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Varthemia

כתלה חריפה Chiliadenus iphionoides

Sharp Varthemia (Chiliadenus iphionoides), or in Hebrew Ktela Harifa (כתלה חריפה) likes to grow inside rocks and has the most incredibly resinous, rustic, complex aroma. It truly is like a complete perfume all of its own, exemplifying what Garriague and Chypre are all about.

Sharp Vartehmia

I've stumbled upon this plant by chance, first near Keshet Cave in Park Adamit near the Lebanese border. A beautiful place with gorgeous view. It was one of two aromatic plants i was unable to identify, but intuitively knew they are both of medicinal and aesthetic value. I later found Varthemia on the mountain above my house. But it wasn't until I saw Yonat HaMidbar post about it and rave about its lovely perfume that I was able to identify the plant (it was never in bloom when I saw it, and it's near impossible to ID plants when they are not in bloom).

Vartehmia Incense Cones

Shortly after I was not only inspired to finally make incense cones out of it, but also studied some of the medicinal properties of it. Among others, it is good for heart problems and diabetes - and seems like a very gentle herb to enjoy in tea (as long as it's not overly done). I picked some for a friend who just had a heart attack, and figured my own heart could benefit from it too. So I've been sipping a lot of vartehmia. marrubium and white mint tea. A lovely combination, and feels to be soothing both the heart and the soul.

Heart Soothing Tea

Infusions

My next adventure with vartehmia is infusing it in both alcohol and olive oil. From the olive oil I will make a single-note vartehmia soap (I will also have it brewed into tea for the water component of the soap making process, so that it is as naturally fragrant as possible). From the alcohol infusion, which turned out beautifully resinous and rich, I've created a rustic, garrigue-inspired amber perfume, which I am debating if you launch this fall or not. It's a further development of an old, old, old formula that was almost sickeningly sweet because the amber base in it wasn't my own and I am quite certain contained some artificial molecules. Frankly, that base smelled more like an ambreine accord. The perfume I made with it included a touch oregano that balanced this sweetness to some degree, but not enough. I want the new perfume to be more authentic and local, and use my own herbal infusions in it - but without taking away from the luxurious character of the perfume. It is very different from the original, and surprisingly has a bit of the Espionage DNA to it - even there is nothing smoky about it. Must be the ambreine accord (which, FYI, is the core of Shalimar, Emeraude and the like). 

Inbar


Serge Noire

Japanese Temple Incense

I'm much behind on checking out "new" scents, including this "recent" offering from the leading niche house of Monsieur Lutens... I've been skimming through new releases with very little interest in the past few years (in case you haven't noticed the waning volume of perfume reviews here). And when yet another fragrance with artificially blackened subtitle showed up, I've become not even in the least curious about it... However, aside from the (lame) name, Serge Noire was a pleasant surprise: it is the liquid version of Zu-koh, AKA Japanese body incense.

My first encounter with Serge Noire gave me the impression that it's yet another violet-cedar oriental, full of ionone and cedrol. Then, when I tested it at Sephora it smelled entirely different, and totally won my heart: Camphoreous-woody and underlined with balsamic sweetness. I was smelling a whiff of of borneol camphor at first, sprinkled with cassia and over a looming backdrop of dark woodsy notes of patchouli, cedar wood and sandalwood. The finishing touch is a base of powdery, comforting puff of amber and vanilla. And it is a dead ringer to Tokusen by Shoyeido, which I adore.

If you're unfamiliar with the experience of body incense (zu-koh), this is a special blend of powdered woods and spices that were originally intended for purification before prayer. Instead of washing one's hands before entering a temple, you'd sprinkle your hands with this powder and rub your palms with it. It can also be worn much like liquid perfume - a sprinkle on the chest or behind the ears and on the wrists and inside bend of the elbows. You'll be enveloped in a dusty cloud of spice and wood, and enjoy the benefits of incense (minus the smoke) or perfume (sans the alcohol). I'm very fond of this perfume, and it makes one feel both sensual and spiritual at the same time... It is how I'd imagined the "char black" perfume that is mentioned in Memoir of a Geisha... It is sensuous, and at the same time also inspired meditation and contemplation, bringing instantly a magical, ancient feeling of serenity and deep thought, as deep as the roots of the trees it came from.

