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

Diptyque – Philosykos

Diptyque – Philosykos


I love the Diptyque line for its ability to marry earthy, natural scents with a refined minimalist elegance. Most of the house’s fragrances work equally well on a man or a woman, and Philsykos is no exception.

Rather than creating an uber-fruity, over the top syrupy fig, Diptyque seems to draw its inspiration from the tree as a whole. From the earthy bark and woody stems, right to the green and slightly dusty fruit. Like other Diptyque fragrances it possesses a fairly realistic green note, reminiscent of wet blades of grass and takes me back to childhood summers spent outdoors.

images copy 3

The drydown has Olivia Giacobetti written all over it, from the soft veiled layers of fig with coconut, with a gentle hint of sweetness which is never overpowering, even on the most humid of days. While Philosykos is a wonderful summertime scent, it works equally well in the winter months, a reminder of things to come. While I adore the extra sharp bite of the EdT, the EdP concentration is quite lovely, though perhaps a bit rounder than the original – think Sauvignon Blanc versus Chardonnay.

It’s astounding to think that this 1996 release is nearly twenty years old, but perhaps this timeless quality is what makes Diptyque fragrances so successful. Ironically, the Diptyque collection just showed up at my local Nordstrom’s, finally making this house available to a wider audience.


Notes: Fig Leaf, Fig, Coconut, Green Notes, Cedar, Woody Notes, Fig Tree.



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

Revlon – Fleurs de Jontue Iris de Fete

Revlon – Fleurs de Jontue Iris de Fete


In order for a perfume to be truly appreciated, it must always be viewed within context. Similar to the world of fashion, perfume styles change, at times in conjunction with the tide of cultural sentiment, but often at the hands of those searching for the next big commercial success. While perfume releases hit department stores these days at breakneck speed, a healthy level of competition has always existed between perfume houses, making them seek out innovative ways of promoting their wares. While few self-respecting perfumistas would dream of buying fragrance in a drugstore these days, after WWII and continuing until the 1970s, it was possible to purchase Chanel No 5 at the local five and dime.

Founded in 1932 by brothers Charles and Joseph Revson, along with chemist Charles Lachman, Revlon entered the world of beauty through an innovative nail enamel product that would ultimately pave the way for what became a multi-million dollar corporation, allowing the group to expand into cosmetics and eventually perfume. Revlon’s first commercial success in perfumery came in 1973 with the launch of the iconic Charlie, which quickly became a bestseller. Revlon followed up its success with the launch of Jontue, which became the number two bestseller for the company. While Revlon initially sold fragrances in departments stores as well as drugstores, the group struggled against giants like Estee Lauder and chose to focus their efforts on the lower-tier retail market.

While still a relatively new phenomena at the time, Jontue was followed up by three variations under the Fleurs de Jontue moniker. These flankers were Fleurs de Jontue Rose de Mai, Lotus de Nuit and Iris de Fete. The original Jontue, which was launched in 1976, was a floral fragrance balanced with a touch of oakmoss and musk. The three flankers each emphasized different floral notes and could be purchased with the original Jontue as a gift set.


Iris de Fete opens with a sharp green note, which initially seems a bit artificial. This opening quickly fades, however, and the fragrance’s character immediately softens. At its heart, Iris de Fete is fairly close to an iris soliflore, a fragrance based on the scent of a single flower. While a touch of Lily of the Valley is detectable, it only serves to lift the powdery softness of the Iris. The fragrance is somewhat understated, and the dusty quality of the iris is enhanced by a touch of light musk later in the dry down, giving the fragrance a bit of warmth.

Despite the subtle presence of these other notes, it is evident that they are there to highlight the star of the show: the iris. The fragrance has a polite sillage, but the lasting power is relatively good. Iris de Fete and its sister fragrances pop up every now and again on Ebay and at some internet retailers. While Iris de Fete might not stand up in a competition against iris-heavy presby_iris_new_jersey_originalhitters Chanel La Pausa from the Les Exclusifs line or Guerlain’s Apres L’Ondee, it is a lovely, light, and affordable fragrance that calls to mind the beauty of Springtime and the innocence of youth. It is by far one of my favorites drugstore finds and never fails to bring a smile to my face.


Notes: Green notes, iris, lily of the valley, musk

Charbert – Ambre

Charbert – Ambre


One of the challenges of vintage perfumery involves researching brands which have not survived the test of popular sentiment. Every once in a while I will stumble upon a fragrance for which I am unable to get much background on, both in terms of its composition or information on the house that created it. When the fragrance is as unique as Charbert Ambre, it can be especially confounding, as there is no explanation for why this house closed its doors, leaving this unique creation all but lost to time.

