12 x Roses

In the last few months, I find myself constantly reaching for roses. Be it fresh, simple rosy body products, rice milk pudding with rosewater and orange flower water (otherwise known as malabi), rose chai, or full-blown romantic and mysterious rosy perfumes - I'm there. And with Valentine's Day a mere couple of month away when all this rose obsession took possession of me - I've decided to invite a few of my perfume blogging friends over for a big, rosy blogfest!

1. Parfum Sacré was the first Caron that I fell for. And hard did I fall. It stroke a deep chord with me, the way only really great perfume can do. That feeling of familiarity and magic; a lost memory not only being retrieved but being re-lived. In this case, my first perfume of all times, coinsiding with my first true love: Abishag (made by the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem, and shortly after its introduction was discontinued). Parfum Sacré  got nothing in common with the latter's green top notes, but a very similar base and dry down. It's surprising that something so luxurious came out of a very sparse period as the 1990's. It has all the characteristics of days of yore, when no one ever suspected that musk ketone might someday become illegal...

2. Nuit de Noel, also by Caron (but from a much earlier period when its founding perfumer was still alive) has all the makings of a great love story: beautiful pitch-black bottle, the enigmatic Mousse de Saxe accord which relied on isobutyl quinoline - one of the very first man-invented synthetics (aka: not naturally occurring); and more importantly: the innovation and genius of Ernest Daltroff coupled with the love of his life, Félicie Vanpouille, whose fondness of Christmas Eve is told to be the inspiration for this perfume. But what I find most inspiring is how dedicated was this couple (who never married, despite Daltroff's repeated proposals) to the art of modern perfumery in the West, which they pioneered. From the perfume design itself, where Daltroff incorporated bold, uncommon, innovative, and often difficult to work with raw materials - to the bottle and box design - these two worked together to create what I feel was authentic multi-media pieces of art. Nuit de noel is one rose that will I will always keep in its ink bottle on my desk: If I were to ever write a love letter this would be my ink.

3. Tocade
 by Maurice Roucel for Rochas is a flirty, easy to wear but not as easy to forget scent. The delicacy of roses is played up here with notes of magnolia (Roucel's signature note, reappearing in many of his creations). It has such a distinct, recognizable character that is the definition of a good perfume. And it's one of the first linear compositions, abandoning the serious evolution from top to base through heart for a structure that is more in line with the fast paced modern lifestyle; yet without compromising innovation and originality. There's a lot to learn from Tocade!

4. Agent Provocateur was one of those intriguing scents - a little too much of everything. Yet somehow it just works: saffron, rose and musk - all in large doses, and although this might sound "oriental" or even with an Arabian theme - the result if one of the early Pink Chypres, also known as the hard-to-believe phenomenon "The Moss Who Wasn't There". Well, while I find such a notion to be sacrilege - perfumes such as Agent Provocateur, that do it well, do deserve respect. The musk teams up with dry, woodsy vetiver and sweaty coriander to create a bombshell, Femme Fatale fragrance that  should be reserved for special occasions (example: blogging about Valentine's Day perfumes, or something more risque if you live outside the computer).

5. Kashmir Rose Whipped Body Butter by Velvet & Sweet Pea’s Purrfumery is just like they say - you have to feel it to believe it. It's like dessert for your skin. And with only the best things on earth: virgin coconut oil, cocoa and shea butters, and, of course - pure rose essence from Kashmir. Just goes to show you that mother nature does not need a lot of help to be amazing and nourishing.

6. Bedouin by Persephenie is a simple, elegant, pure rose - with a twist. But of course! Otherwise I wouldn't love it so much. And that twist is cardamom, and botanical musk from ambrette seeds. Bedouin smells luscious, fruity almost, distinctively rosy yet not nearly as boring or sharp as so many rose soliflores tend to be. "Not your garden variety", as they say...  Another great example for how simpler feels more luxurious.

7. Royal Couple candle Gabriel’s Aunt is as good as it gets. And it's true, it's not all roses - there's jasmine too! Nevertheless, when it comes to candles, this is about as rosy as you can find. And like everything that Nikki Sherritt makes - it's all natural, and made with love. If someone were to turn Joy into a candle, this is how it would have smelled.

