Reflections on a Year Gone By

It's the last day of the year, which means that it's legitimate to look back and reflect on yet another year that has gone by. On a personal level, it was a great year (considering 2013 was a year from hell,  even though I didn't quite put it that way publicly - this is not exactly surprising).
On a global level, however, in 2014 it seems like all hell has broken loose and the only reason we don't think of ourselves as in the midst of a 3rd world war is probably because no one is brave enough to call it what it is. But I digress. You're not visiting this blog to be reminded of what kind of an awful world we live in. You are more likely here searching for refuge from all those realistic nightmares.

Well, a lot of good things happened in the world of scent; most of them I was too oblivious to notice or pay attention to so you won't be finding too many surprises in my "list" for the fragrant highlights of 2014.

This year I was absorbed in recovery from the awful year prior, and with a renewed boost of energy, I've been tackling all fronts of my business - trying to reach out and teach classes and courses in more places, re-doing a website, narrowing my collection, writing a book, and teaching a lot. All those things, which in the year prior seemed to have a big question mark hovering over them, have found a new meaning in my life and a new sense of excitement and purpose which in the year prior I was really worried will never return to me. But I've been also integrating a lot of my passions and knowledge and experience (both gruesome and positive) leading to a new direction that I feel serves a higher purpose. It will all unfold and make sense as I progress in my studies, art and life experiences. One big thing that occupied me personally and was part of what some like to call "personal growth" has been learning to become a Pilates instructor. I know this seems completely unrelated to perfumery for an outside observer. But to me all those things - working with breath, body, awareness and within the flow and rhythm of life - are all part of the same thing for me. And I don't believe I was born to do just one thing. With that being said, I'm now able to be much more focused, with a much clearer sense of priorities and

Year of the Book: 
This year was dedicated to completing my book, which was in the works (AKA planning and procrastinating, and dreading the intense process that writing a book involves). Somehow, despite the fact that I lost nearly 2 months of work due to the teacher's strike, not to mention many nights of sleep of the yet-another-unnecessary war in Israel and Palestine - I was able to finish it. And I want to thank once again all the people who were involved in the process: Terry Sunderland, graphic designer extraordinaire, Shauna Rudd, superb copy editor and proofreader, Schuyler Corry, proofreader and contributor of some of the chemistry terms in the glossary; and David Shumaker for proofreading some 3 years ago when I started working on this 3rd edition of the book; and last but not least to the Taly and Yitzhak Ginsberg, who thanks to them I actually went ahead with being self-published as well as for pointing me to the right direction to turn my manuscript into a eBook (you'll hear about that soon enough).
Thank you so much for helping me make my dream come true and become a published author!

And - More Books:
This has been a great year for perfume related books. I've mentioned two of them here, the anthology of scented poems The Book of Scented Things, edited by Jehanne Dubrow and Lindsay Lusby; and Mandy Aftel's new book Fragrant. There is always more to learn, and it's wonderful to see more books published that pertain to the world of scent. It's all part of keeping this rare art alive!

New Perfume Love: 
Au Delà - Narcisse des Montagnes by Bruno Fazzolari.
This limited edition "flanker" of sorts to the perfume Au Delà is even more beautiful than the original. I will write about it in more depth in the coming week - a beautiful ambery floral with Chypre nuances, that was accompanied by a breathtaking screen print, signed by the artist.

Mainstream Surprise: 
Narciso by Narciso Rodriguez
While I can't say I thoroughly tested even a fraction of the many mainstream perfumes released this year to justifiably crown this the "best" of the year - I did purchase a bottle, and it did not feel like it was a whim at the time. This perfume is full of surprises, much more than the original scent from this brand. In all aspects of design (including packaging) there is elegant simplicity in this release, yet intrigue and originality. It's been a while since I was able to say that about any department store fragrance.

Vintage Discovery: 
Diorella. What a delight to have found a 220 mL (!) of the original, vintage Diorella on a certain auction site. I've been splashing it lavishly in the summer, and looking forward to much more of the same as soon as the spring bulbs and buds begin to open again.

The 180: 
Aromatics Elixir
If you haven't seen much new perfume reviews on my blog, it's because I've been dousing myself quite regularly with this (previously under appreciated by me) bombshell. I used to think of it as way too strong. It wasn't until I blind-purchased a bottle of the Perfumer's Reserve (also via the above mentioned auction site), and discovered to my horror that there's far too much white musk in it; that I just HAD to re-examine the original. I only purchased a tiny spray bottle of it, but a little is all you need, and goes a looong way. There is something about that

Thank You Hermes For Not Disappointing: 
First of all, Epice Marine FINALLY arrived in the Vancouver boutique many months after it should have. And I did enjoy it quite a bit (yet not quite enough yet to purchase a bottle). Cuir d'Ange, on the other hand, arrived in time (or maybe it didn't, but I didn't really expect it), and turns to be a very interesting sheer leather. Samples are still unavailable which is why I haven't written a review yet. It's not earth shattering, but I'm always happy to welcome a new leather kid into my world.

