Cinnamon Skies

Maupiti Sunrise by SF Brit
Maupiti Sunrise, a photo by SF Brit on Flickr.

Sous le Vent literally means "under the wind", and refers to Îles Sous-le-vent - aka Society Islands or Leeward Islands in French Polynesia. While the agriculture of the island mostly consists of coconuts and vanilla beans; the perfume brings a whiff of cinnamon wind - that I would imagine would come off the Spice Islands combined with a good whiff of good old island of Cyprus - complete with the garrigue scent of Mediterranean hills covered in warm rockrose bushes.

Sous le Vent was created in 1933, and is an angular and rather masculine Chypre. First off, you will smell aromatic notes of lavender and juniper berry. There is some citrusy notes - lemon and also a strong presence of geraniol - could there be geranium in there? The labdanum comes through right away: warm, round, enveloping in contrast to these brisk sharp notes. Rose blooms on the skin, accompanied by the spiciness of cinnamon and carnatnion, and luscious, fruity jasmine which adds space and and a sense of expansion. Like most Guerlain's scents, there is also a hint of iris notes here - but there is no melancholy to speak of: it's more of a sweet, rounded addition reminiscent of violets more than the austere root, as it is paired with the quirky little dragon - tarragon. The flowers and spices together make it smell like suede leather and apricot skin.

There is a recognizable dose of coumarin in there too - perhaps from the classic guerlinade accord (tonka, iris, vanilla); but also from the lavender. The coumarin in conjuction with the lavender gives it a masculine, fougere-like quality. As Sous le Vent dries down, it leaves behind it a rather dry, almost bitter trail of woods and moss - green oakmoss, in a very sheer presence that is due to the removal of atranol (all recent oakmoss absolutes are treated that way - which makes it impossible to have that full-bodied, nearly ambery wine-barrel personality that oakmoss used to have.

Sous le Vent is very natural smelling - so much so that I was shocked when I smelled it at first because it reminded me of Democracy - almost to a T. Although it is very likely to have been altered or reformulated when it was re-introduced several years ago as a boutique exclusive; it has a very sheer, modern feel that was ahead of its time (1933) - one might arguably think the nose behind it is a later perfumer - Edmond Roudnitska - whose signature was that expansive, sheer, light quality all the while maintaining a high level of sophistication and complexity - as opposed to Guerlain's multi-layered baroque style.

I purchased my bottle at the Guerlain boutique on Champs Elysees, and to my dismay, I found out the bottle completely cracked on the flight home - but discovered just in time to transfer all the precious jus to a Boston round lab bottle (not nearly as pretty...) so I still have 100ml of it to enjoy for years to come (and share from time to time...). The box mentioned something about it being inspired by Josephine Baker (also the muse for Bois des Iles). Definitely a departure from today's "celebrity scents": it seems to bring forth more of her inner self; rather than the exotic fantasy image around her professional persona. Very fascinating, especially considering how masculine it smells. I can definitely imagine her as being a true free spirit, that could not care less if her scent is perceived as belonging to a different gender. It smells fantastic, and that's all that matters!

Top notes: Juniper, Lemon, Bergamot, Tarragon, Lavender

Heart notes: Rose, Geranium, Jasmine, Orris Root, Carnation, Cinnamon

Base notes: Labdanum, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Tonka Bean

Terracotta Eau Sous le Vent

In recent years, I've developed a taste for little summery body sprays that may not really stand as a perfume on their own right. I must not be the only one, since these become more and more popular it seems, judging by the introduction of new ones every spring.

