WASH ‘EM CLEAN

Long Live Fluffy Towel
And Toothpowder
And Fragrant Soap
And Fine-toothed Comb!
Let’s wash and slosh,
Bathe, dive and tumble
In basins, in bathtubs,
In ocean and river,
Always and everywhere
Hurray for Water!

As an epigraph I used loosely translated closing verses of Moydodyr – the poem for children by Russian poet Korney Chukovsky published in 1923. Moydodyr (Wash’em’clean) is an anthropomorphic washstand, a self-proclaimed commander of other washstands and sponges, who teaches an untidy boy (and the readers) “the virtue of hygiene“.

Mojdodyir

I doubt that in my childhood there were too many kids who didn’t read that poem or watched the cartoon. As Wikipedia correctly states, “Moydodyr character became a symbol of cleanliness.” But I must say that for the country, several generations of which grew up on this poem, we were quite unwashed masses. I’ll spare you horror stories about hygiene norms and routines from those times: hopefully, many of those are left in the past. But I want to share some of the less detestable but rather peculiar memories. Soaps.

I don’t know how it was in early 20s when the poem was written, but by 80s books were probably the only source of fragrant soap. Soap produced in the USSR was mostly functional but not something that would bring joy to any of your senses: usually it was a rectangular bar of some undefined light color and, if you were lucky, a faint unpleasant scent. I suspect that my dislike of natural/organic/handmade soaps has a root in those childhood memories.

Soviet Fir Soap

In today’s economy whenever I read in a product’s description “Imported”, I immediately assume that it’s a euphemism for “Made in China” so in my mind it’s a disparaging attribute: had it been a “respectable” producer, it would have been named specifically – “Made in Germany/France/Italy/the U.S./etc.” Faceless “imported” usually means “a country where labor is cheap and quality is corresponding.” But when I was growing up that property had the opposite effect: it would immediately raise the status of the item. “Imported X” was universally considered of a better quality and more desirable than locally produced X. “Imported shoes”, “imported furniture” and “imported soap” are just a few examples. Usually it didn’t even matter from where those were imported (unless it was perfume, in which case it had to be French).

If anybody was lucky enough to get them, those fragrant, perfectly molded and beautifully packaged representatives of remote civilizations “imported” soaps would usually lead a life of leisure surrounded by the finest things… in underwear drawers staying there for years – until finally making a guest appearance in the bathroom. I mean, appearance for some special guests – and only after that fulfilling their utilitarian destiny.

The situation with soaps (and other imports) had significantly improved even before I left for the U.S. Camay, Palmolive, Nivea and dozens of other soap bar brands came into our lives and became something mundane and ordinary – just like it should be. And since I haven’t lived there for a long time, I don’t know if the next spiral of craziness (all-natural, artisan and such) has reached them already.

But even now and here it’s hard to get rid of old habits: almost three years have passed from the time Rusty and I demonstrated to you the wonderful linden-scented bar until I let the first drop of water touch it. It still smells nice but I think it dried out a little while waiting for its show time.

Linden Soap And Rusty

Amouage Dia soap ended up in my stash by chance: there was a closeout sale at the online store and I just couldn’t pass on a great deal. For the last couple of years I was trying to decide when the time would be right to start using it: it’s so luxurious that it felt wasteful to open it without a special occasion. Well… It’s still in its original cellophane.

Rusty and Amouage Dia

I wanted to see what Rusty thought of the Dia soap’s scent. I’m not positive but does it look to you like he’s trying to show me the proper way of cleaning myself without a soap?

A Simple Equation Or In the Search for the Perfect Rose

I deadened
The sounds, dissected music like a corpse,
Proved harmony by algebra. And then,
Then only did I dare, with all my lore,
Yield to the bliss of my creative fancy.
A. Pushkin, Mozart and Salieri

In celebration of this Valentine’s Day I brought you a bouquet of the rose stories. They all can be described by a simple linear equation:
Ax + ByWhere x is “a single rose stem” and y is “a colored glass container.” Changing parameters A and B I got three different results.

Ax + By = A Genetic Mystery

One of the rose bushes in my grandmother’s garden bloomed with big dark red flowers with velvety petals. They had a very light and unremarkable aroma but were extremely beautiful and, judging by the reaction of grown-ups, very rare. I don’t remember seeing anywhere else such roses. Or apples, apricots, cherries, tomatoes and many other agricultural wonders. It was a matter of fact that most of my classmates, who was growing in the big city without any relatives in villages or smaller towns, had never seen fruits or vegetables of that quality. But as a child I had never thought of how it came that my grandparents, who lived in a small town in a single family house with some land, had the best produce in the neighborhood where everybody grew those plants – I just was very proud of it. Now I realize that they both were big enthusiasts who were actively seeking good cultivars for plants they wanted to grow and spent a lot of time taking care of them. It was their hobby and they did it in addition to their regular jobs – he was a plant foreman and she was a surgical nurse. And probably thanks to their avocation, unlike many kids, I grew up loving fruits. But I was talking about roses.

