Fragrant Projects

Fragrant Projects


While I carefully arrange my budget to set resources aside for fragrance purchases, I love finding inexpensive, do-it-yourself alternatives. For example, if you have a favorite perfume but prefer not to purchase expensive scented lotion (or worse, it doesn’t exist) you can easily make it using a few drops or a spritz of your favorite fragrance and the unscented lotion of your choice. Before I go to bed, I put a quarter size drop of lotion in my palm, a tiny bit of perfume (either the one I have been wearing that evening, or a soothing night-time scent) rub my hands together and voila! Just enough scented lotion to moisturize my arms and ensure sweet dreams.

To that end, I have been reading a book by Laura Fronty and Yves Duronsoy called “A Well-Kept Home: Household Traditions and Simple Secrets from a French Grandmother”. The book is full of wonderful suggestions for keeping leather shoes extra shiny (rub with the cut side of a lemon), traditional recipes for making preserves, natural pest control and how to make scented waters. While I don’t want to spoil the book and give away its secrets, this “recipe” for making Iris Water was too good not to share.

Iris Water

18 ounces surgical spirit

1 ounce ground Florence Iris

2 ounces Benzion dye Blue-iris-flowers603

The ground iris is placed in the surgical spirit solution for a week. Once the week is up, the liquid should be filtered and the benzoin added. Once the Iris Water is ready, it can be used as a topical skin solution, light fragrance or bath additive.

While not common in the U.S., surgical spirit is used as a skin disinfectant, which also serves to tighten the skin. The spirit also contains castor oil to help prevent dryness and cracking. In addition to its delicious ambery smell, Benzoin is reputed to have anti-inflammatory properties. A quick internet search will reveal where to purchase these items if they are not readily available in your area.

Do you have any DIY fragrance tips?



Balmain – Ivoire

Balmain – Ivoire27115-pierre-balmain-perfumes-1988-ivoire-hprints-com

Elegant and polished like the keys of a piano, Balmain’s 1979 Ivoire perfectly captures the sensibility of its time and of the refined, luxurious fashions of its creator, Pierre Balmain. While the fragrance can go head to head with the big, bold and brash fragrances of the 1980s, it possesses an earthy quality characteristic of the 1970s. While the name Ivoire, French for ivory, conjures for many images of a big white velvety floral, Ivoire is positively green.

From the outset, Ivoire is dense and layered. On my skin, the fragrance does not unfold in the typical top-heart-base progression, rather it unleashes its depths all at once. Ivoire is green, herbal and floral, with a pungent, spicy warmth at its depth. And while the fragrance does take some twists and turns throughout the day, revealing bright citrus and hints of floral underpinned by galbanum, the warmth of oakmoss and musk is ever present. The drydown is a creamy, woodsy and slightly soapy pillow.

I have a small vintage bottle from the 1980s that I take out whenever I want to feel especially elegant in a confident, Chanel No 19-esque  manner, so I was thrilled to see that Balmain had re-issued the fragrance in 2012. While perfumers Michel Almairac and Jacques Flori are certainly talented in their own right, the beauty of the original was unfortunately lost in translation due to restrictions on perfume materials. The re-issued Ivoire leans more toward a straight floral, and feels sharp and unbalanced without the richness that only true oakmoss and musks can bring. And while it does not possess the elegance of the original 1970s ads, the new marketing photos are a knockout.

ivoiredebalmainvisuelpuNotes: green accord, galbanum, bergamot, lemon, aldehydes, lily of the valley, rose, hyacinth, jasmine, carnation, orris, orchid, geranium, cedar, musk, oakmoss, amber, raspberry and sandalwood.

