Bespoke Perfumery

Bespoke Perfumery


Givaudan Perfumery

Fragrance articles are always an exciting find, especially when they cover in depth topics. The most current edition of the French weekly Le Point (English version) arrived last weekend and to my surprise there were several pages devoted to the topic of bespoke perfumery. For those of you French readers unfamiliar with the publication, I have enclosed a link to Le Point below.

A bespoke fragrance, much like any bespoke creation, is developed with the individual tastes of the intended wearer in mind. While the concept of bespoke perfumery has been around for hundreds of years, executed perhaps most successfully by Guerlain, newer houses and individual perfumers are offering this ultimate luxury to those lucky few who can afford it (prices range anywhere from $12,000 to $45,000, though I have heard of people paying more).

The article focuses on Francis Kurdjian, Mathilde Laurent and Thierry Wasser, each of whom dedicate time to this extreme niche creation. The process in itself sounds memorable and luxurious, offering the opportunity to meet with the perfumer personally in order to create an olfactory profile. Personal scent preferences and olfactory memories are discussed and of course the process involves lots and lots of sampling to narrow down genres and individual notes.

While I will not likely be commissioning a bespoke fragrance for myself any time soon, I love the idea of having a perfume created solely for one individual, reflecting the many complexities and passions of scent. While it will certainly be profitable for the fragrance companies, it does bring back some of the allure of traditional perfumery, exploring the art rather than the commercialism.

Les Néréides – Patchouli Antique

Les Néréides – Patchouli Antique


Perfumistas are nothing if not passionate. After all, it takes considerable dedication to be a perfume collector, especially when your beloved fragrances are niche or worse – discontinued. While each certainly possesses her favorite scent or fragrance genre, there are those notes which are certain to provoke impassioned responses.

Patchouli is among the more polarizing scents. It offends on a wide range – those who dislike its sharp medicinal qualities, as well as those who cannot escape its hippie era associations. For those of us who adore patchouli however it is often these very qualities we find irresistible. While some fragrances use patchouli sparingly to impart a woody, slightly dusty quality to balance a fragrance, Patchouli Antique is more a study in patchouli.

Patchouli Antique starts off with a slightly green medicinal tang, the perfect introduction to the rich, woody warmth of patchouli. The aptly named Patchouli Antique calls to mind the deep aroma of damp earth and musky dustiness, not unlike unearthing a treasure trove of antique books in a dark attic.

The fragrance softens and mellows like a warm wooly shawl thanks to a hint of vanilla and musk, which play perfectly on patchouli’s hints of chocolate. Truth be told, I am personally not a fan of vanilla in fragrances but in the case of Patchouli Antique it serves to smooth over the slightly bitter herbal beginning in a manner reminiscent of Shalimar, rendering the fragrances as warm and enveloping as a soft robe.

When compared with Chanel’s Coromandel or Serge Luten’s Borneo 1834, both of which are patchouli powerhouses, Patchouli Antique is more one-dimensional. It is a fairly close rendition of the type of high quality patchouli oil you can find in a specialty store, but with a calming, powdery warmth in the final notes.

Notes: Patchouli, Vanilla, Musk

Estée Lauder – Aliage

Estée Lauder – Aliage

aliage Fragrance Ad2

Mention high perfumery and everyone immediately thinks of the long history of French fragrances as the height of sophistication. But did you know that stateside we have several fragrances executed in the French style which hold their own when compared to their sisters across the pond?

I have been having a love affair with American perfumery recently, specifically those which are a nod to the French classics. Unfortunately, these suffer the same fate as their French sisters and many have been stripped of their former glory, though some are still readily available in acceptable forms.

Aliage is one such of these gems. Launched in 1972 and hailed by Estée Lauder as the first “sports fragrance”, it was marketed via photos depicting the sumptuous Estée Lauder lifestyle. Tennis at the club, light hikes through rolling hills and a few laps in the pool – the smell of sporty sophistication and leisure, the sense of occupied idleness that only money can provide. Aliage is a bold green fragrance, with references to many of the great French classics. As a chypre rounded by a peach note, it is like a bridge between the beauties of Chanel No 19 and Mitsouko, marrying elements of each into a gorgeous new creation.

