Borneo 1834

Resinous chocolate milk filled with oozing caramel, on a pretense of being bittersweet… Only saving point is its dusty cocoa powdery note, and an underlying masculine-oriented notes of tobacco and some synthetic musks.

Here is the thing with evolving taste and being exposed to so much more: it takes away from the pleasure that “beginner’s luck” brings. I remember liking Borneo a lot and finding more patchouli in it when I first smelled it. It was this unabashed, shamelessly patchouli scent. But now it feels as if there is not enough patchouli in it….

Santal de Mysore

the fish curry spices by bognarreni
the fish curry spices, a photo by bognarreni on Flickr.

As I was riding the train through Central Valley (California) back in June, all kinds of things were happening -
A girl of 10 or so was going for their first train ride ever; people were getting on and off, and Santal de Mysore was slowly unfolding on my wrists (mostly just dissipating), with no sandalwood in sight. I had some dabbed on my scarf as well, and it was lingering on it nicely. I've put it on early in my trip, as soon as I felt awake enough to surround myself with rich spices that won't disappoint a visit to the nearby Indian restaurant (which I doubt there is any in Central Valley, but a person can dream!).

It's exactly those spices which grabbed me at first and nearly convinced me to buy a bottle right there and than at Scent Bar. Even at the heat and humidity of LA it has its charm and it was all over me on the evening when I tried it first. And with a name so appealing, suggesting an extinct tree whose scent only haunts my dreams, it was very easy to go the impulse way.

True Mysore sandalwood is a thing of the past; over-harvesting, and practices that don't really change reduce Indian sandalwood oil to a ghastly mirror of what it once used to be: to achieve the creamy, milky, slightly floral and sweetly musky aroma of sandalwood, one must wait, patiently, for 50 years before uprooting the tree and distilling its entire heartwood, including that which comes from the roots. Nowadays, the only "ethical" sandalwood oils that comes from India are from plantations that are supposedly replenished, yet from much younger trees (20-30 years old), before they obtained their aged character. Rather, you get rancid, sour wood. Which on my skin, personally, only gets sourer as it unfolds.

But I digress from the main theme of this post, which is how does this perfume smell? It just so happens to have Mysore sandalwood in the name (and the premise, or promise, or price point). In reality, Santal de Mysore is a savoury perfume interpretation of garam masala, and with a French take. And by that I mean - it has cumin in it. When I was in an Indian restaurant in Grasse (Sothern France), the food was completely free of spices, except it had tomato sauce and cumin, which was supposed to be the adventurous, exotic part of the dish. It stays rather linear - with the spices and woodsy, resinous notes of immortelle, turmeric and cumin slowly fading away, with the only spice missing being shallots and perhaps some asafoetaida. There are only hints and suggestions of other ambery and woodsy components such as vanilla-like benzoin, dry wood and cistus. And all along, alpha ionone is casting its dark, shadowy candied woodchips and crystallized violet notes, which became the trademark of the Serge Lutens brand ever since Feminite du Bois.

Santal de Mysore has more to it than just cumin, thankfully; but cumin and immortelle are certainly more dominant than sandalwood - that is for certain. Its charm lies in creating an "Arabie Lite" (and if you've read this blog from its very beginning, you'll know that I love Arabie) - not nearly as dense and dark as Arabie, as if the spices have left the mysterious souk and are already laid out on a plate with a steaming bowl of rice and naan on the side.

This is a classic example of "get a sample first". Because of the train ride association, and because it is an exotic yet soothing, warm scent - I enjoy wearing it very much. But for a far more intriguing spice mix, reminiscent of cold tamarind and dusty cobble stone streets, I will reach for Arabie; and for my sandalwood fix, I will have to look elsewhere. Perhaps in Vanuatu.

Miel de Bois

Taste of honey, originally uploaded by Rebeca Mello.

To greet the Jewish New Year, I've worn some honeyed perfumes these past couple of days, including the most dreaded, controversial Miel de Bois from the dense atelier of Monsieurs Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake.

Miel de Bois gets more often negative attention than positive, so I've decided to finally give this jus a try on New Year's Eve, following the tradition of dipping the first days of the year in honey...

The carded sample says:


Honey becomes the trickling sap of dreams, graecfeully melding with a very dry, woody accord. Delicate, subtle and true."

What I got from it was an over-intensified honey candy fragrance, the kind you can also experience with honey-scented soap.

It is not so much honey as it is the cliche of honey. A scent I actually like a lot: it reminds me of rather early childhood memories, when I was about four. My family just moved to the village and there was no kindergarten. Our parents got a relief from caring for their preschoolers and build their houses in time for the fall, in the form of a soldier-teacher: an 18 or 19 year old girl whose name was Gilda, and who in order to appease us and prevent us from getting lost in the bush she gave us honey candies (there was no actual building for this "preschool" she had to run - maybe just a tent but I can't even remember that).
So this perfume does not really raise any profound memories otherwise, except that it reminds me of all honey candies and honey soap bars I encountered thereoff - which will forever remind me of Gilda (whom I don't even remember really without the honey candies attached to her image).

