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

Hermès – Un Jardin en Mediterranée

Hermès – Un Jardin en Mediterranée


No summer reveries of fig fragrances would be complete without the beauty of Jean-Claude Ellena’s 2003 Un Jardin en Mediterranée. While I would be loathe to try and select a favorite fig scent (or a favorite fragrance for that matter), Un Jardin en Mediterranée takes me the closest to a Mediterranean summer fantasy.

Un Jardin combines all the elements of my olfactory vacation in a bottle: the salty warmth of the sea air, the sparkling bite of citrus, the earthy green tang of figs and the subtle magic of a stroll through a grove of trees warmed by a day full of sunshine.


Un Jardin en Mediterranée is fairly linear. The citrus opening has just a touch of sweetness, a hint of the juicy fig to come.  While one might expect all of this fruit to be cloying for a summer-themed fragrance, the overall effect is very light, true to Ellena’s style. All throughout, woods and light musk lend a subtle twilight quality to the fragrance which keep it subdued and elegant.

Un Jardin en Mediterranée wears close to the skin, lending a sense of intimacy to its character. It is light and fairly uncomplicated, making it a perfect companion for the carefree days of summer. I can almost feel the warm summer breeze blowing through my hair…

Fruity Woods

Notes: Citrus Notes, Orange Blossom, White Floral Notes, Fig, Woods, Musk.


Guerlain – L’Heure de Nuit

Guerlain – L’Heure de Nuit

guerlain l'heure de nuit perfume exclusive

Released in 2012, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the monumental L’Heure Bleue, L’Heure de Nuit is Thierry Wasser’s homage to the classic. The fragrance is striking, a deep blue-hued juice in a classic bee bottle, and yet it seems an odd choice of presentation for such a  prestigious house.

While I applaud the effort on the part of houses like Guerlain to introduce their classics to a younger audience, once you have mastered perfection, it is difficult to match. In fact, any fragrance so sublime as L’Heure Bleue is sure to make anything, let alone a modern flanker, pale in comparison. Had I never smelled L’Heure Bleue, I may have fallen in love with L’Heure de Nuit immediately, but given the circumstances, it is difficult not to make comparisons.

L’Heure de Nuit starts off smelling distinctly like L’Heure Bleue, the gorgeous, luminous orange blossom unfolding into a anisic, almond confection that is pure heaven on earth. But much like Beethoven’s Ode to Joy loses some of its strength when played apart from the rest of the Ninth Symphony, L’Heure de Nuit feels slightly trite without the heft of the original. Absent is the rich powdery veil and the lush oriental base. In its stead, L’Heure de Nuit gets a dose of clean musk, making it feel lighter, cleaner and more modern than its refined older sister. If L’Heure Bleue is an impressionist painting, deep with densely applied colors, L’Heure de Nuit is a starter pack of magic markers: colorful and bright, but light and transient.

While the fragrance is lovely, it lacks the depth which gives vintage Guerlains their classic tenor. The fragrance has good longevity and sillage but again, lighter than the original. While I am thrilled that one of the most beautiful fragrances of all time has not been forgotten, I would prefer to have the original reincarnated in its true form, though as one can tell from the abominable quality of the current version of L’Heure Bleue, the IFRA has made that impossible.

Classic Reinterpreted

Notes: Bergamot, Orange Blossom, Iris, Heliotrope, Jasmine, Rose, Musk, Sandalwood


Hermès – Iris Ukiyoé

Hermès – Iris Ukiyoé

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Irises – Katsushika Hokusai

Jean-Claude Ellena is without a doubt the reigning champion of diaphanous florals. In this, the 9th fragrance from the exclusive Hermessence line, he draws his inspiration from the watery minimalism of Japanese Ukiyoé prints to create an aquatic floral which seems to hover just out of focus, suspended in the air.

The biggest surprise about Iris Ukiyoé is that it smells nothing like the carrot-like, orris root fragrances which many of us are so fond of, like this, this and this. Instead, Ellena focuses on the scent of the iris flower itself, with all of its vegetal lightness. In fact, after the orange blossom opening disipates, Iris Ukiyoé smells more like a true-to-life rendering of Muguet à la Guerlain.


