s

SmellyBlog

Coco Noir

Coco Noir

Sometimes we get attached to perfumes because they speak to us. Other times, it is pure coincidence that creates an imprint on our minds and adds meaning to the scent that we would have otherwise not found in it.

These past few months I've been wearing copious amounts of Coco Noir. I've received the parfum extrait from a friend as a goodbye gift, and somehow it did not seem right to stuff it on the shipping container. Probably because I was too curious about it. At the same time I was too scared to open it, because starting a new perfume at a time of great change can create too strong of an impression - and I knew that there are many challenges ahead of me. I definitely did not want to open it at the time of our departure - I was an emotional mess, after three months of intensive packing and very little sleep... So I waited for a while for the dust of traveling to settle, and opened it about a week or two after arriving in Israel. It was a time of terrible weather (weeks and weeks on end of dry desert wind and over-the-top temperatures) not to mention - great emotional turmoil and immigrant adventures - and we are still in the midst of it, but I have enough levelheadedness now to reflect a bit, as things are finally starting to fall into place: my daughter will start school on Sunday, our home renovations are about halfway through, and my mental state allows me to pass entire days without crying (but still happens about once a week, because I end up hitting a brick wall of some sort at least in that frequency).

Coco Noir is a modern "dark" concoction, which means that instead of oily aldehydes and animalic base, it has clean florally laced with white musks and underlying notes of vetiver and patchouli. It isn't exactly a fruitchouli, but it borders on that territory, with a clean ambreine accord (not unlike Prada Ambre Intense Pour Homme) - which means it has vanillin, patchouli and bergamot galore in it. However, there is also a spicy cacao accord (or perhaps it's just an illusion of that - created by the spicy cloves notes alongside the benzoin, vanillin and coumarin) which is quite prominent, which reminds me of Notorious - only that it continues much better in my opinion (it does not have as much musk, which in Notorious gives me a piercing feeling through my nostrils). It gradually softens and develops around the heart of jasmine and rose, and leads smoothly to the end: Dryout is a mellow, powdery confection, with hints of heliotrope (not unlike La Petite Robe Noire - but with non of the saccharine qualities of the latter).

Coco Noir is more accessible, in my opinion, than Coco is. I love the original, even though I do not own it. It has a big persona and feels over-the-top for daily wear. I would only imagine wearing it when I'm all dressed up for a very sepcial event in the middle of winter. Instead, it provides with a very modern comfort in my overtly rustic living arrangement (which is only temporary, sort of...). It's a scent that inevitably will conjure up scent memories from this time of re-settling in my home village: having this sleek, elegant, opaque black glass square bottle around reminds me of my urban side and that I'm not going to be forever wading in mud to and from the yurt, and struggling with every little aspect of life. There is still place for elegance and luxury in my life even in this off the grid spot in between two major life periods.

Another great reminder of this truth: whenever I stick my nose inside my shipping container, which smells still like my very fragrant home studio in Vancouver. My friend chose this fragrance because it reminded him of how my perfume smelled. I think I now get what he's talking about: it's very much like this "smell of everything, all at once" that you get from my workspace: dried coumarinic herbs (liatrix, tonka), vetiver roots, patchouli, countless flowers, herb oils and spices... All mingled with woodsy oils and the scent of antique furniture.

I'm grateful for having this point of view portrayed to me via a bottle of fragrance chosen for me.

Top notes: Cedarwood, Bergamot, Orange, Grapefruit
Heart notes: Rose, Jasmine, Narcissus, Geranium, Peach, Carnation, Cloves
Base notes: Patchouli, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Benzoin, Frankincense, Musk, Vanilla, Heliotropin, Tonka