According to Nigel Groom’s New Perfume Handbook, Parfums Charbert was founded in 1933 by William Gaxton and Herbert Harris. The firm, which was based in New York, produced both perfumes and cosmetics for the middle market of American consumers. The firm had a trademark drum shaped flacon (see photo at right) which housed many of its perfumes, including Ambre. Ambre was released in 1940 and by all accounts, Charbert ceased operating approximately twenty years later in 1963.

Ambre starts off with a soapy, green opening somewhat reminiscent of Lucien Lelong’s Tailspin. These are not the soapy aldehydes of a Chanel No 5, instead, Ambre’s opening feels like the precious little soaps that one sets out in a guest bathroom to give visitors a sense of luxury. Unlike other “green” openings, Ambre feels neither overly sharp or medicinal, coming across instead as fairly soft and warm. The true beauty of this fragrance however lies in its heart and base, which reveals a warm, vanillic amber, soft and velvety smooth. The base reveals subtle hints of spice and woods, but they serve to round out and deepen the amber, without competing for dominance.


For those accustomed to bold amber fragrances such as Serge Lutens’s Ambre Sultan or even L’Ambre des Merveilles by Hermes, Charbert’s interpretation may seem somewhat tame. The fragrance features an average sillage and longevity, making it suitable for wear in various situations and occasions. This makes it an amber fragrance uniquely suited to the Spring and Summer months, when this fragrance category can feel a bit stifling. If anyone out there has more background on Charbert, I would love to hear about it.

Amber Oriental

Notes: Green notes, aldehydes, vanilla, amber, spices, resin, woods and musk.

Christian Dior – Diorella

Christian Dior – Diorella

If Diorella had a face, it would be the exquisite beauty of Jane Fonda in Roger Vadim’s 1968 sci-fi, B-movie masterpiece Barbarella. Both reflect a beauty which is disarming, innocent, sensual and yet somewhat strange. Dior released Diorella in 1972, yet another masterpiece created by Edmond Roudnitska.


Diorella first tempts you with the freshness of lemony greens rounded out with a touch of melon and floral notes, giving the opening a hint of ripeness. Were it to end there, Diorella would have been an attractive, linear warm-weather fragrance, perfect for after a shower. But as is often the case with great beauty, Diorella has an underlying complexity which must be experienced if its beauty is to be fully appreciated.

Regardless of how many times I smell the opening, I am always surprised by a sense of underlying strangeness just beneath the surface, not unlike smelling an approaching storm before one feels the first drop.  As the top dissipates, a savory note of basil begins pushing toward the surface, which seems both out of place and brilliant, hinting at the richness of soil which lies underneath. Diorella is not unlike a flower blooming in reverse, its petals collapsing onto themselves and rolling up into the stem, which then plunges below the surface back into its damp, musky bulb. Diorella takes its time unfolding, each layer becoming increasingly sensual as the earthiness of oakmoss and vetiver settle down into the warmth of patchouli and musk.

If Diorella had sisters (or daughters perhaps), for me they would be Calyx Prescriptives and Cristalle for their green ripeness and Ma Griffe for its mossy magnificence.diorella


Notes: Lemon, Peach, Basil, Bergamot, Melon, Green Notes, Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Violet, Rose Bud, Carnation, Cyclamen, Oakmoss, Vanilla, Clove, Sandalwood, Vetiver, Musk, and Patchouli.

Christian Dior – Diorissimo

Christian Dior – Diorissimo


There are times when life’s trials become a bit much, and we crave some comfort or small happiness. While for many, the first thing that comes to mind may be food or drink, I find that fragrance often has the power to be an uplifting presence and bring a smile to my face. In these times, I will often reach for a scent that is beautiful in its unadorned simplicity, rather than provocative or challenging. One fragrance which can always bring a smile to my face is Christian Dior’s Diorissimo. Diorissimo perfectly captures the scent of the lovely Lily of the Valley, so much so that it seems one is wearing a living flower, and yet the fragrance is a ruse: for it is not possible to extract the scent of this beautiful white flower.

