Sunday, May 25, 2014

Musk Malabi Reviewed by CaFleureBon

Visit CaFleureBon to read John Reasinger's review of Musk Malabi:
"Musk Malabi develops gracefully while weaving an enchanting lingering vapor of  translucent botanical musk throughout. I am reminded of  of that giddy feeling of  meeting and falling head-over-heels in love. Memories of languid walks hand-in-hand past blooming roses and late evening trysts under flowering fruit trees bring a blush to the cheek and a sigh to the heart. Much like a summer romance, this creamy musk confection seems to fade but reappears when you least expect it and most need it. Musk Malabi hovers on the edge of gourmand and is perfect for warm weather". 

A proof that men are beginning to enjoy florals again, yay!

Olfactory Orientalism

Most fragrance families have strange, if not weird names. But "Orientals" almost sounds racist... And it kind of is. The term originates in the "Orientalism" movement in art, architecture and design which was most prominent in the 19th Century, but began before and continued after as well - and is still alive and kicking in the world of perfumery. Orientalists had one thing in common - what seems like an obsession and perhaps even idealization of cultures in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa. But there is also a sense of condescending. A view that has a subtext that says that Western culture is better, and could imply a view that these cultures are static, primitive or inferior. Which of course is far from the truth. 

The Orientalism in 19th Century Europe was largely related to imperialism. It romanticized Asian, North African and Middle Eastern cultures, in a way that is neither authentic nor free of prejudice. With that being said, it has largely influenced popular culture as well as perfume and the design and art that go with it. From bottle design to the actual "jus" - the Orient was infused in many perfumes of the early 20th Century - and beyond. Names such as Mitsouko, Shalimar, Crepe de Chine were some of the first to derive their inspiration, name and design from "Eastern" themes; perfumes such as Opium, Cinnabar and Samsara revived the interest in Orientalism towards the end of the 20th Century; and now we have Tom Ford and Serge Lutens as the leaders of the post-modernist Olfactory Orientalism movement, with perfumes bearing names such as Shanghai Lily, Japon Noir, Plum Japonais, Bois Marocain, Arabian Wood, Ambre Sultan, Arabie, Borneo 1834, Muscs Kublai Khan, Fumerie Turque, Rahat Loukum, etc.

Besides the aesthetic idealism of this style and movement, there is also a clever marketing decision, cashing on the Westerner's constant desire to be swept off their feet by an exotic culture; be transported into distant places with only a whiff from a bottle. Admittedly there is much magic in this; but also the danger of caricaturization an entire culture, and innocent yet wrong interpretation of names, concepts and symbols. One such example is Samsara - a wonderful floriental by Guerlain created in the 1980's, with an evocative name that mean "seven heaps of dung" - a metaphor to the material body's various stages of life. Hardly a romantic meaning for this gorgeously orchestrated jasmine-and-sandalwood perfume.

As one can see by the choice of name, marketing and advertising materials - there are plenty of stereotypes packed into each one of these, perhaps all exemplified and demonstrated by this long-yawn-inducing video clip for Guerlain's iconic Shalimar, a mega production that seems to cater to the teenage male fantasy of computer-games and completely unrealistic courtship: misogynistic as well as patronizing a bundle of Eastern cultures (kind of hard to tell where one begins and another ends - we have here an amalgamtion of what seems like an Arab prince on a white stallion, the iconic Indian Taj Mahal, and a passively bathing gal in what seems like a Turkish hammam). FYI: This main female character is blonde and blue-eyed, and does nothing the entire 5:44min film except fantasize about her prince and prepare for his return from the trip to save her from months of boredom in the palace (which will be achieved, of course, by building her another palace). What a shame, since Shalimar was inspired by a very tragic love story - Mumtaz Mahal died in childbirth, and the Taj Mahal was in fact a giant tomb which once completed, her lover was buried in it too.

There is no shortage of Orientalists-inspired perfumes, Opium being one of them - launched in 1977, alongside Yves Saint Laurent's Chinese-inspired haute couture collection. It's a wonderfully spicy oriental, with balsamic-resinous counterpoint as well as fresh citrus, and yet the cloves and patchouli at its centre make it unmistakably connected to China (the first place to distill cloves, by the way). Opium has always been provocative with its ads, walking a fine line between portraying languid, opiated women as if they're in the midst of sexual climax. No matter how wonderfully they are photographed - they are highly objectified: the woman in the 1977 ad above seems like part of the tapestry and design, not really like a flesh-and-blood person - at the time of launch criticized more so for the name, suggesting a legitimization of drug use; and Sophie Dal from the more recent (and even more provocative campaign) looks as white as a dead petal of orchid or a marble statue (not to mention completely naked except for her jewellery and stilettos). But no matter how you slice it - there is more than just a hint of suggesting that Asian culture can be shrugged off by these opium-den references, never to be taken seriously.

Orientalism and exoticism has also found traction in European culture through the performances of the legendary Mata Hari (the stage name for a Dutch exotic dancer, whose olive skin and darker hair, complete with Indonesian (then known as the Dutch-East-Indian) inspired outfits and music. Mata Hari was executed by a firing squad after being prosecuted for espionage during World War I (in 1917)*.

On a more nerdy and technical level, there is much more to be said about Oriental perfumes, besides bottle designs, names, or using exotic materials. Historically, perfume technology evolved in the East first - beginning in Mesopotamia, where fragrant resins were discovered, and continuing to Egypt, where the first perfume-incense-blend Kyphi was created, using no less than 16 secret ingredients (the formula was written on the walls of a temple, and re-discovered thousands of years later).

