Monthly Archives: May 2016

Geisha Vanilla Hinoki by Aroma M Perfumes

Evergreen vanilla

 

Notes: Bergamot, Clove, Cardamom, Nutmeg, Cedarleaf, Lavender, Leather, Patchouli, Amyris and Cedarwood.

 

I know it’s terribly remiss of me but I admit to never having tried anything by artisan perfumer Maria McElroy, of Aroma M, before. This is not through lack of interest mind you, but purely down to logistics. It’s not easy to get hold of American indie fragrances outside of the States. However, I think I’ve started with a good one.

The recently released, Vanilla Hinoki has been five years in the making and is the latest addition to Aroma M’s much admired Geisha Collection. Before we talk about the scent though, let’s take a moment to appreciate the gorgeous bottle covered with traditional Yuzen paper.

vanilla hinoki.jpg

The zesty opening stage of the Eau de Parfum comes as a surprise: like breaking the rind of an clementine and being squirted with the juice. The citrus is quickly joined by warming spices, chiefly in the form of clove but also cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s a familiar combination that smells so natural it resembles an aromatherapy blend. I find it simultaneously soothing and stimulating.

As promised, Vanilla Hinoki strikes a different chord to the usual calorific gourmand vanilla perfumes.  Its key ingredient is a hard to source vanilla found only in Morocco. This is partnered with hinoki wood, hinoki being a species of cypress tree which is native to Japan and much prized for the quality of its timber. As well as temples, shrines and palaces, sacred hinoki wood is used to build the hot spring pools or “onsen” found at Japanese mountain inns. Its odor profile is fresh and evergreen with lemony facets.

Maria McElroy’s intention was to recreate the sybaritic feeling of reposing at your leisure in one of those steamy pools. This concept really appeals to me because I am a big fan of soaking in hot water. Once, immersed, I soon feel the tension leave my shoulders and it’s one of the few times my mind actually manages to switch off. I think the bath may be my “safe place”.

On me, Vanilla Hinoki is a very soft, gently spiced, woody vanilla fragrance with a fuzzy, languid feel. The vanilla is very mellow and much more like the pod with its spicy and woody facets, than a dessert. The buoyant, steamy effect Maria achieves is very clever.

The subtle vanilla is perfectly complimented by the scent of evergreen trees which surround the mountainside onsen. It teeters on the verge of incense which adds to its calming quality.

 

japan.jpg

 

Some people find sweet vanilla perfumes comforting because of the sugar hit but Vanilla Hinoki is comforting in an entirely different way. It’s wonderfully relaxing; like sinking into warm water and washing your troubles away. You feel lighter as the soft vanilla steam rises around you in clouds.

 

Does this sound like your kind of vanilla? Do you have any more Aroma M perfumes to recommend?

 Photo credit: BHM Photos

 

 

20 Comments

Filed under Perfume Reviews

Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances by Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is the author of Fragrances of the World, the ultimate industry reference book, now in its 32nd Edition. To put it simply, he is an authority on the subject.

Published in 1996, his book Perfume Legends:French Feminine Fragrances sought to chart the evolution of French perfumery chiefly from the perfumers’ perspective and is the result of 150 in-depth interviews. In 164 pages, it takes us chronologically through 44 French perfumes starting with Jicky in 1889 and ending with Angel in 1992.

 

perfume legends

 

He used the following criteria for choosing the fragrances that feature in the book; firstly, that they inspired other perfume compositions, secondly, that they started a new trend and thirdly, that they have an enduring appeal which surpasses fashion.

I loved reading The Foreword which was written by Edmond Roudnitska, the great perfumer who created many of Dior’s classics including Eau Sauvage and Diorissimo as well as Rochas’s Femme. Funnily enough, he mentions that when he visited Sydney (Edwards is Australian) he was stuck by its similarity to his own Côte d’Azur.

I was particularly interested to see what Roudnitska had to say  about a favourite (if not my very favourite) perfume, “Jacques Guerlain’s most modern composition was probably Vol de Nuit which was not given the full appreciation it merited from the public or from the House.” He also states that Chanel’s best composition is not Chanel No.5 (which he feels benefited from clever marketing) but in fact “the magnificent” Bois des lles

After The Foreward there is an introduction entitled “The dawn of modern perfumery” which leads up to the creation of Fourgére Royale by Houbigant in 1882. Then we get to the perfumes…

20160424_152911[1]

Each individual entry starts with a brief summary of the time and gives the context for how the perfume came into being. This is followed by a piece about the specific fragrance explaining how the perfume was developed, usually with quotes from the perfumer, his relatives or associates.

