A couple of weeks ago, I finally took a break from travel, work, email, and everything else that could distract me from the most elusive of goals—rest and enjoyment of our languorous summer days. I stayed at home, breaking my previous traditions of vacations far away from home. Instead, I cooked leisurely meals, went for long runs along the nearby river, took my tea and books on the patio, which was overtaken by mint and jasmine thanks to the tropical weather we have experienced. It finally felt like summer, and I vowed that even in my busy, hectic, always on the run (well, who is not in NYC?) routine, I will make time for these small pleasures. Above all, I enjoyed rediscovering some fragrances that I have not been wearing for ages.
In general, my picks for the summer fall into two very different categories. One consists of ethereal and effervescent blends accented with citrus, green and mossy notes that lend a cooling sensation in oppressive heat. They are unobtrusive and are easy to wear, considering that heady scents magnified by the warmth of the skin in the summer can sometimes feel uncomfortable. Having experienced Dior Poison in a stuffy subway car, I caught a glimpse of what hell must be like. On the other hand, opulent compositions can seem especially extraordinary in the summer when worn in moderation. Jasmine, orange blossom, gardenia, and tuberose reveal their luscious facets particularly well in the balmy ambiance of summer. Even attars (sandalwood, rose, oudh, saffron) are utterly spellbinding, provided the application is light. It is all about the mood and the setting. Below are my top choices in these categories.
The newest addition to the Eau des Merveilles range does not rival the luxurious and unique original, but Eau Claire des Merveilles has a nice mossy floral structure that is at once airy and sensual. A hint of aldehyde at the onset of the fragrance development lends a particularly fizzy, sparkling effect, which contrasts nicely with the vanilla accented woods in the base.
Whether you prefer the sweet, hyacinth dominated Eau de Parfum or the mossy refinement of the Eau de Toilette, Cristalle is one of the fragrances that never fail to make an impression on me. In the summer, I reach for Eau de Toilette over Eau de Parfum, because I adore the champagne-like dryness and effervescence it possesses. On a hot day, when one feels worn out by the sun, it is a veritable summer tonic.
The great French chef Auguste Escoffier was known to proclaim, “faites simple,” which referred to the avoidance of unnecessary elaboration. In perfumery, Jean-Claude Ellena’s oeuvre illustrates this famous remark quite perfectly. His restrained, minimalist compositions relying on a few striking accords lend his body of work a very elegant, modern quality. Divine Bergamote is in line with this thinking—a luminous rendition of citrus peel, petals and wood.
I am still standing by my staple, Annick Goutal Neroli, which is a fragrance I reach for automatically on most mornings. Unlike more complicated orange blossom renditions (Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger, Tom Ford Neroli Portofino, etc.) Neroli is just that—a pure, luminous orange blossom. Yet, its simplicity belies its stunning effect, and it is one of my most complimented fragrances among perfumers. Of course, it is created with some of the finest materials one can obtain, and it is blended beautifully. Orange blossom lovers should look no further.
Bergamot, green fig, orange blossoms… Un Jardin en Méditerranée could be yet another light cologne, but Jean-Claude Ellena anchors it on such a splendid woody backdrop that the composition attains a completely different quality—sultry, with a beautiful radiant impression. Even the glut of green, woody figs on the fragrance market does not detract one bit from its allure.
Womanity (still cannot bring myself to love this name) is one of the recent launches that explores the woody-gourmand spectrum of the fragrance wheel. I confess that the talk about caviar and fig as the two main accords of this fragrance led me to expect something predictable. I should have known better, since Clarins being Clarins (the fragrance house responsible for the miracle that is Angel) offered quite a stunning grand parfum. It is definitely luscious and opulent, an exploration of dark woods and juicy fig flesh. Caviar is a subtle accent, lending a salty, marine effect.
Please forgive me for constantly mentioning Carnal Flower! I adore this fragrance passionately, which is one of the reasons why I wore it for my wedding. Regular readers already know all I have to say on the subject. If you are curious, you can read the review I wrote when I first smelled it and found myself utterly in love. Be warned, it is a tad gushy, as one might expect from someone deeply infatuated. And yes, it blooms particularly beautifully in balmy weather.
The peppery rose of Parfum Sacré was a recent rediscovery, and I regret that it took me this long to revisit it. Smoldering, sultry, and sensual are the descriptors that fit it well. It is quite a well-crafted composition, and I have been thinking that given the current trend for woody accords, it might be up for revival. Well, Caron apparently thought so too and has brought out Parfum Sacré Intense, a composition accentuating spicy notes. While it does not hold a candle to the pre-reformulated Parfum Sacré (ah, IFRA….), it is a wonderful fragrance exploring a wide range of spices from cooling, lemony coriander to creamy vanilla. Rose serves as the main pillar for the composition.
Any perfume lover visiting the Middle East or South Asia should make a visit to one of the shops specializing in blending fragrances based on co-distillation of sandalwood, rose, oudh, saffron and other classical oriental ingredients. Mind you, many oils and bases are just as likely to come directly from Firmenich or Givaudan rather than Taif or some Incense Route location, but the expert manner in which some of them are blended is quite spectacular. Of course, the quality ranges from luxurious and original to heavy and pungent. Yet, the best blends have a surprisingly luminous effect, despite being composed of rich animalic and woody notes. While Montale is a popular niche house for attars, I find them too jarring and pungent. The oils from Arabian Oud perfume house are more representative of the classical attar tradition (and their boutiques in London and Paris are worth visiting.)
A friend returning from Morocco commented on Féminité du Bois, “it smells just like a souk!” Since the Serge Lutens’ line is a product of his Moroccan reverie, it is not at all surprising. As I wrote previously, Féminité du Bois exquisitely captures the texture of raw silk with its transparent layers of notes, the clinging dryness of woods interspersed with the velvety flesh of red plums. Its contrasted composition strikes me as very sensual – a fragrance when I want to experience a reverie of my own.
Photo copyright Bois de Jasmin. Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France.