From Egypt, the knowledge and technology of perfume making (which was strongly tied to practical as well as spiritual practices of alchemy) moved to the Mediterranean region. In the island of Cyprus archeologists recently found the remains of the first perfume factory that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1850 BC were discovered.

In Asia - primarily in India and China - there were also (probably parallel) developments, where the Indian and Chinese alchemists were hard at work looking for similar things though with different names than the Western ones - Chrysopoeia (transmutation into gold, which was universally considered by alchemists as the ideal physical matter), the Aqua Vitae aka elixir of life or longevity, and Panacea (the cure-all medicine). The Indians knew how to distill essential oils as early as the 6th century AD.

"The first evidence of distillation comes from Greek alchemists working in Alexandria in the 1st century AD" - mostly of hydrosols; and around the same time (during the Han Dynasty), the Chinese also got their hands in distillation - although it won't be till hundreds of years later that they would widely use that technology for distilling beverages.

In the 6th century, the Indians were also distilling their own essential oil, from agarwood; and the Arabs and Muslims, who likely learned this from the Alexandrians (in Egypt) and India (by way of Persia). Nevertheless, the Arabs and Muslims are credited for perfecting this technology, and for discovering alcohol (ethanol) and how to separate it from wine, and last but not least - spreading their advanced technologies to the West as they concoured Europe.

Ibn Sinna (aka Avicenna), a Persian doctor, have found a way to separate ethanol (alcohol) from wine - not an easy feat, especially considering its low boiling point and high evaporation rate and flammability. And if it weren't for the Muslims concurs of the Balkan, North Africa and then Spain - Europe might be never become fragrant at all. The Muslims brought their technological advances with them to wherever they traveled. And these have made their mark on today's chemistry and medicine.

The Chinese as well as the Indians have perfected the art of incense, which transformed from a crude burning of resins, gums and woods into a technologically advanced  and the beginning of distillation technology was developed. It was not until the Middle Ages, that thanks to the Muslim alchemists and doctors, the science of distillation have been truly perfected and distilling delicate flowers such as rose and orange blossoms became possible - first as hydrosols (floral waters) and then as attars (the Arab name for essential oils). The term "Attar of Rose" means "rose essential oil" (Attar is an Arabic word, which refers to the spirit or “ether” of the plants, i.e. the essential oil. The word “attar” or its permutation “otto” is often used to describe rose essential oil (in perfumery literature, it is referred to as “rose otto” or “attar of rose”).

There is much more to "Eastern" perfumery than meets the eye. And this is owing greatly to the fact that the knowledge and formulae were not typically recorded - but passed from generation to generation as oral tradition and through apprenticeships. Till this day, Indian and Arabian perfumery spark one's imagination with their exotic raw materials and dreamy compositions unlike any others found in the West (though imitations abound).

How Indian perfumes differ from Western perfumery is first and foremost in that the perfume is blended before it is actually distilled. You make a "masala" of perfume materials, then distill them in the traditional copper still, into a receiver full of sandalwood oil. It's a completely different mindset, thinking of the finished blend in advance, before measuring the ingredients into the still - as well as predicting how they will behave in a sandalwood oil carrier. It requires the ability to envision how these essences will be transformed in the still together, mastering the unique temperature and pressure needed for best results; and thinking in advance about the raw materials before you actually have in your hand the finished essence. It requires a similar mindset to that of making incense: You need to not only know how things smell; but also how they smell when they burn, and how to make them smell wonderfully while burning together, not to mention the technicalities of getting them to burn through, but not too fast, so you can smell their essential oils before they turn into scorched spices... 

The traditional Indian perfumer is not only an olfactory artist and a master distiller - but also a forager of wild treasures. Armed with a copper still small enough to carry on their backs, they travel the jungles and fields, collecting seasonal perfumed plants and distill them fresh on the spot into sandalwood oil, creating rare attars such as blue lotus, white lotus and pink lotus (which they need to harvest while immersed as high up to their waists in marshes and ponds). You can read more about Indian perfumery in White Lotus Aromatics' newsletters, such as this one about making Hina.

Traditional Indian perfumes are also called “attars” and are created in a completely different technique and approach than Western perfumery. Indian attars differ from modern perfumery on several levels. The most obvious are the technical ones:

1) The formulation process takes place with the raw materials prior to distillation. The spices, woods, resins, herbs, flowers and so on are measured and blended together in their raw state and only than placed in the still. My guess is, that the principles of blending these perfumes may be in tune with Ayurveda or spiritual and religious principles such as the chakra systems. Rather than blending based on technical qualities such as volatility rate and tenacity - plants and raw materials are chosen for their elemental affinity, energetic qualities and healing powers (i.e.: moist/dry; warming/cooling). 

2) Sandalwood oil forms the base or “carrier” for Indian attars (much in the same vein that rather that alcohol or a fixed oil are used in modern perfumery). Thus, even the simplest attar will contain at least two botanicals. For example: Attar Motia is made from jasmine sambac (Jasminum sambac) which is distilled into the sandalwood (Santalum album) essential oil. Sandalwood oil is one of the few oils that can be worn neat on the skin, it has a rich, viscous and sensual teqture, and a very subtle aroma that deepens the perfume of single flowers and adds fixative qualities to the attar.