These aren’t reviews but offer up what are usually fascinating tales which try to get to the facts about how the perfume came about and why it became so great. The chemical components aren’t shied away from but aren’t overwhelming for the non-scientifically minded, like me. It’s a nice mix of anecdotes and technical information.

Before ending with a section about the bottle, there is a pyramid diagram detailing the “Head, Heart and Soul” accords and epithets for each. In the case of Miss Dior these are “Spicy, Flowery and Clinging”.

Here are a selection of the perfumes featured in the book from across the  20th Century: L’Origan (1905), Mitsouko (1919), Tabu (1932), L’Air du Temps (1948), Cabochard (1959), Calandre (1969), First (1976), Loulou (1987) and Tresor (1990).

I really like how Michael Edwards gets to the root of the story behind the perfumes by going back to the source. Iconic fragrances are often surrounded by myths but you feel that Edwards gets to the truth wherever possible. It’s a large, beautiful, coffee table-style book but unlike most in that genre, it is full of content.  Perfume Legends really is a wealth  of insider information, facts and stories from the relevant protagonists or those closest to them.

Unfortunately it’s a spendy purchase with the hardcover currently on Amazon UK for £149.01.

Many thanks to Lila for lending me her copy.

Do you have any non-fiction books about perfume to share?

 

6 Comments

Filed under Book Review

A London Sniffathon with Tina G of APJ – Photo Essay

I was so excited to finally meet Tina G from Australian Perfume Junkies for the first time last weekend. We’ve been virtual friends for a while now – we were introduced by our mutual pal Portia – and I really like the way she writes about fragrance. Tina’s been travelling across Europe and I couldn’t wait for her to get to London

For our intensive tour of some of the city’s fragrant hot-spots, Tina made the decision to concentrate on perfumes not available back home in Sydney, which was very wise. Believe me when I say the following highlights only cover a fraction of what we tried.

 

20160514_124007[1].jpg

Tina and I very happy to be together at Les Senteurs

First on our list was Les Senteurs where the lovely Murray spent ages filling us in on new-to-us brands.  Tina was drawn to the Tom Daxton display and we tested his new fresh floral, Magnolia Heights. I was keen to try the latest addition to Frederic Malle’s Editions des Parfums, Monsieur, which was not animalic the way I envisioned but a very suave patchouli.

Murray took us through Irish brand Cloon Keen Atelier from which Tina was intrigued by Castana which features the novel pairing of vetiver and chestnut, while I particularly enjoyed the bergamot tea of Infusion Assam.

20160514_121837[1].jpg

Tina hadn’t seen French house Les Eaux Primordiales before so we tried all of those, out of which she loved Iris Palladium and almost went for a full bottle. The whole range was very well done, including a vetiver and rhubarb scent in Abstraction Raisonnee and a very natural, wearable lavender with blackberry in Moment Perpetuel.

20160514_125348[1].jpg

Les Eaux Primordiales

Tina is a fan of minty notes so Murray suggested Geranium Pour Monsieur by Frederic Malle which she liked, but was most impressed by Menthe Fraiche from Heeley.

20160514_125357[1].jpg

Murray and Tina

Tina liked Ambre Russe and Tabac Tabou from Parfum de Empire, the latter being a great hay/narcissus/tobacco scent (review to follow). I was very taken with Yuzu Fou. I rarely click with citrus fragrances but this is very concentrated with loads of depth.

20160514_131725[1]

After a meander through Marylebone we found Perfumer H, the new venture of Lyn Harris (of Miller Harris) which has been open for about 8 months now. The store smells of essential oils which is really lovely compared to the synthetic fug of mainstream fragrance shops. The very engaging Caroline told us about the Perfumer H concept. Lyn Harris is really going back to the craft, mixing up the fragrances in a small lab on the premises.

20160514_144632[1]

Caroline in the lab at Perfumer H

They release two collections a year containing five perfumes (each from a different fragrance family), one for Spring/Summer and one for Autumn/Winter. When they’re retired from the current collection they go into the Archive but are still available to purchase. I wear perfume in line with the seasons so this idea appealed to me.