Surprisingly, Serge Noire is the first Lutens in many years that I feel the urge to purchase. However, to my dismay, the carded sample I originally got still smells too much like the signature Lutens cedar-honey-violet accord which was originally introduced in Feminite du Bois. It's not so much about my personal preference but more about how much this style was copied over and over by "niche" brands that made it feel redundant and no longer original... Such is the nature of trends, unfortunately. I'll have to go to Sephora to try it again and make sure the bottles they carry are more like the body incense and less like artificial cedar and violets. Alternatively, I can just revisit my Tokusen zu-koh and enjoy what I have.

It also reminds me very much of a special Japanese incense that my friend Noriko brought me from a temple in the countryside.

Jasmine and Pine

Image from page 100 of "The Illustrated annual register of rural affairs and cultivator almanac for the year .." (1855)

Another gem from the stash of decants I received from Joanna is vintage Devin cologne by Bernard Chant for Aramis (1978). It was a FiFi Award winner that year, which was well deserved. I've never even heard of it, and wasn't really drawn to even trying it before I got on this roll of trying out masculine scents. But when I finally did, I was in for a most pleasurable ride, and a long-lasting at that as well.

Devin is that fabulous meeting point between resinous and green. It may seem familiar to us residents of the 21st Century; but back in the day when green icy florals and soapy Chypres reigned supreme (No. 19, Ivoire, Private Collection) this must have been an original.

Whenever I got out of the rustic village and visited my grandparents in their modern Tel Aviv apartment, I would be treated with the most luxurious bath in my grandmother's best tradition: foam bath in her blue bathtub. Into the warm running water (ours had to be boiled stove-top in a kettle!) into which my grandmother would drizzle generous amount of an acid-green fragrant liquid from an emerald-coloured plastic bottle to create rich lather the consistency of meringue. I would build mountains of this cream on top of my head and pretend to lick it off like ice cream. Naturally, it smelled of pine needles in the most heavenly way. And that fresh-yet-sweet, resinous scent is what the opening of Devin smells like to me.

Its body reveals sweet galbanum resin, which while still green smells unquestionably sweet, and more like a confection than something you would put in your salad (FYI: galbanum oil smells like parsley on steroids), and there is pine-y yet balsamic frankincense that extends the evergreen notes and melds them seamlessly into the obvious undercurrent of amber that's flowing underneath. If you pay close attention you'll also notice there is quite a bit of jasmine hidden in the heart, harmonizing these seemingly unrelated elements of evergreen forest and frankincense and sticky amber. Later on, spicy notes of cinnamon and cloves emerge as well, but they are not obvious at all - they just add warmth, and also an aldehydic lift to the composition. They are rather light in both dosage and character.

While the sweetness places Devin in a rather feminine territory of amber orientals, there are also other elements that make it also masculine, besides the lovely pine. There is a dry leathery base note, hint of dry, acrid oakmoss, dry cedarwood and phenolic herbs (thyme, artemisia). Compare that with Obsession though (armoise, tagetes), and you'll notice that the two are alarmingly similar not just in smell but also in their notes. The ending note is a smooth, natural vanilla-amber, a surprise for a masculine, and even more so surprising is how un-boring it is. Ambers can easily become flat and redundant. But when true vanilla absolute is used, and some contrasting elements such as dark patchouli (even if in the tiniest amount), this can't be farther from the truth.

