Elegant: 166 posts

Versatile and polished blends

My Name is Red : Chanel Rouge Allure Ink and Guerlain Nahema

“I’m so fortunate to be red! I’m fiery. I’m strong. I know men take notice of me and that I cannot be resisted… Wherever I’m spread, I see eyes shine, passions increase, eyebrows rise and heartbeats quicken. Behold how wonderful it is to live! Behold how wonderful to see. I am everywhere. Life begins with and returns to me.” Orhan Pamuk’s description of my favorite color in My Name is Red has stayed with me ever since I first read the book, and I often think of it whenever I see another red that draws my attention–fabric, autumnal leaves, lipstick, the lacquer of Japanese bowls or perfume. Yes, perfume can also be red.

The impression of red in fragrance is subjective the way synesthesia tends to be, but Guerlain Nahema is a perfume that makes me feel as if I’m enveloped in layers of crimson silk. The effect comes from the combination of rose essence and the damascones, aroma-materials with the aroma of rose jam and stewed apples. This accord alone has a lipstick red hue, but paradoxically it comes across as even more saturated against the background of green citrus and hyacinth. Reds often stand out best against contrasting colors, and this is the case with Nahema.

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Carine Roitfeld Parfums George : Perfume Review

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In a memorable scene in Joris-Karl Huysman’s novel Against Nature, his character Des Esseintes is so inspired by reading Dickens that he decides to visit London. Yet, having traveled only as far as grey and rainy Paris, he feels that he has experienced London’s atmosphere enough in his imagination and abandons the whole idea. No doubt, Des Esseintes would have been sympathetic to the efforts of perfumers who attempt to satisfy the wanderlust of armchair travelers. One such venture is Carine Roitfeld Parfums, created by the former editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris. The line includes seven unisex fragrances, Aurélien, George, Kar-Wai, Lawrence, Orson, Sebastian and Vladimir, inspired by travel and by fictional lovers.

My ideal lover is George. He is elegant, suave, and soft-spoken, yet whatever he says keeps my interest piqued. (He has certainly read Huysmans, although decadence is not his favorite art current; he is more into realism.) I travel to Tokyo with George, where we stroll through autumnal temple gardens, take baths with iris petals and visit painting exhibits in those typically Japanese galleries filled with silence, soft light and a whiff of wood polish. With George on my arm, everything smells of violet leaves, moss and crushed green leaves. He doesn’t smoke, but the leather jacket that he wears so well is redolent of ashes and fine tobacco.

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Tamara Toumanova’s Perfume Collection

Called “the Black Pearl of the Russian Ballet” for her glamorous look and dramatic beauty, Tamara Toumanova (1919-1996) was as memorable on stage as she was behind the curtains. I very much like this photo showing the ballerina before a performance surrounded by icons, flowers and perfume bottles. It reminded of the gift that the American avant-garde artist Joseph Cornell presented to her in 1968.

Called Untitled, the box contained eleven perfume bottles filled with objects that captured the essence of Toumanova’s performances. Some bottles contain fragments of the costumes she wore to dance Don Quixote and Les Sylphides. Another one includes fragments of painted eggs, colored beads and gold threads, referring to Easter rites and the importance of the Orthodox faith for the dancer. Looking at the photo above, I can see why Cornell’s was an ideal gift for Toumanova.

Anyone care to guess the names of the perfumes on her vanity table?

L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse : Perfume Review

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Narcissus is a flower that doesn’t smell floral. In general, the perfumery palette abounds in aromatics that play tricks on the senses. For instance, an iris note in fragrance smells more of carrots than of blossoms. Patchouli, a leaf, smells like woods. And so on. Narcissus, however, is one of the most intriguing ingredients. If you expect petals, April showers and gauzy lightness, you’ll be in for a surprise.

On its own narcissus absolute smells of woods and leather and has a facet reminiscent of damp hay. If you let it develop on a blotter and sniff it the next day, you’ll notice caramelized spices–cinnamon and clove–and a hint of musk.  It’s a powerful material and it often plays the role of a supporting player in the composition, lifting up the delicate floral or citrus accords or else accenting the woods and animalic notes. Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit is one of the best examples of narcissus in classical perfumery.

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Leather Scents with a Soft Focus

Although classical leather notes in perfumery are dark and dramatic like Robert Piguet Bandit and Grès Cabochard, this theme offers many variations, including the soft and creamy ones. In my recent FT column, Leather Scents with a Soft Focus, I describe different ways in which leather can be interpreted. I also talk about my idiosyncratic behavior at the vintage shops.

Unconventional is the leather collection of Serge Lutens. The line has a number of fragrances with leather accents, whether Sarrasins, with its interplay of leather, jasmine and musk or Fumerie Turque, which weaves leather into tobacco leaves and rose petals. Cuir Mauresque, however, makes this tanned note the star player. It is buttery and rich, oscillating between the darkness of amber and the spicy bite of clove. What makes its leather tender and luminous is the clever addition of orange blossom and mandarin. Inspired by the old tradition of perfuming gloves with fragrant pomades, Cuir Mauresque conjures up vintage handbags and well-worn armchairs in old libraries. To continue reading, please click here.

Where do you fall on the leather spectrum, dark or light?

Image via FT

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