The Different Company's Osmanthus

Linden Blossom

Sometime in the spring, I took the train to Tel Aviv for a day of fun with my daughter. Among other things, we went to Individual in Neve Tzedeq, a new perfume boutique that carries only niche brands, among them Different Company. It was a chance to revisit Osmanthus, a fragrance that from my memory captured best the elusive scent of this tiny flower while it's still intact on the bush. The absolute does not portray an accurate picture, although it is gorgeous on and of itself. I only had a chance to smell white osmanthus one evening in San Francisco at Ineke' private fragrant garden. It's the kind of scent one could ever forget. The osmanthus incense my friend Noriko brought me from Japan also comes pretty close to it, and does not smell terrible artificial even though it is.

The shop owners at Individual are evidently passionate about perfume, and know how to sell it (not being pushy is crucial, as is giving samples to try at home several times). I've revisited the sample of TDC Osmanthus over the course of a few months now, and I'm still on the fence if to get it or not... But before I launch into describing my experience with this scent, a word of caution to any perfumer trying to recreate this scent or even attempt to compose with osmanthus absolute: it is extremely challenging. That is not to say that there aren't any gorgeous perfumes with that scent, or that it's impossible to work with, or to discourage one from trying; but the results are more often watered down florals that lack body or character, except for a very artificial and synthetic feel (the examples for this genre of osmanthus approach are many, from to the swimming-pool clean l'Eau d'Issey or whitewashed Pure White Linen to the fruity-shampoo persona of Nuit de Cellophane). Some of the natural and niche perfumeries have churned up descent or interesting perfumes in which osmanthus is the star of the show - Osmanthus Oolong and Un Crime Exotique are two of my all-time favourites.

TDC Osmanthus starts realistic and promising, with that mysterious, fruity yet powdery, diffusive and  delicately ephemeral live osmanthus on the bush; yet there is a slightly oily element which interrupts this harmony. This is not uncommon in osmanthus absolute, by the way. There could be a tad of a rancid oil off-note. As long as it's just a hint, that's okay. Then it becomes  bit more honeyed and before you know it - it turns into realistic rendition of living linden blossoms in mid-June. Like  whiff of blue skies on a cool summer morning. Bright and fresh like crisp linens off the laundry line, with hints of iced tilleul tea. It is pretty, but I'm missing some kind of a darkness or body or a contrasting point that would make it more interesting and less linear.

Jasmine Creamsicle

You know, I think the large trees are easier.

The show must go on, and to distract myself from the wild forest fires, I'm testing out jasmine perfumes in my nearly forgotten stash of samples. Some perfumes have very obviously jasmine-y name, so I'm beginning my little jasmine expedition with those. As it turns out, it is rather difficult to find a true jasmine perfume out there. The main reason? Jasmine is expensive, and most companies use very little if at all of genuine jasmine absolute. And with my particularly spoiled nose, that is accustomed to either smelling the fresh living flowers, top-notch jasmine teas or fine absolutes from India and Egypt - I'm hard to impress.

Additionally, even the jasmine reconstitutions or floral bases out there tend to be low on the indole, because it is supposedly too old fashioned and/or offensive to most; and also gives a bronish-orangey tint to whichever product it is suspended in... In my pile of fake jasmines, Jasmin de Nuit stood out as a bit unusual because I could smell real jasmine in it, and also true vanilla absolute, in all its complex, woody charm.

Jasmin de Nuit was Celine Elena's first scent for the Ellena family's endeavour, The Different Company, and refreshingly it bares very little resemblence to her father's austere style. It opens with full-bodied fruity jasmine (Egyptian jasmine has lower indole content than Indian, and also is a bit more fruity and peach/apricot like). Before long, a prominent vanilla absolute base is revealed. And an hour or so later, sweet orange notes - not so much the zest, but rather the actual orange juice emerges, making it smell rather like an Orange Creamsicle. Lovely, fun but not quite jasmine-y enough to my taste. I'm also smelling a reference to Tocade, with its exaggerated ambreine accord of amber and bergamot, accentuated with musk. The spices take a very modest role of simply accenting the composition and adding interest 0 which is why it does not smell entirely of Creamsicle, but rather smells fun and intriguing.

Top Notes: Blackcurrant, Star Anise, Cardamom, Bergamot
Heart Notes: Egyptian Jasmine, Cinnamon, Orange Juice
Base Notes: Vanilla, Amber, Sandalwood, Musk 

Blind Tests at Barneys

Since I haven't had enough time the day before to smell much at Barneys by Union Square, I had to pay them a second visit before heading to wine country (poor me...). I took the bus down Geary street, which was an interesting people watching experience on its own right, and slowly but surely made my way to the corner of O'Farrel & Stockton. The cosmetics/fragrance department is downstairs, and some of the sales reps already recognized me from yesterday, so I couldn't go incognito, which is my favourite way of perfume shopping.

