Monday, August 03, 2015

Jasmine & Lavender

Bright Lavender

Last month was dedicated to jasmine, and in this coming month SmellyBlog will be paying extra attention to lavender as an ingredient in flavour, skincare and perfumes. I've been craving a perfume that combines both of these wonderful notes, and my lab experiments with this idea seem to be a befitting way to transition from one theme to the next.

I've approached this "brief" if you will, in a rather simple way: layer together jasmine perfumes and lavender perfumes and see if that works. I layered Brin de Reglisse over some rather dramatic white-florals to mellow down their headiness. And when I approached this in the lab - I began the day before by layering my two soliflores - Lovender and Yasmin.

I'm not a fan of layering, and I'll tell you why: what usually happens for me when layering one perfume over another on the skin is that the top one will dominate. It's a very rough way to blend two scents together, and on the way, the nuances of one are lost, and some things that are not necessarily desirable get amplified. In this case, the coumarin notes in Lovender were just too much to my liking and the mimosa in Yasmin just smelled sour and icky. That's why I hardly ever recommend layering scents... The results are so far from the original intent of the perfumer.

With those problems anticipated I set off to compose something that takes the best of both worlds (hopefully). I sort of amalgamated the two formulae, but decreased the amount of coumarin-rich components. My Jasmine & Lavender fixation was satisfied. And I got to play in the lab with some other ideas that kept me itching with curiousity. Such as another try at bringing out the tea qualities of jasmine, and rebatching limited edition Jasmine Pho - a refreshing, almost juicy-aldehydic, green-citrusy jasmine fragrance that is very enjoyable in summer.

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Friday, July 31, 2015

Jasmine: A Summary

Grasse jasmine

"Everybody has some sense of what good food is. 
What many of us actually eat may not taste specifically good, may not be particularly good for us, and probably comes from a farm or factory we don't want to even imagine. But that's not because we don't know what we want. It's just that we always seem to end up eating something else."
(Jeff Crump - From Earth to Table, p. 1)

I could say the very same about perfume. How many times we know what a good perfume should smell like, but buy into the marketing schemes, or make a purchase because of the bottle alone? How many times it's the persona selling the perfume (a model, celebrity, or a brand-owner we find inspiring) that convinces us it's what we should wear? The power of suggestion is even more pronounced in the fragrance industry. Tell someone there is jasmine in their perfume, and they'll find something - anything - to remind them of what the gestalt of jasmine is in their minds.

While jasmine fits in beautifully into pretty much any composition, illuminating it with its aura and creative more space where before dense matter lay flat and barely breathing - adding anything TO jasmine in order to make it beautiful is almost as ridiculous and frustrating as putting makeup on a beautiful 4 year old girl.

The essence of Jasmine is a perfect thing. To add anything to it, or to take anything away, requires both vision and manipulative skill. How can you make it less indolic but not silence the animalic purr that is so prevalent in a good jasmine? How can you make it fruity and juicy, without being too sweet, cloying and cheap-smelling? How can you take something that is essentially perfect the way it is, and create a new fragrance from it, a jasmine statement unique to you as a composer?

I've spend the best part of July testing jasmine perfumes from all walks of life: the mainstream department store types, artisan and/or natural, niche, and even the synthetic cheapie varieties. It prove to be a far greater challenge to find a satisfying, convincing jasmine that truly brings forth the beauty of this raw material while respecting it. The ones that I've shortlisted boil down to a very short list, actually, and appear in alphabetical order below. It would be interesting to note, that the most intriguing of them are those which do not possess the ambition of being overtly jasmine, but at the same time do not shy away from using impressive dosage of this note.

A La Nuit (Serge Lutens) - Straight up jasmine, and quite believable at that. 

Diorissimo (Dior) - Breathtaking Lily of the Valley masterpiece by Edmond Roudnitska. Look for the vintage or better yet - the extract, where the jasmine absolute is quite evident, as are the green notes and boronia.

