Aftelier Winners!

Congratulations to the following winners from the Aftelier Giveaway...
The winner of the Cacao sample is: Jennifer 
"I may have drooled a little reading your review of Mandy's Cacao. :-) I am most intrigued by Lumiere. I have Mandy's Boronia (which she doesn't make anymore??) and would love to sniff the luscious raspberry-citrusy notes combined with other essences in Lumiere. Please put me in the drawing for Cacao! Thanks for the awesome reviews. ailanna at hotmail dot com"
The winner of the Memento sample is:   Ankica

"What a joy! :D I've tried Mandy's Haute Claire. So, there is so many things to try. :D
I am curious of many things... Secret garden, Prive, Tango... Memento sounds interesting too. That would be my choice for this draw. "

Please contact me at fiftycenthead[at]gmail[.]com or PM me on Facebook and I'll get your info to Mandy.

Congratulations! And thanks to all of you for your comments. More thanks to Mandy Aftel for the opportunity!

We're all settled in tonight, this night before Christmas. Our little mice are still stirring -for now. But the sugar from the cookies will burn off soon, along with the excess energy from sheer excitement. Before you know it, they'll be tucked in bed with sugarplums dancing away above them.

I hope you all have a fabulous holiday and I look forward to a new batch of reviews as soon as I get free of the wrapping paper and ribbon.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a fragrant night!


Giveaway: Aftelier --- Happy Holidays from me and Mady Aftel!

Last week, I had a complete blast reviewing scents from Aftelier Perfumes. THIS week we'll be running a giveaway of scents from the house, courtesy of Mandy Aftel!

She has graciously offered not one, but TWO minis from her collection. 

Remember my review of Cacao? If that sounded enticing, you'll be thrilled to know that we're giving one away to a lucky winner! And if you enjoyed reading about Memento, which I'll be wearing Christmas morning, then you'll be over-the-moon to hear we're giving a mini of that one away, too!

The simple rules:
  1. Comment below and tell me which of Mandy's scents you most want to try and why. Or, if you're already a fan, tell me which one is your favorite and why!
  2. Also, in the same comment, tell me which of the two giveaway prizes you'd like to win, Cacao or Memento.
    ONE ENTRY PER PERSON - subsequent/additional comments will be deleted or ignored.
Bonus entry:
  • Blog or Tweet or FB about this drawing and get 1 (ONE) bonus entry. Come back here and tell me which social media venue you used to spread the love and tell me if you're entering to win Cacao or Memento.
    You may gain only one extra entry using this method -
     subsequent/additional attempts to curry favor will be deleted or ignored.

More details:
  • The drawing will close on December 23rd 2011 at midnight.
  • On December 24th, will select one (1) person to win a mini Memento and one (1) person to win a mini Cacao
  • I will separate the entries according to which scent you specify in your comment.
    If you fail to mention either scent in your comment, you will be randomly assigned to one pool. If you say "both" or "either" you will be randomly assigned. 
  • My special and highly-scientific method of drawing a winner will be having each of my daughters pick a name out of a hat or bowl or boot or whatever type of vessel I can find on Christmas Eve. 
  • Mandy will ship the prizes to the winners.
  • If a winner does not reply in a reasonable amount of time (let's say one week from the date of the drawing) I will select another winner. 

Aftelier Week: Amber (a perfume review)

Sorry for skipping yesterday in Aftelier week, but I was pretty pooped after a long work day on Thursday followed by a busy day full of kindergarten holiday festivities! The two-day migraine didn't help, but you know what did? Generous doses of today's scent, Amber...


I feel the need to preface this review with a disclaimer: I, Jen, am an unadulterated amber 'ho. I loves me some amber. Spicy amber, soft amber, sexy amber, resinous amber... I love it all.

I have also discovered something: Sometimes the more I like a scent, the harder it is to write about it. A perfume like Cacao, which I admit to falling hard for, would be the exception because it contained an unexpected-to-me combination (bitter cocoa and an expansive jasmine) and because it's different from what I gravitate to. But for some reason I clutch a bit when reviewing an amber or an oriental perfume because those are my favorite types of scents  - my "happy place" in perfumery.

