Friday, December 30, 2005

I've crawled out of my cave to post The Best Of, with my friends. I'd really rather say something about my friends because they ARE worth telling the world about, but to be sociable and join in the fun, I will tell the world about the great makeup/perfume products I discovered in 2005. Here is my list, and it will be followed by a list of my friends blogs, so you can rummage around comparing 2005 Best Ofs:

Best Of 2005

1. Philosophy Gingerbread Man Shower Gel and Bubble Bath. I can't wake up without this product. My employer would be wise to ship a case of this stuff to me to ensure I get to work post-showered clean, refreshed, smiling, and smelling good.

2. The Different Company's Bois d'Iris perfume. After 30-mumblemumble years of adoring rose perfumes, I fell head over heels for iris and changed my signature scent. This is entirely Maller's fault. You know who you are.

3. Fresh's Umbrian Clay Face Treatment has taken my super-sensitive skin that blotches at a mere whisper of soap or heat, and treated it as the delicate porcelain pain in the *ss it is. I have found my soap, face mask, and treatment bar in the Umbrian Clay product line. I also use the Umbrian Clay toothpaste, shampoo, and hair mask. I am a FOOL in love with Umbrian Clay.

4. Stella Rose Absolute Parfum Intense. I have been speechless since finding my love, Stella Rose Absolute. I thought Stella parfum was the be-all end-all of perfumes for me (aside from Bois d'Iris). But nooooo, there is a fresher jewel that brings me from a blousey cool rose-peony-amber friendly place in my home, to just inside the perimeter of my rose garden on a dewy morning in June. This is the perfume that is my most essential self. It is as though the perfumer made it exactly, and only, for the real and true ME.

5. La Prairie Extrait of Skin Caviar Firming Complex. This is it, this is the secret of my skin, the reason it looks 10 years younger. Now you know.

6. Bobbi Bell Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner in Violet Ink. This eyeliner glides on like silk, makes a beautiful smoky line, stays put all day, and comes in really beautiful colors. I use Violet Ink most of the time, but also sometimes use Sepia Ink or Graphite Shimmer Ink, subtle yet rich smoky colors that are complimentary to my grey-blue eye color. This is the most essential make-up of my wardrobe.

7. Chanel Glossimer in Sensuelle. The little swatches on and other sites have no bearing on the real color, which is a soft violet. It is like a soft fuschia that is lost in amethyst. This incredible color is very flattering and makes the teeth look whiter, the smile softer, and the skin flushed pink. I've never used a more flattering Glossimer (and I use SO MANY of them!!).

8. People of the Labyrinths Luctor et Emergo - Body Creme. I think I was the first person to get a jar of this incredible body creme because Autumn, a very kind e-store proprietress, offered me her one and only sample (in a ripped box) at a huge discount. I grabbed it. I wasn't feeling well at the time and to have my favorite perfume in a thick creme form was true heaven. Well it is the thickest, richest body creme I've ever worn. It has an extremely high parfum content (parfum being the second listed ingredient!) so I can't imagine how they can afford to keep this stuff in production considering its decently low price. The body creme is all you need - no need to put on ANY perfume afterwards. It deeply conditions the skin and forms a thin waterproof shield, sort of like a second skin. This is truly magical stuff and I am never without it. My greatest fear is that it will cease production so I WILL have to buy a backup jar, and soon but I see Autumn doesn't carry it any more (!!!!) so I will grab a jar from Marcy quick.

I use tons of other products but these are the most stand-out of 2005 for me. Of the 20 Glossimers in my bag, I usually only wear one. Of the 30 eyeliners and eye pencils in my vanity, I always gravitate to Violent Ink. Of the 100+ perfume bottles in shelves around my dressing area, I nearly always reach for the same few. I'm in such a happy rut. May you have a similarly happy rut, routine, and discovery of best products for 2005 and again in 2006.

Best wishes,

Here are links to my friend's Best Of lists:

Sunday, September 18, 2005

My very scary pet

The finches were flying up to the birdfeeder and then swooping into the bushes. They looked surprised because at the last second they'd falter in midair and then take cover quickly in a bush, although, some flew to the top of the birdfeeder and sat up there, looking down.

Bizarre, I thought. I went outside to look at the other side of the birdfeeder and this is what I found -- my pet praying mantis!!! She is intimidating EVERYBODY!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Bug love

I was going to pull out the gigantic wormwood plant at the other end of the garden (big fluffy thing from which absinthe is made) when I buried my hands into the old wood and started to pull -- and a GIGANTIC praying mantis daintily stepped over my knuckles to drop to a lower branch.

This was a mature female, with closed darkened wings and a full six or seven inch length. I looked at her. She turned her head completely around and looked at me. We stood there for a moment.

Then I did something really bizarre: I petted her. I said, "Hello there!" very softly, and using only my index finger, gently stroked her back. She didn't budge, just kept looking at me. Then she took a step forward and stopped again, looking back at me. I said, "Nice to have you here!" and petted her back again! It was smooth going from head to tail, but rough and bristly from tail to head (I was actually stroking her closed wings).

I petted and talked to this praying mantis for a good ten minutes before she tired of me and dropped to another, much lower branch. I didn't even bother to dash inside for the camera. I simply savored the bond, and then went back to gardening. However, the wormwood plant was spared.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Today's crop of insect photography!

I took these in the garden near my front door. I'm using a Sony DSC F-707 and importing them into my Mac Powerbook G4, then use Adobe Photoshop to crop them and add my copyright. Then I upload them to for storage and to link to them from here.

I don't know what the species is on the last one, the orange spotted swallowtail -- but will ask an expert this evening and post the name when I find out.

A Pipevine Swallowtail with pale smeary blue markings.

Another view of the Pipevine Swallowtail.

Red-spotted purple Basilarchia astyanax butterfly (and yes, he's standing upside-down on the flower) - Thanks to for identifying the species for me!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Remarks at cousin Sydney's Funeral

spoken July 22, 2005

How can we best summarize Sydney Johnson, my brother? There are many ways to describe him. Loving husband and father, servant of his faith, an engineer, a scientist, an economist, a man who faced adversity and held his head high.

I have another word for him – which summarizes what he meant to us, his brothers and sister. It may surprise many of you who knew him as he became increasingly housebound and even wheelchair-bound.

I would call Syd an Explorer. He loved to explore.

This was brought back to me last month, as I visited Syd in his Danbury hospital room. He was heavily medicated and sleeping and breathing deeply. On the TV above his bed were dozens gazelles and giraffes running across the screen – Cynthia looked at me and said: "He loves the Discovery Channel."

Suddenly, seeing those gazelles and giraffes, I remembered how much Syd loved to travel and learn about and explore many, many new worlds.
When he graduated from college in 1966, Syd was the first in our family to move overseas – to York and to London, England, where he spent the better part of two decades. He decided to take the old Queen Mary, a traditional transatlantic ocean voyage. He loved York – the old Minster, the Shambles.

I was privileged in the early 1970s to spend time with him in England. We traveled many places, both in the UK and elsewhere.

I recall, particularly an adventure in Morocco. We had just purchased Moroccan jalabas, the long flowing Arab robes, at a souk in Casablanca, and decided to wear them as we boarded a long distance bus, filled with Arabs and Berbers, across the Atlas Mountains.

I fancied that my French skills and my somewhat darker skin (after all, we have a Spanish ancestor on our mother's side) would enable us to pass as locals. Syd, whose Scandinavian origins were immediately betrayed by a face as red as a beetroot after a few hours of African sunlight, convinced me otherwise.

