Ma Griffe

Jean Carles, the Beethoven of modern perfumery, created many unforgettable classics that have changed the world of perfumery forever. Tabu and Canoe (Dana), Shocking (Schiparelli) as well as several scents for Lucien Lelong. And like Beethoven, he lost his sense of smell towards the end of his career. But that did not stop him from creating great fragrances. Ma Griffe being one of them. And like Tabu and Schiaparelli, whatever it lacks in nuance and refinement, it makes up for in a bold and innovative advertising campaign.

I've always had a fondness to Ma Griffe (1946), be it the original (and more demure ad) portraying the literal meaning of the scent "My Signature" with a lady's hand signing her name with perfume instead of ink. But also always ignored it because of my much greater love and loyalty to Miss Dior, the epitome of animalic-floral chypres tinged with green. When smelled separately, the two bring each other to mind. But Ma Griffe has a certain crudeness to it that has softened and rounder by the time 1947 rolled around with Miss Dior (also created by Jean Carles, this time in collaboration with Paul Vacher. The extrait for Miss Dior, by the way, was reworked by Edmond Roudnitska). By then he must have perfected the concept, resulting in a seamless Chypre that is like no other.

Ma Griffe opens with a burst of juicy lemony notes and bergamot, as well as citronella, which I feel is the culprit of the opening notes, and probably what made it not nearly as popular as Miss Dior that followed it - the citronella gives a sharp impression that takes away from the refinement of the rest of the composition. There is a hint of galbanum, but not enough to leave trails on your man's back!
As the perfume evolves, it becomes more bitter, tart and woody, and less feminine and sultry.
 Aside from galbanum, two other contributors to the bitterness is methyl ionone and coumarin - notes that bring to mind the metallic-floral prowl of Je Reviens and Rive Gauche. This phase, admittedly, is not my favourite part of Ma Griffe, which also has a hint of oily aldehydes (C-11, C-13) - giving it a very lady-like personality. It's charming in low doses, but is very particular to the era and not necessarily appeal to today's fast-paced, simplicity-seeking lifestyle. I imagine the same "type" of women who enjoyed it in the 50's would now appreciate the reformulated Sisley's Eau de Champagne - which is a lot more simpler, brisk and still has that bitter charm of a glass of very dry martini.

Once the aldehydes quiet down a bit, the warmth of cinnamon begins to come through, as well as a hint of incense from the styrax (AKA liquidambar - one of the main components for creating amber accords). The florals are not particularly strong in any phase, but if anything comes through, it's the spiciness (hint of eugenol) and fruity-banana-like nuance from the ylang ylang. This underappreciated floral is a wonderful, smoothing counterpart to green notes, who in return cif ut through its intense, heady sweetness. Both together eliminate their potential for nauseating headiness, and create something new and exciting. If you've smelled Chamade, with its prominent galbanum-ylang ylang contrast, you may know what I am referring to.

As Ma Griffe dries down, it's becoming even more appealing, especially for the connoisseurs of unsweet perfumes. Strong presence of vetiverol - the vetiver alcohol - gives it a very clean, tart, precioius-wood finish that men could sport with just as much confidence as ladies.

This review is for a pre-IFRA regulated version (from days of yore, when there was no requirements of listing any allergens on the ingredients list) and in the EDT formulation. It's very vintage-y, and if comparing to Miss Dior - it has more of a white floral and musky nuances to it, which remind me a bit of Chant d'Aromes. It also has more of a citrusy burst and it's more aldehydic and powdery than Miss Dior. I should get around to write a full review of it next week. One of these days I'll do a side-by-side of these three beauties, and give you a more elaborate comparison.

Top notes: Lemon, Begramot, Citronella, Galbanum, Aldehydes
Heart notes: Ylang Ylang, Jasmine, Rose, Gardenia, Clary Sage, Cinnamon, Styrax
Base notes: Vetiver, Coumarin, Oakmoss

Jolie Madame (Vintage)

The language of perfume is subtle and mysterious. Hence, finding the artist's fingerprints within their creation takes attention to detail. And the perfumer's ability to maintain their voice and still please their client, which more often than never turns out to be a particular French fashion designer.

Germaine Cellier was a beautiful, audacious and intelligent woman that went against the grain simply by choosing her profession: a chemist and a parfumeuse in a world of male perfumers. She dies the year I was born, but her name always brings a breath of fresh air to my psyche. She may have turned into dust by now, but her perfumes have the twinkle she must had in her eyes when she created them.

