Happy Mardi Gras!

Happy Mardi Gras!, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Happy Mardi Gras, everyone!
I'm so excited to launch my New Orleans perfume tonight, with a gala cocktail party to benefit two New Orleans charities -

1) America's Wetland non-profit organization that works towards saving coastal Louisiana, who is losing land at a rate of 25 square miles per year (!).

2) The Tipitina's Foundation which is dedicated to helping artists recover from Hurricane Katrina and preserving the cultural traditions of New Orleans. Can you imagine a Mardi Gras parade without a marching band?!

New Orleans perfume took a few years in the making - since I watched the film When The Levees Broke (about the aftermath of hurricane Katrina), which really moved me and made me realize that even though the hurricane was over 2 years ago, there was lots more to be done to help the people of New Orleans. That's when the concept was conceived to make a perfume that will help New Orleans. I took longer than expected to complete the perfume (which is why I used l'Ecume des Jours as a temporary fundraising perfume for NOLA), because I've never been to New Orleans in person, and I had to rely on my perfume friends from there to fill my olfactory gap. The rest was left to imagination...

Now that the bottling is done, and there is even a new batch maturing (which I have just blended this morning), AND it's Mardi Gras, after all, which is when I planned to launch the perfume, I think it's the right time to reveal to you what this perfume turned out to be, at long last.

The perfume was carefully orchestrated based on Paula Stratton's description of the scent. It took a long time, and several trials until I achieved the desired results. The challenge was combining the herbaceous notes (basil, rosemary) with the sweet florals (sweet olive, tea rose, orange blossom), bright citrus (Meyer lemon) and last but not least - the scent of decay, decomposition, moss, seaweed and oak trees and cypress that is what makes the scent of New Orleans. The various trials were similar in concept, but quite different in scent. Even though they all had an accord of sweet olive (aka osmanthus), orange blossom, magnolia and rose at the heart, they all had a different mood and personality.

I'd like to share with you a bit of the evolution, as well as Paula and her husband Mark's feedback:

Mod 1 (dated August 21-22, 2007) included brown oakmoss (for a more deeply woody aroma than the green variety), blue cypress, spikenard, seaweed and vanilla. The top included basil, rosemary and lemon.

Paula's reaction: "Number 1 is the most genteel. It's the most feminine, and I catch the jasmine and osmanthus. It's my favourite".

I felt it was a little too muddy and that the basil clashed with sweetness of the floral bouquet and the vanilla. Therefore - mod 2 (created just a week after the 1st mod) was to follow, where there was neither moss, nor herbal notes. I added more violety notes, such as cassie and orris root. Paula observed - "Number 2 would probably be the most popular with the most people. It's lively and reminds me of the drink called a Sazerac".

I felt there was still too much heaviness and not enough harmony there, and waited a few more years before I was really able to create something worth sharing with Paula, in 2010. Perfume creation is a time-consuming process. Not only do the scents really need to mature and marry, but also the ideas need to hibernate, interact with one another, and waiting and patience is the essence of the process... Sometimes waiting for the scent to mature; other times - waiting for the right idea, or the right aroma to materialize. In this case, I had to wait for both. It finally dawned on me in 2010, that what I need to create was not something gloomy and heavy, somewhat aldehydic/old-fashioned chypre with seaweed and other unusual notes; but rather - something bright and hopeful. Which I didn't realize till February 8th, 2010.

