APPOINTMENT AT TYBURN ~ Eau Sans Pareil by Penhalagon’s

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Midnight bells rang far off in the midst of London’s slumber. Wary and alone Maryanne Stewart pushed herself to walk faster past Marble Arch toward her home on Connaught Square. She was almost there.

“Stand and deliver, Madame!”

Startled by the demand in a rich ringing baritone, Maryanne turned in the fog to find that there was no one there, she was completely alone.

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The street lights on Bayswater Road glowed like warm fuzzy fireflies in the thick hanging fog. The light they shed barley made it to the sidewalk below them.  So thick was the murky night that she could barely see across the road to Hyde Park. She shivered and pulled her muffler closer to her chin and turned to walk on.

As she crossed Edgeware Road to the little traffic island a vaporous figure  emerged before her in a swirling black cap and a three cornered hat. If sky blue were flames he carried them within his eyes.  What burned there was all that was visible of his face above the black silk kerchief that covered his nose and mouth. He held two Pirlet flintlock pistols aimed right at her heart. Maryanne’s mouth flapped open to emit only a chilled gasp.

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The man took two steps toward her, lowered his guns and laughed. “I will do thee no harm Milady, nor shall I take thy coin purse or jewels. Such beauty as you hold within your face makes a beggar of any man you look upon. Believe it honest and true, I have never clapped eyes upon, nor am I likely ever again to behold such a woman as you in this life or the next.” His devilish eyes fell to her mouth. “What I will take with great pleasure and at any cost be it gold or the hangman’s noose is a kiss from those perfect lips.” He doffed his hat and gave her a courtly bow.

Maryanne looked him up and down then narrowed her eyes. “Get out of my way!”  She took a swipe at him with her tote bag and to her surprise it sliced though him creating a rolling wave of vapor which slowly and amazingly found its way back into his form  She looked from side to side to see if she were truly alone and the only person on the street to witness this apparition. A buss trundled past with only the driver on board.

The man pulled his kerchief down around his neck to reveal a face unsurpassed in the realm of male splendor. He leveled his gaze upon her and gave her a dazzling smile. “If not a kiss, then what say you to a midnight ride with me on the back of my horse Black Bess?”

“Look here Mr. Ghost, I am tired and I want to go home. Besides hasn’t anyone told you it is not only very rude to frighten people but also quite out of fashion? Now if you will excuse me?” She stepped boldly forward and walked right through him. Half a block down the street she looked back. He was gone.

Along Stanhope Place Maryanne heard the clip clop of horses hoofs. She turned her head slowly to the left. There following along on the street was the apparition and its horse, the huge beast snorted and its eyes glowed with the banked embers of hell. Black Bess no doubt.  Once again the specter doffed his hat and bowed from the saddle. Maryanne sighed and turned her nose into the air and walked on. Black Bess and her master kept pace. When she reached number 20 Connaught Square she unlocked the front door and stepped inside. As she shut the door on the street she saw that he was still astride his horse in the middle of the street, watching her house with those eyes. Incredible eyes they were she had to admit with a slight shiver and a smile to herself. That night she kept the lamp on beside her bed.

By morning she had convinced herself that the entire thing had been a dream. On her way to Selfridges for a bit of shopping  she came to the traffic island where she had seen the ghost the night before. As she waited with the morning crowd for the light to change an odd feeling came over her. She turned around. In the center of the island there was a plaque.  She had steeped over hundreds of times  without ever reading it. Round and set flush with the sidewalk it simply read: “Site of Tyburn Tree”. She covered her mouth with both hands in shock. Of course, Tyburn, the place where criminals where hung in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Among the many who swung from the three cornered gallows was the Highwayman who rode a horse called Black Bess.  What was his name? Her mind reeled as she shut her eyes and his face appeared once more before her. Of course! His name was Dick Turpin the most famous Highwayman of them all. And on this very spot, April 7, 1739 by His Majesty George II order Dick Turpin was hung untill dead.

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For the rest of her life when she walked alone Dick Turpin always gave Maryanne Stewart safe passage home. Whether she noticed him or not, she never made mention to anyone.

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*****

Olfactory artist, Beverley Bayne’s  2011 creation of Eau Sans Pareil for Penhalagon’s is sparkling if fleeting cocktail for the end of summer in a haunted garden. A watery right bright effusion of Aldehydes open the composition with a basket filled with fruits. Bitter Neroli meets up with the sweetly tart Kumquats; Mandarin oranges do their thing with the help of a whispering pineapple. More whispers of the sun on a southern slid toward autumn is found with a little cypress, pink pepper and a very light honey sweet Tagete flower.  All of this is just a momentary introduction to a great big boisterous raspberry. The opening is promising for those who are looking for a light fruity Eau de Toilette that acts more like cologne, a beautiful melancholy ghost to follow you from summer into fall.

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In the heart the fragrance it moves from the fruit garden to the flower garden and in this transition it drops very close to the skin. Maybe too close to the skin for some.  Light lily of the valley, a delicate ylang-ylang bring soft caresses to a sleepy Jasmine. There is a touch of spice from clove and tangy thick Liquorice that gild a lovely late rose of summer. Under this rose there is a grounding earthy orris root to remind you that all things must return to the earth. It swirls around nicely and then evaporates like a ghostly ectoplasm to the dry down.

