Monday, November 24, 2014

Anatomy of a Flower



Narcissus is an elusive flower that has been possessing this perfumer's imagination for as long as could be. Vivid memories of the fresh wild flower begin with a folk song about picking narcissi in the fields, and encountering a white horse. The rhyme does not end too well.  

לַשָּׂדֶה יָצֹא יָצָאתִי
נַרְקִיסִים קָטַפְתִּי,
סוּס לָבָן רָאֹה רָאִיתִי
וְעָלָיו רָכַבְתִּי.

וְהַסּוֹס דָּהַר דָּהַר
וַאֲנִי נָפַלְתִּי,
וְאֶת כָּל הַנַּרְקִיסִים
בַּשָּׂדֶה הִשְׁאַרְתִּי.
Living wild narcissus flowers have an unusual scent, heady and intoxicating, both freshly green and white-floral in character. Native to the Mediterranean basin, these bulb flowers for Narcissus tazetta come to bloom in the late fall and wintertime, in different months depending on when the rainy season begins, and also depending on the particular habitat. It is grown commercially for perfumery, primarily in Southern France, where the method of enfleurage was discovered first to extract its precious aroma. Nowadays it is processed by solvent extraction, to produce an absolute. This particular type of narcissus is also referred to as "Narcisse des Montagne" (Narcissus of the Mountain), which grows in the Esterel area (vs. Narcisse des Plaines" which grows in Grasse area, and is sweeter, more honeyed but also quite faint fragrance). Narcissus poeticus, also known as Poet's Daffodil is another sub-species that is grown for the fragrance industry, both in the Netherlands and Southern France. Jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla) is native to the Western Mediterranean countries, and is also grown for extraction purposes, but in even lesser quantities, as it is rarely used - case in point is Vol de Nuit.

Paperwhite (Narcissus papyraceus) are a cultivar of this wild narcissus species as well, forced to flower around Christmas time, for their symbolic purity of Virgin Mary. In the Language of Flowers, narcissus symbolizes unrequited love and selfishness

Wild narcissus (Narcissus tazetta) smells both green and fresh, and also heady and almost sickeningly sweet. The scent invites from afar, with this heady melange that permeates the air around its modest surrounding among thorny bushes and garrigue shrubs. It invites you from afar, but if you get very close to smell it - you'll be hit by its lethally rotten aroma of excrement and dying flesh. This is due to the presence of two molecules - indole (not surprisingly, also present in jasmine and civet); and paracresol, which is reminiscent of leather (and is responsible for sickeningly sweet, intensely fecal notes that permeate Youth Dew).

Narcissus has a very complex, unusual and sophisticated odour. According to Bo Jensen, while many odorants have been identified as common to narcissi (benzyl acetate, methyl benzoate, p-cresol, phenethyl alcohol and indole), none are unique to this flower. Van Dort et al. attempted to identify the characteristic compounds of narcissus, but while they found additional molecules (8-oxolinalool, 3,7-dimethyl-1,3,5-octatriene-7-ol, methyl 2-methyl-6-methylene-2,7-octadienoate, 8-hydroxylinalool, 2-methoxy-2,6-dimethyl-3,5,7-octatriene and lilac aldehyde), neither could be held responsible for the flower's personality.

Poucher delves deeper into the world of narcissus compounding, and offers an extensive list of no less than 73 raw materials to recreate the living flower's impressive aroma, including (in addition to narcissus and jonquille absolutes), natural essences such as bergamot, orris, rose otto, styrax, orange flower water absolute, ylang ylang, ambrette, and many other floral absolutes (orange flower, jasmine, rose, tuberose), sandalwood, labdanum, civet, costus and benzoin. Key synthetic materials revolve around various paracresyls (p-acetate, p-iso-butyrate, p-phenylacetate), floral molecules (methyl anthranilate, phenylethyl acetate and benzyl acetate), coumarin, vanillin, heliotropin, musk ketone, and the peach aldehyde undecalactone, among others.

I've been meddling with a beautiful narcissus absolute that my friend Jessica September Buchanan has sent me from France and to me, it is dense, rich, not nearly as heady as the fresh flower, but rather leaning onto the green side. It is reminiscent of hay fields, honey, waxy tuberose, and is both woody, sweet, green and powdery. In my search for the perfect narcissus companions that will accentuate its eccentric and subtle beauty, I have selected angelica, ylang ylang, clary sage absolute, liatrix, pinewood, pine moss, pine needle absolute, palmarosa, cabreuva, szechuan pepper, balsam poplar buds and fire tree. It's been a great challenge to work with this absolute, and neither of these complementary essences is particularly easy either, but it's been a rewarding journey which I will share with you over the next few days, leading up to launching the new creations that resulted from this process.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Coriandre



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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