I remember another trip, when Syd's Serbian language skills betrayed him and he purchased a train ticket from Belgrade to Venice on a train that actually went to Switzerland – the Swiss police removed him from the train and, after he was released, he had to hitchhike through the Simplon Tunnel. He had a grand time, and told that story many times afterward.

Carolyn remembers the Christmas skiing trip in the Austrian Alps – Syd was an excellent athlete. And a protective older brother to us all.

I recall a phone call from Istanbul one day. It was Syd. He had taken the Orient Express train to Turkey. There had just been an earthquake in Istanbul and he wanted to describe it for us.

Yet there was one more trip.

The poet Elizabeth Bishop wrote, at the conclusion of her poem "Questions of Travel":

/ . . . / Should we have stayed at home

/ . . . / Wherever that might be?

Syd eventually learned that his travel days were over and that he would stay at home. But, like Lou Gehrig in very similar circumstances, he considered himself lucky – or as many would say, including Syd, blessed.

Lucky to be blessed with a loving and devoted wife. Blessed also with a son who was smart and caring, and whose interest in computers paralleled his own.

At home, during the final decade of his life, he became an involuntary explorer, on a trip that none of us would envy him for – as he faced his increasing disability. But he still loved to explore.

I visited him on the evening before his 60th birthday, last November. I shared with him photos of the recent trip that my daughter Marta and I had made to India. He was fascinated by the trip. Syd's eyes lighted up, and he nodded with glee, as we discussed photos of some village monkeys who begged money from tourists, and then took the coins to a local fruit seller, who gave them bananas in exchange. After the monkeys finished the bananas, they awaited the next tourist bus. Syd chortled.

In those final years, Syd dealt with his disease with courage, dignity, fortitude, and incredible grace – and never allowed it to undermine his faith. In that last journey, he became a hero for many of us – and now he has one more journey, one more exploration, and we who are left behind can only note how much we enjoyed his company, and his exploring mind, and say: "Thank you, Syd. Have a great trip."

Bruce Johnson (Seattle, WA )

Friday, August 19, 2005

A bizarre comparison: Musc Ravageur versus Jasmine de Nuit

You wonder why I am comparing them? Because they have a very similar "vibe." They could actually be the same perfume except for the candy/churchy differences. Let's see why . . . . .

I have The Different Company's Jasmine de Nuit on my right arm, and Frederick Malle's Musc Ravageur on my left arm. It's been 30 minutes.

Sillage: Similar! There is a sameness to the amount of sillage given the same exact quantity of perfume applied to each arm, and a similar "vibe" to the perfumes themselves. However, my nose picks up a beautiful candy sweetness from the Jasmine, and an incredible churchy incense quality from the Musc.

Taken from their sites:
  • MUSC RAVAGEUR. Sensual and sophisticated. Powerful yet perfectly controlled. Dramatic and mysterious. MUSC RAVAGEUR is a grown-up perfume, an uncompromising Oriental, which trumps current fads. Its explosive departure of bergamot, tangerine and cinnamon is set against a lusty backdrop of vanilla, musk and amber. No flowers, just a refined and exalted skin scent. Its creator: Maurice Roucel

  • JASMIN DE NUIT is a childhood dream, the sweetness of the flower that opens at nightfall mingled with a hint of star anise on a bed of amber. Egyptian Jasmine is used abundantly here and, combined with spices such as cardamom and cinnamon, delivers a series of sweet yet powerful sensual notes. Olfactory note: Floral and amber, fruity blackcurrent. Main components: Egyptian Jasmine, Badian (Star Anise), Ceylon Cinnamon, Cardamom, Sandalwood, Amber.

They have very strong notes in common: Amber and cinnamon. A common result: Musc Ravageur has vanilla and musk which may produce an accord similar to the Nasmin de Nuit's jasmine, which is a musky floral.

But here's the big distinction between them: The sandalwood and star anise candy-sweeten Jasmin de Nuit, while the bergamot-musk combination causes a skin-scent incense quality to Musc Ravageur.

I don't think I would ever layer these two perfumes, but I do believe that the Jasmin de Nuit and Musc Ravageur have such a similar impact on the skin as to be summer and winter renditions of the same perfume. Test for yourself and see!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Comparing Two Carnation Perfumes

CdG Carnation on the left wrist. JAR Diamond Waters on the right wrist. It's been 30 minutes.

It's not easy to tell them apart. However, I detect just a hint more clove in the CdG, and a smidgeon of jasmine in the JAR. The JAR also seems to have a very slight blend of oppoponax into it.

The CdG is an overall impression of Red Carnations and cloves, and has a very slightly soapy quality. The JAR is an overall impression of White, or more subtle Carnations -- and Oppoponax. It has no soapy quality whatsoever.

If I bring my nose out and away from my arm to catch only the sillage, they are identical except one seems warmer (the CdG) and JAR has a church incense vibe.

If I bring my wallet to the store to buy them, the CdG Carnation is in the $100 range, and the JAR Diamond Waters is in the $800 range. I guess it all depends on how much you want to spend, and whether or not you prefer soapy or incensy carnations!

FOUR HOURS LATER: The JAR has turned into a barely detectible light floral with hints of carnation and opoponax. It is not a "carnation" fragrance at this point. The CdG is just as strong as when I first applied it (LOL). And true. Steady as she goes!


Friday, August 12, 2005

More beautiful creatures from this morning

Click on any photo for a closer view.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (aka Yellow Swallowtail).

His wings.

A House Finch poses for me.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

More critters from the garden this morning

Painted lady closeup.

Dragonfly - Male Blue Dasher.

A bee works a some lavender.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Camera love

I stalk butterflies, and hummingbirds (with the camera). Gotta get those hummingbird photos fast because they're fattening up right now for the long flight south. They will be flying south in a week or two! Here are my very first photographs of hummingbirds and butterflies, taken over the past 3 days.

Pipevine Swallowtail.

Closeup of the Pipevine Swallowtail.

Painted Lady. Image hosted by

Hummingbird in shadow. Image hosted by

Hummingbird in light (a different hummingbird from the previous). Image hosted by

Hummingbird's wingspan. Image hosted by

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Michel Comte - Shared Water EDT Femme

1. The bottle is STUNNING!! You see the black piece on top? You press that, and it sprays perfume upward. So I put my wrist on the black cap and pushed, and voila, I had perfume on my wrist. The bottom is round, not flat, so the bottle rocks and the aqua colored perfume looks very "marine" LOL.

2. This perfume starts out with a smashing narcissus/patchouli combination. You thought you'd tried everything, right? Wrong! If you like TDC Jasmine de Nuit, and/or Angel, you will adore this bright sparkling combination of the two. Except one thing: the patchouli is blended down into the jasmine so that it seems you are inhaling a spring garden, dirt and all. You know why? Because bergamot adds a punch to it, and the violet adds an earthy sweetness. Very subtle bergamot and violet. But how brilliant to combine these notes! The end result is such a gorgeous spring narcissus.

The notes are:

Top: Mountain Narcissus, Purple Shiso, Bergamot, Lily of the Valley, Violet

Heart: Freesia, Orchid, Vanilla

Bass: Patchouli, Vanille, Vetiver, Moss, Basmati Rice

3. Then the heart notes start cooking. Here, layered right under the strong narcissus and just over the sweet patchoulli, we find freesia keeping the sweet light on, and vanilla coming out of nowhere to add body and depth. Wow. So now the narcissus is floating sweetly on a bed of patchouli and the freesia and vanilla chime in to add character to the perfume. Now it's smelling more natural and yet, very sexy. There is a "skin scent-ness" to this. Oddly, the freesia also begins to make a more watery accord.