Aliage Fragrance Ad

The opening is dry, bitter and sharp but the strong herbal tones mellow over time and are softened by the roundness of peach. The fragrance has a dry, Champagne-like quality, which keeps the peach element dry as silk, rather different than the fullness of Champagne’s peach chypre.

This dry quality is due in part to an abundance of galbanum, which gives the fragrance its strong green impression. In fact, the quality of the galbanum in my vintage bottle is excellent, a definite reference to the sharpness of Chanel 19 and Vent Vert. The galbanum’s green force is supported in the drydown by subtle notes of earthy pine, vetiver and thyme, which carry on the outdoors theme.

The base is a gorgeous deep blend of oakmoss and musk with a hint of myrrh, lending the fragrance a delicious depth often found only in the French classics, though Aliage is drawn in bolder, broader strokes than many of its French sisters.

Aliage can still be found today in a relatively similar form, though it has been toned down a bit due to regulations on materials, and the vintage version makes an appearance every now and then. For those of us who have explored French perfumery to its fullness but still want more, Aliage (sometimes found under the name Alliage) hits the spot.

Notes: Peach, Green Notes, Jasmin, Rosewood, Pine, Thyme, Galbanum, Vetiver, Myrrh, Musk, Oakmoss

Gucci – Rush

Gucci Rush

Gucci Rush

Like many dedicated perfumistas, my fragrance collection spans a wide variety of genres: from the ultra-rare and “très cher” to the timeless and chic, without discrimination for cost, high or low as it may be. After all there are still bargain fragrances out there, and while the folks at Chanel would have us forget, there was a time when Chanel No 5 could be found in drugstores.

All of this by way of introduction. While some fragrances are no doubt contemplative à la Serge Lutens or intellectual (here’s looking at you Guerlain), we must all leave a bit of room for pure, unadultered joy.

No fragrance lends itself better to this category in my opinion than Gucci Rush. Though it has references to some of the great classics, like Mitsouko and Diorella, they are delivered with the tongue in cheek, larger-than-could-possibly-be-tasteful style of Gucci under Tom Ford’s reign.

Gucci Rush starts off with a blast reminiscent of hairspray and fruit – in fact it feels like poking your head into a young woman’s room as she is preparing for a fun night out with friends: scented bath gel, fruity shampoo, hairspray, perfume and body lotion. Rush is like a cacophony of scents that should not work together but absolutely do, as evidenced by the number of suitors this young woman has attracted after a night of dancing.

Rush’s white florals are sparkling and playful, leaving the heavier indoles to its more serious floral sisters. A hint of coriander lends dry spice and drama to the fragrance and keeps it from veering into a traditional fruity floral. The drydown is pure, if not strange, olfactory heaven.

Rush morphs into a synthetic milky peach which lacks Mitsouko’s solemnity but is nevertheless beautiful. Similar to Dior’s Diorella, Rush’s peach is warmed and mellowed by patchouli, but Rush manages to maintain a modern, slightly plasticky edge.

Rush is a terrific fragrance for going out, or for those days when the gravity of life is too much to handle. Despite the beauty and elegance of its composition, Rush does not take itself too seriously (as evidenced by it’s plastic, cassette-like flacon) and maintains a joyful edge.

While with most posts I search for an image to convey the visual equivalent of the olfactory sensation, Rush couldn’t be contained to a two-dimensional image. Embedded then is a link to a remix of French singer Yelle’s “A Cause de Garçons” – the perfect combination of fun, trash, brash and the simple joy of movement. What a genius Michel Almairac has proven to be.

Notes: Gardenia, Freesia, Jasmine, Rose, Coriander, Vanilla, Patchouli, Vetiver.


Flu Season

Flu Season

sick woman

No one likes feeling unwell, but for those of us that relish their daily dose of fragrance, a stuffy nose can be especially distressing. So what to do on those days when we cannot smell our favorite fragrance or worse, the scent of any complex fragrance sends us into a sneezing fit or brings on a seasonal migraine?