Here there is the haunting in the dying garden. The spirits of Patchouli waft over a dry, dry vetiver. Tendrils of vanilla tease a shy spectral Amber as together they float over a parched Cedarwood. Laudanum and Oakmoss are shrouded in a ghostly musk.  The sprit of the fragrance crosses over to the next world at about the fourth hour.

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As an Aromatic Fougere is it very soft and pleasing. I find it to be too wispy for my taste but still lovely in what it does. It is sold as a masculine fragrance but pushing that nonsense aside this fragrance would work well on a woman who is looking for a fruity floral that is not in the least bombastic but rather hauntingly beautiful.

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Eau Sans Pareil by Penhalagon’s  3 gold stars ***

(Why only three gold stars? Beautiful as it is, like summer Eau Sans Pariel fades much too quickly. )

 My sample of Eau Sans Pariel came with my August Olfactif delivery. I am so impressed with this sample service from every aspect, themes (August is all about the last days of summer) packaging and their wonderful website and blog complete with interviews with the perfumers. I encourage you to try Olfactif, a must for any perfume aficionado.

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UNTITLED AND M.A.D. QUESTIONS FOR CHANDLER BURR ~ A Series of Interviews

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“My intention with The Untitled Series is to give 100 people a month the same opportunity I had at the Times, the experience of perfume unprotected / constrained by marketing and unassisted by the sense of sight. ” Chandler Burr

(Photo Matthew Furman)

Imagine my surprise to discover only two weeks ago that Chandler Burr, author of “A Separate Creation”, “The Emperor of Scent”, “The Perfect Scent” and “You Or Someone Like You” was on Facebook. Not a group page or a fan page but just there, accessible  and smiling.  I then noticed that some of my fragrance friends were friends with him as well. There it was, the “+1 Add Friend” button right in front of me. Why not click that button I thought?

The next day I received a notice that Chandler Burr had accepted my “friendship’ request, so it was only proper to send a thank you note. And that connection leads us to this series of interviews with the former perfume critic for the New York Times, Former Curator of, the Department of Olfactory Art at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.  Author, lecturer and organizer of the incredible Scent Dinners and the man who couldn’t get Matt Lauer to loosen up and smell the roses admit he liked a perfume on the Today show.

Over the next few weeks Mr. Burr will be interviewed by a select group of perfume bloggers each with very different and exciting points of view. (You will be able to follow them from here with links as they happen.) The two main topics we will be discussing are as follows.

The recent Museum of Art And Design exhibition created by Chandler Burr, “The Art of Scent 1889 – 2012”  and the wonderful Catalog and the essays from the exhibition.  And the incredible “Untitled Series” at Open Sky.  On this series a perfume is presented blind each month to be tested with out the participants knowing anything about it. Then at the end of the month the perfume is revealed with the opportunity to be purchased if the participants so desire.  At the end of this interview there are links to the M.A.D. catalog and the Untitled Series. (The catalog with samples of each perfume are for sale. The link is at the end of the interview)

It gives me great pleasure to present to you my interview with Chandler Burr, a man of great charm, wit, talent, and generosity. A man with a magnificent nose.

Lanier Smith:   Let’s talk about a few of the perfumes and artist featured in the Catalog you’re your recent “The Art of Scent 1889 – 2012” exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design.  Actually less about the perfumes but about the questions that arise in my mind from the wonderful essays you wrote in the catalog. “Jicky” and genitals. As I understand it, at the time that “Jicky” was created in 1889 there were no gender assignments to perfume. Just as there is no gender assignment to the Eiffel Tower created the very same year. When did that change and why?

 Aimé Guerlain

Aimé Guerlain (1834–1910)

“ The genius of Jicky is that it could never have existed
in nature. Guerlain had created both a new work of art
and a new art form.” Candler Burr

Chandler Burr: It changed mid-20th century for a very specific reason: the industry needed to sell perfume to heterosexual American men, and given that for some reason straight American men instantly equate scent with femininity—which Italian and French men don’t, at all—perfume marketers had to use gendering to give them psychoemotional permission to wear scent. So they put “homme” or “for him” or whatever on the bottles, and the guys calmed the hell down.

Francis Fabron

Francis Fabron (1913–2005)

“L’Interdit
is extraordinary for its strange beauty,
which ignores time. It is a work that
smells as if it were made tomorrow.” Chandler Burr

Lanier Smith: The legend says and the ads would lead us to believe that “L’Interdit” was created by Hubert de Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn. Now thanks to you turning the spotlight on the true artists of the medium of scent we know it was created by Francis Fabron. How important is the actual smell of a perfume to the fashion house—Givenchy for instance—compared to the advertising? Where does most of the money go in the creation of a perfume?

Chandler Burr: I get this question all the time, and the answer is a little frustrating because it’s easy to respond that—somewhat infuriatingly—most of the money goes into the packaging and marketing. And on a bottle by bottle basis, that’s true; in general the majority of the money per bottle goes into the bottle + cap + cardboard liner + cardboard box + the marketing images on the box, in billboards, on the designer’s website and vimeo and the Condé Nast Entertainment network + the film in which a model or actor walks moodily through a Greek ruin/ Versailles hallway/ high-production value film set.

But it’s not that simple. It’s been a surprise to me to be told the actual prices of several of the juices we take for granted, frequently perfumes I didn’t think of as particularly expensive (they are). And the willingness of a patron to give the artist a serious amount of money to work with per kilo makes it somewhat irrelevant that, per bottle, the packaging costs more. (Add the complexity of the different concentrations, which hugely changes the price.) Multiply 100ml of expensive oil-in-alcohol-solution, and you can get to a vertiginous investment very fast.

