Reflections on a Year Gone By

It's the last day of the year, which means that it's legitimate to look back and reflect on yet another year that has gone by. On a personal level, it was a great year (considering 2013 was a year from hell,  even though I didn't quite put it that way publicly - this is not exactly surprising).
On a global level, however, in 2014 it seems like all hell has broken loose and the only reason we don't think of ourselves as in the midst of a 3rd world war is probably because no one is brave enough to call it what it is. But I digress. You're not visiting this blog to be reminded of what kind of an awful world we live in. You are more likely here searching for refuge from all those realistic nightmares.

Well, a lot of good things happened in the world of scent; most of them I was too oblivious to notice or pay attention to so you won't be finding too many surprises in my "list" for the fragrant highlights of 2014.

This year I was absorbed in recovery from the awful year prior, and with a renewed boost of energy, I've been tackling all fronts of my business - trying to reach out and teach classes and courses in more places, re-doing a website, narrowing my collection, writing a book, and teaching a lot. All those things, which in the year prior seemed to have a big question mark hovering over them, have found a new meaning in my life and a new sense of excitement and purpose which in the year prior I was really worried will never return to me. But I've been also integrating a lot of my passions and knowledge and experience (both gruesome and positive) leading to a new direction that I feel serves a higher purpose. It will all unfold and make sense as I progress in my studies, art and life experiences. One big thing that occupied me personally and was part of what some like to call "personal growth" has been learning to become a Pilates instructor. I know this seems completely unrelated to perfumery for an outside observer. But to me all those things - working with breath, body, awareness and within the flow and rhythm of life - are all part of the same thing for me. And I don't believe I was born to do just one thing. With that being said, I'm now able to be much more focused, with a much clearer sense of priorities and

Year of the Book: 
This year was dedicated to completing my book, which was in the works (AKA planning and procrastinating, and dreading the intense process that writing a book involves). Somehow, despite the fact that I lost nearly 2 months of work due to the teacher's strike, not to mention many nights of sleep of the yet-another-unnecessary war in Israel and Palestine - I was able to finish it. And I want to thank once again all the people who were involved in the process: Terry Sunderland, graphic designer extraordinaire, Shauna Rudd, superb copy editor and proofreader, Schuyler Corry, proofreader and contributor of some of the chemistry terms in the glossary; and David Shumaker for proofreading some 3 years ago when I started working on this 3rd edition of the book; and last but not least to the Taly and Yitzhak Ginsberg, who thanks to them I actually went ahead with being self-published as well as for pointing me to the right direction to turn my manuscript into a eBook (you'll hear about that soon enough).
Thank you so much for helping me make my dream come true and become a published author!

And - More Books:
This has been a great year for perfume related books. I've mentioned two of them here, the anthology of scented poems The Book of Scented Things, edited by Jehanne Dubrow and Lindsay Lusby; and Mandy Aftel's new book Fragrant. There is always more to learn, and it's wonderful to see more books published that pertain to the world of scent. It's all part of keeping this rare art alive!

New Perfume Love: 
Au Delà - Narcisse des Montagnes by Bruno Fazzolari.
This limited edition "flanker" of sorts to the perfume Au Delà is even more beautiful than the original. I will write about it in more depth in the coming week - a beautiful ambery floral with Chypre nuances, that was accompanied by a breathtaking screen print, signed by the artist.

Mainstream Surprise: 
Narciso by Narciso Rodriguez
While I can't say I thoroughly tested even a fraction of the many mainstream perfumes released this year to justifiably crown this the "best" of the year - I did purchase a bottle, and it did not feel like it was a whim at the time. This perfume is full of surprises, much more than the original scent from this brand. In all aspects of design (including packaging) there is elegant simplicity in this release, yet intrigue and originality. It's been a while since I was able to say that about any department store fragrance.

Vintage Discovery: 
Diorella. What a delight to have found a 220 mL (!) of the original, vintage Diorella on a certain auction site. I've been splashing it lavishly in the summer, and looking forward to much more of the same as soon as the spring bulbs and buds begin to open again.

The 180: 
Aromatics Elixir
If you haven't seen much new perfume reviews on my blog, it's because I've been dousing myself quite regularly with this (previously under appreciated by me) bombshell. I used to think of it as way too strong. It wasn't until I blind-purchased a bottle of the Perfumer's Reserve (also via the above mentioned auction site), and discovered to my horror that there's far too much white musk in it; that I just HAD to re-examine the original. I only purchased a tiny spray bottle of it, but a little is all you need, and goes a looong way. There is something about that

Thank You Hermes For Not Disappointing: 
First of all, Epice Marine FINALLY arrived in the Vancouver boutique many months after it should have. And I did enjoy it quite a bit (yet not quite enough yet to purchase a bottle). Cuir d'Ange, on the other hand, arrived in time (or maybe it didn't, but I didn't really expect it), and turns to be a very interesting sheer leather. Samples are still unavailable which is why I haven't written a review yet. It's not earth shattering, but I'm always happy to welcome a new leather kid into my world.

