Category Archives: Herbal

THE MAGIC OF BAY LAUREL: : : POT POURRI by SANTA MARIA NOVELLA (1828) + BAY RUM by GEO F. TRUMPER (1888)

 

 

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I have been cooking a lot with laurel bay leaf these past few weeks. Our own plant has been struggling, but there is a big tree on the street that I pinch branches off at night. Although the fresh leaves are said to be too pungent and bitter, I don’t find that to be the case; the leaves are small, and beautifully fragrant, and I like to use them either dried or straight from the source. I like them in profusion: sometimes up to, or more than ten leaves (or even more: I adore this taste). You end up picking them out of my stews and sauces at the end of the meal – I am finding that a garlic/ fresh rosemary-from-the-front garden ground down / salt / sugar olive oil base with all the right tomatoes – fresh, and in purees, and then bay leaves added (I also love paprika – I made a very heartwarming Hungarian goulash type thing the other night which we gulped down greedily like children in Hansel and Gretel)  – creates an almost savoury perfumed deliciousness that I can’t quite imagine achieving with other herbs  – I personally can’t stand too much basil / tarragon / marjoram / fennel / parsley / oregano for example. Laurel leaves are more complicated in their aromatic makeup, with hints of thyme, and sage  – hence their use in the classic bouquet garni  –  but there is something sweetly floral about them – a hint of almond blossom, something almost liquorous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Italy, there is in fact a popular digestivo made solely from laurel leaves macerated in alcohol – liquore di alloro-  a Northern Italian equivalent of the French Chartreuse,  which by law can only be made by the monks who originally perfected the recipe of 130 different botanicals used in secret to create the legendary medicinal curative of 53% proof. I have tried Chartreuse before, and don’t dislike it (like absinthe, it feels almost otherworldly drinking it – you shudder like Toulouse Lautrec), and don’t dislike bitters generally  – D, conversely, grimacing, cannot touch them with a barge pole – but I derive a strange satisfaction from that convulsive sense of them doing something beneficial to my innards – treating poison with poison.  Alloro, though. Just bay laurel leaves. I almost feel like trying to concoct some at home. You never know how long you might have to stay inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To avoid the dreaded ‘bay confusion’, it should be noted for the sticklers here that Bay laurel (laurus nobilis) is of course a completely different species of herb to the ‘bay leaf’ used in Jamaican Bay Rum preparations (pimenta racemes); the latter is warmer and much spicier – and similar in odour and flavour to allspice and pimiento berries. I love both bays, though bay rum aftershaves in the manner of Old Spice and the majority of gentleman’s haberdashery bay concentrations are a tad too ‘grey gabardine Carey Grant leering hunkpapa’ for me personally. D will sometimes wear Czech & Speake’s saucy Cuba which has a strong bay rum note ; Aramis’ womanizing Havana has a hard, spiky bay rum at its angularly exiled heart, but anything too bayrummy always feels to me a bit too bitter-breathed, shaving-creamed manly for me to take too much of in one go. Olympic Orchids’ extraordinarily potent Bay Rum is oppressive. I feel almost harassed by such smells. Close, but no cigar. Still, pimiento, like clove, is a wonderful winter spice, and most bay rum aftershave preparations contain both of these fiery stud-like nails, alongside herbs and woods, and also flowers to create their arousing, yet almost sedative effect.

 

 

 

 

 

Geo F Trumper’s very singular take on bay rum

 

