Category Archives: Floral Aldehydes


Sortilege —–‘incantation, magic spell, malediction, sorcery’ in French – is a classic floral aldehyde created in the late 1930’s by Paul Vacher (of Miss Dior, Diorling, Arpège, and a fleet of Le Galion perfumes fame). Of its time, of familiar mien if you know N⁰5, L’Aimant, Madame Rochas, the perfume extract that Duncan bought home for me the other night on his way back from Kamakura nevertheless has its own unique charm. While this format of fragrance almost always contains the following ingredients: rose, ylang ylang, muguet, iris and jasmine gemstoned and polished with aldehydes, usually pillowed with a more sexualised base of sandalwood, musk, vetiver and amber, Le Galion’s variant on the theme adds an extra abundance of of lilac, mimosa and narcissus, with a hint of warm labdanum and amber also in the base, which makes it perhaps sound very malleable, talced- feminine and soft in the usual Marilyn Monroe fashion (she, along with Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner, Bette Davis, and Grace Kelly were used in promotional placement pictures for the scent), but in fact, with its lilting skulduggery, ends up sweetly hypnotic.

Less pliant, and ‘giving’ than some of its predecessors and descendants such as Le N⁰9 by Cadolle, and Detchema by Revillon, Sortilège is cooler; more compact and aggressive, initially, prickled and immaculate, taking its time to bloom into a gorgeously rounded perfume not dissimilar to Givenchy’s L’interdit but more vivid, less morose. At this point, in the one hour intermission, you can certainly see where the perfume got its name: this is undeniable female seduction.

I will sorely miss Strawberry Field, the place we got this perfume, the source of many a cherished delight in Kamakura, and which unfortunately seems to be closing down as the lady who runs it is in poor health. Last time I was there, two people completely unfamiliar with perfume were presiding over her wares – everything half price now – meaning D can just pick something up on the way home like the Le Galion extrait pictured above – but it does look as if it won’t be there for much longer. Such is my affection for the place that it even features in the film I did for Moleskine Notebooks last January, one of the surrealer experiences in my life, in which a crew of Italians from flew in from Milan just as the coronavirus was starting to take hold, and I had a weekend of pretending it was August in January and being constantly looked at and ‘positioned’ and filmed wherever I went – the clothes I had selected ( I had actually gone shopping and looked good) deemed not seasonably suitable for the shoot: I had to literally borrow the shirt off the Japanese cameraman’s back. Standing around in Tokyo, ‘modelling’; beyond ice cold, having a group of eleven media people invade my house the following day for the interview during which they photographed practically every corner of our odd and overpacked abode, causing mayhem in the street outside as neighbours found that they couldn’t park their cars because of all the extra vehicles, wondering what the hell was going on, it was all completely new and exciting. I felt like a star, and it was very illuminating in that regard: I got a tiny taste of what being a ‘celebrity’ would be like. and much as I know I couldn’t stand that kind of attention on a regular basis, with a big pinch of salt, it was certainly enthralling for just a couple of days.

One of the stops on the itinerary – so hilarious, being bundled into the van like fleeing paparazzi and speeding at the limit to the next designated destination each time as though our lives depended on it- was Strawberry Field, which the main organizer of the project – there had been several bungles – had misunderstood as being a literal field of elysian strawberries somehow dotted with perfumes, like a Dorothy snoozing in her field of drowsing opioid poppies, vintage perfume bottles half dug into the soil……was I to walk, daydreaming, through the fragrant beds of fruit and pluck perfumes from my bosom or was it else some kind of huge market just bulging with swooning vintagery that we would wander about it and take woozy pictures with me up close and personal with bottles of Yves Saint Laurent and Ricci? There we were, racing desperately to get there at the appointed hour, the Italian media on their walkie talkies to each other getting agitated about whether we would make it to il campo di fragole into time; one of the Japanese managers calling up sycophantically and hyper politely to placate the owner and begging her to stay open until we got there (financial incentives were eventually offered), frantically scoffing down the convenience store sandwiches that the runner had gone out to by in bulk as there had been no time to get lunch (we were all absolutely famished) – and yet the final destination was, in fact, really just a tiny and cramped (but very charming, if you like statues and mirrors and beads and ceramics and porcelain and knick knacks ) old junk/antique shop. Fortunately, the cameramen had a similar camp sensibility to me and loved it, immediately, and the proprietress in her ragdollhat; she graciously extended her opening hours; we filmed our little segment there, and it was a wrap.

