Spanish Moss for the Southern Belle

Spanish Moss is described by Hove Parfumeur as “Warm and exotic, mossy and green... a reformulation of an old favorite” – while it is warm, it is not what I would describe as green. It is sweet, powdery yet with an exotic twist as it includes some notes that are not commonly used in other rosy-powdery perfumes.

Floral, powdery, sweet and with an antique Victorian feel. If there is moss there, it is well concealed, amongst heaps of flowers, dusting powder and rouge on a cluttered vanity table of a Southern lady who protects her fair skin with endless layers of lace and mousseline. The intensity of flowers and powder is something I’ve smelled before in perfumes that came from the South*.

The opening is intensely floral, sweet and powdery. I can sense the presence of heliotrope right away, with its bittersweet, almondy-rich melancholy. Other notes that are apparent from the start are lilac, rose, osmanthus and orange blossom. These are all very intense, dense once applied – buy when they settle on the skin they become far more tolerable – yet nonetheless maintain the same character of uber-sweet-powdery Southern vanity.

Once the florals quiet down a tad, I find myself suddenly sipping icy-cold, sweet lemonade. Or perhaps it is a lemon popsicle… It instantly reminds me of Aunt Eller in Oaklahoma! film, though I don’t know why. I can’t even remember if there was any lemonade in that movie, but for some reason it makes sense. Even though it’s not even close to New Oreleans at all.

Hours later, I am still searching for that “Spanish Moss” to come out from its hiding, but I can’t say there is anything particularly mossy about this perfume. It is very old fashioned, like a more tropical interpretation of “Lipstick Rose” and also more complex, less simplistic than rosy perfumes of that genre. Besides the heliotrope base, I can smell some bitter myrrh, but that’s as close as I can get to revealing the moss…

Top notes: Lilac, Lemon
Heart notes: Rose, Orange Blossom, Osmnathus, Orris
Base notes: Heliotrope, Myrrh, Vanilla

*Such as from Lagniappe Oakes Perfumery – I’ve tried several of these but I have to admit none captured my heart; they were all from the “Heirloom Collection”).

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!



Dark Gift

gris gris, originally uploaded by Princess Valium.

...And samples she sent...
Well, the particular one I'm about to review was more like a nearly full flacon of pure parfum. Paula, you are so generous to share the last drops of this perfume that is so precious to you, thank you!

The name is stirring a minor controversy now, because it is not quite clear what the “proper” name is. Originally, it was called “Dark Gift”. But than the infamous vampires Anne Rice has commissioned a perfume of that name from Bourbon French. Now, with her store in New Orleans being open again, and three perfumes by the name “Dark Gift” offered for sale in Eau de Toilette concentration, Bourbon French are no longer allowed to use that name for the fragrance, due to copyright/trademark rights belonging to Anne Rice. But they will know what you are talking about if you order it as a custom perfume. It will simply be labeled as “Custom Perfume”. So perhaps the new name is custom perfume. With your permission, for the convenience of writing this review I will refer to it as “Dark Shift”.

As for the fragrance itself – it announces classicism and vintageness. It felt precious but non pretentious. There is something just slightly aldehydic about it in the opening, like overly ripe yellow peaches mingled with spice and kissing soil soaked with moisture.

As the scent develops, luscious rose petals and iris powder and perhaps even a hint of osmanthus weave through the darkness of patchouli earth tied in vetiver roots and suffocated by bitter myrrh. There is an overall spicess to Dark Shift, although I cannot quite pin-point a particular spice. Allspice is my closest guess, with its equally medicinal-dry and warm-sweet persona.

The drydown reveals a sweetness that is both dark and vanillic. Besides a dark, rich vanilla I can sense the ambery, bittersweetness of tonka bean, and hints of opoponax muskiness.

Even if Dark Shift does not smell identically to New Orleans (it simply hard to imagine it would smell so “perfumey” in its real-life form), it is hard to not smell the connection it has to the musty swampy earth, voodoo and a good gumbo cooking to the sound of jazz.

I am just one step closer to bottling this magical city… But the most important one would be in the form of an airline ticket…

Top notes: Aldehydes, allspice
Heart notes: Rose, Orris, Osmanthus
Base notes: Vetiver, Patchouli, Vanilla, Tonka Bean, Opoponax, Myrrh

To read another opinion of Dark Gift, visit Cognoscented

To order Bourbon French perfumes, And now that I've tried one perfume from Bourbon French, I'd like to hear which other ones would you recommend for me to try? What are you favourites?


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)

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