Elegant: 164 posts

Versatile and polished blends

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

Ormonde Jayne Cuir Imperial : Perfume Review

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A certain type of leather scent is guaranteed to catch my attention. Dark, spicy, with a hint of birch tar smokiness. Think Chanel Cuir de Russie on the elegantly austere end of the spectrum or Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque on the opulent dimension.  Ormonde Jayne Cuir Impérial falls somewhere in between. It places a trimmed down and polished leather accord against a Nezami garden of pleasures–rose, sandalwood,  saffron and iris.

Cuir Impérial reveals all of its treasures readily, and its opening is exciting. The blend of spicy and lemony notes makes for a bright start, and if you wonder how a spice can be zesty, try crushing a pod of cardamom. The lemony bite in the top notes of Cuir Impérial is fueled by cardamom, along with a dose of bergamot and pink pepper.

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Edge and Elegance : Men’s Fragrances

The men’s side of the perfume aisle can be predictable – citrus, herbs, aquatic notes, woods and musk – but it need not be so. I can list many fragrances marketed to men that aren’t only original, but also can be the perfect fit for anyone. Remember, perfume isn’t a gendered thing intrinsically; it’s whatever you make of it. My new FT column, Edge and Elegance, is devoted to men’s fragrances, tailoring, classics and what makes for an elegant composition.

One of the most memorable fragrances I’ve smelled on a man was created in 1924 for the Viennese bespoke clothing house Knize. Despite being almost 100 years old, it had the timeless aura and the elegance of a perfectly tailored suit. The composition opened up with peppery bergamot, basil and thyme, but also prominent were leather and earthy patchouli, with hints of tobacco and iris. The latter softened the dark and smoky notes of Knize Ten, giving it refinement and flair. Knize Ten was streamlined, but not without a seductive twist. So alluring was it that I placed an order for a bottle, presented it to my husband and have been pilfering it from his collection ever since. To continue reading, please click here.

What fragrances would you have picked?

Image via FT

From the Archives

Latest Comments

  • Neva in Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Giveaway: Hi Tara and Victoria! Reading the description above, it seems that we have the same taste in perfume. I can easily recommend Serge Lutens Feminite du Bois or Alaia (the… October 15, 2019 at 4:05am

  • Fazal in Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Giveaway: Have you tried Kenzo Jungle Homme. I like it even more than Kenzo Jungle Elephant. Kenzo Jungle Homme is in the same vein but a bit friendlier than its female… October 15, 2019 at 2:40am

  • Sss in Night, Moon and Jasmine: Omg! What a painting! Do you have more info on its history and who it is by? How did you come by it? October 15, 2019 at 1:32am

  • Sss in Night, Moon and Jasmine: Omg! What a painting! Do you have more info on its history and who it is by? How did you come by it? October 15, 2019 at 1:31am

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