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Calyx

Calyx

Calyx (1986), the one and only, was referred to several times on Smellyblog, but never received its own spotlight. It was the fact that it has tagetes that renewed my interest in it, even though it has been in my possession for over two years. I was gifted a vintage bottle (from the days when it still belonged to Prescriptives) in winter 2020. The circumstances where unusual: I was invited by Daphna Margolin to sniff her osmanthus bushes, a smell she's obsessed with and is fortunate to grow in her garden in the humid coastal belt, despite all expert opinion on where osmanthus could and should grow; and to experience her womb sculpture, which she assured me would be a safe sensory haven for my daughter.

Daphna is an Eco-Tech artist whose work explores the intersection between ecology, technology, science and art. Many of her pieces are interactive and question our sensory world, and the way we perceive and process sensory information. Wonderfully, she is also a perfume connoisseur, and has a huge collection that fills an entire room. It was so special to meet a kindred spirit, enjoy her vegan persimmon mousse in the middle of a cold spell of winter that even affected the usually mild-weathered central Israel, and share our passion for fragrance, art and out-of-the-box sensory processing. She made my daughter feel welcome and comfortable, and gifted her with one of her Calyx bottles, which we both agree smells a lot like fresh osmanthus flowers. 

Since then, Calyx holds a special place in my heart, as a memory of that special evening visiting Daphna. Admittedly, I don't ever wear it, but simply remove the cap and smell the bottle every once in a while. It has such a distinctive scent! 

Calyx was in some ways a pioneer, and inspired so many other fruity-florals, including countless ancillary products with fruity-floral fragrances, the most recognizable of all being Herbal Essence. So it is hard now to think of Calyx out of this context, and taking it seriously takes some thinking out of the (shampoo) bottle.  

To be fair, it is not exactly the first of its genre, it was preceded by almost a decade by Anaïs Anaïs (1978), with which it shares many points. But like everything that comes out of Sophia Grojsman's hands, no matter how fresh it may be - it always oozes warmth and coziness, as if it's a well-wrapped hug, sealed with a hot matriarchal kiss. 

Grojsman's work is an example for how a perfumer's personality comes through their creations, and how when a perfumer - no matter how large is the corporation they belong to - remains authentic and true to themselves, their perfume can also be popular at the same time. I love the story behind this fragrance, which is a visit to Israel, the scent of grapefruit blossoms and that explains a lot about both the sheer cheer that this scent exudes, as well as its connection to this culture. Fragrances that are fresh yet strong are a very characteristic of what you'll smell around here on people and in their homes. 

Calyx opens with that distinctive fruity and burst of freshness. It is very juicy but isn't any particular citrus; it's comes across as very sweet, but it is not cloying in any way. When a perfume with everyday references (such as gourmand or fruity notes) is done right, it gives suggestions and hints, and is not an obvious fruity. This is a long lost art, in a world filled with new perfumes of very loud and obvious fruit statements. Smelling Calyx reminds us how a fruity perfume can be both sophisticated and fun. 

While many of Grojsman's fragrances are monolithic (AKA linear), Calyx goes through a few phases throughout its skin performance. It starts very fruity, which is my favourite part (and perhaps why I like to just sniff the bottle over and over again). It continues to be more of a floral-green, alluding to its literal meaning, which is the part of the flower anatomy that holds the petals in place (at least for some time). 

So just like a flower that is bright and showy and fragrant, Calyx begins very colourful and fruity and juicy, intriguing and sensual. There is a long list of fruity players in this harmony (passionfruit, mango, guava, melon raspberry and perhaps even papaya). However, I'm not really picking out any of them. There is a feeling of the idea of a fruit but its identity is vague. And of course it is an olfactory illusion created by pairing some unusual notes together - grapefruit, tagetes (marigold), rose and spearmint of all things.

The fruity phase, which is adorable and uplifting, fades out in a blink of an eye, and feeling is that you've drank its nectar too fast and greedily plucked all the petals within minutes. What remains in one's hand is a shiny green goblet of greenery, with a nice long stem as a handle, and this is the phase that lingers the longest. Green floral, with the minty notes coming to the forefront, creating a feeling of a dewy garden on an early summer day. Walking on the moist grass barefoot, and greeting the flowers and herbs. There is a pretty lily of the valley that is quite dominant, the other flowers (rose and jasmine) are more subdued, acting only as harmonizers. I am renown for having a difficult relationship with pretty florals dominated with lily of the valley and greens - part of me craves the loveliness and prettiness, and another part of me feels undeserving; Then it all gets to my head and becomes too sharp and screechy to bear, as if doused with too much euphoria. Calyx somehow stays balanced with a warmth whose source is invisible and inexplicable. 