Here are a few scented luxuries which can help you survive the flu season and bring some relief as a result.

Tea Tree Oil – Tea Tree Oil is derived from the leaves of the tea tree. It has been touted as a cure-all for conditions ranging from acne and skin infections if applied topically to sore throat and ear infections. My favorite is adding it to a steamy bath, or better yet a humidifier – it works wonders on coughs and congestion. Tea Tree Oil has a pleasant, slightly medicinal scent somewhat similar to eucalyptus – the scent is a comfort in itself – one small whiff and I know I am on the road to recovery.

Ginger – Ginger works wonders for sore throats and upset tummies. A small, peeled knob boiled in water makes a wonderful tea, especially when mixed with a little lemon juice and honey. My favorite however is to boil it in some savory broth and add some spicy lemon pepper. It is a sure-fire fever reducer and reminds me of the exciting and exotic perfumes which I will be wearing once the flu has departed.

Lavender – Lavender has been used for centuries in various preparations and its scent is known for its calming effect. Lavender oil can also be used to relieve migraines and bring relief to those suffering from sinus infections. Like Tea Tree Oil, a few drops in the bath or a humidifier should do the trick. Aside from its relaxing scent, Lavender is the quintessential symbol of the South of France. What better way to relax than to imagine beautiful fields of Lavender swaying in the warm summer Provençal breeze!

French Lavender Fields

Vicks VapoRub – a traditional cure-all for congestion and coughs, Vicks has a strong menthol smell which many find off-putting. Vicks to me conjures memories of being cared for by my mother and grandmother – so nothing could be more comforting. Aside from the immediate relief it provides from painful congestion and respiratory distress, the icy menthol blast calls to mind one of my favorite fragrances, Tubereuse Criminelle and reminds me that my days of sickness are sure to be limited.

Linden Tea – Fever, congestion and aches and pains can make it difficult to relax for sleep. Linden Tea, or Tilleul or Tilo as it is known in French and Spanish, makes a wonderfully relaxing tea and is known for relieving insomnia, anxiety and is even believed to reduce blood pressure. Linden Tea is  also widely used in Europe for its diaphoretic or fever-reducing effects. It has a mild, slightly honeyed, herbal flavor which makes it perfect for inducing sleep.

Wishing all my readers good health!

Nina Ricci – Farouche

Nina Ricci – Farouche


The Nina Ricci fragrance line is one that I did not traditionally have much exposure to growing up, as none of the women in my family wore it. I did have a distant aunt who sometimes wore L’Air du Temps, but we’ll save that for another post. No wonder then that the house’s 1973 release Farouche failed to catch my attention until now (there were after all plenty of other fragrances to keep me busy).

I recently purchased an assortment of vintage perfume minis, and one fragrance included in the assortment was Nina Ricci’s Farouche in the Eau de Toilette concentration. While I have a decent knowledge of French, I will admit that I was not familiar with the word “Farouche”. Interestingly, I did not look it up until after I had tested the fragrance several times, fearing it might skew my impression. In that vein, I will keep its meaning silent until the end of the post.

Farouche opens with some fizzy aldehydes adding lift to a soft orange and galbanum melange. While galbanum fragrances generally make weak in the knees, Farouche comes on like a whisper. The heart unfolds to a gentle floral bouquet of jasmine, lily-of-the-valley and geranium, to which iris lends a hint of powder, While carnation and clary sage add a bit of a twist, Farouche’s overall character remains moderate. The fragrance wafts up again after a about an hour or so, revealing a mossy, vetiver base, reminiscent of classics such as Ma Griffe, but executed with a subtle hand.

In fact, my main issue with Farouche was its faint presence, which made an otherwise lovely fragrance with all of the hallmarks of a classic, slightly forgettable in the face of other mossy, green giants. That being said, this lightness of character would make it a perfect scent for someone just starting to explore the genre, as it touches on all of the aspects of a mossy green floral. I can only imagine how lovely the parfum concentration must be, though I have heard that is subtle as well. The Eau de Toilette bottle is lovely, with its slender neck is reminiscent of a swan, while the flacon for the parfum (reportedly made by Lalique) resembles a heart.

