Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Chez Noir

Chez Noir stands out in Coeur d'Esprit perfumes that I've smelled, with it's very retro, animalic-floral smooth bouquet. What makes this perfume particularly unique is the aging process, something that you don't get to smell much in the fast-paced world. Thanks to several years of maturation (I believe this was created in 2007 and left to mature ever since), and the usage of ambergris, the perfume became very smooth, like a homogenous being with a life of its own. There is a seamless transition from one phase to another, which is the mark of a well-aged perfume. This goes to show you that time is everything in the world of perfume. And that's also the magic of animalic notes, in particular ambergris. You may not smell it in the composition, but it has a unique effect of connecting all the elements together beautifully.

Chez Noir (which I suppose means "Among Black" in French) begins with intriguing licorice accord - the traditional anise is paired with green and sweet tarragon, and piquant cardamom, leading into a smooth floral bouquet of rose, jasmine and ylang ylang in which no particular note stands out, but rather all three flowers give the perfume a put-together, cohesive feel. There is something fruity about it, but not as a syrupy fruit salad, but rather reminiscent of the dried fruit (peach, plum, apricot) you'd find when they just discovered the fruity aldehydes (vintage Femme comes to mind). Following the faux-dried-fruit-phase, a nutty, warm phrase emerges from underneath, hinting at the dry-woody base notes, which converses delicately with the licorice and jasmine.

Licorice is the heart and soul of Chez Noir, with sandalwood in an important supporting role. The sandalwood is rich, warm and spicy. Woody with only a slight hint at lumbar dust. The other striking element is patchouli: a beautifully aged one at that, smooth and musky, without the sharp musty edge that traditionally appeals to those who are trying to mask their pot-smoking habits.

Top notes: Anise, Tarragon, Cardamom
Heart notes: Rose, Jasmine, Ylang Ylang
Base notes: Sandalwood, Patchouli, Labdanum, Ambergris

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Interview with Perfumer Lyn Ayre of Coeur d'Esprit + Giveaway

As part of SmellyBlog's series of conversations with perfumers, I am pleased to host Lyn Ayre of Coeur d'Esprit. Lyn is a Reiki healer and works with fractals, colours, crystals and pure natural essential oils, of course. If you have any questions for Lyn, or any thoughts about this interview, leave a comment below and you will be entered to win a collection of 4 perfume samples and fractal postcards by Coeur d'Esprit. You may also visit Lyn's blog to get to know her better.

Ayala Moriel/SmellyBlog: Where are you from, and how does this influence your perfumes?
Lyn Ayre/Coeur d'Esprit: I was born and raised in New Westminster. I traveled extensively then, 19 years ago, we settled in the French Quarter of Coquitlam, about ten minutes from where I was born.

The river, the rain, the snow, the distinct four seasons and the aromas each one has to offer has definitely affected me in ways I sometimes don’t even understand. My perfume ‘Coastal Rains’ is an effort to capture the wetness of my hometown; the times I spent dreaming and writing in front of a drop-covered window pane; and how my emotions were influenced by each season. ‘Inspiration from the Sea’ is an olfactory reminder of long-ago summer days in White Rock, Crescent Beach, and Boundary Bay, digging for sand crabs, building castles, investigating the seaweed, and walking on the wet sand for seemingly miles trying to reach the water at low tide. ‘Pink Conch’, the first in a series of Fibonacci Perfumes, is a whimsical journey of a drop of water from the bottom of the ocean floor to my perfume jus. So, in thinking about, yes, living in the South West corner of British Columbia has completely influenced my perfume characters. Sometimes, it’s like living inside a Monet Painting.

Ayala: Where did you get your perfumery training?
Lyn: I was introduced to Natural Perfumery through a course I took on Aromatherapy. One of my teachers told me that my remedies smelled more like perfumes. I have a good nose, natural innate blending talent, an excellent olfactory memory, and keep great notes. When I started out, there were no online courses in perfumery available to me so I consider myself to be self-trained. I read extensively and did a lot of research and experimentation all of which has served me well.
Perfuming literally became an obsession. I could not sit still anymore to watch a movie. I had to get up and get playing with my essential oils. I began to amass a wonderful collection of essential ingredients and tincturing various botanicals. I published a new page to my website and began to receive orders. I put together a little half-day course on making perfumes in 2004. I’ve been teaching various course on Natural Perfumer for nine years now.
I sometimes felt like a channel for some disembodied mad scientist cum perfumer who must and must and must make another perfume. So, I have literally made dozens of perfumes. I sometimes go back to them and toy around a bit but mostly, when it's done, it's done. I write, paint, and create music the same way – it just comes through me.

Ayala: When did you start Coeur d'Esprit? How did you pick the name?
Lyn: I began making perfumes in 2003. I already had a herbal dispensary named Heart of Gaia (Gaia means Mother Earth) so it just seemed a natural progression that my fumes be called Heart of Spirit or “Coeur d’Esprit”.
Ayala: What inspires you? Lyn: Life inspires me. I know that just breathing in and out is good enough. Anything over and above that is cream. I love the cream. I’m an artist and this comes out in many endeavours ie: writing, song-writer, singer, photography, pottery, painting, and perfumery.  An alchemist at heart, combining lyric with melody, water with oil, essences with alcohol, apples with carrots, phthlalo blue with titanium white, clay with water, is all the same to me. It’s creation; it’s love; it’s life. I use my mediums to capture the essence of life.

Ayala: What is your vision for Coeur d'Esprit? 
Lyn: I’ve enjoyed each phase of growth as I’ve gone along – designing and selling my fragrances; teaching the “A Path To the Heart of Spirit” Natural Perfume correspondence course to people from all over the world; visiting and learning in online chat rooms with fellow scent-seekers; meeting other perfumers; hosting the Canadian Artisan Natural Perfume yahoo group; and moving forward to co-operatively create a Guild for Canadian Natural Perfumers. We’ve already had our First Annual Conference of Canadian Natural Perfumers in May 2012. The BC contingent, of four natural perfumers, met in Nanaimo. I’m also developing a series of Fibonacci Perfumes and launched ‘Pink Conch’ on my birthday July 8th.
I love to teach so my vision also includes more of this. I currently teach a one-day introduction to perfume creation in oil; a five-day perfume intensive; and a full correspondence course.

Ayala: Where  do you sell your perfumes?
Lyn: I sell them in-person at my Atelier in Coquitlam as well as from my website.

Ayala: What makes your perfumes unique? How would you describe or define your style?
Lyn: My personal energy signature makes my perfumes unique. Every perfumer can say that. When we create, we may go into a theta/gamma brain wave where our consciousness can expand and open to new ways of doing things. Ideas flow unimpeded; different combinations of essences can present themselves, at this time. Everything that is on the earth began as an idea on the mental plane. It was envisioned then created. I work within this framework.
An idea will pop into my mind, generally with the questions ‘I wonder if...?’ or ‘What would happen when...?’ or ‘Is it possible to...?’ I mull it over and create the scent in my mind then set about creating it in my Atelier. I begin with the base notes as they will hold the other notes as they are dropped in. There may be accessory notes, at this point, to enhance something in the base chord. The heart notes are next. I may need to use bridge notes either between the head and heart or heart and base. The number of drops for each note are determined based on where I want to go with the scent. This is where thoroughly knowing ones perfume palette is essential. It is important to know the strength of each note and who plays well with whom. For instance, Ylang Ylang is very strong-willed so only a small amount is generally necessary or she will literally take over the blend. 

