Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Modern Sage: A Case Study

Sampling Wood Sage & Sea Salt this weekend instantly reminded me of Fig Leaf & Sage. The new limited edition offering from Jo Malone inspired me to bring up the topic of sage: an herb that is near and dear to my heart. Growing up with it, it has been used in my household to treat any ailment you can imagine - from sore throat and upset stomach to mouthwashing and hair-rinsing. Therefore, I never cared for it so much as an herbal tea - it has too strong of a medicinal association for me in that format.

Another story altogether is safe as fresh or dried leaves in the wild, as well as its uses in cookery (sage leaves in butter, anyone?), or even baked goods (sage & blackberry thumbprint cookies are now a family tradition). I remember the first time when I had sage inside a pasta sauce. It was at a wedding of one of my mom's cousins, who owned a catering company at the time. Her brother asked me what I thought about it, and I was kinda cynical... It's just like the herbs on our mountains", I said. "We drink it all the time". I did not enjoy it at the time, but years later, sage has become a staple herb in my kitchen, both dried and fresh, to give more depth to simple roasted vegetables (butternut squash, potatoes) or pasta sauces. It just takes those dishes to the next level... Personally, I find the whole leaf is a little more complex and intriguing, and somehow bypasses the medicinal association.

Ditto for its use in perfumery. It is one of my favourite accessory notes, actually. Thank God my mom's herbal medicine practices didn't ruin it for me completely... Sage is an integral part of some of the perfumes I'm most proud of, especially from the Chypre family: Ayalitta, Autumn. I also fell in love quite late with Clary Sage (but that's another story). When done correctly and artfully, what sage does to a perfume is something that's inexplicable. It normally does not really smell like sage at all - but rather creates a full-bodied smudging effect, akin to smearing your fingers forcefully over a thick line of pastel crayons. It has a bold presence, but it does not really come across as an attention seeker. Rather, brings out the brave voices of otherwise demure notes such as jasmine, rose or amber.

Now, there are several types of sage, but the one discussed here is the common sage, Salvia officinalis. It grows wild in the Mediterranean region, and has a very warm, earthy, herbaceous scent. According to Julia Lawless' Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, the principal constituents are thujone (about 42%), cineol, borneol, caryophyllene and other terpenes. Borneol is an alcohol that gives it a camphoreous character, and cineol is another alcohol, characteristics of eucalyptus and rosemary - camphoreous but also a little warm or even spicy if you will.

Thujone, on the other hand, is a ketone and a monoterpene, and its scent is well known as white cedar, yellow cedar or arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis), and is native to the northeastern parts of Canada and the USA. It is not a true cedar, but actually belongs to the cypress family (Cupressaceae). in wormwood (especially in Artemisia absinthium), and also in juniper, mugwort, tansy and oregano.  Thujone is controversial in aromatherapy and liquor preparations: It is a GABA receptor inhibitor (or antagonist). It can cause side effects such as anxiety and insomnia. In high doses, it's toxic to the brain, liver and kidney, and can causes convulsion, and can even be lethal. The are liquor regulations in Europe and North America that control the level of thujone in liquors such as Absinthe.  However, when used cautiously and in moderation (for example: as an herbal tea, or in very low dilutions within an essential oil such as common sage), it can help strengthen the immune system, and help in situations such as colds and viral infections.

Now, the reason I discussed thujone so much here, is because in the three modern sage-centred fragrances I am testing today, what I'm really smelling is thujone, not so much sage. Thujone has simultaneously a fruity but also a strong and quite sickening woody-coniferous smell on its own. And indeed, sage has that effect of creating an illusion of fruitiness in a perfume, as you shall see. 