And in case you are still wondering (and have not searched for it yourself), Farouche translates as shy. Perfect.

Floral Aldehyde

Notes: Aldehydes, Mandarin, Bergamot, Galbanum, Peach, Honeysuckle, Carnation, Iris, Lily, Clary Sage, Jasmine, Lily-of-the-Valley, Rose, Geranium, Cardamom, Sandalwood, Amber, Musk, Oakmoss, Vetiver.


Caron – Parfum Sacré

Caron – Parfum Sacré

caron Perfumes Parfum Sacre There are those loves which we know will endure forever. Such is the beauty of this peppery rose-inspired fragrance by Caron. But where Caron’s Rose is simple and Marni is sheer and evanescent, Parfum Sacré positively smolders, bringing new depths to the pepper-rose combination.

As the vintage advertisement for Caron perfumes at left attests “What is seduction if not a man, a woman and a Caron perfume?” While the fragrance’s name references the sacred, Parfum Sacré is nothing if not sensual.

Though Parfum Sacré opens with a burst of lively, citrusy pepper and spices, like many Caron fragrances, it is perfectly blended to create an more of an overall impression. Despite its spicy opening, Parfum Sacré is as warm and enveloping as a lover’s embrace. The presence of rose lends a velvety texture to the underlying woods and spices, elements which on their own can often be perceived as dry.

Though vanilla and floral notes make an appearance, it is only to support the romance between rose and spices. While the distinct Caron drydown is recognizable, it remains enrobed in the warm, dark rose, adding a hint a smoky drama.

While both the extrait and Eau de Parfum have impressive lasting power, they wear fairly close to the skin, making for an intimate yet luxurious fragrance experience. While the vintage versions have more complexity and depth (especially the extrait which is truly magical) the reformulated version available today is a reasonably close facsimile and worth seeking out for those seeking an elegant and unusual rose-tinged oriental.

Notes: Vanilla, Myrrh, Civet, Cedarwood, Lemon, Pepper, Mace, Cardamom, Orange Blossom, Rose, Jasmine, Rosewood

Guerlain – Nahéma

Guerlain – Nahéma


Still from Benjamin ou les Mémoires d’un Puceau”

“Mon grand-père Jacques m’a dit un jour:

‘Mon petit, n’oublie jamais que l’on crée toujours des parfums pour les femmes qu’on aime, qu’on admire et avec lesquelles on vit’

Et c’est comme cela que tout a commencé.”


“One day my grandfather Jacques said to me

‘My little one, never forget that one always creates perfumes for the women one loves, admires and those with whom one lives.’

And that is how it all began.”

So begins the book “Parfums d’Amour” by Jean-Paul Guerlain, in which he describes the journeys, both literal and figurative, he undertook to arrive at his fragrant creations and the women who inspired him. Although the story behind the inspiration for Nahéma does not appear in Parfums d’Amour, this introduction could not more perfectly describe the fragrance, which along with Jicky, is perhaps among the more well-known of Jean-Paul’s amorous anecdotes.

What would a perfume inspired by the paragon of beauty, Catherine Deneuve, smell of? For Jean-Paul Guerlain, whose 1979 fragrance Nahema was inspired by the award-winning, supremely talented and breathtakingly beautiful actress, the answer was simple. The archetypal symbol of romantic love: the rose. And what a rose he created.

Legend has it that Jean-Paul made 138 attempts at the creation before reaching perfection. Nahéma, which translates as “born of fire” or the “fiery one” is an incredibly ripe, lush rose.  With its plummy and peachy facets, which give the fragrance a fullness and ripeness well beyond a simple soliflore, he achieved a rose so compelling that it takes on a nearly three-dimensional aspect. While rose fragrances are often dismissed as being “old-fashioned”, Hyacinth adds a delicious tension to the fragrance, making this a rose that could never be mistaken for anything less than a sexpot.

catherine deneuve benjamin 1

While I do not find Nahema to be particularly “fiery”, there are oriental aspects which when combined with the ripe fruit notes and Ylang-Ylang suggest a degree of feminine intimacy, not unlike Rochas Femme. Much like a young Catherine Deneuve, Nahéma is inexplicably lush and sensual, like a woman in a crimson velvet gown full of voluptuous curves.

