Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Perfume for an exhibition

Perfume is obviously something that is on my mind quite often and even more so since I have started the blog. There are moments when I find a connection to perfume, either a specific one or fragrances in general and I always cherish those findings because they help me understand perfumes better and in a new way. It's particularly enjoyable if I can connect things I really love and make them more "mine".
The last time this happened was a real special moment and that's why I want to share it here. 

I went to see an exhibition at Tate Modern and fell in love with the work on display, the woman behind it and that moment of connection I described earlier. Mira Schendel was a Swiss born jewish refugee who settled in Brazil after the Second World War. She had studied art and philosophy in her youth but was forced to leave Milan university after Mussolini stripped Jews of their Italian citizenship. 
Being too poor to afford "proper" art materials she sketched on cardboard, used crayons and in her own words:"painted like crazy." The early paintings are soft and remarkably calming abstracts and still lifes in muted colours, influenced by Klee, Murandi and other European painters. In the 60's her art career takes off with a solo exhibitions in London and Brazil and she starts drawing on rice paper which will become her medium of choice. She is inspired by philosophy, language and religion and often uses words, typography and fragments of texts in a variety of languages. The rice paper, so fragile and fleeting, is not just a medium but also the message. "The back of transparency lies in front of you," the artist wrote, "and the 'other world' turns out to be this one." 

Her work is pure and playful, with a very Zen like quality and when I was walking around the exhibition I was completely mesmerised. I sometimes regret that I'm not as enthusiastic about art as I used to be, too often I find myself thinking: "Yeah, great, but seen it before..." May be that comes with age, but this time I really was thrilled and felt this connection that makes suddenly everything right and glowing and a bit magical. I'm not an art theorist, I can't really describe an ism and the whys and why nots, but I do know when I see something truly special. 
And at some point I realised that the fragile otherworldlyness of her rice paper works reminded me of perfume. First, of perfume as a medium, fleeting but yet evocative, not really there but present...invisible but sensual. And then I entered the room of her installation called "Still Waves of Probability" and it hit me that Lumiere Blanche, by Olfactive Studio was the perfume I was thinking of while spending time with Mira Schendel's art. It's not just the name which makes this a suitable olfactory connection, but the transparency and the pureness. LB is an homage to light with a strength that makes you squint for a second and although it's a warming and comforting fragrance it's primary aspect is cool. Does that make sense? Probably not, but for me it really does oscillate between warm and cool in an astonishing way. It's also manages to be ethereal without any faux  pretension. I wish I had worn it that day.
Mira Schendel Still Waves of Probability

Images via TateModern and wikipaintings. 

Friday, 24 January 2014

Oriza L.LeGrand, Part Three

So, finally the reviews of the last two Orizas, Jardins d'Armide and Chypre Mousse. Both perfumes should, in theory, be right up my street. The first, Jardins d'Armide for its Florentine iris and violets, and the Chypre for...well, being a chypre. But the house of Oriza has so far been a surprise and my expectations have been turned upside down more than once. 

Jardins d'Armide

Seduction, beauty, evil, love, hate and subsequent death, what's not to like? Operas have been written, ballets been performed, paintings been commissioned. Armide, the sorceress who bewitched the good Christian crusader Rinaldo and kept him in an enchanted garden has inspired many composers and painters and it's only natural that the story has found its way into a perfume bottle. Albeit in 1909, and herein lies the problem. Of all the Oriza fragrances I have tested, this is the most old fashioned, in an "hasn't aged well" sort of way. Where Reve d'Ossian or Relique d'Amour are interesting and fascinating nods towards good old times, Jardins is just old. Despite notes and accords that sound good on paper, the whole composition is a strange mix of soapiness and compact powder. The top citrus note never goes away but hovers over a sweetness that doesn't really know what it wants to smell like. The iris is just pure powder and can't ground this fragrance at all. At this stage ( 1 to 3 hours in) it's weirdly clean AND dirty. Not filthy, sexy dirty, just like someone covering up BO with too much fragrance. I did give up on it by that time, not scrubbing it off but wishing it away. To my surprise it did get rid of the soapiness  after about 6 hours and a strong vanilla and sweet rose note greeted me, but it was too little too late. This perfume shows the limitations you have to consider when you recreate ancient recipes. Things have moved on a bit since the early 20th century. I would love to see someone taking the story of Armide or Circe as an inspiration for a  scent and give it a modern, not afraid to be called Feminist twist. 