Ayala: How did your background in alternative healing arts influence your work? 
Lyn: Early in life, I learned that scent had the power to heal, soothe, capture the imagination, and, at times, make my Spirit soar.I've been hooked ever since. I also learned I had a particularly keen nose as I could smell things others couldn’t, i.e.: a gas leak, rotten food, and so on. I began doing ‘healing work’ 40 years ago so it is ingrained into every fiber of my being. Whatever my pursuit, I do it from a spiritual perspective and perfumery is no exception. I am not interested in becoming a commercial perfumer with a factory and chemist employed rather, I appreciate small limited contracts. In my work area, I am surrounded by the soft music of the Tibetan Singing Bowls, Fractal Energy Art, and deep peace. This produces an environment of free-flowing creativity in which I can manifest, from Spirit into physical, all of the ideas and inspirations that come to me. 

Ayala: Do you make any other products besides perfume?
Lyn: I make a whole line of bath and beauty products as well as household cleaning products. Some of them are online. I love working with natural ingredients and the challenge of creating effective products, no matter what genre. As a side-note: I use Soap Nuts    instead of laundry soap for the last two years and have never looked back. There are many people who have allergies and sometimes it has to do with the cleaning products they use.
Ayala: Tell me more about your educational work. 
Lyn: I went to school here in BC completing grade 12 in 1969. I’ve since gone to college (SFU) for a few years, majoring in writing and business. I hold 49 certificates in various energy-healing modalities and in 2005 earned a Ph.D. in Energy Healing as a consideration for a lifetime of work spanning 30 years, at that point. My dissertation was on ‘The Efficacy of Energy Healing’.

Ayala: Thank you so much, Lyn! Wishing you a wonderful year 2014.
Lyn: Thanks so much, Ayala. Have a scent-filled year.

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28 La Pausa

Behind the Curtain by judy stalus
Behind the Curtain, a photo by judy stalus on Flickr.
Revisiting 28 La Pausa, and the Les Exclusifs that came out in 2007. What's been around before (Bois des Îles, Cuir de Russie) has been watered down so much they remind me of a lukewarm instant coffee made by a pinchy in-law compared to a proper espresso. And the remainder seems like an elaborate, cerebral exercise in restrained variations on the Chanel originals: No. 19 and Bois des Îles being the primary sources of inspiration, with various iterations (Bel Respiro and La Pausa in reference to the first; No. 18 and the later-arrival Sycomore stemming from the latter). Both share recurring themes in varying proportions - primarily iris, indole, ambrette seed and greens to varying proportions. 28 La Pausa seems to have some leanings towards No. 18, with hints of ambrettolide, but non of the intriguing wine-like qualities of true ambrette.

28 La Pausa is very light, ethereal exercise in iris. Not the powdery, creamy orris butter that at the core of all the classic Geurlains; but rather a cool, airy rendition of this ethereal and obscure note, quite anemic if to be perfectly hones, and supported by ionone, irone and synthetic musks to extend its metallic presence without adding much longevity or blood. If the inspiration for it is the green-shuttered villa in southern France, then 28 La Pausa is the breeze blowing in the gauzy cotton curtains, bringing in the scent of a just-watered garden with iris and wet concrete pavement. There is a hint of indole in there, giving the ever so slightly warmth of jasmine petals. But it's not enough to bring in any of the relaxed, carefree Joie de Vivre spirit of southern France, nor its neighbouring Italian riviera the house is supposedly overlooking. If this is Chanel's mood on her vacations, then she's most likely sewing mosquito nets indoors, or else sketching patterns on a glass coffee table. She should be indulging in the fresh air, beaches and abundant Mediterranean scenery and loving sun. But she's not. She's cold inside her stone villa, letting only the cold sea breeze come in.

Although Gabrielle Chanel always followed her dreams and made them come true - always strikes me as a logical, down-to-earth person. She seemed quite restrained in her emotions, which in some way also comes across in her very put-together, tailored designs she's created; but that is not to say she had no emotions. Her passion was evident in the meticulous attention she's given to every stitch, in the bold audacity of her costume jewellery, and in her involvement in the artistic direction of the original perfumes. It is true that it took some time before No. 19 and
Bois des Îles grew on me - but when they did, I could sense the vulnerable, playful, passionate personality behind them - even if she hasn't created the perfumes herself, she stood behind them completely and took Even after all these years, coming back to Les Exclusifs, I can't help but notice my feelings are completely untouched by each and every composition. There is no soul to them. Only cerebral reminiscing of Chanel's style, luxury and good taste. It's all about flaunting the several expensive ingredients at the core of the composition (iris, ambrette, jasmine from Grasse) but there is really no story behind it except for a brief that resembles an interior-decorator's outline for a very wealthy client.

Notes: Iris,
Ionones, Jasmine, Indole, Ambrette, Musks.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Best of 2013

This year has been a strange one for me; but considering that last year I didn't even get around to putting together an end-of-year summary, I guess all's well that ends well...

I've been leafing through my entire year of blogging last night, trying to gain an outside perspective on my creative olfactory life, and my conclusion is: 2013 was the year of the forest! I've spent more time than usual (though still not enough) in the woods, finding inspiration in the scents as well as the resilience and grounded stability of the thriving trees.

Decidedly I was not going to launch any new perfume in 2013. It was a year when I would concentrate on maintaining what I have and strengthen my brand. This year I've launched the new packaging and still am transitioning my entire line to "get there". As the year comes to a close, I'm almost there...

And a few things that were set to be done in 2013 were not accomplished, sadly (the main thing being my 3rd edition of the Foundation of Natural Perfumery book, to be published both digitally and as a printed-in-Vancouver paperback). However, bearing in mind that I spent a lot of the year in a displaced state (aka 3 months of travel) or looking up (a more positive way to describe my 4.5 months of taken hostage by back-pain et al and only able to see what's up in the sky or the ceiling). Both of which profoundly restricted my abilities, but haven't quite broken my spirit as it turns out. So, all considered, I was actually surprised at how much I managed to still accomplish in writing, creating and discovering new perfumes (well, at least new to me!).

Another important project for me was to relaunch my line of teas, which was out of production for several years due to supplier changes. The teas used to be made for me by another company in Vancouver that went out of business. So I had to reformulate 2 of the teas, and find suppliers for high quality ingredients (considering each tea is made of about 5 ingredients, and not all can be found via one supplier alone - this was a bigger undertaking and took several years to establish). And I had been set back 5 months due to the reasons above - but was able to catch up with it all this fall when I returned from a prolonged trip to Israel. So, I'm happy to have finally brought this to completion and have the full line, with new packaging and labeling set and ready for you all to enjoy before the close of the year!