I'm not going to go into a lengthy discussion of "amber" as used in perfumery. I find this article from Sorcery of Scent to be a great resource, as is this one from Perfume Shrine. Those interested in exploring amber perfumes further may be interested in sampling sets provided by The Perfumed Court: 6 unisex niche samples; 8 "men's" amber samples; 20 warm, seductive, cuddly amber samples. 
Some of my personal favorites: Ambre Fetiche  - saffron-colored silk (Annick Goutal)(my review here); Anne Pliska - classic feminine beauty; Amber Sultan - amber with an herbal bite (Serge Lutens); Ambre Narguile - foody apple-pie amber (Hermes Hermessence). And from the ambergris-amber category: Eau des Merveilles - salty skin and a little bit beachy (Hermes), Elixir des Merveilles - chocolate-orange being eaten on the beach (Hermes); Parfum des Merveilles -a more dense and rich version of Eau des... plus a little more (Hermes); Bal a Versailles - dead-on sexy with civet and other skanks (Jean Desprez). 
The Amber Room (fascinating! read more here)

Yeah, that's right:
Amber is green, not "amber".
Whatcha gonna do about it? ;)
Scent Family: Amber Oriental
An ambery lavender spray with hints of pink pepper and bergamot, in a base of organic grape alcohol. The warmth of the fruity sweet grape alcohol and rich lavender absolute marries beautifully with the amber base. This fragrance is less complicated; easy to like for both men & women. -- "It is a truly unforgettable scent. You will wear and he will wear it; it will amaze you both." Beauty News.

Featured Notes
Top: mandarin.
Heart: lavender absolute.
Base: labdanum.

Uh-oh. Amber is classified as an "amber oriental". Double-whammy anti-review mojo in effect! I'll try to step it up.

Although I love the "featured notes" list that Mandy Aftel provides in her scent descriptions, I find this one to be slightly misleading. No, of course she's telling the truth, but by reading the list I would have expected a soft, cuddly, soft breath of a scent and that's not exactly what Amber is...

Do I love labdanum because of the goats?
source: Doc Elly

Amber by Aftelier Perfumes is a bit peppery but still smooth. I described Ambre Fetiche as being like silk. If that's true, then Mandy's Amber is a raw silk - soft, classic, but a little more rough.

Labdanum is often cuddly and slightly sweet. When wearing some labdanum scents, I sometimes think I hear kittens purring. With Amber, though, they aren't kittens: they're lions.* Amber is just a little more dangerous than a kitten. The pepper gives it spice and a little bit of a deeper warmth than some other ambers.

*I know lions don't really purr, 
but just please go with it for now...

I cannot pick out the distinct notes in Amber. The lavender is not overt. It's not herbaceous nor medicinal and easy to pick-out. I do not register a lot of citrus, though mandarin and bergamot are listed.

Amber was my immediate favorite of the samples I got to try from Aftelier Perfumes. Cacao has vied for that top spot (it's the amazing juxtaposition between the cocoa and jasmine - I can't help it!), but Amber is holding strong. What can I say? I'm an amber 'ho, and Mandy's is one of the best I've smelled.

Aftelier Week: Parfum de Maroc (a perfume review)

image source

Another day, another pretty perfume from Mandy Aftel. I am surprised I picked this many spicy food-like scents to sample. I can't get over it. Happy accidents happen, though, and I'm pretty excited with my choices.

Parfum de Maroc

Parfum de Maroc is another spice-dominated blend, but not really similar to the last scent I reviewed, Memento. That was a beautiful blend of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and rose that reminded me of an apple-less mulled cider. While Parfum de Maroc has some of the same notes found in Memento, like rose and nutmeg, it takes spices on a different route*.

*Do you see what I did there? Spice.... route.... Get it? Aw, nevermind...

Scent Family: Spicy Floral

Inspired by an ancient Moroccan spice recipe Ras el Hanout or "top of the shop" - a mixture of the best spices a seller has to offer. Traditionally having many dozens of spices, I took creative liberty to include the ones that would blend beautifully in a perfume. My recipe is based on Turkish rose, a smoothing element that takes some of the edge off the spices, like galangal, nutmeg absolute, and black pepper; it massages them into a rounded softness, finished off with the freshness of bitter orange. Built on a base of myrrh and cardamom, I layered the spices vertically throughout the perfume.

Featured Notes
Top: saffron, galangal.
Heart: Turkish rose, nutmeg.

Base: cardamom, myrrh.

When reviewing Memento, I tried to express how beautifully blended and non-spicy the spices were.  I don't find Parfum de Maroc to have a burn or fire, but there's a pepperiness that set it apart from Memento. It's warm, though, not hot. Comforting. It's more sultry than fiery.

Mandy's inspiration was Ras el Hanout, a complex blend of spices from Morocco. Like a master olfactory chef, she settled the spices on a bed of Turkish rose. As seen above, she says the rose "massages [the spices] into a rounded softness". I couldn't have said it better. Round. Lots of curves and undulating arcs.

image source

I don't get a ton of development from this. That is to say, it doesn't shift from one thing to another between the time I spray it on and when it finally fades away. Like the picture above, the scent holds steady, the theme repeating throughout the scent, top to bottom. Spicy, soft, sultry; spicy, soft, sultry; spicy, soft, sultry...