Terracotta Eau Sous le Vent is what my dream beach-vacation scent smells like. The gardenia and coconut creaminess of Monoi de Tahiti paired with the sweetness of a fresh juicy mango dripping down my elbows as I watch the sunset. It's an ideal beach holiday. For me, anyway: sand, sun, tropical fruit and a scent to match. I took it with me to the French Riviere just in case I find time to go to the beach after school and indeed I was fortunate enough. On Friday, my very last day, I headed to Cannes equipped with this beautiful bottle in my beach bag, a large straw hat and a bikini. I sprayed it on and watched the sunset and the fancy cruise ships and yachts pass by, leaving the red-carpet and paparazzi crowds of the 62me Film Festival behind, and not waiting long enough for the Cinéma de la Plage to start.

And just an aside: Unlike Azuree de Soleil (now called Bronze Goddess) isn't even oily so it's really easy to wear. I'm not sure about its moisturizing or tanning properties. I just love the smell of it.

My First Day in Paris

I arrived in Paris late on a gray morning and on the way from the airport was able to view the many chestnuts in blossom while experiencing some Parisian morning traffic jams. The apartment I’m staying is close to everything (walking distance from the Champs Elysees for one thing) is quite old and has very steep swirling staircase leading to it. There I met my boyfriend and his sister and we spent the entire day together.

After spending a couple of hours recovering from the longish trip and its various side effects (via Montreal – over all about 11-12 hours flight), which included eating fresh strawberries from the market and some baguette and trying to taste a ripened cheese with a sharp taste of cooked cauliflower, we left the apartment for the first little tour of Paris on the Champs Elysees. Our first stop was Sephora, a very short stop that is because the entrance was infested by what I could only describe as petroleum fumes. I had to leave before getting an idea of what’s in the store, but I did notice it was gigantic – almost like an entire mall of perfume and makeup! – and that there is some lighter version of KenzoAmour already out in France, that comes in a beautiful white bottle with gradually transparent edges. I left as soon as possible and immediately spotted Guerlain, which is almost the next door neighbour but decided to cross the street and have some tea at Laduree so I can recover some of my strength before the strenuous mental activity of perfume sniffing…

Laduree had the nicest muted turquoise-green entrance in a somewhat art-deco style with a butterly motif and purple accents. We sat at the bar at the back and had some of Laduree’s house-blend tea (very fragrant with roses and violets I suspect), and accompanied by some of their newest macaroons – mango & jasmine, muguet, bergamot and the violet-cassis ones. The mango and jasmine was mostly mango, with the slightest hint of jasmine and quite delicious with an almost jelly-like texture of the mango filling; the muguet tasted primarily of almonds, the bergamot was intense and impressive and the violet-cassis was a heavenly balance of floral sweetness and tart red fruits.
On the way to Laduree we spotted an Arabian Oud boutique and now was a good time to check it out. I smelled 5 types of oudh – two Indian and 3 Cambodian ouds, ranging from light and woody to smoky and animalic. My favourite was one mild Indian oudh and also another more smoky Cambodian oud. This is the first place I’ve seen that actually sells real oud as well as the oud wood chips. The shop owner was kind and knowledgeable and even let me take picture of him and the shop.

We than crossed the street and went over to Guerlain, where the walls of two story shop are stacked with shelves of perfume and eaux de cologne vats ranging from 500ml to 1 and 2 litres. On the second floor is where the exclusive perfumes reside – including Sous la Vent, which I had planned to impulsively buy on this trip and wear it in my 5 days in Paris so it would be how I remember the trip by. .. I tried it at Montreal once and was immediately smitten… I also smelled a few other perfumes there: Vetiver pour Elle, which I had hard time not buying on the spot as well (and my boyfriend loved too – he seems to be really into the vetivers I like – i.e. Sycamore and Vetiver Tonka and always comments on them). He was also smitten with white florals and I think Cruel Gardenia was his favourite. But than he’s also smitten with my gardenia plant that blooms in the middle of my living room…! I love the dry gin beginning of Sous la Vent. It is quite herbaceous and dry with only very little florals and gradually warms up into a chypre base with only the slightest hint of tonka bean. This is how I'm going to smell in the next few days...