8. Rose Bohème by Providence Perfume Co. improves on the theme of spicy rose patchouli oriental to the point that it's really hard to say anything more than that. The key here is not just using top quality naturals (we already know that's important, right?) - but also the balancing act of making fussy notes such as rose yield to the uncompromising personality of patchouli. And to make this balancing performance even more impressive - there is also exotic saffron and stubborn cloves. Classic spicy oriental at its best.

9. Rose Paka by Persephenie is hands down the best face cream imaginable. And I say so not just because Persephenie is my friend - but because I am very picky when it comes to any products that go on my face. And they most preferably would smell of roses. Rose Paka isn't just wonderfully rosy, and redolent of white chocolate (blame it on the cocoa butter) - but it also is nourishing without being greasy; fast absorbing without being useless. I rarely re-purchase creams, as I usually find one flaw or another in them, and easily develop sensitivities around my eye areas. But this is an exception. And what's even better - it doubles as a body moisturizer, which makes travel easier!

10. I did not expect to like Rosewater & Vanilla by Jo Malone. Nor did I expect for it to remind me of anything I'm familiar with. And definitely not to smell Middle Eastern. But it did remind me of malabi - that sickening, chilled dessert that is served with red grenadine syrup. But it made it smell all nostalgic, and actually very pretty. It's nice to discover new loves from time to time. And this is the only one in the "Cologne Intense" series that did not smell like it's trying too hard to smell "niche".

11. Ta'if by Ormonde Jayne
 is a Middle Eastern fantasy from a British perspective. And like all things good and British, it somehow involves floral prints - or gardens. In this case, the noble petals are embroidered with spice and desert fruit: saffron, pink pepper and dates. Somehow along the way - after you hit the drydown, you realize it's a happy medium between Parfum Sacré's spiciness and Tocade's powdery musky sweetness.

12. Qajar Rose by Parfums Lalun gets a notable mention for authenticity in a world that seems to have a lot of wannabes. Perfumer Maggie Mahboubian was born in Iran, and she sourced Persian roses to include in this lovely, mysterious spicy perfume, alongside saffron, cacao, coffee and wine-like fruity notes of pomegranate, strawberry furanone, davana and geranium. Parfums Lalun is an intriguing new line, inspired by Maggie Mahboubian's passion for creating her own natural beauty and cosmetic products - a tradition that was alive in Iran when she was growing up. I hope she continues to do what she does and inspires other women to live beautifully!

Now, I was going to share with you my new recipe for rosewater buttercream sandwich cookies which I served at my Broken Hearts Tea Party (aka my 4th Annual Valentine's Day Afternoon Tea); but I've already picked my dozen roses, so this will have to wait for another post, tomorrow. In the meantime, please scroll over to my perfume blogger friends, and get more rosy inspiration - and don't forget to leave comments with your favourite roses!

All I Am A Red Head
Katie Puckrik Smells
The Non Blonde
Perfume Shrine
Roxana Illuminated Perfume
Scent Hive

Narcisse Noir

black narcissus 8-366 by sedgwic
black narcissus 8-366, a photo by sedgwic on Flickr.
Narcisse Noir is a smoldering femme fatale. Once you succumbed to as much as a single dab on the wrist, you’re in for a big voice declaring unrecruited love with flamboyant stare of black-countered eyes and dramatic uttering of painted lips.

It takes about half an hour of full-on flowery menace, prowling orange blossom and high-pitched tuberose. Painted in oily strokes full of powder and grapey bittersweet salicilates redolent of old rouge compact, vintage lipstick and perfume-stained satin intimates that smell like peering between the sheets of a turn-of-the-century’s escort. But beyond all the dirty scandals and high-maintenance drama lies a surprising secret and her even more dangerous side...