4. So now the water is starting to happen. It's an Atlantic bru-haha. Patchouli, violet and freesia are starting to get salty like a storm on the Atlantic, and meanwhile the narcissus and vanilla are providing a yachtsman-like full sail breeze. Now I begin to understand the "water" in this perfume.

5. More water in the form of basmati rice. Why does it smell like water? Because the rice is earthy, herbal, salty, rice-y, and if you add this to all the other notes which have not died down yet, you get a fabulous seaworthiness. Plus, big bonus here, the narcissus is still going strong!

6. Lasted 5 hours on me! Dries down continually salty sea with narcissus on top, which is pretty much the same as basmatic rice (a soothing note!). It just never quits being interesting and beautiful. I have finally found a marine fragrance I can LOVE.

7. I bought my bottle at

I have been thinking about how to create an ocean accord. It's very hard but the only way to do it successfully seems to be by using floral combinations plus moss, and in this case, the lovely basmati rice. Narcissus is a sexy and sultry smell, and rice is a comforting smell, and moss, violet and patchouli are elemental smells. It's interesting that a photographer figured out how to make such a winning combination. I don't know who the nose was on this perfume, maybe someone else knows?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

A Maturing Garden

This is a three foot round of mother-of-thyme which has bloomed and spilled over into the walkway. There are seven thymes and only two have grown to three foot fragrant stepping stones. The rest will spill into the path next year, including caraway, lemon, and two more wooleys (one of which is gigantic right now). One of the thymes is microscopically tiny and will probably take a couple of years to reach this size and blooming power.

The nepeta (catnip) was such a tiny thing and being eaten by cats and rabbits, that I put a chime into the bush to scare the critters away. Well it grew so large and bloomed so vociferously that the bees keep hitting the chimes. As a result, the nepeta is a moving and fragrant bush that softly chimes every minute or two.

This is the walkway where Mme. Isaac Periere once dominated. As you can see, the lilies have grown up all around and inside her now, and stand about 10 feet tall. Each bloom is a little bigger than a dinner plate. This garden powerfully scents the entire neighborhood and cars tend to slow down or stop in order to glimpse the source of the scent. All the way in the back you can see an artemesia starting to bush out. This is artemesia abrosanthum, the one from which absinthe is made. What are all those sticks looking so messy? That's lavender just starting to bloom throughout the entire bottom layer of the garden, jutting up into the liles, roses, heliotrope - everywhere. Zack likes to eat the flowers.

The heliotrope has finally begun to bloom. It likes a lot of food and water. The leaves are an incredibly soft velvety texture and the blooms smell like dried black cherries, sweet woodruff (or just sheared hay), warm pie crust, and deep delicious cooking vanilla. You can smell these very tiny flowers all the way to the driveway, even over and above the powerful scent of the lilies. Heliotrope is an amazing fragrance garden additive!


Thursday, June 23, 2005

Angel Violet

Angel violet was created by Francoise Caron(Aimez Moi). It went on me this morning very similar to Angel in subtle green, patchouli and chocolate notes. The violet note seemed like a sweet (but not candylike) topnote to me.

However, as the morning progresses, I'm finding that it becomes a 100% incense perfume. The notes have combined to become churchy - no, make that Cathedral. There is no coldness to this incense. But the combination of notes has created a warm incense accord, not smoky but very comforting, peaceful, and evocative of sitting in a church pew on a warm day with the sunlight streaming in through high decorated windows.

Because the perfume is so well blended, the patchouli and violet have both subsumed themselves into the major accord, with an undertone of chocolate and an overtone of incense.

Monday, May 30, 2005

I Hope SHOPNBC Goes Bankrupt

I've spent thousands at ShopNBC. At one point I was extremely addicted and bought tons of jewelry I'll never wear. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, you name it, I bought it. All designer stuff, too. For years I wanted a pair of diamond hoops. I bought one pair, designer, but they're too big for the office. So I continued to shop for another smaller pair. I finally found them - and I found a coupon for $50 off at ShopNBC BUT it was only for new customers. So I of course created a new account and bought the earrings, with the $50 off coupon (wouldn't anyone!). ShopNBC used to have good quality merchandise when it was ValueVision. But after it became ShopNBC and fired all the good hosts and designers, and started selling vacuum cleaners and other department store crap, the quality deteriorated to a really visible degree. The workmanship sucks, to put it mildly. Anyway I received these $500 earrings and hated them. The diamonds had visible black carbon bits in them and had zero sparkle, the earrings didn't close properly, and instead of looking like 18k white gold, they looked like tarnished silver. Really bad junk. So I boxed them up and sent them back with a note saying "No Thanks." I also insured the package, of course, for $500.

Well a month goes by and I see they've continued taking payments out of my checking account. So I called up and asked what was going on? Can you believe this, but some woman gets on the phone and starts yelling at me that I had purposely sent them one earring and that I should pay in full for both earrings! I said wait, I returned the earrings, I don't even like them! She continued to yell at me for my "poor ass attitude" and stated again that I would pay full price, and if I wanted my money back, to go see the post office. Unbelievable!!

It was too late for the post office to help me. They only consider insurance liability within 30 days. This was more like 45 days and I was out of luck. So I called ShopNBC back again and asked them if they found the other earring yet? I got yelled at again, called a liar and cheat, and they hung up on me. Mind you I am a very mild mannered woman. I was appalled.

Another month went by and they deducted more money. There was no way to stop them because the purchase was attached to my debit Visa, not a regular credit card. I didn't know what to do. I definitely put both of those awful earrings into the box, I know I did because they didn't snap shut properly and I really struggled with them.

So as far as I'm concerned, this was a scam on the part of ShopNBC, to take money from someone who returned an item. So now they have the earrings AND my $500 and I have nothing but fury and disgust for them.

I would like to warn everyone about ShopNBC. The quality is terrible and the customer service deserves to be jailed. They sell crap. I wish I'd kept one earring so I could take a photo and show it to everyone who is reading this blog entry. Those diamonds were AWFUL!! No sparkle. I would have been embarassed to wear them. And now I've been accused of being a thief!!

If you ever tune into that channel on your TV set, or if god forbid you ever look at their web site, I want you to remember to look very closely at the diamonds. You will see that they are opaque (you can't see through them because they are so included and cloudy), and they have carbon bits in them (junk diamonds). Do NOT buy anything from these people in case you ever have to return something. Because they will steal the item and blame you for the bad return and MAKE YOU PAY FOR THE ITEM YOU RETURNED. Remember this. They are bad people and they do bad business! Completely unethical!

My goodness am I ever cured from buying anything on TV ever again. I'm done with that. And I sincerely hope ShopNBC and all their affiliates go bankrupt and their "bad ass" name-calling people go down with the ship.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The garden explodes into bloom

I planted this salvia "May Night" last spring. Salvia is really just a showy sage. May Night, voted plant of the year 1997, has a very pungent smell, a cross between a strong sage and a sexy lily. May NIght's fragrance fills the air around one big area of the garden. It started blooming about a week ago but this morning, I found bees and butterflies working it like mad. Below it is my first rose of the year. It bloomed this morning! It is a Madame Isaac Periere, my favorite rose because of it's extremely strong raspberry-rose fragrance, and it occupies a special garden near the front of the house where its ten to fifteen foot canes are arched and pegged to the ground for maximum flower production. My irises and rhododendrons are also in bloom in great bunches everywhere. The red rhodo is about twelve feet high and in front of it are several long swaths of iris pallida (the one used in perfumery). If you get within 10 feet of the irises you literally choke from the strong sweet fragrance. The bottom photograph captures the insane color but not the power of the massed bloom. It's like a circus out there!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Perfume review: Bond No. 9 New York - Chinatown

You know how your teeth can suddenly hurt from sweets? Well before I became intoxicated with Chinatown, and the bottle it came in, I thought I was going to retch from its initial painfully sweet smell of almondy cake icing. Then, without really thinking about it, my mind wandered to a spring day in New York's Soho district when the sidewalk trees have just leafed out, and the blue skies and weather are perfect, and you can smell street vendor's new clothes, art galleries, and the city's metals - like the nearby subway stairs and fire escapes. It was that strange metallic tinge that led me to popping the cap once again, this time to figure out the source of the metallic smell. To my astonishment, I discovered it wasn't metal, but rather lemon and vanilla -- and I suddenly thought FORTUNE COOKIE!