20160514_141807[1].jpg

The current collection of Cologne, Rain Cloud, Atlas, Leather and Musk

We tried the current collection (released in February) and were very impressed with all of them but particularly Atlas, Leather and Musk. On the other side of the room Caroline showed us the Laboratory Editions which are available to buy outright for your sole use (from £1,500) but until then, are available for sale as single bottles (from £140 for 100ml). So if you fall in love with one, you better start saving or stockpiling. From these we tried Ink, Smoke and a few others.

20160514_140814[1].jpg

Tina in front of the Laboratory Editions

Tina tried four Perfumer H fragrances on skin – Leather, Velvet, Atlas and Musk. I liked the cottony iris of Musk the best and as It happened, this is the one she decided to buy. The hand blown blue bottles are gorgeous but you can buy the perfumes in ordinary bottles for a lot less, which is what Tina did as it’s better for transporting home.

Next on the list was Selfridges where we enjoyed salt beef sandwiches before hitting the fragrance floor. After a pit-stop at Chanel we went to the Dior fragrance boutique. Tina hadn’t seen Les Elixirs Precieux before so we sniffed all four (Oud, Rose, Musc and Ambre). They are concentrated oils for layering and Rose is stunning, but so is the price at £225 for 3ml.

I was eager to try Dior’s new Le Colle Noire from La Collection Privée because it’s also a rose. It’s very pretty but I couldn’t detect anything particularly exclusive about it and I like my roses with more depth. There were no samples available but to my and Tina’s amazement the SA offered to spray the lining of my leather jacket. Thanks but no thanks!

 

 

20160514_162512[1]

Dior La Collection Privée

Union sources its materials from around the UK and Tina had been impressed by her friend’s bottle of Celtic Fire so we went through the range of five fragrances. We liked Gunpowder Rose a lot and although tempted, Tina didn’t buy smoky Celtic Fire in the end. The heavy bottles were a factor.

20160514_163103[1]

Union at Selfridges

Tina spotted A Lab on Fire so we sampled a few of those – including What We Do in Paris is Secret – which were surprisingly mainstream in scent. I was also disappointed to find you couldn’t pull the trigger on the Moschino Fresh bottle but had to take off the top and use the bog standard sprayer. Shame.

20160514_164119[1]

Off to Covent Garden and Bloom next. Tina had been the first to tell me about British brand Beaufort and picked up a candle of 1805 Tonnerre for her friend back home. She tried all three fragrances in the line and admired Vi et Armis, which is way too much spicy smoke for me, though very striking.  Owner Oxsana kindly gave us a sneak preview of the forthcoming Beaufort release Lignum Vitae which is, to my surprise, a gourmand. We also tried a few from Turkish perfume house Nishane after which I got nose fatigue and left Tina to browse some more.

20160514_174330(0)[1].jpg

Tina at Bloom, Covent Garden

20160514_174344[1].jpg

We finished off this fantastic day at Aqua Bar on the 32rd floor of The Shard where we met Mazz, a long-time friend of both Tina and Portia. I know Tina is partial to a cocktail and it’s hard to beat the views from here. I also love their Charcoal Cobbler cocktail which has charcoal sugar around the rim of the glass. I drank it rather too quickly and went home on the tube tired but merry.

20160514_203446[1]

The view!

Perfume is a lot of fun and meeting up with perfume friends like Tina is just the best.

20160514_190654[1].jpg

The London weather did me proud!

Do you already love, or like the sound of, any of the perfumes mentioned here?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you already love, or like the sound of, any of the perfumes mentioned here?

28 Comments

Filed under Perfume Shopping

Alter, Vitrum, Bond-T and Ariel by Sammarco 

 

I’ve read some very positive reports about the fragrances from artisan perfume house Sammarco.

The Switzerland-based perfumer, Giovanni Sammarco, uses a high percentage of natural raw materials in his fragrances which are pure parfum strength. The collection currently numbers four: Alter, Vitrum and Bond-T which were launched in 2012 and Ariel which was released last year.

 

Alter

Notes: Jasmine Sambac, rose, frankincense, mimosa, animal accord, incense and opoponax.

Alter is one of those head-swimming white florals which is heavy on indolic jasmine and overlaid with a gauze of civet-like musk. It’s the kind of perfume that would make a gentlewoman come over all unnecessary with just one sniff.

I have a low tolerance for the type of musk used here but Alter is lush, billowy and seductive. If you love heady white florals with a soupçon of sex, it’s more than likely to make you swoon.

 

Vitrum

Notes: Vetiver, rose, bergamot, black pepper, incense and oakmoss.

This is a very clever composition, not least because it is a vetiver I can appreciate. To my nose, most have an odour of stagnant swamp water which turns my stomach.