Misia



Misia, the new bird in Chanel's flock of exclusive scents has pleasantly surprised me with its soft, down-like softness, warmth and retro sweetness. It immediately brings to mind candied violet petals, with its overdose of alpha ionones, which dominate the opening, giving it the characteristic cedar wood effect. This balances the sweetness of the composition, addinga woody, dry yet powdery and soft air to it. This is quickly taken over by juicy, fruity notes of a plush, dark-red rose. Raspberry and plum notes rule supreme with every stroke of this bold bluish-red lipstick. The iconic Lipstick Rose comes to mind, as well as the scent that pervades most of the current Guerlain cosmetics. But more on points of references later. While there is more than a gourmand hint to Misia, it does not in the least smell too obviously dessert-like, nor trashy. It does, however, give it a most addictive character. As the fruit and rose soften and become rounder, the sweet supporting base note begin to emerge, and they are the perfume-world equivalent of caramel: tonka bean, with its slightly bitter, powdery qualities of almond rocca; and benzoin, which is like liquified brown sugar, with a depth to its sweetness that stops it from being cloying. There is something about the dry down that is not how I'd expect this to end. It's thankfully not too powdery, nor too musky; and sweetness is played just right, balanced with an earthy nuttiness. If there is any leather in there I can't smell it, unfortunately.

If I didn't know the perfumer behind Misia is Olivier Pole (Jaqcues Polge's son and successor as Chanel's house perfumer) I would have guessed it's Sophia Grojsman (Lancome's Tresor and YSL's Paris smell like close relatives). But there is more violet than rose in Misia, which if I were to blind test this would make me think of it is a Guerlain. Not so much the old fashioned violet-laden Apres l'Ondee or l'Heure Bleue, but rather, Meteorites (a scent that was phased out and instead was used to scent their makeup line of the same name); or perhaps a more agreeable version of their recent violet-dominated La Petite Robe Noire (which although I like its idea, I find it to be more than a tad too brash to my taste). But again I will contradict that notion because Misia's character is a more nuanced and less invasive.

With all these references to existing non-Chanel fragrances, you can probably already guess that there is nothing particularly groundbreaking about it. However, in the context of it being part of the Chanel family, and comparing it to the rest of the collection, it is admittedly quite refreshing to be offered the choice of a perfume that it is not nearly as austere, angular or aloof as the temperament of this house tends to lean on. Misia seems even more "out of place" than Coromandel was at its time - a patchouli fragrance in a collection of iris and aldehydic florals. But even Coromandel has a coolness to it, a bit of a sharp edge that surrounds a very clean, albeit sweetened patchouli. Misha wants to crawl right next to my Bois des Iles bottle and cuddle, while still wearing its silk stockings and with a fully powdered and made-up face.

Top notes: Ionones alpha (Violet notes), Raspberry, Plum
Heart notes: Rose, Orris, Damascones
Base notes: Tonka bean, Benzoin

28 La Pausa

Behind the Curtain by judy stalus
Behind the Curtain, a photo by judy stalus on Flickr.
Revisiting 28 La Pausa, and the Les Exclusifs that came out in 2007. What's been around before (Bois des Îles, Cuir de Russie) has been watered down so much they remind me of a lukewarm instant coffee made by a pinchy in-law compared to a proper espresso. And the remainder seems like an elaborate, cerebral exercise in restrained variations on the Chanel originals: No. 19 and Bois des Îles being the primary sources of inspiration, with various iterations (Bel Respiro and La Pausa in reference to the first; No. 18 and the later-arrival Sycomore stemming from the latter). Both share recurring themes in varying proportions - primarily iris, indole, ambrette seed and greens to varying proportions. 28 La Pausa seems to have some leanings towards No. 18, with hints of ambrettolide, but non of the intriguing wine-like qualities of true ambrette.


28 La Pausa is very light, ethereal exercise in iris. Not the powdery, creamy orris butter that at the core of all the classic Geurlains; but rather a cool, airy rendition of this ethereal and obscure note, quite anemic if to be perfectly hones, and supported by ionone, irone and synthetic musks to extend its metallic presence without adding much longevity or blood. If the inspiration for it is the green-shuttered villa in southern France, then 28 La Pausa is the breeze blowing in the gauzy cotton curtains, bringing in the scent of a just-watered garden with iris and wet concrete pavement. There is a hint of indole in there, giving the ever so slightly warmth of jasmine petals. But it's not enough to bring in any of the relaxed, carefree Joie de Vivre spirit of southern France, nor its neighbouring Italian riviera the house is supposedly overlooking. If this is Chanel's mood on her vacations, then she's most likely sewing mosquito nets indoors, or else sketching patterns on a glass coffee table. She should be indulging in the fresh air, beaches and abundant Mediterranean scenery and loving sun. But she's not. She's cold inside her stone villa, letting only the cold sea breeze come in.