I thought, "Aha! I have cracked the mystery of its name. I understand like no other person on earth, why it's called Chinatown." After all, other reviewers had decreed the stuff 'sweet cakey poison' (and other nauseating adjectives) -- but I, and ONLY I, had found its lemony-sweet, crisp vanilla fortune-cookie heart. And metal. Hmm. And an insane resemblance to Black Phoenix Alchemy Laboratories' perfume oil called Dragon's Milk.

Still mentally admiring a bright and colorful street in Soho, I continued to smell the bottle and my wrist, looking for the requisite cherry blossoms (or sakura, as they say), thinking there must be more to this perfume's name than a fortune cookie. Instead, I found peach blossoms, which I also love in Clive Christian's X for Women, another heady perfume that's hard to describe. But back to Chinatown: why the strong peach blossoms? Again my mind wandered and I found myself thinking of the bright orange poppies that are blooming in my front garden. They are blindingly bright studies in delicate silk, fluttering in the cool Spring breeze. I sniff my wrist again and I detect a slight powderiness, soft and delicate, a little like a Geisha's flawlessly made-up face. Could peach blossoms be considered oriental, or was synesthesia getting the best of me?

But wait, I know that smell. It's . . . it's peony! Those gigantic dinner-plate sized fluttery pink or white blossoms that bloom in the spring. Another heady flower and so amazingly blended with the peach blossom flowers. Cool, refreshing flowers, and a base earthiness that reminds me of a garden's earthiness, a bit of patchouli, which smells like fresh clover and moist loam. And there's an interesting spicy note reminiscent of Indian food: cardamom. It has given a tiny edginess, a burst of energy, to the flowers and earth.

Nose to wrist again. I find the lemony-peony-peach flowers, and earthiness, have combined with yet another aromatic accord that is brilliantly cheerful and luxurious. As time progresses, the powderiness identifies itself as a sultry woods, gardenia and tuberose accord that bloom together like white flowers in a dense, dark night. They are as bright as a full white moon on a black sea. I begin to think of antique wooden Chinese ships at sea, loaded with silks and fragrant with spices, heading into port. And Chinatown begins to take shape in my mind, not as a part of New York City, but rather as an impression of China, and luxury, and beauty.

I smell silks and wooden ships, big blousy peonies and delicate fruity-fresh peach blossoms, crisp lemony fortune cookies, and a busyness, a pure energy, waiting to be unleashed.

Long hours later, after the perfume and my senses have calmed down, I find the patchouli note, in its fresh and tender green earthiness, has risen to a balsamic finish and the perfume becomes very sophisticated, very "night out," and strangest of all, it becomes comforting. The scent of the toasty lemon-vanilla fortune cookie has returned to float just above this beautiful perfume, and so my own arm, finally, scents the air around me like a mouth-watering dessert.

Chinatown perfume is the impression of China on New York. The sophisticated artsy image of Soho fades and is replaced by bustling Chinatown. Not as a part of New York, like Elizabeth Street with all its wonderful restaurants, but more like those wooden Chinese ships gliding into The Port Authority and unloading their cargo into New York so we can admire it, and smell it, and wear it. I think Chinatown perfume is New York's ode and Thank You, to China.

What the perfumer says: Top notes of bursts of peach blossom (a mystic fruit in Chinese Mythology that Taoists consider the elixir of life. The midnotes are an intoxicating cross-cultural bouquet; Peony (known as Sho Yo, or Most Beautiful, the Chinese flower of love, luxury, and indulgence), blended with creamy-sweet gardenia (the flower Billie Holiday wore in her hair) and sultry tuberose (known in the Western World as the Mistress of the Night), and mouth-watering patchouli, which adds a spiky note to the other florals. The lingering basenotes are cardamom (an ancient spice from the East, long used as a condiment) and dark woods (recalling the scent of Chinese inlaid lacquered boxes).

Parfum, EDP and EDT Strengths

Parfum, EDP, EDT and Cologne perfume terms refer to the strength of the perfume oils. The higher the percentage of oils, the longer the lasting power. Also, the less diluted the perfume is, the better you can detect all the different oils that were used to create it. Think of it this way: a perfume that has rose, jasmine and amber might also include a hint of peony. In a parfum strength, you'd probably be able to detect the peony, whereas in the cologne, it might be diluted so much that it disappears. This very slight difference doesn't seem very important when you compare bottles by sniffing them, but when you go to wear the perfume, the alcohol/perfume oil dilutions play out very differently on the warmth and chemistry of your skin.

Eau Fraiche has very little perfume oil. Eau de Cologne (or just Cologne) is next with 2 - 5% perfume oils. After that is Eau de Toilette (or Toilette Water), then Eau de Parfum, then Soie de Parfum, then Parfum (or Perfume) which is usually the final concentration with the most perfume oil. Sometimes you'll find Perfume Oils for sale, and these can be very strong with 30% perfume in an oil base (rather than an alcohol base). Here is an interesting FAQ where you can read more about perfume concentrations and other quick info about perfumes - you'll have to register to access the page.

I usually prefer parfum, then EDP, then EDT. But there are some perfumes where a light touch is just perfect, like Maja, Tea Rose, and some others where the lightness of the fragrance is what makes it so charming. I think some vanilla based perfumes are better as an EDP because vanilla needs to be a little heavy handed to bring out its beauty. If a vanilla were represented as an EDT, such as Vanilla Fields, it needs to be blended with enough other notes to make it a more complex scent that (therefore) smells very nice as an EDT strength.

I enjoy parfums the most because I can detect all the subtle notes in them. I think of parfum as being the best headphones on a stereo system, and edt as being the speakers the set came with. EDP is a medium priced set of speakers that most people are used to and enjoy.

Aunt Judy's Attic is also loaded with a quick/easy reference to a few perfume facts.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Iris Perfumes

In Greek mythology, the goddess Iris was the messenger of the gods, the feminine equivalent to Hermes. Romans flavoured their wine with irises, and threw them on their fires to scent the air. The Iris flower, (known as "Fleur de Lis"), has represented the French monarchy since the medieval era. During the Renaissance, gloves were filled with iris powder to scent the air around the wearer. Chinese men took it internally to ensure virility, and women used it cosmetically to enhance their complexions, and to dye kimonos. More recently, irises are found on Florence's coat of arms, in carved bas-relief within medieval churches, and in the paintings of Claude Monet, Van Gogh, and the Dutch Masters.

The iris has hundreds of botanical species and thousands of varieties, but only one is dedicated to fragrance: Iris Pallida. It takes 3 years to turn one ton of fresh Iris Pallida roots into just 50 ml (about 1.7 ounces) of iris absolute, the precious oil used in perfumery

When I bury my nose into an Iris Pallida flower (which is currently blooming in my gardens), I experience the following

  • cold
  • delicate, fragile
  • candy sweetness
  • iris
  • honey
  • soft subtle green (like sweetened moss)
  • sugar
  • hint of violet
  • zero powdery - it sparkles
  • sweet earthy cold clover (like the grass)
  • newness, something brand new and fresh
  • flowery

Notice that my nose doesn't pick up anything warm about an iris flower. This reminds me of why Isabey Gardenia, and JAR Diamond Waters are such incredibly beautiful and superior perfumes: they don't compromise their unique renditions of gardenias and carnations (respectively) by adding the ever marketable, and scent-warming vanilla, amber, or tonka bean additives. Vanilla and amber are not detected in the iris flower (or carnations or gardenias, for that matter) so there is no reason to begin to think along those lines unless of course the perfumer wants to warm and anchor the floral with this sort of basenote.