Natural Intrigue: 
Palimpset by Aftelier. There are many offerings in the natural world that I am yet to try. But I was immediately smitten with both Cuir Gardenia and Palimpset, the two new creations of this year by Mandy Aftel. While I'm more likely to wear Cuir Gardenia frequently - Palimpset is the more original, intriguing and unusual. Built around the rare, unusual and difficult to work with Fire Tree oil from Australia - it has an outstanding longevity (I believe the sample I received from Aftelier is the parfum concentration in alcohol base). The opening is very effervescent and citrusy, almost like wild orange, sweetly fruity but not overtly so - then continues to develop into an utterly floral yet woody perfume, with the Fire Tree note weaves in and out while being supported. It's exotic and wonderful. I just received it yesterday, and am planning to post full review of this (and Cuir Gardenia) in the upcoming days.

The new incense cones by Persephenie.
They come in several fragrances, and all burn fantastically well, without leaving any "off note". Original blends, yet with a very strong connection to spiritual rituals from around the world. They are beautifully hand-shaped, and rolled in an outer coating of herbs that adds a visual element to the experience, rich in both colour and texture.

Those who know me well, are concerned about my ever-expanding collections of teas, spices, perfumes, cookbooks, and of course raw materials. Well, this year I have been pretty good about finishing up a lot of the teas I have and narrowing down my favourites to a more workable and manageable scenario (for the sake of my kitchen counter and shelves). Although I won't pretend I don't have excess of teas still, and need to run out of a lot before purchasing anything new; I am quite proud to say I know which teas I love and I am happy to just keep drinking a handful of them and stop feeling the urge to collect them. Some things lend themselves very badly to collecting, and tea is one of them. They just lose flavour after a while... I'm proud to announce, that as long as I have one good black tea (darjeeling, Assam or a cask-aged Ghorka, for instance - for versatile use anywhere from plain black tea, to that adorned with fresh sprigs of mint, or ensembles into a chai), Cream Earl Grey, and either a robust rooibos or a Thai Tea for its almost coconutty aroma, some kind of a good quality green tea (i.e. matcha powder or jasmine) and a Milky Oolong - I'm pretty happy. That's not a lot, right? Of course I also have a kid with her own favourites, usually flavoured teas or a green tea. But that's just extra fun. With a little help from our friends,  I think we're going to have a pretty clear tea shelf by the end of 2015. But in all honesty, what we've been drinking almost every other morning has been chai in a base of almond milk. We make it very simple, because there is no time in the morning to blend too many spices - just some black tea, some cardamom and cinnamon, freshly diced ginger and honey. Blame it on my daughter. It's her idea.

Sweet Tooth:
Persephenie's Salty Jasmine Candies, and my own Oud Truffles, if I may say so myself.

Skincare Product:
It's a well known "secret" that I'm a sucker for anything rosy smelling on my face. My skincare regime is as simple as could be, and includes only two products: floral hydrosol (usually rose, or orange blossom) spritzed on the face, followed by a moisturizer - usually just my own facial elixir. Everyone once in a while I make an exception - but it has to be for something exceptional. Usually it's Persephenie's excellent Rose Pakka. This year I was ogling her new offering for the face - Saffron Rose Face Oil, which is a pure and nourishing facial serum. The makeup of oils shares some common elements with my Elixir (tea seed oil, sea buckthorn oil, carrot seed and rose oils) and the rest is all sheer goodness, as always with Persephenie's creations. I've received it in the mail today and it did not disappoint. It's practically the facial version of my Song of Songs anointing body oil. I'm in a facial New Year's heaven!

Body Product:
Bedouin dry oil by Persephenie. All of Persephenie's body products are top-notch. Bedouin was my favourite scent by Persephenie, but is no longer in production. That's why it was particularly delightful to find out that it is now available as a dry oil - a very lightweight, sheer oil that can be sprayed on either body or hair. Roses and cardamom. Mmm...

Discovery of the Year:
Dabney Rose's extraits and pommades are nothing short of magic. I've experienced her hyacinth extrait, tuberose pommade and ginger lily pommade (the latter are made in a coconut oil base) - all grown in her own garden and hothouse. These beautifully and lovingly crafted pure single note essences are made in the old technique of enfleruage, modernized by an innovative vegan base. Dabney's work is akin to capturing butterflies inside hot resin and keeping them alive and intact even after they've exhaled their last breath... It may sound too good to be true... But it is the most truthful portrait of the living flower if there ever was one.  In other words: alchemy at its best.