Chypre Mousse

I have always liked chypres. Even when I didn't know what they were. I prefer mine to be more on the feminine side with a dash of floriental. Not too green and  not too mossy. Just a tiny bit.
Chypre Mousse is a great chypre, no doubt. It has plenty of different wild things in various stages of green-ness, and I keep finding new elements in it whenever I wear it. On the paper strip is was initially a lot softer than on my skin, where for the first 2 hours I found something lingering that I couldn't identify. I thought it was the fennel note, but after 3 wearings I'm not sure any more what sort of herby thing is stimulating my nostrils here.  

My image for Chypre Mousse

I believe it's a scent for the Great Outdoors, for exploring Nature with a capital N. It doesn't evoke silks and velvets, but tweeds and old leather. Having said that, it is a very complex and not at all rustic fragrance. I'm thinking James Bond driving in his Jaguar in the Scottish Highlands here, not Christopher Lambert as Highlander in a rugged kilt. The notes listed range from wild fennel to oakmoss, angelica, clover and pine to  mushrooms, earth and roasted chestnuts and they seem to come and go at random, not really one accord following the other. You could call it a linear fragrance, but each time I wear it it smells slightly different and I love the way you can explore aspects of it. Like any really great landscape its colours change dramatically with the light, but it has, there is no denying it,  a masculine hue. Doesn't deter me, but means that it won't find its way in my Full Bottle collection. It has medium silage on  my skin but excellent staying power. My image for it is based on a photo I took on a recent trip to Dartmoor National park, a terrain  that would make a fantastic backdrop for that perfume.  I can see myself wearing Chypre Mousse if we go on another hiking tour there, but more likely I will give it to M. to wear it. The hiking theme  inspired my How and Where as well,

How and where to wear:
The sky above is endless, the weather changes within a blink of an eye and the moss under your feet is like a fluffy carpet woven by elves. 


Although I had found it somewhat difficult to stick to the discipline of wearing and reviewing the 6 perfumes of the house of Oriza Legrand, I do think it was totally worth it. All the fragrances are rich and multifaceted. Even the one I personally didn't like had a story to tell and not one scent left me with this dreaded feeling of "Bof ". As mentioned above, I think reformulating and recreating old recipes is laudable but not necessarily always a good idea and I would love to see the house regarding its past but also working on a transition into something contemporary. Telling old stories with a modern voice, letting us explore new mythical gardens and fill them with a fresh breath of life. I will definitely keep an eye out for their perfumes and would highly recommend testing them if you haven't done yet.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Oriza L.LeGrand Part Two

The second part of my review of the delightful perfumes of French house Oriza L.LeGrand will start with one of the scents I was most looking forward to:


Just have a look at the bottle design. Isn't it pretty? I love the pattern on the label, but by now you probably know that I love patterns. The typeface makes all the right noises towards the roaring twenties and the description from the website is mouthwatering:

The materials, colors, shapes symbolize a new freedom and portend, at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, the hope of a new HORIZON.
At the height of its history and in its own way to celebrate the Roaring Twenties and the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in 1925, the House Oriza L. Legrand created HORIZON, Oriental fragrance for boys and tomboys, fragrance of Precious Woods and Ambergris agreements Tabac Blond and Soft Leather.