When Jerry Vittoria brought the Firmenich perfumers and evaluators on a tour of the Dept of Olfactory Art at MAD we had a fascinating debate about whether or not they, the perfumers themselves, cared about the bottle. Again, surprisingly to me—I just assume everyone in the industry shares my “who the hell cares about the wrapping, let’s just smell the juice” opinion—Harry Fremont said he absolutely wanted his perfumes in their bottles with their images. At which Ilias (I think it was) said he absolutely would prefer everything in a lab bottle, which I agreed with of course, at which other perfumers argued that the visuals were inherent to the experience, and I said my usual thing about “You don’t wear the bottle or the girl, you wear the juice” (startled at having to make this argument to perfumers) and so on.

By the way my understanding is that de Givenchy told Hepburn he was naming the perfume “Audrey Hepburn,” to which she replied, “Je vous l’interdit!” (I forbid you from doing it), so he called it l’Interdit. Who knows if it’s true; it certainly makes a nice story. And it’s an insanely killer perfume. Imminently wearable today. One of the all-time greats. I wear it.

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Magazine add for l’interdit by Givenchy

Lanier Smith:   With the emergence of the American School with “Aromatic Elixir” by Bernard Chant it seems that opens the way to many other American design houses to take off as they did in the 1970’s and 80’s. Yet isn’t it true that the first American perfume to rock the French establishment was Estee Lauder’s “Youth Dew”? Was that a fluke or a forerunner to the emergence of the United States as a power in the world of perfume?

Bernard Chant

Bernard Chant (1927–1987)

“Aromatics Elixir transcended the somber
formality of classical French style and
gave way to a work capable of conveying
multiple narratives simultaneously.
Here was a French story, but the story
was told, for the first time, in English.” Chandler Burr

Chandler Burr: My understanding is that, yes, Youth Dew was the first American perfume. Commissioned by perhaps the greatest of American scent patrons, Estée Lauder, created by an American artist, Josephine Catapano. It was a forerunner, but as I pointed out the Art of Scent exhibition, when artists import styles from other cultures, they often work in the school then-dominant—or, even more conservatively, a previous, hallowed school. In this case it was the classical late 19th-century French school. Youth Dew reassured clients that, even though it was Made In America, it was thoroughly French, in the way that Lexus first put out cars that if anything out-Mercedesed Mercedes. Made In Japan but as good as Made In Germany. Once established, Lexus came into its own, as did American patrons and scent artists.

Lanier Smith:   I never got “Angel” by Olivier Cresp and thought it too sweet for my nose. But in the context of Surrealism it makes perfect sense and I can appreciate its maladjusted juxtaposition of notes with a fresh nose. Now it is fun. Placing perfume in the world of art is extraordinary and to some it seems a stretch.  Why is it important for the world to understand that a bottle of “Angel” is just as valid and important as the “Christ of Saint John on the Cross” by Salvador Dali?

 Olivier Cresp

Olivier Cresp (b. 1955)

“Cresp’s use of ethyl maltol, which he
transformed from subtle ornament to
fundamental structural material,
pushed olfactory art to new extremes
and placed shocking artificiality in
full view. This was the progenitor of an
olfactory Pop Art movement that arrived
in the mid-1990s and continues today.” Chandler Burr

Chandler Burr: I’m glad it made sense for you when seen as Surrealist art. That one seemed overwhelmingly obvious to me—as does Industrialism for Drakkar Noir, which is in fact a better example of Industrialist art than virtually any other you could name in any medium—but I was concerned about some of them. Calder’s work that broke sculptures up into pieces and made them move in space around each other, dividing and re-coalescing into the same-but-different works, seemed quite like Cresp’s approach in Light Blue. So I called Calice Becker, somewhat apprehensively, started to explain my aesthetic reasoning, and at the words “Alexander Calder” she said, “Perfect.” I was relieved.

Lanier Smith: The tastes of the masses seem to be at a watered down level of safe sugar and laundry fresh. Geared more toward the teen-aged audience than more sophisticated noses.  For a very long time perfume has been moving away it seems from the classic feel of perfumes like “Chanel No.5”, “Shalimar” and the like. But with “Prada Amber” by Carlos Benaim, Max Gavarry and Clement Gavarry in the “Art of Scent” exhibition you herald the arrival of Neo-Romanticism. Do you believe that the truly great perfumes of the future will only come from “niche” designers or can a Dior or Chanel still be viable to as important creative perfume houses?

Carlos Max Clement Prada Amber

Carlos Benaïm (b. 1944),
Max Gavarry (b. 1937), and
Clément Gavarry (b. 1977)

“Prada Amber, however, is a unique
contemporary work in that it draws
directly and principally from the 19th century
school. In lesser hands, it could
easily have fallen into a mere pastiche.” Chandler Burr

Chandler Burr: I admit it’s extremely rough for the big houses to take risks, perhaps the largest risk being—again—putting a serious amount of money into the work. I can make lofty statements like, “In the long run if they don’t make beautiful, which means somewhat costly, works, they’ll find [mass] clients dropping away [mostly just by buying less mediocre perfume, not due to trading up to expensive niche]” but there are, of course, so many exceptions to that that who knows if it’s true. For a good suit, you drop coin. See under: Tom Ford—I don’t even go in the store at the moment, maybe in a few years. For shirts, shorts, flip flops, I love Old Navy. There are some awesome perfume flip flop equivalents, and there’s nothing wrong with wearing them. But they’re not going to last. I’m thinking about the top 30, and some are Old Navy’s, but others are (metaphorically) Tom Fords.