I wanted to take another look at Yosh's lovely display (which I'm showing you again here) and also explore a few lines that I wasn't familiar with, including the only organic line that seemed to have survived there - Horst Rechelbacher's new company of organic lifestyle brand Intelligent Nutrients, which is basically an organic version of Aveda (even seems to use the same font), released once his non-compete agreement with Estee Lauder expired. Nothing about it is significantly different - similar packaging, similar scents - line certfied organic multi-functional aromas of more complex, aromatherpeutic-smelling perfumes in the likes of the former Aveda Chakra scents (there are also 7 of them...), with names such as Awaken, Attune, Nurture, Restore, Focus... And the other perfumes are very simple single notes - Jasmine or Mint.

The other line I explored was Le Labo, for the first time really, as I've never been any near their retail store since my visit to Blunda in West Hollywood, and at that time I was too busy with the Hanami perfume exhibition to make it down there. I liked what they did with some of the scents Iris 39, Pathcouli 24, Oud 27, Labdanum 18 were the easily most memorable, which shouldn't be a surprise as I love these notes; and believe it or not - their Calone room spray also left a positive impression on me, though I doubt I'll ever buy or use it - it was certainly intriguing. But the highlight of the counter for me was the opportunity to blind test myself with some 45 or so raw aromatics (most of them natural). The bottles are lined up in a little silver case, and only numbered, not labeled. Thanks to Jonatha, the helpful rep at the Le Labo counter, he told me if I was right or wrong.

I get very little chance to test my nose like I do to my students (the only times when I truly was able to get "blind tested" was when I went to a week long course in Grasse, France), so it was a fun and internesting experiment (and also quite a relief that I got most of them right). The ones I didn't guess right among the naturals I'm familiar were a little "off" from sitting in the alcoholic solution in a bottle for too long, or were just such different specimens from what I work with that I had no clue. Even after getting the right answer they still didn't smell like I know them... the three I didn't guess right were their frankincense, which smelled very much like oregano (!) in the top; the oakmoss, which was nothing like the green oakmoss - or even the brown oakmoss I work with (it was kind of inky, vaguly animalic and woody, but without any of the distinct characteristis, which is why it smelled very "off" to me), and it only revealed its mossiness after sitting on a scent strip for a good 10 mintues or so, and the cedarwood smelled neither like Virginian nor Atlas or Himalayan cedar - but like guiacwood... In either case, it was a good lesson in using scent strips when blind testing, because even if you are smelling different specimens than what you're used to, some of the characteristics that are familir and universal to the particular raw material should reveal themselves at some point in the dryout phases.

I also re-smelled a few of The Different Company's scents, and a few of their new ones, got a sample of A Portrait of a Lady from Editions de Parfums which I'm looking forward to trying on my skin (smells very much like a big "saffron and rose" perfume), and left with one wrist adorned with Yosh's Ginger Ciao (which I remembered spicier and less floral that it is now); and the other with Kismet (quite narcissus-smelling on me, dark an exotic), and that's how I smelled for the remainder of the day in San Francisco!

Sel de Vetiver

The concept of using minerals as a theme in perfume is relatively new. Although there are distinct mineral notes in perfumes such as Aqua Allegoria Pampeloune (Sulfur) and l’Eau d’Issey (Chlorine), the mineral presence in these fragrances was kept hush-hush only to be noticed by the keen noses; Yet the Elena family seems to be taking this concept into a whole different direction, spearheading the elemental or mineral movement in perfumery, with Sel de Vetiver by Celine Elena (Salt) and Terre d’Hermes by Jean-Claude Elena (Flint) and in general by their minimalist approach that is more mineral than organic.

Sel de Vetiver (Vetiver Salt) from The Different Company meant to evoke the barely-there scent of ocean salt on a sun warmed skin. Although I can understand the salty reference and association with vetiver, warm it is not. Rather, it’s a cool, dusty vetiver with a clean earthy presence. It may recall the gritty, ground-sea-shells sand, salt sticking to driftwood and the rough dryness of skin that was soaked and masked with mud, salt and sulfur for too long. But it does not quite smell like salt or skin.

Sel de Vetiver opens with an astringent, clean accord of grapefruit, ginger and a hint of cardamom that reminds me roasted dark coffee more than the spice itself. I can smell hints of ylang ylang, but they are not obvious at all, being rather heady and fleeting. Other notes that are mentioned are orris and geranium, but I can’t say I was aware of their presence at any given point. Vetiver and refined patchouli (smells more like a patchouli isolate rather than the full-bodied oil) step in pretty fast and dominate Sel de Vetiver for most of its life on the skin – the sweet, clean scent of these two earthy essences combined.

Top notes: Grapefruit, Ginger, Cardamom
Heart notes: Ylang Ylang, Geranium Bourbon, Orris
Base notes: Vetiver, Patchouli

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