Friday, November 14, 2014


What can one expect from a scent with a name so unassuming as Coriandre? Would it be green? Rustic? Funny? Refreshing? There is nothing particularly intriguing, mysterious or fashionable about that. You just have to try it on your skin to find out.

Coriandre is a great perfume, which I have overlooked for years. Despite the many good things I've heard of it, it did not appeal to me when I tried it for the first time. It simply didn't register. Years later, I came across it on the forgotten shelves of the neighbourhood parfumerie; and noticed that they had some stray old bottles pre-IFRA reformulation frenzy. Which is always a good news for a scent that is very likely to rely on oakmoss for its appeal, being green and all.

Well, as it turns out - IFRA or no IFRA - it would have probably not made much of a difference. Unless what Robin is saying is true, and this is already been reformulated beyond recognition by the early 90s.

Coriandre is not really a Chypre in the classical sense of the word. I don't even think I would classify it as a Chypre at all. Nor would I classify it as green, either. To me, Coriandre is a big, dirty, dusty rose. Maybe not that big either. And if it smells like any colour at all, it would be brown, not green. It is brown. And bitter.

Unbeknown to it, it is the mother of all of those godless, oakmossless modern "Chypres" - Agent Provocateur, Narciso Rodriguez, SJP Lovely and Chloe. A Chypre that relies on musk, patchouli and vetiver to tell its dry, bitter jokes and poke fun at rosy-cheeked naïveté, all the while being doused in rose itself. If you're into herbaceous, earthy floral perfumes, such as Aromatics Elixir- Coriandre is a very good (and affordable) substitute. It can be had for $38 for a 30ml bottle (and that's probably a rip-off, actually, comparing to how cheap you can get it elsewhere).

Top notes: Coriander seed, Angelica Heart notes: Rose, Jasmine, Orange Blossom
Base notes: Musk, Patchouli, Vetiver, Sandalwood

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Best Scents for Men this Winter - via Men's Journal and Business Insider:

Read Michael Malone's expert advice article on Men's Journal, featuring Orcas and Rainforest by your truly!
The article was also published in Business Insider.

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Saturday, November 08, 2014

Fundraiser for Tama Blough

Sad, sad news today :'-(

Tama Blough, the founder of the SF Sniff - a fragrant meetup and event in San Francisco, and also a perfume blogger and reviewer who's writing appeared regularly in CaFleurBon, is terminally ill with cancer.
The perfume community, although spread the world over, is tightly knit and some people become such an important part of our life even if only through the world wide web. Having met her a few times when I was in California for the Artisan Fragrance Salon, it is even more devastating to learn of her illness.

Tama's friend in fragrance Nina Zolotow has set up an online fundraiser to help her out in this tough time. Please lend a hand for a kindred spirit who's given much of herself to the perfume community. Let's give her something back, to make her last days on this earth as peaceful and comfortable as possible.

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Ma Griffe

Jean Carles, the Beethoven of modern perfumery, created many unforgettable classics that have changed the world of perfumery forever. Tabu and Canoe (Dana), Shocking (Schiparelli) as well as several scents for Lucien Lelong. And like Beethoven, he lost his sense of smell towards the end of his career. But that did not stop him from creating great fragrances. Ma Griffe being one of them. And like Tabu and Schiaparelli, whatever it lacks in nuance and refinement, it makes up for in a bold and innovative advertising campaign.

I've always had a fondness to Ma Griffe (1946), be it the original (and more demure ad) portraying the literal meaning of the scent "My Signature" with a lady's hand signing her name with perfume instead of ink. But also always ignored it because of my much greater love and loyalty to Miss Dior, the epitome of animalic-floral chypres tinged with green. When smelled separately, the two bring each other to mind. But Ma Griffe has a certain crudeness to it that has softened and rounder by the time 1947 rolled around with Miss Dior (also created by Jean Carles, this time in collaboration with Paul Vacher. The extrait for Miss Dior, by the way, was reworked by Edmond Roudnitska). By then he must have perfected the concept, resulting in a seamless Chypre that is like no other.

Ma Griffe opens with a burst of juicy lemony notes and bergamot, as well as citronella, which I feel is the culprit of the opening notes, and probably what made it not nearly as popular as Miss Dior that followed it - the citronella gives a sharp impression that takes away from the refinement of the rest of the composition. There is a hint of galbanum, but not enough to leave trails on your man's back!
As the perfume evolves, it becomes more bitter, tart and woody, and less feminine and sultry.
 Aside from galbanum, two other contributors to the bitterness is methyl ionone and coumarin - notes that bring to mind the metallic-floral prowl of Je Reviens and Rive Gauche. This phase, admittedly, is not my favourite part of Ma Griffe, which also has a hint of oily aldehydes (C-11, C-13) - giving it a very lady-like personality. It's charming in low doses, but is very particular to the era and not necessarily appeal to today's fast-paced, simplicity-seeking lifestyle. I imagine the same "type" of women who enjoyed it in the 50's would now appreciate the reformulated Sisley's Eau de Champagne - which is a lot more simpler, brisk and still has that bitter charm of a glass of very dry martini.