Beyond Paradise and Sensual were both very expensive juices and innovative perfumes. Neither made it; my personal opinion: Beyond Paradise is excellent. Flower Bomb, Coco Mademoiselle—a work of pure loveliness—Angel, Pleasures, all of these are innovative and costly, all are commercial brands, and all are killing it. So who the hell knows.

Lanier Smith:   Now I have a few questions about the exciting Untitled Series on Open Sky. Did this idea come from your Scent Dinners? If not how did you come up with the concept that is so exciting. A whole month of smelling a perfume without Brad Pitt or Natalie Portman whispering in your ear how much you should love it.

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Chandler Burr: The idea for the Untitled Series didn’t come from the Scent Dinners. It came directly from the way my assistant and I smelled things at the NY Times. I had great assistants. The point of my Scent Notes column was that it was exclusively juice, juice, juice, so we had a very specific approach. Every week my assistant would arrive before I did, unpack the new scents that had arrived that week, and I’d come in half an hour later, drop my backpack, and sit down. He or she would, wordlessly, hand me an unmarked white blotter, and we’d smell. You weren’t allowed to change expression at all. When we felt like it, one of us would start reacting, and the conversation would go from there.

The scents we agreed were good we’d then put on skin—the canvas on which perfume is designed to be experienced—again without looking at the packaging. I tried not to look at the packaging until after I wrote the column.

My intention with The Untitled Series is to give 100 people a month the same opportunity I had at the Times, the experience of perfume unprotected / constrained by marketing and unassisted by the sense of sight. To be honest it’s insanely difficult to arrange each episode, and the Series never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Miuccia Prada. I asked her, and she personally agreed to let me take Infusion d’Iris out and put it in a little lab bottle. She anchored the whole thing.

Smelling perfumes this way is a physically different experience. Your reaction is deeply different. It just is. And that shouldn’t be surprising at all, and I have a very specific example. Think of someone lending you a painting. It could be an original, authentic Tatsuro Kiuchi, whose work I love.

 Tatsuro Kiuchi

It could be a Cy Twombly, whose work I loathe and look down on and which sells for zillions.

 Cy Twombly

It could be a Velázquez, who I think is stupendous.

 Las Meninas

It could be a real Alex Katz, whose work I disliked until Ecco, who published my novel, put two of his paintings together to create my jacket cover, and after 24 hours I loved it.

 You Or Someone Like You

Or it could be a canvas by some kid at NYU art school that you bought for $200. Not a fake. Just not a work recognized as having any aesthetic significance or brilliance. I would never be an asshole and put a crappy juice in an Untitled in order to run some sort of Emperor’s New Clothes experiment, the less important reason being that the people buying the Untitleds are a self-selected group who in about three seconds would be saying, “Yo, Burr, this is garbage.” This really isn’t a game, and so the more important reason is that the Series exists to present masterpieces. Of all kinds. The Untitled you order may indeed be a Goya or a Katz—a Ropion, a Buzantian, the new Vasnier, where the artist’s name is a brand like Goya’s, a name that would immediately make you give the work respect (and market value) even before you’ve smelled it, but as an Untitled you get to smell works without any “startist” (terrible word, but you get the idea) baggage crowding you.

The lab bottle the UPS guy delivers to you may also be a work by a total unknown, some artist you’ve never heard of who has no cachet at all but who I think has produced something extraordinary. Or you could be getting what I consider an underrated masterpiece. That’s one of the explicit purposes of the Series, rediscovering these things. That’s why I did S01E02. Mugler Cologne will, I believe, be recognized by art history as one of the greatest works of olfactory art ever created. And we have another wildly underrated great by a famous artist coming this fall. You’ll get it somewhere in S02E01 to E04.

As for S01E10, it’s by an autodidact artist and is brand new on the market. And I’m going to include one in spring 2014 that is a twist on that—not that exactly but sort of that. And it’s not, at all, just about the juice. As several people who are playing have noted, the cost is the ticket price to an experience that doesn’t exist anywhere else: the experience of blindness in an ongoing exhibition of works in an art form that really is only perfectly experienced by the blind

Lanier Smith:   Will you be popping in an old classic to see how that plays with the audience? Perhaps “L’Aimant” by Coty just to see how many people think it is “No.5”? Well that might not be fair but will there be some classics in the Untitled Series?

Yes.

Lanier Smtih:   I think we neglect our noses and since I became involved in my passion for perfume I have noticed that my sense of smell is much more acute. The format for Untitled Series is very much like a college course in fragrance with a lecture, class participation and experimentation and interaction. Don’t you think there should be a class or two in universities on how to use your nose? How would you go about teaching a class in fragrance? Art History, Science, Economics?

Chandler Burr:  My whole goddamn life for the past seven years has been building the case for every art historian, art history and fine arts department, museum curator, and gallerist to treat scent the way they would paint. Teaching a class in olfactory art should be no more, or less, difficult than teaching a class in music—or music theory or color theory; that’s the equivalent of teaching a class in scent materials and their interactions and qualities versus teaching a class in the works made with them. It’s going to come in the future. Just as photography came and settled in. And when it’s established people will wonder why it ever didn’t exist.

Lanier Smith:   Is there a chance “The Art of Scent” exhibition may hit the road and visit other cities around the world?