Calyx lingers on my skin for hours, and the dry down has some continuity of the middle phase, maintaining the green for a long time, before it mostly boils down to oakmoss, cedar and musk.

Top notes: Grapefruit, Mandarin, Bergamot, Passionfruit, Guava, Mango, Papaya, Spearmint

Heart notes: Lily of the Valley, Tagetes, Rose, Jasmine, Melon, Neroli

Base notes: Cyclamne, Raspberry, Oakmoss, Cedar, Musk 

Coco

Coco

Everything about Coco the fragrance is regal and at the same time artificial. It brings me back to a long gone era when people would dress up to go out and be seen (and smelled) in public, and would take an extra effort going to a grand event, be it the opera or the cinema (remember those?). A whiff of Coco eau de toilette throws me immediately to a concert hall at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art with my grandmother. Back in the 80s and 90s when Coco was in vogue and so many ladies would wear it on a night out, clad with big chunky jewellery, bling leather purses, and shoulder pads, of course. 

The review here is for the parfum, which I have smelled a couple of decades ago and experienced as very almondy, and it did not string that chord of listening to chamber music in my youth; so I have never quite fallen for it. The eau de toilette never was quite “me”, despite this fond place I had for it bringing back memories of quality time spent with Ms. Ruth Moriel in Tel Aviv. 

So here I am in 2022, 38 years after this perfume came out, re-evaluating my relationship with it as part of my research of the Opulent fragrance family for my students. I have scoured the web (because, like concert-going, perfume shopping in this day and age is prohibited, unless one is bio-branded by a vaccine); plus Coco is no longer is available widely, being replaced by its many flankers and imitators). I dove head first into a vintage flacon that arrived from Russia in a weathered box, yet the flacon inside was sealed and in pristine condition, inviting me to viciously peel away its skin-like seal and cut the black cotton string. The golden juice within the cut-glass bottle smells like a jewel, and with ease that greatly surprised me, I was tempted to dab and re-apply as I write and marvel at it. 

What strikes me at first is its structure, and how despite its singular, unique elements, it is after all a classic Opulent-Spicy perfume, with the mellis accord of patchouli-eugenol lubricated by balsams, fleshed-out by florals, and uplifted by a generous dose of citrus, of course; and how it echoes the magnificent Opium which preceded it by seven years. Both have that mandarin opening, bright and rich orange blossom to match it, sheer cool-warm spiciness, and finally, a pronounced opoponax resin that is so addictive, plum-like and rich. 

Coco stands alone, somewhat snobby in the best Chanel tradition, but with a lot more presence and boldness than any of the other ones from the same house. It is Opulent indeed, in a way that is almost out of character for the house that prides itself with austere, orris and aldehyde-clad creations. It is definitely a Chanel with shoulder pads, at the opera or a gala concert, clapping hands quite enthusiastically but making friends only with few, who would mostly keep her company while she smokes. 

And the smoke is, indeed, the part that makes Coco stand out. Cascarilla, a Caribbean bush whose bark is used to flavour cigars, give it a peculiar note that could be either charming or off-putting. Either way it is intriguing. But I will let you decide. It alludes to tobacco and leather, and creates interest. Ditto with the angelica note - this one is not green, but rather smoky and musky, adding another element of surprise. Because otherwise, it is a rather conformist Opulent-Spicy, just equipped with a cigarette. 

Every time I dive back into my Coco flacon, I come back with another impression. At one time I’m noticing a lot of linalool and tropical floral notes, reminiscent of suntan lotion — but that’s just the surface, and won't last long enough to make Coco a Floramber (although some may be tempted to call it so, or even call it a “Spicy Floral”, which is in my opinion a misunderstanding of the genre - Opulents always have copious amounts of florals, but that does not make them a floral perfume). This aspect of Coco implies softness, femininity, fun… This is just a mask though for what comes next. Or perhaps just a sign of an unfocused composition. 

