Tag Archives: Sonoma Scent Studio

TWO WALKS IN WINTER : : : : : : : WINTER WOODS by SONOMA SCENT STUDIO (2008) + TERRE DE L’ ENCENS by CLOON KEEN ATELIER (2012)

 

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This time of year, when we are finally able to distance ourselves a bit from the daily grind, from the accumulated stresses of work and the ‘real world’;  the bullshit that is the world news;  the petty strains and pressures of the office:  this time of year, when the air is clear, the sky, and the stars are bright, when we can begin to find some clarity and level-headedness and contemplation, is the perfect opportunity for us to walk.  To just walk, and think, recuperate, unwind, get some mental and physical air and think about the year that has just passed as well as the one that is about to come.

 

 

 

 

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Duncan and I are fortunate in having some very beautiful walks here where we live in Kamakura.  And now that the hectic term is over, I look forward to taking advantage of them. Some paths that lead directly to the grounds of the most important zen temples, some that go through some very beautiful woods and eventually to the sea, and others, leading to a lake, that are not frequented by many people, that almost feel like secrets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Usually I would run a mile from a perfume called Terre De L’Encens.  I love incense, have been burning my usual Japanese incense for most of this week, and as I sit here, my chest and back are also drenched in essential oils of frankincense and rosemary, as I try to recover from a cold I caught last week. I adore olibanum boswellia, and in fact almost bought a frankincense perfume yesterday ( my final day of work this year):  Incense by Florascent, an all natural perfume based on a beautiful natural extract from Eritrea that I have had my eye on for a while, but I decided instead that I had better save some money back for Kyoto instead (  we go there tomorrow, for Christmas ).

 

Despite my love for the otherworldly and breath-slowing aspect of frankincense, though, incense and woody perfumes, which the niche perfume market is really quite over-flooded with in my view, really do bore me to tears. All those Byredos and Tauers and Nasomattos and the like, those cruel-hearted urban oudhs, just smell, to me, on the whole, of unimaginative fashionistas giving off some dry, arid, ‘edginess’ that I personally find most unattractive, even aggravating.  

 

 

 

Terre De L’Encens, by Ireland-based Cloon Keen, is an incense scent that for once dares to tread new ground.  Like a beautiful walk in the beach air, this clear and pleasant perfume offsets a very bright, luminous, clean frankincense note (‘incense hyperessence’), with an aerated floral accord (iris, immortelle, pepper) that in my opinion really works.  Where from the somewhat uninspired name you might expect the usual clogged and burnt ebonics, instead we find here a pleasingly liberated frisson of loneliness and togetherness; the salted mineral marine facets and ‘clear, radiant ozonic’ top notes contrasting properly with a certain lip-softened aspect; a subliminal, animalic element (labdanum, ciste) that prevents the usual banality from ever setting in.  I find a pleasing simplicity here, a kind of warm and elegant solitude as we walk along the coastline;  a clean-lined, pearlescent space like some gradually dawning female enlightedness.

 

 

Terre De L’Encens is not a dazzling scent by any means, but that, to me, is the point: it just smells nice, wraps the wearer in a clear-eyed sphere of skylight dreaminess and ease, as you walk, look out at the seaside horizons, and thank the universe for your blessings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I see ice and snow piled high on trees and bushes, I feel magic.

 

Everything else just drops away. It can feel as though you were alone in the world, that all the pollution and greed of mankind no longer exists, that you have returned to some kind of snowflake, primeval innocence: to childhood, and Christmas, and just the simple, beautiful reality of iced air penetrating the lungs, the magpies suddenly startling you from your reverie as they take flight into the beyond in a ruffling, shaking powder of snow.  I love to walk in such a scape, lose myself in the white of the sky, of the grass.  But at the same time, I have to admit that I am physically entirely unsuited to the cold.  It affects me inordinately.  I have a deep fear of it, and as a result, I am instinctively far more drawn to heat and warmth.  This is also true for perfume.  It seems as though I was born to wear ambers, patchouli, vanillas, and deep, rich perfumes that ground and surround me with a comforting, protective halo; eskimo furs of contrarian goodness to let me enjoy the frozen lake; the icicles frozen solid on the branches while feeling concurrently that they are outside, exterior to me, that I can feel my warm blood pumping in my veins, my heart hot, my body protected.

