Coco Noir

Coco Noir

Sometimes we get attached to perfumes because they speak to us. Other times, it is pure coincidence that creates an imprint on our minds and adds meaning to the scent that we would have otherwise not found in it.

These past few months I've been wearing copious amounts of Coco Noir. I've received the parfum extrait from a friend as a goodbye gift, and somehow it did not seem right to stuff it on the shipping container. Probably because I was too curious about it. At the same time I was too scared to open it, because starting a new perfume at a time of great change can create too strong of an impression - and I knew that there are many challenges ahead of me. I definitely did not want to open it at the time of our departure - I was an emotional mess, after three months of intensive packing and very little sleep... So I waited for a while for the dust of traveling to settle, and opened it about a week or two after arriving in Israel. It was a time of terrible weather (weeks and weeks on end of dry desert wind and over-the-top temperatures) not to mention - great emotional turmoil and immigrant adventures - and we are still in the midst of it, but I have enough levelheadedness now to reflect a bit, as things are finally starting to fall into place: my daughter will start school on Sunday, our home renovations are about halfway through, and my mental state allows me to pass entire days without crying (but still happens about once a week, because I end up hitting a brick wall of some sort at least in that frequency).

Coco Noir is a modern "dark" concoction, which means that instead of oily aldehydes and animalic base, it has clean florally laced with white musks and underlying notes of vetiver and patchouli. It isn't exactly a fruitchouli, but it borders on that territory, with a clean ambreine accord (not unlike Prada Ambre Intense Pour Homme) - which means it has vanillin, patchouli and bergamot galore in it. However, there is also a spicy cacao accord (or perhaps it's just an illusion of that - created by the spicy cloves notes alongside the benzoin, vanillin and coumarin) which is quite prominent, which reminds me of Notorious - only that it continues much better in my opinion (it does not have as much musk, which in Notorious gives me a piercing feeling through my nostrils). It gradually softens and develops around the heart of jasmine and rose, and leads smoothly to the end: Dryout is a mellow, powdery confection, with hints of heliotrope (not unlike La Petite Robe Noire - but with non of the saccharine qualities of the latter).

Coco Noir is more accessible, in my opinion, than Coco is. I love the original, even though I do not own it. It has a big persona and feels over-the-top for daily wear. I would only imagine wearing it when I'm all dressed up for a very sepcial event in the middle of winter. Instead, it provides with a very modern comfort in my overtly rustic living arrangement (which is only temporary, sort of...). It's a scent that inevitably will conjure up scent memories from this time of re-settling in my home village: having this sleek, elegant, opaque black glass square bottle around reminds me of my urban side and that I'm not going to be forever wading in mud to and from the yurt, and struggling with every little aspect of life. There is still place for elegance and luxury in my life even in this off the grid spot in between two major life periods.

Another great reminder of this truth: whenever I stick my nose inside my shipping container, which smells still like my very fragrant home studio in Vancouver. My friend chose this fragrance because it reminded him of how my perfume smelled. I think I now get what he's talking about: it's very much like this "smell of everything, all at once" that you get from my workspace: dried coumarinic herbs (liatrix, tonka), vetiver roots, patchouli, countless flowers, herb oils and spices... All mingled with woodsy oils and the scent of antique furniture.

I'm grateful for having this point of view portrayed to me via a bottle of fragrance chosen for me.

Top notes: Cedarwood, Bergamot, Orange, Grapefruit
Heart notes: Rose, Jasmine, Narcissus, Geranium, Peach, Carnation, Cloves
Base notes: Patchouli, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Benzoin, Frankincense, Musk, Vanilla, Heliotropin, Tonka

Transitional Scents


Transitional times can either be the best times to try new scents, or the worst possible idea. It really depends on what type of transition is taking place, isn't it? Transitions happens when we find new love, lose an old one, move to a different place, complete or begin school, embark on a new career or let go of a previous one, take care of an ill loved one, or welcome a new family member.

At times like this, I find myself doing one of three things: find comfort in familiar, tried-and-true scents with which I have strong positive associations; try something new; or just avoid scent altogether.