3) Last but not least, unlike modern Western perfumers, the Indian perfumers actually distill their own essence. They are in touch with the plants in their original raw state, and at times even pick them from the wild. Using a light, portable copper still, the perfumer can carry it on his back while entering the wilderness to collect flowers in their blooming season, be it from the coast, the jungle or the pond For example: lotus and water lily have to be harvested while the perfumer goes into the marshes, and immerses himself waist-deep into the murky waters.

Arabian perfumery is also rather secretive, as they were strongly associated with religion. Mohammed was particularly fond of roses and perfume and saw the importance of bathing and perfuming one's body: "The taking of a bath on Friday is compulsory for every male Muslim who has attained the age of puberty and (also) the cleaning of his teeth with Miswaak (type of twig used as a toothbrush), and the using of perfume if it is available" (Sahih al-Bukhari).
 Arabian perfumes were at first macerations of various spices, woods, resins and animal materials (i.e.: ambergis, musk) in a fixed oil (such as olive). When advancements in distillation technologies took place, their perfumes became more refined and sophisticated. Similarly to the Indian "Attars", suspended in sandalwood oil - the Arabian perfumes were carefully blended oils of rose, musk grains, and other costly essences, in a base of non other than the rare agarwood oil. This gave them an over-the-top richness that even surpasses that of Indian Attars. In additional to oud, the Arabs were - and still are - very fond of musk (which they mixed with the mortar when building some of their mosques), rose, ambergris and saffron. These potent essences were blended in full-on concentration into the agarwood oil, creating at times very richly animalic perfumes, sometimes smelling almost like "barnyard" - for example when darker, more animalic ouds formed the base for even funkier animal essences.

To summarize: Egyptian perfumes, Asian perfumes, Arabian perfumes and Indian perfumes are created with completely different principles in mind. Although  literature in English barely exists on the subject, I have my guesses on what these guiding principles are. What is common to all these traditions, is that they are the true origin of perfume, and it is strongly tied to spirituality. Perfumes were first viewed as the spirit of plants, and as having the ability to alchemically transform those who smell them and use them. A far cry from the passive opium-den, harem-bound women portrayed in the "Orientalist" fragrances, these perfumes were meant to transform the soul, heal the spirit, and invite it back to the body and connect it to the divine force and bring it renewed health and vitality. 

*Another not any less famous dancer, who was also a spy but did not suffer a tragic death as a consequence was Josephine Baker, who inspired at least two perfumes that we know of: Bois des Îles and Sous la Vent.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Spring to Mind

What scents spring to mind when spring is in full swing? While florals are the usual suspects for the season, they are not the only ones on my list of favourite spring scents this year. The scents of spring are not limited to wildflowers, but also melting snow, budding conifer trees, Japanese cherry (skura) and plum (ume) blossoms, the snap-pea scent of tulip stems, fresh bouquets of freesia and lily of the valley on 1st of May, balsam poplar buds and cotton tree blossoms.

I have a love-hate relationship with floral perfumes. The love is with how they remind me of the real flowers (when they are done well). The suffering (thus, olfactory hatred of sorts) comes from the fact that most floral perfumes on the market have a screechy, overtly heady edge to them that makes it unbearable for me to wear them for any prolonged period of time. Almost like too much of a good thing... But not quite so. I'm pretty sure these kinds of preferences have more to do with personality make up and scent memories than with anything else. Especially considering that florals are the most popular of all fragrance families. So when I meet a floral I can actually wear for several hours without the urge to scrub the scent off and replace it with something that has more prominent base notes (I'm by nature inclined towards orientals and chypres) - it does not go unnoticed.

As far as perfume and scent goes - here are my top 12 favourites this year: 

1. Ofresia:
Hurray for a perfume that reminds me of freesias - my favourite cut flower. Their peppery, green, slightly sweet aroma is exaggerated in Dyptique's lovely Ofresia. There is a gorgeous vanillic drydown that saves it from giving me a florist-shop headache - and instead gives me the delicious urge to sniff and re-sniff my wrists all day long.

2. En Passant:
What saves this lilac from being too soapy or redolent of cheap bathroom-fresheners, is its masterful blending of notes you'd never think have anything to do with lilac. Wheat absolute, cucumber, indolic jasmine and watery white musk - all bring to mind a lilac blooming on a balmy night only to be rinsed by late spring showers. A lovely bush to pass by. A nose-grabber, actually. The dry down is a tad too white-musky for my taste, but I still love it. In fact, I am finally finished my decant - a sure sign that it's time to get a real bottle of this.

3. Diorissimo:
I won't lie: even though I adore it, Diorissimo EDT could give me that intolerable headache. It could have something to do with me wearing it for my honeymoon and getting a sunstroke or two on an overtly sunny Israeli spring day in the upper Galilee. Which is why I stick to the parfum extrait. In this version, the jasmine really shines, the lily of the valley smells less prissy and virginal, and the green galbanum and oakmoss and even a hint of magical boronia really come through. I wear it every May 1st, and when I'm in an especially good mood. Thankfully, this does not happen often because who knows how long that bottle would have lasted  - and the reformulated Diorissimo is not the same, what with the jasmine absolute restrictions in Europe and all...

4. Aromatics Elixir:
What I've been wearing more than anything else this year - and finding it oddly comforting. What I love most about it is the contrast between sheer, expansive, jasminey hedione and the heavier, earthy-herbaceous notes of vetiver, patchouli and chamomile.