Notes: Peach, Bergamot, Citrus Notes, Aldehydes, Green Notes, Rose, Jasmine, Lilac, Hyacinth, Lily of the Valley, Ylang-Ylang, Peru Balsam, Vanilla, Vetiver, Sandalwood

Marni – Marni Eau de Parfum

Marni – Marni Eau de Parfum

marni eau de parfum

It’s been a long time since I fell in love. In fact, as most of you know, most of my loves are old flames who have been around for a while. So imagine my surprise when I fell in love with a young upstart – the first fragrance release from the Italian fashion label Marni.

The fragrance was composed by the supremely talented Daniela Andrier, who created another love of mine, Infusion d’Iris. While Marni’s character is miles away from Prada’s Iris, they share a similar transparent quality which allows for fragrant complexity to be rendered with a light touch.

Marni starts out with a gorgeous bergamot that smells of high quality without being overpowering. As the fragrance unfolds, it reveals itself as a peppery rose which melds into an elegant woodsy scent with smoky incense undertones. I love how Marni remains dry as silk and never veers into the sweet floral territory, a factor which makes it stand out in the crowd of a thousand fruity florals.

I will forgive Marni its singular flaw and that is its lack of lasting power. It quickly settles to a comfortable hover just above the skin like a warm embrace. It makes a wonderful daytime scent with its elegant treatment of woods and subtle smoky florals. Marni feels grown-up without being characterless. In a word, Marni is delicious. Marni is easily found at major retailers and would make an excellent last minute gift for a special Valentine.

Notes: Bergamot, Cinnamon, Clove, Nutmeg, Ginger, Cardamom, Pink Pepper, Rose, Incense, Vetiver, Cedar, Patchouli


Serge Lutens – Sa Majesté La Rose

Serge Lutens – Sa Majesté La Rose
Sa Majeste la RoseFragrances are, for the most part, an exercise in artifice: by combining a series of notes, perfumers are able to weave together a cohesive scent that evolves over time. At times, the notes work in harmony to create complementary accords or impressions, while other fragrances charm us with seemingly incongruous themes that somehow work together beautifully (think Missoni Eau de Parfum, with its alternating layers of fruit and chocolate).

While Serge Lutens is a master of olfactory tales, Sa Majesté La Rose is a distinct departure from his standard fare. Instead of an opulent romance of exotic, far away lands, the fragrance is a perfect illusion, a realistic study of the majestic rose for which it is named.

Sa Majesté La Rose opens with a pert, slightly spicy rose tinged with a hint of fruity liqueur. While it possess a fuller, richer body, at the opening it is not unlike Rose by Caron. As the fragrance progresses however it takes on a subtle complexity that reveals just how multi-faceted a rose can be. Sa Majesté softens into a warm, slightly smoky rose with hints of honeyed camomile. It is somewhat astonishing in its realism and yet it is never tiresome.

Red Rose Bouquet

In fact, Sa Majesté La Rose reminds me of walking into a room and witnessing a bouquet of roses unfolding over the course of the day. Starting out slightly tart in the morning when first placed into the vase and sharing the opulence of its scented gifts in the evening as the soft, velvety petals unfold.

While Sa Majesté possesses enough character to be worn on its own, it makes a delicious fragrance for layering, adding a rosy fullness to whatever it comes into contact with. It lends itself especially well to layering with other fragrances in the Serge Lutens line. One of my personal favorite combinations is with Muscs Khublai Khan, with Sa Majesté enhancing the subtle rose qualities of Muscs. While the combination may sound like an olfactory overdose, the meeting of these two powerhouses has the effect of tempering the more extreme aspects of each, much like a successful romance brings out the best in us.

Notes: Moroccan Rose Absolute, Gaiac Wood, Clove, White Honey, Musk