Cartier – Eau de Cartier Concentree

Cartier – Eau de Cartier Concentree

Cartier Eau de Cartier Concentree_100ml_EdT

Following its launch of Eau de Cartier in 2001, Cartier followed up with a related fragrance, not so much a flanker as a reinforced version of the original. Released in 2002, perfumer Christine Nagel amplified certain of the aspects of the original with the addition of spice notes and, as the name implies, intensifying the concentration. While the original Eau de Cartier was an excellent fragrance, there was some disappointment surrounding its lasting power. In fact, perhaps the only criticism I had of the original was its sillage and longevity, both of which are fairly minimal, but then again it is marketed as an “Eau”.

While Eau de Cartier Concentree comes off as slightly more intense than its predecessor, the general structure of the original remains intact. Eau de Cartier Concentree starts off with a burst of yuzu, a citrus fruit somewhere between a grapefruit and a mandarine. Concentree is enhanced with coriander, giving the opening a bit more “oomph” than the original. At its heart, the fragrance takes on an aqueous floral scent, with a subtle green, medicinal tang from the violet leaves and lavender.

The drydown takes on a considerably more intimate feel, with a deliciously warm, slightly salty, woodsy finish. Concentree feels like a master of disguise, as the fragrance maintains a fresh aspect despite the introduction of patchouli and warm amber.  I have seen the fragrance marketed in different stores as a men’s and women’s fragrance. Needless to say, Eau de Cartier makes an excellent unisex fragrance.


Notes: yuzu, coriander, bergamot, violet notes, musk, lavender, cedarwood, patchouli and amber

Robert Piguet – Calypso

Robert Piguet – Calypso 

Odysseus and Calypso by Hendrik van Balen

Odysseus and Calypso by Hendrik van Balen

It has been a long time since I experienced a love at first sniff. Quite to the contrary, I typically sample repeatedly before I buy and implore my friends to do the same. There is nothing worse than an impulse buy – especially when fragrances today are designed to smell especially good in the opening notes. I have heard too many perfumistas sing the praises of a perfume, only to arrive home and feel the heartbreak of paying too much, or having the romance be short-lived because the drydown was disappointing. And yet despite all precautions, there I stood face to face with a new love at the Robert Piguet counter at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, and had no choice but to summon all my willpower to avoid buying it on the spot.

I had stopped by the beauty and fragrance level of Bergdorf to gaze at the lovely Guerlain display and sample Caron to my heart’s delight, but more on that later. After spraying myself with various different fragrances, and picking up samples of Oud, Bois Noir and Casbah, I left the store to do some sight-seeing.

The rest of the afternoon I was haunted by a soft, slightly floral, powdery patchouli dream of a drydown. My only problem was that I had tested no less than 9 perfumes on my skin that afternoon, so how to uncover which I had fallen in love with! As I sat down that evening, I went through my blotters and notes, which allowed me to eliminate many candidates. I knew it could not be a Caron, as it did not have the distinct flourish unique to Carons in the drydown. I know all the Guerlains by heart, so those were eliminated immediately.

NMC0W2F_mxI went through each of the Piguet samples until I found the source – an alluring and yet subtle mixture of modern lightness and a soft powdery quality prevalent in vintage fragrances such as L’Heure Bleue. The geranium opening quickly softens to a light rose, tempered by a soft iris. The drydown arrives fairly quickly, and in fact, is perceptible from the opening. The loveliest warm patchouli, mellowed by a light amber and soft, suede-like smell. Now that I have fallen in love with the modern version, which was reformulated by Aurelien Guichard, I am extremely curious to smell the 1950s vintage version. And yes, I have since purchased a bottle!

For those familiar with Chanel’s Coromandel and Borneo 1834 by Serge Lutens, this will seem like a tamer, subtler interpretation of a similar  patchouli theme, but it has its own merits. While Calypso is not particularly edgy or innovative, it has a subtle beauty and sophistication which make it a joy to wear. And after all, isn’t that what fragrance is all about?

Notes: Geranium, mandarin, rose, iris patchouli, amber and suede.





