Happy Mardi Gras, everyone!
I'm so excited to launch my New Orleans perfume tonight, with a gala cocktail party to benefit two New Orleans charities -
1) America's Wetland non-profit organization that works towards saving coastal Louisiana, who is losing land at a rate of 25 square miles per year (!).
2) The Tipitina's Foundation which is dedicated to helping artists recover from Hurricane Katrina and preserving the cultural traditions of New Orleans. Can you imagine a Mardi Gras parade without a marching band?!
New Orleans perfume took a few years in the making - since I watched the film When The Levees Broke (about the aftermath of hurricane Katrina), which really moved me and made me realize that even though the hurricane was over 2 years ago, there was lots more to be done to help the people of New Orleans. That's when the concept was conceived to make a perfume that will help New Orleans. I took longer than expected to complete the perfume (which is why I used l'Ecume des Jours as a temporary fundraising perfume for NOLA), because I've never been to New Orleans in person, and I had to rely on my perfume friends from there to fill my olfactory gap. The rest was left to imagination...
Now that the bottling is done, and there is even a new batch maturing (which I have just blended this morning), AND it's Mardi Gras, after all, which is when I planned to launch the perfume, I think it's the right time to reveal to you what this perfume turned out to be, at long last.
The perfume was carefully orchestrated based on Paula Stratton's description of the scent. It took a long time, and several trials until I achieved the desired results. The challenge was combining the herbaceous notes (basil, rosemary) with the sweet florals (sweet olive, tea rose, orange blossom), bright citrus (Meyer lemon) and last but not least - the scent of decay, decomposition, moss, seaweed and oak trees and cypress that is what makes the scent of New Orleans. The various trials were similar in concept, but quite different in scent. Even though they all had an accord of sweet olive (aka osmanthus), orange blossom, magnolia and rose at the heart, they all had a different mood and personality.
I'd like to share with you a bit of the evolution, as well as Paula and her husband Mark's feedback:
Mod 1 (dated August 21-22, 2007) included brown oakmoss (for a more deeply woody aroma than the green variety), blue cypress, spikenard, seaweed and vanilla. The top included basil, rosemary and lemon.
Paula's reaction: "Number 1 is the most genteel. It's the most feminine, and I catch the jasmine and osmanthus. It's my favourite".
I felt it was a little too muddy and that the basil clashed with sweetness of the floral bouquet and the vanilla. Therefore - mod 2 (created just a week after the 1st mod) was to follow, where there was neither moss, nor herbal notes. I added more violety notes, such as cassie and orris root. Paula observed - "Number 2 would probably be the most popular with the most people. It's lively and reminds me of the drink called a Sazerac".
I felt there was still too much heaviness and not enough harmony there, and waited a few more years before I was really able to create something worth sharing with Paula, in 2010. Perfume creation is a time-consuming process. Not only do the scents really need to mature and marry, but also the ideas need to hibernate, interact with one another, and waiting and patience is the essence of the process... Sometimes waiting for the scent to mature; other times - waiting for the right idea, or the right aroma to materialize. In this case, I had to wait for both. It finally dawned on me in 2010, that what I need to create was not something gloomy and heavy, somewhat aldehydic/old-fashioned chypre with seaweed and other unusual notes; but rather - something bright and hopeful. Which I didn't realize till February 8th, 2010.
I moved on and created a 3rd version, a cheerful, brighter and more citrusy. It still had the original concept mossy and salty, woody vetiver base, sweet Southern Belle floral bouquet at the heart, and citrus and herbal top notes. But it was so much more sheer and harmonious, yet not any less intriguing than the first two versions. The key to this lightness was using cedarmoss instead of the potent oakmoss. I also used an abundant proportion of ambergris, which did not appear in any of the previous formulas. The roses of Turkey, Bulgaria and France were replaced by the luscious and voluptuously sweet tea rose from China, and I also added hints of amber for a hint of sweetness (but no vanilla!), and amyris, for accentuated woodsiness that is a little tropical (Amyris grows in the West Indies, which is the heritage of the Cajun in New Oreleans, so I thought it particularly appropriate). Both Paula and her husband loved this version - especially her husband: "...He liked # 3 the most, repeatedly. And after multiple sniffs, I understand why. It's lively and a man can wear it. I'm picturing Errol Flynn in period dress. ;)"
I was already partial to the 3rd mod. And hearing that it was so warmly received by a man only made more sense of this direction - I felt this scent had to be equally loved by both men and women.
Paula's notes about all three versions I've sent her: "Numbers 1 , 2 and 3 are serious winners. I smell them on paper strips and skin and wonder what did you do which captured thefeeling of walking in NOLA, Charleston or Savannah in September. Bumby cobblestone walks, oaks dripping moss, the maturity of the homes. And a touch of silk...as women and men in waistcoats pass one in the morning".
I kept on going though, to create the fourth and last version on October 12th, 2010. That was when I finally had the missing ingredient which I felt was important not only for the perfume's composition, but also for the authenticity of its ingredients: Meyer Lemon. I just felt that lemon wasn't enough. Besides, Meyer lemon has such a cheerful, bright citrus aroma that it just belonged in this perfume. New Orleans lives on, and it is happy even though there may be some blue notes in its history. It's all part of life and embracing tragedy (not an easy feat, but possible if your love for life is greater than fear of suffering), rising above them like a phoenix - this is what this perfume is all about. The structure of the perfume and its notes portray this, and although you will be smelling the top notes first, I'm going to present them structurally as I was building it upwards:
Seaweed and ambergris representing the force of the ocean
Cedarwmoss representing decay
Vetiver from Haiti and Sri Lanka for healing and preservation (vetiver roots help to prevent erosion and flooding, and is grown in the area for that purpose)
Cypress and Amyris for strength and dignity.
Heart notes - Southern Belle accord with a little bit of "blue notes":
Magnolia - beautiful and sweet in every way
Sweet Olive (Osmanthus) - sweet and pretty, but with a little bit of melancholy blue notes
Tea Rose,which is very sweet but also has ionone, which is violety and a little moody)
Orange Blossom for pure happiness
Top notes - Cheerful and Ascending:
Hand tinctured Meyer Lemon
Rosemary verbenon - which is sheer, non medicinal and full of life
Mandarin Murcott - an unusually sweet and full bodied citrus notes
White Grapefruit from Israel, which is the best I've ever smelled in my life and is floral and vivacious
And this final version is what you will get to smell tonight at my party, or might need to wait a few days till it ships from Vancouver.
Proceeds (10%) from this scent and all sales at the event tonight will be donated to these two charities, to continue to help New Orleans be the wonderful city that it is. And if all goes well, I am going to visit there this year for Jazz Festival!
And last but not least - you can listen to Mardi Gras music all day today (and to authentic New Orleans jazz year around, from anywhere in the world) via WWOZ 90.7FM!
Related posts:The Aroma of New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans Today
New Orleans Cuisine
Louisiana in September
l'Ecume des Jours & Rebuilding New Orleans
Re-Building New Orleans
When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
Scent for a Drowned City Re-Emerging