Once the rather sickening flowers dissipate, Narcisse Noir becomes the code name of a World War I spy mistress. She lures the enemy into her bed, and the moment they are charmed by her chalky whispers and softened by her velvety gown – she flips around and becomes the master of torture in patent leather attire, with spurs in her heels that fill the dusty boudoir with incense smoke, cigarette butts and a mysterious, inexplicable animalic presence that is somewhere between a cat and lion. And on the not so rare occasion when her victim becomes aware of her betrayal, she will escape the gunshots with the nostril-pinching scent of burnt rubber tires, leaving long skid marks and an even longer trail of enigma.

Top notes: Bergamot, Petitrgarin, Lemon
Heart notes: Orange blossom, Tuberose, Jonquil, Jasmine, Rose
Base notes: Leather, Musk, Vetiver, Civet, Sandalwood

Narcisse Noir is an iconic scent, created in 1911 by Ernest Daltroff (Caron's founding perfumer). The Art-Nuveau bottle is just as legendary as the scent itself, with its squat jar reminiscent of ink vessle, and a black carved glass stopper with a flower motif of the "black narcissus". Legends could be told (or made up) about such flower, and the familiarity of it as well as the mystery and intrigue came well before "Noir" was so fashionable... Narcisse Noir is the kind of perfume that inspires intrigue, writing, and perhaps even films. It's not a perfume I often reach for, yet I don't think it will ever leave my collection. 

As an aside note: I've heard mentioned time and over again, that Narcisse Noir or Black Narcissus is mentioned by Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard". This is the only reference I had confirmed from the film that refers to a scent - tuberose, to be exact: "She'd smell of tuberoses, which is not my favorite perfume, not by a long shot" (filmsite). This could be Narcisse Noir or could be from any number of other tuberose-laden scents of the era. And I won't be surprised if Gloria Swanson was overdosing on that perfume before that scene to get an authentic reaction from William Holden.

Which reminds me of another eccentric theatrical character of similar overbearing presence. Neither ladies might have worn Narcisse Noir; but they sure have the same super-imposing personalities of the perfume. It takes a long time to warm up to them - once you've discovered their volnurability; or in the perfume's case - it's leathery, deep and non-floral aspect.

Pois de Senteur

Sweet Pea, originally uploaded by Jennie Anderson.

Pois de Senteur de Chez Moi (1927) has the attitude of a bygone era, when perfumers tried to capture the scents of impossible-to-extract bouquets of flowers. There is nothing light or cheerful about these sweet peas: they are so self-absorbed in their seriousness that they literally smell like they’ve been rotting in their own green leaves for a while once first inhaled.

Green hay note is dominant at first, alongside powdery and sweet-cloying notes that bring to mind old scented lipsticks and face powders from the 40’s, and flowery linden and lilac milled soaps. Like most Caron’s perfumes, it takes some time to unravel the density of what smells like an aldehyde boosted sweet pea absolute (if such thing was to be found). A spicy cinnamon-and-bay-rum note attempts to rise above the bouquet without much success, and only once the hay and aldehydes subside, the almond-and-vanilla of heliotropin nearly take over with very little floral bouquet or greens left. It is similar to Farnesiana but not at all a comfort scent, but a rather uncomfortable and complicated floral bouquet past its prime. Hours later, the orange blossom is revealed, but more as an aspect of heliotrope flower rather than on its own.

Notes include: Sweet pea, rose, hyacinth, bay rum, jasmine, orange blossom, linden, lilac, hay, vanilla, heliotropin, musk.

Haunting Dreams of Aviation

These nights, I’m haunted by dreams of aviation. Flying small primitive aircrafts of not-particularly functional structure; descending overtop clouds, green lands and fields of ice stretch beneath me; arriving at unknown continents in unpredictable timing.