Being a lover of iris’s rooty goodness, I must admit to feeling a sense of slight disappointment at the fragrance’s development, especially given the price tag of the Hermessence line. After repeated testing however the beauty of the fragrance revealed itself, layer by gossamer layer. Now a hint of rose, next a green note reminiscent of cucumbers and green tea, and finally the soft floral veil that Ellena is so adept at.

While the fragrance possesses a sylphlike character, it does possess a subtle tenacity which I find intriguing. Just when I am ready to criticize the fragrance for vanishing, a closer look reveals her clinging to me, beckoning me to a closer inspection.


Notes: Mandarin, Orange Blossom, Iris, Green Shoots, Green Watery Notes.

Hierbas de Ibiza – Agua de Colonia Fresca

Hierbas de Ibiza – Agua de Colonia Fresca


While I am lucky enough to have cobbled together a nice collection of perfumes and samples over the years, I am truly fortunate to have friends that are eager to share their fragrances with me, allowing me to experience scents I may not have otherwise had access to. Some of these are avid collectors, and some have only a few bottles in their repetoire, but the generosity and enthusiasm of each and every one of them is part of what makes the exploration of fragrances so enjoyable.

One such friend introduced me to Agua de Colonia Fresca by Hierbas de Ibiza, a family-operated perfumer that has been creating Mediterranean-inspired scents since 1965. While the group started out small, creating fragrances on a fairly intimate scale, the success of their products has ultimately landed them in prestigious retailers such as Barney’s.

The groups’ self-professed star creation is Agua de Colonia Fresca Hierbas de Ibiza. While the official notes have a dizzying list of citrus, floral and savory notes, the fragrance is fairly straight-forward in execution, consistent with the house’s motto of “simplicity and spontaneity”. Hierbas de Ibiza starts out super sharp and citrusy, with a slight herbal bitterness reminiscent of lemon pith. The fragrance quickly sweetens into a sorbet-like lemon confection but retains its bright, sharp character.  During the drydown, some of the green savory notes make a brief appearance, with rosemary and thyme being dominant.

Then, in what feels like an abrupt about-face, Hierbas de Ibiza largely changes its character in the drydown, transforming into a soft, warm and slightly musky vanilla veil. Given the fragrance’s playful opening and associations with the Mediterranean, I feared it might veer into the suntan-lotion category, but Hierbas de Ibiza’s vanilla is warm rather than sweet. Upon first application, the sillage is bold and viviacious. About an hour or so after the vanilla first makes its appearance, the fragrance is barely detectable, which is my main disappointment with Hierbas de Ibiza. That and the fact that I am not currently in Ibiza wearing sandals, a sundress and a deep suntan while I reapply it.

Notes: orange, lemon, lavender, lemon verbena, rosemary, thyme, sage, verbena, geranium, jasmine, orange blossom, cinnamon, and vanilla

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

Robert Piguet – Fracas

Robert Piguet – Fracas


There are some fragrances which are love at first sniff, as though the scent satisfied some intense longing we never knew we had. And there are those which we struggle with, knowing conceptually that they are the stuff of legacy, but which we are nevertheless unable to embrace. While most would pass on a perfume that failed to capture their immediate attention, many perfumistas have confessed to a struggle with one classic or another until either the relationship ended, or a lifetime romance began. For me, it was Fracas.

Perhaps it was not the fragrance itself as much as it was tuberose, the heady white flower which when used injudiciously can evoke images of a Hawaiian luau. The name also befuddled me, as fracas implies a noisy conflict or quarrel and I found none of that here. I had a vintage bottle which I kept for reference purposes mostly, taking it out every now and then to re-test, which I did regularly over the years. Perhaps there was some half-forgotten association from childhood, but whatever the reason, the lovely little bottle went unloved for many years.

And then something magical happened. The way an old friend who has waited patiently in the wings while you date the more flashy suitors, I found myself thinking of Fracas and wondering if there might be something there, some magic spark. Magic indeed. Fracas was created by Germaine Cellier in 1948, one of the few female noses and a master of her craft. In addition to other memorable Piguet fragrances, she was the genius behind Balmain’s Vent Vert.


