Scent Semantics #6: VERNAL

Today is the sixth episode of the collaboration of six bloggers: Portia (A Bottled Rose), Elena (The Plum Girl), Sheila (Alembicated Genie), Daisy (eau là là !), Old Herbaceous (Serenity Now Scents and Sensibilities) and Undina (Undina’s Looking Glass). Because of all the events happening in Ukraine, I missed the fifth episode – even though it was my word, and I have a story to tell! Maybe I’ll do it anyway later. And this month I’m a little late, but I decided to do it. Hopefully, by now you’ve read all other participating blogs (I haven’t yet – will do now) and still don’t mind to check out one more take on the topic.Scent Semantics Project Banner

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This month’s word is: VERNAL

This month’s word surprised me: after more than two decades in the US, I didn’t have it not only in my active vocabulary but even in the passive one. Considering its quite mundane (though poetic) meaning, I’m amazed I haven’t come across it until now. A small consolation: Google search returns 4.6B of results for “spring” and just 15.9M for “vernal.”

As I was thinking about what that word means to me (after checking its meaning), I started thinking of Spring and remembering how it was back when I was experiencing it. I realized that living in an almost unvarying climate, while I do not miss Winter or cold weather, I miss that longing for the end of Winter and happiness from watching the Spring awakening of nature from the frozen sleep.

In my childhood and adolescent years, winter clothes that most of us got to wear were ugly. Those for adults usually weren’t much better, but at least theoretically better choices existed. But for the ages until late teenage years, those clothes weren’t something one would look forward to wearing. So, at first glimpses of Spring sun, we were eager to start taking off at least hats and scarves or maybe even putting on something less bulky and shapeless. And since by that time our immune systems were suffering from the lack of sun (read vitamin D3) and almost complete absence of fruits and vegetables (we won’t count potato, onions and beets, will we?), oftentimes that combination was enough to bring us down with a cold or flu.

Getting outside after a week spent in bed was magical: you could see and feel how Spring had sprung while you weren’t watching. And then, with every next day, Spring was claiming more and more territory with warmer days, longer days, young foliage and of course blossoms and flowers.

And if the early Spring days (those pre-flu ones) mean tender snowdrops, shy mimosa and timid daffodils, real, “full-fledged” Spring came with lavish lilac bushes.

One other drawback of not having cold weather in our area is that lilac grows here very reluctantly. In decades of living here, I saw a couple of sparse bushes in gardens and bought three or four bouquets of lilacs – far more expensive and smaller than what I used to see in my childhood.

Last weekend, while still playing with the word of the month in my head, for the first time while living in the US, I saw a white lilac bouquet. That was my vernal moment! And I immediately thought of a very fitting perfume for it.

Ineke After My Own Heart

After My Own Heart by Ineke is the first perfume in their Alphabet line. Notes: bergamot, raspberry, green leaves, lilac, sandalwood, heliotrope and musk. When I tested it the first time… 11 years ago, I thought it was nice, but I didn’t love it: the lilac seems too simple and soapy. My first discovery set went off at some point, so I had just my memory of how that perfume smelled. But recently I got a fresh sample set (with the purchase of Field Notes From Paris for my father), so I was able to revisit After My Own Heart.

After My Own Heart is a beautiful lilac, still slightly soapy in the opening, but this time it didn’t bother me much. It is a lush, warm, slightly green and quite a realistic lilac. It smells stronger than my small white lilac bouquet in my bedroom. And seeing that bouquet while wearing After My Own Heart conjures that feeling of happiness from the Spring that has finally arrived to stay.

 

Image: my own

Feeling Li-lucky

I want to start with the story that was told to me by a friend who came to the US a couple of years before we did. In the first year of living here, when not only one’s vocabulary and pronunciation but also lack of familiarity with mundane things make communications with locals difficult for both parties, one evening while buying something at a grocery store, my friends asked the cashier:

– Do you sell XXXXXXX?
– What?
– Do you sell XXXXXXX?
– Sorry, I don’t understand…
– I need these things to light up a cigarette.
– Ah, you mean < XXXXXXX>… You need to go to the Customer Service.

As you have probably guessed, my friend was trying to buy matches. He swears that the way that clerk pronounced it was, to his ear, exactly the same way he asked. Since then that “Ah, you mean “matches” became an internal joke we use every time we find ourselves in a similar situation.

If you were wondering why I shared this story with you – I was trying to explain the title. When it came to me (the play on words “lilac” and “luck” that, to my ear, sounded similar enough to use them like that), I was positive somebody else has already used it. It wouldn’t have prevented me from doing it as well (after all, it’s just a blog, I wasn’t concerned with a copyright), but I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t a real cliché. “Feeling lilacy” returned me “whopping” 3 (three) hits. “Feeling lilac-y” produced 7, and out of the 10 combined only one person was actually referring to flowers. That brought the realization that for the native English speakers these two words don’t really have a similar auditory pattern. But since my mind had been already set on that title (it really described how I felt!), I decided to modify it even further – so that even the almighty Google gave up.