 

 

 

 

From what I have read, some people are apparently disappointed when they smell Sonoma Scent Studio’s Winter Woods, expecting some bleak, more poetic and touching scent that will conjure up the delicacy of frosted branches obstructing the path, the spirituality inherent in being lost in the forest ………….(” The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep…………..”)

 

 

But Winter Woods, a clever play on words, does in a way make one think of a walk in the woods in fact,  but more from the perspective of the walker himself clad snugly in warm clothes and perfume, the lung-protecting, rubefacient qualities of wood essential oils: of cedarwood, sandalwood, guaiacwood, elements that all have the characteristic of heat.  In fact, this perfume is very warm indeed, sultry even, especially in the almost raunched and sensual outerstages when it dries down to an ambered, bodied, conclusion of castoreum, vetiver and ambergris, with a healthy quantity of classic oakmoss giving the perfume a mossy, chypric aspect almost redolent of an underembellished, and more masculine, vintage Femme or Mitsouko (but without the spice).

 

This is a slow perfume: less a brisk walk in the forest than a half-somnambulent plod,  legs heavy, meandering into a clearing, wrapped up – too much even, in thermals and coats and scarves – where you sit on a log and stop; mull things over; meld with the surrounding woodwork.

 

 

 

There are seemingly no top notes in Winter Woods. All is cellos and basses: just a smokey, fireside aspect obtained with extract of birch tar resin, the cosy fireplace you know is waiting for you when you return home. The perfume – thick, genuine – is almost chocolatey: not in flavour exactly, but in its rich, inchoate texture, a deceptively simple scent that I almost wish were more complicated (some nutmeg? some orange peel, even a touch of paprika?) just to take it into more fully orchestrated territory.  And yet the perfume works perfectly as it is.  Ligneous, rich, dense, and somewhat magnetic, it is as fortifying, as reassuring, and as solid, as an oak.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EQUILIBRIUM : SPICED CITRUS VETIVER by SONOMA SCENT STUDIO (2013)

 

 

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I had a brazen woody on one hand – Wazamba (Parfums d’Empire), and Spiced Citrus Vetiver on the other. And passing from the simplistic ebonic rudeness of the former, to the latter, far superior perfume, it seemed as if I were suddenly staring right down through my own hand, down through to the glassy surface of a forest pool, a three-dimensionality and sylvan aliveness that was quite startling in comparison.

 

 

 

 

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A shimmering vista, like curtains opening on a intricate, pastoral scene at the opera, the eye taking in a thousand details at once as the prelude of the orchestra starts up; each ingredient shifting into its place with a well-grounded twinkle in its eye.

 

 

 

 

Soon, there blooms a big, beautiful orange, surprising us when we might have expected more tart citruses such as lemon, or lime – the usual suspects in vetiver/citrus blends – but this vivid, delicious blood orange immediately casts a warm, solar glow over the proceedings; an interlude for viola and orchestra in a definitively major key, as soft, floral absolutes of osmanthus and jasmine sambac emerge and shield us from all harshness.

 

 

 

 

The cited ingredients of clove, ginger and cinnamon are only subtly perceptible to my nose, adding complexity and a certain nose-tingling aspect perhaps (particularly in that delectable opening), but nothing in this blend can detract from the key players of the perfume, who, when Orange gracefully leaves the stage, sing their contrabasso mellowness in balanced unison for hours: a measured duet of Sri Lanka vetiver and Mysore sandalwood (believe it: I can smell it), while a sly touch of vanilla absolute adds an extra suffusion of delicate heat.

 

 

 

The simplicity of this final stage of the perfume may disappoint some who are more enamoured with the elaborateness of the opening, but the overall effect of the scent is so optimistic and uplifting, with such a sense of inner equilibrium that, as with the studio’s Cocoa Sandalwood, you can feel your shoulders unstiffening, loosening; a scent perfect for a day alone at home when you feel that you need to compose and regain yourself.