Fig Leaf & Sage by Kiehl's is an original yet approachable, marketed as a non-committal cross between a scented ancillary product (body spray) and perfume. Fig Leaf & Sage is simultaneously fruity yet not exactly sweet, with an herbaceous-dry sage notes and a certain tart, almost green undertones reminiscent of green figs (perhaps not quite ripe yet). It's certainly a duet, at least for the first hour or so of wearing - tilting between green figs and sage like an airplane that hasn't decided yet where to land. I find this to be quite an unusual fragrance; but I also find the drydown to be way too musky and synthetically ambery scent to my taste. Nevertheless, I keep coming back to it, so I won't be surprised if a small sized bottle will end up joining my ever growing collection of fragrant marvels...

Wood Sage & Sea Salt Cologne by Jo Malone smelled at first just like how I remembered Fig Leaf & Sage. Must be the thujone. It really comes across strongly at first. As expected from this brand, it's a lot more tame, and also a lot more transparent. And also about 5 times the price. It last only a couple of hours on the skin (and not much longer on the scent strip). At first, there is a burst of musky, fruity sage-ness; but paired with very light citrus notes. And marine notes. And also a reminiscence of their Black Pomegranate - kinda fruity, dark yet transparent woody-leathery note that is I suspect the modern answer to isobutyl quinoline, and a rather insipid answer I'm afraid - lacking the depth and intrigue of the former, and leaving you high and dry with a flat, sterile smoky-wood finish. While sweet at first, it dries down rapidly, if I may emphasize my point. And there is a coconutty, yet also fake marine-like quality in there that is not appealing at all to me (though much more pleasant and creamier in the matching body cream).

Lemongrass Sage Hand & Nail Cream is not a perfume per se, but it's the scent of this product that I like, and the first one of this type of "sage" scent that I came across (while killing time for a connection at SEATAC airport). Again, the thujone is more dominant than it is in actual sage oil. And it's slightly fruit-like ketone quality added a lot to the lemongrass - an oil that often smells dull, as it is too commonly distilled from the dried leaves instead of the fresh ones (and sometimes not the freshest quality either).

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Huffington Post's 17 Best Perfume Blogs

17 Best Perfume Blogs according to Huffington Post Style. Had no idea SmellyBlog is one of them. Thanks!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Olive & Olibanum

First route to bottling peace actually began with a lavender and olibanum combination, and then elaborated with more essences that enhance that duality.

To begin with, various essences of both frankincense and lavender were arranged against each other. Frankincense CO2 in conjunction with lavender absolute; then elaborating with wild frankincense from Somaliland and from Somalia with lighter French lavender oils: Mailette and wild lavender from the French Alps.

The idea of olive came later. There was a need to add depth and interest to these very light, balanced and a little to-therapeutic essences. Olive absolute added a fruity nuance; and olive tree resin more fixative quality and a hint of sweetness. But even more than its aromatic appeal, the quality of olive was important because it is part of the symbol of peace, as well as native to the war-battered region. I love the idea of using olives in the healing process required for peace. 

The base notes required some more grounding, and originally I was going to use sandalwood. But it did not feel right at the time, for reasons I cannot explain. I decided instead to use the tiniest hint of tobacco leaf. As with the olive, the concept was a leading key here. And concepts don't always work in reality... So the fact that it did was particularly rewarding. Tobacco's hay-like qualities went particularly well with the elegant coumarin qualities of lavender absolute.

Floral notes were also added for their bouquetting effect - another proof that there can't be a perfume without flowers... And white grapefruit from Israel for the significant locale; but also for lightening and uplifting this rather resinous scent and adding a more cheerful aspect to a rather meditative and introvert scent.

Top notes: Lavender Mailette, Wild Lavender, Ho Wood, Grapefruit
Heart notes: Olive fruit absolute, Ylang Ylang, Rose
Base notes: Olibanum CO2, Frankincense Oils from Somalia and Somaliland, Olive tree resin, Tobacco absolute

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Perfume for Peace

Back in the day, Escents Aromatherapy in Vancouver sold a blend called "Peace" with lavender and vanilla. It was lovely, and was a diffuser oil blend and also in a variety of scented body products. There was something truly luxurious and peace-invoking about it. Lavender to me really is a very peaceful scent. It brings a sense of well-being, calm and is at the same time also uplifting rather than sedative or narcotic. The healing properties of lavender are wide and well known, both emotionally and physically. But it is not the only essential oil that promotes such state of mind.

