How To Guides: 36 posts

5 Winter Pleasures

Winter has a certain beauty in its austere color palette and the way it slows down life to a bare simmer. Yet, weeks of overcast skies and cold weather can leave one listless and longing for warmth and sunshine. The Belgian winter is almost uniformly grey and damp, with hardly any snow days to remind me of the season’s more exquisite aspects. And yet I wouldn’t trade these three months for any other. Winter’s pleasures more than make up for the late sunrises and heavy layers of clothes.

Big Books

I’m not intimidated by big books. They hold many hours of reading enjoyment. They tempt me with their promise of new facts to learn and new experiences to discover. Such books aren’t satisfying to read on Kindle. I love the heft of a thick volume as I ensconce myself in my favorite bean bag chair. I seem to have more time for reading during the winter, which is why one of my seasonal pleasures is to go through all of the thick volumes that I’ve set my sights on. For instance, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Iryna Vilde’s Sisters Richynski, Charles Dickens’s The Bleak House, Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia, and the letters exchanged by Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. Finishing Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, In Search of Lost Time, is my plan for this winter.

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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

The Scent of Rhubarb

It’s hard to imagine a note trendier than rhubarb. Pick up any pink tinted bottle and a sales associate will recite a litany of notes which is bound to include rhubarb (along with red berries and pink pepper). But rhubarb’s popularity is justified because it can be made tart or sweet, coquettish or edgy. For me, familiarity with this material doesn’t breed contempt. On the contrary, the more I explore it, the more I become infatuated. To reveal different facets of rhubarb, I take it as a topic of my FT column, Perfumes with a Rhubarb Shimmer. I explain that materials with rhubarb inflections also have a classical pedigree and I recommend savory fruity perfumes for both men and women.

rhubarb slices

Every spring I make a Persian rhubarb sherbet by cooking sliced stems and sugar in water. Once the flavour and pink colour infuse into the syrup, I filter the liquid and add rose essence. Enjoyed in tall crystal glasses, the sherbet has a voluptuous taste that calls to mind the warm light streaming through the stained-glass windows of the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, a pink-tinted jewel of Shiraz. Since perfumery has much in common with cuisine, rendering my sherbet into a fragrance accord with a similar ornate impression is not difficult. Please continue here.

Any other rhubarb recommendations are more than welcome.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Expanding Your Smell Vocabulary via Wine Tasting

How to improve both your sense of smell and your ability to speak about aromas via wine tasting? Elisa explains.

A few months ago I read a sentence in the Atlantic that gave me serious pause: “In English, there are only three dedicated smell words—stinky, fragrant, and musty—and the first two are more about the smeller’s subjective experience than about the smelly thing itself.” Excuse me, what? I can think of a lot more smell words than that. How about aromatic, acrid, pungent, yeasty, perfumey, resinous, skunky?

wine tasting

And those are just the “dedicated smell words” – but most descriptive terms can be used for multiple types of sensory experience. “Rosy” could refer to a perfume or a complexion, “silky” to a fabric or a voice, “sharp” to a taste or a smell or a sound or a feeling. Our senses aren’t as distinct as we think – most of “flavor” is actually smell (that’s why you can’t taste your food when you have a cold), and sound effects or different color packaging can make your chips taste fresher or your soda taste sweeter. (See also the “McGurk effect” – seeing a different mouth shape makes you “hear” a different sound.)

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Perfume Samples : Where to Get and How to Store

Perfume samples are essential for the pursuit of your fragrance hobby, and Elisa tells you everything you wanted to know about these all important tiny vials: where to find them, how to store them and when to use them. This article is part of our Perfume Storage series.

One of my favorite perfume smells is not a single perfume, but the ur-perfume that rises up when I open this box of samples and minis I keep in my closet. It reminds me of the sound of an orchestra tuning up – there is no plan or pattern, just noise and chaos, and yet it sounds like music to me, a beautiful mess heightened by anticipation of what’s to come. Likewise, no matter what samples go into or come out of the box, the composite perfume always smells delicious – like fuchsia-colored roses and hazy amber, with aldehydes casting their candlelight glow over it all.

perfume-samples-1_1

Once you fall down the rabbit hole, perfume samples start to accrue and multiply; it’s just part of the culture. In this post I’ll share my own sample habits, and I’d love to hear about yours.

Where I Get Samples

When I first got seriously interested in perfume, I would frequently order samples from places like Luckyscent. But I quickly saw the shortcomings of this method – the costs add up fast, and the samples (1 ml vials with no atomizer) were too small to get a true sense of the fragrance.

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