 

 

 

For those looking for an exciting, virile, off-kilter vetiver, you might want to try a more earthy take on the note such as Route Du Vetiver, or a stricter interpretation such as Artillery No 4. This perfume is a more rounded, feminine take on a overly-trodden path, and the perfumer, Laurie Erickson, has, with this creation, cannily filled a vetiver void in the market – this could be the one that converts the vetiver haters.

 

 

 

Gone are the soil-sodden, earthen smokiness; the resinous, lingering, almost astringent aspects of the root (all of which incidentally I love about such vetivers and the reason I wear them…) Instead, in their place we find a scent of balance, solidity and natural well-being; an elixir of grasses, woods, spices, flowers and citrus fruits that for many, I imagine, will become a dependable, well-loved balm for the soul.

 

 

 

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Filed under Perfume Reviews, Vetiver

BLOOMS A ROSE IN THE DEEPS OF MY HEART…… Rose Volupté by Sonoma Scent Studio (2012)

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I like a big rose. A rose that is generous and of itself; a lovely rose: not a mean, thin-lipped rose; nor a methane-dipped rose, a high street rose or a sneering, clipped, high-octane rose; a fashion rose or a bridal rose; a cheap, leering acid rose, nor some dusty old, crabby rose, no: I like a full, joyous pronouncement of a rose, a rose that knows who she is.

 

The world, though, it seems, loves scents like L’Eau Chloé, a mingily pertinent fragrance formed of rose water and green things and reduced-fat patchouli, but I most certainly don’t: we smell far too many of these perfumes around us in cities, especially in Japan, where immaculately turned-out young women walk the streets of Tokyo, untouchably beautiful, a red-blooded, heterosexual male’s idea of paradise; girls with the flawless patina of a Shiseido commercial but in the flesh, slender young things in the all latest fashions and just a touch of rose to finish: nothing too thick, now, and a touch acidulous if you please – I maintain you, sir, at arm’s length with my thorns, my scent a barrier not a come-on, my artificial rose with its just-so projection perfected in the laboratory for this very purpose to offer that strange, iced chasteness, that modern-girl impenetrable whim of here-and-now Ginza sexy: this, this hideous perfectionism we smell in all the roses of the day such as Stella, Paul Smith Rose, and, especially, here, the vile Eau Des Quatres Reines by L’Occitane, which from personal exposure I would say is by far the most popular female scent in the country: you smell it all the time, as though, like everything else in Japan, it were accepted by the group and thus sanctioned, even by young mothers!

 

Young mothers, yes, those saintly, desexualized mama-san as they are called, poor creatures in my view, who, unless they rebel and refuse to conform, will often be co-erced into fascistic, nasty, Lord Of The Flies groups they cannot escape from even as they smile and present their iron-haired, A-line skirted, guilt-racked personas to the playground. The Occitane perfume, with its hints of salted, musks under penetratingly sharp, artificial rosey top notes, fixed, unchanging as it hangs in the air around train stations and department stores is the rose du jour, accepted, sucked into the mainstream, worn constantly, and I can tell you quite passionately that I loathe it.

 

No: give me an unfettered, uninhibited rose any day, a rose of love, not of conformity, a rose which springs directly from the heart: give me Nahéma, Montale Aoud Rose Petals with its blackness of the desert and Turkish Delight, give me Caron Rose, with its cherished poetical heart of Damask, or, if we need pearlescent dew drop roses, Fleurs de Thé Bulgare by Creed: just don’t dilute it with ‘market trends’ , fear of trying, or with ‘what women want‘: give it to me straight and liberated and heartfelt. Or don’t give it to me at all.

 

 

Rose Volupté, a huge, blowsy thing, belongs in this latter category of mine; roses with heart and soul, a big Valentine’s Day rose that is as rounded, enveloping as imaginable; powdery, effusive, diffusive: a tampy, musky pink rose of thick material: balanced – an undeceiving, happily direct perfume.