 

Rusty and Lilacs

 

Work life has been hectic and tiresomely busy for a long time now with work days quietly encroaching on evenings and weekends, so one day we just declared a day off and ran away to the close-by wine country. Just the act of ditching work to visit our favorite wineries made me feel good. Combined with warm but not hot sunny day, much better than feared traffic and good wine the feeling was promoted to ”great.” And unexpectedly coming across a bush with a very modest by the standards of those areas where this plant blossoms more willingly but still fragrant and beautiful lilac flowers elevated the status of my experience to “perfect.” I felt wonderful. I felt lucky. I felt… li-lucky.

 

Lilacs in Sonoma 2019

 

And that’s when I got the idea to do a Lilacs Week. As I was mentally choosing perfumes to wear, I was sure that those would be perfumes I previously covered in two posts of the In the Search for the Perfect Lilac series – Episode 1 and Episode 2. And partially I was right: I wore three of the perfumes that I mentioned in those posts. But to my surprise I had two more perfumes to add to the list.

Whenever lilac perfumes come into conversation, inevitably somebody mentions Jean Patou Vacances. If it’s not to lilac what Diorissimo is to lily-of-the valley exactly, it’s close to that. But Patou is one of those brands that exist somewhere in the parallel universe: I know it exists but I don’t think I saw anything but Joy or 1000 in real life. And since it’s not the most popular brand these days, I’ve never thought of seeking out any of the perfumes. But then a perfumista friend sent me a vintage mini (not sure of the age) of Vacancies. It must have been beautiful while it was younger. If to put aside the “vintage” vibe that I do not like in any perfumes, it is still beautiful. It’s more than just lilac, even though that flower supposedly plays an important role in the perfume: hyacinth, galbanum and mimosa keep it a good company. But since I’ve never knew it in its heydays, I won’t scavenge eBay for vintage treasure or even attempt to find a more modern take on that perfume. But I wish I tried it 30+ years ago.

Last weekend there was a haiku contest at the NST blog. Coincidentally, one of the commenters, Aurora, wrote a haiku about Vacances, and she allowed me to share it with my readers:

Mauve and white shower
Lilacs, sweet heralds of spring
Their scent in the breeze

Lilacis

 

Last year I got curious about Lilas de Minuit (Midnight Lilac) from DSH Perfumes – inspired by Coty’s Chypre perfume from the Flowers for Men series. I don’t remember why it attracted my attention (most likely, it was spring, and I was in a similar mood for lilacs), but I requested this sample with my order.

When I tried two lilac perfumes from DSH for the second of the posts linked to above, I thought that those were lovely but didn’t seem like a finished product. Lilas de Minuit is the opposite: the composition is so complex that I can’t really say that I can smell lilacs in it, which isn’t really surprising with everything that went into it. Notes from the brand’s site: civet, East Indian patchouli, green oakmoss, incense notes, labdanum, musk, styrax, Bulgarian rose absolute, cinnamon bark, clove bud, Damask rose absolute, grandiflorum jasmine, summer lilac, ylang ylang, bergamot, black pepper and cassis bud.

If you like chypres, give Lilas de Minuit a try, and my recommendation would be to do it when your skin is warm: this perfume blooms with the body heat. I think it should be perfect for a warm late spring or early summer night after a hot day.

 

DSH Lilas de Minuit

 

Other perfumes that I wore that week – Phaedon Rue des Lilas and Puredistance Opardu I described in my previous posts, so I won’t repeat myself since I haven’t changed my opinion about them. But one more perfume I want to mention separately even though I wrote about it before: French Lilac by Pacifica. Whoever is looking for a lilac soliflore should look no further: since lilac is not reproducible naturally (at least not in a stable form), there is no good reason for such perfume to be as expensive as some of them are; and French Lilac is unbelievably cheap while being very beautiful. And from my experience French Lilac is better from a roller ball bottle than from a spray. And it’s surprisingly tenacious, so that small bottle should satisfy periodic lilac cravings for months if not years.

 

Pacifica French Lilac

 

P.S. I’ve lived in the U.S. for many-many-many years. People who know me or work with me got used to my accent, and I often forget how difficult it is for an “untrained ear.” But just last week during my trip back into winter I was reminded about it while on the morning ride to the conference trying to tell my co-worker who I met just a day before that I was dying to get XXXXX before we start.

– To get what?

– XXXX

– Sorry, what?

– A coffee drink that you had yesterday

– Ah, latte….