1) Leaning on familiar fragrances to bring comfort
Like catching up with a good old trusted friend, it's wonderful to have a perfume (or two) which you know you'll always find comfort in wearing. To me, many of the classic Chypres have been just that: Miss Dior, Mitsouko, and my own Ayalitta. However, you should be warned that new scent-memories are ever changing with new experiences and new associations. For example: when my daughter broke her leg many years ago, I took my bottle of Mitsouko EDP to the hospital to make me feel better. It worked at the time. But then I was unable to wear it again for many months without remembering this harsh week at the hospital.

This is not surprising, and is also true for the memories themselves: they change every time we recall them. Each time we tell our story, it is being edited, so to speak...  Every time we experience a fragrance, we not only recall our past experiences, associations and emotions with that scent, but also create new ones. There is a dynamic relationship between our emotions, memories and scents. Every time we wear a perfume, we deepen the relationship with it as we encounter new people, feelings and memories along the day.

The beauty of this is, that we can change our own stories and give happy ending even to the most traumatic chapters in our lives. On a more perfumey notion: perfumes that we hated or brought sad, painful memories, can be turned around and become the bearers of happy thoughts and good news.

2) Experiment with a new fragrance, which will create new scent-memories for such significant time. 
This is the philosophy of "new life - new scent". It does, however, depend on a state of mind that fosters curiosity. Curiosity and playfulness have room to exists only when there is a sufficient amount of confidence and safety in place. Only when we feel safe enough - we will feel curious to explore a new environment and experiment with new possibilities.
I often have clients come to me at times of transition wanting to imprint this time of their life with a  unique scent. Once again, this is proactive way to shape your own scent-memories. The wind of change is often scented with new scents - of the a new home, a new work environment, smells of new people and whatever they've chosen to scent their lives with... Rather than passively waiting for new scent associations to come by (which they are bound to anyway!) - you'll remember this change in your life by something that you have chosen yourself.

3) Avoid scents altogether, as to avoid creating new negative scent associations.
Change makes many people uneasy or uncomfortable. Even if it's a so-called positive change, the unknown always has an element of fear, and cause of major stress. Even excitement for the future has more than a hint of anxiety mixed in. When embarking such unpredictable journeys, I often find it difficult to embrace scent in my daily life. There is so much to take in that scent may feel as imposing another excessive stimulation on an already overloaded system.  When a million thoughts are going through my head, sometimes it seems that experiencing the emotions that a scent inspires would just be an overkill.
If you feel like this, don't push yourself to wear perfume. Perfume is meant to be a pleasurable, enjoyable experience. Not a painful one. With that being said, you may find a renewed interest and comfort in simple scents from nature, or notice that your sense of smell is more keen now and notices more subtle aromas. Take pleasure in small things such as savouring the fragrant steam of a cup of tea and more nuanced smells of objects that you've never noticed before, such as linen, straw hats and wool. 

Monkey Monday: City Scents

Rotshield St. Tel Aviv by Omer Simkha
Rotshield St. Tel Aviv, a photo by Omer Simkha on Flickr.

“Cities are smells: Accra is the smell of iodine and spices. Haifa is the smell of pine and wrinkled sheets. Moscow is the smell of vodka on ice. Cairo is the smell of mango and ginger. Beirut is the smell of the sun, sea, smoke, and lemons. Paris is the smell of fresh bread, cheese, and derivations of enchantment. Damascus is the smell of jasmine and dried fruit. Tunis is the smell of night musk and salt. Rabat is the smell of henna, incense, and honey. A city that cannot be known by its smell is unreliable. Exiles have a shared smell: the smell of longing for something else; a smell that resembles another smell. A panting, nostalgic smell that guides you, like a worn tourist map, to the smell of the original place. A smell is a memory and a setting sun. Sunset, here, is beauty rebuking the stranger.” (Mahmoud Darwish, "In The Presence of Absence" - translated by Sinan Antoon). - Special thanks to Caitlin Shortell of Legerdenez for enlightening me with this quote!

I was quite certain that today's post was going to be "Monday Blues" and ways to beat it: yesterday Vancouver returned to its classic disposition: soaked, dark, contemplative, introspective and completely overcast. It's difficult to see the light through such a thick blanket of clouds; and most of the city's inhabitants seem to be in an ongoing SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder): happy and friendly on the rare sunshine days; but otherwise constantly battling with doom and gloom the remainder 85% of the year, which translates into introversion, inclusiveness and workaholism... Well, at least we get the job done here in the Pacific Northwest! And we do it fast, to keep ourselves warm while at it!