I will miss many things about that place. It wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t overly expensive either – plus she always gave me a discount. Gorgeous, boxed Guerlains and Patous, some Carons, many Chanels; I got my sumptuous Amouage Gold from there; several Mystère de Rochas, among many many other things I can no longer precisely remember; the beauty being that you didn’t only have to store up on the riches and troves that you wanted to accumulate for your cabinet, but could acquire new old novelties that you might never have encountered before, such as Fame de Corday; old miniatures, abandoned and unwanted eaux de parfum, and half used up extraits. It was a mine of pleasure and perfume education : and without it, I am sure I would never have been exposed to such a lovely creation as Le Galion Sortilège.


Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Flowers












I recently picked up an old extrait de parfum of Vivre by Molyneux at the junk shop in Zushi for just three hundred yen ( £2.27 ). Not in prime condition, the top notes faded, perhaps, but still alluring – a mixture of dark and light. Inscrutable. I couldn’t quite resist it. The perfume intrigued me : it has a pull.








Far less well known that other famous couturiers of the time such as Balmain, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Madame Grès, Edward Molyneux (1891 – 1974) was a British designer who later settled in Paris and became known by those in the know for his ‘impeccably refined simplicity’. According to historian Caroline Milbank, Molyneux was the designer ‘to whom a fashionable woman would turn if she wanted to be absolutely right without being utterly predictable in the Twenties and Thirties’. His skills were thus much appreciated by the likes of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Vivien Leigh as well as European royalty. A perfume line was launched with 1932’s debut fragrance, Le Chic.















I first heard a mention of Vivre in the original French version of Luca Turin’s Parfums: Le Guide, first published in 1992 but which I never laid eyes on until around 2006, when Helen sent me a copy in the post. I would feast my eyes on it passionately instead of preparing for lessons in the teachers room, hiding it under other papers; exhilarated (this was the first time I had ever really read anything meaningful and beautiful like this about perfume and it excited me to the core, the marriage of the olfactory, and the linguistic as a way of conjuring a hidden world. It wasn’t very long afterwards that I embarked on similar journey myself, putting pen to paper in my first perfume that I ever wrote – Mitsouko, in 2008), but I still remember the sheer joy of being able to read about a topic that hitherto I had experienced, profoundly, but not seen expressed. Many of the perfumes in that original guide were not possible for me to smell; either discontinued or reformulated into unrecognisability. Lost in France. But while the exacting and very poetic descriptions of perfumes I did know in the book always produced a delicious frisson of recognition, the perfumes I had never smelled, nor was ever really likely to, produced even stronger a yearning in me; a vaguely masochistic ache of desire.











Assessing the nobility of this perfume  – one of the writers on Fragrantica describes Vivre as having an ‘incandescent elegance’, with a smell as cold as marble on the skin of her mother –   I thought it would be interesting to ask New Hampshire based vintage perfume collector and connoisseur Gabrielle Baechtold about her thoughts on this enigmatic perfume – which I happen know is one of her favourites. It also turns out that Gabrielle was actually wearing Vivre vintage parfum, the very time that she met Luca Turin in person.









The Black Narcissus:





I love the idea that you met Luca Turin while wearing Vivre and that he told you it was one of this favourite perfumes. How did this come to pass? Where did you meet him? Did he smell it on you directly and comment on it (knowing what it was?) What made you choose that perfume for that encounter?