In 1945, she created Balmain’s first perfume, a most significant piece as it began the green floral genre: Vent Vert (green wind), and was much ahead of its time (the green florals made a big “come back” in the 70’s). Jolie Madame shares the vibrant orange blossom note that is so prominent in Vent Vert, and a deep, dry, austere oakmoss note in the base of both. This creates a beautiful connection in that collection: There is a sort of a green thread that runs through most of the Balmain fragrances, and continued on also to Ivoire, the formal yet sweet white-soap green floral from 1979.

60s ad : Jolie Madame, a Balmain perfume
But it is Jolie Madame that I would like to discuss here. The perfume which I was fortunate to experience in its vintage state on several occasions, and most recently received a sample of in a swap. Jolie Madame to me is a multi-dimensional woman: she has bright and beautifully accessible aspects that she projects outwardly, but also embraces her “shadow”, her darkness, her primal nature and wild instincts. She might be wearing a proper and demure Balmain and is soft spoken and polite, but she surely knows how to roar when she needs to protect her young. She emulates luxury and style, but she’s no stranger to hardship and will stick by her friend’s side when they need her the most. Her smile reveals milky teeth, while she sings with the voice of the forest.  She wears a double string of pearls, but she will be equally at ease wearing her enemy’s bones on her neck - so lest you forget not to mess with her.

As if to embrace the duality of women, Jolie Madame highlights olfactory dualities that I’ve always found most intriguing - as a perfumer-creator and appreciator of scents. Opening with a bright neroli paired with austere greenery of violet leaf – this duo is reminiscent of a sun-dappled forest clearing. Without the sun there will be no forest, yet it is the trees’ shade and moist darkness that provides the competitive floor for the myriad of life forms of the deep woods. These bright and light notes are further contrasted by herbaceous-sweet wormwood, giving it a slightly leathery-masculine edge right off the bat.

Then, the violets warm gradually and become an inky love letter to hunting and wild animals. As isobutyl quinoline makes its subtle appearance, it plays agains sweet violets - portrayed by the raspy-voiced, woody and dusky alpha ionone, which is reminiscent of Atlas cedar, candied violets and honey all at once.  Together with the furry, leathery-smoky isobutyl quinoline, there is an arcane mystery, like finding a big dried stain of black India ink on an old leather-bound book.

Pull the strings of this dusty library’s cobwebs off the leather covers, and you’ll find that forest yet again: this time, a salty, mushroomy, dry, green oakmoss. The very bottom of the forest floor is still brimming with life and dark nuances of  leather and indolic civet, which only later on blooms into luscious jasmine. The leather (read: castoreum note) is not as pronounced in the end as I remember it from the vintage parfum I’ve smelled at Alyssa Harad’s book launch, but it’s wonderful all the same *. While the isobutyl quinoline brings to mind Caron’s signature Mousse de Saxe accord – Jolie Madame is her own thing altogether without hardly any rose to make note of. The very last breath of Jolie Madame brings forth the dry woody aspects of patchouli and vetiver, but only ever so subtly. It is a little shorter lived than I was hoping, getting a little short on the base notes before they are fully developed.

Top notes: Artemisia, Violet Leaf, Neroli, Gardenia, Bergamot, Coriander
Heart notes: Jasmine, Orris, Violet Flower, Tuberose, Rose, Jonquil
Base notes: Oakmoss, Patchouli, Vetiver, Musk, Castoreum, Leather, Civet

*This review is of a vintage eau de toilette. I’ve smelled the parfum and it’s richer and with a better lasting power (naturally) but both are lovely and mysterious –vintage magic at its best.

Au Delà

. by mariehochhaus
., a photo by mariehochhaus on Flickr.
Au Delà ("The Beyond" in French) creates a dynamic movement of warmth and light on a backdrop of dark and cool elements.

The first inhalation is bright: notes of bergamot, linalool and neroli shed a sudden light on the skin and create a brief reference to herbaceous, lavender-tinged Provencal cologne.

Simultaneously, there is a rise of honeyed resinous amber, like warm water flowing quietly from a hot spring. Orange blossom brings even more nectar and sunshine to the heart notes. The second violin of jasmine intensifies the orange flower's indole, sinking even deeper into the edgy, earthy, salty and slightly bitter tones of green oakmoss and dry, almost smoky cedarwood.