Raw Material of the Year: 
Narcissus Absolute. I've been obsessing over it while creating Narkiss, and (great minds think alike!) in Bruno Fazzolari's newest perfume.
Need I say more?

NARCISO eau de parfum

First impressions from NARCISO - a confusingly named fragrance (wcich is why I'm using the upper case) that due to officially come out in October, but is already available at The Bay downtown:

From the get go, it appears the Narciso Rodriguez brand aimed to create a similar cult following to their original, with a few variations: the black rectangular bottle has been replaced by a white cube. The musk was replaced by ambereine accord and a sheer, crystalline amber. The synthetic orange blossom floral theme was replaced by a nondescript gardenia-rose that to my nose smells more similar to a Madonna lily, actually. What remains consistent with the original Narciso Rodgriguez For Her is a clean, woody vetiver - only a little amplified here, and paired with patchouli, of all animals. And that's what made me take notice.

NARCISO is a little too sweet at first, but with a cleanliness that does not weight it down. For reference - the opening and up until the vetiver makes an appearance, this is similar to scents such as DiorAddict, tinged with a touch of Pure Poison and a hint of inky, murky violet notes, not unlike Kisu. The vetiver makes it more balanced and interesting, along the lines of Eau de Merveilles of all things. Who would have thought that could happen? So all in all, an ambery-woodsy vetiver with hints of violet and vague white flowers. It evolves on the skin more than the musky For Her does.

Similarly to Narciso Rodriguze For Her, the idea is not exactly original*, but the execution is what made it exceptional. The perfectionism of the bottle design and the simplicity of the campaign made it stand out in the crowd. Add to that an addictive scent that is an slightly more sophisticated formulation of street vendor variety of Egyptian Musk and a stark packaging design - et voila! A cult fragrance was born.

NARCISO needs to compete with an even larger crowd, and with an already cluttered collection of fragrances from this designer, which includes two or three sequels of For Her, one masculine fragrance, and the glass mirror reflection of "essence". Not an easy task, and indeed simplicity was the only ticket to success. And I foresee this to become as successful as For Her as it could possibly be (which is impossible, because whatever this brand creates will always stand in its solar-musky-shadows).

Bottom line: The ambery-woody version of Narcisso Rodriguez For Her. Well done overall for a mass-marketed fragrance. But why oh why did they need to already come up with a sequel? NARCISO MUSC is already on the designer's website, and I'm already confused...

Top notes: Citrus, Bergamot
Heart notes:
Lily, Gardenia, Rose, Violet
Base notes: Amber, Vetiver, Musk
, Cedarwood, Patchouli, Vanillin 

* As a point for reference: NARCISO reminds me of a little bit like Obsession, a tad like Prada Ambre Intense Pour Homme, and a lot like Tocade. These three perfumes seemingly have very little in common; but they all share similarities with NARCISO. 

Falling for Florals

Fall Flowers, originally uploaded by DHamp1.

Flowers in autumn are perhaps more groundbreaking than in springtime...The weather in Vancouver has been unusually warm for the season, which could be the reason why I am gravitating towards opulent florals.

Here are some floral bouquets that are sure to warm up even the chilliest autumnal mornings, or reflect the gentle warmth of sunlight during the fall:

Velvet Gardenia
The elegant whiteness of these lush petals is set against a dark layer of brown, ambery labdanum. The gardenia notes are a little like tea (or maybe it’s because that the first time I worn it was for an afternoon tea?). A true love. And finally I indulged in a full bottle that should last me the whole winter (at least).

Madagascar Orchid (Lisa Hoffman's Variations)
I’m particularly smitten with the Evening variation, which smells of night queen, lilac, and incense. Rich and soft yet easy to wear.

Noix de Tubereuse
And speaking of night queen, this one smells just like it. This soft, sweet rendition of tuberose, with notes of violet, rose, wild clover, amber and incense with a hint of oiliness to it that makes it seem as friendly as a Danish butter cookie.

Macarons don’t travel well, but perfume does. And my New Yorker friend Nancy was right when she described this to me as “violet macarons”. I learned what Farnesiana smells on that visit three summers ago; but didn’t learn what true violet macarons are till this May. Now that I know both, I’d say that Farnesiana is like cassie and violet macarons (cassie being a richer, more violety type of mimosa), sweetened by heliotropin.

KenzoAmour Le Parfum
For those who enjoyed the almond and rice-steam aspect of the original, this is a real treat, because it takes this abstract synthetic floral into the realm or a really easy to wear comfort scent, with some of the sharpness of the original rounded off. I’m am particularly enjoying this these days layered with L’Occitane’s Almond Milk Concetrate.