While Cellier used a perfume base in her creation of Fracas, a dense, luscious tuberose dominates the landscape and indeed, it appears that any other flowers are there to support tuberose in its leading role. Upon application, one notices immediately that Fracas is like no other. The citrus opening is miles away from the ordinary, lush and rich, rather than sparkling.  As the tuberose unfolds, it seems impossibly large, buoyed by the presence of jasmine and violet, which lend to the fragrance’s deep indolic quality. There is an unctuous sensation to the fragrance, as though the tuberose had turned to syrup.  While iris helps to temper the creation slightly, Fracas envelops you in a thick velvety haze that is indolic one moment and pure butter the next. Fracas is tuberose on the point of turning, with animalic references throughout enforced by the depths of oakmoss and woods.

Fracas feels both sophisticated and sensual. It is a fragrance which one must give oneself over to, as it is completely enveloping, to the point of rapture. And now that I have given myself over, there is no turning back.


Notes: bergamot, orange blossom, greens, peach, tuberose, jasmine, violet, iris, lily of the valley, carnation, sandalwood, musk, oakmoss, and cedar.


Guerlain – L’Heure Bleue

Guerlain – L’Heure Bleue


Vincent Van Gogh – Starry Night over the Rhone

It is often those things which we are closest to that we fail to see objectively, blotting out any shortcomings or imperfections. While this trait is certainly desirable in love, it can render a perfume review nearly impossible. 2012 was the 100 year anniversary of Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, which was created by Jacques Guerlain, arguably one of the greatest noses of all time. And while Guerlain released a gorgeous anniversary edition, as well as three noteworthy re-interpretations of the classic, I found myself unable to compose a single word on the subject of what is perhaps my most beloved perfume. It is only now that the anniversary has passed, and that the pages upon pages on the blogosphere celebrating this masterful creation have subsided, that I feel up to the task of dissecting the beloved.

L’Heure Bleue, French for the blue hour, is named for the quality of light displayed at dusk, when the rays of the sun have softened and suffused, just before night takes its grip on the world.   This hour signals the end of the day and has traditionally been associated with other-worldly events. The term has also been used to describe life in Pre-WWI Paris, a time before the baser forces of the world reared their ugly heads and interrupted an idyllic existence. L’Heure Bleue often feels for me like time suspended – the sky has given up the light of the sun, and patiently awaits the arrival of its stars – a quiet breath before the stillness of the night.


L’Heure Bleue is distinctly a fragrance of its time, embodying many of the ideals of the turn of the century and events preceding. If L’Heure Bleue were to be rendered in a painting, for me it would display the spirit of the Impressionists, where form was second to emotion. L’Heure Bleue is mapped out with soft, subtle strokes that meld and merge on the skin into an olfactory masterpiece. Most telling perhaps is a description of the fragrance from the mouth of its creator Jacques Guerlain: “The sun has gone to bed but the night has not yet arrived. It is the uncertain hour. In the light of a profound blue, everything, the shivering foliage, the lapping waters, is concentrated to express a love, a kinship, an infinite tenderness. Suddenly, man is in harmony with his surroundings, the time of a second, the time of a perfume” (Jacques Guerlain on L’Heure Bleue taken from the Cent Cinquantenaire anniversary book, translation mine).

In L’Heure Bleue, Jacques Guerlain was able to capture this magic of suspended time, as though he had distilled the blueness right out of the sky. In its hesperidic opening, it captures the final light of the golden orb as it dips down below the horizon. A powdery veil of heliotrope, iris and anise convey the suffusion of these last remaining rays of light, and create a sensory impression of the deepest blue. Jasmine and Bulgarian rose announce the richness of the night sky, like a velvet shroud which will drape and cover the land in its soft folds. And at its depth, the vanilla, tonka and amber shine with all the resplendence of the evening stars. L’Heure Bleue is often said to have a gourmand quality to it, as the notes of anise, heliotrope, tonka and vanillin create a patisserie-like impression. This should not be confused, however, with the modern gourmands which possess a distinctly sweet, candy-like scent. The overall effect is stunning and while the fragrance possesses a distinct character, it is one of refinement and grace. It is no wonder then that L’Heure Bleue counts Queen Elizabeth and Catherine Deneuve as admirers, the latter identifying it for many years as a signature scent.


