tijon

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Guerlain Insolence: fragrance review

Creating a contemporary violet fragrance was a true challenge back in 2006; Insolence by Guerlain is already celebrating its 10th anniversary and for good reason. Violet fragrances were seen as retro, reproducing the delicate, "shy violet" image of light face cosmetics and violet pastilles consumed by benevolent elderly ladies for sweetening their breath. Maurice Roucel, no shy violet himself, judging by the bold strokes of his fragrant compositions which actively paw their wearers to purring, chose to push the boundaries of both concepts to their potential extremes. He thus gave substance to a scent that can be literally tasted in the air, having the bystander engulfed by its profoundly musky violet-tinged hairspray note that announces its wearer from 2 blocks away, not just round the office corridor.

photo by Bettina Rheims pic via pinterest

In Sigmund Freud's seminal The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) the otherwise asexual word "violets" takes on the much more sinister nuance of "violence" and/or "viol" (French for rape) in the context of a dream. Insolence must have been inspired by the very concept, having Roucel chuckle up his sleeves while thinking about it, no doubt cognizant to the word association double-entendre, added to the illusion of violet, iris and rose fragrances perceived as soft and delicate. It was possibly the bourgeois standing of Guerlain that disallowed the risky association to surface through the advertising, going for some strobo-lights dancing Hilary Swank.

Predictably it was provocateur Tom Ford who saw the possibilities, when he baptized his own violet fragrance Violet Blonde which -of course- makes anyone think of a... violent blonde! Another missed train of fantasy for Guerlain, then, yet still a long-standing commercial and artistic success on the French brand counters everywhere.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Rosemary for Ageless Beauty? The History of L'Eau de la Reine d'Hongrie (Hungary Water)

In the popular tale of  “The Sleeping Beauty” by writer Charles Perrault, L’Eau de la Reine d’Hongrie (Hungary Water or Water of the Queen of Hungary) is clearly featured as a means to try to wake the sleeping princess, alas to no avail. A patch of rosemary for remembrance, fresh citrus and lush jasmine make the heart grow fonder. The recipe for L'Eau de la Reine d'Hongrie is a fascinating story to unravel.


The Queen Consort of Hungary, Elisabeth, also regent queen of Poland, used the cologne Eau de la Reine d’ Hongrie all her life, both using it on her skin and drinking it.
It was said that she owed her beauty and good health to it, to the point that she allegedly attracted a suitor when she was already 72 years old.

Her secret? A recipe, according to some sources, built in the 14th century, specifically in 1370, and as per other sources composed by Arnaud de Villeneuve in the 13th century. It is arguably the world's first eau de toilette. A recipe heavily relying on the invigorating powers of rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis), a humble plant with a scent between mint and lavender, whose essential oil is used to this day to fight against cutaneous ageing.  The miraculous reputation must have stuck for much longer than her lifetime, because fragrance companies continue to prepare fine fragrance inspired by the Renaissance recipe. Even the famous alchemist Alberto Magno (Albert the Great) advised taking a shot of this "eau" alongside some other liqueur or potion and rubbing down the body to rejuvenate.

As historians, however, we need to put things in perspective and dispel some of the tantalizingly promising tale of a miraculous elixir of youth. Elisabeth's regent status was not a bequest from a husband. It was thanks to her son, Louis de Hongrie, who became king of Poland. So whatever propositions make the stuff of legend are only that. And if we are to believe the claims by Marie Meurdrac, it might even refer to a different Queen altogether. Not Elisabeth but Dona Isabelle who reigned in 1652!

Read the rest of the article on this link on Fragrantica.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Annick Goutal Myrrhe Ardente: fragrance review

Amidst perfumes with dominant myrrh Myrrhe Ardente makes for sharp contrast. Indeed Myrrhe Ardente (perfervid myrrh) by Annick Goutal had a totally different approach than either Serge Lutens La Myrrhe or Keiko Mecheri Myrrhe et Merveilles. There was no attempt of dressing an apocryphal smell into classic tailoring to render it wearable by a modern sensibility.

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On the contrary, the element of myrrh was taken as a significant nod to the sweeping genre of Orientalism that marked the late 19th century and which almost singlehandedly - if we count Guerlain and Houbigant as those influenced by it -  gave us modern perfumery.