As many beautiful things are, this rose was very fickle: it didn’t want to propagate through the cuttings. It didn’t reject the idea outright but it never produced the offspring of the same deep color. From everything I know about this method, it shouldn’t have happened but I saw it once with my own eyes and heard my grandmother’s neighbors and friends’ complaints that their new roses weren’t the same as on my grandmother’s rosebush. Of course, they didn’t grow to be yellow roses with divine scent but you would not be confused that they came from another bush. The picture below is the closest to the color I remember but the shape was different.

Dark Red Rose

A = “dark red”, B = “painted mason jar”: “A single stem of the dark red rose from Grandma’s bush under a painted mason jar” = an unexplainable evolution phenomenon.

Perfume to match: Amouage Lyric. When I wear this perfume I think of the beautiful and capricious rose that I saw last several decades ago and still remember. I wonder if a bottle in RL has that nice deep red color as on pictures. I think it’ll look nice on my shelf…

 

Ax + By = Lesson Learned

The second variety that grew in Grandma’s garden was a Tea Rose. Whereas it didn’t look as gorgeous as the whimsical dark red one it smelled wonderful and I remember it being used in conserves and home-made liqueurs. Have you ever tried rose petal conserve? The taste is nice but not too interesting: it is mainly sugar syrup with rose flavor. But the texture is very unusual: petals get soft during the cooking but they keep some residual firmness. Natural home-made rose petal conserves have light amber color and taste better than they look.

If instead of cooking rose petals were left to ferment (I saw the process many times but was too little to remember the sequence of adding water and sugar) and later fortified with alcohol, the result was a very tasty and beautiful dark-pink colored liqueur. I was allowed to taste some before Grandma would add alcohol.

One of the first perfume experiences in my life was using rose oil. I don’t remember if it was available where I lived but in the smaller town where I spent summers at my grandparents’ you could buy a tiny 1 ml vials on a card with Bulgarian Rose Oil. It wasn’t too expensive: I think you could have it for the price of two ice cream cones. But one can be expected to forfeit only that many ice cream cones…

Tea rose in the garden smelled very similar to the last drop of the rose oil in my vial and since I observed my grandmother’s dealing with all those petals – how hard could it be to make my own perfume?! I picked the most scent rich flower from the bush, tore off the petals, put them in a small cobalt glass jar (somehow I knew that it shouldn’t be transparent) and left for several days to steep. It smelled rather nice during the first day and I had high hopes for the end product… When a week later my grandmother explained (as much as she could – I was 10) the disappointing result of my experiment and bought me another rose oil vial, she allowed me to throw away the jar without trying to clean it. It was the last time in my life when I experimented with making my own perfumes.

Lancome Mille et Une Roses

A = “tea rose”, B = “cobalt glass jar”: “tea rose steeped for a week in a cobalt glass jar” = I still love blue bottles but will stick to buying “ready-to-wear” perfumes.

Perfume to match: Lancôme Mille et Une Roses. Many years ago a friend shared with me a decant of this perfume. She said it wasn’t as good as the original 2000 et Une Rose but I liked it. Since then I’ve added a bottle to my collection. The color of the juice mesmerizes me and even though real blue color is unobtainable for the roses (we won’t count dyed white ones or genetically engineered with blueish hue), the beautiful peppery rose of Mille et Une Roses doesn’t smell artificial.

Ax + By = An Improvised Holiday Decoration

When moving overseas with limited luggage allowance one has to choose carefully what to pack and what to leave behind. Among other things, bringing which was completely out of question, were vases with which I grew up. Those were massive cut crystal vases that alone would have sent our suitcases into the excess baggage category.

When it’s your first apartment in the new country and you need to buy pots and pans and plates and cutlery and bedding and … everything, vases aren’t high on the list. So at least for the first several years the only vases I had were those free ones that came with premade bouquets. One day when I came across Moselland Cat Bottle Riesling, I bought two bottles – white and black – just for bottles themselves. Wine was perfectly drinkable (back then, I’m not sure if I would think so today) and bottles moved with me as we changed apartments.

Rose in a Cat Vase

With A = “red” and B = “white cat bottle” you get “red rose in a white cat bottle” – a romantic single rose bouquet, which is good for any occasion but especially for Valentine’s Day. A = “black artificial” and B = “black cat bottle” result in the perfect Halloween decoration.

