woods: 6 posts

How Artist Serge Lutens Revolutionized Perfumery

In his marvellous essay Why Read the Classics? Italo Calvino offers 14 definitions of what makes a classic piece of literature. Reflecting on his list, I thought how easily its ideas could also be applied to perfumery. The same notions of the inexhaustible sense of discovery, timelessness, and “imprints on our imagination” also define a classic scent, be it Guerlain Shalimar or Chanel No 5. It was Calvino’s 13th point, however, that struck a chord. “A classic is a work which relegates the noise of the present to a background hum, which at the same time the classics cannot exist without,” he says. They’re rooted in the present even as they transcend it.

Inspired by Calvino, I decided to draw up a personal list of perfume classics, creations that reflect their moment and yet have timeless relevance. The first I selected was Serge Lutens’ Féminité du Bois, a fragrance conceived by the artist and photographer for Japanese brand Shiseido in 1992. Lutens wanted a perfume based on the Atlas cedarwood, and he sought to convey the softness of the ingredient that beguiled him ever since he came to Morocco in the 1960s. Initially when Lutens talked to the perfumers about his idea, he encountered a lack of comprehension. Cedarwood was traditionally treated as a sharp, masculine note and few fragrance professionals understood how to reinterpret it in a different guise.

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Dry vs Sweet vs Bitter : Perfume Descriptors (New Video)

What does dry mean when applied to a perfume? In fragrance, dry is used to describe compositions that are not sweet–it’s similar to wine terminology. Since the distinction can be confusing, I made a video comparing and contrasting different woods based on their main characteristics–dry, sweet or bitter.

Examples can be drawn from the whole perfume wheel, but I decided to focus on woods, because it’s easy to see why cedarwood is classified as dry and sandalwood as sweet. There are also many excellent perfumes on the market that fully explore these characteristics of raw materials and make them the key elements of their structure. The creamy sweetness of sandalwood in Serge Lutens Santal de Mysore, for instance, is its hallmark trait. The dryness of cedarwoods gives Cartier Declaration and Hermès Poivre Samarcande their pleasing sharpness.

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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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Woods : Scents and Words

For our edition of scent diary today, I’ve selected woods as our theme. You can describe your favorite perfume that contains woods such as cedarwood, sandalwood, rosewood, etc. Although it’s a leaf, patchouli is classified as a woody note. Or you can pay attention to your environment throughout the day and see if you can notice a woody aroma–coffee, cloves, pepper also have nuances reminiscent of woods.

One of my favorite woods is cedarwood, a wood redolent either of fresh sap and violet petals or of pepper and soft smoke. In perfumery, the note called cedarwood usually comes from a type of juniper, although the precious Atlas cedarwood is also used for its plush honeyed effect. Another popular cedarwood is a synthetic called Iso E Super. To experience it unvarnished, you can try Escentric Molecules Molecule 01, which is a solution of Iso E Super, or Hermessence Poivre Samarcande, which overdoses Iso E Super.

Extra Reading: Perfumes with Cedarwood Notes

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Glamorous State of Mind and Perfume

When most fashion magazines have spreads of Easter egg colored couture, my most glamorous look features faded black jeans and a Zara puffy jacket, a dreadful thing that sheds copious amount of feathers. Then there are my layered outfits, and I don’t mean tastefully put together layers of chiffon and cashmere suggested by Vogue. In the Ukrainian countryside, where spring is still tentative and the heating costs astronomical, we layer by putting on as many pieces of clothing as possible while still retaining the ability to lower our arms. I even sleep in a layered ensemble that includes tights, pajamas and a red sweater made by Miu Miu many years ago, but I betcha Miuccia Prada wouldn’t recognize it as one of her own now. Occasionally, I even do vintage by combining my grandfather’s track suit bottoms with my great-grandmother’s boucle jacket, a hideous look but perfect for whitewashing the cherry trees.

perfumes-spring-glamour1

While I love dressing up (and indeed overdressing; I wouldn’t think twice about wearing a turquoise Betsey Johnson dress to the most staid of occasions), I relish the chance to dress purely for comfort. I enjoy dispensing with concerns of well-selected outfits and I stop worrying about my state of elegance according to any sort of fashion standard. In my grandmother’s village, my standard is the garden, or rather my ability to work in it without getting cold, wet or overheated. If the roses can be pruned and the apple trees whitewashed in comfort, the rest doesn’t matter.

What I don’t set aside is a glamorous perfume. Fashion designer Jean Patou called his fragrances “invisible couture”, and as the most intimate of adornments, scent is the most powerful. A few drops can create the ambiance you seek, make you travel in time, or even in my case, give an instant dose of glamour.  Why on earth should I care about not looking exactly like a cover girl when I’m trailing Mitsouko behind me? Plus, nothing is more perfect for collecting last year’s leaves than this autumnal golden peach chypre.

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