Well, that was a very long prelude to a rather short list of the fragrant moments that made my year. Some of which were neatly bottled in vintage flacons, carefully decanted by fellow perfumistas, or encountered in less traditionally perfumey manners, relating to the culinary worlds of tea, wine, beer and pastries. My philosophy is that connecting to your senses is more than just a hedonistic way to indulge in the best of life's pleasures; but also a way to reconnect to the here and now, and make that link between mind, body and soul stronger and felt throughout the day.

Surprise of the Year: Russian Perfumery
I've been fortunate to have received many beautiful gifts of fragrance this year from Russia. SmellBlog's reader Muza (Anastasia from Muza Perfumista) has generously sent me many beautiful samples of Russian perfumes by Novaya Zarya and indie natural perfumer Anna Zworkyina Perfumes. I've fell head over heels with the boehmian-chic of Patchouli Magique, and also made a new perfumer-pen-pal-friend with Anna Zworkyina, who have sent me many more of her exceptional creations.

New Indie Perfumer: Bruno Fazzolari
I first met Bruno 2 or 3 years ago at Yosh's. He introduced himself as an artists and instructor at San Francisco Art Institute, who surprisingly was also teaching his students about the art of olfaction. Some 2 years later, he launched his own eponymous line at the 2nd Artisan Fragrance Salon in San Francisco - to which I received a little sniff-preview when Bruno helped me prepare for the perfumers' afternoon tea. Bruno Fazzolari's fine art references and how the perfume ties in with his paintings and exhibitions is nothing short of fascinating. It's abstract, yet approachable. Surprising and at the same time easy to wear. The mineral, sheer yet dark quality of Lampblack is intriguing; and Au Delà is a unique modern interpretation of Chypre.

Vintage Treasure: Crêpe de Chine

Counting my blessings this year, this vintage bottle that came to me from Amsterdam via a Basenotes swap was the most important perfume event of the year. Any perfumer who hasn't smelled Crêpe de Chine yet should do so at their earliest convenience. It's a masterpiece and in my opinion a better point of reference to what a Chypre should be (or used to be) than anything else, including Coty's Chypre.

Most Exotic Indulgence: My Vanilla by Anna Zworkyina
Remarkable play on vanilla absolute, showcasing its perfumey quality rather than the pastry associations it often ignites. My Vanilla is paired with champaca and several smoky, woodsy and musky notes that are a personal departure from the cliche vanilla treatment.

Most Beautiful Floral: Osmanthus Oolong
Another quite exotic indulgence, is this utterly gorgeous osmanthus perfume from all-natural indie house Providence Perfume. Charna Ethier is a talented composer of complex yet bold perfumes, and this one has captured my skin for quite sometime. I love her use of tinctured fruit, which adds depth and a realistic sweetness. If you know my love for osmanthus and oolong teas, you won't be surprised that this is "my cup of tea".

Cheap & Chic: Patchouli Magique
Even if you don't receive it as a gift from generous perfumistas in Russia, you can enjoy this chic, bohemian patchouli and musk fragrance without breaking the bank via some online retailers that specialize in Russian perfumes. And yet, it smells nothing cheap at all, but rather like a paisley shawl deliberately flavoured with patchouli leaves to protect it from hungry moth. 

Obsession of the Year: Anima Dulcis
It was released 2 years ago, but it's complete news to me. I found it on my downhill trip to Barneys in San Francisco, and fell instantly in love. Why I didn't get it right then and there remains a complete mystery to me, for which I'm still paying dearly.

Best Impulsive Purchase: Égoïste 
Contrary to Anima Dulcis, I didn't waste my time when I approached Égoïste in Schiphol airport. I snwatched it right away (on my way back). These types of decisions may seem impulsive but are in fact well informed. I was absolutely sure I can't get it in Canada. Which was not the case for Anima Dulcis (as it turns out, the latter can in fact be found in Holt Renfrew in Toronto and in Etiket in Montreal - so not all is lost).

Favourite Mainstream Discovery: La Petite Robe Noir
I know it's from last year, technically; and I'm yet to review this, but it's not nearly as sugary sweet and mainstream as it appears to be. It's got a lot more substance to it than I've expected from such a fashion-y name. It goes straight into my to-reveiw-list; and I'm also curious about the extrait (and might as well get a bottle of it, "unsniffed").

Favourite Niche Launch: Volutes

It's not a masterpiece, and I'm still not even sure if it's FBW - but I really did enjoy it and was happy that Diptyque finally launched something a little less lightweight.

Most Nostalgic Find: Abishag

I'm so happy I found you!
'Nuff said.

Greatest Disappointment of 2013: Epice Marine
I had high hopes for this one. In fact I still do. But why did the Hermes boutique in Vancouver did not get it yet?! That is where my disappointment lays...

Most Worn in 2013:
Osmanthus Oolong, No. 19 Warm Carrot, Patchouli Magique, Bois des Îles, Égoïste, Magazine Street, Crêpe de Chine and Samsara.

Note of the Year: Sandalwood
With the dwindling plantations of sandalwood everywhere, this note has become even more precious than before. The article covering sandalwood is also bringing to a close pretty much everything I had in mind for my Decoding Obscure Notes series on SmellyBlog. Now I can finally finish my book, for realz...

Fragrant Pastry of the Year: Rahat Loukum Cookies
Inspired by Orna & Ella's cookbook, I've made their cookies, but have decided to improve on them by using a classic French recipe for pate sucree as the dough encasing these little rosewater jellies. The result is sublime (and recipe will be published on SmellyBlog later this holiday season).

Craft Beer & Coffee:
Two months of torture in Israeli summer would convince you to drink anything with even the slight suggestion if not promise of relief from the high heat. For me, this summer was the turning point for embracing these two bitter beverages: Coffee and beer. Every afternoon, at 4 o'clock or so, when the heat has accumulated to an unbearable level and we've all reached a point of exhaustion and irritability - my sister in law and I would indulge in an iced coffee. Nevermind that we would have hard time falling asleep after - it was worth it. And with her Italian heritage, of course it was espresso, made in a stove-top machinetta (aka Bialetti's Moka Express machine). I've become so smitten with coffee that upon my return to Vancouver in September, I purchased a Moka machine for myself (which I nicknamed "The Fountain of Youth"), and am already running low on the half pound of ground beans I've gotten on the same day (which means I'm actually using that moka machine, not just using it for decoration...).

The other bitter beverage is beer, which is surprisingly delicious when it's so bitterly hot and unbearable. But also quite spectacular in any weather, if it's a good beer. For my new fascination with Craft Beers I can blame Rachel Sawatzky of CocoaNymph, who runs Craft Beer & chocolate pairing nights once or twice a year at her chocolate boutique in Point Grey. My favourite craft beers so far were a wheat based pumpkin & pear, as well as a grapefruit one from Germany; and the seasonal blackberry beer "Black Betty".

Favourite Tea: Pure Black
This year I've been mostly sipping the full-bodied and fruity (baked apple, perhaps) Cask Aged Ghorka and the violetty, delicately floral Darjeeling - unadorned, unscented black teas, both feeling like pure luxury and a great boost of energy at the start of my day. 