Another reason we see so much orris (chopped iris roots, not the absolute) mentioned in perfumes is because it's been used for a couple of hundred years as a perfume fixative. Even chopped up and not liquified, orris acts as a fixative to dried potpourri.

Anyway I fell madly in love with my iris flower and wanted to see how the perfumers had lately been treating the dear garden variety iris pallida, in liquid absolute form, as a top and heartnote, so I tested a few iris perfumes. Here is what I found out:

I have spritzed I Profume di Firenze, Iris di Firenze on my right arm. Odd that it smells identical to a fresh bouquet of flowers, including the dewy freshness, watery composition of petals and leaves, the greeness of roots and stems, and the sweetness of the inner iris flower. But the sweetness of the flower seems to be drowned out by the watery green stems. After awhile, that's all I smell! I give this perfume a 1 out of 10 for missing the point.

    What the perfumer says: A uniquely green floral fragrance composed with the symbol of Florence - the Iris. Beautifully fresh.

On my right hand I have dotted Hermes Hiris which is beautiful, but forms an artistic rendition of an iris. It's very cubist. I smell coconut, patchouli, spices, and iris; a very complex mix, yet every note is a carefully plotted bold statement. The perfume smells like Kenzo Jungle L'Elephant to me - beloved, but not an iris perfume, per se. This perfume deserves highest honors, but for my purposes, it gets a 5 out of 10 for its lack of resemblance to an iris flower.

    What the perfumer says: Hiris is a solifloral fragrance, leant a woody undertone from white iris. Hiris opens on a clear, crystalline top note of neroli, rose and coriander, which hint at the iris to come. The heart fully unveils the iris, with its sweet flowers and warm rhizomes. White and black irises mingle, muted by cedarwood and softened with a subtle feeling of linen. The base notes of ambrette, vanilla bourbon and an almond wood chord blend together for a sensuous, yet tender drydown.

On my left wrist I have Frederick Malle Iris Poudre, which went on like a hairy boar in comparison to a flower, but which has dried down to a definite resemblance to the flower - but it's a little too warm. Or maybe it's my skin that's too warm. Something is too warm about it. I think it is loaded with a vanilla bottom note, which makes the perfume more likeable to a greater market, but which removes the entire outdoorsy quality of its floral nature. This is, I suppose, a more sophisticated perfume that should be worn out in the evening, nowhere near the outdoors. Further, the long it remains on my skin, the more perfumey it becomes. I give it a 5 out of 10 and categorize it with another Frederick Malle: Lipstick Rose, which is something a diva must wear to the opera.

    What the perfumer says: Iris expresses raw classical beauty. Tonka bean, musk and vanilla bring softness and warmth, while the base of sandalwood and vetiver adds a melodious resonance. If Pierre Bourdon's IRIS POUDRE were a garment, it would be a cashmere sweater - classic but personal, appropriate for most occasions, something one never tires of. It is a grand floral aldehydic.

Maitre Perfumer et Gantier Fleur d'Iris, on the back of my left hand, is so subtle, my nose has trouble detecting it . . . there it is! It smells like freshly mowed lawn, iris, candy sweetness, a hint of violet, a summer's day. There is even a tiny green quality like one single lily of the valley bellflower. It is not powdery and it's not sharp either. It's a well blended floral. In fact, I think this is very close to the real thing, but it completely lacks the honey, clover, and freshness of the flower, leaving the perfume in a sort of a dead zone. This is a nice perfume, but nothing to write home about. Funny how close it is to the real flower, but completely missing what is most exciting about the real flower. I give this a 6 out of 10 for being a close but boring rendition of iris pallida.

    What the perfumer says: It is the association of a green note on the background of Iris root. Young note. It suits well the active and sporty woman and the one that wants a perfume that holds well while retaining a certain discretion.

Maitre Perfumeur et Gantier Iris Bleu Gris (for men)- This edt goes on just like freshly mowed lawn, a calming soft and balsamic green. Then a lovely candy sweetness begins to surface and the scent of the true iris pushes through. There is an uncanny likeness to the real flower but the perfume isn't quite as fresh, as churchy fresh, as the real thing. (You know how a church smells when you first walk in? All the flowers and incense at the same time? That is a real flower smell, like the iris in front of my nose.) Iris Bleu Gris is incensy in that fresh-flowery kind of way, a delicate sugary floral with that ethereal violet note which makes the flower slightly earthy without being funereal. The freshness seems to be a leathery note, which is smooth and yet has a newness to it. I'm going to give Iris Bleu Gris a 7 out of 10 for achieving the smell of a real iris pallida flower.

    What the perfumer says: The old Iris root gives an essence, which associated with rare essential oils of wood and aromatic plants, translates into a warm and original fragrance. This blend linked to a leather note makes it the perfume of the tuxedo-wearing man, as well as the speed-loving motorcyclist. Worn at 18 as well as at 50, this eau de toilette is the travel perfume whilst retaining a certain romanticism in its seduction.

Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist is a smooth cedary perfume with a cinnamon kick. The iris is right there but the rest of the notes kick it up a few notches into a screamingly woody cologne. This is the equivalent of a Mexican fiesta with sequins, stomping heels, and wild mustachioed men playing trumpets all night. It is also so velvety as to resemble a blast of cold incensed air hitting you in the face when you first walk into a cathedral. Later, after it calms down a bit, it turns soapy and loses some of its edge. I give this an 8 out of 10 for being a very exciting and imaginative iris perfume.

    The notes: iris roots, cedar, sandalwood, incense, white amber, musk, Chinese benzoin balsam

The Different Company Bois d'Iris provides the sweetness of a real iris, including a honey accord, but the woods make it soft and smooth rather than refreshing and dewy. It is the most beautifully blended of all the perfumes I'm testing today, so that all of its notes present one unified accord. This is a Van Gogh painting of dark irises deep into a sunlit woods; deeply iris and earthy and just loaded with bold strokes of color. I'm going to give this a 10 out of 10 for accurately presenting iris pallida and framing it in woods rather than mixing with woods. It has a je ne sais quoi quality that sets it very far apart from all the other iris perfumes and makes it memorable, unique, and utterly stunning while also remaining closely true to the flower itself. This is without doubt, my favorite of all the iris perfumes, and quite possibly my favorite of all perfumes.

    What the perfumer says: The Iris Pallida, the most aromatic of its kind, grows exclusively in this arid, rocky mountain side (of Tuscany), yet where the soil is mild. Unlike the osmanthus flower whose epidermis cells secrete the essential oil, the iris conceals its olfactory wonders within its roots. Olfactory note: Woody, velvety, sweet and green, refind. Main components: iris Pallida (aka Iris Florentina), vetiver, bergamote, cedar wood, narcissus, geranium, musk.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I Emerge Victorious (Luctor et Emergo)

$132 for the Luctor et Emergo parfum at if you use the code BLOOM20 (Originally $165.) Created by People of the Labyrinths in Holland, Luctor et Emergo is their premiere perfume and it's a total joyride. A doozy.