Chandler Burr: We’re actively working on traveling “The Art of Scent.” I’m writing a new introduction to the show, I’ve designed another section, which is an Entry, to go along with the Gallery section and the Salon section and to set up the conceptual basis for the show more clearly than the Museum of Arts and Design version. It will in fact be very different and much better experience.

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Lanier Smith:   My favorite perfume moment in the movies is from “Butterfield-8”. That delicious Metro Color infused opening scene when Elizabeth Taylor in her skin tight Helen Rose slip sits down at Dina Merrill’s dressing table and passes judgment over a few bottles of perfume. Then finding one she likes, “Tabac Blond”  I am told, slathers herself with sensuous abandon then coolly steals Miss Merrill’s mink coat.  Do you have a favorite perfume moment in film?

Chandler Burr: I actually don’t. In fact I’m thinking about it and—I haven’t seen “Scent of a Woman,” which would have given me one—I don’t think I can name a single moment in any movie that uses scent. I take that back. In “Duplicity” Julia Roberts lands at the airport and drives around for 20 minutes to make sure she isn’t being tailed before she parks at the house where Clive Owen is waiting for her. He grabs her at the front door, leans in to kiss her, murmurs, “You smell terrific,” and she rolls her eyes, pushes him off and says, “I *smell like a rental car.” Which is a very precise and very powerful line. The estimable Tony Gilroy wrote it.

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Julia Roberts passes a perfume counter in “Duplicity” (2009)

Tony-Gilroy-267539-1-402Writer Dirctory, Tony Gilroy

M.A.D. Catalog (which you can purchase) : http://thestore.madmuseum.org/products/the-art-of-scent-1889-2012

Untitled Series on Open Sky: http://www.opensky.com/member/chandlerburr?content=loves

Chandler Burr’s Website: http://www.chandlerburr.com/

Interview Participants in order of appearance:

The Perfumed Dandy:  http://theperfumeddandy.com/

Australian Perfume Junkies: http://australianperfumejunkies.com/

Smelly Thoughts:  http://smellythoughts.wordpress.com/

Another Perfume Blog: http://anotherperfumeblog.com/

EauMG:  http://www.eaumg.net/

What Men Should Smell Like:  http://whatmenshouldsmelllike.com/

The Scented Hound: http://thescentedhound.wordpress.com/

The Fragrant Man: http://thefragrantman.com/

Photos of the olfactory artists and selected excerpts are from the Museum of Art and Design catalog “The Art Of Scent ~ 1989 – 2012”

LES DAMES DE GUERLAIN ~ A Special Event at the Guerlain Boutique

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The last time I saw Paris was in May of 2006. I have wanted to return to the beautiful Parisians and their ville de lumière ever since. Yesterday I discovered that my wish was to be granted for a few hours at least. Paris had come to San Francisco.

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Several weeks ago my friend Hilary Randall, Fragrance Specialist; Trainer at Parfums Christian Dior took me over to the Guerlain counter at Neiman Marcus to smell a hidden treasure. There she introduced me to the very charming and vivacious Guerlain sales associate Irene. I was struck at once by this transplanted Parisian’s impeccable charm. Hilary explained to Irene that she wanted me to smell the two remaining bottles of Le Deserts de Orient Series. Irene bubbled with excitement to share the treasure behind her counter and with a smile she took me by the hand and led the way. Her smile is like a blond halo and so infectious that I was smitten on the spot by this very engaging woman.

Irene explained that a very special client had ordered a bottle of Song d’un Bois d’Ete and by lucky chance Paris had sent all three of the line. With great and tender care Irene dipped a long glass stem into the bottles of each and opened the gates of paradise before me.

During our sampling of the perfumes Hilary told Irene about Scents Memory. Upon hearing this Irene invited me to a very special Guerlain event that would consist of a one on one meeting with the perfume specialist and director of Guerlain for the United States, Marie Line Patry.

Before I left Guerlain in my glimmering middle eastern cloud of blended Encens Mythique D’Orient and Rose Nacree du Desert (my favorite of the two) Irene informed my that my fragrant friend Mary Edington would be having her appointment with Marie Line on the half hour before mine. We agreed that it would be a fun secret if we didn’t tell her and I just popped up at 10:30 to surprise her and maybe even make a day of it.

The MUNI Metro was not feeling well yesterday when I boarded the train that would take me downtown for my appointment at Guerlain. In fits and starts I was finally deposited at the Powell Street Station with only a few minutes to make my appointment and catch Mary before she left.

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Under the spectacular gold and ivory rotunda of Neiman’s I found Irene and Mary in a perfume huddle. Mary was truly surprised to see me and delighted when I asked her to have lunch with me and my new buddy Mario Gomez, The Perfume Ambassador of the Bay Area and who reps several perfume lines. It turned out that Mario had the appointment after mine and we had agreed to meet up as well.

Irene introduced me to Marie Line. When she spoke I was transported to Paris in l’instant. She has a gorgeous voice that is only surpassed by her charm and indelible blond beauty. What a treat for the ears and the eyes she is. What a font of knowledge about perfume and the house of Guerlain.

 

Marie Line, Lanier, and Irene

Mary asked if she could join us on my olfactory appointment just to see my reaction to the perfumes I was about to smell. Mais bien sûr! Marie Line and I discussed the history of Guerlain and the exceptional quality of the house. We explored the idea that in France it is a right of passage for a young girl to be taken at around age twelve to buy her first perfume. It is a charming ritual that I had witnessed myself just recently when I saw the BBC documentary “Perfume”. At Guerlain the idea is to “get them young and keep them for life.”

