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 Perfume

Oak Alley, originally uploaded by Lake Fred.

A little distraction from the Autumn Aromas theme that's been running here in the past few days... But still connected since this is about a perfume that combines both Meyer lemons and moss!

Based on Paula Stratton's description of the aromas New Orleans I have created yesterday the 4th and what may be the final version of what I call for now "New Orleans". After 2 first gloomy mods, I've created a 3rd one that was more of a cheerful twist on the same olfactory themes - magnolia, cypress, moss, vetiver, tea olive, citrus and a dash of herbs. Paula has told me in that "each of the 3 has successfully captured the magic, the mystery of New orleans before Katrina. Each is gorgeous".

But I felt that the last mod was the most hopeful and refined... I also thought that Meyer lemon element was important, even if subtle, in order to bring this perfume into completion. And I had to make Meyer lemon tincture, which I finally did and filtered.

This perfume is bright, mossy, delightful. It has the dryness of woods from the cedarmoss and vetiver and amyris and salty notes of seaweed and ambergris as a balancing backdrop for the floral notes are classically the Southern Belle's favourites (magnolia and tea olive - aka osmanthus). However, Paula's husband liked it a lot and even thought it to be the most masculine of the bunch... I think that if you love New Orleans, even if you haven't been there, you would appreciate this perfume. And gender has very little to do with it.

Top notes: Meyer Lemon, Rosemary, Grapefruit, Tangerine Murcott

Heart notes: Tea Olive, Tea Rose, Magnolia, Neroli, Orange Blossom

Base notes: Haitian & Sri Lankan Vetiver, Cypress, Seaweed, Amyris, Cedarmoss, Ambergris

I was toying with different names, and decided finally to keep it very simple - not NOLA, but New Orleans. After all, this is what it's all about... I would love to hear any of your thoughts though - especially among my readers from New Orleans.

Scent for a Drowned City Re-Emerging

Paula Stratton olfactory description of New Orleans before Katrina has inspired me to do something more for New Orleans: create a new perfume especially for New Orleans. A perfume that will represent these beautiful fragrant moments of the city, and also help the city raise more funds for re-building it.

I read Paula’s description of the aroma of New Orleans, feeling all along the scent of the city surrounding me. A city which I haven’t visited yet, yet have affected my life without my notice. The music, the books, the food and finally –the perfumes of this city – have made their way to me on their own accord.

And now it’s time for me to do something in return. I don’t know when this perfume will be ready. I feel I do need to visit the city before I can truly create something in its name. But for now I am letting my imagination loose and just start pairing notes and building accords… And sniffing in between.

Paula’s letter to me about the aromas of New Orleans have provided me with excellent details, enough to start working and developing some ideas. And so I have been pairing magnolia with cypress, osmanthus with vetiver…

Some of the accords seem to be working beautifully:
Seaweed-Orange Blossom-Lemon
Spikenard-Brown Oakmoss-Vetiver

Others are more problematic. Particularly using basil and rosemary with the florals. They balance the sweetness but also add complexity that takes away from the clarity of my olfactory vision for this perfume.

What do I want it to be? I want it to be beautiful. I want it to remind people of New Orleans. It has to have floral intensity that is uplifting and beautiful and at the same time the dirty depth of the swamps and the primordial ocean with its salty breath and the overall compliexity of something that gives life and consumes it at the same time. Fertile, rich soil that can grow these intense blossoms. Just like the waterlily in this image. That’s how I want it to be. The soil for the perfume has to be so dark as to create a backdrop upon which the florals will be strikingly bright and beautiful.

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?

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