This review is for the vintage version of L’Heure Bleue which is available from various decant services and from reputable sellers on Ebay. While I adore the parfum version, even the eau de toilette and eau de cologne are worth sampling, and the latter especially has an extraordinary powder-like quality to is which is in keeping with the fragrance’s overall character. Unfortunately, this fragrance in its current form is one of my greater disappointments in the Guerlain line, so I highly recommend seeking out a pre-formulation version.


Notes: Orange blossom, anise, heliotrope, iris, rose, jasmine, vanilla, tonka and amber.

Prada – Infusion d’Iris

Prada – Infusion d’Iris

prada iris

Nothing imparts a sense of springtime quite like iris. The bulbs which have lain dormant, nestled deep within the earth’s rich soil, seem to smell the warmth of the sun, a signal to commence pushing their shoots upward in order to crown the day with their regal flowers. With its ethereal, haunting beauty, iris has a foot firmly planted in two seasons: the beautiful floral aspect hails the coming Spring, while the cold, dusty and earthy aspects of this note recall the Winter months it has left behind.

In Infusion d’Iris, perfumer Daniela Andrier has beautifully captured this duality of iris, conveying the bright burst of green stems and floral notes, tempered by the richness of the still-cool earth. Infusion d’Iris opens with a lovely aldehyde burst of orange blossoms and mandarin, a delicious introduction to the green and soft floral quality of its iris heart. Although the fragrance maintains a light character throughout, the iris unfolds to the depth of its earthy roots, warmed by the richness of incense and woods.


While Infusion d’Iris has a modern sensibility, the iris tinged with what smells a bit like violet feels like a throwback to many beautiful vintage fragrances containing this note, notably Apres l’Ondee and L’Heure Bleue, though without their powdery feel. My sole criticism of this 2007 release is its light nature, which is especially gentle for an Eau de Parfum. While it possesses adequate longevity, the sillage is minimal and I found myself wanting to apply liberally and frequently.  


Notes: mandarin, orange blossom, galbanum, iris, incense, benzoin, cedar, lentisc and vetiver

Hermes – Jour d’Hermes

Hermes – Jour d’Hermes


Park in Brussels – Photography by Quintessence

One of the things I love most about Europe is the prevalence of fresh flowers. While the climate where I live is warm nearly year-round, I am always surprised and cheered by the commitment to the floral arts on a continent where the weather is less conducive to plant growth. And yet flowers can be found everywhere, from gorgeous public gardens where one can sit for hours admiring the well-manicured arrangements to open air markets where one can stroll at leisure and select an armful of blooms to grace a hallway table. The emphasis on this simple and portable form of beauty appears to be everywhere. I find nothing more satisfying than setting out on foot to explore a city and coming across an intimate little flower shop, where one can admire the shopkeeper’s beautiful arrangements and take in the aroma of dozens of blooms in close quarters.


Flower Market in Bruges – Photography by Quintessence

It is this joyful, celebratory sensation that Jean-Claude Ellena has captured in Jour d’Hermes, where we are treated to not one, but a flowershop full of scents. Ellena is truly the master of understated complexity, and his latest release does not disappoint. Jour d’Hermes is at once crisp and velvety, dry as silk and wet as moss. Upon first application, I expected Jour d’Hermes to be a fleeting floral, and yet this diaphanous beauty has an impressive longevity. It wears close to the skin which feels appropriate, for the fragrance conveys a certain sense of intimacy.

According to Denyse at Grain de Musc, Hermes and Ellena purposely withheld a list of notes to allow each wearer their own experience and interpretation of the fragrance. Jour d’Hermes is at once no flower and all flowers, an imaginary bouquet of luminosity. From my testing, the fragrance offers the zest of lemon, the green bite of lily of the valley, the powder of rose, the depth of jasmine, the darkness of ivy and the sweet, soapiness of orange blossoms. And just when I have become entranced with the lightness and innocence of this arrangement, Ellena pulls off a masterful deception and reveals a deeply sensual base.  Though it’s been a while since I fell for a bottle, the weightiness of this flacon feels simply decadent, elegance as only Hermes can deliver.


Jour d'Hermes

Notes: Be inspired. Let your imagination run wild!