Vitrum is a softly spoken vetiver, reduced down to its smoky soul. Augmenting it with rose is a lovely touch.

For once, this is a vetiver fragrance which embodies both strength and beauty. I’m not surprised when I read it was created as a bespoke fragrance for a female journalist. Vitrum is a refreshing detour from the well trodden vetiver path.

 

Bond-T

Notes: Cocoa, patchouli, osmanthus, castoreum, tonka and vanilla.

Bond-T was inspired by a visit to a chocolate factory in Pisa, it oozes thick dark chocolate with a high cocoa content; dry and slightly powdery. Patchouli’s chocolate facet makes it a natural partner for cocoa, but I’m very pleased to find the patch here doesn’t overwhelm it.

Bond-T is a chocolate perfume accentuated by patchouli, not a patchouli perfume accentuated by chocolate. The base features a sweet, honeyed amber which takes the decadence to another level.

I find something very chic about dark chocolate fragrances . To be chic, you have to have a little quirkiness thrown in with your elegance and that’s Bond-T to a, er, T.

 

Ariel

Notes: Mandarin, ginger, angelica, tuberose, jasmine, osmanthus, violet, rose, sandalwood, tobacco, davana and orris concrete.

You can tell an awful lot of time and thought went into the creation of Ariel. Going by the website, it seems to have been a labour of love for Giovanni: an homage to the flame-haired object of his affection. It’s the most complex and captivating scent in the collection.

Ariel contrasts sweet, cosmetic powdered florals against crisp, bright greens.  The overall effect is sophisticated and retro, yet metallic and musky accents in the early stages give it a contemporary twist. The drydown is nothing short of gorgeous.  

Ariel is an idealised image of female beauty and feminine attributes. A woman seen through the eyes of love.

rita-hayworth

Do any of the four Sammarco fragrances call to you? 

 

 

14 Comments

Filed under Perfume Reviews

Running Beyond My Limits

I have always felt fear and loathing towards running. Apart from the need to catch the odd bus, surely we humans have evolved out of the need to run?

I only ever used the treadmill at the gym for a brisk walk.

No doubt this antipathy goes back to middle school when I came last in the cross-country race. Not only did I come in last place, but I was so out of breath people were concenred I was asthmatic (I wasn’t). Since then, I’ve believed that some people aren’t made for running and I’m one of them.

This was reinforced last December when our fitness trainer on the first morning of the retreat told us to run up the beach and back. I had been going to the gym for five months by this point so didn’t think it would be too arduous. Wrong. After just a few paces I had a coughing fit so severe that I thought I was going to be sick. I told myself that it was purely coincidental that we were only asked to walk along the beach each morning after that

During the retreat, I met an amazing woman (among many) called Di from Barking, Essex. She had come through debilitating health problems to compete in Tough Mudder and seems to be taking part in runs every other weekend. After we got back, with extreme unwarranted optimism, she kept asking me if I’d take part in various race events.

I did want to clear this block and learnt to run, even if only once. Eventually I agreed to The Color Run because I read that children could take part, you weren’t timed and mothers could even go round the course while pushing a pram. Hey, this was more my speed and it looked fun too. I tried not to think about the fact it was 5km long.

color run

I signed up around the end of March and the race is set for the 12th June. I had about 10 weeks to go from zero to hero. I told my fitness guru, Val, that  I was going to run for 5 minutes during my first training session at the gym. She replied “Five minutes is a long time”. Oh how right she was. I struggled to jog on the treadmill for one whole minute. Yes, you read that correctly: I could barely get through a single minute.  I thought it would tough-going, but I had no idea just how tough.

Since then I’ve been gradually building up the amount of time I can run for continuously and am currently up to 20 minutes.  I found this brilliant training programme on the NHS website called Couch to 5k which has been invaluable. It’s given me a lot more confidence that I won’t completely disgrace myself. An added motivator is that I’m trying to raise funds for Chlldine, a helpline in the UK for children suffering abuse.

Since starting to run something strange has happened. I’ve begun to almost look forward to my training sessions at the gym. It’s given me a new exercise goal to work towards and I’m seeing progress every time I go. It’s also satisfying to confront my limiting belief that I’m just not capable of running.

If all else fails on the day, Di has said she will drag me around the course on my knees, so that’s okay then…

 

Do you run? Do you have any tips or books to recommend on the subject? How does running make you feel?