Lubin – Idole Vintage

Lubin – Idole Vintage


After Gilles Thevenin (Guerlain’s former director of creation) rescued the Lubin perfume house from bankruptcy, the group has been hard at work creating a bright future with the release of several new perfumes, in collaboration with the talents of Thomas Fontaine, Delphine Thierry and the supremely talented Olivia Giacobetti.  While the quality and creativity of their new line is undisputed, I have a soft spot for the firm’s vintage creations. So while the internet is flush with reviews of the spicy and almost decadent Idole created by Giacobetti, this review is for the vintage Eau de Parfum released in the 1960s.

Idole was originally released in 1962, and while the modern release bears the same name, this was more a reference than a reformulation. The vintage Idole is a floral chypre, rendered in the elegant and somewhat understated Lubin style. The fragrance opens with a rich, almost fruity, bergamot which seems to be deepened by drop of peach – our first hint of the sensuousness of this creation. Although the fragrance features a heady jasmine rendered velvety and somewhat opulent by a lush Lily of the Valley note, Idole never becomes cloying or over-powering. There is a slight hint of woods emanating from the heart, giving the perfume just a touch of smoke and depth. I have found Lubin’s vintage fragrances to be extremely well-crafted, with an emphasis on quality ingredients and thoughtful compositions. In Idole, Lubin achieved a lovely balance between the rich floral notes by interposing a warm animalic base redolent of leather and moss.

00482-lubin-1912-hprints-comIdole is certainly more unabashedly “feminine” than other Lubin fragrances I have tested, and this fragrance seems to me their version of the femme fatale parfum. That being said, the fragrance maintains a type of discretion that keeps it lady-like in the midst of its sensuality. If you have not had the opportunity of sampling any of Lubin’s vintage fragrances, I would highly recommend seeking them out via a decant service. Kudos to Thevenin for resurrecting this house and for developing what will no doubt be the next generation of vintage masterpieces.

Floral Chypre

Notes: Bergamot, jasmine, lily of the valley, woods, leather and oakmoss



L.T. Piver – Cuir

L.T. Piver – Cuir

LIGNE-PIVER-CUIRWhile not well-known in the United States, the French L.T.Piver house has been producing fine fragrances for over two centuries. The firm dates its origins back to the court of Louis XVI and has continued through the to the twenty-first century, adapting many of its traditional fragrances to a modern sensibility. Similar to the houses of Lubin and Guerlain, L.T. Piver became an official purveyor to the royal court of Louis XVI and later expanded to the other royal families of Europe.

The firm is named for Louis Toussaint Piver who began the Piver legacy, and helped propel it to international acclaim in England, Belgium, Spain, Austria, Russia and Brazil. L.T. Piver maintained a flower-processing factory in Grasse, plus a second facility in Aubervilliers dedicated to the manufacture of cosmetic products, of which L.T. Piver created a prodigious range. Similar to Guerlain, the firm commissioned special edition bottles from Baccarat and Lalique, which would be destined to become collector’s items.

This review is for the modern Cuir produced as an Eau de Toilette by L.T. Piver. The fragrance was imagesoriginally created at the end of the nineteenth century under the Cuir de Russie moniker, consistent with that era’s fascination with Russian culture. This manufacture date makes L.T. Piver’s creation a contemporary of Guerlain’s Cuir de Russie, and indeed, the two share certain similarities. Both feature a stronger, smokier birch tar smell than either the Chanel or Lubin Cuirs, giving the fragrance a more rustic feel. The strength of their smell characters also feels decidedly more masculine, although the Guerlain Cuir softens to a floral heart in the drydown, while the L.T. Piver maintains a fairly homogenous character throughout its wear. The modern L.T. Piver Cuir is marketed to a male audience, so the emphasis on the strong birch tar aspect without a softer, floral counterpoint seems intentional, but gives the fragrance a somewhat one-dimensional aspect when compared to the Guerlain.