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is almost scandalously simple  ( there are scores of angry men online lamenting its lack of a true bay rum feel), but this precisely is why I sometimes wear my bottle: it is just cloves, cloves, and cloves, with an aftertaste of bay leaf-  quite similar to Caron Poivre , but without that glorious carnation’s black, inchoate heart. Still, I like it, sometimes, even if just for a brief blast of spicy eugenol on a cold, rainy morning when, shivering,  I can’t for the life of me think of anything else to put on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Santa Maria Novella’s justifiably famed ‘Pot Pourri’ is sold both as a macerated preparation of flowers and spices in decorative lidded glass or porcelain bowls, to subtly/powerfully fragrance the home, as well as an eau de toilette (which is very popular in Japan among those in the fashionable know). Deep, rosed, almost sour and ineffably pungent, this is the scent that assails you from every angle when you enter the glorious apothecary in Florence, a recipe that has been continued in the same manner for centuries. Pot Pourri contains large quantities of bay laurel (see the picture at the top), which is probably the most prominent note in this elegant and mysterious blend of treated essences along with resinous cloves, vinegared flowers and herbs such as thyme, lavender and carnations over peru balsam and patchouli; it is a smell that once experienced, never leaves your smell brain (thank you so much, Georgia, for bringing me my first ever encounter with this potion all those years ago in Japan; for me, this is inextricably also the smell of our old house in Kamakura ); immediately recognisable  – in fact, those that remember my prevaricating, a few years ago, over whether to buy an extortionately priced vintage bottle of Coty Chypre, will probably remember the antique shop in Shinjuku that still has that bottle ( I was there just a couple of weeks ago or more, though time has started to lose its graspability a little at the moment, as you know); locked inside a wooden cabinet with a dusting, glassed window;  the same price; now less affordable than ever……….when I went in to check, the entire space full of British artefacts; mirrors; vases, lampshades; chandeliers was scented with the carefully placed ceramic dish plied with some Santa Maria Novella,  creating a very pleasing, quiet and refined moment. For those who enjoy the yearning dark stars of chypre such as Clinique Aromatics and the like, the aqua di colonia of this curious perfume by Santa Maria Novella is most definitely worth seeking out. It is unique.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It is quite interesting that I have been so drawn to bay laurel recently. Looking into its aromatherapeutic benefits today,  I find that it is good for the heart, arthritis, the digestion;  is anti-influenza/ colds, and was often used in fighting off the plague. I have obviously come to it instinctively. In large doses, I found out this morning that like nutmeg – which I have also been using huge quantities of, intuitively –  it can almost be a narcotic (hence my swooning, perhaps, over my own laurel-stuffed chilli chicken and roasted turnips that we had for dinner last night) – burned into the air at the rituals of the Delphic Oracles as an offering to the gods. Laurel is warming to the soul – a sanctuary   – literally in the case of Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus and the nymphs Creusa in Thessaly, a ‘proud huntress’ who yearned only to be free and live in the forest, unattached, but was chased and hounded by the God Apollo until, in a moment of desperation as they reached the river bank, she was transformed – to the god’s astonished eyes    —-  into a living laurel tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Edith Hamilton’s ‘Mythology’ (1942) , we are told that Daphne is relentless in her desire to be undomesticated, left alone  (“Daphne was another of those independent, love-and-marriage-hating young huntresses who are met with so often in the mythological stories”): and there is indeed something very beautiful, if tragic, in the idea of this fierce spirit being liberated into the leaves I have been consuming these last few weeks without even being conscious of these old and ancient tales (I had obviously been ‘resting on my laurels’  somewhat in the Classics department , a term I had never really understood before, but which now of course I see is a a reference to those conceited champions and emperors who wreathe themselves in laurel leaves, but then become complacent and indolent, feasting on their former glories). With this aromatic, delicious tree,  I love the link to D’s Greek Cypriot roots  – his mother is also Daphne ; the power of the demi-goddess; the symbolic extrication, and refuge into nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“But Daphne flew on, even more frightened than before. If Apollo was indeed following her, the case was hopeless, but she was determined to struggle to the very end. It had all but come; she felt his breath upon her neck, but there in front of her the trees opened and she saw her father’s river. She screamed to him : “Help me! Father, please help me!” At the words, a dragging numbness came upon her, her feet seemed rooted in the earth she had been so swiftly speeding over. Bark was enclosing her; leaves were sprouting forth. She had been changed into a tree :  a laurel.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under BAY LEAF, Herbal, Spice