There's a slightly resinous side to this scent, but it's subtle. It takes the rose and spices to a place that's truly unisex. Anyone can (and should!) wear Parfum de Maroc. But I warn you: once the spices get the blood flowing a bit and the rose takes hold, the sensuality of this perfume really begins to take hold... It whispers. It gently shifts, moving slowly... seducing...

Parfum de Maroc calls you closer by staying close to the skin. It curls softly, like a fallen tendril of hair that just begs to be tucked behind the ear. It beckons in the most subtle murmur, encouraging others to lean a little closer to get a deeper sniff.

I really like Parfum de Maroc. It's beautiful. It's going on my next date night with me. I may not do the dance of the seven veils or belly dance or sit on luxurious floor pillows and eat on low tables, but the warm and languid feeling and that spicy, sultry seduction will do very nicely.

If it brings the right kind of fire, I bet hubby will be calling up Mandy and ordering a bottle! ;)

Side note: Maybe I have a Moroccan thang? I consider Morocco, a smooth and creamy spicy rose by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, to be one of my Top 5 of all time. I also adore L'Air du Desert Morocain by Andy Tauer, which is a very dry, spicy wind (it's probably a Top 5er, too). Now I find this lovely Moroccan-inspired scent by Mandy Aftel. Maybe I really need a trip to Morocco? I think there's room in my stocking for a plane ticket. Oh, Saaaannnnntaaaa....!

perfume sample provided for consideration

my opinions are my own

Aftelier Week: Memento

Yesterday, I laboriously established the fact that I do not consider myself "a gourmand fragrance lover". I am here to eat my words again. Mandy Aftel has broken me. I looked in the mirror this morning and hardly recognized myself.


In college, clove cigarettes were all the rage. Does anyone smoke them these days? I used to love the smell of them. Not only did they seem exotic and pretentious sophisticated, they were a little odd and being a little odd has always appealed to me. I tried to smoke them a few times, but they were cruel to my asthma in ways my Marlboro Lights weren't*. Plus, there was a sickly feeling and a headache that came along with them that I didn't experience when standing near someone else smoking them.

*I see the irony. I also am not mystified as to why my asthma
 and chronic bronchitis virtually disappeared
 when I quit smoking 7 years ago.
But what can I say? It was college.  

Every New Year's, my parents have a party that usually includes some mulled cider. I love the smell of the spices swirling around in there: cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, a slice or two of orange... Delicious!

Being drawn to Aftelier Perfume's Memento was a bit of a no-brainer for me, anti-gourmand feelings aside.
Scent Family: Gourmand 
Warm winter spices featuring smoked cinnamon and antique clove built on a base of tonka beans and vanilla. The elegant floral heart features jasmine sambac and Turkish rose.

Featured Notes:
Top: antique clove, bergamot, blood orange.
Heart: cinnamon, rose, jasmine sambac, nutmeg.
Base: choya, tonka bean, vanilla.

When first applied - and a little goes a long way, mind you - Memento is that swirling pot of cider (minus the apple). Mandy's blood orange note** -which was present in Cacao in the most stellar and more prominent way-  is really, really gorgeous. It's here, lightly, wrapped in cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.

The jasmine sambac and rose heart are lovely, but again, the florals aren't as apparent as in Cacao, which is at once a gourmand and a beautiful floral. Here, in Memento, they support the spices without taking over. They lift them up beautifully, in fact, so the spices don't become too heavy and oppressive (no sickly feeling and headache here!).

I'm not sure how, but Memento is not spicy, either. Bear with me while I explain. Sure, there's spices - clove, cinnamon, nutmeg. But it's not hot-spicy. There's no burning tingle, no peppery heat. It's not really super-foody, either. It does not remind me of bread or cake or baked goods of any kind (<--your mileage may vary). In a way that sort of defies description (at least by the likes of me), this is a lovely blend of non-spicy spices. It's a snuffle of the spice rack without the burn. Memento is rich, layered, familiar, and exotic but not hot or fiery.

The way the the spicy-but-not-hot blend and florals fade is quite beautiful, courtesy of that mellow and pretty tonka + vanilla base. This scent lasts the shortest amount of time of the Aftelier Perfumes I've reviewed this week so far - maybe 3 or 4 hours. I really don't mind - it gives me a chance to reapply and experience it all over again.

PS: I bet this would layer beautifully with Cacao... must give that a go ASAP!

Am I now a gourmand perfumer lover? Who am I? What is happening?!