Donna Karan Essence: Jasmine (Donna Karan) - realistic jasmine, even if simple. For similar effect, seek out jasmine absolute diluted at 5% or 10% or so at Intelligent Nutrients (Aveda used to have a "Jasmine Absolute Oil" but it seems to have disappeared) or at various aromatherapy suppliers. 

Drama Nuii (Parfumerie Generale) - fruity-lemony jasmine with musk 

Eau d'Hermes (Hermes) - jasmine with lemon and cumin 

Emotionnelle (Parfums DelRae) - Jasmine, violet and cantaloupe

Eau Sauvage (Christian Dior) - Hedione galore (a staggering 40%) in the heart of the father of all masculines. Masterpiece by Edmond Roudnitska, which means you must try it (look for vintage)

Jasmin de Nuit (The Different Company) - jasmine popsicle, with lemon and vanilla 

Jasmine AKA Clair-Obscur (Keiko Mecheri) - Soapy lily of the valley and jasmine 

Jasmine Tea (Artemisia Perfumes) - bejewelled jasmine green tea, with fir, osmanthus and green tea

Jasmine Rouge (Tom Ford) - realistically luxurious jasmine

Joy (Patou) - jasmine and rose

Le Parfum de Thérèse - jasmine, plum and basil sorbetto. Masterpiece by Edmond Roudnitska 

Opium (YSL) - jasmine, orange, patchouli and spices

Samsara (Guerlain) - jasmine and sandalwood

Songes (Annick Goutal) - jasmine ylang ylang heaven

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Alba Botanica's Hawaiian Moisture Cream with Soothing Jasmine & Vitamin E

Alba Botanica's Hawaiian Moisture Cream with Soothing Jasmine & Vitamin E  used to be my favourite face cream before Persephenie came up with much more wholesome formulations, and even better perfumed, such as her Rose Paka. I got to admit though: I've abandoned all face creams in favour of my own Elixir - a hand-blended face oil, that is made of nourishing noncomedogenic oils and smell wonderfully rosy and fruity. For this jasmine fest I've also experimented with formulating a jasmine-scented face oil, using avocado oil as the base, in hopes of a greater synergistic effect for sensitive skin. I'm yet to find the right balance of jasmine to the base oil, because there is a tendency of jasmine to get completely hidden in a fatty base. When making perfumes it's not a problem, because high concentration is fine. But in body and skincare products, no more than 1-2% at the very most is recommended, and even less is advisable for the face.

So this is where Jasmine & Vitamin E cream still holds its place as the go-to jasmine-scented moisturizer. It is beautifully scented, with just enough jasmine to give it that character, and a light, heady ylang ylang to support this tropical, intoxicating aroma while keeping its costs down. The texture is very light weight, so I would use it during the day mostly. I'm not too keen on the least of ingredients, though, which seems to have its main constituent as water, seconded by sunflower oil (which is nice enough, but not as rich as I'd like my face cream to be), and glycerin as the third ingredient. Glycerin is not the most moisturizing ingredient, actually. It's humectant, which means that it draws moisture out of the air and into your skin if humidity level is 65% or over. But in a dryer weather, under 65% humidity, what it would do is actually suck out the moisture out of your skin. So I would be careful about using glycerin-based products, depending on where you plan to use the product.

Other than that, it does have some list of beneficial extracts and oil, including both jasmine and chamomile, which are both good for sensitive skin, and various nourishing oils such as borage, sweet almond, jojoba, and of course vitamin E. It's hard to tell how much impact these ingredients would have, it really depends on their exact quantity and quality. But overall, this is a fun product to use, with a lightweight, fast-absorbing texture, and a lovely scent. And you all know that I'm a sucker for the latter.