And whether your time travel destination to celebrate all this decadence is Paris, Berlin or's most definitely  a big city. Urban. The 20's in deep rural countryside? That's  depression and hunger. No one wants to smell like that. So why oh why to I get this whiff of barnyard?  But one step after the other. I should get: Bitter Orange, confit tangerine and dried rose.  I do get orangey leather and and a hint of barnyard. Next should be amber cognac, oak, patchouli and tobacco leaves and almonds. And I do get patchouli, tobacco and something that could be almonds, with a hint of barnyard. I usually don't do this note comparison thing, but Horizon is leaving me not much of a choice, because it smells so different from what I expected. If I compare it to the other 20's retro scent I have recently tested, Speakeasy by Frapin, it feels about 100 years older. 
Don't get me wrong, that can be a good thing, but apart from a hint of booze and fags there isn't much that suits the Tanz auf dem Vulkan that I was looking for. I had to wear it 3 times before I understood something quite fundamental: This perfume REALLY tries to capture Paris in the 20's. Not Chicago and Berlin . This perfume isn't hinting at extremism, hunger of life and sexual liberation bordering on perversion fighting against a Prussian sense of Ordnung. It has an altogether gentler, happier and warmer approach. And if that includes a bit of barnyard, so be it. When I think of the 20's, I think of the the paintings of  Georg Grosz, but Horizon is less Expressionism, more Surrealism and Dada. Its structure is soft and warm, more Josephine Baker than Sally Bowles. And suddenly, with that in mind, I begin to like it. And the longer I wear it, the better it gets and it does have good staying power,  but there is  a lack of...Want. I like it, admire it, but I don't I want it. 2 out of three ain't bad, but not enough to justify a FB. 

How and where to wear:
Not an easy perfume to pull off to full effect, I suggest you wear it to a party and dance your heart out. I have the feeling that it will work incredibly well with a bit of fresh sweat.

And now to something entirely different:

Relique d'Amour

We all have perfumes and scents that transport us to places, remind us of people, bring up images. These olfactory connections can vary in strength and detail and are usually most significant when they involve people we loved (or hated), situations that had great impact on our lives and places we have experienced strong emotions.  But sometimes a smell hits us like with a déjà vu moment, that nagging feeling of having been there before... playing tricks with our minds and questioning our sanity. What happened to me with Relique d'Amour is a combination of both. It brought me back to a place where I've had a déjà vu many years ago.

I am not at all a religious person, but I do love visiting churches and do so whenever there is an opportunity. I've seen many many beautiful ones (Romanesque cathedrals being a favourite) and quite a few really ugly ones (usually poor old medieval structures blinged up to suit 18th century tastes and pseudo Gothic Victorian absurdities).  Sometimes feel a bit like an intruder, knowing full well that I am not believing in anything that is prayed for and preached in there but simply enjoying the architecture and art without any of the religious baggage. When I was travelling through Italy I obviously had ample opportunity for church tourism and it was in Pisa that I happened upon one of those unremarkable, late Baroque, not mentioned in any guide books churches which provide a welcome cool relief from the heat outside. Damp, cold stone, windows black from 200 years of pollution, pigeons in the roof. If you wanted to see more of the paintings that hang in various chapels you had to insert a coin (still Lira at that time) and a stream of light would barely manage to illuminate the minor work of a long forgotten pupil of some famous school. This was a place of worship with a dusty and gloomy atmosphere, only ever visited by the priests and old women wearing black and I wanted to leave again quickly, but there was a smell wafting intriguingly from one of the side chapels and I stepped inside. Here it was even darker and I could swear also colder then in the rest of the building. And all over the tiny place, the altar, the steps, the walls, the entry gates were draped lilies. In vases, wrapped into bundles, single flower stems, dried, freshly cut, rotten, decaying. Giving off a smell so intoxicating, so intense that I nearly stumbled backwards. I felt like someone had been walking over my graveThe hairs on my skin stood up and my heart skipped a beat. I had seen all this before. I was sure and it didn't feel right. I had to get out of the chapel, out of the church and into the next bar for a coffee. I can't tell you why, but that little chapel had scared me. Not to death, obviously, but really badly. It hadn't been my first encounter with the smell of lilies and  not my first gloomy church, but something in there had given me the creepiest déjà vu I have ever had. To this day. 

My visualisation of Relique d'Amour

And then comes Relique d'Amour and transports me right back there. After more than 20 years. You can guess now that it's a lily perfume. It starts with a very cold, almost icy accord and it takes some time for all the lilies to come into the open, but when they arrive they do so to an extent that is frightening. Well, to me it is. There is moss growing on cold stones, wax on well worn wood, a ton of  incense and other balmy things being thrown at me, but it will always and foremost be a lily. Magnificent and  beautiful. Melancholic and cold, pure and toxic, mysterious. In terms of colour it's a white, of course, but with lots of cold grey and black. Completely feminine but totally unsexy in my view, although M. seems to differ on the latter. By now I have worn it  3 times and the effect it had on me the first time doesn't repeat itself quite so vividly anymore. It will always remind me of that church and that moment, but it has become a fragrance that I can wear and appreciat  for its own sake. It is a very special creation and I'm glad to have been introduced to it. If I had the funds to buy a FB right now I probably would, because it's a stunning example of its genre from a collectors point of view. I know this is not a very neutral and informative review, but it is as it is...

