Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Vintage: Deceased Estates and Tear-Water Tea



A while ago I came upon this photo of an art installation titled Deceased Estate 2004 - a collaborative exhibit by Sydney artists Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy. It got me thinking about precisely how many "things" an individual can manage to accumulate over an entire lifetime. Between amassing items of absolute necessity and those collected purely for their aesthetic or sentimental value, the numbers must be staggering. But Cordeiro and Healy's work here has allowed us to take a step back for a moment, and see the fuller picture... all those treasured objects and favourite items that each of us covet, are really just mundane articles that perhaps may not be looked upon by the next person with the same adoring eye. And then what of it all when we are dead and gone? I imagine unless specific measures are taken, much of it will be picked over by relatives, and the rest sold off in estate sales.

Ive always felt sad when thinking of personal possessions lost to the corridoors of time. As a young boy I often felt the sting of tears behind my eyes when reading Arnold Lobel's book Owl at Home - in particular, a tale where Owl wanted to make "tear-water tea" by crying into a kettle. He thought of all the things that bought sadness to his heart - like pencils sharpened too short to ever be used again, or lost spoons that have fallen behind the stove and are never seen again. He soon manages to fill the kettle with tears and makes tea that is "a little bit salty", but "always very good". 
It is still with this wistful sense of melancholy that I look upon personal treasures that are sold off after a death. It is all so finite. How easily ownership is transferred with the swipe of a card or the clatter of coins.


Just this past weekend I found myself faced with such a situation. After trawling the wonderful fleamarkets of Copenhagen, I chanced upon a delightful vintage store hidden away in a charming side-street. Inside, it was fully stocked with anything and everything one might imagine - clothes, hats, shoes and luggage from the 19th century to the present day... costume jewellery, ornamental objects, vanity items and vintage perfumes. All of it endearing, all of it authentic, and all of it acquired through deceased estates. I sifted through hat-boxes stuffed with antique milliner's ribbon, rummaged in drawers brimming with monogrammed linens and peered through glass cabinets holding flacons of perfume both exotic and rare.

My heart raced a little - after all I do enjoy my vintage perfume finds - but I thought for a moment about the individuals that might have once possessed the vintage Robert Piguet, or still-sealed bottle of Guerlain's Nahema. I thought about these scents sitting on mahogany dressers or in paper-lined cupboards, and wondered if they were received as gifts from an adoring suitor, or purchased, after many months of saving, as a decadent personal treat. I felt almost guilty unscrewing bakelite perfume lids and sniffing at dusty talcum-powders - as though I were somehow intruding on someone's personal ritual. It was difficult to imagine that the person whose body had been generously anointed with such perfume was now, well... in actual fact, dead. In a way, it was almost enough to have me reaching for my own tin tea-pot and turn on the waterworks, just as Owl had done in his book.

An hour or so later, I walked from the store with several perfumes nonetheless. I thought about what would be sadder: to take ownership of articles pre-loved and appreciated by some dearly departed; or to leave the fragrance to 'turn' in the shop window, and their boxes to fox and fade. 
Just like their anonymous original owners, I felt it better they be remembered and appreciated, rather than forgotten.


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Eau de Sisley: 3



As far as perfume is concerned, the d'Ornano family at the helm of the Sisley brand, have always managed to command the senses with their scented creations. Last year I blogged about the very dynamic Eau de Campagne - a shared scent created in 1974 that is still very relevant and much-loved today. Their subsequent offerings for women aptly named Eau de Soir and Soir de Lune have also been revered by their own adoring audiences. Sisley has gone on to become a name synonymous with grace, sophistication and beauty. This month, the French aromatics and phytocosmetology giants launch their new trio of fragrances under the Eau de Sisley umbrella... a launch that I have been in keen anticipation of.

These new scents, conveniently named 1, 2 and 3, are designed to reflect "three sisters or three different faces of the same woman". To my rational sensibilities, this might be a bit of a reach, but the trio are very likeable regardless of the caffeine-fuelled creative minds responsible for their marketing. No 1 is a soft, joyous floral scent - conspicuously feminine in nature - that combines sun-kissed citruses with jasmine, green tea and a spritz of bitter juniper over a pale musk base. No 2 is reminiscent of Thierry Mugler's Angel Innocent - a scent with an effervescent sparkle and light gourmand quality. The overall feeling is, however, very Sisley in style... restrained, stylish, and edited. The third, No 3, is the eaux that succeeded the most in seizing my attention.