5. Spring Wind:
Just arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, fresh from Russia and handmade by the talented Anna Zworykina. Spring Wind is made of the highest quality natural essences, and is masterfully blended. There is always so much mystery and beauty in Anna's perfumes. And this one is an intriguing scent of greenery and flowers: green-tinged jasmine sambac, jasmine ruh, galbanum, tuberose and osmanthus - giving an illusion of boronia with this mingling of jasmine, greens and ionones. Spring Wind is a befitting name - and this one is green and without even the tiniest hint of melancholy that so often pervades green florals.

6. Diorella:
There are two perfumes that always are on my spring lists, whether if I list them or not: Diorissimo and  Le Parfum de Thérèse. This time, Diorella is getting some love instead - because I finally have got my paws on a stash of over 200ml of vintage Diorella, just as its author intended it to be. Diorella has every bit the sunny, carefree spirit of Thérèse; but with a little more lady-like, manicured and coiffed appearance. I like to think of her as the Italian twin of Thérèse. The honeysuckle (an Italian plant, by the way) and fruity and skin-like aldehydes make it a lot more "perfumey" and a tad soapy. It's sexy, old-fashioned yet easy to wear, and makes me instantly think of the Côte d'Azure - or perhaps the Riviera Ligure?  

7. No. 19
Freshly crushed leaves, jasmine, rose de mai, lily of the valley... These all shout of spring - except that nothing about this perfume is obvious. It's all understated, and full of surprises. These include: Lemon. Leather. And did I mention the orris root yet? Ahh, iris...!

8. New Conifer Buds:
New growth of conifer buds is the most astounding, refreshing small-scale forest phenomenon. It's a delight for all senses - their bright colour against the darker mature needles; their cool and soft, silk-tassel texture; their tart, almost lemony yet sweet like wheat-grass flavour; and of course - the sweet, balsamic yet citrusy aroma. I collect them for my upcoming Rainforest tea blend; and use the fresh ones muddled into cocktails, or minced thinly sprinkled over fiddleheads, or mixed inside goat or cream cheese for an original spring afternoon tea menu.

9. Elderflower Cordial:
It has become an annual tradition: me roaming the forest edges and clearings, and picking a cluster of elderflower here and there. I make at least a batch or two of elderflower cordial to add to sparkling spring water; and that also serves as an excellent substitute for tonic waters in various gin cocktail. This year's discovery: Ungava gin (a bright yellow Northern Canadian gin with snowberry, cloudberry, Labrador tea and rosehips), shaken with ice and elderflower cordial and served with muddled spring of new-growth fir needles.

10. Rhododendrons:
I can never get enough of the many varieties of rhododendrons growing in Vancouver's gardens. So many hybrids, smelling incredibly versatile - some like lilies, or ylang ylang, others like tropical flowers or suntan lotion... Apparently, the sky is the limit when it comes to azalae hybrids!

What are your spring favourites? What springs to your mind when you think of spring? And what do you enjoy the most about spring 2014?

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Divine Flowers

Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) is native to the Mediterranean region and in the wild, a delicate annual with flesh-coloured little flowers that bloom in late summer with only five petals of pinked edges. Curiously, the wild flowers have very little scent if at all. Carnations are one of those rare cases when breeding did not only make the flowers more showy, but also more fragrant! Dianthus flowers possess a distinctive spicy scent of cloves and underlining powdery vanillic sweetness. 

An absolute is produced (in limited quantities only) mostly in Egypt, Southern France, Holland, Kenya and Italy. The yield is very low*, however, and synthetic carnation compounds are much more widely used. Carnation absolute is an interesting raw material, even if not as pretty as the fresh flowers - it has a very rich, warm, complex, dense character that only opens up once it's been diluted to 5% or even less. The good news about that is that a little goes a long way! 

Carnation absolute is waxy-looking and viscous in texture, with an orange-brown-olive colour. The scent is rich, warm, sweet-herbaceous, hay-like, honeyed and spicy with the characteristic clove-like notes of eugenol, though not as pronounced as you'd expect. According to Bo Jensen: "1980s more than hundred components were identified in Egyptian carnation absolute. A smaller number of compounds predominate: eugenol, phenethyl alcohol, linalool, benzyl benzoate, (Z)-3-hexenyl benzoate, benzyl salicylate, and esters of higher aliphatic acids (...). The biological purity of these chemicals, and their surrounding by a multitude of trace components, are responsible for the softness of the scent of carnations". Additional modern molecules have been developed to mimic carnations at a lower cost, such as: "benzyl isoeugenol, or 2-methoxy-1-(phenylmethoxy)-4-(1-propenyl)benzene, a solid with a balsamic note and a powdery carnation-like sweetness, and Methyl Diantilis ® (Givaudan), or 2-ethoxy-4-(methoxymethyl)phenol, which has a sweet-smoky odor with powdery aspects reminiscent of carnation".

The origin of its various names can be explained as follows: Dianthus was coined by the Greek philosopher Theophrastus, and originates in the Greek word Dios (divine) and Anthus (flower); Pinks refers to the shape of the flower's petals; Carnation might allude to coronation, or "corone" (flower garlands), or the Latin word for flesh, "Caro" or "Carnis" or perhaps incarnation; Cloves, contrary to common-sense, does not refer to its scent, rich in eugenol and thus reminiscent of the clove spice (Syzygium aromaticum) - but rather comes from the French word "clou" ("clout" aka nail in English) and alludes to its appearance, which resembles a nail - and just to happen to be true for the spice as well. 