Best Scent Event I've Ever Hosted: Perfumers' Afternoon Tea in Berkeley

It was the biggest production I've ever done, perhaps because it was done out of town, in a space I've never seen before, and was a big leap of faith as I never met the co-hosts that graciously allowed me to use their space at Alembqiue. But it all worked out. It was one of the greatest adventures I've ever embarked on, and it all fell into place beautifully, including some compromises and inevitable last minute changes to the menu or otherwise. It was a test to my concept of traveling with my daughter and hosting teas in various random places along the way. I don't know if I'll ever be able to do it again - but I am so glad I did. It was my dream come true!

And on that note, I'd like to end my very short and in-exhaustive "best of" list: wishing you a happy, fulfilling new year in 2014 - and may all your dreams come true as well! 

For more lists visit:
Perfume Shrine
I Smell Therefore I Am
Olfactoria's Travels
The Candy Perfume Boy
The Fragrant Man

What perfumes made your year 2013? Any other fragrant or olfactory related discoveries you've made? Please do leave a comment, and enter to win one of 3 draw for a bunch of niche and indie decants and samples, including Tom Ford, Chanel's Les Exclusifs, Hermessences, Neil Morris, Oliver & Co. and Ineke.
Due to repeat draws for the same readers, those who already won contests or giveaways on SmellyBlog will not be entered into the draw. But please do leave a comment :-)

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Thursday, December 26, 2013


Although the name suggests it to be a night-invoking perfume, I find it extremely summer-like and full of light.
It starts off with a citrus splash of bergamot and tangerine, backed up with a feminine floral notes of jasmine, and a more masculine eau-de-cologne like notes of orange blossoms and a hint of musk, that adds sensuality to that blast of freshness.
As the top notes start to fade, they reveal a luscious fruity note of peach supported by vanilla, which gradually pushes away the dominant orange-blossom and tangerine accord.
The dry down gradually enters with an interesting and surprising accord dominated by a fresh, woody and masculine vetiver notes, accompanied by green notes, orange blossom (softer and more subtle now), and a very modest hint of vanilla and rose. 
This perfume is full of surprises, I love the way the stages fade into each other. The overall impression is of freshness and vivacity, mingled with a tad of melancholy, which brings to mind Chopin's expressive piano nocturni. 

It’s surprising to see that such an old-fashioned aldehydic floral was launched in the 80’s (1981 to be exact). The perfumer behind Nocturnes is Gerard Lefort.

Top notes: Aldehydes, Bergamot, Mandarin, Green notes
Heart notes: Orange Blossom, Jasmine, Ylang Ylang, Tuberose, Stephanotis, Lily of the Valley, Orris, Rose, Cyclamen 
Base notes: Vetiver, Musk, Sandalwood, Amber, Vanilla, Benzoin

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ormonde & Ormonde Man

Ormonde is quite a surprising scent. It starts off with a foresty black hemlock note (which is also apparent in the masculine version of the scent). However, this is no usual woody scent. In fact, it is a mysterious and subtle violet scent!
The violets here are very dark, as if hidden in the shades of the forest. The final drydown is quite sweet - almost like an oriental.
An interesting and versatile fragrance that can be very individual when it finds its match!

Top notes: Cardamom, Coriander, Grass Oil
Heart notes: Black Hemlock, Violet, Jasmine Absolute
Base notes: Vetiver, Cedar Wood, Amber, Sandalwood

Ormonde for Men hasn't impressed me quite as much, but admittedly I haven't quite given it that much chance. It starts off coniferous - with the black hemlock as in Ormonde, but then dries down to a tolu balsam base note, something vanillic and simplistic reminiscent of the drydown of Dior Addict and synthetic musks. I didn't find it particularly interesting - but as I mentioned already, I didn't give it enough chance. It sadly pales in comparison to the originality of Ormonde (which, by the way, I think will be stunning on a manly skin as well).

Top notes: Juniper Berry, Bergamot, Pink Pepper, Cardamom, Coriander Seeds
Middle Notes: Oudh, Black Hemlock
Base Notes: Vetiver, Cedar, Sandalwood, Musk

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Winter Solstice Greetings!

The longest night of the year is ahead of us, beyond which this strange year will finally come to a close and the light will take over again. This long night is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on all the lessons and gifts that came to our lives this year.

Of course, I can only speak for myself... If I learned anything from this year, it is the re-discovery of my innate strength. It's that inner power that takes you through the day even when you can't stand at all; the motivation to push through murky waters without knowing what's on the other side (or at the bottom of it); the energy to keep inching forward, tiny step by tiny step, until you gain your strength to stride again.

And last but not least: The profound knowledge of the cyclical nature of things: there are ups, and there are downs, there are plateaus, and they are all what need to be now. They are all temporary, and they are all okay - even if they feel unbearable, or bore us to death with their drone of beige. And it is especially important to remember this when you're at the darkest depths of despair. It may not feel like it at all, but if you just bear it a little longer, accept it for what it is, and don't be harsh on yourself for not getting up sooner - it will melt away and be replaced by a new you: stronger, happier, and so much wiser.

I'm thankful for the many months of waning light and increasing darkness, for bringing me the help I needed; for showing me who my true friends are; for eliminating what's unimportant and clearing out the fog. And I am excited for the next year, facing it with a renewed sense of joie de vivre mixed with a lot of perspective and compassion.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Égoïste by Chanel, although officially released by this name in 1990, is a true child of the 80's: bold, clear and with a definite presence that is unmistakable with others. It is one of the most delicious woody fragrances designed for men, not to mention its got the most dramatic yet humorous, wonderfully timed perfume commercial I've ever laid eyes upon, rivaled only by the marvellous Old Spice, which is really for a shower gel so I guess that does not really count. Perhaps it's because Prokofiev's "Dance of the Knights" from the ballet Romeo and Juliet has a way of sending shivers down my spine; and perhaps because I've been always intrigued by the use of "negative" titles for perfumes. The guy who chooses to wear it might be perfectly sweet, honest and dependable - but that should not stop them from fantasizing about taking over a whole building full of screaming females.

Sadly, Europeans are rather egotistic in keeping this beauty to themselves and it is nowhere to be found on North American soil. So, on my last stopover at Schipol airport, I picked up a chunky 100ml bottle of this masculine gem, a size that I generally avoid. This is obviously designed for a larger fist, and should last me a lifetime, because there is no man in sight with whom I can share this beauty.

Égoïste is the younger and louder brother of the demure, soft-spoken and old-fashioned Bois des Îles. It opens with a burst of dry yet sweet melange of woods, citrus and spice. It actually reminds me of another favourite 80's fragrance, which is also drenched in sandalwood: Samsara (which reportedly had a glutenous 40% Mysore sandalwood). There is no true separation between top and heart and base as they weave in and out in different phases of the perfume. At first, there is the clarity of bois de rose (rosewood), the led-pencil shaving association of Virginia cedarwood, and the sweet citrus burst of tangerine and a sprinkle of sweet cassia. There is also a hint of eugenol, not quite clove like, but softer - perhaps form carnations. Underlying notes of coumarin backed up with a generous dose of vanilla absolute. There is something about true vanilla absolute that is simultaneously woody and animalic, quite unlike the cupcake frosting character of vanillin. Égoïste's vanilla really brings this out with some help of both indole and leathery animalic notes. which add interest. It is quite well balanced between sweet, bitter, smooth, spicy and powdery - although admittedly leaning towards the sweet more so than I would have expected (or remember the original to be).