How and where to wear:
You are dating an Italian man and are going to meet his mama? This will be perfect.

Given that these two reviews are much longer than I anticipated, I will stop here and cover the remaining fragrances in another, 3rd post. 

Monday, 13 January 2014

Oriza, L.LeGrand perfume reviews, Part One

A few months ago fellow perfume blogger Kafkaesque mentioned the French perfume house Oriza L.LeGrand and their good value sample sets on twitter. A quick look at their website showed some rather beautifully designed labels and retro bottles, and as I'm easily persuaded by nice looking things, I ordered it. The set has been sitting in my drawer for quite some time, but now that I have sampled them all I want to write down my combined impression of all the scents in two posts. First of all, I'm never quite sure what to make of these reenacted perfume houses, and in all honesty I don't really care whether they have been powdering wigs since the 18th century or produced soap for the Pope when he took refuge in Avignon, but I'll give you the back story in short:
Oriza L.LeGrand was founded in 1720, the company claim to have invented the solid perfume in 1887,  won prices at a number of World Trade fairs and then went off the radar until 2013.  It has now been revived with a collection of, so far, 7 perfumes and various candles, soaps and skin care products. The samples I ordered came in a little envelope with a leaflet proudly stating:"Aux Armes de France & de Russie" which I thought was a bit trying too hard. I have tried all 7 fragrances , 6 of them in depths. Overall I have to say that the scents are very, very interesting and intriguing. They are aiming to be true to historic recipes and the description and the typographical design of the labels give a good idea of what the perfumers intended to create. Not one of them is in any way trying to be modern, subtle or "ironic".  

To have that out of the way first: I can't review Oeillet Louis XV. It's a carnation so true to it's name that it makes me gag. Sorry for that, but I have a real problem with carnations. If anyone wants the sample, please drop me a note, I'm happy to give it to a carnation loving home.

Reve d'Ossian
Is inspired by 18th century cycle of The Celtic poems by James Macpherson of which I know very little (Mendelssohns Fingal's cave ouverture doesn't really count, I assume). This is a dry woody incense perfume, reminding me not so much of a full on Roman Catholic church incense (more of that later) but of the little cone things you can put inside wooden figurines to make them "smoke". Raeuchermaennchen. Very popular in Germany, those.

And may be because it reminds me of childhood, I like the fragrance. It has a pine wood, fir needles and christmas quality to it, the incense typical melancholy and it just smells good. There is also, but that is probably down to my memories playing havoc, a savoury, dried and cured meat element hidden somewhere. The note description lists Tonka Bean and cinnamon, and I can detect those sweeter notes, but I wouldn't call RO a sweet incense. This is a perfume for winter. Proper winter. Not that sludge and rain we have had since November. It has quite a low sillage on me, stays linear during the dry down and lasts about 6 hours on my skin. It's a very nice alternative to some of the stronger, more acrid scents of the genre, and I will wear my sample when I need some real winter comfort. I've chosen mostly muted colours and lots of black for the image, but it's a warming scent, and I've tried to find an abstract way of representing the element of flames and smoke. It would actually make a nice pattern for a rug,  placed in front of the fireplace of a mid century decorated home.  

My visual interpretation of Reve d'Ossian

How and where to wear:
You come in from the cold and the heating hasn't kicked in yet. A wood burning stove or open fire would be great, but your fireplace has been ripped out when they converted the Victorian terrace house into flats sometime in the 80's. Put the kettle on and take a good sniff.