An oriental rose, with ambered base notes of labdanum absolute, vetiver and sandalwood, and a heart of heliotrope and cinnamony plum, all leading the perfume somewhat into the ‘old fashioned’ category, but neverly over so in my view, more pleasingly, just slightly, retro: top notes fruity and full, flowered like sugared raspberries on a summer trifle, and as multitiered, the geographical strata of the perfume leading down to pillowy, benzoiny, classic oriental skin scents, generous and feminine, soft:  Teint De Neige’s rosier, more bosomy country cousin.

 

While the perfume might lack a certain psychological complexity ( I find it rather ‘straight’ and ‘thick’ in some ways) this is simultaneously very much part of its appeal. Rose Volupté is simple, lovely, and it wears like an honest statement of love for the flower, and for perfume come to think of it, not some anorexic urban cipher and her puny, half-hearted, haughtily prettily ‘rosy’ emanations.

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Filed under Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Rose

THE TREE THAT SOOTHES: COCOA SANDALWOOD by SONOMA SCENT STUDIO (2013)

It is exam season in Japan, or as the locals call it, ‘exam hell’: students and teachers cramming and exhausting themselves into high schools and universities; an impressive, if sadomasochistic, demonstration  of Japanese will power and conformity. Some of my colleagues have been working straight since the beginning of November and yes I mean straight: with the exception of January 1st, some of them have been coming into school every day, for at least twelve hours, for about six weeks. This is illegal, but the pressure is so high to get the results that they can really not do otherwise.

And there I am, with my three week holiday at Christmas and New Year, waltzing in to do my bit come the first week of January, but even a month of it has left this indolent foreigner feeling frazzled and debilitated: I came home on Friday night feeling teary and depleted; a husk with his juice sucked out, porous sensitivies over-flooded with tense, heightened Japanese voices. Knowing I would have to be going in on Saturday morning  as well for a whole day of examination interviews, I decided just to collapse in to bed…

But perhaps just a touch of perfume beforehand, something new, before I turn out the lights to let my mind veer…….?..something from those little boxes of samples I had not yet tried that might subdue my humming synapses..?

Yes.

I semi-randomly alight on something called Cocoa Sandalwood, apply it wearily to the back of my hand.

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suddenly a towering forest of sequoia trees flashes up before my eyes. I can feel them, smell the cool of them, the bark, the dappling light between their trunks, as they soar up into the sky that is blue, and the air that is clear, miles and miles of them out in the Californian country – a synaesthestic mirage that makes my soul briefly snap into place again on a disconnected plane and I find myself wanting to go back down into it all again, back down from the shimmering skyline treetops and back into the forested depths, this time to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and the mysterious redwoods behind which you disappear, somewhere in the heart of deep green………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All of which I realize might sound rather exaggerated and forced, but which I did actually experience on Friday night, lying on my futon as something loosened its grip on my psyche and a gentle, alternative universe released me….

I have been finding this recently with natural perfumes. There is something in the essences themselves, the plants’ ‘life force’ if you like, that speaks, that stimulates my nervous system in a very different way to other perfume ( which is perhaps more purely aesthetic). Where I was expecting to just find the usual sandalwood (one of my least favourite notes in perfume as I have always found it so fatty, unmysterious, and splayed somehow), the perfumer (Laurie Erickson) surprised me with a creation that temporarily took me out of myself.

The sequoias I saw originated, I imagine,  in the significant dose of Cedar Virginia that opens the perfume, giving the richer, more oozy New Caledonian sandalwood a solid backbone through which a slow, warm sap of cocoa absolute, cinnamon bark, coffee, rose, clove, vanilla and ginger rises slowly, the sandalwood gradually thickening in generosity, expanding and revealing its wise depths. Soothing, comforting, with an excellent equilibrium between savoury and sweet, the perfume helped me to sleep.

 

 

 

This was my first try of a Sonoma Scent Studio perfume and I am officially intrigued. Cocoa Sandalwood is a very high quality scent, rich and full of energy and soul, and though I would never wear it myself as sandalwood  so emphatically does not reflect me somehow (in the way vetiver, patchouli or even cedarwood do for example), for those looking for an enveloping, woody perfume I can recommend it wholeheartedly.

 

 

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Filed under Cocoa, Perfume Reviews, Sandalwood