Once the aldehydes quiet down a bit, the warmth of cinnamon begins to come through, as well as a hint of incense from the styrax (AKA liquidambar - one of the main components for creating amber accords). The florals are not particularly strong in any phase, but if anything comes through, it's the spiciness (hint of eugenol) and fruity-banana-like nuance from the ylang ylang. This underappreciated floral is a wonderful, smoothing counterpart to green notes, who in return cif ut through its intense, heady sweetness. Both together eliminate their potential for nauseating headiness, and create something new and exciting. If you've smelled Chamade, with its prominent galbanum-ylang ylang contrast, you may know what I am referring to.

As Ma Griffe dries down, it's becoming even more appealing, especially for the connoisseurs of unsweet perfumes. Strong presence of vetiverol - the vetiver alcohol - gives it a very clean, tart, precioius-wood finish that men could sport with just as much confidence as ladies.

This review is for a pre-IFRA regulated version (from days of yore, when there was no requirements of listing any allergens on the ingredients list) and in the EDT formulation. It's very vintage-y, and if comparing to Miss Dior - it has more of a white floral and musky nuances to it, which remind me a bit of Chant d'Aromes. It also has more of a citrusy burst and it's more aldehydic and powdery than Miss Dior. I should get around to write a full review of it next week. One of these days I'll do a side-by-side of these three beauties, and give you a more elaborate comparison.

Top notes: Lemon, Begramot, Citronella, Galbanum, Aldehydes
Heart notes: Ylang Ylang, Jasmine, Rose, Gardenia, Clary Sage, Cinnamon, Styrax
Base notes: Vetiver, Coumarin, Oakmoss

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Sunday, November 02, 2014

Odourama for the Dead

In honour of my dearly departed grandfather, I've set to create a little shrine in his memory, which I have fondly decided to call "Odourama" (you'll see why shortly). Today is Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) - the day when Mexicans honour their loved ones who have passed away. Inviting their spirits with their favourite foods, objects and hobbies, and inviting them to the family dinner, quite literally.

The normalization of death, making it part of life, is a new concept to me and foreign to my culture. Many years have passed since my grandfather's premature death (on my 13th birthday), and I have grown up much more since. I never had the tools to really cope with this death, and I am thankful that no one close to me has passed in all these years. Creating a shrine that will symbolically invite my grandfather's spirit for just one day (we don't want to disturb the dead from their peaceful rest) is stepping away from my heritage and traditions; creating it prove to be something very personal and meaningful to me.

If scent has the power to banish evil spirits, surely it can invite the spirits of our loved ones. It may not be as meaningful to the spirit as it is to the living person making the invitation. I was only a child when my grandfather passed, and I can only remember some of the things my grandfather enjoyed in his earthly life. Strong black espresso, bittersweet chocolate, grapefruit and cornflakes for breakfast, and Old Spice cologne (which I could not find a trace of anywhere). He also picked Vol de Nuit for my grandmother's signature perfume many years ago, so I put a bottle of that in lieu of Old Spice. I'm sure that smelling my grandma's favourite perfume will please him just as much!

Next year I will build a real one with little skeleton sculpture to celebrate his life's accomplishments. But for now, using the essential oils of grapefruit, coffee and marigold (the Day of the Dead symbolic flower) work just as effectively. It is all about creating the space in your home for those no longer with us. Because we are physical beings, we need those physical reminders, even if once a year, that our loved ones still are with us in some invisible way. Now I'm going to brew some dark coffee. I've already got the coffee table set for three - with After Eight (his favourite chocolate), some cookies, and the great granddaughter he's never lived long enough to meet.

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Saturday, November 01, 2014

Choisya for the Lost Souls

Choisya in October: what a strange sight & smell in the the fall. Rare for them to bloom here in autumn. It's usually freezing cold by the end of October, but not this year. 
The contrast of heliotropin and methyl anthranilate on a backdrop of ripe rosehips and fallen leaves is intriguing and surprising. Choisya (AKA Mexican orange or mock orange blossom) is my flower of choice for Day of the Dead. And if I were Mexican I would probably anoint an altar with Old Spice in memory of my grandfather. Instead, I went to the Parade of Lost Souls and sprayed Black Licorice perfumer all around.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Taken from a Flavourist's Nightmare

Just in time for Halloween: This array of array of bizarre snacks, drinks and junk food from around the world looks like it's taken straight out of a flavourist's or perfumer's worst nightmare...

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Smelling is: Healing, Feeling, Sensing, Connecting...

What shamans, herbalists and aromatherapists have known for hundreds if not thousands of years, science only now beginning to acknowledge and prove. In a recent NY Times article titled "Smell Turns Up in Unexpected Places", Alex Stone reviews recent scientific discoveries pertaining to chemical sensors in other parts of our body besides the olfactory bulbs.