Ingredients (as appears on the packaging and on Alba Botanica's website):
Aqua (Water), Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Oil (1), Glycerin, Glyceryl Stearate, Octyl Palmitate , Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (1), Cetyl Alcohol , Glyceryl Laurate , Tocopheryl Acetate , Aleurites Moluccana Seed Oil, Borago Officinalis Seed Oil (1), Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil , Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil (1), Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil (1), Carica Papaya (Papaya) Fruit Extract, Centella Asiatica Extract , Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Jasminum Officinale (Jasmine) Extract , Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Root Extract , Allantoin , Dimethicone , Panthenol , Stearic Acid, Tocopherol , Tromethamine , Xanthan Gum, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Amyl Cinnamal, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Salicylate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Eugenol, Geraniol, Hydroxycitronellal, Hexyl Cinnamal, Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Linalool , Fragrance (Parfum)

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Carol Priest's Jasmine Flower Toner

In celebration of jasmine this month, I'd like to mention Carol Priest's Jasmine Flower Toner. I can no longer find it in town, but when I did I truly enjoyed a more light handed experience of jasmine on my face.

Jasmine offers some wonderful properties for the skin. It is particularly recommended for sensitive skin, so enjoying it in this light and safe quantity (this is not a true hydrofoil, but rather jasmine absolute emulsified into distilled water, with the aid of alcohol and carprylyl/capryl glucoside). This ingredient is vegetable-derived and has surfactant, solubalizing and cleansing properties.

Ingredients: Distilled Water (Aqua), Alcohol, Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, Jasminum Officinale (Jasmine) Oil. 

P.s. I have no idea why images of orange blossoms were used to illustrate this product on the company's website; but not it's a common mistake. I've even seen citrus blossoms (probably pomelo, actually) labeled as jasmine flowers in a rather famous tea-related coffee table/resource book. 

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Salty Jasmine Candies

Salty Jasmine Candies

Persephenie's Salty Jasmine Candies  indeed induce passion, as their subtitle promises. This is done by taking you by surprise with an explosion of jasmine absolute in your mouth These are little, unevenly sized and shaped flat sugar candies that are dusted with powdered sugar, which gives them the appearance of a dangerous substance. They are generously flavoured with jasmine oil. The result is a very bold, uncompromising experience, not unlike licking one's nose after it has accidentally touched the bottle of jasmine absolute you've just sniffed... Its saving grace from being too perfume and soapy is the balancing effect achieved by salt and a hint of vanilla. Both these elements enhance the flavour of the candy, its sugariness transforming into a more luxurious and caramel-like sensation in the mouth (even though in reality these are hard candies*). That mineral note is really quite fantastic and like what I've experienced in saline floral perfumes such as Vanille Galante (which is more of a lily-based concoction), and Emotionelle. For extra boost, eat those while you're wearing Emotionelle, for the salty-yet-sweet effect it creates by pairing jasmine with cantaloupe and violet.

* Interestingly, in the heat of the summer, they have become more soft and taffy-like.

Salty Jasmine Candies

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pairing Jasmine

Apricot Jasmine Tea Cake

Most of us are familiar with jasmine teas, but what other culinary uses are there to jasmine?
Because jasmine absolute is so costly and hard to come by for most, and also difficult to work with at the right concentration for food preparation, it is not easy to find recipes that are jasmine-flavoured. The few that are, typically call for infusion of jasmine tea to achieve the desired aroma. 

As far as gourmet cuisine goes, jasmine as a flavour can be mostly found in desserts. Renown pastry chef Pierre Hermé created remarkable macarons that are flavoured with jasmine, and inspired macaron-makers the world over to follow suit. Mango-jasmine macarons are one of my favourites. Jasmine's complex yet light floralcy blends magically with the juicy muskiness of mango. I recommend you try this pairing with simpler mango recipes you may have, i.e. in homemade mango gelato or ice cream. 