From there on, there is a certain saltiness to Au Delà, the oakmoss relating to the amber like fleur de sel to caramel, and the amber in return echoing the sweetness and sunny warmth of orange blossom.

Au Delà defies definite categorization - aromatic, but not quite a fougere; floral, but with far more depth than a pretty floral bouquet; it is not a Chypre either in the usual sense of the word (but then Chypres are never "usual", so this might be the best way to related to it). But with the amber dominating the dry out notes - a sweet yet clear and bright amber, reminiscent of the base of Obsession - it might just be an oriental (note that Obsession has also a prominent presence of oakmoss).

Stepping back a bit, I you realize that it's only one definite personality is change itself. However, technically speaking - it might be that the dynamic shift between its phases will morph into something entirely different and more stable as the perfume matures a bit longer in the bottle. The musical influence on this creation is apparent (it was inspired by the complex rhythms and harmonies of 20th century composer Olivier Messaïen - and in particular his last piece, Éclairs sur L'Au Delà, and in particularly the movement titled Demeurer dans l'Amour, which you can hear in the clip below).

The perfume readily lends itself to adjectives borrowed from the musical and movement worlds: counterpoint, harmony, tension, rythm and flow. Movement and air seems to be the theme of Au Delà. It seems to live in the element of dry, warm air for the remainder of the piece.

Top notes: Bergamot, Neroli, Coriander
Heart notes: Orange Blossom, Jasmine
Base notes: Amber, Oakmoss

Crêpe de Chine

crepe de chine by Millie Motts
crepe de chine, a photo by Millie Motts on Flickr.
One of the legends of perfumes of yore is Crêpe de Chine, created by Millot perfumer (and the founder Félix Millot's grandson) Jean Desprez in 1925, the same year the iconic Shalimar was born. However, unlike Shalimar, Crêpe de Chine did not survive long enough to undergo the many embarassing reformulations that so many classics have faced throughout the years. No, Crêpe de Chine remained true to its original self, and coming across the bottle is akin to a private sniffing session at the Osmotheque.

I always imagined Crêpe de Chine to be a dark, mysterious, ineffable creation that I would  only admire from afar when I finally encounter him (I thought of this perfume as a very serious masculine creature, perhaps a very severe fashion designer constructing accurately flowing evening gowns from this particular fabric). Non of this turns out to be the truth about Crêpe de Chine (except that its beauty is indeed ineffable!). A vintage half-full bottle of the eau de toilette landed in my mailbox two evenings ago as part of a swap with a perfumiso from the Netherlands, and added a lot of beauty to every moment of my life since I could not stop applying and re-applying. The vintage bottle itself is also easy on the eyes (though a bit too generous with spilling out its precious jus to the sides of the spray nozzles every time I apply a spritz or too - a sure sign that bottle designs have improved in the past 50 years or so - Crêpe de Chine went off production in 1968, a few years after Millot was purchased by Revillon).

Crêpe de Chine

Nothing could have prepared me to what Crêpe de Chine would smell like. But, I didn't really need any preparation: Crêpe de Chine was one of the very rare cases of love at first sniff, with a very complex perfume. It begins with a burst of laughter, emanating from a rush of galbanum, crushed sweet basil and zesty citrus! I'm surprised these vibrant notes managed to remain in the bottle after all these years and remain true to their zestiness. Playful, cheerful, bitter-green but not intimidating or formal at all (which is often the vibe that one gets from cool, bitter greens).

Moving quickly to the heart of Crêpe de Chine, deeper notes of incense and hints of smoky leather begin to swirl around the skin, and this warmth stayed with me for hours, lingering like the remnants of an ancient ritual, omitting the charred aftermath. Sensual and reassuring, like a quiet reminder to breath in the beauty around us! The fine aroma of lingered fragrant smoke kept weaving through my aura, making me smile every time. This incense effect is achieved, I believe, from the conjunction of fine, santalol-rich East Indian Sandalwood (now extinct), aged Indonesian patchouli, the resinous-leather-incense-amber of labdanum, and musk.

Weaving through the wafts of incense, earthy and warm aromas of forest floor and sun-warmed hills bring grounding. Labdanum and oakmoss, surrounded with the spice of carnation and hints of cinnamon. Ahh... How I love the roundedness, complete mystery of Chypre! No one note truly sticks out, though I'm certain there are plenty of florals to support this very abstract structure.