Devin is one of those rare things: a masculine fragrance with absolutely nothing about it I do not like.   With so many of them there is a phase I wish I could fast-forward through or skip altogether (the top notes in Polo green, for example, are a bit much and I wish I could lower the volume a bit until the dry down begins to kick in). Each phase in its progression is delectable, yet calling it a crowd pleaser would do it injustice. It's unique and to me seems ahead of its time, a precursor for Obsession (1985) and predicting modern, unusual fragrances that choose to treat the note of galbanum as a rich, incensy or even foody manner rather than the bracing cut-grass and soap that Yohji (1996) and Incensi by Lorenzo Villoresi (1997). Serge Lutens' much later Fille en Aiguilles (2009) has a similar structure, only here galbanum resin is replaced by the jam-like, resinous-sweet fir absolute.

Top notes: Bergamot, Pine, Artemisia, Lemon
Heart notes: Jasmine, Carnation, Thyme, Cinnamon
Base notes: Galbanum Resin, Frankincense, Amber, Leather, Cedarwood, Patchouli 


Courage by One Seed Company

Courage by One Seed Company opens with a very rounded, citrusy-floral-amber presence with the soprano melismas of magnolia embelishments and raspy myrrh undertones. Otherwise, this perfume is a not-all-that-courageous all-natural ambery jasmine, paired with all its long-time allies: sweet orange, ylang ylang and vanilla. While I can't say I've never smelled anything like it before, it is well made and balanced, and deserved mention even though it hasn't rocked my world.

The rather fruity opening of orange and peach-like magnolia reveals a raspy-voiced jasmine alongside spicy whispers of ylang ylang (which further amplifies the clove-like eugenol, which is present in jasmine as well). The sweetness of all is further amplified with an almost-syrupy base of benzoin and vanilla, balanced only with the slightest hint of earthy, bitter myrrh.

Top notes: Magnolia, Rosewood, Sweet Orange
Heart notes: Jasmine, Ylang Ylang
Base notes: Benzoin, Myrrh, Vanilla

Patchouli Magique


The lovely Muza has generously sent me samples to enjoy, including Russian perfumes which I have never been exposed to. It's wonderful to explore fragrances that I don't normally have access to. And among them, Patchouli Magique immediately grabbed my attention. If it wasn't for this, I would have continued to believe that the prime purpose of perfume in Russia is a vodka back-up.

Patchouli Magique is not a Bolshevik perfume. I'm still stumbling to find out when it was actually created - before or after the revolution or the perestroika or whatever the crumbling of the Soviet Union is referred to. All I know is that it's a fine patchouli fragrance that won't put to shame even the most niche houses out there. I wish I had it earlier when I was running the patchouli series - consider this a latecomer to the patchouli party!

Patchouli Magique enveloped me in a plush wrap made of soft yet rustic fabric. Like a hand-woven alpaca poncho. Or a woolen Russian scarf for that matter, with big roses printed all over it. Patchouli Magique is indeed magical - it's soothing yet sophisticated. Welcoming you with warm earthy notes of dry patchouli leaves; yet develops into warmer, sweeter notes of aged patchouli mingled with amber and sensuous musk. And a trail of sweet incense smoke weaves its way through - not the heavy resinous church incense; but rather a blend of sandalwood and flowers, reminiscent of the famous Nag Champa. Patchouli Magique is a delightful discovery in the patchouli genre, and is unusual in that it is simultaneously luxurious and sophisticated yet easy to wear and not in the least pretentious or overbearing. Being centred around a base note, its structure is not nearly as complex as classic French perfumes and such; but it is still dynamic rather than static; and provides something to ponder upon as you just immerse yourself in all those alluring notes and surrender to their powerful yet quiet beauty.

Patchouli Magique is made by Novaya Zarya, and being Russian, there got to be some fascinating history behind this house: originally Henri Brocard's company (a French perfumer that moved his business to Russia)*, it was renamed "Soap and Perfumery Factory No. 5" in 1917 (after the revolution); and then "Novaya Zarya (New Dawn) in 1922, under which title they first released Krasnaya Moskva (Red Moscow) - the first Soviet perfume.

* The story of this brand is kinda like the reverse of Ernest Beaux, whose family's perfume business, A. Rallet&Co. before the revolution; and "Soap and Perfumery Factory No. 7" in 1918, and eventually - Svoboda (Freedom)
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