MEMORY OF A MEMORY: : ::MEMOIRE D’UNE ODEUR by GUCCI (2019)

 

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You can get so accustomed to never smelling anything new or innovative in mainstream perfumery that when you do come across something different it can come as a shock. The use of a very fresh, green, bright and convincing Roman chamomile accord at Gucci guru Alessandro Michele’s request in the new Memoire D’Une Odeur is unusual and arresting, utilizing an unfamiliar (to most people) floral/herbaceous note as the lead in to a ‘unisex’ fragrance in an almost fragile, vintage looking bottle focused on the memories of childhood and innocence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chamomile is a strange and risky choice for what the brand is hoping will be a big commercial hit. I find this quite commendably bold and risky  – not that Gucci doesn’t already have enough euros in the vaults if things go haywire –  even if the smell of the flower itself has always personally given me feelings of ambivalence.  I have never liked Roman Chamomile essential oil (the variety that Alberto Morillas has based the perfume around, adding light floral notes of Indian coral jasmine, fading to transparent woody skin musks); neither do I especially like the German chamomile variety,  used in aromatherapy for its anti-inflammatory and calming properties due to the presence of the naturally blue soporific azulene.  Something about the smell, a peculiar hay/honeyed inner friction,  rubs me up the wrong way; my innards don’t sit naturally with its aromatic composition. Similarly, although for a while I tried drinking chamomile herb tea at night to help me sleep (these days I only drink rooibos or peppermint), ultimately, there is something about a lot of chamomile teas that just smell to me of warmed catheter; the dozing night ward………….and as soon as that aspect becomes apparent to you it becomes repulsive to say the least (and don’t even think about adding vanilla or honey to it, because it just makes that hot bladderbag aspect of the stewing flowers even worse…).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While it is interesting that Michele assumes that chamomile forms an important feature in all of our childhoods (Roman chamomile has been grown in household balcony pots since the 16th century in the city so perhaps the scent is better known to Italian families), in our own household growing up there were no herbal teas, no variants of Darleejing, Assam or the bergamot–infused delicacy of Earl Grey either: I was not familiar with any of them. Among my schoolfriends and family you drank PG Tips or Typhoo in a mug with some milk and maybe sugar and that was that. In fact, the first time I ever drank anything different,  tea-wise, was at university. I was in my law student friend Sarah’s room on the floor below mine and I remember that one afternoon she offered me some chamomile tea. I had never had it before and had no idea what it would taste, or smell, like (I was yet to discovery aromatherapy) but as soon as she opened the paper box and plunged the paper-sacheted infusion into a cup of hot water I had a Proustian rush of such extreme proportions that suddenly I was running along the river with my brother, my grandfather and his dog Candy, panting in the fresh early morning air, carpets of chamomile flowers crushed underfoot giving off the most beautiful green-appled leaf smell of happiness; wrapped up in hats and coats and red wellington boots through the trees; the stream flowing beside; I remembered vividly how I had picked up the flowers as we ran along like daisies where bees could nest inside yellow like a hotel; sheltered; I instinctively pressed those fragrant heads together, releasing the smell that replenished my young brain, suffusing heart and smell; trapping that memory there forever in my limbic system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t remember precisely what that make of particular herb tea was, but it was fresh, airy, green, and it captured the exact smell of the living flowers in nature rather than those sun-dried, malted, heavesome counterparts I can’t abide. Though unobtrusive and subtle –  perhaps, ultimately too tentative in its entirety, Memoire D’Une Odeur shows no hesitation in putting the greener, more living memory of chamomile flowers in the main thrust of its composition, in a pleasant, even emotive release that takes contemporary commercial fragrance to newer pastures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under chamomile, Flowers, Green, Herbal

THE DANDY

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Charles Baudelaire categorized the dandy as a man who has ‘no profession other than elegance….no other status but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own person. The dandy must aspire to be sublime without interruption…. he must live and sleep before a mirror….’