Jasmine pairs beautifully with fruit, as it has its own fruity facet due to the presence of some esters and fruity aldehydes. The few jasminey recipes in my cookbook collection include a tropical fruit salad with jasmine tea and chile syrup - a beautiful, simple to make yet innovative flavour combination from Tonia George inspiring little book "Tea Cookbook - sweet and savoury recipes for tea lovers". In his book Aroma, Daniel Patterson (the renown chef of Coi, one of the world's top-notch restaurant), offers a recipe for a jasmine syrup that can be used creatively, either as an addition to fruit salads, or as a base for a fruit sorbetto (he's providing a recipe for White Peach and Jasmine Sorbet in p. 111), using a syrup from boiling together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups of water, and 2 Tbs of jasmine pearls. He's recommending 10min of steeping, but I would be cautious with this timing, as long steeping create a very bitter taste, and not necessarily in a good way. To maximize the flavour of any tea, use the same steeping time you would use for that type of tea; only increase the amount of tea used (that's when you really do not want to be cheap!), and make absolutely sure the tea is very fresh and vibrant with flavour (no older than a year, that's for sure, and for some teas 6 months is all you need to lose their remarkable aroma).

For jasmine tea, I'd say no more than 3-4 minutes steeping time; but use larger amount than this recipe: you normally want about a pearl or two per teacup (which is 5oz), or if you're using green jasmine tea   that is not rolled into pearls - you want to use a teaspoon for each cup; so for a stronger flavour, double that at least. That would come up to 5 teacups for the amount of water Daniel Patterson specified in his recipe (750 mL). For that I would use at least 10tsp of jasmine tea, in other words: 3 Tbs and 1 tsp.

Another step in the syrup technique that I would do differently: I would steep the tea leaves in 2 of the cups (brought to the tea's optimal brewing temperature, for jasmine green tea that would be 175 F), and would create a simple syrup from the remaining one cup of water and the entire cup of sugar. Only once both are ready and cooled off a little, I would blend the strong tea infusion with the simple syrup.

Jasmine has a strong affinity with desserts, and the only savoury pairing that I've seen where to chicken or chicken broth, and while served with dim-sum or Vietnamese pho noodle soup (which is what inspired my verdant Jasmine Pho - a limited edition perfume that is gladly back in stock as of yesterday!). In the same book, Chef Daniel Patterson also offers one savoury recipe, for Jasmine-Steamed Chicken Breast (p. 112). I cannot comment on this recipe because I neither cook nor consume poultry; but I would gladly experiment with jasmine tea within a refreshing, cool version of a noodle salad, or in a creative vegetarian version of the wonderful pho noodle soup. The jasmine tea works well as an accompaniment, so I can't see why it won't work in a simple cilantro broth, being topped with fragrant Thai basil, jalapeño and lime.


Jasmine tea is recommended for pairing with coconut desserts, and in general all mildly sweetened Asian desserts go fantastically well with it, which is possibly why you'll be served a pot of jasmine tea as soon as you sit down for dim-sum. It is also served to accompany the pho - the deliciously light and fragrant Vietnamese noodle soup, where the jasmine's aroma beautifully complements the fresh cilantro and basil leaves. Jasmine Tea Mooncakes (pictured above) are a traditional food of the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrated in mainland China, Taiwan, Vietnam and among Chinese communities the world over. It's a pastry that is filled a paste or a cream made of taro root or lotus-seed or a variety of other modern interpretations, to which other flavours (such as tea, fruits, nuts, and more recently also coffee and chocolate) can be added.

I've used jasmine absolutes countless of times in my infamous chocolate truffles: Charisma truffles (white chocolate with matcha, jasmine sambac and spearmint), Espionage (both the truffles and the chocolate bar), where it lends a complex, musky depth and helps to smooth out the smoked salt and peppery juniper notes, and countless other experiments. But using absolutes requires: a) access to high-quality, unadulterated jasmine absolute; b) expert hand at blending and knowing the challenges of using such a mind-bogglingly concentrated material: a single drop of jasmine sambac absolute carries the potency of 66 flowers!

