Reflections: 73 posts

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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The City of Jasmine

Writer Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998) described his native city of Damascus as “the womb that taught me poetry, taught me creativity, and granted me the alphabet of Jasmine.” Although the most fragrant of roses bears the name rosa damascena, Damascus rose, the Syrian capital is known as Madinat Al Yasmine, the City of ­Jasmine. Each fall it holds a festival in homage of this national flower, with people giving each other stems of jasmine and decorating their home with fragrant blossoms. It was even held in recent years, despite the conflict that left thousands dead and millions displaced, with flowers given to those who lost loved ones.

“A Damascene moon travels through my blood
Nightingales . . . and grain . . . and domes
From Damascus, jasmine begins its whiteness
And fragrances perfume themselves with her scent
From Damascus, water begins . . . for wherever
You lean your head, a stream flows
And poetry is a sparrow spreading its wings
Over Sham . . . and a poet is a voyager,”

writes Qabbani in one of his most renowned poems, A Damascene Moon. He was born in Damascus in 1923 in the old neighborhood of Mi’thnah Al-Shahm, which you encounter time and again in his poems. Qabbani’s poems are romantic and political, erotic and lyrical, breaking conventions and offering a glimpse into his lively, rich imagination. Since 1966 and until his death in 1998, Qabbani has been living abroad, but in his exile he has produced some of his finest poems. The longing for the City of Jasmine gives his words a strong charge, and as I read them, I think of all the places that I miss, all of the colors, scents and voices that make up my memories. As someone who created a fantasy jasmine forest, to replace the real one far away, I feel a poignant kinship with the Syrian poet.

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Latest Comments

  • Brooke in The Scent of Osmanthus: I’ve tried Miyako, but I wasn’t too impressed with it tbh. I found the texture of the fragrance a bit odd as well. It was more like an oil. January 20, 2018 at 7:59am

  • Brooke in The Scent of Osmanthus: My favorite osmanthus perfume (so far) is Nobile 1942’s Malia. Ironically, the first time I sprayed it, I didn’t like it at all, but the memory of the smell was… January 20, 2018 at 7:49am

  • Aurora in Musky Warmth of Angelica: Sorry for late answer, victoria, and Thank you Tara for your description. Yes, the EDP is like a walk in a deeper forest compared to the EDT which I find… January 20, 2018 at 5:52am

  • Aurora in The Scent of Osmanthus: How I would love to discover Japan and your article was the next best thing. The apricot like osmanthus is a note I often look for in perfumes and excited… January 20, 2018 at 5:22am

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