Cuir’s opening features a bright citrus accord of mandarin and bergamot, which serve to lighten the fragrance somewhat and create a sense of refreshment.  As the smoky birch tar unfolds, I detect the spicy notes of clove and cinnamon, giving the fragrance a rich feeling, one that makes it suitable for autumn or winter use. At the heart of Cuir is a hint of soapiness, and here is where the fragrance begins to soften somewhat. At its base, Cuir features a touch of woods and oakmoss, sweetened by a honey-like note, which I imagine to be the coumarin making its presence felt.

While Cuir does possess a distinct character that makes it a natural choice for a man, this is definitely a fragrance that can be carried off well by a woman who is not afraid of bracing leathers. The fragrance is fairly tenacious, lasting well throughout the day without fading excessively. The sillage, while potent, is never offensive with careful application, though I would not suggest more than 2 sprays of the fragrance.

Leather 140

Notes: Bergamot, mandarin, leather, woods, spices and honey



Chanel – Cuir de Russie

Chanel – Cuir de Russie

There are those fragrances that carry with them strong emotional associations, either because they were worn by a loved one, or because they were our close companion in the journey of life. My first encounter with Chanel’s Cuir de Russie was not unlike a scene in a movie where the protagonist’s life flashes before their eyes, revealing a series of memories and profound emotions. I was flooded with a thousand images and impressions. The stillness of the air on a cold winter night. The fur collar on my Russian great-grandfather’s coat mingled with the sweet scent of tobacco. The finest leather gloves and the elegance of a scented handkerchief. And yet how could a fragrance unknown to me have this effect?


Of the four Cuir de Russie fragrances  I have tested, for me, Chanel’s interpretation most closely embodied the romanticism and elegance of the genre and of the individuals who inspired its creation. Chanel’s fragrance embodies the exotic elements which the exiled Russian community brought with them to Paris, and yet it captures all of the refined elegance of their new home. Chanel’s Cuir de Russie personifies the spirit of the Roaring Twenties, where flappers shocked the world with their emancipated fashions, their dancing and smoking.

Chanel’s Cuir is a close contemporary of Lubin’s, and indeed the two share some similarities making it evident that they are variations on a theme. While the Guerlain Cuir de Russie invokes a rustic, revolutionary feel, Chanel’s is starkly different. Chanel’s Cuir de Russie was created in 1924, by master nose Ernest Beaux, himself a Russian exile. Beaux was born in Moscow and  trained in perfumery with the prestigious A. Rallet and Company, creator of perfumes for the courts of Imperial Russia. He eventually settled in Paris in 1919. He was introduced to Coco Chanel by the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia, giving rise to a very successful and prodigious professional alliance.

Chanel’s Cuir starts out with a familiar burst of hesperidic aldehydes, which will be immediately familiar to devotees of Chanel No 5. But where No 5 softens to reveal a floral heart, Cuir de Russie unleashes a series of provocative notes: the sweet and acrid tobacco, an animalic fur note complete with a touch of mothballs, as though an elegant old coat had been taken out of storage in preparation for winter. The heart is an elegant floral composition which also feels like familiar Chanel territory, the finest examples of jasmine, rose and ylang ylang available. The fragrance culminates in the beauty of leather, the softest, most supple leather imaginable, and yet through its smoky darkness, retains a touch of the soft floral heart.

This review is based upon both the vintage parfum and the reformulated version available from the Chanel Les Exclusifs line. Both are phenomenal, with the parfum revealing more of the depth and beauty of the animalic leather notes and the eau de toilette possessing more of the life of aldehydes.

Leather Oriental

Notes: Orange Blossom, Bergamot,  Mandarin, Jasmine, Rose, Ylang-Ylang and Birchwood

Lubin – Cuir de Russie

Lubin – Cuir de Russie


Lubin is one of the oldest perfume houses in continual existence. The company was founded by Pierre Francois Lubin in 1798, when he began creating scented products for members of high society and notoriety alike. Lubin, like Guerlain, was esteemed with recognition from the Imperial Court of the Bonapartes and all the crowned heads of Europe thereafter. The firm was well-known for their perfumes and bottles alike, with flacons designed by Julien Viard and Maurice Depinoix and special, luxury editions from Baccarat. The firm created a strong presence in the United States commencing in the 1830s and were especially well-received in the South where many families traced their origins back to France. The firm remians in existence today and Olivia Giacobetti is the current fragrance designer.