The much safer and accessible way in which to incorporate jasmine's flavour creatively in your cooking and baking is with jasmine tea. Here are a few ideas and examples you can play with:
1) Loose-leaf jasmine tea can be easily incorporated into shortbreads and even biscotti, as you've known if you were to attend any of my fragrant afternoon tea parties.
2) Infuse chocolate ganache, pastry creams, custards, gelato/ice cream, sorbetto or créme brûlée with jasmine tea leaves to add a special nuance.
3) Use a simple jasmine syrup as a substitute for the rosewater or orange flower water used to sweeten Middle Eastern pastries (such as harissa, basboosa or baklava). Substitute a strong jasmine tea for the floral water, and only at the very end of the cooking process, once the syrup has cooled down!
4) Find other creative ways to include jasmine flavour in your desserts, for example: chopped up infused leaves inside cakes (as in the Apricot Jasmine Tea Cake recipe I shared with you over the weekend).

Last but not least: Jasmine tea is a wonderful addition to a mixologist's repertoire, as its light colour and crisp aroma works well with many chilled cocktails: it's beautiful with spearmint, so it goes without saying it will be fantastic in a mojito with muddled spearmint and freshly squeezed lime. It will also work beautiful with gin, i.e. in a Jasmine Gin Fizz; other floral liquors such as St. Germain (an elderflower liquor) in Jasmine & Elderflower Martini, with absinthe in Jasmine Tail, with tequila and lime in Jasmine Tea Margerita, or just as a standalone, chilled iced tea with or without a shot of vodka.

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Jasmine & Cantaloupe


When visiting Grasse in spring 2009, I was intrigued by Salade de melon et jambon de Parme
 (AKA Prosciutto e Melone - a simple carpaccio dish that seemed rather alluring even to my eternal vegetarian-born-and-raised palate. Thin slices of cured ham were layered flat on a plate, and wedges of cantaloupe arranged on top. It seemed so odd to me to pair something so meaty and brown with something so vividly orange and juicy. But, living vicariously through the carnivore boyfriend I had at the time, I gathered that the magic lay in the contrast between the saltiness of the prosciutto and the fragrant sweetness of cantaloupe - not unlike the Balkan signature pairing of crispy sweet watermelon with creamy and heavily brined feta cheese.

Later research into the matter also informed me that pork has a coconut, peach and apricot-like notes to it from lactones, which makes it so suitable for pairing with fruit as well as certain fruity white wines or lightly oaked reds. Vegetarians may enjoy a somewhat similar experience by savouring tiny cubes of well-aged Pecorino Romano with abovementioned cantaloupe; or if you want to go overboard, find yourself a coconut-gouda and watch out for exploding tastebuds. And since we are on the topic of coconut, vegans can also enjoy the coconut and cantaloupe contrast by sprinkling fine coconut flakes on their melon; or toasted coconut curls for an even more decadent experience.

Prosciutto e melone

While in Grasse, I had the pleasure and honour to meet with Michel Roudnistka - a multi sensory and visual artist (photographer, perfumer and filmmaker who combined his videos into a film that is accompanied by five difference ambient fragrances, each for a different indigenous culture around the world), and that is when I firs experienced his magnificent perfume Emotionelle, which he created for Parfums DelRae in San Francisco. How does Emotionelle smell?

Picture this in ripe, juicy, room-temperatured cantaloupe in your mouth, with a full-bodied flavour filling your entire palate:

Crisp Cantaloupe
Suddenlly and immediately, you are interrupted by more than a whiff of this indolic jasmine:
Grasse jasmine
That is the basis for Emotiomelle, the main structure upon a complete, original and unusual perfume is built. One could argue the source for this pairing is in Le Parfum de Thérèse (which the perfumer's father created for his mother), or Diorella. However, the other two had melon, not cantaloupe. And that is a huge difference. As far as influence goes, I would suspect that a new cantaloupe molecule or base was invented that year in one of the Grasse houses, because both Emotionelle and Un Jardin Après la Mousson (which pairs this very cantaloupe note with more bracing, chilled spice notes and cooling vetiver) were released the year prior (2008).

Emotionelle opens with a big, ripe, juicy cantaloupe note and is paired with sultry jasmine and sweet violets. It’s hard to believe these will get along, but they sure do. The key is in the balancing of the animalic indole in the jasmine with softly-blended, oily violet, musk and cedar notes, almost like pastel crayons smeared with a persistent finger to create a bold picture with loud colours yet with very soft texture.

