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Elul

Bountiful harvest
"Bountiful harvest" Jaimi Lammers 

The Lunar/Solar Jewish year is coming to a close. This is Elul, the 12th month, which means "grain harvest" in the Akkadian language (an ancient language which is the origin of the Semite languages, which served as the lingua franca of the Ancient Near East). It may also relate to the word "search", which alludes to the the soul-searching that happens during this month. Jews say special prayers of repentance, and ask forgiveness of one another in preparation for the new year to come. We want to start with a blank slate, without any heaviness in our hearts of feelings of regret. All accounts must be cleared and in order so we can have a fresh start.

As always, I look to nature and the seasons to find inspiration and guidance. To better understand the internal process I am going through I see how it is reflected in the natural cycle of birth, death and re-birth. At the end of the Eastern Mediterranean summer, death is the stage of life where most plants are at. After a long dry spell, the ruling colour is yellow and only the hardiest of plants remain green. All the annuals, except for a few weeds that irritate the gardeners and farmers, have dried up and come to seed long ago. This is a time of deep sleep and hibernation, awaiting the blessed rains of autumn to awaken the seeds and bring them back to life.

There are some exceptions of course - and these also teach us about tools for coping with the challenges of the season, and its gifts: 

The fruit-bearing trees which come to their peak this time of year - figs, carobs, pomegranates and grapes. Their sweetness comes out of this fertile albeit arid land, showing us that Earth's fertility is not forgotten, that it is eternally generous and giving. That it is never futile, even if on the surface it may seem dead and deserted.

A few very special "Autumn-Announcers" bulb plants are at a different stage of their life-cycle, and show us an original way to live life: bringing forth their flowers, their very best, first and before any leaf is to be seen. These flowers or resurrection are the first to bloom and remind us that fall is about to come, that there is life after death. Out of a pile of dead, dried leaves from the winter, the Beach Lily (AKA Sea Daffodil) springs out with impressive, large, bridal-white flowers and a scent so regal that intensifies in the afternoon and the evening, attracting night-pilots such as moths to pollinate it. It literally looks like coming out of a pile of dry bones. The Sea Squill (Urginea maritima, Drimia maritima) AKA Sea onion, in Hebrew: חצב מצוי, Arabic: عيصلان - brings the tall, white columns of flowers that bloom in order from bottom to top. The succulent leaves won't be seen till mid-Winter. Autumn crocus will also arrive in early fall, showing flowers first and leaves only later on. They all teach us to bring out our very best first, with full faith and trust. They teach us many other things that deserve a post on and of themselves, which I promise to write next.

Clary Sage Seeds
Sorting Clary Sage Seeds 

This is the time to separate the seed from the chaff, to sort and prepare for the winter time. To see what is in our stock after a summer of collecting seeds, of saving up potential for growth that is only waiting for the water from the rain to open it up. Seeds of ideas, plans, hopes, dreams and memories are all wrapped up in this compact little being of the seed stage. Some of the seed's potential and outmode is hidden, and some hints can be found in its previous stage of coming into seed and full maturity, the previous cycle. Be it your previous life stage, or previous generations, your people's history and your personal history as well. And just like those toy-capsules that expand in the bath to become fully blown dinosaurs - it is important to choose your seeds carefully before sewing. 

I would like to share a little prayer for the seeds I am hoping to find now while in the month of sorting, seeds I would like to sew before the blessed rains of nourishments and growth and action will arrive - blessings that I wish for myself and perhaps will also resonate with you:
- Being open to the knowledge, love and wisdom that comes to me in many shapes and forms. Sometimes it comes in strange ways and patterns, speaks strange languages and we need to read between the lines.
- Continue to share these gifts that come to me - of knowledge, wisdom, love and healing. This also takes many shapes and forms, from the basic care of my body and my family, plants, animals and nature around me, to what I share through making perfumes, writing this blog or in any other method of communication available.
- May this communication always be clear, honest and truthful, peaceful and conducive of positive change and growth.
- Mastery of the things I've taken upon myself, both personally, spiritually and professionally.
- Be devoted and dedicated to bringing more healing and peace to the world through whatever I do. First and foremost by inspiring deeper connection to oneself and to Nature.