Natural Intrigue: 
Palimpset by Aftelier. There are many offerings in the natural world that I am yet to try. But I was immediately smitten with both Cuir Gardenia and Palimpset, the two new creations of this year by Mandy Aftel. While I'm more likely to wear Cuir Gardenia frequently - Palimpset is the more original, intriguing and unusual. Built around the rare, unusual and difficult to work with Fire Tree oil from Australia - it has an outstanding longevity (I believe the sample I received from Aftelier is the parfum concentration in alcohol base). The opening is very effervescent and citrusy, almost like wild orange, sweetly fruity but not overtly so - then continues to develop into an utterly floral yet woody perfume, with the Fire Tree note weaves in and out while being supported. It's exotic and wonderful. I just received it yesterday, and am planning to post full review of this (and Cuir Gardenia) in the upcoming days.

The new incense cones by Persephenie.
They come in several fragrances, and all burn fantastically well, without leaving any "off note". Original blends, yet with a very strong connection to spiritual rituals from around the world. They are beautifully hand-shaped, and rolled in an outer coating of herbs that adds a visual element to the experience, rich in both colour and texture.

Those who know me well, are concerned about my ever-expanding collections of teas, spices, perfumes, cookbooks, and of course raw materials. Well, this year I have been pretty good about finishing up a lot of the teas I have and narrowing down my favourites to a more workable and manageable scenario (for the sake of my kitchen counter and shelves). Although I won't pretend I don't have excess of teas still, and need to run out of a lot before purchasing anything new; I am quite proud to say I know which teas I love and I am happy to just keep drinking a handful of them and stop feeling the urge to collect them. Some things lend themselves very badly to collecting, and tea is one of them. They just lose flavour after a while... I'm proud to announce, that as long as I have one good black tea (darjeeling, Assam or a cask-aged Ghorka, for instance - for versatile use anywhere from plain black tea, to that adorned with fresh sprigs of mint, or ensembles into a chai), Cream Earl Grey, and either a robust rooibos or a Thai Tea for its almost coconutty aroma, some kind of a good quality green tea (i.e. matcha powder or jasmine) and a Milky Oolong - I'm pretty happy. That's not a lot, right? Of course I also have a kid with her own favourites, usually flavoured teas or a green tea. But that's just extra fun. With a little help from our friends,  I think we're going to have a pretty clear tea shelf by the end of 2015. But in all honesty, what we've been drinking almost every other morning has been chai in a base of almond milk. We make it very simple, because there is no time in the morning to blend too many spices - just some black tea, some cardamom and cinnamon, freshly diced ginger and honey. Blame it on my daughter. It's her idea.

Sweet Tooth:
Persephenie's Salty Jasmine Candies, and my own Oud Truffles, if I may say so myself.

Skincare Product:
It's a well known "secret" that I'm a sucker for anything rosy smelling on my face. My skincare regime is as simple as could be, and includes only two products: floral hydrosol (usually rose, or orange blossom) spritzed on the face, followed by a moisturizer - usually just my own facial elixir. Everyone once in a while I make an exception - but it has to be for something exceptional. Usually it's Persephenie's excellent Rose Pakka. This year I was ogling her new offering for the face - Saffron Rose Face Oil, which is a pure and nourishing facial serum. The makeup of oils shares some common elements with my Elixir (tea seed oil, sea buckthorn oil, carrot seed and rose oils) and the rest is all sheer goodness, as always with Persephenie's creations. I've received it in the mail today and it did not disappoint. It's practically the facial version of my Song of Songs anointing body oil. I'm in a facial New Year's heaven!

Body Product:
Bedouin dry oil by Persephenie. All of Persephenie's body products are top-notch. Bedouin was my favourite scent by Persephenie, but is no longer in production. That's why it was particularly delightful to find out that it is now available as a dry oil - a very lightweight, sheer oil that can be sprayed on either body or hair. Roses and cardamom. Mmm...

Discovery of the Year:
Dabney Rose's extraits and pommades are nothing short of magic. I've experienced her hyacinth extrait, tuberose pommade and ginger lily pommade (the latter are made in a coconut oil base) - all grown in her own garden and hothouse. These beautifully and lovingly crafted pure single note essences are made in the old technique of enfleruage, modernized by an innovative vegan base. Dabney's work is akin to capturing butterflies inside hot resin and keeping them alive and intact even after they've exhaled their last breath... It may sound too good to be true... But it is the most truthful portrait of the living flower if there ever was one.  In other words: alchemy at its best.

Raw Material of the Year: 
Narcissus Absolute. I've been obsessing over it while creating Narkiss, and (great minds think alike!) in Bruno Fazzolari's newest perfume.
Need I say more?