 

Rusty and Lilacs

 

Images: my own

In the Search for the Perfect Lilac, Take 2

 

It has been a long time since I published the first episode in which I shared my impressions of Pur Desir de Lilas by Yves Rocher, Lilac by ElizabethW, French Lilac by Pacifica, Lilacs & Heliotrope by Soivohle, Highland Lilac of Rochester, After My Own Heart by Ineke and En Passant by Frederic Malle. Since then I bought French Lilac by Pacifica – as I planned, still haven’t got Highland Lilac and tried more lilac perfumes.

Rusty And Lilacs

Purple Lilac by DSH Perfumes and White Lilac by DSH Perfumes. They both smell quite realistically: I could clearly picture each of the flowers; purple lilac – slightly wilted, with some green; white – brighter and fresher. I like White Lilac more but both do not seem like a finished perfume.

Lilac by Demeter (2009). It’s perfect for the price I paid (~$5 for 30 ml). I don’t think it’s a perfume for adults but it makes a nice room spray: it smells good but doesn’t stay long enough to become overwhelming.

Purple Lilac (Lilas Mauve) by Yves Rocher (Annick Menardo, 2012). Last year I jumped through some hoops to get it from the U.K. since it wasn’t available yet from the U.S. website. It smells of lilacs if you smell it alone but in comparison to other lilac scents it seems too artificial. I was so disappointed that I haven’t even compared it to the other Yves Rocher’s lilac I own – Pur Desir de Lilas.

After all the testing I realized that even though I still miss lilacs and still enjoy the smell of flowers (and my ideal lilacs bouquet has only lilacs in it) I do not want to wear it as a soliflore. I like the note in perfumes but I want it to be well-mixed with other flowers. I think at least partially it’s because now I know that there is no natural lilac, this note is either created artificially or recreated using other floral notes so a single-dimensional scent seems too simple. If I ever want just it Pacific’s perfume is more than enough (I urge you to try a roll-on if you haven’t tried it yet).

Rusty And Lilacs

I was really looking forward to trying Opardu by Puredistance (Annie Buzantian, 2012): if anybody, this brand could pull off this note in a beautiful composition… I can’t say I disliked Opardu: it was very pleasant and it did start with a burst of beautiful lilacs but it didn’t wow me. After the first disappointment wore off I tested Opardu again, this time with a better response – that’s how it usually happens to me. Now I plan to try it sprayed since I suspect it might wear differently this way.

Rue des Lilas by Phaedon (Pierre Guillaume, 2011) just happened upon me. I heard something about it and spontaneously decided to buy a small decant from a split. I was pleasantly surprised by the perfume: it’s an interesting composition of wood and my two favorite nonexistent (for the perfumery purposes) flowers – lilac and lily-of-the-valley. Unlike Demeter’s or Yves Rocher’s lilac perfumes Rue des Lilas is a lilac perfume for grown-ups. My problem with this perfume is that I dislike the bottle: it reminds me of functional products. So if I decide to get more after I use up my decant I might go for the next decant.

White Lilac & Rhubarb by Jo Malone (Christine Nagel, 2012) was a strong like from the first sniff. Since it was a limited edition I had to decide quickly… I enjoy wearing it in hot weather. It’s more than just a lilac perfume: rhubarb and heliotrope add complexity and sweetness to the bouquet. I know that there is supposed to be rose in it but I can’t smell it at all (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since Jo Malone’s Red Roses turns awfully soapy on my skin). With White Lilac & Rhubarb I had one of those moments when you keep turning your head trying to figure out from where that great scent comes only to realize that it’s coming from you. I like this perfume but still can’t imagine that anbody in her right mind would pay the price currently asked for it! And it’s not even a question of how good the perfume is: it was out there for such a short period of time that I don’t know how anybody could have developed such a deep connection to it to spend $300-$500 on a 100 ml bottle. 

Rusty and Jo Malone White Lilac & Rhubarb

Do you have a favorite lilac perfume?

 

Images: my own

WTD, Episode 2.4: In the Search of the Perfect Lilac

LilacsThis year’s Lilac Festival in Highland Park in Rochester finally opened yesterday (after several days of cancellation because of rain). I decided to do a combined episode of my Yves Rocher’s weeklong test drive and single note exploration “not-a-review” for lilac scents.

I love lilacs. As in flowers. This is one of a few things that I miss from my “previous life”. Where I used to live lilacs were blooming all over the city in May. Most flowers in a panicle have just 4 petals so if you were to find a five-lobed flower you would eat it and make a wish. I do not remember either what wishes I used to make or if any of those came true but I can still remember the taste of those flowers. I bet over the years between all my friends we’d eaten more than one bush.

It’s almost impossible to come across lilacs where I live now; I saw them two times in flower shops with a price tag… around $40 for a single (and not too spectacular) small branch. I heard of a couple of places within a reasonable drive where I might see lilacs but I haven’t had a chance to check them out yet. I will.

As to the perfumes… I keep trying to find one I would like to wear but most of those where I can smell this note as a standing out one don’t play well on my skin.

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