The sandalwood is not as creamy as its sister Bois des Îles (probably because what I have in my hands is a rather modern version, very unlikely containing any Mysore sandalwood) - but that also gives is an edge somehow - it's warmer and more spicy and dry than I remembered it from a few years back. It seems to be accompanied by Atlas cedar's suave fruitiness, and perhaps even a splash of violet-y ionones and plum and rose notes from damascones.

I would hardly consider anyone wearing Égoïste selfish - anyone around you is going to enjoy it too!
Beware: Egoiste Platinum has nothing to do with it besides the name, and is the only version you'll find in Canada and the USA, and to my nose it smells like generic sporty aquatic chemical trash. But it has a wonderful ad as well!


Top notes: Rosewood, Tangerine, Virginia Cedarwood
Heart notes: Rose, Cassia (Cinnamon), Carnation
Base notes: Sandalwood, Coumarin, Atlas Cedarwood, Vanilla, Leather

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Decoding Obscure Notes Part XI: Vampires and Sandals

Green haven

How do 4,000 years of uninterrupted use of sandalwood for religious, ritual, medicine and perfume end? Trust Western greed and corruption to take care of that... Since its introduction the Europeans in the 19th Century, Sandalwood's supplies have depleted significantly, and it is now an endangered species in its natural habitats; and the plantations of sandalwood world-wide can't seem to keep up with the demand.

Chandana (the tree's original name in Sankskrit) has a fragrant heartwood retains its scent for decades, which is what makes it so valuable. The trees have been cultivated in plantations in India for hundreds of years, where they've been used extensively for sacred carvings and temple gates, in daily religious rituals and in traditional Indian perfumery (see below). It is only in the last hundred years or so there has developed large-scale interest in them in Western perfumery. The Indian government attempted to regulate the export of sandalwood, because India's demand for the wood only justified a very small amount (less than 10% of all harvest) outside of India. However, corruption among Indian officials, combined with Western greed, have pretty much exhausted the supply of East Indian sandalwood (Santalum album). It is now considered to have a vulnerable status by IUCN.

What we are left with now, is a rapidly dwindling supply of Santalum spicatum from Australia, New Caledonia and Vanuatu (the latter already made its exit from the market, probably until the next harvest - in 30 years or so, if anyone would remain patient and restrain their greed as to allow them to grow and fully mature and develop their fine aroma). In Australia, there are still some wild-harvested trees (and, as they tell us, felling of the trees is highly regulated and restricted as to protect the trees and allow them to reproduce).
Sandalwood Tree

Botanical Background:
Sandalwood, the genus Santalum, are slow-growing hemiparasitic trees that are native to India, China, Indonesia, The Philippines and Timor, (Santalum album), Australia, Vanuatu, (Santalum spicatum) New Caledonia (Santalum austrocaledonicum) and Hawaii (Santalum ellipticum, S. freycinetianum, and S. paniculatum). This evergreen tree reaches heights of up to 40ft, relying on neighboring plants for its survival - it leeches on to them underground and sucks their nutrients like a vampire. Sandalwood's essential oil exists only in its heartwood, which  takes between 18-25 years to begin to develop; reaching its best quality and yield at 50-60 years of age. most trees are not given the opportunity to reach their optimal age, and this shows in the rapid decline in quality of the oils in the past 10 years alone.

Sandalwood thrives in the dry dedcuous forests of Southeast Asia and Australia and its surrounding archipelago. There are also several types of sandalwoods native to Hawaii (and probably already over-harvested). According to IUCN, the plant produces viable seeds at five years of age, which are distributed in the wild by bird. The threats to the species Santalum album are "fire, grazing and most importantly exploitation of the wood for fine furniture and carving and also oil are threatening the species. Smuggling has assumed alarming proportions" (quoting from IUCN's website).

"Sandalwood trees freely produce seed and natural regeneration occurs both via seedlings and vegetatively via the roots. If left to mature, the trees can regenerate fairly quickly. The absence of heartwood in young trees provides little reason for felling trees less than 20-25 years old. However destruction of younger trees does occur and the age of trees that are now harvested has dramatically reduced. This is reflected by the quantities of oil in the wood. In the 1970s, 10 trees could provide 1 ton of sandalwood, but now more than 1000 trees are needed to produce 1 ton of wood". (Kew.org)

Harvesting, Distillation and Extraction Methods:Sandalwood Tree Trunk
Because the essential oil is concentrated entirely in the tree's heartwood, including the internal parts of the roots - it is necessary to fell the trees completely in order to make maximum use of the harvest. That is why sandalwood production, even more than with Agarwood (which might allow harvest without taking the whole tree down, by "tapping" into the trees) is so detrimental to the genus' survival.

Although trees only become fully mature and yield good quality oil beyond the age of 50, the age of harvest has rapidly declined to 30, 25, 20 and even 18 now... Resulting in far larger number of trees necessary for production of the same amount of oil that only required (see above). The reason I'm repeating this is because of how devastating it is to the trees, and because as a result, all the traditions, skills, arts and perfumes that rely on sandalwood, will disappear. It would soon be impossible to ever smell real mature sandalwood again, and is already extremely rare to come across a specimen!

The felling of younger trees to harvest their heartwood has greatly influenced the decline in sandalwood oil (and incense material) quality which I have witnessed within the past 12 years since I began working with this raw material. To say this is sad is an understatement. This is a tragedy in botanical, cultural and of course olfactory proportions (affecting both incense and perfume). Read on and you'll understand why...

The trees are often left outside the white ants (termites) to eat the bark (they do not like the heartwood because of the oil content), which saves a lot of labour. The heartwood is then sawed into billets, and sorted by the following "grades": Roots, billets, jajpokal, cheta and sawdust (Pucher, p. 366). The nicest and largest pieces will be used for carving and temple building, smallest pieces for distillation and for Japanese-style incense ceremonies, and the sawdust is used for incense making (the self-combustible type, i.e. joss sticks, incense sticks, cones and spirals). The distillation requires high-skilled workers that are experienced with this particular wood, not to mention all the preparation required (sawing, cutting, sorting, grinding). Large amounts of water, power and longer hours of distillation than many other harvests are contributing elements to the cost, in addition to the increasing scarcity of the raw material itself.

While most sandalwood is processed by steam distillation, solvent extraction products have been introduced to the market - sandalwood absolute and sandalwood CO2; both of which have a far poorer quality than the essential oil: lower odour intensity and tenacity, and not as fine aroma - probably because many other non-fragrant molecules have made it into the receiver. My conclusion is, that these extraction methods increase yield in weight and volume, but do not add favorably to the odour profile.

Religious and Spiritual Significance of Sandalwood:

Praying by the Ganga river ...
Enter a Buddhist temple, and the first thing you'll notice is the soft smoke of sandalwood incense that wraps the atmosphere with serenity. Sandalwood is used throughout Asia in most religious practices, including Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto, Zoroastriansm and Islam. But it's religious and spiritual significance use is dated as far back as Ancient Egypt, where it is speculated to be one of the 16 ingredients recorded on a temple wall in the formula for the Kyphi. The Israelites might have brought some with them from Egypt and have used it in the production of the Holy Incense burnt in the tabernacle, and perhaps also in the anointing oil for the temple's tools (the names in the holy scriptures are still rather obscure in regards to these aromatics' identities).