I moved on and created a 3rd version, a cheerful, brighter and more citrusy. It still had the original concept mossy and salty, woody vetiver base, sweet Southern Belle floral bouquet at the heart, and citrus and herbal top notes. But it was so much more sheer and harmonious, yet not any less intriguing than the first two versions. The key to this lightness was using cedarmoss instead of the potent oakmoss. I also used an abundant proportion of ambergris, which did not appear in any of the previous formulas. The roses of Turkey, Bulgaria and France were replaced by the luscious and voluptuously sweet tea rose from China, and I also added hints of amber for a hint of sweetness (but no vanilla!), and amyris, for accentuated woodsiness that is a little tropical (Amyris grows in the West Indies, which is the heritage of the Cajun in New Oreleans, so I thought it particularly appropriate). Both Paula and her husband loved this version - especially her husband: "...He liked # 3 the most, repeatedly. And after multiple sniffs, I understand why. It's lively and a man can wear it. I'm picturing Errol Flynn in period dress. ;)"

I was already partial to the 3rd mod. And hearing that it was so warmly received by a man only made more sense of this direction - I felt this scent had to be equally loved by both men and women.

Paula's notes about all three versions I've sent her: "Numbers 1 , 2 and 3 are serious winners. I smell them on paper strips and skin and wonder what did you do which captured thefeeling of walking in NOLA, Charleston or Savannah in September. Bumby cobblestone walks, oaks dripping moss, the maturity of the homes. And a touch of silk...as women and men in waistcoats pass one in the morning".

I kept on going though, to create the fourth and last version on October 12th, 2010. That was when I finally had the missing ingredient which I felt was important not only for the perfume's composition, but also for the authenticity of its ingredients: Meyer Lemon. I just felt that lemon wasn't enough. Besides, Meyer lemon has such a cheerful, bright citrus aroma that it just belonged in this perfume. New Orleans lives on, and it is happy even though there may be some blue notes in its history. It's all part of life and embracing tragedy (not an easy feat, but possible if your love for life is greater than fear of suffering), rising above them like a phoenix - this is what this perfume is all about. The structure of the perfume and its notes portray this, and although you will be smelling the top notes first, I'm going to present them structurally as I was building it upwards:

Base notes - natural forces of the sea and the land:
Seaweed and ambergris representing the force of the ocean
Cedarwmoss representing decay
Vetiver from Haiti and Sri Lanka for healing and preservation (vetiver roots help to prevent erosion and flooding, and is grown in the area for that purpose)
Cypress and Amyris for strength and dignity.

Heart notes - Southern Belle accord with a little bit of "blue notes":
Magnolia - beautiful and sweet in every way
Sweet Olive (Osmanthus) - sweet and pretty, but with a little bit of melancholy blue notes
Tea Rose,which is very sweet but also has ionone, which is violety and a little moody)
Orange Blossom for pure happiness

Top notes - Cheerful and Ascending:
Hand tinctured Meyer Lemon
Rosemary verbenon - which is sheer, non medicinal and full of life
Mandarin Murcott - an unusually sweet and full bodied citrus notes
White Grapefruit from Israel, which is the best I've ever smelled in my life and is floral and vivacious

And this final version is what you will get to smell tonight at my party, or might need to wait a few days till it ships from Vancouver.

Proceeds (10%) from this scent and all sales at the event tonight will be donated to these two charities, to continue to help New Orleans be the wonderful city that it is. And if all goes well, I am going to visit there this year for Jazz Festival!

And last but not least - you can listen to Mardi Gras music all day today (and to authentic New Orleans jazz year around, from anywhere in the world) via WWOZ 90.7FM!

Related posts:

The Aroma of New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans Today
New Orleans Cuisine
Louisiana in September
l'Ecume des Jours & Rebuilding New Orleans
Re-Building New Orleans
When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
Scent for a Drowned City Re-Emerging

New Orleans Today

Dead Wood Alive, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

I was walking in Stanley Park yesterday, and saw this tree: even though it was large and beautiful, the strong winds this winter tipped it over and completely uprooted it. It lays on the grass, with its roots exposed and vulnerable. To judge from a quick glance only, this tree is definitely dead. It’s been there like this since the winter and all through the scorching heat of the summer. But if you look towards the sky, the tree’s true spirit is revealed – that of hope and strong life force. The tree is clearly alive, as new leaves are budding and shooting through the uppermost tips of the branches, facing the sky with dignity and resilience. If only someone will help this tree stand up and cover its roots again, I think this tree will live.