I spent most of yesterday morning uncorking vials in my perfumer's organ, in search for scents that will inspire and induce peace through the sense of smell. I've decided to go by intuition alone in my selection process, but then also researched the aromatherapeutic and spiritual uses of these oils and cross-reference my choices with some of the known traditions.

Inspires peace and calm. Very uplifting, gentle, soothing...

Spiritually, frankincense is connected to the heart. On a biochemical and psychoactive level, frankincense smoke brings a heightened spiritual awareness and helps the mind to enter a meditative state.

Grounding, centering, very spiritual, and also goes with everything and anything.

Olive essences:
1. Olive tree resin that I prepared from resin my brothers picked from our family's trees. 
2. Olive fruit absolute
3. Olive leaf absolute - grassy, leafy, bitter essence. A little similar to tobacco and tomato leaf, actually but not as harsh.
These are unusual raw materials, and are not commonly used in aromatherapy, healing or ritual. But the choice of olive is obvious, since a dove carrying an olive branch is a biblical symbol of peace.

The association with Peace pipe was inevitable. Tobacco is a sacred plant to the First Nations and was used for healing and for the famous "Peace Pipe" to seal deals and peace treaties between tribes.

I'm still unsure about how these essences will come together in a perfume. I feel as if this process can take one of two directions:
1) A harmonious continuum of peaceful aromas. That sounds kinda boring actually. But sometimes what's necessary is a good example...
2) My perfume is going to be like a peace process between clashing elements that are an unlikely partner for any collaboration whatsoever...

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

EauMG Reviews Musk Malabi

"What the heck else are the 1% doing with their money???" 

Visit EauMG to read Victoria’s EauPINION on Musk Malabi:
"Cardamom, rosewater and musk. Out of the Ayala Moriel perfumes that I’ve sampled, Musc Malabi is my favorite. I could seriously bathe in this stuff". 

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A Brief History of Perfumes for Peace

Perfumes dedicated to peace, as a quick Basenotes search brings up includes 33 results. Here's a roundup of the ones that are probably easier to find - in order of appearance:

1999 Time for Peace by Kenzo comes in a masculine version (mandarin, sage, chestnut, tonka bean, amber, cedarwood vetiver and vanilla) and feminine (mandarin, bergamot, blackcurrant, freesia, peony, jasmine, amber and musk).

2001 Imagine... Peace by Bath and Body Works sounds like another nondescript bouquet of sandalwood, musk and flowers (muguet and waterlily). Probably watery and boring...

2003 I Am Peace (Danica Aromatics) was created by a company in Santa Monica that I've never heard about till now, and has notes of white peony, tuberose, jasmine, heather, myrrh and sandalwood.

2006 The Scent of Peace (Bond No. 9) was created as a fundraiser for the UN, whose headquarters are in NYC. It's a nondescript aquatic-citrus-woodsy scent with grapefruit, cassis, muguet, hedione, cedar and musk. Rather forgettable.

2008 - Kenzo Peace is a reissue of the limited edition from 1999: a blend of tonka, musk, heliotrope, cedar, mandarin and vanilla.
 - Peace On Earth (Liz Zorn) now renamed "Solstice" (changed the name to avoid copyright battles with Bond No. 9). This is an all-natural fragrance with white flowers and incense.

2009 Botanical Perfume devoted to peace, 1st Edition (Roxana Illuminated Perfume) was created for Project "Peace on Earth" - an annual worldwide telecast concert of Superstar musicians performing Sacred Music from the most mystical concert venues on the planet: Egypt's Great Pyramids, England’s Stonehenge, Australia's Ayers Rock, Peru's Inca Pyramids, Japan's Mount Fuji, and California's Mount Shasta. It's a cinnamon and spice botanical fragrance. 