And that price, my friends, is a steal. I would buy a case but am between jobs, so I'll have to make do with one precious bottle. This will be my back-up-bottle (I still have 1/4 bottle left of my pressssshhhioussss original). Luctor et Emergo being my all time most favorite perfume, I figure I'm entitled to a back-up bottle. OK maybe not, but people do stupid things (and I'm no exception) and hey it's Mother's Day this weekend so consider it a present to myself. OH ALL RIGHT So I'm not a mother. But I have maternal thoughts, so.

Anyway who can resist this lovely perfume? It smells like dried cherries and raw almonds, plus sweet woodruff (the stuff they make May wine with) and fresh bales of sweet hay. It is billowing marzipan when it first goes on my skin and then it calms down - and the dried cherries come out along with the raw almonds which make it so very respectable. For the rest of the wearing (which lasts a good 12 hours on my skin), it lovingly depicts beautiful flowing grasses and warm sunny incense that reminds me of rolling downhill on a grassy hill on a lazy summer day. If it were art, it would be how Van Gogh visually depicted the movement of color, light, and air. If it were music, it would be a a disturbingly moody, and yet satisfying piece by Schubert. This perfume has an ebb and flow that is impressionistic, flowing, and almost visual in the way the notes play out. It is a perfumer's symphony and I am not deaf nor blind to its beauty.

People of the Labyrinths: I emerge poorer but happier by one precious bottle.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Perfume review: The Different Company - Rose Poivre

This fascinating perfume has notes of Rosa Damascena, Rosa Centifolia, rose bay, pepper, coriander, vetiver, and civet. The damask rose is a pungently fragrant rose that has an old fashioned rose smell. Rosa Centifolia also known as the "cabbage rose" has a very sweet and strong old rose smell and often has a pine-smelling moss on its buds. Baies rose (bay rose) is a synonym for pink peppercorns that are plucked off trees and used in wreaths and potpourri. Baies come from the Brazillian pepper tree. The peppercorns smell robust, hearty and sweet with an herbal/peppery/green quality that is similar to juniper. Coriander, the leaves of which are known as cilantro, smells warm, spicy and nutty, and some find that it also smells a little like orange. Civet adds longevity to the perfume and a musky quality to the scent. Vetiver smells smoky and woody.

Let's put it all together: On me I get strong pink pepper topnotes which are sweet and herbal. These are well blended with a beautiful and soothing rose accord, that is as familiar as an old garden rose, but woody and powdery, and faintly reminiscent of iris. There is a hint of an animalic, or musky quality that makes it seem a little sexy. As the perfume dries down, the peppercorn dissipates but the roses do not; the perfume morphs and smoothes into a big heady bunch of old fashioned roses. I am transported to a place of aromatic woods and resins where these heady (but slightly powdery) roses dominate a sturdy wooden table. This beautiful heart accord continues through the rest of the drydown where no other notes are detected.

Further reaading:

A fascinating article about how Rosa Damascena is produced for the perfume trade.

Rosa centifolia cristata.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Incensey Perfumes

I thought and thought about incense and how much I love it, and burn it in my home. But most of all I love my incense perfumes, my favorite being Luctor et Emergo by People of the Labyrinths. Here is a truly mysterious perfume that changes character with the time of day, humidity, skin chemistry, and even mood of the wearer. I think it's possessed by an old European ghost who has escaped his Danish castle.

So I visited my favorite site, MakeupAlley (for its absolutely invaluable reviews), and asked around, and talked to my perfume cabinet (again), and consulted my livingroom pentagram (oops! didn't mean to bring THAT up), and here we are, with what may be the only current list of incensey perfumes.

First, the perfume name, then its maker, and finally a quote from at least one MakeupAlley reviewer (listed by their ID, not their real names). I left out Matthew Williamson's Incense perfume because (sob) it's been discontinued, and a few others because they either weren't reviewed or I couldn't find enough information about them to consider them an important part of this list.

Also, I'm not going to do anything ordinary like list notes. You can do that kind of research yourself at Aedes, LuckyScent, LaCreme Beauty, LusciousCargo, and other online perfumeries. What moved me about the following particular MakeupAlley reviews were the perfume's impact on its wearer. Sometimes perfume takes us away to a far more interesting place, and it seems incense perfumes top the list in poetic, adjective-laden, and far away worlds:

#2 Spiritus / Land, Miller et Bertaux:
"kevisantal" says: Spiritus/Land conjures up the scents of -- rich, freshly tilled damp soil; burning twigs and leaves on a faraway breeze. The moment I put it on I thought: Nepal/Tibet...and could smell the damp stones of Buddhist and Hindu temples and the aroma of incense ashes.

Angelique Encens, Creed:
"Smellslikeleaves" says: I can understand why many find this to be a nostalgic fragrance--it seems almost as old as time itself. Immediately after spraying, this makes me think of a secret fountain in an old English garden. The fountain is a figure of an angel. Her features are crumbling with age, and she is covered with moss. There are some blooming flowers nearby, but the most prominent odor is coming from the fountain water. This fragrance is that odor, the odor of many fountains I've discovered in gardens of England, France, and other European countries. After 4-5 hours, it fades to a very soft incensey vanilla. This is a unique, masterful, mysterious, and incredibly evocative fragrance. I don't have any desire to smell like a fountain, but this is truly a work of art that must be experienced. It's the most poetic fragrance I've encountered so far--very much an emotional, "mood" fragrance. In fact, I wonder if human tears were included in the composition whenever I sniff my wrist.

Anne Bonny, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab:
"impishnature" says: "Named in honor of the most notorious female pirate to ever set sail. Wicked, cruel, beautiful, intelligent, resourceful and dangerous: a true role model. A blend of Indonesian red patchouli, red sandalwood, and frankincense." It truly brings to mind an old pirate ship and an abandoned secret room hidden used to be full of opulent silks and wood, with pure frankincense burning for decades, but is now abandoned. Yet the rich, dark scents linger in the wood.

Avignon, Comme des Garcons: Incense Series
"kate8" says: At first, Avignon smells just like incense used in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches of my youth---it's wonderful! As it turns into the drydown, it becomes such a soft, warm, cozy incense that I've started wearing it to bed nearly every night. It's like a perfect blanket of scent, and so soothing.

Black Cashmere, Donna Karan:
"acushia" says: It has the presence of a censer filled with rare and esoteric incense - wood filled, spicy, arcane - tendrils of smoke gently drifting through the nave of a deconsecrated abbey. I also pick up a lot of benzoin in the EDP, and it just fills my head with amazing images - cathedrals, cemeteries, crypts, but also chanted rites, flaming torches and ancient wood.

Cathedral, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab:
"paschat" says: Venerable and solemn: the scent of incense smoke wafting through an ancient church. A true ecclesiatical blend of pure resins

Ceremony, Norma Kamali:
"kirstylux" says: Ceremony smells like burning incense all right - primarily frankincense and myrrh. But to me there's too much of the ashy, smoky scent caused by the filler/binder used in cone and stick incense, which overpowers the resin of the incense itself. The static clears up a little bit in the drydown, but the fragrance remains very smoky. Comme des Garcons Avignon is a purer, cleaner Roman Catholic Church incense scent, if that's what you're looking for. I do think the Ceremony is a little bit sweeter, however, in spite of the characteristic bitterness of the myrrh - there's a touch of something almost vanillic in the drydown.

Costes, Hotel Costes:
"raspberryswirlgirl" says: Costes seems to smell differently on everyone from sandalwood to soap. For me, it's a very clean incensey fragrance...almost fresh. I'm sure it will be the summer's answer to my winter incense addiction. I didn't care for this one at first, but it somehow grew on me. And is still growing. Notes: coriander seeds, white pepper, laurel, oriental woods, incense, musk, and hints of rose.