Perfume to match: Les Parfums de Rosine Rose d’Amour. It is not a big favorite in the Perfumeland, you’ll find maybe a couple of reviews and those aren’t too glowing. But I loved it the first time I smelled it in the store, tested it for a while, bought a bottle six months later (which is really fast for me) and enjoy wearing it almost every time I put it on (it doesn’t work in hot humid weather).

There are many other rose perfumes that I like and wear so one day I’ll add their stories to the bouquet. What about you? Do you have any rose [perfume] stories to share?

 

Images: dark red rose from here, all others my own.

Brand Loyalty

When asked: “What does winter mean to you?” (for example, recently on Puredistance’s FB page in the post for their Winter Photography Contest), people publish picturesque photos and mention travels, holidays and winter perfumes. I also published a scenic picture but my answer was: Winter is a beauty I prefer to experience for a couple of days per year on short trips from the warm (and hopefully rainy) Northern California.

Winter in Tahoo

The last two winters that I spent in my native country were awful. The combination of the bad weather and an energy crisis made living extremely hard. Central heating system managed to maintain radiators warm enough not to freeze and burst – but not much beyond that. It was constantly cold. Everywhere.

We would wake up in the cold apartment in the morning, dress up in the kitchen with a couple of gas stove burners on. 15-minutes’ walk in cold and wind to the bus stop, 15 minutes in a freezing bus, 30 minutes in a slightly warmer subway, then another 10-minutes’ walk to the office. We would sit each next to an oil heater, but the heat from all the computers, radiators and our bodies wasn’t a match to the concrete office building with large one pane windows. In the evening another hour something back. Those last 15 minutes against the wind were especially torturous: you could complain, swear or cry but you had to walk, there was nothing you could have done on that last stretch. And all that was to get to the cold apartment (lucky if it wasn’t our turn for the rotating power outage). The only place I felt warm was under the blankets.

By the second winter we bought an expensive but very useful space heater. It had two-in-one combination – a smaller fan heater and a bigger and more powerful oil radiator. That winter I’d got a nasty bronchitis and, I know it sounds melodramatic, but I felt that this heater saved me: I would close the door and heat the room in which I stayed in bed – and I’d got better. And then it was Spring and by Fall we moved to California, where I never have to experience that cold again. But I brought here with me my gratitude to DeLonghi – the company that made the heater.

For the last many years in winter I heat my bedroom with an oil radiator heater and a smaller space heater makes my morning showers more comfortable. The coffee grinder I bought more than ten years ago still is a part of my weekend Turkish coffee ritual. All these appliances are made by DeLonghi. And every time we’re looking for something for our house, we always check if our favorite brand makes that. Like the coffee maker we bought earlier this year.

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While there is no perfume brand that I could claim saved my life, there is a brand to which I feel a strange loyalty. Amouage. As I’ve mentioned before in the post “My” brand and “not my” brand, seven of Amouage perfumes were in my very first order of samples and five of those became my favorites. Currently Amouage is the only brand, for testing perfumes from which I still pay.

My Perfume Portrait lists 10 Amouage perfumes. Only Jo Malone beats that number (but it was my entry niche brand and it’s much more accessible and affordable); all other big brands – Chanel, Dior, Guerlain and Serge Lutens – have a smaller presence in there.

Ubar is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a perfume I’d put in any of my Top N lists and take to a desert island. Memoir is the second Amouage bottle in my collection. The other eight are samples and decants but I see at least a couple of bottles in my future: Lyric, Gold and Dia are very close contenders for the next full bottle spot and it will be decided based on a coin toss which decant I use up first.

Amouage Memoir

Whenever I read about new Amouage release, horde of invisible lemmings immediately haul my wallet to me. There were some recent releases that didn’t work for me (most of the Library Collection, Honour, Interlude and Journey just weren’t my perfumes). But every time I hope the new one will be even more amazing than everything else I’ve previously tried. Because Amouage is “my” brand and I feel loyal towards it (and it’s not that easy to resist when those lemmings start clanging tiny tin cups against the bars).

Garfield 11-28-1997

What brands do you feel loyal to – perfume makers or any other?

 

Images: all but the last one my own

Entertaining Statistics: January 2014

 

I know how it sounds to the most of my readers but I have to say it: we had an unpleasantly warm January. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy the light jacket weather as much as the next freezing east coaster would but we really need at least some rain. And +22˚C (71˚F) isn’t a normal temperature for this month even in our region. So now I can’t even pretend that it’s winter and time to wear my winter perfumes.