Finally, we come to the drydown, or deepest base notes. Here the sweetness of earth and sunny rockroses is replaced by the bittersweetness of coumarin (could be from tonka beans, but most likely supported by the first synthetic aromachemical used in perfume history), paired by non other than clean and dry vetiver. That's a balanced duo, and a very surprising finish to a masterpiece olfactory tale with many twists and turns. At which point, you wonder if it isn't a fougere after all... And indeed, like some other reviewers of Crêpe de Chine, it is suitable for men to wear and enjoy without worrying about smelling like a bouquet of flowers or a lacy hosiery. 

Top notes: Galbanum, Basil, Fresh Aldehydes, Lemon, Bitter Orange, Bergamot
Heart notes: Carnation, Jasmine, Gardenia, Ylang Ylang, Rose, Cinnamon, Roman Chamomile
Base notes: East Indian Sandalwood, Musk, Oakmoss, Vetiver, Indonesian Patchouli, Leather/Smoky Notes, Labdanum, Musk

For other reviews of Crêpe de Chine visit:
The Non-Blonde
Now Smell This
Yesterday's Perfume

News from the nose: Fatal Fairytales and Fantastic Fragrances for Fall

With September bearing some of the warm light hearted traits of summer and November being the frigid prelude to winter, ominous October is at the chilly heart of Autumn. This time of year evokes images of harvested sun-ripened fruits and vegetables, carved pumpkins, skeleton-leaves and barren trees.
In light of October’s festivities of transformation and harvest, we have found ourselves captivated by a few haunting stories and legends. The beautiful aspect of story-telling, is that whether the stories are fact of fiction, they capture some of the most relatable, fearful, tragic and joyous aspects of life.
We have selected perfumes that capture the mystical optimism as well as fatal darkness of these legends, many of which are centuries old. Whether you choose to embrace or eschew this fantasy-soaked month, we encourage you to immerse yourself in a beautifully written book, doused in a complex perfume that unfolds on the skin like a story, defying logic or reason while tapping into the deepest corners of your soul.

1. Sleeping Beauty - Treazon

Unlike the 1959 animated movie by Walt Disney, the original fairytale of Sleeping Beauty is by no means a lighthearted story. A dark tale written in the 16th century, the story centers on a young beautiful maiden, cursed to sleep forever until she is kissed by her loving man (spiritually interpreted as the awakening of her animus). Treazon, a perfume that celebrates the narcotic tuberose flowers, captures Sleeping Beauty’s underlying theme of corrupted innocence.

2. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde - Schizm

 Written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886, the sinister tale of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has mesmerized and horrified readers since it was brought to print. By day Dr. Jekyll is an appraised doctor and by night he is the sinister, murderous Edward Hyde, the line between his true self and alter ego (or “shadow”) gradually becoming more blurry. The classic story of good versus evil is haunting and unsettling because it represents the battle between lightness and darkness that we each carry inside of us. Schizm pays tribute to this universal theme of internal conflict and contradiction. The fragrance opens as a green, dry and earthy fragrance, cool and crisp as the day time. As the scent warms with the heat of one’s skin, the fragrance transforms into a warm, spicy and slightly carnal oriental perfume, as rich and unyielding as the night.

3. Bluebeard – Orcas Beard Oil

The tale of Bluebeard is one of the most terrifying we’ve ever encountered, of a serial-killer husband whose slain wives are discovered in his basement by his young bride. Once the truth comes out, she no longer can live in denial of the predator she picked for a mate. Not only does she cease to believe in the charm of her blue-bearded companion – she needs to fight for her life. However, most deeply speaking, this sinister discovery led to the awakening of her deep, active soul-force and she is able to not only defeat him, but also emerge as a strong woman out of her naive mistake. Orcas Beard Oil is for the bearded gentlemen and ladies among us, and is as cool as the ocean and refreshing as the breeze. You can wear it as a beard or hair perfume, and use it to style your locks.

4. Hansel & Gretl – Black Licorice

Like so many fairy-tales, this childhood favorite combines quintessentially innocent elements of childhood with dark themes of murder, cannibalism, and witchcraft. Playing tribute to the classic treat of the same name, Black Licorice brings to mind dreams of candy houses, ghouls and shadowy nights spent trick-or-treating.  