Encens et Lavande, Serge Lutens:
"msp12" says: I am very fond of lavender as a home fragrance but never imagined that it would suit as a personal one. Well, Encens et lavande is a stellar composition. It begins with a typical sharp, sinus-decongesting burst of lavender, which quickly mellows into a romantic scent, as gentle as a whisper. And somehow I smell the entire plant, from bud to leaf and the soil in which it takes root. The incense is not overwhelming, and I am reminded not of the type burned in Roman Catholic churches but of something which was constantly used in the home of a childhood friend, who was of Taiwanese descent. The fragrance appears to wane within an hour, however, a subtle, even juicy, rejuvenation occurs, in which lavender and incense alternate positions of prominence.

Essence of John Galliano Room Spray, Diptyque: (yes it can be worn as a perfume)
"paschat" says: John Galliano room spray is a very evocative smell, and I can only describe it thus: when I lived in South Africa we owned a game lodge. At night, we would have dinner in the Boma (a bush kitchen/dining area) made of thatch and straw, and after dinner we'd sit around an enormous fire, made of various types of woods, including blue gum. The fire would crackle and roar, and I would listen to the night time sounds of the African bush - crickets and insects chirping, owls and other night birds squawking as they flew down to grab a mouse, frogs croaking noisily, Jackals baying and the occasional growl from a leopard. These are all special sounds, and I would sit at the fire until there was nothing left except glowing embers. By that time, the smoke, wood and fire had permeated my clothes with their unique smell, and that smell is bottled up in the John Galliano room spray.

Fumerie Turque, Serge Lutens:
"tournesol" says: Fumerie Turque isn't so much a scent as a place. Dab some on and you'll find yourself in the middle of a back-alley antiques and imports shop filled with old polished wood, silk and velvet cushions, pots of solid amber, unlit incense, and lots of porcelain. The drydown is resiny, smoky, and slightly sweet. I find this scent impossibly evocative and romantic. Wearing it feels like curling up safe, dry, and warm, in front of a roaring fire (real wood, of course, not gas), while a chill storm rages outside.

Incense, Norma Kamali:
"dragonfly00" says: This is incense of South America. As incense, copal resin is even today sprinkled on live coals held in braziers, from which dense black clouds of aromatic smoke resembling dark storm clouds rise up as offerings to deities. Among the northern Lacandón Maya of lowland Chiapas in southern Mexico: the most common offering is copal incense (pom), which is made from the resin of the pitch pine (Pinus pseudostrobus). This is intense stuff and Norma kamali's use of it in her Incense perfume is no less intense.

Incensi, Lorenzo Villoresi:
"dinazad" says: The moment the spray hit my skin I felt as if I had accidentally stumbled into a church where an ecumenic service was going on, with each religion burning as much incense as it possibly could manage. Instant incense overkill! Did somebody mention woods and spices among the headnotes? I never noticed them, they were bludgeoned to death by the incense. Fortunately, the scent mellowed fast, morphing into an incense both warm and cold: warm and comforting and as cool as the vaults of a great cathedral. I like incense, but do I really want to smell like a church? And then came the drydown. Divine. Warm and comforting. Somehow sexy. I nearly sniffed the skin off my wrists. I wanted to crawl into the scent and live and die there in perpetual bliss. Every girl needs a bit of religion every now and then. And bliss.

Inner Sanctum, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz:
"tressab" says: It is a mood scent to me...slightly melancholy, sexy, rainy. The rose smells wet and cool and blends in nicely with the other scents. This is one of my favorite incense smells. I love gothic novels, and I imagine my gothic heroine smelling of this after riding horses through the rain and coming in to warm by the, wet, and smoky.

Jailsalmer, Comme des Garcons: Incense Series
"keeter" says: This is blended magically and seamlessly with the dry sweetness of Indian trade route spices, which are predominated, particularly in the top notes, by cinnamon. Whenever I wear this, I am transported to a make-believe desert journey, accompanied by the syncopated clop-clop of the hand drums in Nat King Cole’s simply dreamy rendition of Caravan… “Night and stars above that shine so bright, the mystery of their fading light, that shines upon our caravan… Sleep upon my shoulder as we creep, across the sand so I may keep, the memory of our caravan…”

Jicky, Guerlain:
"Liv24" says: A crisp opening of bergamot sets off this composition, enhancing the clarity of the ensuing notes of beautiful lavender entwined with rosemary, lemon zest, and mandarin. It's wonderfully clean and herbaceous at this stage and makes me think of terribly good northern Italian food, which necessitates the finest simple ingredients of Tuscan bread, zesty cheeses, and fresh herbs. As vanilla, sweet incense, and musk bubble up from the base, they add warmth and just a hint of sweetness, providing a carefully achieved delectable quality. A truly ageless scent, Jicky is subtle and refined without ever being formal or fussy.

Kyoto, Comme des Garcons: Incense Series
"perrier" says: I've never found an incense scent that smells so clean. No smoke or embers, just pure cedar, a bit of pine and vetiver. Like walking into a forest, it is simultaneously calming and refreshing – it clears your mind and makes you breath deeply.

Luctor et Emergo, People of the Labyrinths:
"naiad" says: This is the scent of the Crusade. It is church incense mixed with the worldliness of the exotic foods and scents of other cultures. Even a non-fan would have to declare Luctor et Emergo "interesting." A little too much for work, but, for art shows, late night trips for coffee and a book... this is what trails in my wake.
"lipaholic" says: It has so many different facets which continue to evolve throughout the day. The first stage is a woody incense, not too masculine or smoky. It proceeds to a true almond scent, capped off lightly with just a tinge of floral or grass. I think this triggers something in my olfactory memory of being in the upstairs of my grandmothers house...the warm sun pouring in, heightening the smell of wood furniture with a pleasant, comforting musty type of aroma. As soon as I applied this, an aura of deja vu engulfed me. I am in love with this whiff of my past.
"peachygurl" says: When I bought this, I liked the fact that it smelled like delectable cherries and sweet almonds fused together to make a candy treat. To my surprise a slight note of incense sprung up when I was in the airconditioning. Then I realised one thing: this perfume changes its scent with the humidity! And it is constantly evolving on the skin. The men love this, someone once commented to me that it is a very sensual, delicious, yet sophisticated mystery.

Messe de Minuit, Etro:
"DanielleWilliams" says: It is eerie and intense, unmistakably dark and dreary. One spritz takes me to the catacombs of Palermo, Sicily, which were dark, dusty, dense and tightly packed with hundred year old corpses. It was a fabulous experience, this fragrance is a haunting reminder. It compliments my morbidity quite well. For those less morbid, this could also be reminiscent of a gothic cathedral or an ancient library... or even an attic, packed with antiques and faded memories.

Ourzazate, Comme des Garcons: Incense Series
"smellslikeleaves" says: Although all CdG's are unisex, this would be the most "feminine" because of its sweetness. It's very warm, spicy (the nutmeg is prominent), and almost beachy--it makes me think of bleached white wood that you often find on beaches (and perhaps also in the desert? I've never been to one). For some reason it evokes those beautiful Southwestern paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, of white wood and clean animal skulls.

Parfume Sacre, Caron:
"Marianne" says: In the beginning I smell the peppery notes, and the spices... I felt like I had been playing in the kitchen! But the pepper was just perfect... my nose is very sensitive and I didn't feel the urge to sneeze... Then the myrrh and cedar, which are the "incense" notes start to emerge, and there is a very nice delicate balance of culinary delight and spiritual incense. The florals are lost to me... they must be muted with the deeper, more pungent dominant notes, as I could not detect them well. Finally, in the final drydown the vanilla gives a bit of gentle sweetness to the fragrance, but doesn't overwhelm with over-sweetness.

