Category Archives: Almond

A SPRINGTIME DREAM : : HELIOTROPE by PERFUMER H (2015)

 

 

 

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Of all the British perfumers – Penhaligons, Czech & Speake, Floris, Jo Malone, Angela Flanders, among others, it is Miller Harris, founded in 2000, that is perhaps the most consistent, both in terms of integrity, texture, and overall theme, yet also the most daring. Although I only have a couple of the house’s  fragrances in my collection (Citron Citron, a tight and acerbic lemon, and the almost wilfully strange, sharp and contrapuntal Terre De Bois), this is a house that in my view has always combined a very appealing ‘English flower garden’ aesthetic with something harder, yet diffident, at its heart. From the uncompromised ferocity of Feuilles De Tabac, to the nonchalant pink feather boas of Noix De Tubereuse, the purple hippy Figue Amere or the melancholically rain-imbued La Pluie, you always sense in a Miller Harris perfume that there are more complex emotions lurking beneath ( I think this is the problem with many niche perfumes: where all the pizazz and luxe is very glinting and surface, emotionally, the scents are often dead inside). Base notes with Miller Harris are always rich and high quality and very contrasting with the more ethereal middle and top notes – there is a summer garden seriousness that belies the airy-fairy, raspberry trifle la la la.

 

 

 

It seems now though that Lyn Harris, always the sole perfumer for Miller Harris, has now left her original perfume house and started a brand new venture in London, the quite mysterious sounding ‘Perfumer H’. This new venture has a more stripped down and singular aesthetic – quite zen, almost, in terms of the shop surroundings and the bottle design – and currently just five perfumes that correspond to the classic fragrance classifications of citrus, floral, wood, oriental and fougere, a collection that will be refreshed bi-annually (though perfumes in the back catalogue will be still available for purchase).

 

 

They are all very good  (reviews of the rest of the collection will come later) but I unhesitatingly first went straight for the Heliotrope, a powdery, anisic, almondy flower scent I am always drawn to – we even once had some actual heliotrope plants, faithfully true to the smell I was expecting from the perfumes I knew, if rather faint, in our old garden, until we discovered that the flowers are actually dangerous cat killers – highly toxic to those keen-eyed, fluffed up beasts – so that was that; but in any case, I often tend to enjoy floral confections that contain this note. Heliotrope forms an important part of the odour profiles of such classics as Guerlain’s Apres L’Ondee and L’Heure Bleue, as well as the gorgeous Loulou by Cacharel; soliflores are uncommon, but I did once consider buying LT Piver’s Heliotrope Blanc (though I feared I may have just ended smelling like a fat, lacy courtesan so I desisted in the end). Also Etro, who never shy away from unfashionable notes – smell their pure, Ouzo-ish aniseed Anice for an example – do a nice, powdery and sweet heliotrope that while cossettingly powdery and comforting to the nerves, is nevertheless a bit high on the caster sugar.

 

 

With her own Heliotrope (the ‘oriental’ in the current collection), Perfumer H is more cautious about overegging her almond pudding and instead goes for diaphanous and clear: the top accord of this perfume is delectable, floaty as an eggshell, closely dusted as sugared almonds, angelic: yet with the sense of waters still flowing below (it is quite floral and citric simultaneously), the vanillic bonbons of the base notes caressed by a prominent neroli/orange blossom note that I personally find a touch regretful as I just want the almonds: give me almonds, give me arsenic! give me cyanide! Almond blossom was always a smell that made me go almost delirious when I was at university, down by the river; its scent – so piercing and pure, both pensive and ecstatic – was the ultimate heralding of the English spring and the death of winter, and in Cambridge the gardens and the river at this time were so beautiful you could die – I would be doolally, and beside myself, skipping about like a March hare scavenging armfuls of  tulips, but even at this age, now, even the presentiment of those vernal sensations still make me excited and  happy to be alive.

 

 

This heliotrope scent brings back some of those memories. Of that delirious carefreeness. A calm and unfussed deliciousness. If the idea of a light, downy, orange blossom heliotrope tickles your fancy, therefore, I would highly recommend trying it. As the perfume settles on the skin, the heliotrope flowers nuzzle and fall asleep gently in their natural eiderdown, the orange flowers gone; the vanilla and powdered musks  just right: not too sweet but not too thin, either – addictive but innocent: simple but not stupid.