How many of you are paying attention? I will be offering up a little Aftelier giveaway this weekend, courtesy of the lovely Mandy Aftel. Stay tuned...

sample provided for consideration by the perfumer
my opinions are not influenced by that, but my appetite may be. 
The photo of Memento clearly belongs to Aftelier Perfumes. Duh.

Aftelier Week: Cacao

I do not generally care to smell like food.

Gourmand fragrances are not a genre to which I tend to gravitate. That makes sense, since I do not generally care to smell like food.

There are exceptions. The yeasty note in En Passant is to-die-for, though I wouldn't consider that perfume "a gourmand". When it comes to bread, you can't beat Jeux de Peau by Serge Lutens. Now that's a scent I really adore --- but I never pick it up and wear it.

I enjoy the coffee notes in Cafe Noir by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and in New Haarlem by Bond No. 9. Those two, yeah - I'll wear them. They're fabulous. Cafe Noir is my preference, though if a bottle of the Bond scent fell  in my lap I wouldn't swap it away.

I find that vanilla appears as a listed note in many a scent I enjoy, though that doesn't necessarily make them gourmands.

I think Angel (Theirry Mugler) is a really interesting scent. I really, really like it. As with many perfumistas, though, I don't like to wear it. This is in part because a lot of people wear it and I don't want to smell like other people. I also don't enjoy wearing anything that is likely to drive people towards their migraine medicines, and Angel seems to be one of those scents that the anti-perfume crowd can recognize immediately. So, no  Angel for me in public. Truth be told, I never spray it at home, either.

To summarize:  I enjoy reeking of coffee or bread. I like vanilla swirled in my perfumes, but wouldn't like to walk around smelling like vanilla extract. I do not care to smell like any other food.

What ever possessed me to sample Mandy Aftel's Cacao?

I mean, it's right there in the name: we know we're going to get some chocolate going on. I must have bumped my head when I agreed to this...

But request it I did, and here we are.  And I'm oh-so-glad we are.

Aftelier Perfume's official description of Cacao is this:

Possibly the world’s most seductive form of chocolate, with jasmine and blood orange. I create the chocolate alcohol that is the foundation of the perfume. I tincture very aromatic organic cocoa beans from Costa Rica, hand-selected by master chocolate-maker Steve DeVries, along with some very floral Tahitian vanilla beans. Using both grandiflorum and sambac jasmines, their richness marries well with the full chocolate base.

Featured NotesTop: blood orange, pink grapefruit.Heart: jasmine sambac & grandiflorum.Base: chocolate, vanilla.
Blood orange. Grapefruit. Jasmine. Vanilla.  Chocolate. Vanilla. It seems so simple.

The first notes are akin to biting into a rich and masterfully-made chocolate candy when you haven't had one in ages. I experience that same heady feeling, that sensation of AHHHHHH....

It's a little like this...

... only add in unicorns and rainbows and orange sparkles and dark chocolate stars.*

 *No, I don't know either - just go with it.

It's not super-sweet, like a store-bought candy. It's not like those nifty chocolate oranges that you whack on the table (<---how cool are those, by the way?). It's not even like those delicious orange peels dipped in dark chocolate (<---also delectable. is anyone else getting hungry?). Nope. The opening to Cacao is the finest dark chocolate, heavily bitter and cocoa-y, wrapped around an orange cream center made with really special orange extracts.

After about 5 minutes, this heavenly chocolate-orange swirling feeling fades and you're suddenly standing on a beautiful patio with one of those orange chocolates in one hand and a glass of something bubbly in the other.

Did I mention the patio is surrounded in blooming jasmine?

It's like this.
Don't be jealous of my art skillz. It's bad karma.
The jasmine in Cacao is amazing. Simply sublime.

And eventually the cocktail party winds down and you're left with vanilla-tinged jasmine and, eventually, just really lovely memories -- and a little craving to do it all again.

Blood orange. Grapefruit. Jasmine. Vanilla.  Chocolate. Vanilla. It seems so simple. I'm sure it wasn't simple at all. If it were truly simple, it would have been done this well before. It hasn't been. Cacao is one-of-a-kind. Truly masterful.

This is a gourmand I'll wear. A lot.

sample provided by the perfumer
though the opinions here are my own

Aftelier Week: Haute Claire (a perfume review)

Hi, pumpkins. What a Fall it has been... I'm not one to wish time away, since I know we have so precious little of it, but I'm pretty ready to shoo 2011 into the past and greet 2012 with welcome arms!

I got some samples of scents from Aftelier Perfumes recently, from the lovely Mandy Aftel. I enjoyed putting them on and sniffing them and wearing them, and then, just as I was getting ready to write about them ---  BLAM! A cold.