In more specific terms, I would like to fill all my perfumery courses this year, master the art of incense (an ongoing challenge!), to finish writing and to publish my second book, and to continue to make an honest living by creating the beautiful perfumes and incense that I love, and share them with you, all over the world! I hope that my clients will continue to feel a strong connection to what comes from under my hands,  and find in it a portal or a passage to deeper and more meaningful connection to yourselves and to the beautiful world around you.

Autumn Leaves Nerikoh

Autumn Leaves Nerikoh
Incense is occupying my mind a lot these days, as well as most of my creative endeavours. I'm working on different techniques, and also adaptations of some of my perfumes into incense form. The Japanese art of incense is poetic and technically versatile in a way that sparks my imagination.

Today I've tried my hand at crafting Nerikoh (kneaded incense) using dried fruit instead of honey. I notice apricot used in several of the Nerikoh offerings from Shoyeido, so I decided to give it a try. It seemed especially befitting for an adaptation of Autumn perfume that I wanted to make. It's akin to translating an idea from perfume into incense format.
Autumn Leaves Nerikoh
Autumn was a perfect candidate, as Nerikoh is traditionally used in tea ceremonies in the fall season.  Additionally, it being a Chypre Fruity with spicy notes and labdanum gave it an extra advantage over most of my other perfumes. Labdanum is one of the classic notes in Japanese Neirkoh, and along with the sticky dried apricot fruit, that would have been a great way to bring both worlds together. Other traditional incense materials are sandalwood, cinnamon and cloves, which are also in the perfume. Of course it has some oakmoss too! An early burn over a tea light smells promising already. Sweet yet earthy, complex yet brings on a feeling of serenity of fallen leaves. I even went as far as molding some into maple leaf shapes. And now I regret not doing it with the rest. The experiment seems to have gone well, so there will be more shaped incense pellets to come.  I just have to be sure they don't get suck inside the mold or break once they dried, before meticulously shaping an entire batch. And then there is also the question of packaging...

The Autumn Leaves Nerikoh won't be ready till fall, as they need at least six months to cure or age - and this is a shortcut: traditionally they will be buried in the ground in a clay vessel for 3-4 years! That means they will be ready around Halloween. I can't wait to smell them then, when the temperatures here will finally become cooler again after a long summer.

Petrichor


"The core of the seen and unseen universe smiles, but remember smiles come best from those who weep. Lightning, then the rain-laughter". - Rumi

Just in time for the much-delayed school year in British Columbia - the rainy season is upon us. Most Vancouverites don't welcome this type of change in weather, but I do. In places plagued with drought, such as my other homeland, the first rain signifies not only the changing season, but also determines the well-being of crops, and predictions for precipitation in the year to come.

In Hebrew, there is a special word for the first rain - "Yoreh". It has a special smell, and an air of excitement about it as Jews welcome the new year and begin the fall harvest season. Many stories have been told about tzadikim (sages or saints) that have saved the country from drought with vigils, fasting and prayers for rain.

In my many years of providing customized fragrance creations and matching scents to personalities, I've received countless emails describing people's faourite scents. The smell of the first rain in all its many permutations is one that comes up most frequently: rain on hot pavement, thunderstorm, wet earth after rain, in other words - petrichor...

The word was coined in 1964 and comes from the Greek petros (stone) and ichos (the liquid that flows in the gods' veins). It's exact definition accodring to the online Wiktionary is "the distinctive scent which accompanies the first rain after a long warm dry spell".

The main reason for the appearance of petrichor is a molecule called Geosmin, a metabolite of bacteria that lives at the top layer of the soil. You might also detect a bit of it in raw, unpeeled beetroot. Combined with the unique flora of the place graced with rain, the scent will have nuances of various roots and dried plant matter. This is why the scent each person associates with petrichor is unique to their homeland.

When I first moved to Vancouver, nearly 16 years ago, the only thing I missed more than my family and friends was the scent of the first rain in autumn, falling on the thirsty dry earth. It’s a scent one can’t describe to someone who never experienced it. And the occurrence of dry earth in British Columbia is a rarity. The closest I was ever able to explain it is that it is wet, musty, dusty and fresh.

