Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Scents and listening to subtleties

Cooling scents: the right perfume can lift your spirits and cool you down
Published: Tuesday, August 09, 2011
By Susan Langenhennig, The Times-Picayune

Debra Jones-Scie has an old-fashioned trick for dealing with the sticky heat and humidity of late summer in the city.

She keeps a bottle of Verveine, a bright, lemon verbena cologne, in the refrigerator. Before stepping outside, she spritzes a little on her skin, sending a chilling tingle down her spine.

“When I go on a walk, I pull it out and give a little spray,” said Jones-Scie, the “nose” for Hové, the 80-year-old French Quarter perfume house. "It cools you."

Scents are the escape artists of the beauty world. One whiff of the right perfume, and you can be in another place and time — one preferably about 20 degrees cooler and 50 percent less sweaty than August in New Orleans.

I’ve come to Jones-Scie's door seeking relief from the relentless humidity that’s sapping my energy like a tapeworm. She turns to a shelf in Hové’s 19th-century townhouse and her hand falls on a few options.

There’s Elan d’Orange, a surprisingly bracing scent that features orange blossom, but presented in a way that’s not like the sweet floral we often associate with the heady flowers of the bitter orange tree. Elan d’Orange has a pleasant tang, like iced tea with a slice of lemon.

Plage d’Ete is another option, but it’s a little too suntan-lotion-like for me, with those familiar notes of coconut and lime. It conjures thoughts of a frosty pina colada by the pool or memories of slathering Coppertone on your skin.

Hové’s Vetiver, a pure, green, grassy scent, is refreshingly sharp and has a side benefit. “I use the Vetiver on my legs, and it keeps the mosquitoes away, at least on me,” Jones-Scie said.

Perfume blogger Victoria Frolova has a poetic way of describing the cooling effects of certain perfumes: “The effervescence of citrus — be it the bracing sharpness of lime, the peppery shimmer of bergamot, the intense verdancy of petitgrain or the playful sweetness of mandarin — has a refreshing, exhilarating effect,” she writes. “It instantly cools, evoking the delicious sensation of an ice cube melting on hot skin.”

Frolova has a technical nose that gives an insightful edge to her fragrance observations at There’s a reason, she said, why some colognes are particularly appealing in warm climates.

“Neroli and petitgrain oils share the same pungent component as perspiration and allow it to become masked by the bright, green freshness of orange flower,” she writes in a post highlighting summer scents.

The bitter orange tree — the variety that gives marmalade its bite — is like “the pig of the fragrance world,” Frolova said during a recent chat by phone from her home in New Jersey. “Every part of the plant is used.”

Orange bigarade, an essential oil, comes from cold-pressing the fruit, while sweet neroli oil is derived from the orange blossoms. Petitgrain, another essential oil, comes from distilling the twigs, making for a green, woodsy smell.

“Neroli is less floral and more citrusy,” Frolova said, “while orange blossom absolu is richer and sweeter, more seductive.

“One of my personal favorites is Annick Goutal Neroli, a blend of orange blossom and neroli,” she added. “It has so many facets, but when you put them together, you end up having an accord that’s very fresh.”

Orange blossom fragrances can be boldly feminine, like Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger, which leaves a lingering sweetness to the skin.

Or they can be darker and brooding, as in the case of Narcisse Noir, a scent launched in 1911, said Barbara Herman, who blogs about vintage perfumes at
“Narcisse Noir has amazing orange blossom, but the predominate character of that perfume is dark and sexy,” she said. “It’s mixed with incense and in a musk base, which makes it very interesting.”

Herman has been living in New Orleans this summer while writing a book, with the working title “Scent and Subversion: A Century of Provocative Perfume.” She doesn’t subscribe to the idea that hot months call only for simple scents.

“Just as you probably don’t want to eat beef stroganoff in the dead of summer when it’s 96 degrees out, you don’t generally want to wear heavy perfumes in the Oriental family either,” she said. “Lighter and fresher scents in the floral and chypre perfume families act like olfactory air conditioning to lift your spirits and cool you down. They may be light, but they’re not lightweight. Some of these are complex beauties.”

Chypres (pronounced “SHEE-pres”) are that lovely family of fragrances with notes of citrus mixed with oak moss, musk and, often, patchouli. One of Herman’s favorite summer scents is Clarins Eau Dynamisante, a chypre she describes as “citrusy, woody, herbaceous, spicy. Prozac in a perfume bottle.”

Some of her other warm-month favorites include Estee Lauder White Linen — “as elegant and fresh as a starched white shirt; smells like summer to me” — and Hové’s Vetiver — "peppery, dusty, salty, wild. One of the best vetivers out there.”

But Herman has a special affection for Christian Dior Diorella, which she describes as “fresh, funky, fruity, mossy, like citrus perfume spilled inside a suede purse.”

The first time she smelled it, she was on a lunch break from her office job in San Francisco. “I sprayed it on and just got a funny look on my face,” she recalled. “I walked around, sniffing my arm for the next half an hour.

“I think perfumes are really visceral experiences. You feel more connected to yourself and your senses.”

Sitting around a coffee table last Friday in the back of Avery, a new niche fragrance boutique in the Warehouse District, Lauren Lagarde was having a perfume moment.

We were discussing summery scents when Shannon Drake, director of marketing for the company, opened a bottle of Nuda, an intense jasmine fragrance by Nasomatto, a line created by perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri. The fragrance is derived from jasmine blossoms picked at night by gloved workers on a farm on the Cote d’Azur.

Lagarde closed her eyes and shook her head. The scent didn’t bring her to the Cote d’Azur.

“We used to have jasmine growing around our house in Bay St. Louis. This takes me right back there,” Lagarde said. “When I smell this, I’m seven years old again, and it’s summer.”


I found this post on Herman's blog particularly interesting:
"The more you smell and categorize what you're smelling, comparing one scent with the next, etc., the better you get at recognizing aspects of perfume, even being able to conjure it up in your memory."

Which is exactly why ritual and smells and bells are so important to our practice.

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