2010 Peace Love & Juicy Couture
seems like a crowd-pleasing fruit-punch for the concious teenager, with top notes of Meyer lemon blossom, Hyacinth, Apple and Blackcurrant; heart notes of Sambac jasmine, Star magnolia, Malibu poppy, Honeysuckle and Linden blossom; and base notes of Iris, Patchouli and Musk

2012 - 7 Virtues Middle East Peace
Some of you might remembered that two summers ago there was much talk about the threat of Iran on Israel, and the Israeli government was looking for many excuses to strike and start a war. Thankfully that never happened. But many Israelis and Iranians were very scared of this prospect, and the spontaneous online campaign that ensued showed many Israelis and Iranians around the world showing that they love each other and do not want to go to war.

Inspired by this, Canadian company-with-a-cause 7 Virtues launched Middle East Peace. Combining Israeli grapefruit and Iranian lime and basil, and although citrus goes along easily (and this scent is a not a particularly unusual citrus at that) - the scent still is a metaphor to the alchemy that can happen in the bottle when you allow two or three elements to mingle and marry. I believe it's just as easy to do so in real life, if we let the two sides of the conflict speak to each other. Once the artificial walls of separation and hatred are eliminated, there is only compassion, understanding and willingness to find a solution that will be a win-win situation.

You can continue following this campaign, which shows what real people want in this region: Israel Loves Iran and Iran Loves Israel. Similar campaigns are active for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both online and in real life, for example: Jews and Arabs Refuse To Be Enemies on Facebook, and many other peace organizations in Israel and occupied Palestine that work towards peace and reconciliation from the grassroots level, locally and internationally.

- In Peace by Space NK sounds perhaps a little more promising with peppery pimento and freesia opening, iris, mimosa and suede heart, but still a generic-sounding base of white musk, sandalwood and tonka bean. ore importantly, it has a cause: 10% of net profits from the purchase of each bottle will go directly to Women for Women International's sponsorship program which supports women survivors of war to enable them to rebuild their lives and promote peaceful communities.

2013 Inner Peace by Tisserand is an aromatherapy perfume blend of rose absolute, cardamom, rose geranium and frankincense.

2014 - Axe Peace with citrus, nutmeg and cedar. The name is ironic, because so many peace initiatives are undermined too early with a swift blow of an axe.
- Peaceful Harmony by Philosophy seems to repeat the theme of light florals (neroli, iris, lily of the valley and lotus) with citrus top notes and a musky base (also with cedarwood and oakmoss) that seems to thread in many of those peacefully named perfumes. It's the newest fragrant peace initiative and sounds not much different than the rest of the light, inoffensive, clean fragrances from this brand.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bringer of Peace

The outpour of tragic news from my home country have practically taken over my life. It's difficult to think about anything else but this summer meteorite of pain and hostilities. Try as I may to not get political, I simply can't these days. In fact, I never had a stronger political view in my life. In 2 sentences it goes like this: Stop the violence. Make peace NOW. 

There is very little I can do, but I'm trying all I can to encourage people around me and especially back home that there is another way. That fear does not need to be the ruling factor. And I'd like to use this blog to also promote this idea, because maybe there is someone reading it that it could help them think differently.

There are lots of things we can do on a daily basis, and one of them is non-violent communication. Something we can all learn and achieve. I can only wish all the leaders of the Middle East (if not the world over) will adapt this approach.

Lastly, with the very little influence I have, I want to talk about peaceful perfumes and fragrances. And I'd like to dedicate the upcoming month of August as a Perfume for Peace month. Please wear a perfume that inspires peace and share your comments here and everywhere else on the social networks. Maybe with combined efforts and intent we will be able to move something in this world... Of course that does not come instead of actions such as demonstrations, signing petitions, dialog with the people we were raised to be at war with, and finding non-violent ways to communicate and resolve conflicts with the people around us.

First installation in the Perfume for Peace will be posted tomorrow... In the meantime, try to get restful sleep.