The scent of spikenard essential oil comes very close to this (although the whole sensation of the clean air and the wetness is lacking from the experience of sniffing an oil from a bottle, rather than the outdoors). In 2001 I tried to capture that scent, and the result smelled ironically of the Pacific rainforest after the rain instead. The rainforests rarely go dry, but have a constant mysterious wet fresh smell about them, a mingling of all the conifers, moss, lichen and dead leaves rotting on the ground. The forest earth itself in fact layers of compacted woodchips, conifer needles and rotten leaves, which might explain why it does not quite smell like petrichor... So I decided to name it Rainforest instead.

Aside from spikenard, other natural raw materials that might remotely resemble petrichor are attar mitti - a baked earth attar that is produced from fragments of clay pots, distilled into sandalwood oil; and patchouli, with its dry, earthy, musty aroma.

Perfumes that have a distinctive petrichor or geosmin-like notes are Forest Walk by Sonoma Scent Studio, Demeter's Dirt and Neil Morris' Dark Earth.

How would you describe the smell of the first rain? Do you have any favourite perfumes that have that note?

Autumn List

Autumn 2013 by Ayala Moriel
Autumn 2013, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
Time for a Fall 2013 List! I'm always fascinated by the majestic abundance of this season. Rich colours, warm textures, mysterious transitions and intriguing transitions take place. Flaming leaves make room for dark, barren trees and the sun is gradually replaced by shadows and hidden growth process. My favourite scents for fall usually are smoky-leathery-tobacco or Chypre, and this season is no exception. However, I'm happy to discover some new beauties every year to expand on these themes. Life is never boring when there's perfume!

1) Mitsouko
I enjoy Mitsouko year-around, but it's not fall without it. I've mostly reaching for the Eau de Parfum, which has a light dusting of cumin. In the winter it's time to pull out the parfum extrait, which has more pronounced peach aldhyde, orange and vanilla notes; and spring and summer are times for the lighter, more citrusy and dry-woody.

2) Anima Dulcis
My new discovery this year at Barneys in San Francisco has turned chilly autumn mornings into a delightful experience. Anima Dulcis wraps around like a halo of sweet steamed milk, a cloud of spices and brown hues of caramel, dark chocolate and fallen leaves.

3) Forest Walk
Once you get beyond the musty, realistic wet earth and rotten leaves crunching beneath my feet - my brisk walking warms up my skin to reveal the woody-balsamic sweetness of black hemlock absolute, rockrose resin and moss. True to its name, Forest Walk conjures the imagery and tactile sensuality of a walk in the woods in fall; and like a vigorous stroll rejuvenates as it reconnects to earth and the seasons.

4) Magazine Street
Sophisticated, seductive and complex, Magazine Street is not exactly a seasonal perfume, as I can see myself wearing it year around. I just so happen to finally have gotten enough supply of it to lavishly enjoy it as I please. Rooty vetiver and botanical musks make it truly sing on the skin, alongside its Southern beauties of blooming magnolias. It blends so beautifully with the skin, creating a unique aura around you.

5) Cocoa Sandalwood
Surprising combination of powdery, warm sandalwood with a dust of cocoa and - the surprise - intriguingly violet-y osmanthus. Cocoa Sandalwood is a quiet, soft-spoken creaminess that is very comforting.

6) Egoiste
On my last stopover at Schipol airport, I picked up a gigantic bottle of this unavailable-in-North-America masculine gem. It is the younger sibling of Bois des Iles. Creamy sandalwood brightened by light rosewood and citrus, and hint of aldehydes. It's not as spicy and creamy as its sister, but is just as classy and lovable. Equally great for black-tie events or an evening cuddled in your favourite woolen wrap reading a book by the fireplace. 

7) Lampblack
Fall being a time of transition and contemplation, writing (or drawing) in one's journal is one of the best ways reflecting on the inner life. Black India ink serves this purpose most dutifully and truthfully. And that is the core of Lampblack - a mineral, inky concoction of smoky cyperus (nagramotha) and earthy vetiver, sulphuric grapefruit and flamboyant pepper.

8) My Vanilla
Mysterious and grown-up, this beautiful and original creation is about vanilla's seductive power and exotic nature. Paired with dry cedar, warm spices and smoky-sugary notes. In contrast, there is also strange and unusually green-resinous mastic note and heady champaca and orange blossom to create a remarkable oriental veil.