Hindu mythology has the sandalwood tree as surrounded by snakes; and the wood's long-lasting sweet fragrance symbolizes ineffable sweetness that is unchanged by danger. The perfume of sandalwood is believed to attract snakes, but the incense is burnt on a daily basis in Indian home to welcome the gods and ward-off evil spirits. 

In both Shinto and Buddhist households in Japan, incense sticks (often made with sandalwood powder mixed with other spices, resins and woods such as sweet cassia, cloves, frankinences and oud) are burnt as an offering to the ancestors.

Sandalwood is considered to bring one closer to the divine in several religions, which is why it is used during funerals: In Hinduism, sandalwood logs were used in funeral pyres by the rich (not quite possible currently); In Islam, sandalwood paste would be applied to a Sufi's grave as sign of devotion by their students. In addition, burning sandalwood incense in memorial and funeral services soothes and comforts the mourners.

Muslim in India, and especially the south, would celebrate the holiday of Mohammed's birth (Milad un Nabi - literally translates to "birth of the prophet") by decorating images of Buraq, the mythical horse that took Mohhamed to Heaven, as well as the symbols of the prophet's foot-prints.

Orchha - Tilak
The Hindus apply sandalwood paste or essential to the "Third Eye" or the 6th Chakra Ajna, where it will elevate the spirit, increase spiritual awareness and awaken intelligence. Buddhists burn sandalwood incense in all their temples, to increase alertness and assist in meditation practices; as well as apply a special sandalwood paste called "Cathusama" (a mixture of sandalwood, agarwood, camphor, musk, saffron and other ingredients) to the Buddha icons and sculptures. Sandalwood-based incense powders are used to cleanse the monks and priests' hands before entering the temple.

According to Western alchemists, sandalwood has an affinity with the element of air, represents the cool lunar energies, and is most associated with the fixed air sign of Aquarius. It is also associated to a lesser extent with the planets Venus, the Major Arcana's Tartot card of The Empress. In Qabbalah, sandalwood incense will help connect one to the Sephirah of Netzah and the path of the letter "Daleth". In my early days working with alcehmical incense and perfumes, I've used sandalwood oil in Moon Breath as a meditation and anointing oil, as well as in my Zodiac perfumes for Gemini, Aquarius and Libra.

Traditional Sandalwood Carving:
The close-grained nature of sandalwood's heartwood make it a very smooth wood, soft to carve and form many intricate designs in. Add to that its long lasting scent - and it is no surprise that many religious arts have formed around sandalwood, from creating meditation and prayer beads for malas, carving deities, and creating luxuriously-scented lace-like sandalwood fans that emit their delicate scent while fanning.  

Medicinal, Therapeutic and Aromatherapeutic Properties: 

kankoo seller, omkareshwar
Ayurvedic medicine considers sandalwood to be a cooling, calming oil. Sandalwood powder is mixed with water into a paste to treat skin conditions that are associated with over-heating originated in "Pitta": sunburn, acne, rashes, herpes, infectious sores and also fever and ulcers. Mixed with coconut water, sandalwood was also prepared by ayurvedic doctors to further quench patients' thirst. 

Chinese medicine uses sandalwood primarily for purification of the urinary tract. Western medicine acknowledged that role and for a while it was used in such way. However, these treatments were abandoned.

Santalol, the alcohols in sandalwood, are antiseptic which contributed to sandalwood's popularity in soaps. It also decreases skin inflammation, itchiness, etc. Mixed with honey and rice-water, sandalwood aided in treating digestive problems, and also was used in mouth-washing preparations to prevent bad-breath.

I have in my possession 3 sandalwood pills that are soft-gell covered and filled with an actual oil - a gift from Yuko Fukami. She told me that those were originally used to treat herpes (which is incurable, but the "cooling" effect of the oil ingested perhaps aided in reducing the symptoms). I cherish those not for their medicinal benefits, but because they are the only oil I have from properly aged trees!

Sandalwood is valued for protecting the skin from the sun. Some research is even beginning to find connection between sandalwood and treatment as well as prevention of skin cancer - so perhaps it's no coincidence on Mother Nature's behalf, that this tree still grows wild in Australia, the world's number one victim of that disease, as it sits right under the atmosphere's largest ozone hole.

Last but not least: sandalwood's healing effect on the mind is incredible - bring calmness and serenity and reducing depression, alleviating tension and anxiety. Therefore, it is not surprising that it's been used so widely in meditation, prayers and spiritual practices (see above).

Cosmetic Uses for Sandalwood:

Sandalwood not only smells good, but is also valued for its beautifying properties: acne-prone skin will benefit from the antiseptic qualities of sandalwood in a toner or cleaner it can balance the oils on the skin and stimulate healing; while dry and mature skin will improve regeneration and feel more soft and supple with the addition of sandalwood to creams, facial serums, etc. It is also used as in hair products such as hair oils. It is also used an all-natural sunscreen in Southeast Asia, similarly to how the girls in the above photograph have partially covered their face with its thin clay-like paste.

Aphrodisiac Qualities:
Sandalwood's animalic and slightly uric qualities are no conicedence: this wood oil is surprisingly the closest resemblence to the masculine pheromone androstenol. It is therefore no surprise that in East Indian culture, jasmine and sandalwood are considered to be the most manly of scents. 

Types and Aromatic Profiles of Sandalwood:

Sandalwood Oils - 3 Origins

The most prized of all sandalwoods is the so-called "white" or "yellow" sandalwood (Santalum album) that comes from plantations in Mysore, India. When the trees are allowed to fully mature, their aroma is so fine, beyond imagination: Precious wood. Creamy, woody, milky, warm, smooth, and very special. Most of the good stuff was gone just about ten years ago, and lesser quality stuff (from younger trees) replaced them, being only a poor representation of what this should be. The modern East Indian sandalwood oils have a certain acrid top-note, and dry down with a sour trail on my skin. This is not so with the original Mysore sandalwood, which once developed on the skin would convince you that your skin is made of silk and butter. It is milky, sweet, warm and rounded. Truly a gift from the Gods of perfume.

If you can find superior quality of East Indian sandalwood oil, it is most likely stashed away from before. And if it ain't, you should because it will in fact improve over time, giving way to more floral and sweet-warm characteristics to develop as the less pleasant bitter-woody notes dissipate.

Sandalwood Vanuatu is the only modern sandalwood oil that did not leave those sour, acrid skidmarks on my skin. It is different than the Indian one but to me that's a plus.

Australian Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum): Floral, wood, warm, musky, sweet and smooth. Tenacious yet soft with incredible lasting power. Opens with sawdust overtones, and develops into a musky, warm, smooth, floral notes. Hint of nail-polish notes into the dry down. There is also an unmistakable urine-like note, which can be appealing - or not. It all depends on taste.

Ironically, sandalwood from Australia, which was considered such an inferior quality to the Indian (accounting still for about 90% of the world's production) and "posed no threat to it" (Arctander) is now the only viable alternative to the endangered Santalum album.