It’s two years after Katrina hit New Orleans, and the people of New Orleans are still working hard to re-build it, with very minimal help from the US government. Although the frequently toured areas of New Orleans (mostly in the French Quarter) have been renovated enough to attract more visitors and hold a seemingly normal façade for what you’d expect the city to look like. August 30th marks two years for the breaking of the levees - city’s efense mechanism against flood was too old and defective, and the levees collapsed, causing 80% of the city to go under water.

Two years later, there is still a lot more to repair and re-build, both physically and culturally - not to mention people’s life that have been shattered and scarred forever by this disaster and the traumas of losing their loved ones, their homes and being abandoned by their own government when they needed it most.

Only about 1/3 of the population of this vibrant city have returned to their homes. The rest have been scattered all across the US, far from their family, friends and hometown. For many, even if they want to come back, they don’t have the means. FEMA have helped them out of the city, but will not help to bring them back home. And of course I don’t need to remind you that the US government is one of the richest in the world, but apparently helping its own citizens is not at the top of the agenda. This is simply too contradictory for its capitalist idealism. And having all these people away from their home is perhaps one way to keep the area quiet and the oil rigs off the shores of Louisiana pump more oils and money into the government’s treasure box.

Click here to view the current situation in the various parts of the city and how

Read this AND read the comments all the way down at the bottom of the page, by New Orleans citizens to get an idea of what’s really going on there right now…

If there is anything we can do to support the people of New Orleans to re-build this fantastic city and their own life and future in it – we should do it now, before it’s too late. Moral support to individuals we know from there - to show we care, and if we can go visit there and help build and fix, clean and renovate the city. And of course, financial aid to individuals and organizations working hard to maintain this culture.

Below is a list of just a few charities that I think are worth supporting:

Mardi Gras Chief Bannock
(you can also send funds directly via PayPal to this recipient - or click on the donation button at the bottom of this page)

Emergency Relief Services of the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans

America’s Wetland

Network for Good

Family Pride Coalition

Teaching the Levees

The Aroma of New Orleans, Louisiana

Oak Alley, originally uploaded by Lake Fred.

The following is an excerpt from a letter sent to me by Ms. Paula Stratton, a fine lady who describes herself as a "NOLA Magnolia which was transplanted to Atlanta, Georgia". I am very grateful to my friendship with her, not only because she is a fascinating perfume-friend, but also because it opened for me a window to an endangered culture I am intrigued by and at the same time unfamiliar with. And one aspect of culture is it's scent and the aromas of its surroundings. Paula writes about The Aroma of NOLA:

I hope you get to visit that dear city someday. It has a continuing tradition of French perfumery. I hope it's Creole /Southern European/ Caribbean black ambiance will remain as DH and I had known it. There art, music and perfumes were essential and incorporated into life, not considered extras. And the subtropical smells were intoxicating. On one side of the metro area was the muddy overflowing Mississippi, on the other salty Lake Pontchartrain. Bayous and canals snaked through the soft sinking land. The live oaks spread low and wide, hung with moss as chandeliers are with garlands of crystal. The tallest trees were often elegant cypresses and magnolias and they contributed their sublime odours to the heavy misty atmosphere. The scent of cypress in a warmish winter is something one experiences nowhere else except the coastal American South. The humidity traps the smells and intensifies them. I do miss the smell of cypress.

I miss the gorgeous water birds such as herons, both blue and white which one saw everywhere by the canals. Hearing their wings beat the air as they flew over my garden on their way back to the nearby park where they roosted at night marked the ends of our afternoons. We had a rose garden with many roses. I grew rosemary, mint, basil and thyme. We also had a Meyer lemon tree and in late spring the smells of citrus blossoms gave forth a sharp rich smell which blended with that of the roses, the herbs, the cypress trees next yard over and the magnolias in bloom down the street. In late spring too, we were getting the last piquant but sweet (sort of apricot like) scents from my two big healthy Tea Olive trees. You know that tea olives are actually chinese osmanthus. Vetiver grass grew along marshes and along roadsides. At least 40 varieties of palms both tall and small were everywhere. What they contributed to the overall smell environment I don't know. The live oaks and their moss, cypresses and tea olives contributed more.