Then we moved on to a presentation of some very special limited editions of perfumes by the house, the 100th anniversary bottle of L’Heure Bleue, Shalimar, 68, and Reve de Lune among them. There were others but just three were my main focus for the presentation.

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L’Heure Bleue Limited Edition

Each of the perfumes comes in a special bottle that in itself is a work of art. For example Baccarat was commissioned to design the limited edition bottle for L’Heure Bleue. The color had to be a perfect representation of the sky at magic hour. That splendiferous twilight blue that had inspired Jacques Guerlain to create the melancholy beauty. Marie Line told me that John Paul Guerlain was very particular in getting the color just right. Then there was added a “necklace” created by the Parisian jewelers Gripiox. The effect of the presentation was stunning. (The special order bottles were shown to me in photographs as they are lager than life and very limited.)

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Reve de Lune Limited Edition

Marie Line then introduced me to several perfumes from the Limited Editions presented in modest sample bottles, Reve de Lune and 68 “The Turtle”. As she sprayed 68 on my arm she told me how the perfume came to get the nickname “The Turtle”. It seems that Monsieur John Paul Guerlain made a surprise visit to the boutique at 68 Avenue des Champs Élysées he found the employees to be not up to speed. So when it came time to name the perfume and the address number of 68 was chosen he called it “The Turtle because they are so slow!”

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“The Turtle” 68 (Originally there were 72 ingredients in the perfume, but to be poetic it was reduced to just 68.)

Then Marie Line applied Reve de Lune to my right arm. The perfume was a bright burst of aldehydic citrus, jasmine and resins that I found gorgeous. On the other arm “The Turtle” was low and earthy and took on the dark rich smell of expensive clay one finds in an elegant spa in Nice or Monte Carlo.

These incredible perfumes were way beyond my pocket book but absolutely a delight to sample. I told Marie Line that I did indeed come to Guerlain with a purchase in mind. I wanted a classic and it was between L’Heure Bleue and Shalimar. At Marie Line’s bidding, Irene brought the two perfumes to our table and Marie Line found a patch of un-perfumed skin on my arms to test. L’Heure Bleue was as beautiful and wistful as I had remembered, but the Shalimar pure parfume met my skin and a love affaire between the two was ignited.  Mary and Marie Line were both amazed at the effect that was unfolding. Mary said that on her skin Shalimar just laid there and never really sparked. I smelled her arm where indeed Shalimar was taking a nap.  But on my skin it was all sparkling spice and smoking incense, it seemed to shimmer like tiny fireworks just above my skin. It was incredible.

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With my appointment drawing to a regrettable end I concluded my sale and thanked Marie Line for a fascinating visit. Mary and I had some time to kill before Mario’s appointment so we went around the perfume counters discussing what we found there of interest. We stumbled upon Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino and took a whiff. We both agreed that it was a very rich interpretation of Maurer & Wirtz 4711.

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Mary Edington

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Mario Gomez chatting with Marie Line. Irene and Mary share a story about Roja Dove.

We then met up with Mario as his appointment with Marie Line was ending. We bid les dames de Guerlain goodbye and headed out for a late brunch at the very grand Grand Café. As we passed though the rococo rotunda I suddenly recalled that the beautiful old piece of architecture housed within the modern box that is our Neiman Marcus had been preserved from the previous building now gone.  The grand old department store that had stood on that very spot since the 19th Century was in fact called, The City of Paris.

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The old City of Paris department store San Francisco.

CHARLIE AND THE KING OF ENGLAND ~ Clive Christian No.1 For Men

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What a nose she had! That was the first thing that he thought. His last day in London found Charlie Finn staring at the stone image of Queen Elizabeth I in her tomb behind the altar at Westminster Abby. He bowed his head to honor her memory and marveled at how unlike Bette Davis she looked.

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Queen Bette I of Hollywood

   Though he found Westminster Abby to be magnificent in its soaring dark gothic splendor there was one place he wanted to see more than this, or any building in London. Inigo Jones Banqueting House of Whitehall, the only surviving building of the old Palace of Whitehall. Over his two week stay in the capital it had been his intention all along to see the magnificent building but somehow it eluded him. Today was his last chance.  The structure in the center of London possessed a stunning and even tragic history. The most memorable story to come from this Palladian beauty was the fact that on the 30th of January 1649 King Charles I stepped from the central window of the house out onto a massive scaffold to be beheaded before the citizens of London. With the loss of his royal head England was plunged into a puritanical period where fashion floundered and fun fell from favor.

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CHARLES I by Anthony van Dyck

Three heads are better than one.

  After party pooper Cromwell fell came the glamour and glory of the Reformation in which Charles the II took the throne with panache. Fashion ruled the day. Theaters were reopened and most shocking of all, women were allowed on the stage! London became such a hot spot that it burned to the ground in 1666.

Upon leaving Westminster Abby, Charlie checked his watch and saw that he only had fifty minutes to find the Banquet House, see it and then meet his travel partner William for lunch. He knew he was close but not too sure of the exact location. He stepped up his pace as he headed down Parliament Street past Downing.  When he reached where he thought it should be he was at a loss to recognize it. Standing in front of the Royal Horse Guard surrounded by picture snapping tourist he looked at his watch. 40 minutes left. A very tall, handsome British Solder  a few paces to his right was speaking to some South American tourists. Charlie caught his eye and smiled.