There is no shortage of mystical and cultural meanings and symbolism associated with carnations - anywhere from romance, motherly love and even socialism. Christian legend tells us that pink carnations sprang from earth as Virgin Mary shed tears once observing her son's suffering while bearing the cross. Therefore, pink carnations are strongly associated with a mother's love - and the meaning has evolved over the years to also mark a mother's passing with a white carnation and celebrate her life with red or pink ones on Mother's Day. 

"In Portugal, bright red carnations represent the 1974 coup d'etat started by the military to end the fascist regime ongoing since 1926." Soldiers that participated in this movement stuck carnations in their rifles as a sign of non-violence. And on May Day (Labour Day), it was worn by many in workers' demonstrations. In contrast to that, carnations also have been popular among the French dandies, who worn a single flower as boutonnières.

Pperfumes with pronounced carnation notes: from classically constructed soliflores such as Bellodgia (Caron) and Sweet William (Ineke's Floral Curiosities line), and my own InCarnation which is a carnation soliflore; to haunting, complex florals such as l'Heure Bleue (Guerlain), l'Air du Temps (Nina Ricci) and Oeillet (Scent Systems) and Chypres such as En Avion (Caron) and Crêpe de Chine (F. Millot) and countless spicy orientals, including Tabu (Dana), Youth Dew (Estee Lauder), Opium (YSL), Asja (Fendi), Aqaba (Miriam Mirani), Égoïste (Chanel), Tabac Blond and Poivre (both by Caron).

* According to Stephen Arctander, between 0.2-0.3% concrete in relation to the weight of the flowers themselves; and this is further extracted into an absolute which is between 10-25% of the concrete. Annual production of carnation absolute was estimated to be between 20-30kg in the 1960's (which is when his book "Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin" was published). 

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Friday, May 16, 2014

May Flowers: Iris

As the saying goes - April Showers Bring May Flowers. And indeed, there is lots to see and smell in the floral around us. For the remainder of May, I'll be sharing more of my love of flowers, and in particular in how I expressed it in The Language of Flowers soliflore collection.

Today's flower will be the elusive iris. As I was walking down Bute street the other day, I noticed a group of buttery-yellow irises. Tall and large-flowered, I was curious about their scent. It was such a lovely, novel scent to my nose... Reminiscent of white chocolate, datura, lemon Angel's food cake with Tahitian vanilla buttercream on top, and a slight whiff of a baby's head. But even those scrumptious descriptions don't quite do it justice...

With such a rich scent of iris flowers, you might be surprised to learn that it's not the flowers that are used in perfumery, but rather their roots? Iris pallida needs 5 years of attention before it gives anything back: 3 years of cultivation, then 2 additional years of aging the hand-peeled rhizomes so that they can be ground into powder and steam-distilled to produce orris butter.

Although it does not have the word "iris" in its name, and is not part of The Language of Flowers - Sahleb is centred entirely around orris butter with as much as 15% irone. This violet-flower-smelling molecule that gives it a buttery, suave and creamy texture. It melts the heart, and simultaneously addictive and comforting.

I also noticed what looked very much like an Iris pallida, and with a similar scent to the yellow ones, but not as similar to cocoa butter or white chocolate. The darker irises really show why the flower was named that way - alluding the eye's iris. They have eyes peeking through their three-petals like the eyes on butterfly wings.

Interested in reading more about Iris? Check out Decoding Obscure Notes Part II: Iris, Skin and Powder. 

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sad News: CocoaNymph is Closing

I generally have a no-bad-news-policy on this blog. But this bit of bad news cannot go unnoticed. 

Not just because I've collaborated with Rachel Sawatzky and CocoaNymph for the past 4 years; but because it's disheartening to see a business that poured so much heart and soul into everything they do need to close down. Everything that Rachel and her team did they did wholeheartedly: from their craft of making top-notch chocolates and confections, to educating new entrepreneurs in the art of chocolate making. They served their community as a neighbourhood gathering place and home-away-from-home environment for many of their patrons, something I have witnessed and experienced every time I stopped by for hot chocolate or for picking up fragrant bars. CocoaNymph has become part my family's life on our weekly stops from our horseback riding lessons, and recently even became a work-training hub for for my autistic daughter (who was a proud member of the team every Thursday this past fall and winter as part of her "work experience" at school). 

CocoaNymph supported countless Canadian musicians, who frequently performed on the chocolaterie's grand piano, contributing to the city's much-needed nightlife; hosted many workshops and tasting events to cultivate the West Coast palate and co-promote other local artisan businesses - from craft beer brewers to perfumers.

I don't know if there is a "positive" way to look at CocoaNymph's closure. I can just hope that it serves as a lesson to us all to support your favourite artistan while their business is still alive and can thrive and create more jobs for us (or our kids, for that matter). 

It will be hard to live without your chocolates, but even more so without this dream. 

P.s. Don't panic! The fragrant chocolate bars we've co-created will still be made especially for you despite CocoaNymph's closure. So please keep ordering them and help us keep this project alive!


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Non-Blonde Reviews Sandal Ale and Musk Malabi

Sandal Ale got noticed by Gaia from The Non Blonde: "The tension between raw wood, apricots preserved in cognac, and old-fashioned ginger ale that captures your attention and causes the age-old wrist-to-nose compulsion".

And this is what Gaia had for Musk Malabi: "A treat for musk-heads... I want to bathe in this stuff". 

To read the full review, visit The Non Blonde. Leave a comment at her blog and/or below for a chance to win a sample of each!  