Of the four Cuir de Russie’s reviewed, Lubin’s interpretation of the leather theme is perhaps the most literal. I was fortunate enough to come upon a vintage sample courtesy of a fellow collector. The stopper on the bottle had been stuck for some time, allowing for good preservation of the perfume, which had condensed into an almost syrup-like consistency. After some careful engineering, the bottle finally revealed its beautiful contents.

The perfume’s opening had a medicinal, slightly hesperidic, herbal quality to it, alluding to perhaps some petitgrain and camphor notes. As the initial notes died down, the fragrance had an oily quality to it, reminiscent of fur. Based upon my first impression, I imagined that the perfume was going to be somewhat challening to wear, as it invoked visions of the oily fur of hides being prepared for leather production. Indeed, at first blush, I ascribed this perfume more for intellectual contemplation rather than actual use.


Here however, the fragrance took a distinct turn. The heavy quality of the opening dissipated, leaving just a hint of spice in its wake. What this revealed was the mildest, most realistic and unadorned leather scent of the three. The Lubin Cuir de Russie has neither the rugged, birch-tar bite of the Guerlain, nor the aldehydic florals of the Chanel. It is purely gorgeous, buttery leather, the kind that would be used to make fine gloves for a woman’s hands. As the fragrance dies down, there is a very slight floral quality to it, as though the lovely kid gloves had retained the slightest hint of scent from the wearer’s perfumed wrist.

Having had the good fortune now to sample various vintage Lubins, the house has a singular style to all of its scents which conveys a subtle refinement that is simply intoxicating. Where Guerlain always strikes me as the House of Passion, and Chanel as the House of Beauty, Lubin’s scents possess a quiet intellectualism that I find very appealing in their subtlety. Lubin’s Cuir de Russie is no exception.


Notes: Hesperidic Notes, Camphor, Fur, Oil, Leather Notes, Floral Notes,

Guerlain – Cuir de Russie

Guerlain – Cuir de Russie


Guerlain’s version on the Cuir de Russie theme is the oldest of the fragrances I will review and as such possesses a character which is completely unlike that of its counterparts. In fact, for my nose, Guerlain’s Cuir de Russie is more reminiscent of the tanning process itself than of the leather byproduct.

Guerlain’s Cuir de Russie was developed by Aime Guerlain in 1875. Having first been introduced to the genre by way of Chanel, the opening of Guerlain’s interpretation was somewhat of a shock. The fragrance opens with a distinctly herbacious note which is both powerful and masculine, a sharp contrast to Chanel’s classic aldehydic opening. This intense green and almost medicinal quality gives rise to the richest, smokiest leather I have ever experienced, making it evident that the fragrance was composed long before any restrictions on birch tar came into effect. The impression is of a much more rustic and prerevolutionary “Russia” than either of its 20th century counterparts, which evoke more of a “Russian in Paris” feel. Not so the Guerlain, which reminds me of the thick, rough leather boots of a cossack warrior atop a charging steed in the cold night air.Cossack-05

While the intensity of smoke and leather is prevalent for several hours, making me questions the scent’s intended gender audience, the fragrance does a complete about-face in the drydown, softening into a gorgeously soft floral bouquet. There is a hint of jasmine overlaying the leather which has now receded into the background, deepened by hints of vanilla and animalic notes.

It is this odd interplay between masculine and feminine elements that reveals the true magic of the House of Guerlain. These disparate fragrance themes could not have been carried out by any other perfumer, and yet Guerlain flawlessly melds the two into one, invoking the grandeur of a revolutionary fantasy with the promise of a bright and beautiful future.


Smoky Leather

Notes: Herbal Notes, Green Notes, Jasmine, Leather