A number of years ago whilst attending a fragrance training workshop with Beauté Prestige International, I was handed a canvas, a paintbrush and a palette of watercolours and told to "paint what I smell". The instructor spritzed a number of blotters with a fragrance dispensed from a blue glass flacon that she managed to keep concealed. She handed one of the paper strips to me, looked me in the eye, and said "go".
I held the paper strip beneath my nose and my mind instantly blazed with images of Mediterranean garrigue, deep green cyprus pines, whitewashed Greek churches on rocky outcrops, and my hand began to record it all carefully on canvas. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the scent that had served as my inspiration was L'eau Bleue d'Issey. When the exercise was concluded and we were asked to reveal our paintings to the group, I was astonished to see many interpretations of the same theme... bushels of herbs, rugged cliffs overlooking sea vistas, and scrubland dotted with resinous trees - there were even a few more churches! It was an effective exercise in opening ones "inner eye", and transferring that vision to paper. Why the lengthy discourse? I hear you grumble... well, in the moments I sprayed eau de Sisley 3, I had a very similar experience. I was immediately flung into a Mediterranean landscape where clumps of fat, heavy, aromatic citrus fruits hung from bushels of waxy dark green leaves. There was a definite sense of harsh sunlight bearing down from overhead, and the smell of sweet floral nectar floating on the air. So vivid was this mental picture, I couldn't help but fall somewhat for No. 3... a scent based around stimulating citrus, Chinese osmanthus and tangy ginger.

What I perhaps I find most interesting about this scent, is that there does exist a harkening back to Issey Miyake's L'eau Bleue d'Issey here... the ginger note at the heart of this scent sits over an aromatic base of patchouli, vetiver and pale musks. This combination renders 3 a possible favourite with men, as much as I imagine it will appeal to the women. I think perhaps here, I see a common "red thread" linking back to Sisley's Eau de Campagne. Where the Campagne is verdant, sharp and vivifying - something to be worn at a lavish retreat or country club spa - eau de Sisley 3 maintains a sense of nobility but in a more relaxed manner. One could appreciate this eaux reading a literary classic whilst lazing in a hammock overlooking the Aegean, or strolling the chic streets of Cannes in the summertime whilst the paparazzi swell in numbers around you. 

I am certain many will find a new favourite for 2009 amongst these three fine fragrances. Their appeal will match people both young and mature, and irrespective of gender. The eau de Sisley trinity are currently being sold in 100ml sizes for approximately $160 USD - something of a small investment - but one that is on par with many other refined, sophisticated releases on the market. 

Monday, 18 May 2009

Une Rose Chyprée winners



Congratulations to Robbie and Starscent, our two randomly-selected winners of a carded sample of Tauer's Une Rose Chyprée. You will be contacted today with further details.

To all the other readers that left your comments and expressed your interest in Une Rose Chyprée, a big thank you for your ongoing support. I encourage each of you to try Andy's new creation when the opportunity arises. Andy's blog is also a fine place to visit to see what is new in the world of Tauer Perfumes.

Have a safe and happy week everyone!
Dimitri.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Labdanum: an enchanting history




Labdanum used to be one of those notes used in perfumes that I was completely unfamiliar with. Whilst I was aware that it lends a rich, resinous quality to perfume, (and is favoured for use in chypres in particular), I hadn't any olfactory acquaintance with the scent in its purest form. It remained a bit of an enigma until just recently when I did a little reading on the subject, and managed to source some raw labdanum from a passionate European supplier.

Labdanum is produced across parts of the Mediterranean (mainly Spain and Greece) as a by-product from shrubs of the Cistus variety - (more commonly known as rock rose). For centuries, the plant has thrived and grown abundantly in rocky outcrops near coastal areas, and is known to secrete a thick, sticky sap when the sun is high overhead and summer temperatures are at their fiercest. In ancient times, local goat herders whose animals had been grazing around the cistus trees, found that the animal's fur gradually became matted and soaked with a thick tar-like substance. The fur was profoundly aromatic; imbued with the resins and oils from the shrubs, and their pelts became widely sought after. The beards of the animals were clipped regularly and sold, traded and bartered across the Mediterranean. In Egypt, pharaohs and royals attached plaited strands of labdanum-rich goats hair onto their chins as a perfumed symbol of leadership. This appendage is clearly visible in ancient Egyptian art and iconography.