The result is magical, even if a little disturbing, like striking the right chord in the right time. After all, we are talking about pairing something very edible, with something very floral and animalic. To me Emotionelle is very sexy, sensual. I like the fact that it's a distinctive tricolour - with cantaloupe, jasmine and violet being in the centre at all times. There is a complexity and tension that all three bring to the composition, but there are also other subtle layers underneath that keep it from being too simplistic and ordinary. Those who yell "cantaloupe" and dismiss it (most of the reviews I read, actually) miss the entire point. There are many composition styles, and Michel Roudnitska's is one that takes a theme and goes all the way with it. It's also what I smell in Noir Epices: it's very bold combination of geranium, cloves, orange and cinnamon. But it's brining a new, modern meaning to the ages-old pomander scent (the root of all Oriental-Spicy scents, if you ask me) - by not trying to play it quieter, but rather amplifying the seeming dissonance between those notes. Those who pay attention will find it actually humorous, playful and at the same time sophisticated. In the case of Emotionelle this is achieved with low dosage of musk to offset the animalic indole; cedar wood to substantiate the ionones; and warm, sweet notes of honey, amber and labdanum to deepen the sweetness of the cantaloup, with tiny sparkling of spices (cloves, cinnamon) for a bit of warmth and dimension.


To me this perfume will forever remind of Southern France and in particular Grasse, and the visit to Michel's studio and home in Cabris where I first smelled Emotionelle. There was an osmo-art (multi sensory film) projected in one of the room of the MIP (Musée International de la Parfumerie, AKA International Perfume Museum) of which an image of a ladybug crawling along a split cantaloupe was the olfactory if not visual highlight. And lastly, the cantaloupe in the above photo is one I bought and ate there, in its entirety, one afternoon. I didn't have a big enough refrigerator in my hotel room there, so I had to eat most of it room-temperature (which is actually delicious, by the way: it makes the fragrance more apparent than when chilled). It is the perfume of a hot spring day up on the mountainous Alpes-Maritimes-Cote d'Azur, where the sun shines generously, people are warm and hospitable, life is slowly savoured with the people you love, lunch breaks span over two hours minimum, and an afternoon siesta to follow is not a bad idea at all, especially when the room is permeated with a fragrant cantaloupe.

Top notes: Cantalupe, Tangerine, Bergamot, Ylang Ylang, Prune
Heart notes: Jasmine, Violet Flower, Violet Leaf, Rose, Cinnamon, Honey
Base notes: Vanilla, Cedarwood, Cloves, Patchouli, Musk, Amber, Labdanum

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Madini's Jasmine

Madini is a provider of various fragrance oils * in the like that is sold in many Middle Eastern souks' perfume booths. Some of their oils are single notes compounds; some are replicas of commercial designer fragrances (i.e.: Angel, No. 5 and other best-sellers), and some remain true to the Arabian style of perfumery, even if made with cheaper raw materials. Traditionally, a perfume business runs in the family, and the father passes the art and wisdom (selecting oils, etc.) to his sons (it is primarily a patriarchal system, though it is changing), and I gather Madini have been around for 400 years.

The vendor (who nowadays rarely is the perfumer) will either bottle it as it is in an ornamental-looking bottle with a dauber, or in a simple roll-on - or if you wish, will blend it for you in some alcohol so that you can spray it. DPG can be mixed in both oil and alcohol, and that's the advantage of this material, besides it being very cheap (unlike jojoba oil).

"The sweet and most celebrated flower of North Africa. Considered by many to be the most precious of floral ingredients, certainly one of the costliest". Given that it is sold for $25 for a 6 mL bottle (which brings it to roughly $125 per oz), I can see how someone may be inclined to think they are purchasing pure jasmine. This is not the case. This is simply a jasmine-like concoction of mainly (if not solely) synthetic molecules that is designed to replicate jasmine. It is not far off the jasmine base that I've described in my earlier article on jasmine, and is very potent. Certainly not something that I'd recommend wearing neat on the skin. It's just way too potent and harsh that way, and goes up your nostrils with a bit of a stinging sensation.