 

 

 

 

 

Delightful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I leave you with a nicely played rendition of Scott Joplin’s ‘Heliotrope Bouquet’:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Almond, Flowers

FIVE SWEET INDULGENCES: ANIMA DULCIS by ARQUISTE (20I2) + L’HISTOIRE CHARNELLE by CREATIONS HUBERT MAES (2007)+ CARA by FARMACIA SS ANNUNZIATA + GOTHIC II by LOREE RODKIN (20I3) + NOIR TROPICAL by MARIA CANDIDA GENTILE (20I3)

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A strange thing has happened to me. I have gone off vanilla. And although I think I can trace the moment this happened (and some of you were there with me), it still kind of shocks me, having spent the most beautiful holiday of my life two summer ago on a vanilla plantation in Java, swooning with vanilla suffocation in the upstairs drying room as the beans gave off their woozy, heady smell, gazing at awe at the vines; and more than half a lifetime of being swathed in vanilla-based, sweet and orientalic perfumes. (me sneaking out at dawn with a shaky iPhone, to take a short video of the exquisite environs of our little cabin (Duncan is curled up asleep inside) : Durian fruit, coffee trees, and papaya – which you can’t see –  but most of all snaking vanilla vines climbing up trees; workers in fields, and me in a state of in-the-moment bliss)

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I think that the Vanilla Talk I gave at Perfume Lovers London last spring just probably took me (and the collected audience) somehow over the edge (“I’m in a vanilla coma” said one attendee”), like a heroin user blowing his synapses with his final hit, or an alcoholic teetering over his own mental brink with his final bottle of Dewars. There was so much vanilla, what with my preparations and selections leading up to the event, to sampling and appraising various different parfums vanillés ad nauseam, to reading up on tons of vanillic historical and agricultural facts, that by the time the night was over and the air was replete, claustrophobed, and stinking with sweet, sticky perfumes that were being sprayed left right and centre during the talk itself (along with the savouring and appreciation of different vanilla bean varietals: Tongan, Tahitian, Indonesian, Indian…) and all the spraying of samples into little vials for people to take their vanilla fix home, that the sheer sensory overload, not to mention the volume of nervous terror that had preceded my first ever public speaking (I think it is probably more this, actually: that connection, in my subconscious: although I really got into my stride and eventually enjoyed it, meeting people and letting my passions show, my natural extrovert coming to the fore, before everyone arrived I was possibly more nervous than I ever have been in my entire life and was practically ready to hurl myself from the window. If Helen hadn’t been there to sort me out I think I might have). Perhaps this sheer adrenaline overdrive, anxiety, all compressed within the potent, deep brown sweetness of vanilla, was the catalyst that took my feelings for this beautiful substance from love and ease to quease.

I haven’t been able to wear it since.

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A perfume such as Maria Candida Gentile’s Noir Tropical, then, which I discovered at a trendy Shibuya shop along with four or five of the Arquiste range yesterday as we walked in a sun-filled daze after a hedonistic night in Shinjuku, just isn’t quite right for my current sickly-averse mindset, even if a deeper part of my brain stem is still instinctly drawn towards anything with the word ‘tropical’ in it (I was imagining some kind of dark, pineapple-permeated fug). In fact, this is a very well made, natural-bean scent with a pronounced sweet and tipsy rum and sugar cane note running underneath a sublimated almond interior, wafting for hours on the skin, with some vague similarities to Vanille Absolument/Havana Vanille by L’Artisan Parfumeur only more organic; rich; densely packed. There is definitely a sweating, hidden- histories-of-the-southern-seas aspect to this scent I can imagine enjoying this on someone else, but for the reasons I have already explained above, I just can’t go there at the moment.

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Some perfumes, particularly of the classical, ‘Golden Age’ school, are complex, gradated and layered, almost like symphonies or chamber works with different movements and emotions concealed within themselves only to be released, delicately, at a later hour. The modern niche aesthetic is often more of an ‘instant hit’ – what you see is what you get- even when the ingredients are of the highest quality. A Rothko block of dense colour rather than an dappling Impressionist painting: a potion or elixir, an accomplice. And although I sometimes miss the great pointillist balance of classical perfumery (the pure genius involved in controlling such a panoply in a way to make it sing), I also just enjoy a really good smell, if you know what you mean; a dot of deeply concentrated scent that you can just put on your skin, live with , and enjoy as it accompanies you throughout your day.

Loree Rodkin’s Gothic II and Farmacia Annunziata’s Cara are of this breed – rich, pleasing smells that will work if you like unadorned gourmand simplicity. Though the word gothic usually signifies something shadowed, sinister, vehement, Gothic II is anything but: it is homely, comforting, trustworthy, and easy. A deep patchouli heart (with both Indian and Tunisian essences,) is fused with rich Madagascar vanilla in the familiar, blocked, manner, although the addition of nag champa, incense and cloves produces a more overall effect of honey, an effect that continues for a long time on the skin until the patchouli and vanilla again come to the fore. What is good about this scent is that there are no rough or unpleasant edges detracting from the core theme, which, though a touch unimaginative and simplistic for me, is nerve-numbing, consoling, and potentially addictive.