Now, many thousands of years later, labdanum is still revered as a desirable component in perfumery, and perhaps more astonishingly, is still being harvested in a traditional fashion by a very dedicated family living in Sises on the Greek island of Crete

The Niktaris family are one of only a tiny handful that still use traditional non-destructive tools and methods to preserve this millennia-old tradition. Armed with little more than a protective hat to ward off the blazing sun, and a ladanestirio (a primitive tool made from a wooden frame and leather straps which has changed very little over the ages), the family set out to collect the resinous liquid by thoroughly raking the dewy Cistus creticus shrubs. The fluid sticks to the long cords of the ladanestirio, which is then left in the sun for several days for the secretion to congeal.

video
video

Once dried, the straps are then scraped clean one by one with a small metal instrument. The labdanum forms a semi-solid bead with an overwhelming fragrance that is both earthy and balsamic, but also hints at soft rose and green leaves.
Pieces of this dark, tacky resin can then be broken off and burned over charcoal discs to fill a room or outdoor space with wonderful tendrils of perfume, or tinctured for use in perfumery.

I feel richer for having understood more about this precious commodity and moreso for having sampled the fruits of this Cretian family's labour. I have the greatest respect for the Nektaris family, for their impassioned efforts to conserve sustainable plantations and pass on the tradition from one generation to the next.

Much more information, and an opportunity to purchase raw labdanum can be found on Dimitris Nektaris' website: http://www.labdanum-creta.blogspot.com/
Many thanks also to Dimitris for video and photos.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Olivier Durbano to launch 'Turquoise'



Archaeological and literary references mention Turquoise used in the jewellery worn by Queen Zar, second ruler of Egypt's First Dynasty almost 7500 years ago. It is thus no wonder it has captured the imagination of French master-jeweller and perfumer Olivier Durbano and is set to serve as the inspiration behind his fifth in a series of seven "Stone Poems".

A semi-precious jewel, turquoise has been revered in history by diverse cultures for its value both aesthetic and arcane. The Apache Indians believed this stone combines the spirits of both the sea and the sky, and the Navajo Indians regarded turquoise as a piece of the sky that has fallen to earth. Durbano's Turquoise thus fittingly resides in the ozonic family of fragrances.

I am both excited and fascinated to try this eau de parfum... turquoise has always been considered a stone full of good fortune; possessing the ability to heal, and one to wear on your body to force away evil spirits. I find Olivier Durbano's perfume talismans skilfully transmit a sense of their stone's esoteric value, just as masterfully as they echo their physical qualities.

Head notes: Turpentine, Rose Berry, Elemi, Somalian Oliban Incense, Coriander, Juniper
Heart notes: Fragrant Reed, Lotus, Fucus seaweed, Lily
Base notes: Everlasting Flower, Honey, Myrrh wood, Ambergris

Sorcery of Scent will follow up with a review of Turquoise upon its release.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Nomination thanks



I would like to take this opportunity to thank readers for nominating Sorcery of Scent in the 9th Annual Basenotes Fragrance Awards in the Best Blog category. I feel honoured and humbled for being nominated amongst greats such as Perfumeshrine, Now Smell This, 1000 Fragrances and Bois de Jasmin. Your ongoing support and readership are what keeps me going.

Warmest regards and thanks,
Dimitri.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Win! Une Rose Chyprée - Andy Tauer


In recent weeks, my journey into vintage perfumes has ignited much interest in chypres
Francois Coty's influential perfume Chypre de Coty of 1917 was the first to coin the name and, in fact, define the entire olfactory family. The classification encompasses scents that traditionally consisted of a number of base accords - chiefly oakmoss and ambergris; along with other notes such as civet, patchouli, labdanum, and rose. The resulting blends are often described as dark, full-bodied and aromatic... liquid shadows, perhaps. In the 21st century they are immediately recognisable when opening heavy vintage art-deco flacons tied with gold thread... ones that are uncovered in dark bathroom cupboards, or in dusty dresser drawers lined with faded paper. Often, any antique perfume sampled that is characterised as "old-fashioned" or "heavy" is likely to be a chypre, as the 1920's and beyond saw many new chypres enter the market. As a result, chypres fell from favour a little during the 90's when stark androgyny and 'shared scents' were the norm as far as perfumery was concerned.

Fortunately though, new sensibilities particularly in the niche perfume market, have resulted in a resurrection of chypre-style scents in the 00's. Only yesterday I was sent one such fragrance by Swiss perfumer extraordinaire Andy Tauer named Une Rose Chyprée - the first of a series of  Tauer Perfumes Mémorables that he intends to release.
Une Rose Chyprée opens with sparkling mandarin that prickles one's saliva glands, mixed masterfully with a bright, enduring floral note of clementine. It is a radiant opening that triggers the senses with energising lemon and bergamot, and minty, citrusy bourbon geranium. This sprightly, invigorating top soon reveals a wonderful depth and resinous darkness beneath. 10 - 15 minutes after application the resplendent headnotes give way to a transient dusky, ambery powderyness that one instantly associates with traditional perfumes from bygone eras. A vermillion-coloured thread of rosa damascena emerges, and I am suddenly cast back to the 1920's, to an age where women wore furs, felt hats and powdered faces. This is a scent Louise Brooks might have worn in one of her many silent films as the quintessential flapper. It is brimming with a ritzy, lavish sense of youth and beauty, but also a melancholic feeling of being sadly lost to time. 