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The Royal Horse Guard

“Pardon me,” he said in his flat California accent. “But I am looking for The Banquet House of Whitehall and I can’t seem to find it.”

The guard with the cornflower blue eyes nodded and smiled. “You are nearly there. It is right behind you sir.”

Charlie looked across the street and there it stood, grand indeed but smaller than he had expected it to be.

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The Banquet House Whitehall

“Well if it had been a snake it would have bit me.” He thanked the guard and planted his feet in the direction of his destination.

Charlie trotted across the street. There was a little black wrought iron gate with gold Tudor roses on the corner that led to the entrance. Above the door was a black bust of Charles I looking dashingly handsome and equally tragic. Charlie crossed the threshold of the gate and stopped dead in his tracks under the gaze of the King.

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“The Banquet House is closed today for a private event.”  The sign stood just beside the open door.

Charlie couldn’t believe what he was reading. His last day in London and no chance left to see what he had been looking forward to for months. As he stepped back onto the sidewalk he remembered all the wonderful things he had seen and resolved that they were indeed memorable. Not seeing the Banquet House would give him a good reason to plan another trip to London. But still he was disappointed.

He walked slowly down the street toward Parliament looking up at the windows of the building. When he came to the two center windows next to the lonely only tree on that stretch of the sidewalk he stopped. This was the spot where it happened. The world and time telescoped and he could see the King as he stepped out of the window onto the scaffold. Only a few steps from his end he looked so very tired. The crowd was suddenly silent as he placed his neck upon the block. The axe rose. Charlie closed his eyes against the horror of the fall of the axe.

A cold shock of wind from the Thames rocked him and he opened his eyes to look down at his feet. There under the edge of his shoe was a blood red paper carnation with a tin foil stem. The kind people used to wear on Memorial Day back home to remember those who had fallen in war.  Charlie bent down to pick it up and in so doing understood that this was far better a memory than if he had seen the inside of the building with its magnificent ceiling and beautiful design. It was a sign from the King.

Charlie looked up at the windows again and nodded. “Rest in peace your Majesty.”

“Who are you talking to?” Charlie turned to see his friend William standing behind him.

“King Charles the first. Oh Willy you will never guess what just happened.”

“Well knowing you and your wild Irish imagination I can just about guess.”

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************

I did not loose my head over “Clive Christian No.1 for Men”.  This perfume, this house is legendary for having a reputation of being the most exclusive and expensive perfume in all the land.  Regal and extravagant in its presentation in a Baccarat crystal bottle topped with a five carat diamond it is indeed a very beautiful package fit for a king.  It received the 2006 FIFI award for packaging and presentation and deservedly so. Alas I found what comes in that sumptuous bottle to be an empty olfactory experience. The banquet hall is deserted. The king is dead.

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Royal presentation of Clive Christian No.1

It is not a bad scent by any means but simply ordinary and fleeting at best in longevity. On my skin it dies in its youth lasting at most an hour. At these prices heads should roll for not living up to the hype.

The house claims to use the very best and most expensive of ingredients and I am sure they do but these notes do not come together with anything original, memorable or remarkable. The fragrance opens in a citrus and spice blend of lime, Mandarin Orange, grapefruit, and cardamom, nutmeg, artemisia, caraway that comes off to me as a simple orangeade soda pop.  This fizzles out within seconds of hitting the skin.

The central notes of rose, lily of the valley, iris, ylang-ylang and heliotrope is simply a floral muddle to my nose. It struggles to bloom only do wither into my skin so swiftly as to make it near impossible for me to explore and enjoy what should be happening at this point. There is hardly a dry down where there are supposed to be notes of vanilla, Virginia cedar, vetiver, Tonka bean, musk and sandalwood. My skin very rarely eats a fragrance alive but on every testing of No.1 it swallowed the fragrance in one hungry gulp.

There are other Clive Christian perfumes out there to be explored and I do hope to find one that is more giving and generous than No.1 has proven to be. We shall see if the house of Clive Christian does have a perfume worthy of a king’s ransom. If not, then off with his head!

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CLIVE CHRISTIAN NO.1 3 BRONZE STARS (TWO FOR PRESENTATION, ONE FOR FRAGRANCE)

THE FINAL LESSON ~ Gigi by Jardin d’Ecrivains Paris

Jardin d’Ecrivains (1)

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A visit to Aunt Alicia was always a fascinating bore. One leaned so much about what it is to be a woman, well a particular kind of woman anyway. Other girls had afternoon lessons in languages or music but to for this young lady on the verge of womanhood, her lessons were all about how to please a man for in fact she was in training for the family business, to be a courtesan.

Aunt Alicia’s elegant old butler Charles took her coat and hat at the door.

“What are we going to learn about today, Charles?”

“Something very special Mademoiselle. That is all I can say. ” He winked and led her to the parlor. Whenever Charles winked she could see how handsome he once was. That thought always lead her to wonder how he came to be Aunt Alicia’s butler. She imagined he was tragically in love with her and the only way he could be near her was to become her butler.

“Come in my dear.” Aunt Alicia’s imperial voice brought her crashing out of her daydream.

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The drapes were pulled shut against the harsh late afternoon light. The new electric lights were very low and pink giving the room dusty deep shadows in the corners and a theatrical glow where it was needed. In the center Aunt Alicia was arranged on the settee like a dramatic tableau at the opera. She slowly turned her head and smiled without creating one single offending line in her face.

“Good Afternoon Aunt Alicia.”