Deja le Printemps
Spring has sprung. Green things are forcing themselves through the ground. Hello grass, hello birds, hello flowers. Deja le Printemps is a very very green fragrance with some sprinkles of colour, but the spring it represents is in its early days, so not all that much is out in the open yet. Some herbs, a bit moss, and a lot of:
My visual/typographical interpretation of Deja le Printemps

A fresh, herby grassy scent, quite strong in the opening, that, given it's green notes, lasts remarkably long (6 hours) on me. I can sense camomile, mint, and all sorts of other plants you would find on a meadow in spring but nothing is sticking out too much for attention, at least not in the beginning. Later in the dry down the lily of the valley makes a more distinguished appearance, and behind all the freshness lurks a sinister element, some sort of fairy living in dark and dangerous woods, preying on foolish humans. As much as I admire the structure and the execution: this perfume is quite extraordinary, but not for me. I'm too much of an urban creature. I will, however, give this scent to M. and see what he makes of it. I have a feeling that it will work better on a man, urban or not. 

How and where to wear:
Be a (naughty) Faun for a day

This is the end of part One of my Oriza LeGrand post, I will cover the remaining fragrances Chypre Mousse, Horizon, Relique d"Amour and Jardin d'Armide
in the next days

Monday, 6 January 2014


The holidays over, the tree out for recycling, the first Pilates session after 4 weeks of slouching done with, it's pretty much time for a new blog post. But my problem is: I got a wonderful perfume for Christmas and I want to tell you about it, but the visual I've created for it doesn't look like I think it should and whatever I try with it makes it worse. OTOH there is another perfume for which the visual is bang on, but I am uninspired to write about it, and it feels wrong to start the year with a perfume that I don't like. I have now pondered about what to do for a few days and decided to write a rather personal post about the Christmas we've had.
This year, for the first time in 9 years, I was actually staying at home in London. None of the usual travelling to respective parents in either Germany or France, no beach holiday in the tropics. We were looking forward to some quiet and peaceful days with good food and lots of booze in front of the fireplace. And because it felt special we broke with the rule of not giving each other Christmas presents. I know lots of people find it totally weird, but that was the way we did it. Not this time though. 

This time I got, surprise, surprise.....a perfume. And not just one that I had mentioned on the blog or to him in person, that would have been too easy, I guess. M. has a good nose and a clear idea of what he wanted, and he got me the most beautiful, soft and elegant iris I've tried so far. Nirmal, by Laboratorio Olfattivo. It opens with a carrot note that is not vegetably, but I assume it helps if you actually like carrots. After a short moment the iris and violet come to play and they are combined to show off all the powdery dryness they have to its maximum effect. With the powder comes the sweetness, but it's not sugary, not heady, but ethereal and transparent. This particular note combination can easily be too fleeting, like the beautiful  Cuir de Nacre by Ann Gerard, but this doesn't happen with Nirmal. It has excellent staying power this perfume, and lasts a good 8 hours on me. During its development the cedar wood and suede notes become more and more prominent, and when the leathery softness is at its strongest it reminds me of Cuir d'Iris, but the Parfumerie Générale scent is a brown to Nirmal's white, a skin warmth compared to a paper thin softness. But as I said, it's not just a fluffy violet/iris. The name Nirmal,  indicating pureness, gives a hint of the general idea and inspiration behind it but nothing is, or should ever be just pure, and this perfume has quite a lot of backbone and a strong personality. Thankfully it also avoids the wet earth root vegetable direction of some iris perfumes. It's probably not the most original creation, but if you like your iris with a hint of suede there is a good chance you will love this perfume. I know I do, and I'm well impressed with my husband's sniffing skills.

Here then ends my description and had it been the Christmas we had hoped for, I would have nothing more to tell about it and all would be good in our life. Unfortunately, it wasn't going to be.
Just after Christmas, on the night from Friday to Saturday, our beloved cat Basil was killed by dogs. We had been in bed waiting for the cat flap to announce him, unable to sleep and sick with worry. In the first morning light M. went out and found his body in a back garden. I can't describe the pain I felt when I looked into his eyes to see the pain and grief that confirmed my greatest fears. Basil was dead. 
Pet owners are able to understand the strong force of emotions that come with the death of a beloved animal, so very different and yet, sometimes just as ferocious, than the loss we feel for the death of humans. Basil was the cat part of our little family, we certainly had a bit of a child substitute thing going on there... and the flat feels very empty without him.
So instead of posting a visual of the perfume that I will forever associate with last year's Christmas  I will show you a picture of Basil. Our wonderful, soft, grumpy and beautiful cat who is no longer here. 

Basil having a nap on the sofa