The winds blowing mildly off the Gulf of Mexico (which was far down from the river contributed the most subtle kind of saltiness to the air. The lowhanging humidity made all these smells misty and kept them close to all our noses. And we seemed closer to the earth there. The ground is silty and has no rocks in it. It has a combination of a peaty, musty old dirt, and seashell smell to it. It is at the base of the smells I listed above.

Thank you for asking me to describe how New Orleans and the surrounding area smelled. I'm going to copy this and store it, because I know for me the smell of New Orleans was a major part of her beauty. Most tourists wouldn't 'get that' as many shortchange themselves by confining their explorations to Bourbon Street, which has a smell of stale beer and booze and foods in garbage bags behind the restaurants.

Oh, how I hope you can re-create New Orleans in a bottle! I will be sending you some samples of fragrances from Hove and Bourbon French soon. If certain qualities of Hove's Spanish Moss were combined with Bourbon French's Dark Gift, the result might approach the smell I've described. I think you might be able to do it!




French Quarter, New Orleans, originally uploaded by hanneorla.

was like an obscene phone call from nature. The air - moist, sultry, secretive, and far from fresh - felt as if it were being exhaled into one's face. Sometimes it even sounded like heavy breathing. Honeysuckle, swamp flowers, magnolia, and the mystery smell of the river scented the atmosphere, amplifying the intrusion of organic sleaze. It was aphrodisiac and repressive, soft and violent at the same time. In New Orleans, in the French Quarter, miles from the barking lungs of alligators, the air maintained this qulity of breath, although here it acquired a tinge of metallic halitosis, due to fumes expelled by tourist buses, trucks delivering Dixie beer, and, on Decatur Street, a mass-transit motor coach named Desire.
(Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume)

Re-Building New Orleans

Apollo Emergent, originally uploaded by fubuki.

We’re just a few days away from marking two years to the breaking of the levees in New Orleans and the flooding of the city and all the tragedies that followed.

I would like to re-announce my fundraising campaign for re-building New Orleans. This is the best thing I can do to help this city which I love dearly without ever visiting there. Everything I’ve ever heard about New Orleans or smelled from there was just sublime, surrounded by a combination of mystic and mundanely charm.

In the next few days, I will be dedicating each post to New Orleans somehow. A quote, a song, and a couple of perfume reviews that were created in New Orleans by the independent perfume houses there, and other fascinating things for you to read (well, I think they're fascinating!).

But today I wanted to just remind you all of the fundraiser that is ongoing until New Orleans is fully re-built and the levees stand strong and can be counted on if another hurricane strikes. I can only offer very little, as I am just one person trying to do the best I can. As I mentnioned earlier this year, I am donating $10 for each bottle of l’Ecume des Jour that I sell. So far I managed to raise only $80, and I hope you will be able to help me raise some more so I can send them directly to people living in New Orleans and who are working very hard at re-building it every day.

For this week only, until August 30th, I will be donating $10 for any full bottle of perfume I sell, not just l’Ecume des Jours. So order them now and help New Orleans.

Another way in which I am hoping I could help to re-build New Orleans is create a fragrance inspired by the intoxicating, exotic scents that surrounded it before the hurricane. I don’t know where exactly this will lead me, but the perfume will have to be as beautiful as the city of New Orleans and its people. When the scent is ready, all profits from it will be donated to people of New Orleans (yes, that means that I won’t be making these to make any money, but just to help re-build the city and support her people). My job is to make sure it is going to be to make it impossible for you not to buy it and support New Orleans with your money and your love and perfume!

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