Reflections: 75 posts

7 Rare Vintage Perfumes : The Perfume and Wine Class

As preparation for the Art of Perfume and Wine class that I’m teaching in April in France (more details here), I thought I would write about 7 vintage perfumes that have been influential for the evolution of perfumery and that we will smell in their original versions. There will be over 50 different perfumes in this course, but these 7 are among the most essential to learn.

Guerlain L’Heure Bleue 1912

Many perfumers will name Guerlain as the most influential perfume house, especially in its period when Jacques Guerlain was the head creator. L’Heure Bleue is a textbook example of a classic as well as of a symphonic perfume.

We will, of course, smell other Guerlain classics, from Après L’Ondée and Mitsouko to Chamade and Chant d’Arômes.

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Perfumista Bait

Elisa talks about types of perfumes that never fail to grab the perfume lovers’ attention.

My good friend L, who years ago worked at a perfume counter, is suddenly, newly obsessed with perfume. We frequently email about her exploits in the rabbit hole. One day, she half-bragged, half-complained to me about spending hundreds of dollars on a single sample order – all 1-ml vials! As she works through the samples, she’s tracking her impressions in a spreadsheet; there’s a Guerlain she describes as smelling “like a girl’s clean underwear drawer where she has been stashing her rancid Turkish delight and wet markers.”

Recently L asked me what perfumes I think of as “perfumista bait.” I had never heard the phrase, but I knew exactly what she meant – perfumes that us jaded connoisseurs are instantly drawn to and still get excited about.

The quintessential perfumista bait has something about it that’s rare and perhaps difficult – it’s both a delicacy and an acquired taste, like sea urchin. Below are a few of the categories that I think are especially appealing to us perfumistas.
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5 Ways to Transition Into Fall

In Europe the transition from summer to fall feels more acute, because people still take their August holidays and many stores are shuttered with the forlorn “Nous Sommes en Vacances” placards in their windows. I love having the city to myself, serene, calm, dusty. But little by little, it comes to life, as people return to resume their businesses, to start school or work. Now that half of September has passed I still can’t come to terms with the end of summer. So, I have my small solutions to make la rentrée, the official start of the school year in Belgium–and the official end of my vacation–more bearable.

Autumnal Resolutions

Some people make New Year resolutions, while I keep mine for fall. Instead of the end of vacation, let this period feel like a start of something positive. None of my resolutions are of a punishing nature; rather, they’re about things I keep meaning to do but keep putting off. For instance, this fall I decided to test my great-grandmother’s cake recipes that she wrote down during the wartime food shortages in order not to forget them. My second resolution is to finish the full cycle of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. My final resolution is to explore more of Brussels. During my first years here, I used to set aside time each weekend to discover something new about the city, and as a result, it quickly became my own. But as travel and work obligations piled up, I haven’t been venturing out as much. This fall I will go back to my wandering ways.

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Renegades, Artists, and Artisans : Women in Perfumery

“Only a few people have the supersense of smell necessary to become a Nose—for reasons known only to Noses themselves, no woman has ever had it,” wrote one Donald William Dresden in a 1947 article about “twenty noses of France.” All of these twenty noses, as Mr. Dresden explains to his New York Times readers, are middle-aged men, imposing and intellectual. At round the same time, Germaine Cellier was galvanizing traditional French perfumery with her unforgettable Bandit (1944) and Vent Vert (1947). But she remained invisible for the likes of Dresden.

Fast forward to 2017. Since 1947 perfumery around the world has been altered dramatically by the greater openness of the industry and the opportunities it gave women. One would have hoped that their contributions were honored and recognized. In July 2017 Allure ran an article, The American Perfumers Modern Approach to Fragrance. Yet, in the magazine issue devoted to diversity, the article about the American indie movement didn’t mention a single female perfumer. It’s a serious oversight, since the indie movement is inconceivable without female perfumers. Having found the traditional houses either closed to them or limited in creative opportunities, talented and ambitious creators turned to the indie approach. The former situation was especially true for women.

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Warmed by the Sun in Iza

Last month I visited Iza, a village in western Ukraine renowned for its grapevine weaving tradition. Tiny shops lining the roads offered a selection of baskets, boxes, furniture and toys. I walked from one store to another, admiring as much the intricate patterns of braids, stars and coiled loops as the scent of weaving warming in the spring sun.

The fragrance was sweet like vanilla biscuits, with a mellow accent reminiscent of an antique shop–wood shavings, dust and varnish. Have I smelled it before? It seemed familiar to the point of disturbing, like a half-remembered face in the crowd or a word sitting on the tip of the tongue.

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