In the days when aviation was used mostly as a method of combat and breaking human records, the metallic frame of an aircraft symbolized not a commodity but an experiment on breaking the bounds of the human body and descending into the future. The destination to which the airplane arrived at was less important than the airpath itself. Clouds, winds and painful, misty frosted death were all obstacles that could be felt through the bones rather than speculated by the faint of heart at the leisure of the passenger cabin…

Perhaps this is what brought me to pull out the sample of En Avion I had buried for quite some time. I have never quite given it a try for a prolonged period of time. Perhaps it is my love affair with Vol de Nuit that prevented me to really experience En Avion until now. It’s as if there is room only for one aviation perfume at a time.
There is something particularly fascinating about female aviators – take mankind’s artificial abilitly to fly, independence and femininity and put them together on the horizon where a great ocean meets the even vaster skies… That is where magic and mystery prevails. Add to that the interesting life stories and achievements of women aviators such as Adrienne Bolland (1896-1975), the first woman to fly over the Andes; Hélène Boucher (1908-1934), a pioneer French aviator who broke several records including altitude and speed and was one of the first women to perform aerobatics; and Maryse Bastié (1898-1952), the first female aviator to cross the Atlantic ocean in a solo flight. There are many honours after her name

And of course there is the mythological Amelia Earhart (1897-1837), the first woman to fly across the Atlantic in 1928 (and the second to fly it solor after Maryse Bastie), and who disappeared in her flight above the Atlantic but despite her many other accomplishments as a aviatrice, she’s most famous for her mysterious disappearance towards the end of her flight around the world. She disappeared somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, between Lae, New Guinea and Howland Island – the destination Amelia never reached. Of course, this lead to many conspiracy theories, most of which rely on a firm belief that Amelia was in fact a spy, who’s disappearance was either staged by Roosevalt’s administration as to not jeopardize her operation; or, alternatively, was in fact caught by the Japanese while on her espionage mission.

And last but not least, my classmate from high school, who played the accordion and the piano, the beautiful Anat Kalechman, the talleset, shyest and longest-haried tomboy I’ve ever met. She lost her father (a combating pilot in the IDF), and felt compelled to follow his footsteps and become one of the first few young women to train for flying a combat jet plane in the military, and along with 4 other female comrades of that year - defy the many stereotypes about the abilities of women to function in battle. Rather than cutting her career as a pilot short because of sudden death during training, Anat exit combat airforce was through the gate of the most lively dramas of them all – she fell in love with another pilot and got married; an act that many real-life Diana-like goddesses fall for at one point or the other... Instead, Roni Zuckerman has become the first Israeli female fighter pilot in 2001…

So what’s with that and perfume you ask? Well, in the first decades of aviation, when we were all blinded by the glare of heroism and miraculous ascent of human spirit above the clouds, defying gravity and other enemies – aviation has inspired art – including books (Antoine de Saint Exupéry, an aviator, spy and an author, has written several books inspired by the topic). And lastly there are two grand perfumes inspired by aviation – En Avion (Ernest Daltroff, 1932), dedicated to the pioneer female aviators mentioned above – Bolland, Boucher and Bastié; and the infamous Vol de Nuit (Jacques Guerlain, 1933), inspired by the book of the same name by the abovementioned aviator-author, which I have already reviewed on this humble blog.

En Avion opens dark, like all Caron extraits, and with a certain bittersweetness that does remind me somewhat of Vol de Nuit (though I have to admit, the only reason I compare the two is because of their common theme). While Vol de Nuit is green and sharp, herbaceous at first – En Avion starts off more spicy and floral. Carnation is apparent immediately, but so is orange flower, which smells like an echo of l’Heure Bleue with pilot-hat and goggles… Although Vol de Nuit has the signature powderiness from the classic Guerlinade and iris notes engrained within its structure; En Avion takes powderiness nearly into central stage, and in a far softer and lady-like olfactory context: rose, lilac and violet, and underlined with powdery opoponaxs which almost instantly bring to mind the scent of vintage face powder. As for the base of En Avion, it is redolent of Atlas cedarwood with its suave, polished olfactory-texture, a bittersweetness of tonka bean (again, a reminder of of Vol de Nuit; but let’s not forget that En Avion preceded Vol de Nuit’s launch by a year…). There is, however, a subtle presence of burnished leather at the base, however it is not as animalic or leathery as other Caron creations (i.e.: Narcisse Noir, Tabac Blond), it is almost as soft as suede… If Vol de Nuit is a wild, ambitious woman with restrained emotions and top-notch professionalism; En Avion is not any less ambitious woman that secretly displays her femininity even when boarding an airplane for what might be her last flight ever… Underneath the pilot jumper, she is still wearing silk stockings and laced lingerie.

