There is a lot of debate about the importance of using natural ingredients in perfumery. Some people maintain that they will not use any non-botanical materials in their skincare and perfume, and that is their prerogative – there are some wonderful creators who produce beautiful fragrances
I can personally vouch for the Roxanna Illuminated Perfume range – I’m a fan of their Vera and Greenwitch solid fragrances and I am intensely envious of the fact that Sam is going to visit Mandy Aftel’s Aftelier Perfumes studio in California when she goes on holiday.
I can appreciate the hard work that goes into creating natural fragrances, where you can only use a handful of ingredients rather than the much broader range used in commercial perfumery. But to be honest, synthetics don’t scare me. (Your mileage may differ, as they say.)
Interestingly, a friend who has suffered with eczema for the last 40+ years, has recently been given a definitive allergen test that has confirmed she is allergic to Linalool. Now, while this is indeed a chemical, it is one that is present in an awful lot of plants. Lavender is a big ol’ Linalool producer, as are cinnamon, mint and basil, so a lot of very virtuous natural products bring my friend out in a hideous rash.
My friend is much safer using synthetically-fragranced products, as she can be certain about their contents. Sarah McCartney has developed a pair of non-allergenic fragrances that I tried recently and liked enormously. There is a lovely, cozy informality to the Alpha and Beta fragrances from Our Modern Lives.
Sarah explained the concept of this fragrance brand as being a mix and match one, to suit a wearer’s personal preferences and lifestyle choices. Along with the two non-allergenic fragrances (which I will be sending to my currently unperfumed friend), she has created a lovely range of seven all-natural fragrances to have an effect on the wearer’s mood and energy – from an energising yellow to a meditation-enhancing blue – and if a wearer chooses, they can layer on the Alpha or Beta fragrance to add radiance and longevity to the naturals. All the fragrances in the collection are beautiful, and having discussed this with Sarah, I am tempted to try layering some IsoE-Super with my favourite naturals to try and extend their life on my skin and increase the sillage.
What Do You Think?
Where do you stand on naturals and synthetics? Are you happy to wear anything as long as it smells good? Or do you feel happier wearing something that is plant-based? All opinions are welcome and it would be interesting to know what you think.
PS EDIT from Sam Check out Glastonbury based Marina Barcenilla’s superb award winning range of all natural fragrances at MB Perfumes.
I heard of this line years ago, when we perfumistas could post little parcels of decants and samples back and forth across international boundaries without a care. Stickers? Declaring dangerous contents? Pfft! Such ideas hadn’t been invented, and IFRA hadn’t spoiled our fun with their nasty old regulations about potential allergens.
The world is a safer and sadder place nowadays. Safer, because no postperson has to go to have stitches put in their hands while reeking of Shalimar after a flimsily-packaged bottle smashed in transit. Sadder, because I can’t just ask my buddies to send me ‘a little drop or two’ of something, drop a little parcel into the post in return, and find myself able to try things I can’t ever remember seeing in an actual shop in the UK.
I had tried a few of the DSH fragrances before and was impressed by their style. I like woods and spices, and she handles both well. And of course I had heard about her recreations of classic vintage fragrances such as Guerlain’s Jicky (DSH’s version is Passport a Paris and it’s very good! It has the ‘lemon and lavender floor polish in a posh house’ vibe to it that I love so much).
I knew Dawn had created a set of fragrances to complement a showing at the Denver Art Museum of the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective exhibition, So when my American friend Joe pointed out that there was the annual 20% off sale on the whole DSH collection, I rather splurged. There were so many of her fragrances that I wanted to try – two from the YSL collection for starters. I was able to order from the US and have these sent to the UK because DSH offers what she calls a ‘Voile de Parfum’ format, which doesn’t contain alcohol and consequently isn’t considered dangerous to ship by air.
“The Tuxedo for a woman was revolutionary and avant-garde at the time that YSL began introducing the style into his collection… Le Smoking is a gender-bending classic that’s great on both men and women.”
