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Donna Karan Signature

The creative tendrils of American born fashion designer Donna Karan reached the shores of Australia in the mid 1990's following the launch of her DKNY Jeans fashion line and signature perfume 'Donna Karan' (1992) - an eau de parfum presented in an alienesque flacon designed by her late sculptor/painter husband Stephen Weiss. When the perfume launched in both hemispheres, it created a stir... its exotic and unfamiliar bottle was staunchly modern, but also vilified publicly for its provocative, phallic form. Weiss later commented:

"I didn't set out to create a bottle shaped like a penis . . . it wasn't like I said to myself, oh, how can I make this thing more penile? I did a book with 100 forms and I happened to pick the one that looked like a phallus."

Whilst initially the flacon was distinctly masculine in appearance, a print campaign in support of the launch presented the bottle in a resolutely feminine way... the media spotlight only drew more attention to this indignity, but alas it seemed the beauty of the perfume inside was not triumphing over the immodesty of the bottle. Donna Karan (the edp) was withdrawn from sale a few years later.

Over a decade on, in August 2008, Donna Karan relaunched her discontinued fragrance lines from the 1990s - this time in understated, columns of smokey brown glass; her signature scent amongst them. Now, without the obvious distraction of the bottle, Donna Karan Signature can finally reap the accolades it deserves as a wonderful dry, woody leather chypre for women.

I do not find a whole lot of evolution between the first spritz and dwindling drydown, but this suits me just fine... I adore Signature right out of the bottle. It opens with a narcotising blend of rich florals and spice accords. There is a rather luxurious lily / rose / neroli combination that tumbles over a sublime bed of patchouli, amber and creamy sandalwood. Interestingly, I find it is both embracing and warm, and yet in some ways rather solemn and unemotional. I can't help but feel I am experiencing a return to perfume stylings of the early 20th century with its hint of napped suede and a huff of pleasant soapiness. Donna Karan Signature is gratifyingly beautiful, but possesses a vacant emptiness... a pang of reflection, much like that which I celebrate in my beloved Vol de Nuit. Recommended for both women and men, Signature has definite presence and leaves a soft perfumed wake behind you.

At this point in time I feel Donna Karan has finally found her moment. It may have been almost 2 decades in the making, but her Donna Karan Fragrance Collection offers much to be explored.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Gorilla Perfumes: ICON

My wife and I are hagiographers. Having both grown up immersed in Orthodoxy, we have come to appreciate the depiction of saints and angels in history through the ecclesiastic icons of the Byzantine age - and we are now painting them ourselves, using time-honoured materials and preserving ancient tools and techniques. Hagiography is an art form which has entire schools dedicated to its methodology and teachings. It is no surprise then, that our noses were twitching with anticipation when we learned of the fragrance named ICON launched by British firm LUSH under their Gorilla Perfumes guise. Co-founder of Lush Handmade Cosmetics, Mark Constantine is the perfumer behind this particular scent... just one of 21 creations in their current perfume portfolio.

Icon is a standout scent to me, because I am familiar with its inspiration. And I feel it does justice. Anyone who has ever stepped inside an orthodox church or monastery dating from the 15th century can't help but feel overwhelmed. Centuries-old wood carvings and ornamentation embellish every shadowy corner, where the air is thick with the perfume of old wood and precious resins smoking in concealed censers. The air shimmers with amber light as even the tiniest of flames from beeswax candles that have been lit in prayer, pick out the exquisite icons from the gloom. Icon (the perfume) seems to embrace much of this... there is a strong sense of chairoscuro in its composition, where dappled lights and deep shadows butt against one another. The perfume is relatively uncomplicated... and I might say "naive", but this is to it's merit - the Byzantine painting style is also often unsophisticated. Whilst an icon may be beautifully ornate and inspire awe, these were first painted in an age where perspective was still unheard of; and where natural biological proportions were as yet unexplored.

Icon deftly interprets the aroma of gold and old wood... its opening of sharp bergamot, mandarin and neroli create a glinting metallic accord. It is crisp, radiant and somewhat fragile... like the impossibly thin gold leaf that is used to glorify depictions of the saints... gold sheets that will turn to powder at the slightest touch, or be whisked away to cartwheel on the air with just a whisper of breath. Resinous myrrh lends a slightly bitter quality, but also summons images of smoke-filled churches where the valuable stones are burnt over coal discs. An aromatic base of sandalwood imbues the perfume with a sense of antiquity, representing wooden pews and ornately carved arches. Icon triumphs with its contradictory facets of golden radiance and dusky solemnity.

Mark Constantine has noted that he'd like to revisit Icon and tweak it some more, but I would prefer he leave it be. I celebrate its naivety as much as I celebrate its gloriousness.

If you would like to view some of our artwork, please visit this link.