Perhaps En Avion is a bit like Mml. Boucher, who interestingly enough, started her career as a dressmaker, which led to her designing leather gear and accessories for pilots; she than became so fascinated with flying she felt compelled to pursue this dangerous field. I wonder if she was the kind of lady who would take her maquillage with her to the aircraft to get all perked up before performing her aerobatics…

According to Perfume Addicts database, the notes of En Avion include:

Top notes: Rose, Neroli, Spicy Orange

Heart notes: Jasmine, Carnation, Lilac, Violet
Base notes: Opoponax, Amber, Musk, Wood

To that I would add that in the top notes I can smell orange blossom rather than neroli (there is a different between the two!), I can't say I'm particularly smelling orange (there is a citrusy freshness, but it is well hidden with all the additional dense notes); and there is definitely a dry allspice note weaved in, as well as cloves and perhaps even a hint of nutmeg. While I can't say I smell much of the lilac (I would have to go back to it once I'm fully recovered from my cold though...), violet and rose have a strong presence, and so is the carnation. The base is neither particularly musky nor ambery; but there is certainly the animalic powderiness of opoponax weaved into a dry tobacco-leather base that might include castoerum, and the woods in question are the beautiful Moroccan cedarwood from the Atlas mountains.

To read another review of En Avion, visit Perfume Smellin’ Things

Nuit de Noël

Of all perfumes, that one that reminds me most of a Northern Christmas isn’t actually Nuit de Noël, but Parfum Sacre. The olfactory connection of Nuit de Noël to Christmas did not reveal itself to me until few days ago. It suddenly dawned on me: Plum pudding and ink!

Nuit de Noël bears the mark of many of the Caron perfumes created by Ernest Daltroff: density, complexity and a vast mystery which is reflected in the seamless connection between the notes. It is not easy to dissect the notes from one another, not to mention categorizing the perfumes.

The dryness of cedar wood is evident at the start, and roses unfold from beneath a dark dress. There is a certain dustiness to it all, as if the perfume was collecting dust for a year before being noticed again. But now that it did, time and age has only improved it. Powderiness is not absent, and in some regards, this perfume is akin to N’Aimez Que Moi in darkness, density and the thread of rose and powder. But what gives Nuit de Noël its distinct character and its important place in the Caron family is Mousse de Saxe.

Apparently, Mousse de saxe accord is what gives many of the Caron scents their dark undercurrent. It is said to include geranium, licorice, leather, iodine and vanillin. In Nuit de Noël, this accord is used in higher proportion to the rest of the composition, making it quite memorable even among the many rose perfumes of its era (not to mention only those from the house of Caron).

Sharing similarities with other powerhouse perfumes, Nuit de Noël is at once rosy, leathery, powdery and sweet. It reminds me of a less sweet, less in-your-face Habanita, a more leathery sister to N’Aimez Que Moi, and an inspiration to daring, feminine yet unsweet rare appearances of present day, such as Agent Provocateur, and even the dry down of Opium Fleur de Shanghai.

The flacon of Nuit de Noël is made of black crystal glass, and looks like a cross between an ink bottle and a hip-flask, adorned with a Charleston-style gold headband. It was said that Nuit de Noël was made for Daltroff’s lover, who loved Christmas. Somehow, I can only envision a very lonely winter night, with Charleston-music playing in a gramophone, and many glasses of red wine and whisky being used up until that lover finally shows up, hours after the family Christmas dinner is over.

While the connection of plum pudding to Christmas is quite obvious, that of ink isn’t. In any case, use Nuit de Noël as an ink for expressing your innermost feelings only when the time is ripe. Otherwise you may need to be dancing more than just one round of Charleston.

Notes: Cedarwood, Rose, Orris, Mousse de Saxe accord (Oakmoss, Licorice, Myrrh, Cedar moss), Vetiver, Sandalwood, Castoreum

*Nuit de Noel poster courtesy of Fashion Era

Other reviews of Nuit de Noël:
LegerdenezBois de JasminMore about the history of Caron

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