Although Gabrielle Chanel always followed her dreams and made them come true - always strikes me as a logical, down-to-earth person. She seemed quite restrained in her emotions, which in some way also comes across in her very put-together, tailored designs she's created; but that is not to say she had no emotions. Her passion was evident in the meticulous attention she's given to every stitch, in the bold audacity of her costume jewellery, and in her involvement in the artistic direction of the original perfumes. It is true that it took some time before No. 19 and
Bois des Îles grew on me - but when they did, I could sense the vulnerable, playful, passionate personality behind them - even if she hasn't created the perfumes herself, she stood behind them completely and took Even after all these years, coming back to Les Exclusifs, I can't help but notice my feelings are completely untouched by each and every composition. There is no soul to them. Only cerebral reminiscing of Chanel's style, luxury and good taste. It's all about flaunting the several expensive ingredients at the core of the composition (iris, ambrette, jasmine from Grasse) but there is really no story behind it except for a brief that resembles an interior-decorator's outline for a very wealthy client.

Notes: Iris,
Ionones, Jasmine, Indole, Ambrette, Musks.

Égoïste



Égoïste by Chanel, although officially released by this name in 1990, is a true child of the 80's: bold, clear and with a definite presence that is unmistakable with others. It is one of the most delicious woody fragrances designed for men, not to mention its got the most dramatic yet humorous, wonderfully timed perfume commercial I've ever laid eyes upon, rivaled only by the marvellous Old Spice, which is really for a shower gel so I guess that does not really count. Perhaps it's because Prokofiev's "Dance of the Knights" from the ballet Romeo and Juliet has a way of sending shivers down my spine; and perhaps because I've been always intrigued by the use of "negative" titles for perfumes. The guy who chooses to wear it might be perfectly sweet, honest and dependable - but that should not stop them from fantasizing about taking over a whole building full of screaming females.

Sadly, Europeans are rather egotistic in keeping this beauty to themselves and it is nowhere to be found on North American soil. So, on my last stopover at Schipol airport, I picked up a chunky 100ml bottle of this masculine gem, a size that I generally avoid. This is obviously designed for a larger fist, and should last me a lifetime, because there is no man in sight with whom I can share this beauty.

Égoïste is the younger and louder brother of the demure, soft-spoken and old-fashioned Bois des Îles. It opens with a burst of dry yet sweet melange of woods, citrus and spice. It actually reminds me of another favourite 80's fragrance, which is also drenched in sandalwood: Samsara (which reportedly had a glutenous 40% Mysore sandalwood). There is no true separation between top and heart and base as they weave in and out in different phases of the perfume. At first, there is the clarity of bois de rose (rosewood), the led-pencil shaving association of Virginia cedarwood, and the sweet citrus burst of tangerine and a sprinkle of sweet cassia. There is also a hint of eugenol, not quite clove like, but softer - perhaps form carnations. Underlying notes of coumarin backed up with a generous dose of vanilla absolute. There is something about true vanilla absolute that is simultaneously woody and animalic, quite unlike the cupcake frosting character of vanillin. Égoïste's vanilla really brings this out with some help of both indole and leathery animalic notes. which add interest. It is quite well balanced between sweet, bitter, smooth, spicy and powdery - although admittedly leaning towards the sweet more so than I would have expected (or remember the original to be).

The sandalwood is not as creamy as its sister Bois des Îles (probably because what I have in my hands is a rather modern version, very unlikely containing any Mysore sandalwood) - but that also gives is an edge somehow - it's warmer and more spicy and dry than I remembered it from a few years back. It seems to be accompanied by Atlas cedar's suave fruitiness, and perhaps even a splash of violet-y ionones and plum and rose notes from damascones.

I would hardly consider anyone wearing Égoïste selfish - anyone around you is going to enjoy it too!
Beware: Egoiste Platinum has nothing to do with it besides the name, and is the only version you'll find in Canada and the USA, and to my nose it smells like generic sporty aquatic chemical trash. But it has a wonderful ad as well!