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Cara is much lighter: a mere trifle, really, but if you like your almond and vanilla mixed together in one blend, this works nicely as a very light and airy-sweet mood enhancer, with a talcum caramel heart and fresher, almost sport-fragrance top notes that give the perfume an ethereal edge. It is hard to imagine a more unthreatening perfume (which isn’t necessarily a recommendation), but there is also a reassuring familiarity about it, a play-doh, vanillic halo that I can imagine swirling around someone in a clean eddy of light, veiled, childlike innocence (which is).

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L’Histoire Charnelle (‘a carnal history’) is another sweetened patchouli perfume, albeit with an unusual twist: a fruited, spiced, coconut aureole up top that to me on first smell smelled as though it had been buried in turmeric. There is an extremely dusty quality about this perfume (something I always associate with that spice), possibly the combination of nutmeg and cinnamon (and pear, of all things), alongside the tangerine and bergamot that, all combined, I find slightly offputting, even as I am tempted to smell deeper. Eventually, as the fizzy bristle of the top accord subsides, the coconut/vanilla/tonka theme then becomes more apparent and solidified, with the very lingering, resonant patchouli beneath consistenly making itself known and apparent. This is quite a sexy, unusual scent I would say, and it could make a good signature scent for a woman or man who wants to remains outside the loop, though I am not ultimately sure whether the perfumer, Hubert Maes himself, has all the disparate notes within the blend sufficiently sewn together.

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The same cannot be said of Anima Dulcis, a perfume that caused quite a stir when it came out three years ago when the new perfume house of Arquiste was launched by founder Carlos Huber. I immediately liked the range when I smelled them then in London at the Harrods Haute Parfumerie, particularly Fleur De Louis and Flor Y Canto as I just love well made, entrancing florals, but Anima Dulcis (‘soul of sweetness’) is also a very well-executed scent that quite appeals to me- a rich, deep, but appealing spice-chocolate perfume with a curious and unusual concept attached: a seventeenth century convent in Mexico (The Royal Convent Of Jesus Maria), the nuns absorbed in the preparation of of chilli-infused chocolate drink in the hallowed halls, strirring and chatting amongs themselves as they wait for the head sister, the only nun who can finish it (the recipe is secret). Like all the perfumes I am discussing today, this is another vanilla-centred scent with a strong patchouli facet, but here, there is much more heft, the main theme being a very brooding and hypnotic natural cocoa absolute, infused with cinnamon and chililes a la Mexicana ( I also always drink strong, thick,hot chocolate with vanilla bean and red chillies – I love it on a hot winter’s night). This idea is translated here very well into perfumery – everything is harmony. Though not as distinctive or odd as I was perhaps expecting it to be given the chilli idea – this is an eminently wearable perfume – Anima Dulcis strikes me almost as being a kind of next generation Opium: tightened, no way as leopard-printed and satin-scarved as that seventies classic, but still, sultry, dense and magnetic, and with floral orientalized reverberations of that orange-licked spice (It also quite reminded me of Histoire De Parfums George Sand).

I found myself going back to my wrist again and again as we headed home towards the station, the spot where I had applied the perfume a source of continuing dark, exotic scent: the level of sweetness just right, the vanilla – that beauteous, brain-altering substance – not dominating, here, lolling somewhere softly condensed down deep side within the blend, undulating, but still kept quite comfortably in check.

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Filed under Almond, Chocolate, Gourmand, Patchouli, Vanilla

THERE’S SOMETHING NOT QUITE RIGHT….. SERGE LUTENS’ DATURA NOIR (2001)

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The datura flower, a ‘poisonous vespertine’, is one of nature’s very deadliest. So toxic, in spite of its undulous, alluring odour, that it has been used since antiquity to poison one’s enemies; one’s lovers’ with the most fatal, agonizing death: a psychotic madness ensues; convulsions, heart seizures, oblivion.

 

 

 

 

 

I took these pictures of a datura tree on Saturday night in Tokyo, lost along the streets of Ikebukuro trying to find a friend’s house whose party we had been invited to, but the Japanese address system is so hopelessly convoluted and illogical, that after an hour ( our cell phone batteries had died), we just gave up.

 

 

 

Still, I was curious to see those Angel’s, or Devil’s, trumpets hanging there like that at this chilly time of the year (the datura in my neighborhood, which has a bedazzling number of flowers: an obscene amount of poison, I’m pretty sure flowers in the heat of late summer): though its scent was not discernible in the starry, December air.

 

 

 

I like to stand under datura bells, inhale their slow, balmy cream, their evil saturnalia   – like suspended tropical umbrellas’ the skein of their big wide petals laced with scent:: : :  and poison.

 

 

 

 

Just The idea that death could be so close, and wrapped so enticingly, in the form of a mesmerically fragrant, and silent flower.