For this month’s statistics post I asked you to name five niche brands that, in their opinion, are in the “need to know” category for anybody who’s interested in perfumes. I asked the same question in one of the perfume groups on Facebook.

29 people participated on FB and 19 in the blog. 49 brands were named, 26 of them more than once.

Since I know that some people participated both here and there I thought of splitting results by the source but it didn’t change the outcome: both groups, as well as the total, returned the same set of 5 brands, just in slightly different order (numbers in parenthesis – places FB/Blog):

Serge Lutens (1/1)

L’Artisan Parfumeur (4/2)

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle (2/3)

Amouage (3/4)

Parfumerie Générale (5/5)

Stats January 2014

The chart above shows actual number of votes for the top 10 recommended brands. From my original list only Ormonde Jayne didn’t make the cut and moved to the sixth place. I need to get more samples from Parfumerie Générale line and see why it made it to the fifth place.

Out of 52 perfumes I wore or tested in January 17 perfumes were from 5 out of these 10 brands. What was unusual: this month I tried only five perfumes for the first time. Did you come across anything interesting this year?

Rusty had nothing to do with any of the numbers but he has to requite all the compliments he got in the previous post – even without appearing in it! These are pictures of him with perfumes from the “need to know” list.

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Images: my own

N Niche Perfume Brands You Need to Know Right Now

 

Don’t ask me how but a couple of months ago I came across the article 20 Niche Perfume Brands You Need to Know Right Now. As it usually happens, while reading somebody else’s list of anything on a subject you’re interested in, I agreed with some of the choices, disagreed with others and thought of additional nominees. And then I started working on my list and realized that 20 were too many. Not because I can’t easily come up with at least three times as many brands but because even at 20 one starts including brands that are just personal favorites, do not exactly fit the definition or those that are so tiny that position on the list is too big for them.

So I decided to come up with my personal list of five brands. In my selection process I used the following considerations:

  1. The brand should be a true stand-alone brand, not a private/limited/boutique line of a big brand (so not Guerlain, Chanel, Dior or Hermes) or a spin-off under a bigger parent’s umbrella (Tom Ford and Jo Malone are out too).
  2. The brand should have enough perfumes in their range to potentially work for different people (so as much as I love Neela Vermeire Creations or respect vero profumo and Puredistance, these lines are too young to get a spot in the short “must” list).
  3. Brands should be available for testing (directly or through online services) both in the U.S. and Europe (so no tiny artisan brands for this list).

Five Brands

My list of Five Niche Brands You Need to Know (with a brief description of why – not for my regular readers but for future visitors who find my blog through some unexpected searches, e.g. “lily of the valley+cat”):

Serge Lutens (http://www.sergelutens.com/) is probably the ultimate niche perfume brand. It’s bold, unconventional but at the same time still perfumes that you want to wear and not just test, analyze and review. Kafka (Kafkaesque) covered the topic of Serge Lutens – both a persona and a brand – extensively and I urge you to read Part I and Part II of her story.

*

Amouage (http://www.amouage.com/) is an epitome of opulence, luxury and quality. These rich and mostly classic perfumes won’t suit everybody in the modern sheer-smelling world but the brand is worth knowing even just for educational purposes to see how perfumes can be anti-minimalistic and not transparent. Watch four short videos on now smell this in which Christopher Chong, creative director of Amouage, talks about perfume and the brand.

*

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle (http://www.fredericmalle.com/) is the first brand ever to put a perfumer’s name on a bottle. In the world in which a scent IP doesn’t exist it was a huge step towards promoting a creator, an artist and not a money purse. Read Natalie’s (Another Perfume Blog) interview with Frédéric Malle. (UPD: APB is closed now)

*

L’Artisan Parfumeur‘s (http://www.artisanparfumeur.com) perfumes might be not the most innovative (though over years they’ve created some very unusual perfumes) but very wearable, so it is a perfect starter house for anybody who wants to venture from the mainstream perfume market into the niche one. Read Luca Turin’s L’Artisan Parfumeur 30 years later for the tidbits of the house’s history.

*

Ormonde Jayne (http://www.ormondejayne.com/) has a whole line-up of very likable and distinct perfumes at reasonable (for modern niche market) prices. Ormonde Jayne’s perfumes smell modern and classic at the same time. Read a very warm and personable interview with Linda Pilkington by Sigrun (Riktig Parfym) and a recent Andrew Buck’s (Scentrist) chat with her for more information about the brand.

 

So these are my choices of the “need to know” niche perfume brands. Give me your five choices. Do not try to purposefully complement my list: if you agree with all or some of my choices – say so; but feel free to change any or even all brands if you have a different answer to my the question. I’ll try to do something with all the answers for my January statistics post.