While this is not exactly identical to the experience of scent per se, it is not exactly a surprise from an evolutionary point of view. The olfactory bulbs originally developed as sensing organs to sample the fluid, liquid environment of the primal ocean where life has developed. Some even speculate, that from these first sensing organs predated our limbic system, and from it, the brain eventually evolved... In other words, "I smell, therefore I think" is not quite as far-fetched as it may sound.

Smell is, in a sense, an assessment of the chemical environment surrounding the organism. In every breath, the organism evaluates differences in the environment and gathers important information for its survival, such as: is there any danger (i.e. fire, toxins or predators) nearby? Is there food or water nearby?

Why would it be surprising, then, that other parts of the body would also be able to assess chemicals and molecules, and respond to its healing properties? If our entire nervous system depends on responses to hormones, why would anyone be in the least surprised that other organs in the body, such as the liver or digestive tract, have special cells dedicated to molecular sensing and identification?

And for those fascinated by the notion of pheromones: it is not in the least surprising either (though of course fascinating nevertheless) that the sperm cells use their "sense of smell" so to speak to locate the eggs in their existentialist race for life (or death).

Many people won't be able to quite pinpoint how smell affects them. But we can all feel it. Perfumers, aromatherapists, shamans, priests, witches and herbalists have been attuned to the healing properties of fragrant plants and substances with distinctive olfactory characteristics. It's great that science is now catching up to this and we can read explanations to this. But I am certain that all along, we all feel a strong visceral reaction to scent, and our skin (the largest organ in our body) needs to be treated with respect as it has an important role in absorbing some of those healing energies from our environment - including sun light (essential for developing vitamin D), pheromones from our own species, and the many fragrant gifts of nature floating in the air surrounding us, or intentionally rubbed onto our bodies in the form of healing ointments, oils and massage.

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"It is deadly to be without a confidante, without a guide, without even a tiny cheering section". (Clarissa Pinkola-Estes).

Being a transitional season from abundance to constriction, fall is time of reflection, contemplation, checking the balances in both the physical world and spiritual world. Taking stock of harvests, planning for a long winter. And also - taking note of what's missing from one's spiritual life, seeking it out, and nourishing what is there. These supplies would sustain the soul in a long, harsh, cold and dark winter.

Fall is also a season for sorting. This fall I've been doing a lot of re-structuring for my business, creating a new website which is to be hosted on a new server. Through this process, there was the inevitable weeding out of many fragrances that were not sustainable enough to keep in stock regularly, and get rid of a lot of language that was no longer useful on the website, weeding out not only stale content, but also eliminating things that are taking away from the core of what I do, shifting my focus and taking away energy and attention from what's really important. The new website will be a lot more user-friendly, and all my musings on this blog are integrated into the website as well, which is quite wonderful (all the way back to the first blog posts from 2006!).

The other focus of attention for me this fall has been wrapping up my book project. While it is a new edition of an existing book, it has a lot of new material added (almost double in size). The new book is 218 pages long, printed locally in perfect binding, with ISBN and all... It's bulk of new material includes a glossary for over 250 terms; and 55 original formulae for learning in a very concrete manner about all the different fragrance families and their sub-categories. I really cannot wait for it to be ready so that I can share it with you. But it also brings to a close a very long chapter of procrastination in my life. I am the type of person who sits on an idea for prolonged periods of time, stewing over them so to speak, and then in a very concentrated effort I push it forward to completion. Not unlike birth, now that I come to think of it... The pushing part is the part when progress is visible. But most of the hard work was really done in the procrastination phase, when the ideas just "cook" and morph in my head, undergoing an alchemical process (or perhaps it is me who goes through this process).

But this is already digressing from the topic that I'm set to tackle here. Which brings me back to the quote from Pinkola-Estes' life-changing book "Women Who Run with the Wolves". I've been reading it on and off for a couple of years now, as the ideas in it are really difficult to digest and require integrating in one's psyche to really have an impact and understand the meaning behind her stories and wise feminine lore. That particular quote really struck a chord with me. And since this is a time of reflection, it reminded me of how important it is for someone to have support. It takes a village not just to raise a child; but also to keep that child healthy, connected, vibrant through life. We can't live in a vacuum, and we can't create in a hollow space that occupies nothing but our hearts. An artist needs his audience just as much as my perfumes need your skin to really bloom, breathe, and make a change. So thank you for being my little cheering section. And thank you to SmellyBlog readers to being my confidantes - because this blog is a journal of sorts. Lastly, thank you to all of my colleagues, mentors and students for teaching me, inspiring me and forcing me to move forward and share my  knowledge. It is one of those few things that really keeps me going...

I meant to post this for Thanksgiving (in Canada we celebrated it this past weekend), so I hope this is not too late! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Wishing you all a fragrant fall, a joyous harvest season, and many blessings for the new Jewish year, the new school year, and beyond!

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