By now it was time for dinner and we wanted to check out l’Atlas – a Morrocan restaurant at St. Germain. Unfortunately, 5pm was too early for them to be open and we had to find something else. Of course we knocked into another parfumerie on the way – Diptyque – and I got a chance to check out all the candles I was curious about (Flouve, Figue Vert, etc.) and their new eaux. I was particularly taken with the freesia soap though above all things.

We went on and had some cheese fondue in a little side street and got scratched by a friendly yet aggressive resident cat and than went home all the way through Notre-Dame and along the Sienne, going through the Louvre and Jardin de Tuilleries and than all along the Champs Elysees and Arc de Triumph.

The Search for Indentity

"In this business, we give our time and know-how to bring happiness." - perfumer Francis Kurkdjian for the Herald Tribune.

Read the rest of the article to find out more about l'Artisan Parfumeur's "Mon Numéro" line of single-edition perfumes by Bertrand Duchaufour, bespoke services by Cartier, Guerlain and Francis Kurkdjian.

Interestingly, they mention that some floral essences cost $5,000 per kilo ($146 per ounce). I can reassure you floral essences can cost far more than that. For example, Orange Blossom Absolute costs almost $400 per ounce; Genet (Broom) absolute costs over $500 per ounce; orris butter costs more than $700 per ounce; and the last time I checked, Boronia absolute was over $1,400 per ounce.

P.s. the above image is of a one-of-a-kind bottle, designed by Pascale Riberolles for L'Artisan Parfumeur's Mon Numéro.

Visit to the Guerlain Insitute de Beaute in Montréal

The two urban highlights of my (very short) visit to Montreal were the Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture exhibit at the art museum (launched before his sudden death); and paying a visit to the Guerlain Insititue Beaute (1350 Greene Avenue 514-933-6114) accompanied by the fine lady Joann, a customer and a perfume-friend.
While the YSL exhibit had no particular odorous to report about, the Guerlain Institute is what it’s all about (unless you are there for the makeup). Time was short before closing – we only had about an our to explore some of the scents exclusive to Paris and very few other boutiques. For the first time, I have tried several scents and even though I was only able to skin-test a couple (Sous le Vent and Attrappe Coeur), I jotted down my impressions:

Sous le Vent
On the paper:
Chypre, dry, fresh, herbaceous
On the skin:
Warm, sensual, pronounced labdanum, lavender, greens
Dry, woody, citrusy, unsweet

Attrappe Couer
Peach, like Champagne (Yvresse) but deeper, and with a fair amount of labdanum (amber)
Peach, amber and musk are the main notes with a vague floral weaving its way through for good measure. This smelled bolder and more interesting on the scent strip and became very soft and a little too girly, powdery and sweet on my skin.

Philtre d’Amour
Dry citrus chypre. Base is mostly patchouli, with herbaceous and citrus notes and a hint of floral. First reminded me of my own ArbitRary, and a few hours into the drydown reminds me of a tamed and toned-down Aromatics Elixir.

Cruel Gardenia:
On paper: soapy musk with a faded gardenia note
On the skin it smells like gardenia and skin.
It did smell better on Joann, whos skin brought out the gardenia in a most realistic manner. We both agreed it had a certain soapiness to it though, which I thought of as very similar to Chanel’s No. 22.

Bois d'Armenie
This smells like a subdued Serge Lutens to me. It is more sweet than woody, with resinous hints bordering on amber territory with obvious wink towards Shalimar. A little too sweet to my taste and Shalimar is incomparably better.

I’ve also briefly re-visited what used to be called Coriolan (for the first time, the helicrysum and absinthe jumped at me, dry and recognizable); the new Guerlain Homme (pleasant and interesting with warm gourmand hints; nevertheless not exactly what I would call original – I could swear I smelled something similar to it recently; perhaps Rochas Homme?); Spirituese Double Vanille (super-charged vanilla that caught me in a dry, anti-vanilla mood but otherwise I would have considered it very wearable).
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