Rituals: 12 posts

Crafts as Cure

In Ukraine, there is an old tradition of embroidering a rushnyk, a hand towel, during dark periods of one’s life. It matters less what’s embroidered than the process of doing so. Once the rushnyk is done, it’s tied to a tree branch and allowed to decay. This way, people say, one’s worries and dark thoughts become scattered.

I don’t know if my great-grandmother Asya followed this tradition consciously–at any rate, she was far too practical to hang perfectly good fabric in the garden, but she wove her own cloth and embroidered. Even the most ubiquitous items in the house like newspaper holders and bread bags were embellished. Her most beautiful embroideries, however, weren’t meant to be seen. They were her undergarments.

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Why Is The Scent of Lipstick So Nostalgic?

Do you remember the scent of your mother’s lipstick? Do you enjoy the aroma of Nivea cream? Have you ever wished to have the fragrance of your favorite sunscreen as a perfume? The November 2019 issue of Financial Times’s HTSI Magazine includes my article about the scent of lipstick and other cosmetics. I explore the nostalgia behind these aromas and explain why these scents, though subtle and discrete, can have a powerful effect.

I don’t remember the colour of my first lipstick, but I recall its scent. I was passing through the local department store in Chicago, aged 15, when an array of shiny, black tubes at the Chanel counter drew my attention. They promised the glamour and sophistication that I desperately craved. I was making swatches of the different tones of pinks and reds on the back of my hand when, suddenly, I became aware of the fragrance of roses.

The wave that swept over me was so intense that my eyes welled with tears. The scent reminded me of my great-grandmother, Asya, who adored rose essence; its sweetness enveloped her and always left a rich sillage in her wake. Even her lipstick smelled of roses. When Asya wasn’t around, I furtively sniffed her rouge compact, its fragrance evoking her soft cheeks and melodious laughter.

Update: The article is now available online, The Nostalgic Allure of Lipstick, November 2019.

As always, I’d love to know what scents transport you? Do you have favorite scented lipsticks or other cosmetics?

Vetiver Mist

Forest Essentials is an Indian beauty brand inspired by Ayurvedic treatments. It has a collection of skincare, creams, lotions, soaps, body mists and perfumes. I can’t comment on the Ayurvedic authenticity of its formulations, but the scents–jasmine, sandalwood and rose, turmeric, vetiver, narcissus–are beautiful. I like that they are based on the Indian perfume palette, and using these products is one of those small pleasures that make a day better.

One of my favorites from Forest Essentials is its simplest–Vetiver Spring Water, which is a vetiver hydrosol. It can be used as a facial toner, body mist or even a middle-of-the-day, pick-me-up spritz. Vetiver is soothing for the skin, and while it can be used on all skin types, it’s especially beneficial for oily skin. It’s also known for its regenerative properties, which is why vetiver extracts are often used in formulations designed to treat scars and acne.

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On the Japanese Incense Trail with a Paris Detour

I’m sitting in front of smoldering joss sticks trying to determine whether they smell of the milky sweetness of sandalwood or the raspy sharpness of cedar. A young woman with a glossy black bob lights one stick after another, blowing each out with a gentle wave of her hand. I’m unused to kneeling for so long, and I feel the crunch of tatami mats through my thin wool trousers. The back of my head throbs slightly from jet lag, and I am being overwhelmed by the size of Tokyo and the strain of trying to remember Japanese covered by layers of other languages I’ve learned since my university days. I also feel anxious that I may not be able to guess the scents correctly, but then I remember my perfumery teacher’s words “don’t think, just smell,” and I let myself go.

I’m inside a Shoyeido incense store hidden in the elegant Aoyama district of Tokyo. Nearby are the glittering avenues of Harajuku, lined with fashion boutiques and populated by some of the most stylish people on the planet, but inside the earth toned store, there is only serenity and incense.

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A Day of Beauty and Scents

For as long as I can remember, Mondays have been my mom’s “days of beauty and health.” Instead of viewing it as the painful start of a working week, she prefers to think of Monday as a day when she carves out some time for herself. A day of beauty instantly conjures up visions of spas and expensive procedures, but nothing of the sort is part of my mom’s routine. She simply does a few face treatments at home, makes sure to leave time for a proper breakfast–green tea, oatmeal with berries and yogurt, instead of her usual coffee and croissant, and in the evening, she takes a bath with scented oils or salts.

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When the most expensive cosmetics she could afford were Polish face cream or Yugoslavian mascara, she made face masks at home. Strawberries, apricots, honey, sour cream, and oat bran feature prominently in her recipes. “It’s too early for you to use masks, wait till you get older,” she’d say, as I watched her apply thick creamy concoctions and relax with Georges Simenon’s novels. I couldn’t wait to grow into that marvelous old age when I too could plaster my face with fruit and tell others, “I need 15 minutes of peace and quiet.” My mom must have been 27 at the time.

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From the Archives

Latest Comments

  • Elize in Revolutionary Perfume : A Brief History of Chypre: i never knew Chanel no. 19 was a Chypre! Frankly, I have no idea what oakmoss smells like, so I’m not able to identify Chypres from other fragrances. As a… June 4, 2020 at 12:15am

  • Peter in Recommend Me a Perfume : May 2020: Hello Lainey. I got a little lost on the Deanna thread, but my response to her (Oriza L Legrand “Oeillet XI”) could also apply to you. You’re the Bellodgia Lover! June 3, 2020 at 9:26pm

  • Peter in Recommend Me a Perfume : May 2020: Hello Deanna. I’ve never smelled Bellodgia, but I do like the scent of carnation. The vintage quest is tough. For a contemporary take you could try Oriza L Legrand “Oeillet… June 3, 2020 at 9:15pm

  • Peter in Recommend Me a Perfume : May 2020: Hello Ugo. VC&A First is an elegant “Lady that Lunches”. Hermes 24 Faubourg is another Lady with a waft of orange blossom (and jasmine). Of course, there’s Annick Goutal Songes,… June 3, 2020 at 8:56pm

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