Camille Goutal then and her perfumer Isabelle Doyen began with a beautiful thesis proposition in 2007: how would oriental bath rituals of the harems (as seen in paintings by Ingres and the rest of the masters of the times) translate into scents? The sensuous Les Orientalistes line was born; initially a line of three fragrances for women or men which included Ambre Fetiche, Myrrhe Ardente and Encens Flamboyant. By the next year, another addition to the line increased the number by one: Musc Nomade; a vegetal musk which I count among my most favorites, built on ambrette seed.
They're all sensual fumes, molding themselves into the idea we have of the Orient and it seems to me (only a casual observation which might be proven wrong) that people seem to prefer either the opulent Ambre or the densely smoky Encens out of the quartet. My own preference lies to the outsiders.

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The Goutal fragrance implores us to look upon myrrh with eyes sooted with the blackest black of the lamp which burns lighting up the harem and to adorn our body with oils which speak of a thousand caravans carrying mysterious cargo across the Middle East. It makes me think of Loti; not Plato. The sweet facets brought out by the addition of benzoin and beeswax bring out a sticky "cola" note which is not at all at odds with the natural shade of the essential oil of myrrh. The gentle smokiness rendered by the earthy woody notes of vetiver is a welcome reminder that we're dealing with something that harkens back to the roots of perfumery; "through smoke".

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Keiko Mecheri Myrrhe et Merveilles: fragrance review

When it comes to Keiko Mecheri's Myrrhe et Merveilles the thrill of the unexpected in meeting myrrh in a modern formula is fractured into a thousand pieces. La Myrrhe by Serge Lutens just had it for lunch. For a long time I felt that the Mecheri line followed the Lutensian opus a bit too closely for comfort; it felt like glorified duping and if one is going that way why not admit it... I thought. But thankfully testing and retesting for the purposes of really getting an education on myrrh, I saw the error of my ways and finally came to appreciate this Mecheri fragrance for what it is: a luxurious and somewhat aloof soapy myrrh; one which showcases the element quite well without the mushroom earthiness of La Myrrhe.

by Taras Loboda, Ukrainian painter, 1961 via

If you squeeze your eyes a bit and look at it that way, Myrrhe et Merveilles might start giving you impressions of classic YSL Opium. It's only a slice of its hot iron hiss on a white starched shirt but it's plenty. The floral heart is rather spicy like carnations and almond blossoms smothered in musk. The musk is so prominent that the compoisition feels silken. Powdery almost. The "merveilles" (i.e. wonders) manifest themselves through the details, but they're enough to differentiate it from its mystical predecessor.

If your track record in orientals is good so far Myrrhe et Merveilles can only enhance it. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Serge Lutens La Myrrhe: fragrance review

Frankincense is met at the church as the censer spreads the fragrant smoke in the congregation. Myrrh is met at asketaria; monastic places of anchorites who end up their days exuding the smell of sanctity...or so witnesses say. In the iconoclastic La Myrrhe by Serge Lutens myrrh takes center stage given a centripental force spin which makes you lean your neck all the way up to there to just observe the gracious arc before it plunges into bittersweet soap¨aldehydes play their part with bravado. The overlaying accents of mandarin and honeyed notes melt's La Myrrhe's bitter resinous heart into the illusion of prettiness. When in fact it's a compellingly strange study in contrasts.

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The word "demon" (δαίμων) means spirit or divine power replete with knowledge in classical Greek mythology; at least up to the Neo-Platonics. Hence Socrates's famous claim of "being true to his inner demonium" and Diotema's lesson to him in Plato's Symposium that "love is a greater demon". Is myrrh therefore a demon? An entity between material (mortal) and spirit (divine knowledge)?

Myrrh is indeed someplace between the two; its very nature bears this duality. On the one side a numbing of the senses; a narcotic hedone that lulls the pain. On the other a scourging bitterness that reminds us of the pain of life. Two isomers that share the same structure arranged in different ways; two faces of Janus.
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Lutens and his perfumer sidekick Christopher Sheldrake were therefore the first to showcase the Janus-like nature of myrrh for all its worth in their epoch making creation. Experiencing La Myrrhe takes multiple uses to savor the bittersweet elements and the waxy-aldehydic shimmer that glistens upon skin application. I very much doubt I was fully aware of the complexity and irony built into it when zooming on the reddish liquid and paying for it that momentous time back. It must have been pure instinct or the patron saint of perfumery St. Magdalene who guided my young hand; it was my very first "bell jar" out of the purple seraglio in the Palais Royal and it marked me with its duality ever since.

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