Described as “a sophisticated green chypre tabac fragrance” Le Smoking has a deep emerald green opening that has a little rasp to it but no bite as so many vivid green top notes do. This brightens as it opens up, becoming slightly soapy, in a good way. The heart has a spicy aspect to it, with some flowers, but there’s a green woodiness that is pure chypre and that sings like a crystal bell. I adore this heart, it’s gorgeous and wonderfully retro but modern.
It is unisex, and it certainly speaks of classic chypre fragrances to me. The base is lovely and this is one fragrance from DSH I need in a larger size. I’d like to try the eau de parfum spray to see if it’s any different from this formulation, and perhaps has more throw, as the voile de parfum stays close to the skin.
Not to be confused with DSH’s Euphorism d’Opium, from the Denver art exhibit mentioned above, which is a recreation of the eau de toilette strength of the famous fragrance, this is a recreation of the original Yves Saint Laurent Opium parfum extrait from the 1970s. I am a huge fan of the pre-reformulation Opium and have a significant stash, and I have to tell you – this isn’t it. This isn’t even slightly like it. I was deeply disappointed the first time I tried it so I have come back and will give you my impressions of it as a fragrance, pure and simple.
Well for starters, this one isn’t unisex, it’s definitely a feminine fragrance; in fact it’s a vavavoom sort of feminine fragrance. It has round and creamy topnotes, with something a little lush and ripe in there, possibly a rich gardenia note? It is certainly oriental, definitely retro, and possibly a little dark for mainstream tastes (this is a very
good thing to many readers, I know). There’s a funk to it that is indolic and slightly rude – I suspect Sam will have one of her eyebrow-raising responses to this, which always make me laugh. I shouldn’t wear it to work, unless you are Dita von Teese.
I couldn’t restrict myself to just two samples of course, so I shall return shortly with more delights from Dawn Spencer Hurwitz.
Dear readers, I am now back from what can only be described as an extravaganza of sniffage and olfactory wonder. Imagine a day spent in the most vibrant and beautiful capital city in the world (because I can’t fall out of love with London), add lots of like minded fume-heads, add perfumeries, boutiques and perfume halls, then stick afternoon tea on the end and fill your bag with samples ready to go home. You can see what I mean if I tell you it was as if all my birthdays had come at once.
The day was organised by Pia Long and Nick Gilbert, who you may know from social media where they have a strong and influential presence. Do try and visit their wonderful vlog : Love To Smell. What those two don’t know about scent, probably ain’t worth knowing.
You would be hard pressed to meet two lovelier, more generous people. The work that Pia and Nick put in to arrange this day, at no profit to themselves, goes some way to explaining what Good Eggs these two are. Also, Nick has a dirty laugh and gives good bear hugs.
My dear friend Lisa Wordbird (who is how I got dragged into this heavenly mess) offered to drive. This is because A) I cannot and B) because she knows no fear and is actually willing to cheerfully tackle central London in a car on a Saturday. Mad. Good driver, but mad. We left Wales at 8.30am and hit the M4 seamlessly. “Look at us!” we thought,”We’re on time!” we thought, fitting in a sugar’n’caffeine stop at the services. London, however, had other plans for us and decided to hide all its parking spaces from Lisa’s tiny, nippy car. So our trip was: two hours of motorway and two hours of driving round central London, which despite our frustration, didn’t bring us down, since London is The World’s Best Place For People Watching ( a.k.a trying not run over very rich people with shopping bags in Knightsbridge).
The Smells of London Town
We were due in Fenwicks’ at 11am but instead just about caught up with our group at 1pm. We were Moomins for the day, which meant our group was led by Pia. The other group were Flamingoes and led by Nick. We arrived at By Killian in Burlington Arcade and were given a talk by the beautiful Davina. Not only was she knowledgeable, but she let us sniff everything, whilst explaining the background and inspiration to the aromas that filled the little boutique. Funnily enough, the day was a bit like wedding dress shopping. I loved the first thing I tried on and even though I tried millions of others, I fell deeply in love with the first one. That scent was the first thing I smelled as I walked into the Killian Boutique: “Good Girl Gone Bad.” Nothing I smelled that day beat this and I left with a tiny sample in my sweaty paw.