Yet the true dandy was no mere clothes horse. In cultivating a skeptical reserve with his direct opposition to the unthinking bourgeoisie, these beautifully coddled individualists were following a code which ‘in certain respects comes close to spirituality and stoicism’.

 

Dandyism was also not limited to the male of the species. There was, of course, Beau Brummel, but there was also Marlene Dietrich. And then Cora Pearl, the ‘quaintrelle’ (woman-dandy) courtesan, whose extravagant income was apparently sufficient to allow her to dance nude on carpets of orchids, bathe before her dinner guests in silver tubs of champagne, probably mildly bored as she did so.

 

Naturally then, the true perfumed dandy wears perfume for the beauty of the perfume alone; trends and petty concerns over seduction are of no concern. He might therefore wear any perfume in the pantheon; the flowers, the musks, the powders; she might pick a scent from the roaring masculines, a brisk citrus aftershave, and carry it off beautifully. This notwithstanding, the more established image of the powdered, exquisite gentle man or woman and her peacock consorts is served pretty well by some of the following scents and their decadent, nonchalant, graceful ambiguity.

 

“I wish to be a living work of art.’

 

(Marchesa Luisa Casati, renowned quaintrelle).

 

 

ACIER ALUMINIUM / CREED (1973)

James Craven at Les Senteurs told me that there’s a small but steady band of ‘epicureans’ who come to his shop for this obscurity from Creed, a most eccentric seventies’ concoction that is the perfumed equivalent of the decadent’s unlaundered nightshirt. A curious, metallic-noted orange blossom begins; then, ochred-acacia leaves of Autumn; musky, yellowing powders: leather: and a corrupt (but subtlely: this creature has taste) end of civet-hinged musks.

 

POIS DE SENTEURS DE CHEZ MOI / CARON (1927)

 

A collection of old-fashioned flowers for the modern dandizette; she or he who wants to spoil themselves in musky, forlorn sweet-peas, those fragrant flowers scaling trellises in summertime. ‘The sweet peas from my garden’ are powdery, rosy, infused with heavy, trembling lilacs.

 

 

EAU DE QUININE / GEO F TRUMPER (1898)

Trumper is the ultimate emporium for the London gent (really, you have to go), and this, to me, is one of their crowning glories. Echoes of the Empire and tropical malaria cures are conjured up by the curative sounding name, and the scent – a gorgeous, luminous and powdery thing laced with rosemary – is odd and beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SIRA DES INDES / JEAN PATOU (2006)

A warm, overripe breeze. A foetid satiety, and a perfume perfect for the bronzed, sybaritic woman who wants nothing more than to lie down flat on her sunlounger with her gin. One can’t help but think of Sylvia Miles in Morrisey & Warhol’s Heat.

 

A pronounced banana-leaf top note conveys the sense of the tropics: full bananas, unswaying in the dead, still air: champaca flowers with their drowsy torpor, and an apricot-hued osmanthus over a salivated sandalwood/civet, these listless ingredients adding up to the most ennui-imbued scent I have ever smelled. Sira des Indes is smooth yet enticing, almost angry; and devastating on a woman over forty who just doesn’t give a shit.

 

 

 

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PARFUM D’HERMES / HERMES (1984)

Recast as Rouge (which see), Parfum d’Hermès, which has the same basic structure, just dirtier, can still be found in various corners of the world, and I know an antiques shop near my school that has a 400ml bottle that no Japanese person would ever touch (I will, eventually). I know they wouldn’t buy it because the rude animalics here are so blatant that all the flowers, spices in the world just can’t hide its intent. It smells of a dirty mouth covering yours; a Sadeian perfume that would work shockingly well on one of his followers, female or male.

 

CARNATION / MONA DI ORIO (2006)

Mona di Orio, the perfumer behind Carnation (pronunciation: in the French manner – meaning ‘complexion’ not the flower) seemed to be seeking here the smell of a virgin’s face after a day in the sun – easy prey, perhaps, for the creatures above from Parfum d’Hermès (or Pasolini’s Salò). It is a weird smell at first, something paint-like and sour in among the dirty blooms (wallflower, geranium, jasmine, tinted with musks and styrax), but progresses to a heavenly maiden’s cheek, white; the thick, healthy skin just ready to pinch.

