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?

Strolling in the Forest with Laurie and Lisa

Oaks by Bald Mountain

After a very eventful weekend, it was a special treat that Lisa has agreed to take a little road trip to Sonoma County to visit Laurie Erickson at her Sonoma Scent Studio. We were also hoping to sneak in a visit at Eden Botanicals, who recently moved to Petaluma (more about that in the next post).

The drive to Sonoma is scenic and picturesque. After crossing the bay's lengthy bridge, the hillsides in the summertime are all the colour of pale gold and look like a paint horse with big splashes of dark green oaks (the winter gives the exact opposite: dormant oaks, which are covered in parasitic moss, and green-grass-covered hills.

We ended up arriving to the county a bit to early, and it was lunch time, so thanks to my bad memory (Graton and Guerneville both start with a "G") we ended up in the wrong place after a very nice drive in the quite freeway along Russian River. And than, of course, we arrived a bit later than we hoped.

Climbing up Chalk Hill Road towards Laurie Erickson's Healdsburg studio, the country road is dappled with the generous shade of ancient oaks, and deer is not a rare sight (and they eat everything that Laurie and her parents try to grow - unless it's protected with a fence). Laurie's beautiful cottage is surrounded by a lovely garden with fragrant roses and violets, and is overlooking Chalk Hill Winery's vineyards, which were now completely covered in luscious green leaves (my first visit with her was in the spring, when they were still barren).

Forest Walk (Sonoma Scent Studio)
It was there in Laurie's own living room that I experienced Forest Walk for the first time. It immediately struck a familiar chord, and it took me a few minutes to realize that it was just like the scent that emerges from certain spots in Stanley Park in late summer and early fall. The same warmth and sweet dryness of cedar and moss, plus a funky wet earth note that is reminiscent of the dark, musty scent of earth awakening from frost in spring time.

The funky wet-earth scent is very much owing to a synthetic molecule (whose name I failed to ask Laurie about, and is probably top secret) that you could easily recognize as the only thing in Demeter's "Dirt". It's also in Neil Morris' Dark Earth, but not nearly as much of it in Forest Walk - just enough to give it a realistic wet earth and a bit wild edge.

Forest Walk unfolds with many phases, always revealing a different aspect of the forest: a branch there, a leaf there, and oh - have you noticed this patch of wild violets over there? It's like a walk in a warm, needle-covered forest in summer (except, perhaps, for the violet patch), with oak trees and hanging moss adding a dry, tannin quality.

As the perfume develops on the skin further, the strange wet earth note dissipates, the Western red cedar softens and shifts to the background, and give way to deeper, earthier notes of many natural essences that I'm not only familiar with but also extremely fond of: labdanum and oakmoss with their brown, comforting warmth; black hemlock absolute (which I smelled at Laurie's studio for the first time - it's similar to pine needle absolute, less sweet and more dry-woody conifer absolute - where as fir (which is also present in this composition) takes on an extremely sweet, jam-like character. Other woodsy notes also add mystery and lasting power: New Caledonian sandalwood, aged Indian patchouli.

The labdanum intensifies over time on my skin, giving a rich ambery foundation to the rather rustic experience of hiking in the forest on a hot summer day and collecting needles in your hair and clothing after sitting down in a forest clearing to relax a bit, skin all salty and warm from the mild excursion.

The final dryout is woody yet smooth on my skin, with ambery-resinous notes amplifying (which is to be expected on my skin, it tends to make the sweeter notes grow), and only bare hints of sandalwood and patchouli. Interestingly, on Lisa's skin, the dry woodsy notes, including the red cedar, were far more apparent, and the "wet earth" facet lasted for far longer period of time. A living proof for the mysteries of differences between skin-chemistry.

When wearing it again for the 3rd time, and dousing it generously, an initial herbaceous note grabs my attention - is is sage, rosemary, or simply the herbaceous cineole from the needles? It might even be both. The jasmine sambac makes a glimpse of an appearance, though it's not exactly there as an identified note, but rather a clearing between the lush leafy tree tops that allows the light to shine through. And there is also the cool, clean, sweet yet tart note of vetiver in there that I haven't noticed before, and which adds a precious-woods aroma yet without ever touching a tree with an axe (vetiver oil comes from the roots of a tropical grass related to lemongrass).

Like all of Laurie's creations, Forest Walk radiates warmth, depth, complexity and is very multilayered. It is about 50% or even more natural, which really gives it the aesthetic of turn of the century perfumes, which were only accentuated with synthetics for special effects (as opposed to cost-reduction, which is the main force behind most of what you smell nowadays). But it also stands out among all the collection of very fine perfumes for its unique storytelling, and also feels a lot less dense and floral than most.

Top notes: Wet Earth Notes, Western Red Cedar, Rosemary
Heart notes: Violet, Orris, Jasmine Sambac, Vetiver
Base notes: Black Hemlock Absolute, Fir Absolute, Patchouli, Labdanum, Benzoin, Galbanum, Sandalwood (New Caledonia)

Read other reviews of Forest Walk:
Mark's Review on Cafleurebon
Ida's Review on Fragrantica
Gaia's Review on The Non-Blonde

And for those of you dying to try it, I'm giving away a sample of Forest Walk as part of the package that's going on to this week's Monkey Monday winner. So don't forget to make a guess before tomorrow at noon about my smelly commute!
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