Diorissimo was the magical creation of Edmond Roudnitska, the nose behind the beautiful Femme, as well numerous perfumes for Christian Dior. Given the impossibility of utilizing actual Lily of the Valley extract, Roudnitska’s work is nothing short of an optical illusion. More than any other fragrance, Diorissimo truly captures the scent of Lily of the Valley, to an astonishing degree. The creation relied heavily on Hydroxycitronellal, an aroma chemical with a sweet, green, soapy scent which very closely resembles that of the flower. As with many other vintage beauties, Diorissimo has suffered greatly at the hands of the IFRA regulations regarding potential allergens, as the use of Hydroxycitronellal in fragrances is restricted, because of potential sensitization.


I have both the Eau de Toilette and Parfum versions of vintage Diorissimo and each has its own distinct beauty. While the Eau de Toilette has a sharper, greener opening, as it unfolds, it becomes a gauzy Lily of the Valley, supported by a touch of jasmine with a slightly powdery feel. The fragrance is extremely light and inspiring, the scent of innocence and youth. I love this version just after a shower or right before bed.

The Parfum version is much deeper and somewhat hypnotic. I always have the impression of having crushed the flower on my wrist. The Parfum has a richness and animalic earthiness that is absent in the Eau de Toilette. It is richer, deeper and slightly indolic and an absolute beauty. diorissimo1


Notes: Green notes, bergamot, lily of the valley, ylang ylang, rosewood, amaryllis, boronia, jasmine, sandalwood, and civet.



Lucien Lelong – Tailspin

Lucien Lelong – Tailspin



The elegance of Lucien Lelong’s designs are undisputed and his fragrances tend to have a refined character and unique signature. Tailspin, which was launched in 1940 as a collaboration between Lucien Lelong and nose Jean Carles, is no exception. The fragrance has a joyful and fresh character, possessing an unique combination of accords.

Tailspin opens with what seems like a competition between two sets of notes: the first is a green, slightly spicy note, somewhere between an herbal scent and the smell of flower stems. The second is a strong soapy accord, reminiscent of the tiny, fancy soaps one might set out for guests in the bathroom. While the scent is decidedly fresh, it is not the modern definition of fresh with its citrus and marine notes. Tailspin reminds me of the days when ladies included perfumed talcs, lotions and soaps in their repertoire, giving them a layered and pervasive scent, one that would remain imprinted on one’s memory.

Tailspin’s heart is lightly floral, with a touch of gardenia and lily of the valley, but remains tinged with the soapy character. Despite the floral notes, the fragrance is in no way sweet and as such would be suitable for use by a man. I tested the Cologne version of Tailspin and it was fairly tenacious, lasting through the day, though possessing a moderate sillage. At its base is a slight animalic note, reminiscent of Lelong’s other creations. While it is not strong enough to be immediately discernible, it nonetheless balances the fragrance nicely.



Notes: Green notes, gardenia, white floral, animalic

Coty – Ex`cla-ma`tion

Coty – Ex`cla-ma`tion



Continuing with the Coty theme this week, Ex`cla-ma`tion was launched by Coty in 1988 and is truly a product of its time. Ex`cla-ma`tion was created by Sophia Grojsman, the extraordinary nose behind such innovative fragrances as Estée Lauder White Linen (1978), Prescriptives Calyx (1987), Calvin Klein Eternity (1988) and Lancôme Trésor (1990). One of the hallmarks of Grojsman’s creative process is her ability to weave groundbreaking scents out of minimal ingredients. While it is not uncommon for perfumes to be a formulation of hundreds of different scents, Grojsman’s typical fragrance may contain fewer than 10.

While violet is not listed anywhere in the official notes, my overall impression of Ex`cla-ma`tion is of a powdery, light, woodsy violet with vanilla overtones. The fragrance opens with a fruity mix of apricot and peach, brightened by the effervescence of bergamot and green notes. The beauty of Ex`cla-ma`tion appears in its middle notes, a combination of orris root, jasmine, heliotrope, lily-of-the-valley and rose, which together create a light, innocent floral sensation. As the base notes appear, the main impression is of a lush vanilla rounded out by woods thanks to sandalwood and cedar. The woodsy impression is enhanced by notes of amber and musk, however, the fragrance maintains an overall floral character.

Ex`cla-ma`tion would be perfect for a young woman just beginning to explore the world of perfumery. It is delicate enough to be age-appropriate, and yet has sufficient depth to serve as a gateway perfume.


Notes: apricot, green notes, peach, bergamot, orris root, jasmine, heliotrope, lily-of-the-valley, rose, sandalwood, amber, cinnamon, musk, vanilla and cedar.