Narciso Rodriguez for Her
This number is making a comeback in my wardrobe, after a pretty long break. I’m really enjoying it these last few days, applied with very light hand. It’s comforting, soft and both floral and musky. I find this combination to be both grounding and uplifting for me.

Bois des Îles
Opulent like a pearl steeped in milk-tea. Bois des Îles is something I only wear when that special mood strikes. It could never be an everyday scent for me. It is just too special for that. I’m amazed at the rare combination of creamy woods and warm spice with just the right amount of floral and aldehydic notes to make it shimmer and diffuse like the soft-focus surface of that pearl.

A Narciso Rodriguez Breakdown...

Red Calla Lily, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

I spotted this interesting Narciso Rodriguez display at The Bay downtown Vancouver this Friday. It took me a while to find it, as I was distracted by Sascha Luki's stunning floral arrangement accompanying the display, including calla lilies in both red and white, some of which were drowned in the vase rather the float above it...

The breakdown of three accords present in Narciso Rodriguez pour elle can be seen in the photo below. These three vials were (from left to right) are:

Coeur de Musc (musk heart) which is mostly musk and musk and more musk - the most clear, clean, persistent musk note, just like the one which makes the "her musc oil" in the black bottle.

Bois Tactile (tactile woods), which smelled like a synthesized vetiver, very clean and earthy-musky. This is what makes Narciso Rodriguez be part of the modern imitation Chypre family, AKA "Pink Chypre".

Lumiere d'Ambre & Vanille, which smelled like it sounded, amber and vanilla - though not quite what I would call "luminous". It might explain the slight sweetness of the scent once it dries on the skin, though I must admit the other two accords are far more persistent and are what makes this scent what it is.

There was no representation of the florl aspect of Narciso Rodriguez - consisting mostly of a very abstract, synthetic orange blossom and supposedly also other notes which I can't quite point my finger at (i.e.: osmanthus) or compare to the true flower which I've never smelled (honey flower).

Nevertheless, this was a very interesting experience smelling them all separately. I have to admit I prefer the compete creation, with fake flowers and all.

Narciso Rodriguez Breakdown, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Narciso Rodriguez - Part Two

Calla Lilly B&W, originally uploaded by brianchapman.

Narciso Rodriguez is a quirky yet very wearable perfume. It’s equally mundane and unique. It can be easily dismissed as just another test-tube fragrance, or as a non-scent if you have musk anosmia tendencies…

Starting with a nail polish and a boozy note, Narciso may give off the impression of having barely any scent of its own besides that of the carrying alcohol. It’s light and bubbly as a just-uncorked champagne, and like a good champagne, it can become quite addictive once you become used to it… It's also a bit floral, yet there are no real flower notes there. Just an abstract suggestion of orange blossoms and perhaps even glimpses of osmanthus wannabes. The woody notes which are said to be vetiver remind me more of flour and rancid ground walnuts… A tad of light honey poured on skin and than licked away, leaves a smooth, sensual, faintly-woody and musky-clean trail is the best way I can describe how Narciso Rodriguez smells once it settles on the skin. When it settles on fabric, it may remind you of your favourite laundry detergent and fabric softener…

You may recall my struggle with Narciso Rodriguez a while back. I was equally intrigued and taken aback by its composition. It presented a challenge to me with its very different aesthetic concept: it radiates out, yet when you come near to understand it better, it slips away; a scintillating illusion of a fragrance rather than a real olfactory being. Perhaps it’s the idea of musk vs. amber that was intriguing to me. A sneaky yet alluring phenomenon… A perfume that radiates energy that cannot be tracked to the source.

Writing a review for Narciso Rodriguez was further delayed because I think that Cait Shortell
did it better than I could ever do it, so I encourage you to read her fascinating review as well as the interesting visual connection she discovered to the work of Imogen Cunningham.

Narciso Rodriguez smells particularly wonderful on fabrics (where it will last for days, but not in an obnoxious way like other, very heavy perfumes do;To my surprise, I was able to wear other perfumes even if there is some of it left on my sleeves).

The above review is for the EDT, which is my favourite formulation, seconded only by the pure parfum (comes in a roll on with a black cap). I stay away from the pink bottles in this line, and find the Musc for Her to be too persistent overall though it has its own charm if you are looking for a linear, long lasting musk oil. It's a scent I'll never be without.

Narciso Rodriguez was designed by Francis Kurkdjian and Christine Nigel, and won the Fifi award for Women's Nouveau Niche fragrance in 2004. I believe that this perfume embodies a landmark in modern perfumery and perhaps a new fragrance sub-family of modern non-animalic musky-florals, and will see many followers, in additions to some that we already smelled such as Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker and Ralph Lauren's Pure Turquoise.
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