Scented Orchids : A Kaleidoscope of Perfume

Andy wrote this article a couple of years ago after his visit to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, and I kept looking for a chance to share it with you. Now in the middle of grey winter days, an invitation to contemplate scented orchids seems particularly welcome.

What does an orchid really smell like? In the world of perfumery, the answer is fairly limited—orchid is usually portrayed using a note that is spicy, exotic, and floral like Tom Ford Black Orchid or Jo Malone Dark Amber & Ginger Lily, often accented by woodsy, powdery, or vanillic nuances. In reality, though, orchids possess far too wide a range of scents to be classified using any of these descriptions. Orchids are a particularly diverse class of plants, found on every continent, except Antarctica, growing in rainforests, deserts, and marshes, on mountains, valleys, and plains, and taking root in just about every type of climate imaginable.

Orchids are highly adapted to their environments, which is reflected in the fact that most species of orchids have co-adapted with their pollinators to exhibit flowers that are shaped, colored, and scented to attract a specific species of insect or bird. This explains why an orchid species like Orphrys exaltata, which is pollinated by male bees, carries a sweet scent that mimics female bee pheromones, and why an orchid species like Bulbophyllum graveolens, which is pollinated by carrion flies, smells like rotting meat. Fortunately for human noses, though, most cultivated orchids smell pleasant, with odors that span the range of fruity, floral, and all other notes in between.

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Smoke and Fire : Spellbinding Dark Perfumes

The smoky aromas of bonfires, roasted chestnuts, frankincense and lapsang souchong tea are among the most complex, and I know quite a few individuals who fantasize about a fragrance that smells like a smoky charcoal-grilled steak. There is a difference, however, between enjoying a scent in its proper context – charred ribeye at a barbecue or burning leaves in an autumnal park – and wearing a fragrance that reprises such odors. For this reason, perfumery interpretations of smoke tend to blend it into a more familiar setting of woods, spices and resins. In my FT Magazine column, Smoky Perfumes, I explore how smoky notes are used in fragrance and what effects they produce.

One of the best introductions to a smoky perfume is L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Passage d’Enfer (£105 for 100ml EDT). Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti is known for her ability to create olfactory watercolours – airy, transparent compositions. Passage d’Enfer combines lilies and incense, filling the spaces between the white, cool petals with smoke. Giacobetti’s touch is light, and the perfume remains soft and radiant, from the smoky opening to the vanilla- and cedarwood-accented drydown. To continue reading, please click here.

What about you? Do you find smoky fragrances appealing?

Image via FT HTSI

How I Learn Languages

The KGB blacklisted my stepfather, making it impossible for him to travel outside the Soviet Union. He satisfied his wanderlust by reading and learning languages. I remember our bookshelves filled with self-study books and dictionaries: English, French, Italian, German, Bulgarian, Serbian/Croatian, Czech. I opened them at random and the more unfamiliar they looked, the more I wanted to learn and enter the universe of new languages. It felt exciting and liberating.

That exhilarating feeling of discovery has remained with me, and it drives me to learn new languages. I speak, read and write 11 languages and am currently learning my 12th. Besides English, these languages include French, Italian, Persian, Indonesian, Japanese, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Vietnamese, Urdu–and German. Most of these I’ve learned in the past few years when I figured out a method that worked for me. I’m often asked by many of my friends and readers to put together my strategy for studying languages, and so I’ve jotted down certain rules and important elements that make my learning efficient. Once I started writing, I realized that I could come up with a whole book on the topic, but since my goal today is to summarize my approach in an article, I’ll leave the comment field for any additional questions and clarifications. Please feel free to ask your specific recommendations and share your experience with learning languages.

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Tom Ford Lost Cherry : Perfume Review

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Expensive fragrances get more scrutiny, and that’s only fair. If a brand wants you to pay over $200 for a bottle of scent, then you should be certain that you’re getting your money’s worth. In the case of Tom Ford, you’re paying for the name, luxurious packaging and the whole style factor that gives Ford an edge. That being said, the collection has a number of perfumes where even the special markup can be justified. Lost Cherry is one of those fragrances, because when Ford wants a bombshell perfume, he doesn’t hold back.

The name, only a touch less vulgar than Tom Ford’s F*cking Fabulous, suggests fruits and sweetness, but Lost Cherry is a sophisticated blend of woods in the style of Serge Lutens’s original Feminité du Bois. Lutens commissioned it as a woody fragrance for women, a request that at the time made a few eyebrows rise. 27 years later, nobody is surprised by “feminine woods,” but many brands still shy away from embracing the idea fully. In other words, woods play a secondary role to fruit, caramel, flowers or vanilla. Women who want woods, without too many embellishments, might well turn to the masculine side of the fragrance counter. 

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Sweet Like a Persian Lemon

A sweet lemon is not an oxymoron. Neither is it a new fancy hybrid. Persian limu shirin, citrus limetta, is one of the oldest cultivated varieties of lemons and it tastes sweet like honey, with no hint of acidity. The first time I bit into a slice was a shock, because I was prepared for tartness and instead my mouth was filled with sweetness.  Even more beautiful was the scent of the peel that lingered on my fingers. It also smelled like no lemon I had tried before.

Persian lemons have a delicate flavor, but their perfume is anything but.  It is strong, bright and sharp. “It smells like flowers,” said one Iranian friend. “Lemon peel mixed with orange blossom,” said another. “And then tossed with jasmine,” she added. Trying to pin down the fragrance of Persian sweet lemon, I kept scratching the peel and rubbing it onto my skin, paper, and fabric.  The scent made me think of citronella and palmarosa, plants that are related to a rose (at least in a perfumer’s palette). Green petals, crushed stems and tightly closed rose buds. The winter fruit smelled of spring at its most vital and rejuvenating.

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