Meeting Luca Turin happened through my friend Mark Behnke, who has his own blog Colognoisseur. He is a research scientist by trade and was in contact with Luca Turin, who at the time was doing research work in a Boston area university. There were three of us, along with Mark who met Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez; Ida, who you know ; Catherine Bromberg, from BaseNotes and myself. We all met at a cafe in either Cambridge or Somerville Massachusetts, near where Luca was doing research. I think I wore Vivre that evening because of a comment he had written about it on his on-line blog. It reinforced my love for the scent. I let him smell my wrist during the conversation and said it was Vivre and he waxed poetic about it for a few minutes and lamented it being extinct. He said it smelt very nice on me, again solidifying my fragrance choice.








How did you first come across Vivre?






I had first heard about Vivre by looking through my mother’s magazines and seeing the advertisements for the scent. My first interaction with the scent came years later at the little shop I told you about, Colonial Drug, where I would buy all my Guerlains. I have to say, I was not in love with it upon first smell; I was pretty much a Guerlain cultist at the time, but I eventually purchased a small extrait of it and grew to love it over the years. Aldehydic, floral chypres had not my been my go to at the time, but as the years went by, I grew to passionately love them and for some reason I am wearing them quite often during quarantine now.














Me too. I find that I am wearing aldehydes a lot during the lockdown as well. There is just something so otherworldly and yet comforting about them; you can disconnect from the harshness of reality.  A noblesse of refuge.




In terms of Vivre, I don’t quite know how ravaged the bottle I got the other day is (the hyacinth notes have substantially gone ) but I can still feel that there is something quite distinctive about this perfume. It isn’t quite the usual soft floral aldehyde in the manner of Detchema, and yet it isn’t the leather chypre like Givenchy III etc : it is ALMOST like a hybrid in between. Would you agree? The perfume’s notes include artemisia and coriander;  a fresh green leaf accord; incense and myrrh too, which are unusual in a floral aldehyde. Would you say there was any correspondence in scent construction between Vivre and, say, Nina Ricci’s sententiously brooding floral aldehyde,  Farouche? I personally feel some similarities. 








It is funny that you mention if there were any correspondence between Vivre and Farouche –  one of my all-time favourites –  and there is. They both start out with a big note that announces their arrival, but slowly they start to warm up to you and open up and become much more intimate. Kind of like the punk-rocker with spiked hair you meet, who then confides in you she likes reading Baudelaire in a gauzy silk dressing gown. I would definitely say Vivre and Farouche are cousins, either first or at least once removed.








Another thing I would say is that to me, Vivre feels almost mischievous. It is not a perfume of mere gaiety and joie de vivre. Would you say that musically this perfume was in a major or a minor key? For me a perfume such as Chanel No 5 is definitely major. I think this, like Farouche, is minor. It is not ‘happy happy’ as such; I feel it has a certain vigour and energy that comes from self belief – not as yielding and soft as some others. This person definitely knows who she is. 
G: I feel Vivre is definitely a minor key: it’s a more profound presence.















1. You will love me. I know it. 2. You will be jealous. I know it. 3. You will take me to Venice. I know it. 4. You will never leave me. I know it. 







I know what it means to live…..















BN: Despite the elegant refinement of this perfume, I can see how the words in this seventies’ advertisement (You will never leave me ……...a self-knowing lover’s imperious command) definitely correspond to the smell of the perfume itself. There is something quite compelling, obsessive about Vivre; I think possibly  from the vetiver and leather and the aridity of the oakmoss/sandalwood/myrrh base but without the bitterness of some of the more acrid heavier chypre leathers. This treads a deliciously fine line.







How do you personally feel when you wear Vivre?













When I wear Vivre I feel alive, which is pretty ironic, considering the name, but it does make you feel aware of the moment you are in. There is a juxtaposition in the scent, between the sparkling notes and the dirty floral note. Almost as if you had put a touch of Chanel N°5 on then went out and did some serious gardening; getting your forearms all dirty and smeared with flower nectar. There is something oddly compellingly and comforting in the fragrance, something that makes you want to keep sniffing at your wrist. Something warm and nurturing. This could just be my take on it, though, because my Mama was fond of similar scents and it reminds me of her “skin scent”.











I agree, though. Calming, yet also somehow slightly unsettling.




Gabrielle, you are a great lover of vintage perfume – your collection sounds truly magnificent. Do you still hunt down vintage bottles of Vivre?