As Une Rose Chyprée evolves on the skin, warm earthy hues shift forward and provide the classic chypre foundation of the perfume. Labdanum lends a balsamic floral prettiness to a rich patchouli and aromatic oakmoss base. A measured swathe of vanilla furnishes a semi-transparent sweetness that plays against a hot cinnamon and spicy Bay accord at the heart. So sincere is the perfume's inherent sense of 'yesteryear', one might easily be fooled into thinking they are indeed wearing an opulent elixir fashioned at the beginning of the last century. The beauty however, lies in the very fact this an eau de parfum is very wearable today.

Tauer has done an extraordinary job here capturing a whimsical moment lost to the ages. He has breathed new life into the chypre family by re-interpreting the classics and by using contemporary methods to do so. Une Rose Chyprée is a master stroke accomplishment, and quite possibly represents some of his best work yet.

Une Rose Chyprée is offered in hand bottled and hand packaged 15ml flacons and will be launched internationally on July 1st, 2009. For two lucky readers however, Sorcery of Scent is giving away two carded samples of this perfume prior to its release. Simply leave a comment after this post, and ensure you include a contact email address. Two winners will be picked at random, and notified on Monday May 18th.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Scent profile of a Mother



In nature, animals and their young come to recognise one another using their acute sense of smell... a biological trait that has evolved over the millennia. The same can be said for humans: long before the introduction of deodorants, fabric softeners, soaps and colognes managed to diminished our basic capacity.

This being said, I have come to think of the scent associations I assign to my own mum as this Mother's day draws near. This year, we will be celebrating in different hemispheres and on opposite sides of the earth... "together apart", we like to say, as if that rationale somehow lessens our genuine desire to spend the day together.
So, soon the day will have come and gone and I will have thought of her, called her on skype, and felt my heart sink when I see how her hair has greyed and lines grown deeper, after another year living abroad. But there will be one 'constant' that I know she will have indulged in... and that is wearing her signature perfume: Estée Lauder's Youth Dew - from a bottle my wife and I sent her after we moved overseas.

As a 5 or 6 year old, I recall sitting on the edge of the bath as mum put on her makeup in the bathroom mirror. I would chat excitedly about something that happened at school, or something I had seen on television; whilst she would stretch her mouth into an unusual-shaped 'O' when applying her mascara. At the end of the ritual, she would spritz her decolletage with Youth Dew and I would watch the thin film of perfumed particles over-shoot her shoulder and drift to the floor. If any scented molecules shifted near me on the air, I would recoil in horror for fear of being perfumed with the scent of a girl. I would then follow her from the bathroom to the bedroom, (cloaked in her sillage), where she would clip on her earrings and decorate her neck with stones, all the while recounting tales from my day. She would listen patiently and respond with an encouraging "mm-hmmm" when needed, as she prepared to go out.

Occasionally, before leaving, mother would ask me to look through her handbag - to pass her a watch or a pen, and I would enjoy digging down deep and rummaging through her fragrant leather satchel. The hide smelled raw and sharp, and the brass button closures ore-like and cold. When diving to retrieve the object in question, my palms would often re-emerge also with a peppermint or a broken cigarette accidentally pinched between my 3rd and 4th fingers. Normally I'd drop the menthol cigarettes in disgust and attempt to wipe the smell off on my t-shirt, or, swoop upon the mint and smell its powdery-white shell, before dissolving it between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. The room was a twirling symphony of scents, and my mother was the conductor.

Finally she would lean down and kiss me between my cheek and my ear, and I would run to the bedroom dresser and wipe away the lipstick smudge left there with my shirt sleeve. I would follow her to the door and wave as she entered the car and she would wave back enthusiastically.
Long after she was gone, with the fading taste of mint dwindling on my tongue, I would be left in the house with a fog of Youth Dew imbuing the air around me, and the scent of tobacco and leather on my hands.
And I thought it was magic.