You can only imagine my delight to open the curtains this morning to a glimpse of sunshine that's been peaking among the highrises; and after greeting the school bus and walking down Bute street to visit the Nelson Park Community Gardens - I was noticing the enticing freshness of the sticky, semi-fermented leaves on the brick-paved Bute Square. Such an unusual smell that only comes out after a long dry period that is followed by a day or less of rain (usually when the rain comes to town it stays for way longer...). Delightful, and rare!

That smell of freshly rained pavement in the first rays of morning sun; sticky semi-fermented leaves of some unruly maple that's oozing honey and sticks to everyone's shoes - reminded me vividly of Tel Aviv in the early fall: completely unprepared, I'd find myself in Rotshield boulevard in a violent rainstorm - that although lasts as briefly as a run through the length of the boulevard, just enough to get me in to my first boyfriend's (to become husband) apartment... The boulevard is party paved and partly covered in sandy terracotta earth, street cat's excrement and an abundance of bat's favourite - semi-fermented sycamore fruit that has turned into a black marmalade spread lavishly along the boulevard.

And I could not agree more with Darwish's observations of the various cities he summarizes in a few scents: each city has a definitive odour, often comprises of several random characteristic smells (be it from food and other manmade odours - and malodours - created by city living, juxtaposed with the natural surroundings and unique vegetation that was chosen by the city's carefully designed - or uncalled for - flora and fauna). And indeed, "A city that cannot be known by its smell is unreliable". Which is precisely what Vancouver has been to me from the moment I arrived here, one terribly rainy October day (which lasted a month). Though it's not true that I did not recognize any scents, they were by no means lingering in the air. The city's only distinctive smell greeted you when entering someone's fungi-infested wooden home. And that was a common scent that takes years getting used to.

Likewise, it took me years discovering Vancouver's hidden olfactory treasures - privet hedges in bloom at the beginning of each January; plum cherry blossoms' savoury, bittersweet aroma that are reminiscent of coumarin and sweet red beans; the subtle salty kelp and boat motor oil that is dispersed in the air on the rare days when the city is above room temperature... You really know you know the city when you can sum up its smells with such vivid clarity. I feel I can only do that well with cities I actually lived in or visited more than a handful of times - so let's try:

Jerusalem is the smell of bus exhaust mingled with fresh spearmint and parsley bundles, dusty cobblestone and freshly baked bagels with sesame.

Tel Aviv is the smell of rusted fences, sweat, fermented sycamore fruit and sand impregnated with too many cat visits.

Akko (aka Acre) is the smell of fish on ice, brine, rahat loukum and chickpeas cooking.

Vancouver is the smell of fungi-infested wood, wet leaves, kelp, jet fuel and plum blossoms.

Victoria is the smell of stale tea leaves, English roses, expensive soap and moss-covered stones.

Montreal is the smell of metal and cement in the metro, rain-covered raspberry, ripe Bartlett pears, pink lotus flowers and almond croissants.

San Francisco is the smell of live honeysuckles and angel's trumpet, and nag champa mingled with cannabis smoke.

As you can tell, I'm getting worse and worse at this the more further I stray from the familiar... In other words - I need your help! Please leave a comment below, and enter to win a mini of the only city-themed perfume I've ever created: New Orleans. I never visited there (yet!!!), but I created it based on the city's native's description of it and the feedback from NOLAns was that it is very accurate.

P.s. Monkey Monday winner from last week's giveaway is yash - who wins a sample package from House of Matriarch.

Interesting Read: Scent and Memory

We all know from experience how strongly scent and memories are connected. This study sheds an interesting new light on the topic, as it links fragrance association with learning process (memorization) as well as sleep patterns and the role of sleep in our processing and internalizing information.
Students who were exposed to the scent of roses while learning a new task and than exposed to the same scent during their deep sleep remember 15% more than students who did not have the scent/memory association and were not introduced to the scent again in that phase of sleep.
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