 

HAMMAM BOUQUET / PENHALIGONS (1872)

The maiden’s male counterpart is Hammam Bouquet; fresh from the Turkish baths with a blush on his face.

Hammam is musky, powdery and pink, with rose otto, orris and lavender over the more manly exhalations of civet and musk. Once the boy gets his breath back, he dons his white powdered wig, his cape, and rushes back earnestly to the Old Bailey.

 

 

FRENCH CAN CAN / CARON (1936)

One of the lesser known perfumes from the illustrious stable of Caron (surely one of the Dandy’s favourite parfumeurs…)is French Can Can, made especially for the post-war American Market for a bit of imported ooh la la: a strange, naughty, and now rather anachronistic perfume that treads the line between coquettish and coarse without descending to banality. Can Can is of very similar construction to En Avion (a cool, spicy, violet leather) but overlaid with more garish, extravagant bloom: rose, jasmine and orange blossom kick out from under the tulle. Behind faded, musty curtains lies a decadent heart of lilac, patchouli, iris, musk and amber.

Thinking of a candidate for this perfume (who wears tiers of fluffy petticoats that I know?) I hit upon my friend Laurie, who is never afraid to dress up in extravagant numbers – I can even see her actually doing the can-can – and with the slogan ‘Dancers: powder, dusty lace’ presented her with the scent. She came back to me later (after I had sprayed her bag with the stuff) ‘No: greying crinoline’.

 

 

 

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POT POURRI / SANTA MARIA NOVELLA (1828)

Only the dandy would wear a perfume called Pot Pourri. Bizarrely, this has recently become a massive hit with the art crowd in Tokyo (the brand’s reputed naturalness is popular with the refined eco-conscious). It is unusual, androgynous and beautiful: spiced roses, herbs, berries and grasses from the fields of Florence, fermented in Tuscan terracotta urns with darker, interior notes of resins and balsam. The result (medicinal, meditative, aromatic) is very individual; very…..dandy.

 

 

 

What else should be placed in the Dandy’s wardrobe?

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Filed under Flowers, Herbal, Musk, Orientals, Perfume Reviews, Powder

Epiphany on a golf course: HOLY THISTLE by UNION (2012)

 

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The idea is captivating. Locally sourced plant materials native to Scotland are used in the blend: bracken from the Borders, bay from Pembrokeshire, pine sap, and the starring substance, Cnicus Benedictus, or Holy Thistle, picked from the highland estate of Kinra.

With this description, you may be forgiven for expecting a Braveheart green of bitter intensity, as was I. Having experienced Union’s Gothic Bluebell (see my earlier review), I readied myself for another full-blown Brontëan fantasy: something peculiar and diffident – a scent to admire rather than love.

The scent is nothing of the sort. Rather than a rugged, windswept, boreal rush, Holy Thistle is more like the most heavenly green herbal shampoo (found, perhaps in the exclusive bathroom of some expensive Scottish castle resort); an emblem of the easy life. An unambiguously lovely smell, mouthwateringly uplifting and happy, its effect instantaneous: a grassy, kiwi fruit cocktail, natural and leafy, with a slightly bitter underkick, delightfully zinging and fresh. A sense of the cold outdoors; the sharp intake of the morning air that awaits after you make your way downstairs, shower-stoked and clean for a full Scottish breakfast, and a day on the greens of St Andrews.

The holy thistle is traditionally used in therapeutic herbal tonics as an appetite stimulant, and there is something sharp and thirst-quenching about this smell. While it contains none of the edginess of ancient myth and valour you expect from its name, eventually, as the top notes fade into the soapily verdant heart, something darker and bitter does rear its thistled head, stubbornly remaining until the scent – which I can wholeheartedly recommend – gently fades from the skin.

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Filed under Green, Herbal, Perfume Reviews