There were all sorts of innovations going on in Killian: notably scented jewellery that means that people with sensitive skin can smell good all day. This involves a tiny unglazed ceramic disc that’s doused in scent and heats up with skin temperature. There were also home fragrance items: glorifiers, candles, scented paperweights and intriguing tasselled discs that you can hang anywhere, or if you’re Killian Hennessey himself, you can hang loads in your wardrobe. Because you made them. And your wardrobe is probably already very posh. There was some sniggering from me because I was standing next to the legend that is Val Cookie Queen Sperrer, who made some remark about tassels. I can’t remember the remark, but it gave me inappropriate mental images. #DitaVonTeese: that sort of image.
Lost in Fortnum and Mason
There was a break in the timetable for lunch-on-the-go before the next talk at Miller Harris on Monmouth Street. Lisa went to move the car before the charges matched her mortgage payments, and I filtered towards Fortnums with a splinter gang. The Perfume Hall at Fortnums is a sight to behold. I could spend hours there and not even look at my watch. Even as a perfume blogger having written 730 reviews, there were brands and bottles I had never even heard of. However, from the corner of my eye, I saw the Clive Christian salesperson giving out samples so I sidled up and flashed hungry eyes at her. I can’t afford Clive Christian but I collect samples like a miser. The lovely Tamara gave me a long tour of the brand and I was indeed rewarded with some treats to take home at the end. Unfortunately when I looked up, the other fume-heads had gone.
I used to live in London in the 90s so I have a fading muscle memory of routes, which led me vaguely towards Covent Garden Plaza. It wasn’t where I thought it was. Someone had moved it, surely? I ended up power walking around three miles through the throngs and masses. It was actually very liberating and a big change from my usual school run routine. I rang Lisa, who was somewhere completely different and she told me I was heading to the wrong Miller Harris branch. I eventually used an old fashioned method of navigation that you don’t see much these days- I looked at a map on the wall. I was back on track.
Meeting My She-roes
I reached Miller Harris out of puff, but not too late, and what joy! I finally got to meet someone that both Lisa and I had been looking forward to seeing for the first time. I met Liz Moores of Papillon Artisan Perfumes. We have been Facebook friends for a good while and it was a delight to meet her in person. She is tiny and witty and I like her enormously.
If you are reading this, you are most likely already a perfume fan, so you will know that to people like us, the perfumers are our pop stars.
As the group fondled their generous Miller Harris goody bags and moved to Bloom Perfumery, I also managed to meet another perfumer I admire and have reviewed: Ruth Mastenbroek. Unfortunately we missed Ruth’s talk in Fenwick, but she was wonderfully friendly. She is elegant and softly spoken with a reserve that I suspect may be a soupçon of shyness. Ruthwas a pleasure to meet and very kindly completed my missing RM sample collection for me. I adored her third scent:Oxford but have yet to try her first signature: Ruth Mastenbroek so watch this space for a review of both soon. A fourth scent is currently in development.
I was also delighted to meet fellow blogger Vanessa Musson from Bonkers About Perfume. We have been Facebook friends for a long time now, and have a mutual friend in Lisa. Vanessa was immensely generous to me with samples, and not for the first time. She is responsible for much of the content in the photo of my swag. Vanessa and I also share a love of cats and I always enjoy seeing the photos of the Bonkerscat, Truffle on social media. You can read Vanessa’s beautifully written account of the day here.
It was a pleasure to see the charming Thomas Dunckley again a.k.a The Candy Perfume Boy. Thomas is great company and deserves all his Jasmine Awards. Some days his writing is so good it makes me jealous.
Bloom on, Bloom
Bloom is a fascinating perfumery that arranges it scents not by brand, but by family. So you’ll have all the sandalwoods, then all the leathers, then the spices and so on. It is fairly Spartan inside, which is refreshing after the opulence of the perfume halls and the bling, but this makes for more of a studio feel.