Aromatics Elixir

From time to time, revisiting a perfume that I didn't quite connect with right away proves to be a worthy endeavor. Aromatics Elixir is case in point: a perfume that I sought out on the recommendation of a customer, and found to be quite impossible to handle. That was probably sometime in 2003. I found it overbearing, medicinal, over-the-top herbacous and densely earthy; the type of perfume that when a student shows me something similar I would dismiss as "muddy".  And I won't even tell you how many times a similar mud-brew came under my own hands before I thought I knew better... So the mudiness was not anything new to me, in case you wondered; only that in Aromatics Elixir case, the sillage was amplified beyond control, bringing to mind Nigel's nifty amplifier that goes up to 11; and as he stated in a later interview in the mockumantary This Is Spinal Tap, "you want more loudness, you want more damage".

I eventually warmed up to the idea of Aromatics Elixir with their limited edition Aromatics Elixir Velvet Sheer (2006). Partly because of the bottle, which has a dabber, so even if the scent is still strong - the discreet application tones it down. Coming across another limited edition from 2011 that was created to celebrate the perfume's 40th birthday, titled Aromatics Elixir Perfumer's Reserve (which I'm determined to track down and review as well) peaked my interest in this fragrance again. So here I am revisiting the big bombshell from the 70's; and as it turned out - it really does go beyond.

While still having the earthy and medicinal qualities I remember, there is more of a spicy oriental quality to Aromatics Elixir than I recalled. It opens with very resinous, almost smoky and medicinal notes, vetiver and myrrh being the most dominant.

Aromatics Elixir knocks you down first with a thick veil of smoke, sweaty spices (coriander) and pungent herbs (sage). Than it just works its magic on you, with soothing aromatic oils that are known for their aroma-therapeutic calming effects and beautifying qualities (as Grain de Musc points out, citing the first ad copy for this perfume). Roman chamomile initially calms the nerves, geranium leaf energizes and tones the skin, and mingled with soothing rose; yet the juxtaposition with contrasting bitter-resinous analgesic myrrh and groovy patchouli it creates a mysterious fruity-mushroomy effect.

Once this subsides, the smokiness of vetiver comes in (it smellls like a rich, woody-nutty Bourbon vetiver), which goes hand-in-hand with clean, masculine sandalwood and musk. There is a dry, woody, diffusive appeal to this triad. And it makes a perfect foundation for the spacious yet erogenous jasmine that is at the core of Aromatics Elixir. With the addition of orange blossom and ylang ylang's ability to soothe anxiety and lifts the spirit, Aromatics Elixir walks a very fine line between a medicinal brew and a love potion. Furthermore, it has such a unique composition, which is very base-heavy, non-compromising and yet beautiful in a non-pretentious kind of way.

Top notes: Geranium, Chamomile, Coriander, Sage
Heart notes: Jasmine, Rose, Orange Blossom, Ylang Ylang
Base notes: Vetiver, Patchouli, Oakmoss, Cedarmoss, Sandalwood, Myrrh, Musk

Aromatics Elixir Velvet Sheer

Herbs lady, originally uploaded by ximenacab.
In the past few days, I have been wearing mostly Aromatics Elixir in the "Velvet Sheer" formulation (by the way, I find the name "Aromatics Elixir" odd enough grammatically, so adding the "Velvet Sheer" in the end takes away even from the little sense the name had to begin with). It has a consistency of a shower jel that melts into your skin. It is not alcohol free, but has only very little alcohol in it. And unlike Aromatics Elixir in the pure perfume spray - it has none of the aggressiveness and instead has a powerful but not forceful silage. Instead of being analytical, I would prefer to be descriptive now. Chypres are designed to not give away easily the notes they are composed of. And now this is precisely what I intend to do. In fact, perfumes were not intended to be perceived as individual notes chasing each other on a scent strip or one's skin. Perfume is meant to be greater than the sum of its parts; therefore analyzing perfumes and the notes contained within them could take away from the pleasure of experiencing the perfume as a whole.

Aromatics Elixir is indeed aromatic: herbaceously dry and at first even pungent. I will not attempt to compare it to the alcohol parfum formulation as I find that formulation to strong to bear and just never managed to keep it on my skin for long. It's that overwhelming. I think the fact that I've been wearing this slimy velvet sheer liquid for a few days in a row speaks for itself. The dryness of the first few hours does soften in the end and turns into a cozy ambery chypre with obvious vetiver underlining it all.

It may not be as polished or chic as the French perfumes of that genre - it is not as seamless as, say, Miss Dior - but I find its direct crudeness to be charming and reassuring in its lack of pretense. The notes do stand out on their own occasionally, as if they didn't have quite enough time to mingle with one another before being bottled, but that just suits me fine.

Bodegón copiado, originally uploaded by xuse_22.

P.s. I have been particularly enjoying wearing Aromatics Elixir while wearing my pendant filled with Ayalitta solid perfume. The two are not that similar, but their green/aromatic chypre character helps them get along.
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