It's important to note that some people have difficulty perceiving sandalwood. Similarly to ionones and certain musk - not everyone will get the depth and tenacity of sandalwood and might experience as a barely-there, almost transparent note. 

Role of Sandalwood in Attars - Traditional East Indian Perfumery:
Indian Attars

Indian perfumery not only preceded Western perfumery and had immense technical advantage over it for hundreds if not thousands of years - it is also completely different from it, both technically and philosophically. And there is no better place to talk about Indian perfumery than within the context of sandalwood oil.

There is very little we know about the composition of traditional Indian perfumes, as the knowledge passes from father to son, from one generation to the next, orally and via hands-on experience of working together. Family's recipes are more than just trade secrets, as they were also protected by India's strict caste system. If you were not born to a perfumer's family, you can't and shan't be one. There was no way around it.

What we do know about East Indian perfumery is only from what we can smell - if we can get the real stuff; and from those who spent time with the distillers there. Equipped with a transportable copper still on his back, the Indian perfumer ventures into the wild to procure fresh aromatics - including getting all wet and dirty in search for waterlilies and lotus flowers inside ponds, and distilled into a receiver that contains pre-distilled sandalwood oil, which is by and large used as the carrier - you will find neither alcohol nor fatty oils in a true, traditional Indian attar.

Dry materials, such as spices, resins and herbs are masterfully blended together, like a complex masala, prior to being distilled - either with sandalwood, or into sandalwood oil. The blending does not, in most cases, happen after the distillation, but beforehand. Beautifully complex perfumes such as Amberi, Shamama, Mukhallat, Majmuna, Kadam and many others are true complex perfumes with many secret ingredients, some of which are indigenous to India and mostly recognizable to the Western nose, with some ingredients more known such as rose, jasmines (there are at least three species available to the Indian perfumer!), marigold (tagetes), agarwood and more. And all of these, let's not forget, is suspended in a base of sandalwood oil!

Hence the importance of this raw material to the art of Indian perfumery. It is both aesthetically and technically impossible to preserve this unique, ancient art form that has been passed and perfected from one generation to the next - without the existence of this plant. While there are some creative attempts at finding alternatives - vetiver based attars, for instance - nothing would change the fact that we've been too greedy with our sandalwood consumption, we've over-harvested, and we still do not wait long enough for the trees to mature and develop their fine characteristics, not to mention replenish their own population.

Sandalwood in Western Perfumery:
 Sandalwood Perfumes
Sandalwood oil has a distinctive precious-wood scent that is soft, warm, smooth, creamy and milky. It imparts a long-lasting woody base to perfumes from the oriental, woody, fougère and chypre families, as well as a fixative to floral and citrus fragrances. When used in smaller proportions in a perfume, it acts as a fixative, enhancing the longevity of other more volatile materials in the composition. Last but not least, sandalwood is a key ingredient in the "floriental" (aka floral-ambery) fragrance family - when combined with white florals such as jasmine, ylang ylang, gardenia, plumeria, orange blossom and tuberose etc.

Sandalwood easily gets along with all ingredients, and creates a precious wood note with a suave, soft, warm, velvety presence wherever it is placed. It goes particualrly well with rose, musk, ambergris, patchouli, cloves, cedarwood, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, honey, ylang ylang, jasmine and all "white" florals. The main danger, however, is in burying sandalwood among very dominant notes where it would get completely lost rather than shine, so be cautious when you're marrying this costly essence with notes such as patchouli, oakmoss and the like.

A simple search for all perfumes containing "sandalwood note" on Basenotes yields a swooping number of over 3,000 results. Not all perfumes with that note truly contain the natural sandalwood oil; and even those who do - don't always have it in their forefront, including perfumes that have the word "Sandal", "Santal" or "Sandalwood" in their name.

Notable perfumes with a significant amount of sandalwood:
Bois des Îles, Egoiste, Samsara, Tam Dao, Santal de Mysore, Cocoa Sandalwood, Arpège, No. 5, Obsession, Narcisse Noir and countless classical eaux (Crabtree & Evelyn, Floris, Yardley, Penhaligon) as well as modern niche houses (Lorenzo Villorsei, Etro, Amouage, Santa Maria Novella, Creed, Fresh, Tom Ford and many more).

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Humulus Lupulus (Hops)

Hops (Humulus lupulus) is a climbing perennial herb, with separate female and male plants. It is the female flowers that are valued for their aroma and flavour in the production of beer. Glandular hairs in the strobile-shaped female flowers store lupulin, a molecule that accounts for hops’ distinctive fresh-fruity aroma and bitter flavour. It also contains humulone, isohumulone and humulene which are bitter-tasting compounds. It also contains the natural phenols xanthohumol, isoxanthohumol and the most estrogenic phytoestrogen known, 8-prenylnaringenin. Hops’ natural oils help the yeast grow by eliminating other microbs and cultures and thus prevent spoilage.

It is native to Europe and North America, and is mostly cultivated in Germany, Yugoslavia, and in California and Washington states. Hops oil is produced in the UK, Germany and France. An Absolute and CO2 extraction is also possible, the latter becoming increasingly popular as it brings a more complete profile of the fresh plant.

In herbal medicine, hops is valued for its relaxing effects, and was used by herbalists to treat insomnia, nervous tension, neuralgia and sexual neurosis. It helps women’s oestrogens, and was used for heavy periods. Hops-stuffed pillows were used to induce sleep as it is a mild sedative, similar to valerian's but milder. The aromatics in the pillow get released by resting the head upon it and crushing the strobiles. Chinese medicine used hops for pumonary tuberculosis and cystitis. Hops is an aphrodisiac, antimicrobial, antiseptic, ansitpasmodic, astringent, bactericidal, carminative, diuretic, emollient, has oestrogenic properties, hypnotic, nervine, sedative, soporific. While hops are used in aromatherapy for dermatitis, rashes and rough skin - it’s important to note that in some individuals, skin rashes occur on their hands after picking the strobiles. Other uses are indigestion, menstrual cramps, reduces sexual overactivity and sexually related anxiety, headaches, insomnia, stress-related symptoms. (according to Julia Lawless, The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, p. 108).

In Germany, they also use a special technique where they distill the hops with sodium chloride in the distillation water, to better separate the oil from the water; and than run a benzene (or other solvent) extraction of the distillation water to bring out the water-soluble aroma components. The “Complete” hops essence resulting from this is more true to the fresh plant and brings a better flavour and aroma - but only for a short time, as it does not keep nearly as well. Considering that fact that hops oil is extremely sensitive to light and oxigen, and spoils pretty fast anyway - this probably means the German are using it right away for beer production.

Hops oil is a greensh-yellow to reddish-brown mobile liquid (when fresh and hasn't resinified). The principal constituents in hops oil are: dipentene, myrcene, linalool, humulene, free formic acid, heptylic acid, valeric acid, esterified formic acid, acetic acid, decyclic acid, nonylic acid, octylic acid, oenanthylic acid, butyric acid and probably iso-nonylic acids (W.A. Poucher, Perfumes, Cosmetics And Soaps Vol. I, 1959, p. 209).