Shortly after Bloom, the group split into fragments again. Some of us were heading off to the afternoon tea which Pia had booked for us, and some were making their way home. Many fond goodbyes were said and many Facebook friendships began that day.
Food, Glorious Food
At B Bakery in Covent Garden, we were treated like VIPs with our own individual pots of tea, (which were readily replenished) and a three tier cake stand. I had to compose myself when I saw it, rather than allow my greedy eyes to pop out on stalks. I am still fantasizing about that baby Lemon Meringue Pie. I have become firm friends with my two fellow diners who donated their pistachio macarons to me. Lisa didn’t give me hers, so that’s thirty years of friendship out the window. Her fault. Kirk and Nafia are my new best friends now. Hi guys!
Homeward Bound (small discreet burp)
Groaning with full tummies and sloshing with tea, we bade a reluctant farewell to a wonderful, but tiring day and headed back to Wales. The next morning when I woke up in bed in my house in South Wales (covered in sons who had missed me), I wondered if I had dreamed it all. And then I smelled my pillow. Tuberose, aldehydes, leather and incense. It was all true.
Once upon a time Christian Dior released a perfume that was a classic green chypre, full of oak moss, jasmine, patchouli and galbanum, and very chic and elegant. It was 1947 and things were far more prim and proper then. Young ladies wore neat tailored houndstooth suits, prim little hats with veils and carried white gloves.
To a young lady in 2013 those clothes would feel like a costume for a party, and perhaps Miss Dior felt similarly out of date. Because she has been completely replaced. The Miss Dior that I have a bottle of is now called Miss Dior Originale and has been put very politely but firmly on the back shelf of the Dior counter.
In her place is the pink-tinted Miss Dior incarnated by the delightful Natalie Portman. Previously known as Miss Dior Cherie, this has also ‘had a little work done’ to lose the strawberry top note, has been renamed Miss Dior and is now a flagship scent for the Dior line. It comes in all permutations – from parfum and eau de parfum to eau de toilette and eau fraiche, plus assorted body lotions, gels and all that stuff nobody buys unless it’s as presents. (Do you know anyone who buys or uses ‘official’ body lotion if it hasn’t come in a gift set or as part of a hotel toiletries haul?)(My daughter’s love of Hermes Eau d’Orange Vert can be traced to a very posh hotel suite and a generous friend of mine.)
However, dear, prim and proper original Miss Dior had a secret. Though she might have looked as prim and proper as Grace Kelly on the surface with her bitter oakmoss, give dear old MD a chance to warm up on the skin and that bitterness evaporates. Then the jasmine comes out to play and the oakmoss and woody old-school patchouli become rounder and warmer than JLo’s derriere in thermal undies.
I’ve been wondering how the new Miss Dior eau de toilette with her top notes of blood orange, heart of neroli and rose and base of patchouli will compare. So today I got out the little sample and spritzed. The top notes are sweet and very briefly citrus, though that is so fleeting as to be cheetah-like. The heart is fruity and floral with an element of something artificial but not in a bad way. Then there’s the base note of patchouli; this is the clean, radiant and persistent patchouli that is a staple in modern perfumery. It doesn’t remind me of JLo’s booty, I’m afraid; not in any kind of thermal clothing. Well OK, maybe in snowboarding pants.
You know how I have been whining about frootichoolis? This is one. I expected to want to chew my arm off and profoundly regret spraying my décolletage, but in fact, it’s OK. It’s not offensive in any way, it seems to be well-balanced, it wears reasonably close to the skin and doesn’t have enormous sillage and the longevity isn’t enormous – it was gone completely within 6 hours. That made me quite happy. I should repeat that this review is for the Eau de Toilette; I imagine the eau de parfum or parfum concentrations would last quite a bit longer and have a bit more projection. Be aware though that often fragrance compositions differ between the concentrations, so sniff the format before you buy it to avoid disappointment.