I only wear 70’s vintage Vivre. Molyneux first released a scent named Vivre in the 30’s, but that was completely different. They also just released a newer version a few years back and that is utter garbage. The 70s version is the perfect one. I always try to hunt down vintage bottles, especially of the extrait, which can be quite pricey, but I love it.





Another thing I can say about Vivre, after wearing it now for most of the day, is that it develops into the most wonderful melange of hothouse flowers. I had never really noticed that aspect of it before. It is truly sublime. 





BN :




I hope one day that I can smell it on you in person!






A few years back, I remember you once very kindly sent me a very generous spray sample of another forgotten classic from the house – Fȇte (1962). Can you tell us more about that perfume and any others you might have by Molyneux?





















I adore Fête so much. It’s like the lovechild of Mitsouko and Femme with a quick wit about her. Truly and underrated gem. Then again Molyneux as a whole is such an underrated house. I own Le Numéro Cinq by them which was more popular than Chanel’s 5 at one point, but Chanel’s N°5 won in the long run and Molyneux had to change the name to Le Parfum Connu so as to save face. Le Numéro Cinq is a gorgeous scent, aldehydic floral, but with a deep and enticing heart. I also own Le Chic, Rue Royale, Gauloise, Quartz and Initiation by Molyneux all of which are exquisite. Gauloise in particular is a stunner, but each is a treasure.



























Thank you so much, Gabrielle.










My absolute pleasure.
















Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Floral Chypre, Flowers, Vintage










Detchema, along with Carnet de Bal (darker, more androgynous), is perhaps the Parisian fourrier Revillon’s most well known perfume. A clean, aldehydic floral along the lines of No 5, it is less orris and musk-bound – a little lighter, very floral (hyacinth, jasmine, ylang, rose); soapy; refined. No matter what you think about wearing fur, there is no denying that this perfume would certainly have smelled beautiful on a slender swan’s neck nuzzling beneath new mink: in Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, Detchema is the scent that Mia Farrow graciously tells an onlooker she is wearing when asked about her perfume at the pharmacy, highlighting the prominence that this faded feminine classic must have had in the public’s eye even up to the late sixties. Though perhaps a little dated now, if still pretty, it does seem perfectly suited to the actress’s (and character’s),  wide-eyed, gamine air of vulnerability.
















Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Flowers



I am a bit late to the cruise ship with this one, but it is quite nice ( yes ! to powdery crisp bergamot aldehydes, hawthorn, heliotrope, and soft balsams) even if I was expecting









but got something more akin to something like












Snug, musky – – —- safe


Filed under Cosy Comforting Orientals, Floral Aldehydes


















I love perfumes like this.








Packing up Z’s collection (they are driving down now as we speak from Tokyo and I am going to take them out to lunch), I am trying a few last things before all the precious fragrances are carted away forever. I vaguely remember reading about Or Noir – Black Gold – in the original Luca Turin Le Guide, and it is a lovely, delicate, lucent floral teetering on the edge of chypre : may rose fuelled by narcissus, muguet and ylang; a quiet shine of oakmoss and a hint of clove, with a dry allegation of vanilla (and possibly patchouli); so flawlessly understated and blended and put together ; so elegant.













Filed under Chypre



































As I work my way prodigiously through Z’s vintage perfume collection I discover new (but old) things.  One such essence is Elizabeth Taylor’s legendary White Diamonds, which I smelled in vintage extrait for the first time last night, pouched in its little black felt coochy bag, resplendent as a Fabergé egg. My eyes widened with desire as I carefully









unstoppered the bottle to smell a scintillating liquid containing everything : as though Ysatis were a minted American tourist travelling  in Versailles.















The thing is gorgeous.

Full, rounded (‘Egyptian tuberose’, narcissus, jasmine, all the flowers, you name them, over woods and musks and aldehydes and violets and sandalwood and amber and musks),












‘ the fragrance dreams are made of’.



