Chanel_egoiste

Top notes: Rosewood, Tangerine, Virginia Cedarwood
Heart notes: Rose, Cassia (Cinnamon), Carnation
Base notes: Sandalwood, Coumarin, Atlas Cedarwood, Vanilla, Leather

Floriental Week: My Short But Sweet Taste of Perfume Making

Trailing Roses
Trailing Roses, briar roses at Horton Bay in Mayne Island - a photo by Laríssa on Flickr.

I remember quite clearly the first time I ever met Ayala and came across her fragrances. I was in my first semester of the Fashion Marketing Diploma program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and I met Ayala at Portobello West very briefly while I was in the process of completing an assignment. I have always loved fragrance as more than just a sensory pleasure but also as a complex and powerful art form - the sense of smell is the sense that is most closely linked to emotions and memories. I was immediately intrigued by her unusual scent combinations (urban inspired Hanami and simplistic but powerful Roses et Chocolat were the scents that left the biggest impression on me) and by the stories that were behind each one and I never forgot about our discussion or her fragrances. I met Ayala again a year later at her Etrog tea-party after writing an article about her custom fragrances for a bridal fashion website. We talked about fragrance and bonded over the fact that we are both chypre-lovers (from Ayala's collection I particularly adore Rainforest and Ayalitta). I told her that I loved her product and that if I could ever be of help to her in any way that I would love to volunteer. Another year later and I am lucky enough to have the privilege of working for Ayala Moriel Parfums.

While I was interning for Ayala in July, I was fortunate to be able to sit in on one of her classes and participate in the solid-perfume workshop during her five-day Floriental Perfume Course. While I do have a passion for fragrance and spend a fair amount of time researching fragrance myself, I knew very little about florientals and what key components make a scent a floriental versus a floral or oriental.

Many people think of floriental fragrances as being heavy, rich, ambery, and spicy. But truthfully, Florientals can be best described as a Floral-Ambery: a sub-category of the floral family, and the love child of two harmoniously mingled fragrance families - heady White Florals, and smooth Ambery Orientals. Opulent, smooth scents like Guerlain's iconic Samsara or Chanel's Allure often come to mind but floriental fragrances, while having a similar structure and similar notes, can vary greatly in smell and spirit. They can be light and sparkling, creamy and beachy or dark, smoky and seductive, depending on the composition and accent notes used.

Coralle
Coralle parfum, an all-natural floriental from Ayala Moriel Parfums' archives

Floriental perfumes can vary greatly but are unified in their composition structure. Those who are familiar with fragrance know that notes are only a percentage of what leads to the final smell of a perfume. Florientals are more base heavy than other florals. Amber is always in the base, along with other heavier notes such as incense, sandalwood, vanilla, massoia bark or myrrh. The heart is where the richer flowers (roses, violets etc.) and white florals reside and the top is reserved for the airy citrus notes and lighter flowers (i.e.: mimosa), cool spices (i.e.: coriander, ginger, cardamom), balsams and woods. Perfumers will play around with the composition of fragrances but that is the basic outline of what the formula for a floral-oriental fragrance would look like.

Class Of Summer 2013
Class of Summer 2013 (Floriental Week)

It was fascinating to listen to Ayala explain how the different components and ingredients of a floriental perfume could work together. Perfume is often explained and described in terms of the ingredients or "notes" within a fragrance. Ayala stressed that the ratio of notes within a fragrance is as equally important as the notes themselves. There may be several different versions of a fragrance with similar or the same notes, but each version will smell entirely different based on the amount of each note and the concentration. The subtle but distinct differences between fragrances of the same family was illustrated most vividly when Ayala began passing around different examples of floriental fragrances, some her own creations, some commercial perfumes, and some truly intriguing indie and vintage scents.