9) Volutes
Wood varnish, burnished pipe, tobacco, dates, vanilla, musk, honey and incense... Volutes is multi-layered and complex yet addictively easy to wear. It's wonderful to finally have a "darker" Diptyque scent enter the world.

10) Feuilles de Tabac
One of the most intriguing perfumes from the tobacco genre, and definitely my favourite from Miller Harris - though I've been giving it far less attention than it deserves on this blog. Wearing it instantly boosts my confidence, but not in a tacky "I'm now assertive" kinda way (aka what you'd imagine a public speaker to put on before doing a TED talk). It just creates a sense of strength and courage. It's melange of tobacco, cascarilla bark and pimento berry creates is out-of-the-ordinary, although immediately conjures a very masculine presence. I love that bold opening, and even more so what it morphs into, when the softer nuances of tobacco emerge, wrapped in patchouli and garnished with tonka.

What are your fall favourites this year?

Chypre Time of Reflection

Fall is gracefully entering the skies... Bright and blue, they are now crisp in the morning and by high noon are warmed by gentle slightly angled sun rays. The breezes are creating ripples and larger waves even in the quiet Straight of Georgia and the more sheltered False Creek.
The days are getting shorter and suddenly the notion of dressing up and having friends over for a cup of tea (not iced!) does not seem awkward anymore.

This time of the year I am drawn to Chypres time and time again - especially the Chypre Fruity, such as Mitsouko, Femme, and also other classics like Sous le Vent (which I was wearing two days straight now). I'm feeling sad that there has been much less interest in this fragrance family. I wish the rants about discontinued members of this family were backed up by purchasing habits to support its continuous existence. I'm definitely not seeing very much sold of some of my perfumes that I'm most proud of. And I'm sorry to say, unless this changes drastically in this season, I will have to say goodby to these perfumes and cease from producing them.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I believe customers need to know when a product they love (or say they love) is getting pulled off the market. It's always been my mandate to never truly discontinue a fragrance (I can always make things on-order, unless an ingredient is nowhere to be found).
Also, customers need to know that complaining about what companies do and don't do for them is sometimes beyond the point. Those who are loyal and actually do purchase the product - I feel for you (and you know that just like you I will be scouring eBay for beloved long-gone or reformulated perfumes). But just complaining about a company's actions is not always fair. I'm all for criticizing the big boys' preference for the bottom line (aka profit), and it often seems that they would go as far as completely bastardizing their formulae to achieve that goal.

In my case (as I sure is also the case with many other niche brands that are struggling to remain visible in the vast ocean of 1000 new releases per year with budget far larger than theirs): not only am I not really profiting from this, I'm actually losing money for keeping these perfumes in rotation: It is seriously getting to the point when even keeping all the specialty ingredients that are required to keep this on hand is simply not realistic in the current economic climate when people are taking second jobs (if they manage to keep their first one) and companies are cutting costs everywhere possible. I don't want cost-cutting to affect the quality of my products, EVER. But I cannot go on subsidizing people's olfactory curiousity at the expense of my (non-existent) pension plan and my daugther's (non-existent) college funds.

Sample sales are just not enough to justify keeping a perfume on the shelf. I don't even make profit off selling samples: they just barely pay for the cost of producing and shipping them. It's harsh, but that's life - there isn't an unlimited space in my tiny studio, and rent ain't cheap! Each fragrance takes up space and needs to be kept in stock to be offered on the website or anywhere really. And if there isn't enough interest (backed-up by actually putting money towards where the declarations of love are directed), then I need to act very business like and discontinue them.

The perfumes in question are Autumn, Megumi and Schizm. Three perfumes I've always been very proud of. However, I can't even remember when someone bought a full bottle of any of these (and I usually remember those kinds of details - including who purchased it within this year) - and these used to be constantly sought out by Chypre loving perfumistas and my regular customers... I know there is nothing "wrong" with these perfumes per se - although of course I can always make them more "intense" and more "dramatic" and more "noir" and flanker them to death and relaunch it (if I had a million dollar budget), but I thought long and hard and I think I will just have to let them go - unless I'm seeing some orders coming for full bottles of these beauties by the end of 2012. Which means that you will only have the options of the fresher, greener Chypres - Ayalitta (thankfully among my best-sellers), ArbitRary (dito) and Rainforest.


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