Fresh hops oil (which is something I probably never smelled, because even when mine was fresh, it smelled more than a tad “funky”) should be “rich, spicy-aromatic, sweet and heavy, but overall pleasant” (Arctander, Perfume and Flavors Materials of Natural Origin, p. 298). Upon oxidation, it develops valeric, isovaleric and caprylic acids, which changes the aroma to a rather unpleasant valerian-like funkym stinky-sock/locker odour. In other words: not boring, but not really pleasant either. A tell-tale sign that your hops has oxidized is if it’s no longer mobile: oxidation tends to resinify this oil.

Using hops in beer brewing did not become popular until the Middle Ages. Until then, most “beers” were in fact ales (aka un-hopped brews, cloyingly sweet and malty), and in Britain they used a combination of herbs called “gruit” which included sweet gale, sage, yarrow, pine, wormwood and broom.

While most of the production of hops goes directly into the thriving beer industry, it does find some use in some spice blends and sauces (I’m still looking for recipes for you!), flavouring tobacco, and for flavouring liquors (usually in combination with oils of angelica root, cascarilla and the like - in short: musky, bitter, herbaceous oils). What little hops makes it to the perfume industry like ends up in colognes (where it will add an unusual fruity note to complement the citrus and herbs), fougeres, and perhaps some oriental bases, where its spiciness will shine if treated well.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Must Read: Laurie Erickson Interviews Dabney Rose

Visit Perfume in Progress to read Laurie Erickson's interview of distiller and enfleurage artists Dabney Rose. She was also interviews last year for Now Smell This by Alyssa Harad.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Sandalwood Beer

beers by uberculture
beers, a photo by uberculture on Flickr.
The last push for the holiday season just ended last night, and I'm thrilled to have all of this chaos behind me.

Looking forward to tying some loose ends on the business front before the end of the year, re-organizing my studio space, and getting more creative again. 2013 was a bizarre year, and I seem to barely be able to catch my breath before something else unexpected shows up demanding my attention.

Three weeks ago I got intrigued by hops and decided to go back into a project I've began working on long ago (with very little reporting on it here). My previous work around the theme mostly relied on the guy's fondness of beer (not that there is anything original or unique about it). I noticed how many guys like posting pics of themselves with giant beer mugs in a sports bar (portraying, I presume, how much fun they are), rivaled only by similarly alluring depiction of the giant fish they caught. If it were possible to gulp beer from a giant mug while wrestling with a gigantic catfish - I'm sure they would have snapped pics of that too. Good luck with that!

Anyway, back to beer: it seemed to be a rather befitting theme for how much of a jerk that guy sounded like. So I began with something that smelled rather dirty and boozy - hops, cepes, cognac and African stone tincture - all in one breath! - paired with Egyptian jasmine, Seville lavender and cacao. All around a very peculiar combination. And after allowing it to mature way more than absolutely necessary, it's not what I would imagine to garner mass public appeal. It's edgy, but probably too dirty and naughty that I would feel comfortable describing on a PG rated blog.

 Fast forward to three weeks ago: I visit the barn. I see hops. I'm reminded of my long neglected project. Aside from hops, which are the foundation of any beer and what I've decided to be the key ingredient for this project, I'm thinking of sandalwood. Why? Because.

A few years ago, my sister in law gave me a sandalwood and beer soap. It was lovely. Strange combination, but lovely. There was very little beer to be smelled there, but the idea was filed away somewhere only to be pulled out at the appropriate time. Now.

I take some sandalwood from Australia (organic, by the way). I add generous amounts of cognac absolute, hops, marigold (also an ancient beer ingredient) and anything else that renders yeasty, effervescent and beer-like in my mind. And voila! A sandalwood beer cologne is born. Three weeks later - it has only gotten better: smooth, fruity, fresh, complex, piquant and intriguing. Just like an apircot craft beer.

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Friday, December 06, 2013

Portobello West Holiday Market

Ayala Moriel Parfums' last market for 2013 is this weekend! Portobello West, with over 90 local artisans and designers.

December 7 & 8 at Creekside Community Centre (1 Atheletes Way in Vancouver's scenic Olympic Village). Admission is $2 or free if you bring the above voucher!

We've got special holiday stuff just for you: Winter truffles:
- Forest Flower - white chocolate with mimosa, elderflower and fir)
- Christmas Tree - dark and smooth 64% cocoa with Douglas fir and Ungava gin

Also, our limited edition holiday  candles Épice Sauvage, Vetiver Racinettes and Orcas candles; our new limited edition Palas Atena hair oil and Orcas beard & hair oil. Plus, Elixir - a wonderful facial serum to keep your face glowing and nourished through the winter storms.

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Assignment Fashion Interview

Read Jenica Chuahiok's report about her studio visit with Ayala Moriel Parfums and interview with me, where I reveal the secret ingredient in ALL of my perfumes!

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Sorting and Sifting: The Apothecary of the Heart

In the story of Vasalissa the Wise, as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, the fierce hag Baba Yaga gives Vasilissa the impossible task of separating mildewed corn from the good corn; and sifting the dirt out of poppy-seeds. To her assistance, a pair of invisible hands come to her help, as well as her own intuition - the doll given to her by her dying mother.

Estés' interpretation of this part of the story truly resonates with me at the moment. Not only because this time of year (fall) is a time for sorting, sifting and preparing for the long winter. But mostly because the symbolism and meaning of these particular tasks: Estés reminds us the medicinal properties of mildewed corn, fermented to form ethanol (grain alcohol). Corn-smut is a hallucinogenic, also true for poppy seeds. The medicinal properties alludes to the woman-healer role of foraging, collecting, sorting and preparing herbal remedies.

"This is one of the loveliest phrasings in the story. The fresh corn, mildewed corn, poppyseed, and dirt are all remnants of an ancient healing apothecary. These substances are used as balms, salves, infusions, and poultices to hold other medicines on the body. As metaphor, they are also medicines for the mind; some nourish, other put to rest, some cause languor, others, stimulation. They are facets of the Life/Death/Life cycles" (Clarissa Pinkola Estés, "Women Who Run With The Wolves", p. 96).
In this apothecary of the heart, we gravitate towards our soul's remedy. Find the correct medicine - literally self-regulating our emotional state; or figuratively speaking in our spiritual path of healing:
"Baba Yaga is not only asking Vasalisa to separate this from that, to determine the difference between things of like kind - such as real love from false love, or nourishing life from spoiled life - but she is also asking her to distinguish one medicine from another".
(Clarissa Pinkola Estés, "Women Who Run With The Wolves", p. 96).

Like an artist or a healer, a large part of a perfumer's work is hidden from your eyes. Much of the creative process, as well as the physical aspects of producing perfume is pure alchemy. Some of the process is so subtle it is at times hidden from me, unaware I'm undergoing a process until I've arrived at the "other side" of the tunnel I've been crawling through and struggling with for months. As I reach the end of that tunnel, I'm re-born - not a newborn, obviously; but a new person in many regards. 

The seemingly aimless search for meaning turns out to be another jar of medicine in my heart's apothecary. As I distill, extract and concoct the stories of my own internal process - it's own remedy is prepared and recorded in the lab's ledger. As I do so, wounds close and heal, maladies melt away, becoming nostalgic chapters in a book that I'll never finish writing.

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