Aunt Alicia studied her pupil with the narrow eyed intensity. A kind of opera glass inspection one unusually reserves for the dissection of the competition in the boxes before the curtain goes up.  Her smile took on a startling rare warmth as the eyes relaxed.

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“Yes I think it is time.”

“Time for what Aunt Alicia?”  she dropped her head to study the carpet at her feet.

My dear Gigi, in your lesions we have learned how to walk in a pleasing manner, how to talk in a pleasing manner, how to dress, how to choose a cigar for a man and how to eat challenging foods.”

Gigi looked up from under her lashes, “Ortolan.” She said sheepishly of her battle with the little bird on the plate.

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“Ah well yes, that will come with time Gigi.” She said and rose from her tableau and sailed majestically in a rustle of pink satin, boning and tulle to the French doors that lead to her little garden. With the push of one had she opened the doors to the sunlight of the outer world. “Come along my dear.”

Gigi met her at the threshold of nature and was stunned by the glorious aroma of the tuberose, and jasmine and orange blossoms.  She wanted to run barefoot through the fresh sweet spring grass in the garden and gather up as many flowers as she could. Aunt Alicia did not move or make any indication that she wanted to do anything of the kind.  Her only intent was to admire her garden from the safety of the dark parlor.

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“Last time you learned about jewels, the importance of a fine collection and what not to accept as a gift from a gentleman.”

“Yes and Madame Dunard and her dipped pearls. I remember.”

“Yes and more importantly Gigi that you must wait for the best.”  Gigi nodded and looked out into the garden.

Aunt Alicia pulled Gigi back into the parlor and lead to the foyer and the stairs that climbed up to her boudoir in rose and black marble grandeur.

“What do you imagine is the finishing touch to any woman in her preparation for the day, or a man for that matter?” She said as she opened the elaborately carved Art Nouveau doors to her inter sanctum.

“I would imagine a coat or a hat if you are going out?”

“No! That is what the petite bourgeoisie would think the answer to my question is. Now you must concentrate Gigi.”

Gigi looked around the room and her eyes fell upon the crystal array of bottles on Aunt Alicia’s vanity. The room itself smelled like a more magical version of the garden she had just seen.”

“Scent! Aunt Alicia, I would say scent.”

Aunt Alicia nodded and smiled. “Today my dear Gigi, you will learn about the art of perfume. Where to apply it and when, and how to choose a fine collection that is almost as important as a fine collection of jewels, you see Gigi this is your final lesson.

“My final lesson?”

Uncharacteristically Aunt Alicia put her arm around Gigi’s waist and gave her a squeeze.  “Yes my dear you are ready to graduate to womanhood. Now let us begin. Sit down.”

Gigi sank onto the silky soft Louis XVI chair and looked into the mirror and saw for the first time that she was indeed a lovely young woman.

“Now then Gigi, The first thing you must know about perfume is this. A woman must never smell like an artificial flower, she must smell like a woman who is at the center of humanity’s garden.”

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***

“Gigi” by Jardin d’Ecrivains is a lovely young lady of a perfume ready for life’s adventures to begin.  It has the most interesting characteristic of being youthful and yet set in a classical mode of sophistication one usually associates with classic perfumes from the early 20th Century. This is a wonderful perfume that would be well suited to any young woman daring enough to step up to a perfume that is more than just pretty, and sweet. “Gigi” is for a woman of any age who appreciates the fine art of perfume. It is a fine introduction to the possibilities there are in the world of fragrance.

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The Parisian perfume house of Jardin d’Ecrivains inspiration behind its perfumes is to create great fragrances inspired by great literature.  The motto of the house is is from Victor Hugo, “Vous voyez, parfum éveille la pensée.”, “You see, perfume awakens thought.” Yes perfume does indeed awaken thoughts and dreams, worlds beyond our own. Brilliant literature interpreted by brilliant notes and it all works so wonderfully well in “Gigi”.

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“Gigi” opens in a sparkling fleeting green of a freshly cut grass note. It shimmers with dewy brightness as it blends with the bright early morning aroma of sun warmed Neroli and Orange blossoms. A perfectly lovely and young opening that entices the mind to want, like Gigi, to run barefoot though the notes and bask in the innocent sensuousness it engenders.

Then it all changes, the metamorphous into sophisticated perfume happens here in the middle notes. The tuberose arrives in soft splendor, it is restrained and lovely. Not a screeching indolic but rather soft and romantic white glow that enhances the perfume in the most delightful way. It flows from the warmth of the skin interwoven with jasmine and a dark leaf and berry blackcurrant that gives it an earthy wine note. It is as if the white flowers were sprinkled with a fine red wine like Bacchanalian dew.

The finale of the perfume is all sandalwood, and white musk that keep the memory of those wonderful white flowers glowing in the background. All of the notes are few in “Gigi” and just the right ones. Rather than jamming the perfume full of too many notes it is composed beautifully and with thought to what it is meant to be and of its inspiration.

In my testing of the perfume it has a moderate longevity of about six hours.  The sillage is moderate as well not pushing out rudely but staying at about three feet and inviting to the nose of those within range.  My sample came with my August Olfactif delivery. I am so impressed with this sample service from every aspect, themes (August is all about the last days of summer) packaging and their wonderful website and blog complete with interviews with the perfumers. I encourage you to try Olfactif, a must for any perfume aficionado.

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GIGI BY JARDIN D’ECRIVAINS 5 GOLD STARS *****

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