At least initially.















































Soon, though still beautifully constructed by Carlos Benaim (Carolina Herrera, Red Door, Flowerbomb); a familiarly smug and soignée presence emerges: that of the self-satisfied woman of a certain age without a glimmer of doubt, not a hair’s breadth, of who she will be voting for come November’s election. You hear her slam her SUV shut; lock the big white gate behind her. Lights out.





















































































































































I cannot hear the word Possession and not think of the electrifying film by Andrzej Żuławski from 1981 in which Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill brilliantly out-Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton themselves as a married couple plummeting into psychosis in Cold War Berlin, an extended allegory on the fury of love; an apotheosis. It is a film once seen, never forgotten, the pivotal scene where Adjani torments into full throttled hysteria in a train tunnel jaw-dropping to behold, the conclusion agonizing.








































The very idea of possession is terrifying. Not only demonic, but also romantic. Being ‘possessed’ by someone. I always find songs about lovers not wanting to breathe or sleep, or be away from their beloveds for even one second extraordinarily creepy – Aerosmith’s Don’t Want To Miss A Thing being the worst contender :  “I Don’t want to close my eyes…….”; the idea of another person staying up all night watching you; people ‘making love’ all night long, wearing each other out, it could almost make you yearn for a Gwyneth unconscious uncoupling (and let’s not begin a conversation about her erotic candle).












Fortunately, Possession the perfume is not excessively possessive nor will require you to dial up the local exorcist, but is rather a very clingy floral aldehyde in the manner of all of those perfumes like Lanvin’s My Sin and any other Ernst Beaux doppelgängers that inherit the earth like zombies somnambulating across the perfumed landscape wide-eyed in search of the original Chanel No 5, which this is quite obviously emulating. Sweet, precious, this perfume is very heartfelt and lovely; musky and floral, but

































































Filed under CLAUSTROPHOBIA, Floral Aldehydes, Floriental, occasionally sickening scents, operatic




On Monday morning at Strawberry Fields in Kamakura I had a naughtyish splurge on a cache : for sixty pounds sterling, a vintage 30ml Opium parfum, a No 19, a Caron Fleurs De Rocaille extrait, but these were kind of thrown in, really, because the real purchase, and prize, was this vintage edition of Amouage Cristal for men ( or possibly Gold? Experts please weigh in ) that was roaring to me silently from the top of the glass shelf.









The bottom of the bottle says Cristal, apparently a rare perfume on eBay that sells for around 1,000 dollars  – the Japanese internet has one for half that









but the notes do seem to match those of Gold, an intense ( though this word doesn’t do it justice, not remotely ; I have never known anything like it ), aldehydically animalic, musky soapy floral that smells just like a pristine extract of Madame Rochas parfum on United Arab Emirates steroids and cristillated to spectacularly nuclear strength.









The second I sprayed this oily, golden slick of perfume on the back of my hand I experienced a delirium tremens of being enveloped, head to toe, in regal downiness and flowers; rose, jasmine, but most specifically a powdery sandalwood and overall smell that reminded me very specifically of Imperial Leather soap – which I have always loved, and can use up a whole bar of in one long sitting…………….despite the swirl of richness gradually coalescing into one skin smell, the overall feeling is definitely that familiar scent; I use the talc and the deodorant spray, and having this too as the main event after all that initial background pampering will be orgiastically pleasurable for me. I was practically WRITHING on the train back home in olfactory arousal: tending and loosening like a cat in heat ……  perhaps the sublimated civet, that I experience without consciously sensing it: some secret code of sensuality immersed in the blend that makes it just so horny yet so MAJESTIQUE.




















To me, anyway.





D was having none of it.






“it smells……. pissy, or something” he said when we met in Ofuna : “I don’t like it”.













And on Basenotes :





“Musky, soapy floral, like taking a bath in the clawfoot tub of my gtandmother’s house in the seventies “




says one reviewer.




“I got through the initial blast of granny’s partially soiled bloomers, tiptoeing around the house trying to avoid my wife”,





says another.