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Friday, May 09, 2014

Immortelle l’Amour Brunch & Tea (Menu & Ideas for Mother's Day)

Mother's Day is just around this corner (celebrated this Sunday, May 11th in North America). There is nothing as precious as the gift of time spent together. Tokens and luxuries are fabulous to give and receive, but there is nothing  more meaningful and memorable than time spent together. 

Take the time this month to honor those who have nurtured you, loved you and who have helped you grow - as well as yourself, especially if you are a parent, a teacher, or a caregiver. Whether it’s simply a cup of tea that can be shared or a  stroll together, carve out time this May to cherish and spoil those special women in your life.  

A classic mother’s day ritual – brunch is a fantastic way to spoil mom, while spending quality time together.  Inspired by our decadent perfume Immortelle l’Amour: Generous portion of vanilla, maple and rooibos – try out these fragrant twists on  quintessential brunch  recipes, such as eggs benedict on waffles  and other decadent yet nutritious embellishments. The following menu mingles the comforting yet sophisticated flavours of maple, vanilla and cinnamon along with briney, salty touches of sharp cheeses, sour apples, candied salmon, a touch saffron mayonnaise or a generous dollop of yoghurt hollandaise sauce. 

Mother’s Day Brunch & Tea:

Eggs Benedict & Candied Salmon on Cinnamon Waffles
Baked Sour Apple
Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Tea served: Immortelle l’Amour tea, or a rooibos espresso (recipe to follow).
Rooibos Espresso:
Rooibos requires high heat (90-100c and prolonged steeping or even simmering). That's why it's safe to use it in a stovetop mokka machine or espresso machine, to get a heavnely, richly concentrated brew of this smooth, naturally sweet tea. To prepare your rooibos espresso simpley fill the espresso "funnel" with loose leaf plain (unflavoured) rooibos and prepare as you would any espresso. Serve as it is, or with a bit of milk of your choice (i.e.: whole milk or almond milk). 

For the Cinnamon Waffles:
4 eggs
4 Tbs grapeseed (or another non-GMO vegetable oil)
2 cups milk
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon, ground
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbs brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
- Separate the eggs.
- Whip the whites until soft peaks form.
- Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, oil and vanilla extract. Stir in the milk.
- In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt).
- Carefully add the flour mixture into the egg yolk and milk mixture, one-third at a time.
- Fold the whipped egg whites into the rest of the batter you have just formed.
- Cook in a well-buttered waffle maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Note: The waffles can be prepared in advance and kept frozen; then toasted before serving.

For the Eggs Benedict:
Prepare yoghurt hollandaise sauce
Poach eggs (1-2 per person). Brush the waffles with butter and top with slices of candied salmon. Place a paoched egg on top of the salmon, and spoon over the yoghurt hollandaise sauce. Serve immediately.

Another nice contrast to all this sweet and salty flavour is a baked Granny Smith apple (the only apples that still retain some flavour this season), or a baked rhubarb compote (prepare similarly my Rosy Rhubarb Crumble - but without the crumble and rosewater. The berries are not mandatory either - unless they're already in season in your part of the world!).
Hope you enjoy this lovely Mother's Day brunch with your family!
And if the weather permits, go for a picnic and enjoy Mother Nature. More thoughts on that on the following post...

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Thursday, May 08, 2014

Violetta Cacao

Meet Violetta Cacao: a decadent limited edition* scent of sweet violets, chocolate and vanilla.

There is nothing quite like the bond between a mother and her baby. When I just started creating perfumes, one of the first perfumes I made was Indigo, inspired by my mom’s unique Cancer personality of contrasting warm-and-cold (and maybe a little bit because I really missed the soft and gentle touch of holding her hand which is hard to do when she’s in Tel Aviv and I’m in Vancouver). Indigo captures that sense of soft motherly touch, smooth and almost glimmering like the indigo-blue velvet hoodie my mom gave me before I left for Canada, and with the two scents that remind me of her most of all: aniseed and violet flowers. At the same time, it was a very abstract creation and entirely based on my subjective experience of motherhood on the receiving end.

But it wasn't until years later (when she finally visited me in Vancouver) that I learned that besides these two distinctive aromatics (especially when they're together in the famous French pastilles, my mom also went gaga after the scent of chocolate and vanilla. That was before she lost her sense of smell, of course (Anosmia, loss of the sense of smell can become lost due to several things, such as chronic colds or sinus infections, head injuries, and trauma) but that does not stop her from enjoying the darkest, most velvety chocolate and dark chocolate sorbetto - so I was not surprised chocolate was up there on her list. But vanilla? Well, that was a surprise.

I set off to create something new in honour of my mom (and her lost sense of smell). Something that she can wear and be proud of even if she can't actually smell it. Something she can imagine herself immersed in, no matter what mood strikes (Cancers are infamous for their mood swings!). Something a little simpler and more down-to-earth, not as artsy as Indigo, but still will appeal to the Bohemian princess that my mom is...

And the name came first - a lady's name, perhaps her stage name, but still with an unmistakable first name and surname - but that still alludes directly to what she smells like. Violets and chocolate are the core of this fragrance. The violet is magnified to make her almost larger-than-life with supporting notes of leathery cassie and creamy orris butter. The leathery aspect of cassie is then alluded to in the tobacco leaf as well. Instead of tarragon, there's a tarragon absolute in the mix, which is more confectionery and multi-faceted than aniseed. Deer's tongue absolute makes the vanilla feel even more edible and sweet, yet still adds a certain leafy quality that mirrors the tarragon absolute's hints of green.