Another dab may bring to the fore its intense tuberose-orange blossom notes, bold and artificial in the manners of the 80s (Poison and Giorgio spring to mind, the former even more so because of the prominent tuberose-opoponax accord). It is saved from being vulgar by tonka bean, which creates a soft-focus effect that also helps pull all the elements together, as well as mellow woody notes of sandalwood and vetiver, which give creaminess and depth. Which makes me finally understand the connection between the original and its Noir flanker - which is a sort of a Fruitchouli, dominated by vetiver and jasmine and dark fruits. Both version have that fruity aspect, by the way, of stewed and spiced plums or poached pears in a spicy wine. 

Yet somehow, despite all these different directions pulling my attention, Coco manages to stay balanced and beautiful, and somehow this array of seeminglyy mismatched notes maintains tension and presence all the way to the drydown. It is not linear per se, but in each phase, the same melange of both classic and quirky notes emerge, for another round of card games.

Coco may be a bit indecisive, but that is only because there are so many beautiful things to explore. And that’s precisely the character of Coco parfum — contradictory, over-indulgent, a loud fragrance that commands respect even if it could have been just as easily been ridiculed. 

Top notes: Frangipanni, Mimosa, Mandarin, Coriander,

Heart notes: Orange Blossom, Rose, Jasmine, Cascarilla Bark, Allspice, Tuberose, Honey

Base notes: Opoponax, Angelica, Patchouli, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Benzoin, Musk, Civet 

Z'bad

Z'bad

Z'bad, Zebad or Zubad, Zabād, Sinnawr al-Zabād simply means civet in Arabic, and is the origin of this word in Western world (Civet, civette, zibet and zibetum are some of its Western spellings). In the Arab world, civet paste is still used today in its raw form, as an aphrodisiac, and a hair grooming product: to smooth and scent eyebrows, moustache and beard, as well as treatment for hair loss and various other folkloric uses. If you understand Arabic, this video explains how it is used also. But Z'bad is also a perfume type, just as "White Musk" is a type of fragrance nowadays, and not just one literal ingredient. Although civet is the key ingredient that gives it its character, it is not the only one. Z'bad was used to protect against the evil eye, so it is a magical concoction as well as an aphrodisiac.

I first heard about Z'bad from Dan Riegler (Apothecary's Garden), who have found it in an old perfumery and apothecary in the midst of a Souk in Yemen. I was both intrigued and hesitant about purchasing it because it was a bit unclear to me at the time what this was - aged civet paste or an authentic Yemeni perfume, and since I don't use the former in my creations, it seemed superfluous to make such a purchase.

When I stumbled upon this article about The Painted House and heard from Ayelet Bar-Meir that the Yemeni artist used this mysterious perfume and that it was a strong memory she left with her children and grand children, I knew I had to try it for myself. Dan has kindly gifted me with two jars, and I'm so thankful he did. The Z'bad that Dan found in Yemen is indeed not just aged civet but a full perfume, a solid paste of civet mingled with camphor, spices and that has aged and mellowed for decades.

In Dan's own words, "Z'bad is a potent traditional Yemenite Civet based perfume mix, used for hundreds of years among the Yemenite Jews, but abandoned by younger generations, Z'bad, or Zabad, doubled as a prophylactic against the evil eye, which may also be a contributing factor to its decline in popularity(...)". Which fits right in with what I read about Afia's use of it in that article, and what Ayelet has spoken about.

I received the Z'bad while I was still in Canada, and made great efforts (over the course of four weeks!), to not open the jar till I entered The Painted House. I wanted to have a very specific place association and emotional memory with it. And trying it on first at the house of a woman who lived with similar fragrances and put great care to incorporate them into her daily rituals. It was at first surprisingly fresh, and surprisingly familiar: a burst of camphor and spearmint emerges from the jar as I first uncorked it and smeared some of the dense, rich salve onto the back of my hand.  It had strong banknotes of balsams and civet, but nevertheless there was a surprisingly green, minty, camphoreous freshness to it for the first few minutes. It was a tad medicinal, but not as medicinal as Tiger Balm (which is what the uninitiated nose might dismiss it as at first sniff). There are also earthy qualities, almost musty-dusty, which makes me wonder if there isn't some patchouli oil in there as well, or more likely - a kind of infusion of the dried leaves. I have very little knowledge of how these traditional perfumes I made, but from the little I know about Arab aesthetics, just as the oud oil is used as the "base oil" for other ingredients, in this case it is not unlikely that the civet paste was infused with several resins, spices and herbs to create this rich perfume preparation. I'm also smelling cedar, which gives it a rather pervasive dryness in the opening hour of so on the skin. Perhaps even a hint of myrrh or opoponax. There are no flowers to be smelled in this, but it is unnecessary. There is so much indole in the civet that it really blooms on the skin, and develops into this luscious, purring animalic-balsamic presence for hours on end afterwards. It is not overmpoering at all, but simply becomes part of my skin.