Okay, now I've diluted it to a normal eau de parfum concentration (in alcohol). Much better... But still, it's very cheap-smelling, and not convincing enough as a jasmine. I'm pretty sure that if it were to be blended with other notes, it would be okay, for example: if it were to be blended with fresh, citrusy or herbaceous essential oils, or with a true patchouli essential oil base - it will give it some more soul. Overall, it still smells flat, chemical (a combination of acetone and something else that still maintain a green sharp ice-needles in my nose, even after dilution). There is a hint of indole in the base that makes it feel a tad more real than other cheap jasmines I've smelled lately, but I would not wear it on its own as a soliflore, because it is just too harsh and sharp this way. But either way, I'm sorry to say that this goes down as a scrubber. I couldn't even do that too well - so I layered it with Brin de Réglisse and now I can breathe a little better... At least for a little while - the jasmine creeps up again after an hour or so, making both a scrubber once more!

For that price, or a little bit higher, you can get yourself a sample of pure jasmine absolute from a reputable supplier such as White Lotus Aromatics or Eden Botanicals, and dilute it in an oil of your choice (or get the jojoba-oil 10% dilution). I guarantee you will enjoy it much more. If you are interested in authentic, modern-day Arabian perfumes that are all-natural and beautifully crafted, I recommend you visit Amal Al-Kuwait's website. They are the real deal, and their Fatima perfume has loads of natural jasmine grandiflorum absolute, along with oud.

* “A compound of various raw materials (synthetic and/or natural) that are usually suspended in a base of DGP (dipropylene glycol).” 
- Excerpt From: Ayala Moriel. “Foundation of Natural Perfumery: A Practical Hands-on Guide for Creating Your Own Fragrances.” iBooks

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Ikat Jasmine

BD011 (detail)

The most interesting thing about Ikat Jasmine is its name. Ikat is an elaborate resist-dyeing and weaving technique in which rather than dyeing the finished, woven fabric - the individual threads or bundles of yarn are tightly tied or resistance-treated before being dipped in the dye, and only then woven into elaborate patterns that (unlike printing a pattern) are visible on both sides of the fabrics. This is an ancient technique that is labour-intensive and requires both skill and artistry. It is extremely difficult to create accurate patterns with the pre-dyed yarn, especially when trying to create elaborate designs with multiple colours. Therefore there is always a blurry quality to it - which adds to its charm and character. Ikat fabrics made with finer threads (such as silk) and several colours require an expert weaver, and usually are more accurate and costly. In many of the cultures where Ikat is produced, the fabric is considered to possess magical powers, endow its wearer with good luck, or at least be a symbol of status.
Ikat Looms

The technique can be found among specific weaving traditions, all over the world: Central Asia, Southeast Asia, India, Japan, Africa and the Andes indigenous people of South America. Most of these cultures use either a warp or weft ikat; while only very specific locations produce the even more elaborate double ikat, in which both the warp AND the weft are resist-dyed, for example: India (Pochampally Saree from the Bhoodan Pochampally village in Telengana State; and Puttakapa Saree from the Puttakapa village in Andhra Pradesh). The Balinese village Tengan (Indonesia) produces the beautiful geringsing; and in Okinawa, Japan (where it is called tate-yoko gasuri). In Okinawa there is an additional uniquely Japanese ikat technique called Oshima, which is used for stiff fabric and is so labour intense it is reserved for royalty).
Reading up about it was probably the best thing that came out of this short-lived perfume experience. I now have an even greater appreciation for the art of weaving. But also am more disappointed of this perfume, whose only connection to its name is its blurry, nondescript quality. However, while the blurriness of an ikat fabric shows its handmade origin and gives it a one-of-a-kind value - Ikat Jasmine perfume smells impersonal, industrial, synthetic and showcases neither jasmine nor ikat-like craftsmanship in its design and execution. To begin with, its only resemblance to jasmine is to star jasmine, which is not a true jasmine at all. In other words - there is no indole and no other dirty secrets to discover. In addition, there are absolutely no fun surprises of twists-of-plot for this number. From a nondescript floral frolic it smoothly and stretches into a yawn-inducing musky-ambery vagueness. To be fair, it is a pretty and wearable whitish floral ambery-musky thing, and all in all not bad if you place it next to, say, Halle Berry Exotic Jasmine. But compare it to what true jasmine absolute smells like or one of the more successful renditions of the theme (Jasmin de Nuit, Jasmine Rouge and A La Nuit), not to mention something a tad more imaginative such as Alien - it hardly demands mentioning.