And in attempt to be a little more descriptive rather than reminisce about roaming in the thorny bushes of our village with a soldier-teacher bribing us with candy --
I would say Miel de Bois smells like an artificial honey fragrance. Wherever this "dry wood" is, I can't find it. If anything, it reminds me of a very concentrated artificial honey fragrance oil I got at a Bella Pella - an underground soapmaking shop in Mont Royal (Montreal) many years ago when I began my fragrance craze and was purchasing anything that smelled like something... Their scents are very fun when diluted in a soap base (they had an amazing Gianduja soap that made you just want to eat yourself in the bathtub) but way too strong on their own.
Unfortunately, Miel de Bois smells like it was never diluted in anything. So I am beginning to understand the controversy. It doesn't even have the depth and the density that other Serge Lutens perfumes have - that sweetness that sucks you in and makes you addicted whether if you like the scent or not. Instead, it is sharp, persistent and very artificial smelling. The sharpness is a little floral, but not any particular flower. It has more depth on a scent strip than on the skin, which is peculiar. But it certainly improves with time when worn on the skin - if you can get distracted beyond the "honey candy!" effect, which is ever so potent. I can smell some real honey absolute if I put my mind to it - which is a little more waxy than the fake honey smell. And than there is some baby-powder scent, which is hardly an improvement. And if you pay even more attention you may notice something that resembles wood - Atlas cedarwood, to be more exact, as in Feminite de Bois, which is the only point when one could consider this "smooth". But the fact that it is so difficult to make out anything else but honey is the problem with this perfume and what stands in the way of turning the amusement into real enjoyment.

Tomorrow I'm hoping to find some kind of an apple perfume to balance this review. Hopefully something that is as tart as a Granny Smith!

Paris Day V - Serge Lutens & IUNX

Today was a sick day, the Jiboulee weather in Paris got the best of me (unequipped Canadian who expects anywhere else other than Canada to have better weather – I packed only summer clothes pretty much). I got up very late after trying to sleep off a head-cold or an upcoming flu and went to meet Denyse near the Palais Royal. We sat at a café for a while talking mostly about the restrictions, regulations and legislation issues – a topic that one cannot get away from especially when in Europe*.

Than strolled through the Jardin de Palais Royal to Serge Lutens. Being a weekend, the shop was buzzing with officially dressed sales clerks and customers. By serendipity we met Thierry – a Parisian perfume connoisseur who shocked me by telling me everything about my latest Paris travel post. I was not expecting to meet a SmellyBlog reader in Paris so that was a wonderful surprise!

I tried too many Serge Lutens exclusives all at once: on my left writs Tubereuse Criminelle again, and on the upper side of that hand Sarasin. On my right wrist I tried and on top of the right hand Mandarine Mandarin, which starts like candied mandarin peel but ends up more like curry.

We than proceeded towards Rue St. Honore, to visit IUNX and Colette. Colette was quite crowded so we went straight to Hotel Costes, where Olivia Giacobetti’s IUNX line is being gradually re-introduced. The tiny shop is a dark modern catacomb of sorts, made of tinted glass and dark furniture. Red bottles of the hotel’s signature scent and candles are lined up and on the very left wall large monoclins emit the 5 scents and one is instructed by a strict sales clerk to inhale the scents in this particular order, from left to right:
Cologne Blanc, Eau Sento No. 2, l’Ether, l’Ether (for the second time), and than Splash Forte (the one that smells like dessert).

My immediate favourite was l’Ether, which smells mostly of geranium, myrrh and musk. I would have been happy to buy a bottle on the spot, but they come in a towering 1/2meter tall bottles or so, that seem impossible to operate. The candle collection is overwhelmingly beautiful albeit most of the smells reminded me of some of the outstandingly gorgeous Diptyque candles. I hope they will bring out again the Guimauve scent (marshmallow with strawberry and orange flower water) so this might be something to look forward to in a future Paris visit.

It was already the end of the day and shops gradually started to shut down. I was able to sneak into Penhaligon’s before closing even though I wasn’t planning on it – I just stumbled upon it. But unfortuantley I got to Colette just minutes after closing time (I really was hoping to get me some Kyoto and sniff other Comme des Garcons as well as Le Labo’s line which aside from Vetiver 46 I’m completely unfamiliar with) and also missed the big Annick Goutal on 14 Rue Castilligone (which was ok because I already smelled what I wanted to in St. Germain) - not to mention was not for the life of me even able to spot any clues as to the whereabouts of JAR. I will just have to go to Paris again and not get sick this time!

* And just as an aside: Since I had many opportunities to discuss this in Grasse with working professionals, I am coming back to my original conclusion that the regulations are entirely se to eliminate any sort of competition for the big aromachemical houses: this is a double-sided sword that is set to a) make it extremely difficult for small, independent companies to survive thanks to a complex system of beaurocracy that is so labour intense it is only possible for large companies to comply with, having the means to develop elaborate software and have keep on their payroll a legistlation department and b) reduce if not eliminate completely (eventually) the production of natural raw materials. And even though synthetics are also becoming restricted, banned and so on this is not really a problem since it only creates more work for the chemical companies to develop new molecules to replace them.

Must Read: All My Perfumes are Sixty Six Years Old

"Inspiration is not something that comes in a flash. It is there within us and belongs to all. Nothing is less inspired than a suddenly inspired person! The components are already there inside you: elements, scents, colors, shapes… and when they express themselves you realize they have always been present. In fact, all my perfumes are sixty six years old!"

From Serge Lutens' interview for Victoria Forlova of Bois de Jasmin.

Another interesting quote from the interview: "The great problem of commercial perfumery is that people keep buying it!"

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