 

 

 

 

 

 

24 Comments

Filed under Thoughts

My Favourite Bottled Lavender – Kiki Extrait de Parfum by Vero Profumo

The ingenue grows up…

Notes: Cassis, Lavender Essence, Bergamot, Lemon, Caramel, Lavender Absolute, Geranium, Ambergris, Opoponax, Patchouli and Musk

 

Independent perfumers generally seem to me to make fragrances that feel a lot more personal. This is probably because they have the freedom to put so much of their own vision into them. Their creations often have strong characters that evoke a person, place or emotion. Vero Profumo’s Onda Voile d’Extrait triggered so many feelings in me, as did Rozy.

Another gem from Vero Kern that has my vivid imagination racing, is the fabulous Kiki Extrait de Parfum.

Only the alchemy performed by Vero could make the impossible possible: She created a lavender-centred perfume that even people who think they can’t abide lavender, fall in love with.

In Kiki, Vero turns the traditional use of lavender on its head. Instead of being cold, herbal and masculine-leaning she makes it warm, feminine and even flirty. Who would have thought it?

vero-profumo-kiki-extrait

I was already won over by the sprayable Kiki Voile d’Extrait as you can read here, but Kiki Extrait de Parfum takes me to new heights.

Its inviting from the very first encounter, welcoming me by rolling out a plush purple carpet. There’s no sharp lavender opening, just a sense of complete ease and abandon. The inspired use of caramel brings out that self-same facet found in Lavender Absolute and this is what transmutes the material from medicinal to sensual.

If Kiki Voile d’Extrait is an ingenue, then Kiki Extrait is the same woman a couple of years on; more polished and knowing but with the same joie de vivre.

Kiki is steeped in Paris.

The city is her playground as she spends the day free-wheeling with artists and intellectuals and the evening trysting with her amour. The couple whisper sweet nothings in a dimly illuminated corner booth…

 

blackandwhitefashionvintagewomanbwgirl-f1a8c328b37fa2eba29a3e3a171ae718_h

 

During a busy day at work I suddenly thought “Something smells really good, what did I put on today?”. The answer was Kiki Extrait. Even though it’s pure parfum which is designed to be dabbed rather than sprayed, it has enough throw for you to enjoy it as you concentrate on other things. It’s a multi-faceted jewel radiating soft amethyst light.

Perhaps its the tension between the cool tones of lavender and the warmth of caramel that makes it so addictive – the usually frigid Lavender softens and melts in Caramel’s heated embrace. Perhaps it’s the blackcurrant pulp which adds that surprising touch of nonchalance. Or maybe it’s simply her womanly yet playful nature that captures your heart.

Whatever it is, wearing Kiki is pure Parisian pleasure.

 

Do you know Kiki? Have you found a lavender to love?

 

 

 

29 Comments

Filed under Perfume Reviews

My Favourite Cleansers: Cetaphil and Hydrabio H20

Finding Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser the year before last was somewhat of a lifesaver. I have combination skin but it can feel very dry and sensitive.Rinse-off cleansers usually  irritate my eyes and leave my skin dry however applying Cetaphil is a pleasure. Designed for sensitive and dry skin, it is soap free, fragrance free and non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores). It may be far from glamorous but I love it.

It doesn’t foam on the skin but effectively removes all traces of make-up without stripping the skin. I can even massage it into my lashes to get rid of mascara and it doesn’t bother my eyes in the slightest. My skin is left feeling clean and calm instead of tight and stressed. An added bonus is that I can buy a big bottle for just under a tenner at my local high street chemist (drugstore).

Cetaphil

I came pretty late to French pharmacy brands but I’ve been playing catch up for the last few years. If I’m not washing my face in the bath or shower, I use Bioderma’s Sensibio H20 – Micelle Solution to take off eye make-up and then Hydrabio H20 – Micelle Solution for the rest of the face because it’s more hydrating. Although both are alcohol-free and suitable for sensitive skin, Hydrabio H20 contains Aquagenium, a patented biological complex that locks in moisture on the surface of the skin.

Oh how I heart micellar waters. Creams and lotions always felt so icky on my skin, it’s great to banish them for good. As Lisa Eldridge recently wrote, it’s one case where a beauty trend has trickled up instead of down, with luxury brands bringing out their own – much more expensive – versions. I’m sticking to my tried and tested budget option though and am grateful Escentual has made Bioderma easily available to us in the UK.

hydrabio

 

Do you have any favourite cleansers to share?

 

 

 

 

 

14 Comments

Filed under Beauty Review