Passage d'Enfer, L'Artisan:
"snakeskin" says: This is beautiful, graceful--even the cedary note is soft--I guess that's the aloe wood. It dries down majestically, becoming less cedary and more lily-like, and fading to light musk at the end. Beautiful, unusual, described by my husband at various times as "rich," "formidable," and "intoxicating--it makes me want to bite you."

Regina Harris Perfume Oil, Regina Harris:
Thisbe says: This is a dark scent. At first, I was not impressed and was slightly reminded of potpourri. But as the day wore on I liked it more and more. It’s a base of frankincense and myrrh, complimented with rose maroc. I get a deep sense of honey on my skin that I find so comfortable and soothing. I find the overall feel of the fragrance is thoughtful. I became reminiscent, thinking of days long past. I had pictures in my head of going through an old hope chest on a cool, rainy afternoon, and searching through a once young girl’s little treasures from life.

Sautes D'Humeur A Rien, L'Artisan: (only available in a boxed set of five "mood" fragrances)
"keeter" says: D'Humeur A Rien (Spiritual Mood) somehow replicates the experience of a gothic castle. The chilly air, vaulted ceilings, cold grey stone, and forbidding marble. The eerie sense of quiet awe and ethereal echoes that surrounds you. The smell of enveloping fog and overcast skies, silently washing the entire vision in grey.

Shaal Nur, Etro:
"freskagirl" says: When I spray this on, I get lemon (not super-tart, but a mellow lemon) and a slight whiff of dry woodsiness. Then incense--a churchy incense--combines with the lemon. Normally, I think of church incense as somewhat "cool", but the lemon seems to warm this up (there's a touch of spicy sweetness in there, too).

Tolu, Ormonde Jayne:
"dreamstorm" says: Tolu is an exquisitely crafted scent, one of the most gorgeous that I own. It starts off with a burst of citrus, which is a little sharp on my skin, but then quickly settles into a delicious, resin-laden delight. I smell old books, amber incense blocks, rolled up persian carpets, sandalwood trinkets -- it's all of these things, but somehow at the same time, incredibly *sexy.*

Twelfth Night, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz:
"clearing" says: I smell mosses and trees, patchouli and incenses. It's very dark and loamy. It's very Northwest Washington and the Pacific Rain Forest. It's what you might smell from an overhang above the bay as the fog is lifting and you see the fishermen slowly approaching from their night on the ocean.

Xiuhtecuhtli, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab:
"desiree_e" says: Light citrus but incensy and a little bit dark. On me, it was very dry, woody, smoky with the faintest hint of citrus.

Zagorsk, Comme des Garcons: Incense Series
"keeter" says: If you could stand in the middle of a siberian forest in the deep of night in midwinter, surrounded by pine and birch trees yielding to the weight of snow, with pine cones and pine needles strewn across the otherwise unbroken surface of crystalline snow, you would know the feeling of CdG Zagorsk. In a place like this, filled only with silence and moonlight and wonder and awe, the stillness is so palpable you could smell it, you could bottle it, and you could breathe it.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Is Bergamot derived from Bee Balm or Italian Orange trees? And What About Lemon Verbena?

When I bought my bottle of The Different Company's perfume called Divine Bergamote, I nearly keeled over from joy because I had finally found, after a twenty year search, what I thought was an authentic Bergamot perfume. This perfume nearly perfectly duplicates those wondrous roots and stems of my favorite garden plant, monarda didyma 'Violet Queen' which in full bloom, seems to attract all the hummingbirds in the entire tri-state area. I love handling this plant, roots, runners, flowers, stems, leaves - everything about it smells delightfully perfumed. But when I tried to research Monardas, I ran into a problem: many plants are called Bee Balm, Balm, or Bergamot; and the local flower nursery called an entirely different, rough-leaved shade plant with ugly sour lemon scented leaves "Balm" or "Verbena." Yet I knew my delicate woody "Verbena" at home was a big bush with toothy, fine, and sweetly lemon-scented leaves.

Wearing Divine Bergamote perfume, and clutching one of my precious dried Lemon Verbena leaves, I found myself researching which perfumes might be made with what bergamots. Are they made with the sweet-earthy-citrus smell of monarda didyma or the wild mountain-grown monarda fistulosa? Or are they made with the sweet citrus-earthy smell of Citrus aurantium Bergamia from Calabria, Italy? The perfume houses appear to be guarding this information to some degree because after extensive research, I can find very few clues as to which is which. And will the real verbena please stand up? Is verbena a plant, or a tree?

I was never able to uncover the bergamots used in perfumes, whether they are monarda didymas or citrus trees from Italy.

However I present to you for your thoughts, a few plant descriptions to get you thinking. I will continue my research -- I swear I will figure out which perfumes contain which balm, bergamot, verbena and bee balm!

Bergamot, aka Citrus aurantium var. bergamia

Oil of Bergamot is drawn from the peel of the Bergamot Orange, aka Citrus aurantium var. bergamia, which is grown in Calabria, Italy for commercial purposes. Bergamot oil from this Calabrian tree is used to flavor Earl Grey tea.

Bee Balm, aka Bergamot, aka Monarda fistulosa

Bee Balm, aka Bergamot, aka Monarda didyma

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is often called Bergamot or Bee Balm and there are many forms and cultivars of this flowering plant from the mint family. The cultivated form is known as Mondarda didyma, also known as Oswego Tea or Bee Balm. This herb was originally popular among early American colonists as a tea substitute. The entire plant is fragrant from runner-like roots to square stems to flower petals. Its aromatic fragrance is a result of the chemicals thymol (of which
Monarda didyma
is a commercial source) and the oregano-scented carvacrol. Its spicy notes come from eucalyptol and cymeme. Frequently a small flower appears out of the top of the one below - which is a habit of many herbs of the mint family.
A species sold as Lemon Mint is really Western Balm, Monardella odoratissima. Lemon Mint is more of an annual, properly called Monarda citriodora, with pink flowers that have purple spots. It's very rarely available, but also has a strong citrus scent.

Bergamot, aka Eau de Cologne mint

Mentha x piperita citrata is variously known as bergamot, Eau de Cologne, or orange mint. The smooth, broad, oval leaves of this small bushy plant have a totally delicious, soothing fragrance, and are good as an infusion for herb tea. This plant has tiny clumps of white flowers and square stems (as with all mints).

Lemon Balm, aka Verbena

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis, (often called "Balm," "Lemon Balm," "Melissa," or "Verbena"), is a low bushy plant with broad serrated leaves. It contains two lemon-scented chemicals: citral and citronellal. Lemon Balm has been used by generations of beekeepers to entice swarms into their new homes, and once there to remain quietly - knowing how touchy bees can be, the scent must have a soothing quality. Melissa means bee. Balm is a hardy, perennial herb, growing to 36 inches, with crinkly leaves and insignificant white flowers on one side of the square stems.

Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena, (Lippia citriodora, synonymous with Aloysia triphylla), is usually called "Verbena," or "Lemon scented Verbena." This is a three to five foot tall bush with woody branches, which can be trained into a tree. The bare stems are lemon scented, and the leaves are a heady sweet lemon fragrance that strongly resembles lemon blossoms. This plant is not hardy but can be overwintered indoors in a bright sunny spot. The scent is sharp, sweet, and refreshing, and perfect for potpourri or tea; or dry the leaves and use them as bookmarks. The leaves also freeze in ice cubes and make perfect additions to iced tea. The chemical contributions from its oil to flavor and scent include hydrosol, citral, myrcene and citronellal.