Fragrance Families: Floral Ambery (Floriental), Floral Powdery, Oriental Ambery

Top notes: Bergamot , Ginger Lily
Heart notes: Violet Leaf, Japanese Rose, Jasmine Egypt, Orris Root, Rose Absolute (Turkey),  
Base notes: Cocoa Absolute, Cassie , Deer's Tongue (Liatrix), Tabac Blond, Patchouli, Tarragon Absolute, Vanilla Absolute

Violetta Cacao is the olfactory manifestation of boho-chich: violet's fickle ionones tease and tempt and decadent cacao and vanilla are supported by notes of buttery orris, sweet tarragon and liatrix. The resulting perfume is an unconventional indulgence with a regal twist (violets are often associated with royalty). Dab some on and feel like a bohemian princess!

* Note: Violetta Cacao will be only available during the month of May, to celebrate Mother's Day.

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Monday, May 05, 2014

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Happy 5th of May to those of you celebrating Mexican culture and heritage today!
There are such distinctive aromatics associated with Mexico's vibrant culture, that I've decided to put together a few notes about key ingredients, scents and flavours and combinations that are unique to Mexico.

Cumin - or Cumino in Spanish (Cuminum cyminum) is a seed from a plant from the Umbelliferae or else known as Apiaceae family (related to anise, fennel, carrot - among others) with a unique scent of cuminaldehyde that gives its distinct oily-sweaty personality. It's taste is a little bitter and pungent when unroasted, and nutty and more delicate when roasted, pan-fried or toasted before cooking with it. It's an inseparable part of many Mexican stews such as chilli, re-fried beans, salsa and more. Now, cumin is not exactly unique to Mexican cuisine - but how it is used is: combined with substantial, hearty falvours such as chocolate and vanilla in bean dishes, or sprinkled together with raw onion and freshly chopped peppers, tomatoes and tomatillas - this is a very distinctive way of experiencing this musky seed.

Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) - isn't it interesting that both vanilla and chocolate originate in Mexico? This magical orchid produces a fruit only if pollinated by a tiny bee that is native to North America. Therefore, at first the plantations in other tropical islands (such as Madagascar, now the largest producer of vanilla) were grown. Vanilla anywhere else but in Mexico requires hand-pollination, which is meticulous, and is one of the main reasons why vanilla is so expensive. Mexican vanilla is different from other crops, having a very rich, full-bodied flavour that is more fruity and smooth than its almost woody Madagascar specimens. And vanilla from Tahiti is a different orchid altogether (Vanilla tahitensis), and also grows in Papua New Guinea - resulting in an even sweeter, more powdery profile (due to the presence of heliotropine). What's unusual about vanilla in Mexican cuisine is that it's used in savoury dishes, (see below), not just sweet ones. It may sound a bit weird at first as we're so used to vanilla being equal to dessert. But it has a very deep flavour, and if blended with the right elements will enhance most flavours, really. Try using it in bean stew or soup, and taste for yourself!

No wonder Cacao (Theobrema cacao) had its own god in the Aztec mythology. It's got such a powerful unique flavour, aroma and texture - at once earthy, buttery, smooth, bitter... The Aztecs made an elixir of cacao cooked with vanilla and spiced with chilli as a ritual energy drink that was used ritually (and mostly by royalty). Cacao adds vigour, passion and depth. In Mexican cuisine, it's added to bean dishes. Inspired by Mexican cuisine, I make a "Chocolate Soup" which is basically a black bean soup with cumin, chilli, vanilla, raw sugar and sun dried tomatos. Sometimes I add a bay leaf or two for extra spice, or a small piece of cinnamon bark. This balancing act between savoury and sweet, salty and bitter was captured perfectly in the wonderfully addictive perfume Anima Dulcis, where cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon,

Lime (Citrus limetta) is an unusual citrus, with both woody accents (from pinene) and milky, almost coconutty notes (from the coumarin). Again, it's that particular type of citrus - as opposed to the usual lemon, that sets off the other flavours and gives them a unique character. I've tasted plenty of cumin before - say, in a beet salad, with plenty of lemon juice; but that lime (and raw onion...) take it to a different world. The New World, perhaps?

And then there's Tequila: I'm certainly not a fan, but there is something to be said about the peculiar clash between salty and citrusy-fresh that's present in Jo Malone's weird Blue Agave & Cacao. Is a bit of an oddball - mingling the illusion of saltiness with a dusting of cocoa, and a full squeeze of lime.

Cilantro is usually what we refer to as coriander leaf (Coriandrum sativum) but in fact is the Spanish word for coriander. It is yet another flavourful Umbelliferae, with many versatile uses in cuisines around the world. The seeds don't seem to be used in Mexican food as much as the leaves - those are chopped up and added to fresh or cooked salsas, and complements the oiliness of avocados in guacamole. It's also goes extremely well with fish, setting off the fishy aspects with more vibrant and fragrant counterpoint. The aroma of cilantro leaf is a little green and at the same time soapy. Some swear by it, others can't get any near it. In perfume it has a rare use though the essential oil has the vibrant green qualities of the fresh leaf and are very appealing from a perfumer's point of view - it's hard to bypass the polarizing reaction and strong culinary association that it tends to elicit. 