 

 

 

 

 

It it is a smell that looms faintly. Part tuberosian jasmine: tiare, with a touch of the beach and of cyanide, there is a bitterness there that is offset by the voluptuous cool, sloe-eye of its delirium; its femininity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Like many flowers in perfumery, datura, in fact,  can only be created from memory, from observation – a reconstruction. And from a distance, Christopher Sheldrake’s strangely introverted approximation is woozily impressive: a touch of creamy, coconut- infused tuberose flowers and osmanthus; a heliotropic, lemon- scented lilac: vanilla: tonka bean: almond  –  the overriding note at the heart, probably,  of this oozing pointillist portrait  –  and a note that I am always drawn to in any case ( see my review of Louve ).

 

 

 

 

Up close, and personal, though, the perfume, on me, is much more problematic. It is a shape shifter. Some days I think I love it. Some days I almost hate it. I received a bottle as a Christmas present last year, but have only recently starting wearing it, trying it out tentatively in the smallest of doses. And the perfume is weird………….it doesn’t quite come together. The lemon and the coconut. The  quite odd addition of myrrh……………………….. At times there is a jarring, bungled plasticity; an effect, like the plant’s poison, that at times can smell almost nauseating.

 

 

 

 

 

At others, though, when its mood is right, the perfume sinks into my skin with a fabric softened comfort and delicate vanilla that makes it almost suitable as a winter work scent, nuzzled under my shirt cuffs, tamed and in stasis until my skin warms up in the heat of the moment and then one of those ill fitting notes raises its head, its voice, and I regret having worn it ( and common sense would surely tell you that a perfume called Datura Noir is hardly suitable for my profession).

 

 

 

And yet it is too bland, too sweet and falsely, gentle for me to wear as one of ‘mine’. Like Fiore Di Riso, which I wrote about yesterday, another citric, vanillic floral, it is ‘somewhere in between’. Not quite day, and not quite night. Not rude or intoxicating, but not quite respectable either. She is out of place, this Datura Noir. She watches on my shelf, and she waits.

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Filed under 'Orientals', Almond, Faux Toxic, Flowers

Waking in winter: EAU D’HIVER by EDITIONS DE PARFUMS (2003)

 

 

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If you like your perfume to be subtle; preferably cold, and wistful – but not old-fashioned – then you might want to try L’Eau d’Hiver, a gentle and melancholy scent authored by that most minimalist of perfumers, Jean Claude Ellena.  A chill of winter:  bergamot, angelica, and a delicately ozonic note of ice-blanketed fields, as you gaze, incuriously, from the upstairs window, cradling tea.

 

The watery, woodish heart of the perfume – floral touches of iris, hawthorn, carnation and white heliotrope – lend touches of reassuringly honeyed reminiscence with their soothing notes of vanillic caramel.   They are notes, however, that are attenuated: sad, muted watercolours, as if seen from memory or frosted glass.

 

The delicate, soft transparency to L’Eau D’Hiver, this beautiful, wan smile of  pale, sugar-dusted almonds, is appealing initially as a comforting touchstone.   Eventually, all this fades, however, to nothing more than a sweet, featureless note of self-effacing colourlessness.

 

For the timid, and those who steadfastly plough their quiet and steely self assurance yet want a marker,  this scent has a place, though.  For the poetic. Shy, bookish girls in love with Sylvia Plath.

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Filed under Almond, Ozone, Perfume Reviews

SEXING THE CHERRY: LOUVE by SERGE LUTENS (2007)

 

 

 

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The scent of almond essence is an acquired taste. For some, its sweetness may repel, the confectionery connotations of marzipan and amaretto seemingly unsuited to perfume. For others, myself included, and especially in colder weather, a good almond scent is a delightful, childlike refuge – a nuzzling cocoon.

 

 

 

This sweet, encapsulating, underrated, and delicious perfume is a sleet of confectionery: the snow powdered almonds; the rain, almond essence….

 

 

 

Louve, the fluffed-up white she-wolf, sniffs the cold night air of her marzipan wilderness. Comes bounding across the flaking hills of her snowdrift landscape;  and dissolves; slowly; painlessly.

 

 

 

Only her scent remains.

 

 

 

 

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Beginning exactly like annindofu, the Chinese almond dessert popular in Japan made with the ground down kernels of apricots, tofu, and almond essence, Louve at first might seem like a joke (Lutens is famous for pushing, pushing his perfumers – ‘no, more iris, more musk, more almond, until they give in and produce the bacchanalia he is famous for). But with the poignant, vanillic roses; the hint of jasmine; and the dirty, voluptuous hint of animal musk that salaciously lines the cherry, the joke pays off. For almond lovers there is nothing better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Almond, Cherry, Fruit