Another point of reference is the price: for $125 CAD plus tax, you can do better than that: Either save yourself $26 and get Pure Poison, which is basically the same thing (minus pretending it's a high quality jasmine fragrance) add $25 more and get A La Nuit by Serge Lutens, both available at Sephora on Robson Street (for some reason they don't have the Serge Lutens on their website). To be fair, though, it is so much better than California Star Jasmine by Pacifica. Like, 100 times better. But that says more about Pacifica's disappointing launch rather than the topic of this blog post.

The notes are supposedly Tuberose Fleur, Jasmine Sambac, Jasmine Egypt Infusion, Honeysuckle, Tuberose Infusion. What my nose is smelling is Star jasmine, orange blossom, white musk and a hint of powdery, sheer amber. 

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

A La Nuit

Under the moonlight

A La Nuit is moonlit jasmine in all its glory. Jasmine is both radiant and forceful, delicate and at the same time larger-than-life.

This jasmine night opens with the intoxicating perfume of the flowers as they intensify in the dimming sunlight of summer sunset. As the light turns from burnt orange and hot pink into deep indigo, silvery streaks of moonbeams shine light on the little flowers on a climbing vine.

I've already expressed the difficulty to describe jasmine as a standalone. How can one explain its scent, dissect its facets and do it justice? I feel the same about A La Nuit, because it is a true jasmine perfume. It shows jasmine's complexity and beauty without sugar-coating it, prettyfing it with a bunch of musk and/or vanilla, nor exaggerating its already outspoken character.

The first time I smelled A La Nuit I thought to myself "It smells like jasmine, what's the big deal?".  If it wasn't for all the jasmine garbage that's out there (and which much of which I've been testing in the past three weeks), I would have dismissed this remarkable achievement. A La Nuit is a rare case that smells like the living and breathing flower, or the freshly picked blossoms before they undergo any extraction - by solvent, enfleurage or any other method. It's the pure scent of the tender flowers as you tickle your nostrils with their cool petals and just dive into this otherworldly, yet at the same time very earthly indulgence. The description on LuckyScent is quite neat and accurate, also just as a writeup on jasmine. Smelling A La Nuit also reminds me of Mandy Aftel's words:
"Its small, white, waxy blossoms exhale a perfume so peculiar as to be incomparable. TO walk past the flowering shrub in the evening is to be enveloped in the most glorious door, which turns an ordinary street corner into a boudoir." (Fragrant, p. 205)

My only reservation about this perfume is not exactly its longevity, but its evolution. On me the sensational stage of jasmine lasts a very brief, even if euphoric time. But perhaps this is a blessing in disguise - as I find too many floral fragrances to be cloying and headache inducing. It does, however, paint a jasmine-y picture without boiling down to the redundant musky-vanilla boredom that I've been mostly smelling in the last few weeks. Of all the jasmine-themed perfumes I've tested, this is by far the best, rivalled only by Jasmin Rouge. But given that my buying priorities usually favour purchasing raw materials over fragrances - I'd take the nearly $400 that both bottles cost, and spend it on an ounce each of the best ever jasmine grandiflorum and jasmine samba absolutes!

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