Happy Mother's Day, mum.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Penhaligon's: Lp No:9 for Ladies



Anyone who knows me in person, or is connected to me via Basenotes, will attest to my love of the men's Penhaligon's release: Lp No:9. I make no bones about my adoration of this scent, and the happy associations I enjoy when wearing it. It was created as a Valentines Day exclusive by the British company, along with its female counterpart in the late 90's, but suffered a short lifespan when the pair were removed from the market in 2006. I was gutted! 
In late 2008 however, the pair enjoyed a welcome resurrection after Penhaligon's understood they had shamelessly deprived Lp fanatics (such as myself) of their fine fragrance holy grails.

Much of my focus up until today has been around the men's release, but since receiving a generous sample from the company in response to a letter of thanks for its reinstatement, I have recently become rather taken with the women's version too.

Not easily put off by its vivid hot-pink juice, I applied Lp No:9 for Ladies and fast learned why this scent is cherished by women with equal enthusiasm as the men with our own. The truth is, that whilst being somewhat acerbic and overtly floral when first applied, Lp For Ladies settles into something quite agreeable on a man's skin. The opening spritz is brimming with sharp citruses and sappy cypress, but a very rich floral heart becomes almost instantly evident when heady jasmine, rose and lily of the valley emerge with alarming intensity. It is here that one's brow might furrow, and a man's resolve may be tested because Lp No:9 for Ladies is no shrinking violet! As this blossoming corsage seems to swell with floral ferocity, one can begin to distinguish shimmering green accords and prickly spices at its heart.
After some time, the florals take a fluttering turn towards the rubber-like accords found in Frederic Malle's En Passant: a tribute to aromatic white lilacs. As the somewhat venomous, narcotising florals begin to recede, peppery carnation and aromatic clove bud shuffle forward. It seems that the entire perfume takes a 90 degree turn and tiny florets of sandalwood, patchouli and oakmoss bloom; bringing with it somewhat more of a sense of masculine earthiness. Here also, one senses vanilla, amber and tonka imbuing the composition with a buttery warmth from beneath... it is highly addictive!
Whilst a razor-edged floral accord that fills the back of the nose is a constant, LP No:9 for Ladies transitions into something warm and sensuous... the kind of odour one might like to share between two bodies, passionately pressed together.

Any chap with a daring nature and whose gender sensitivities transcend the 'norm' will highly appreciate this, though, will also most likely hide the powder-pink box in his dresser drawer.
One to be shared.

Now the song and the lyrics that inspired the scent...




I took my troubles down to Madame Rue.
You know that gypsy with the gold capped tooth
She's got a pad down on 34th and Vine,
Selling little bottles of Love Potion #9.

I told her that I was a flop with chicks.
I've been disgraced since 1956.
She looked at my palm and she made a magic sign.
She said what you need is Love Potion number 9.

She bent down and turned around and gave me a wink.
She said I'm gonna make it up right here in the sink.
It smelled like turpentine, and looked like Indian ink.
I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink!

I didn't know if it was day or night.
I started kissing everything in sight.
But when I kissed a cop down on 34th and Vine.
He broke my little bottle of Love Potion number 9.

I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink!

I didn't know if it was day or night.
I started kissing everything in sight.
But when I kissed a cop down on 34th and Vine.
He broke my little bottle of Love Potion number 9.

Love Potion #9 ...
Love Potion #9 ...
Love Potion #9 ...

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Mystery bottle: Lilas de France Parfum


Click on the image to enlarge

How well do you know your antique bottles?

In recent weeks, I've spent hours trawling the internet admiring vintage perfume bottles. In that time, literally thousands of antique flacons must have passed before my eyes.
Last week, however, my wife came upon this charming hand blown glass bottle at a fleamarket here in Denmark... she snapped it up for a very reasonable 20 cents! We both like it for its old-world Art Nouveau aesthetic, but hope to get a fuller picture of the bottle's history.
Perhaps you have seen it before? There are no markings, stamps or labels other than those shown here. The label around the neck reads "Lilas de France", and the larger sticker depicts a woman in profile, against a five-petalled flower motif, and bears the word "Parfum".
I am almost certain that I have seen this very same arts and crafts-style label somewhere on the net, but due to the sheer number of sites I've visited, cannot even begin to think exactly where I might have seen it.

A quick google search suggests 6 scents baring the same name:

Lilas de France - The Aubry Sisters 1920 
Lilas de France - Crescent Perfumes 1910 
Lilas de France - James S Kirk & Co 1925 
Lilas de France - Wil-Low of Boston 1925 
Lilas de France - Edouard Pinaud 1848

Lilas de France - Seely's Perfumes

Unfortunately, very few photos of these bottles exist, and those that are pictured do not really resemble the one above.

So, its over to you, kind reader... perhaps you have some information that will point me in the right direction? Any help you may be able to offer would be enormously appreciated.