Lists: 90 posts

The Beauty of The Old-Fashioned

Lately I’ve become fascinated by perfumes that I’d characterize as old-fashioned. Or if you don’t like the word, vintage or retro. Despite the cliches of timeless and unchangeable, many perfumery styles become associated with the time and place that gave rise to them. The aldehydic floral perfumery exemplified by Chanel No 5 echoes the early decades of the 20th century. Bold green chypres scream the 1970s, and I dare anyone to spritz on Dior Poison and not think of the glitz and glam of the 1980s. Decades later, these styles read as evocative of another time, and yet that’s part of their appeal. If I want some escapist fun, I reach for powdery carnations, shimmering aldehydes and creamy tea roses.

There are many reasons why calling some of my favorites old-fashioned doesn’t trouble me. For one thing, working in a perfume lab, I’m so used to hearing styles described as “old” or ”new” that I don’t ascribe value judgments to these terms. Perfumers don’t usually intend it. Some styles are older than others such as chypres, and they still retain their appeal. Some new styles lose their novelty after a few seasons like the savory gourmands.

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My Three Classics : Introduction to Classical Perfumery

Who is afraid of perfume classics? Classical perfumery often elicits two different reactions. There are those who worship at the altar of Guerlain Mitsouko and define the tastes of others by their reactions to Jean Patou Joy or Chanel No 5. Frankly, if Joy were the last perfume available in this world, I wouldn’t wear it, and I enjoy No 5 more on others than on myself. But this is not the point. Classics weren’t created the way perfumes are today–they weren’t meant to be crowd pleasers, they weren’t tested on groups of women from New Jersey* to determine their appeal. They reflect their time and place, and it’s perfectly fine to decide that one doesn’t care for Mitsouko or Hermès Calèche.

And then there are those who think that classics are old-fashioned, outdated or simply too difficult to wear. I agree that classics mirror their time and fashion bubble, but that can be their very appeal to some. Dismissing classics altogether is also a mistake, because this style of fragrance is still current and exploring it can be enjoyable. For instance, expensive niche lines like Tom Ford are known to be inspired–and strongly at that–by classics.  So, one could pay  niche prices or find a similar perfume among the more affordably priced lines.

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Green Perfumes : Spring Inside You

I grew up in the city, but every summer I traveled to Poltava to spend several months with my great-grandparents. In the Soviet Union, grandparents functioned almost like a second pair of parents and such an arrangement was normal. My great-grandparents, Asya and Sergiy, lived in a village near Poltava, and their parenting was down-to-earth, literally. From an early age I knew how to prune tomatoes, plant beans and trim rose bushes to grow one perfect blossom. Asya and Sergiy are no longer alive, but we still have their garden. When I return to their village, I find myself remembering how to do things I haven’t done for ages–planting, weeding, or pruning.

February is still a month when one can only talk about new planting projects, but I like to walk around the garden and see how it’s wintering. Lately, I’ve been reminded of a scent I always associate with spring–that of fresh buds. Cut a few branches and place them in warm water. A couple of days later, the buds start to burst and their scent of green leaves, bitter sap and sweet woods is the embodiment of spring.

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The Olfactory Equivalent of a Souffle

Over dinner recently at Le Soufflé, a Paris restaurant specializing in the famed French dish, my friend asked me if there are any fragrances that suggest the same lightness and sensuality as this airy confection. The question took me by surprise, but I liked the idea of finding a floral scent that felt weightless without being fleeting. This was no simple task because the floral family is vast, ranging from fresh blends based on orange blossom and lily of the valley to smoldering potions of tuberose and jasmine.


In my recent FT column, The Olfactory Equivalent of a Soufflé, I take up the challenge and select three perfumes that capture the airy and decadent qualities of a soufflé.

The first fragrance I selected was Cartier’s Baiser Volé, a composition of white blossoms glazed with vanilla. Its green, sparkling opening includes rose, gardenia and white Casablanca lilies, while the sweetness is tempered by the cool touch of woods, subsiding in the drydown to musk and cedar. Despite its caressing, velvety impression, Baiser Volé retains its effervescent personality from the first to the last accord. To continue reading, please click here.

Image via FT

The Olfactory Delights of Bulgaria’s Rose Valley

Located in the southern part of the Balkan mountain range, Rose Valley stretches across central Bulgaria and produces almost 50 per cent of the world’s rose essence. The mild climate and unique soil composition create a flower with a sumptuous and intense aroma of honey, lemon peel, gingerbread and raspberries. The most popular variety is rose damascena, and when the fields burst into bloom in May, the air becomes sweet and fragrant, as I witnessed when I was there earlier this year. I would pick a few flowers and bring them to my hotel in the evening, and the following day I would wake to a suave scent wafting through the room.

In my recent FT magazine article, The Olfactory Delights of Bulgaria’s Rose Valley, I describe five fragrances based around Bulgarian rose essence. I explain what makes this essence interesting and how perfumers use it as part of rose accords.

To read the full article, please click here.

And of course, please share your favorite rose perfumes. I know that we have quite a rose loving contingent here, and rediscovering old favorites is always a pleasure.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Bulgaria, Kazanlyk.

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Latest Comments

  • Rakasa in How To Give Perfume as Gift–Or Not: Whakamihi, Peter. Keep us posted on your adventures, too! In my experience exchange is the heart of discovery. July 12, 2020 at 12:42pm

  • Peter in How To Give Perfume as Gift–Or Not: Wow Rakasa! You folks are amazing. What a great way to keep learning. I just looked up Joaquin Sorrolla, an artist that I’m not familiar with. I will enjoy discovering… July 11, 2020 at 7:33pm

  • Rakasa in How To Give Perfume as Gift–Or Not: Yes, absolutely, Peter. Food recipe and cultural overview books/pamphlets come often, but over time we all began to add authored short stories/lists. I loved the one about that included history… July 11, 2020 at 2:16pm

  • Aurora in How To Give Perfume as Gift–Or Not: I love your personal story Victoria, I hope it didn’t discourage it from ever giving perfume to other people. However, I agree it’s a little bit difficult but some colognes… July 11, 2020 at 12:10pm

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