Most other reviewers spin variations on this ‘old lady’ incontinence theme ( WHICH I DON’T GET AT ALL ::: I JUST SMELL SWOONWORTHY ARAB PRINCES IN WHITE ROBES )




– an (ageist, sexist ?), scaredy-cat reaction to a man’s scent that veers from the usual, ‘masculine’ brutality? Or maybe Duncan is right after all and I am just blind : though he does like the beginning, which is glorious: derailingly erotic for me personally, there is something in the base he can’t abide. A grimacing recoil.  It almost makes me fearful, like some dreaded halitosis I am unaware of, that my olfactory apparatus has gone awry. Why does it smell like that to him ??????





As another reviewer of the perfume says,    (as I mentioned I think this perfume must be Gold, (though please correct me if I am wrong) / could the ‘cristal’ on the glass be just referring to the material of which the bottle is made? It does feel ludicrously expensive]]










Yes. That was what I was wanting to say.





Wow is precisely the word I would use to describe this extravagant creation.




Which obviously I am only going to be able to wear indulgently alone, doors locked and bolted ,at home.














Filed under amber floral musks, Antidotes to the banality of modern times, Civet, Classics, Floral Aldehydes, FUCK EVERYTHING, Hairy Masculines, LUXURIANCE, Masculines, Musk, New Beginnings, occasionally sickening scents, PERFUME AND PERFORMANCE, pigs, postcards from the edge, Powder, Psychodrama, Urine


The perils of editing a post on your phone on the bus.

It’s disappeared!






Filed under Floral Aldehydes








Christ In the Sepulcher Guarded by Angels William Blake, c. 1805







‘IN THE MIDDLE of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of: how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there….’


I always think of Dante’s Divine Comedy when I think of Alpona. Like the opening canto of the Inferno, in which Dante Alighieri finds himself awakening in the midst of a dark green canopy of trees, Alpona, though ostensibly a citrus chypre, has something inchoate, resinous; boscous, as though one were being transported through a temporal portal into a new, but vaguely terrifying, world.



The effect is achieved with a highly unusual combining of accords that are most inventive. Most present to the nose is the deep essential oil of the green bitter orange, its oil glands piqued and pressed and accentuated with furtherings of grapefruit rind and thyme, unsweetened and verdurous, leading down dark, umbrous paths of forested pine trees, dry myrrh; santal, cedarwood, earthen patchouli and rich, Ernst Daltroff murmurings of oakmoss.



Alpona is a most peculiar and fascinating perfume. And I can think of nothing else that remotely resembles it. Once the base notes come into play, with their, soft, poisonous caress of what almost smells like bitter almonds (a strange note of raisin also making its unusual presence known), the scent becomes more knowing, comforting: a tree shaded, fir-needling papousse. But Alpona, perhaps Caron’s most impenetrable and ambiguously androgynous perfume, never really lets its ultimate intentions be known.








(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


Filed under Chypre, Citrus


van cleeef arpels first 2002 perfume ad.jpg


My mother’s perfume,  and in my opinion a late modern masterpiece.


Released in 1976, Jean Claude Ellena’s uncharacteristically neo-classical ‘First’ took on the classic aldehydic floral, but maximised, reordered, and fresh-orchestered it with a gorgeously lush, green jasminesque bouquet centered principally on roses and jasmine – not just one, but three varietals – taking all the best cues from les grandes aldehydés  but just adding more of everything (orchid, muguet, carnation, hyacinth, and tuberose in dazzling profusion). A quite brilliant creation was the result, irrepressible and magnetic, with extra lift and vitality in the top notes given in the the top notes of blackcurrant bud cassis, (the first perfume to use this note, hence the name); peach, mandarin, and a sharp, green-leafed kick of raspberry.


In pristine form, this is a very beautiful scent –  vivacious and extrovert, yet with gentler strokes of introversion that lie within the soul of the perfume like the silk lining of a beautifully tailored coat: a feminine duality that makes the perfume so fully rounded. Quietly lingering, the perfume dies down later  to an understated, yet sensuous, accord of vetiver, honey and musk.



For me, always an essential part of the pantheon.




van cleeef arpels first 1999 perfume ad.jpg



Ps. Happy Birthday x


Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Flowers