Youth Dew & Z'bad

In both its scent and consistency, Z'bad reminds me a lot of vintage Youth Dew solid perfume in a vintage necklace I have that is probably not that different in age. It seems like Z'bad was the inspiration for Youth Dew, as well as its predecessor Tabu. Both rely heavily on civet, and have a distinctively heavy-sweet-cloying-exotic character that is heavily inspired by the Orient. To Westerners that never smelled the original, these two must have been earth-shuddering at the time, and immensely original. And they are in their own rights. But they wouldn't be around without this Arabian unguent.

Likewise, the evocative packaging and thicker liquid in the Western Orientals - Tabu, Youth Dew, Opium, Obsession and Shalimar - is created in such way as to recreate the ritual of applying a thick paste to the eyebrows, nape of the neck and perhaps other unmentionable strategic spots. The richness of materials create a heavy veil of scent that is highly intimate, personal and also precious. It does not need to be applied in great quantity, and ironically - the economy in which is can be used is part of its luxury and appeal.

Black Gardenia

Gardenia

Russian Leather meets tuberose in Anna Zworykina's Black Gardenia. Zworykina's plays up the rubbery nuances of tuberose with the addition of  leathery-smoky quality of castoreum*, and I suspect there is also a tad of birch tar or cade in there. The green and creamy aspects of tuberose are still felt, but they feel mushroomy and dark, and stay true to the promise of the name Black Gardenia. This is by no means a shy flower, but rather a fleshy, dark, prowling feline-like beast that becomes more aroused the longer it lingers on your skin.

Along the tuberose star, there are frangipani, neroli and ylang ylang as a supporting actresses. The first two bring out the stem-green aspects of tuberose and gardenia; the latter highlights its creamy, leathery, salicylic qualities. There are some oak-barrel-like undertones from the sandalwood and agarwood, giving the leather a sturdy frame to stretch on. Slowly the smokiness dissipates and makes room for a smooth, woody-vanilla skin-scent. There is also a hint of something fruity-floral (perhaps the davana), and the floral gardenia illusion, although subtle, is felt in a suave, smooth, tropical-floral-on-warm-skin way.

The interesting things about complex compositions and raw materials: Once you notice something, you will notice it again in different stages of the composition. Another time around wearing Black Gardenia, the  juicy fruitiness of the Davana comes off right away, adorning the tuberose, shimmering and reflecting the ylang ylang juicy banana aspects, and creating more of a tropical-fruity effect, where as in the first times I worn it, I noticed the creamy-green tuberose facets more.

While Black Gardenia has a clear personality of leather-tuberose, it has many nuances that piques my interest throughout its duration on my skin. It is lovely, a little addictive and a case in point that white florals can take a stance without being loud, and be pretty without ever becoming boring.

Top notes: Ylang Ylang, Neroli, Frangipani
Heart notes: Tuberose, Jasmine, Rose, Orris, Davana
Base notes: Castoreum, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Agarwood 

* A botanical, vegan version is also available, which I haven't smelled

Carnal Flower

Pink orchid 011

Carnal Flower opens with a slightly fresh fruity note and hints of green (melon and eucalyptus). Than it’s mostly tuberose with a full-bodied, sweetened orange blossom, much in the same vein as that note in Lys Mediteranee. Even the base is the same to my nose – supposed to be musk, but I smell a balsamic-woody sweetness similar to peru balsam essential oil (which smells very different than the crude balsam). There isn’t much coconut in it, but it does help improve the initial impression and add creaminess to the tuberose.

I like this a lot and it’s easy to wear (I worn it on a very warm day and it was never cloying at all). However, this is not my favourite tuberose, and in the light of Lys Mediteranee being so similar, I do feel a tad disappointed from this installation in the Editions de Parfums

Top notes: Melon, Eucaliptus, Ylang Ylang, Salycilates
Heart notes: Tuberose, Orange Blossom, Jasmine
Base notes: Coconut, Musks

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