 

Image: my own

“My” brand and “not my” brand

 

As I was updating My Perfume Portrait I looked closer at my favorite perfumes from the brands prospective.

In my pre-perfumista life I didn’t even think about brands. I would try all new mainstream perfumes, no matter who’d created them, choose those I wanted to get immediately and those for which I would wait to buy online discounted. Over years I wore Dior, Givenchy, Yves Rocher, Elizabeth Arden and YSL. I might have owned a couple of perfumes from the same brand at the same time but I’m not sure.

The first brand I recognized as such was Jo Malone. I can’t say that all of their perfumes immediately became my favorites but I kept finding more and more perfumes I liked and wanted to wear. Even today Jo Malone’s perfumes dominate my collection with at least 2:1 ratio to any other most popular brands.

Jo Malone in my collection

But while the number of bottles might be a sufficient condition to qualify a brand as “my“, it’s not a necessary one. Taking into the account prices of modern niche perfumes as well as bottle sizes and the size of my collection, a couple of samples or a small decant sometimes is all I need to enjoy the perfume I like. And sometimes I simply have the feeling that the brand is just right for me.

Do you remember how it was for you in the beginning? For me it was an enormous amount of information – names, notes, perfumers and brands.  The first brand I consciously approached three years ago, when I was just starting my voyage into the unknown world of niche perfumery, was Amouage. My first samples order consisted of seven perfumes from the brand; five of them were hits. Amouage is one of “my” brands ever since – even though I can’t add all the perfumes I like to my collection as full bottles.

Rusty and Amouage Memoir

Among other brands that I consider in the same category (not counting new(er) brands with less than five perfumes in the line) are Ormonde Jayne,  Annick Goutal, Atelier Cologne, Tom Ford, Chanel and Dior (exclusive lines from the last two). I do not love or want to wear all of the perfumes from these lines but on average these brands create more perfumes that I (at least) like. These are “my” brands.

On the other end of spectrum there are brands, work of which I respect, find interesting and sometimes even love but in general I feel like those brands are “not my.” By Kilian, Guerlain, Tauer Perfumes, Serge Lutens or Frederic Malle are good examples of such brands. Even though I own several bottles and decants from all these brands, their perfumes don’t work for me more often than they do.

Perfume bottles

If you were to name just two brands – one that is totally you and one that mostly leaves you cold – what would those be?

 

Images: my own

Entertaining Statistics: September, 2012

 

September was warm and pleasant but autumn is already in the air: I start looking at the direction of favorite amber perfumes.

I was swapping a lot of samples with Perfumeland friends so between that and several new releases from favorite brands my testing went up significantly. I included some of the personal stats in the post but this month I decided again to entertain you with some calculations I ran based on Birgit’s (Olfactoria’s Travels) recent Bottle of the Month article (and a generous giveaway). She asked participants to name a favorite flower and a perfume based on it. Picture below is a graphical representation of the choices.

Favorite flowers in perfumes

For those who prefers numbers (flower – number of votes): Rose – 20; Tuberose – 11; Jasmine – 10; Iris – 10 (it was my choice and it correlates to my personal stats numbers for notes below); Lily – 7; Gardenia – 7; Orange blossom – 4; Lilac – 3; Osmanthus – 3; Lily-of-the-valley – 3; Violet – 2; Narcissus – 2; Hyacinth – 2; Tulip – 2; Carnation – 2; other flowers – 11.

 

Quick September stats:

Numbers in parenthesis are comparison to the previous month’s numbers.

* Different perfumes worn1: 25 (+3) from 18 (+5) brands on 29 (+4) occasions;

* Different perfumes tested252 (+28) from 25 (+10) brands on 60 (+33) occasions;

* Perfumes I tried for the first time: 22 (+13);

* Perfume house I wore most often: Guerlain;

* Perfume house I tested the most: Dior and Guerlain;

* Most popular notes (only from perfumes I chose to wear): top – (not counting bergamot) neroli, galbanum and orange; middle – (not counting rose and jasmine) iris root and ylang ylang (stays
the same for the last several months
); base – musk, vetiver and sandalwood;

 

Are you surprised by the choices others made for a favorite flower?

 

1 For the testing I apply a perfume to one area on my arms easily available for the repetitive sniffing. But, most likely, I’m the only one who can smell it. I can test two, sometimes even more perfumes at the same time.

2 When I wear a perfume I apply it to at least three-four points and usually I plan to spend at least 4-8 hours with the same scent so I’m prepared to re-apply if the original application wears off.

 

Image: my own