Flor de Jamaica is the popular name in Mexico for the flowers of hibiscus commonly called Roselle that is native to West Africa (Hibiscus sabdariffa). Both warm and chilled tisanes are made from it, and are very popular year around. In the winter, they provide protective vitamin C against colds, and in the summertime they are a cooling, tart beverage like lemonade. It also reduces blood pressure. If you want to enjoy hibiscus flowers in a unique way, pay a visit to O5 Tea Bar, where they will serve you candied hibiscus buds to go with your tea; and Terra Breads bakery or cafe for a memorable bite at their tart and vibrantly red hibiscus macaron!

Choisya (Choisya ternata) aka "Aztec Pearl", Mock Orange or Mexican Orange is an evergreen shrub from the rue family, that blooms copiously between April and June.The flowers contain a simple anthranilate which gives it a scent not unlike orange blossom - though also with underscores of vanilla or heliotropine. There was a wonderful candle by Diptyque with a Choisya scent.

Tagetes, aka Aztec Marigold (Tagetes erecta) is called in Mexico "flor de muertos" (Flower of the Dead) and is planted in cemeteries and used in rituals and ceremonies on November 2nd, which is Day of the Dead (Dias de los muertos). Interestingly, it is associated with death in several other cultures such as Honduras. The flower's intensely yellow-orange colour is due to the presence of sulfur in some of its compounds. The sulfur also gives it interesting medicinal qualities against several types of airborne germs, making it particularly effective for various skin infections (dermatitis, acne, rashes and more). In sustainable and traditional agriculture, planting marigolds next to certain plants (for example - tomatoes) will protect them from nematode pests as well as aphids. Marigold flowers also taste delicious in salads, along with tomatoes, lemon, olive oil and green onions. Marigold rarely find its way into perfume composition - at least not as a major player (except for in Liz Zorn's now defunct Chrysalis). There is a hint of it in Obsession, though. It's a peculiar note with opening note of green apples and pheromones, and that fades later into dried hay and herbs scent. It mostly finds use in flavouring to add a natural fruity nuance.

Tuberose is also native to Mexico, and the Aztecs called it Omixochitl (Bone Flower). This relative of the narcissus flower has tuberous bulby roots (the name has no connection to rose, and neither does the scent), and like the Choisya, it also owes much of its unique scent profile to methyl anthranilate, as well as salicylates (which give it a medicinal character) and paracresyl methyl ether which gives it an animalic, almost leathery quality. 

Capsicum is the chemical that gives peppers their heat. And in Mexico there isn't just one type of "hot pepper" - there are myriads of them, from the milder poblano peppers which lose most of their heat in cooking but leave a wonderfully deep pepper flavour behind; jalapenos, and smoked-dried jalapenos (aka chipotle) to the lava-heat of serrano peppers - enough to burn a hole in your tongue! Peppers also have a unique aroma, not as sharp as it's other nightshady sister the tomato, but still recognizable. Paprika Brasil did not do it justice; but I've been always intrigued by how it was presented in l'Artisan Parfumer's Poivre Piquant.

My own interpretation of the rich flavours and textures of Mexico's cuisine seems to only scrap the surface of this rich culture full of intriguing aromatics. In Lime & Cacao limited edition OOAK perfume: Contrasting colours of lime green against deep brown are the centre of this playful fresh gourmand. Inspired by the Mexican way of treating chocolate, Lime & Cacao is more piquant than sweet and balances the richness of South American balsams with zesty lime and mineral and melancholic Blue Cypress from Australia.

I'm now inspired to create something with unusual note combination such as marigold, orange blossom, tuberose, vanilla and hibiscus. Hmm...

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Wet Garden

Fragrance Garden by Ayala Moriel

It's been a wet day in Vancouver yesterday, but that didn't stop us from visiting the Fragrance Garden and White Garden at VanDussen and run a three-and-a-half hours course on the relationship between plants and perfume, the sense of smell, and a little bit about distillation process and perfume history.

Thank you for everyone who attended this class - it was so wonderful to have a diverse group of curious minds that are passionate about plants and aromatics. My next class at VanDussen will be dedicated to The Rose - aka the queen of perfume. It will take place June 22nd, 10:30-12:30pm, followed by VanDussen's annual rose show!

Join me then in the Rose Garden for two hours of exploring the subtle varieties of rose scents (and colours, sizes and shapes!). We will learn about the difference between European and Asian roses, distillation and extraction process of roses (plus photos from my trip to Grasse!), the main constituents of rose oil and absolute, and of course smell some classical rosy perfumes by some of the most renown perfumers in the world (i.e.: Sophie Grojsman, Jean-Paul Guerlain, Isabelle Doyen, Jean-Claude Elena, Christopher Sheldrake, Ralf Schweiger and more) who created timeless classics such as Nahema, Lipstick Rose, 100% Love, Bvlgari pour Femme - as well as from my own collection

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Friday, May 02, 2014

Dull, Samey Rubbish

"So dull are today’s creations that the fragrance du jour may as well be called Ubiquity Pour Homme – a concoction that is everywhere, smells like everything else and is characterised by a top note of predictability, a heart note of safety and a base note of utter blandness. Oh, and pink pepper and something sweet and vanillary for good measure. Wear it and you’ll smell like every other man in the street". 
- Lee Kynaston on "Why are the no great men's fragrances any more?" in The Telegraph.  

And the following pretty much sums it up:
"Yep, right behind that short-lived, generic-smelling fragrance you just bought is another – almost identical – one just waiting to be assigned a name and allocated a designer".