I was particularly intrigued by a vintage fragrance that she presented to us called l'Heure Bleue. The perfume was released in 1912 and I was truly surprised at how modern the fragrance smelled.When I used to think of vintage perfumes I would think of heavy abstract florals, thick spices, and animalic, aldehydic notes reminiscent of those on my great-grandmother's dresser. This perfume, created more than one hundred years ago could easily be worn and enjoyed today which made me appreciate the perfume and the perfumer all the more for being able to create a fragrance that can transcend time - not an easy task for an art form as personal perfume.


Floriental Week July 1-5, 2013
Students smelling tea roses at Nelson Park community gardens

During my time as a stand-in student of Ayala Moriel's I found that I most appreciated the way Ayala would connect science with more artistic side of creating a fragrance. What I mean by that is she would tell us about the chemical components of an ingredient and how that would affect a fragrance but would also describe it in imaginative and sensory terms that made it relatively easy for someone like me, with no background in science or chemistry to understand. I also appreciated the way that every lesson was illustrated with examples. If she was trying to show us how carnation blossoms smell similar to clove essences because of their high eugenol content, she would pass around the essences and have us describe any detected differences as well as similarities. Ayala thoroughly saturates you in the content of her lessons, urging you to use every sense while learning. Fragrant snacks (elderflower tea, floral-flavored cookies and bitterly rich dark chocolate), and garden walks allow her students to experience fragrance and explore the different components of fragrances in different ways. It is amazing how one flower, or spice, or balsam can produce essences with completely different aromas. The different facets of natural ingredients are fascinating and really made an impression on me in terms of how complex an art-form perfume-making is. It made me think of music or painting, where tiny brush strokes and notes combine together to create something abstract or simplistic but always emotionally/intellectually impacting. Everyday we are surrounded by different smells, some pleasant and some not so pleasant but they have a strong impact on our perceptions of our environment and on our memories. Fragrance can transport you to a different time, place, or emotional state depending on what you associate with different smells.

Grating Beeswax
Grating beeswax for making solid perfumes
Ceramic Casseroles
Ceramic casseroles for solid perfume making.

The highlight of my week as Ayala's student was the solid perfume workshop. Using beeswax, jojoba oil, and essences we were encouraged to close our eyes and transport ourselves to a place that really represents ourselves and where we feel most alive, inspired, safe etc., a place that we would want to capture and carry with us always. For me that place is Mayne Island, a gulf island close to Vancouver Island. Briar roses, sun-baked blackberries, spruce, pine, broom and salty ocean air are the aromas that are closest to my heart. Using notes of Rosa rugosa, lavender absolute, vanilla absolute, wild frankincense, and ylang-yang I created a fragrance that reminds me of my home away from home and that smells just a little bit vintage-esque because of the frankincense. I named it Marion after my great grandmother who helped build my family's cottage on Mayne Island. It was a meditative but somewhat nerve-wracking experience because of how much a subtle change in the amount of each essence and even the slightest variations of notes can change the entire fragrance. The process of creating the solid perfumes felt similar to cooking and is definitely something I would like to explore for my own enjoyment in the future.

Labradorite Poison Ring
Solid perfume in a vintage poison ring 

Overall what I would say about Ayala's classes are that they are intensive, artistic and scientific, and very hands-on. These are not classes where you will simply sit, read, and memorize. Every one of your senses will be involved while taking her classes. Perfumery is a rich and complex subject and there is always a lot to learn. Ayala has been practicing perfumery for years and years and as she says, even she is learning on a regular basis. In my opinion, the mark of a good teacher is to be able to take a fairly complicated subject and to be able to explain it in easy to understand terms. As Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.". I learned a lot from my couple of hours as Ayala's student even without a base of knowledge to reference.

Truly, perfumery is an art-form that should be further explored and celebrated. It is an incredible form of expression even for those who perhaps don't necessarily want to pursue it as a career. Not only will you develop a new creative skill and outlet but you will become more aware of the aromas and environment around you. I, for example, will never look at a tuberose the same away again after meeting and talking with Ayala about it (such a mesmerizing, multifaceted flower). I encourage anyone who has an interest in aromatherapy or perfume to take one of Ayala's courses, such as her Orientals week-long course from September 30th to October 4th 2013. Registration for this course closes Friday, August 30th at 12 noon PST. 

  • Page 1 of 4
  • Page 1 of 4
Back to the top