5. Cinderella - The Purple Dress

The Purple Dress is exotic and enigmatic, evoking images of an elusive yet vibrant woman who comes alive at night but cannot be found in the day. Star anise, black tea, orange juice, honey absolute, orange blossom, and champaca rest on a bed of sandalwood, nutmeg and guiacwood. This fragrance has a duskier mood, yet shimmers with romance and fantasy.

6. Dracula – Incense & Chocolate

 With smoky notes of frankincense, tobacco and myrrh combining with rich, sensual dark chocolate, Incense & Chocolate one-of-a-kind fragrance embodies the cruel yet sultry spirit of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula as he cursed Christ in a candle-lit, incense-choked church. Truly a signature perfume, the customer that purchases this fragrance also purchases the rights to exclusivity ensuring that this fragrance would only ever be made for them (and those they choose to bite…). Precious notes of olibanum, labdanum, cardamom, and champaca celebrate the coming together of the physical and spiritual realms through the ancient rituals of drinking hot chocolate and burning incense.

7. Jack the Ripper – Espionage

Smoky dim-lit bars and foggy alleys are the settings for many horror stories and murder mysteries. The mysterious unnamed men of the night have always ignited fear into the minds of those who appreciate a good murder story. Espionage's smoky tobacco, leather, vanilla, orris root and tonka bean encapsulate the smell of scotch and cigar smoke that would fill a hidden, alley-way bar at the darkest hour of night.

8. Alice in Wonderland – White Potion

 Louis Carroll’s eccentric story of a young girl who falls down a rabbit hole into an alternate, hyperbole universe is at once optimistic and ominous. The fantasy of the story and of Alice drinking a potion to fit through a tiny door into Wonderland at the beginning of the story is frightening yet captivating in that she is able to experience this strange new land from many different perspectives and is free to do so without the limitations of normal life. An ethereal floriental, White Potion, with notes of tuberose, coconut, tonka bean, ylang-ylang and grapefruit captures the sweet naiveté of Alice as well as the exotic strangeness of Wonderland. We encourage you to try our White Potion chocolate bar – a bite from which might make you bigger or smaller at will. Creamy and decadent white chocolate that is subtly scented with tuberose and embedded with vanilla seeds, almonds and shredded coconut, it is a treat that you will truly never forget – and can even share with children, as it is our mildest of all 4 fragrant bars we’ve created with CocoaNymph.

9. Snow White - InCarnation

Spicy, fiery and unusual, InCarnation is a soliflore tribute to the rich aroma of carnations. Carnations are a flower with many different olfactory facets: green, spicy, creamy, sweet, cool and warm. The ever-changing, slightly carnal scent of this flower is true to the name of this perfume which describes anything that is in the flesh, incarnate. Reincarnation describes the process of one passing and then being born again as a new being, a theme that is present in many legends and fairytales and is predominant in the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Snow White was blessed by her mother to contain the three spiritual colours: white as snow (purity and selflessness), red as blood (passion and zest for life), and black as wood (shadow, the dark side of the psyche). However, Snow White chooses to lead a one-dimensional life “white” life which leads to her fatal death by the red poisoned apple – only to later resurrect as a stronger, more complete person that  musters the courage kill the evil queen. InCarnation perfume features all three colours – white intoxicating tuberose, firey red carnation and warm spices, and black and animalic African stone tincture.

10. La Morte Amoureuse – Dreaming Parallel

Dreaming Parallel is a fragrance inspired by the short story "La Morte Amoureuse” that was written by Théophile Gautier and published in La Chronique de Paris in 1836. This tale takes place in France and is about Romuald, a priest that falls deeply in love with a young woman named Clarimonde who is revealed to be a vampire. The nuances of lust, temptation and evil only succeed at making the love story within “La Morte Amoureuse” more inebriating and powerful. As human beings we yearn for love and security yet we also long for adventure and for this reason, forbidden romance stories with elements of danger never fail to mesmerize audiences. Dreaming Parallel’s sophisticated combination of cassie, costus root, ancient patchouli, leather, narcissus, Turkish rose, violet leaf along with naturally-sourced sweet violet notes of alpha ionone play homage to this dark tale of corruption, seduction and forbidden love. This is a very limited edition and we've only got 3 last bottles remaining.

Wishing you a wonderful harvest season and October festivities!

Ayala & Alicia

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