Not a cold, really. Some kind of something like a cold but magnified into some uber-cold that has no name. I'm not the only one to catch it, of course. It's going around. But what I most resent from the darn thing was that I couldn't smell for two weeks! I literally sat next to the little tin of Aftelier samples during that whole time. A few times I opened the little round tin they came in and touched the pretty little vials, but since I couldn't have smelled an angry skunk sitting on my lap, I didn't bother opening those little friends.

But now? Now I can smell! And thus begins a week of reviewing my new little pals from Aftelier Perfumes, with many thanks to Mandy for a) providing me with the samples, b) being patient while I didn't review them, and c) saying nice things to me while I was sick. The only thing that's better than indie perfumes are the perfumers themselves!

So, without further yammering on my part, let's move onto...

Haute Claire

Perfumistas may have been following along on my imaginary BFF's blog* as Mandy Aftel and Liz Zorn corresponded about and sort-of collaborated on new perfumes**. This series is dead-fascinating if you're a fan of perfume or just interested in the creative process. It's really compelling, and to sniff the finished product is a real treat!

ANYWAY, this scent I'm discussing today is the result of that correspondence. The challenge set-up by Mandy and Liz was to use both galbanum and ylang-ylang in a scent. Why those two ingredients? Well, the women decided to work around two ingredients they usually prefer to ignore or avoid. You've gotta love that idea, don't you? Two artists, masters of their craft, challenging themselves and pushing past blocks to create something new. Fabulous.

Liz noted in their correspondence that she hadn't created a galbanum perfume in around 15 years. Mandy realized she never had made one she ended up putting in her line and referred to the ingredient as "impressive", yet possessing a "sharp and thorny greenness". She even called it "a green razorblade".  Liz called it " volatile and invasive".
Galbanum is green. Really green. It's also quite intense. I often sense it as high-pitched or sharp. It is also considered stand-offish by some, with scents that use it prominently to be thought of as cold or distant. You may have met it in any of these perfumes: Vent Vert (Balmain), No. 19 (Chanel), Chamade (Guerlain), among others.

Ylang ylang had been avoided by Liz for awhile, though she confessed to having liked it in the past. Mandy admitted its "creamy sweetness can be problematic". Zorn even admitted "It’s taking me some time to warm up to this Ylang Ylang. I wasn’t aware that my distaste for it had become so palpable."
Ylang is a white floral with quite interesting facets. Sometimes rubbery, at times super-sweet, even a little spicy, and once and awhile described as mentholated or having a wintergreen-like aspect. It can be heady. It can be fruity. Scents with prominent ylang ylang include: Private Collection Amber Ylang (Estee Lauder), Mahora (Guerlain), Joy (Patou), Black Orchid (Tom Ford), Songes (Annick Goutal) and countless others. Ylang Ylang is used in  the most famous of perfumes: Chanel No. 5. It's also found in many of my most beloved perfumes including one of my "Top 5" scents, Amaranthine (Penhaligons). There it is paired with banana leaf to amazing (and to some, dirty-skanky) degree.

To me, Mandy Aftel's perfume birthed of this experiment, Haute Claire, is not at all what I expected. Being a fan of both galbanum and ylang, I was expecting to enjoy the scent. I do. But not in the way I had anticipated...

Haute Claire is both crisp and soft, cool and warm. The fresh edgy greenness of galbanum is offset by the creamy floral of ylang ylang edged with honeysuckle. The green and floral notes harmonize in perfect pitch, with neither dominating the other. A warm base of vetiver and vanilla provides a soft finish of sweet grass. - Mandy Aftel
Featured NotesTop: galbanum, Mexican lime, wild sweet orange, ylang ylang co2.Heart: honeysuckle absolute, ylang ylang extra, clary sage.Base: vetiver, ethyl phenyl acetate***, vanilla absolute.

I expected Haute Claire to be sharply green. I often find galbanum piercing, but I do enjoy it. Beauty is pain/ Pain is beauty? I also figured I'd find a rich, buttery, thick ylang in this scent.

Cue the game show buzzer that signifies a wrong answer. Hit it a few times for good measure.

Instead, I revel in a rich, round green opening - tinged with a delightful lime. My skin has a tendency to rearrange notes, so the dry and arrid grassy vetiver blows through the opening of this perfume and is completely missing from the drydown.

Haute Claire becomes even rounder as it develops, which it does slowly - inch by inch. I never get much honeysuckle, though the clary sage wends its way through the first few hours of the perfume's development. I'm on the fence about that. The rich muskiness borders on objectionable for me (some people find it to smell like sweat socks, though I wouldn't go that far!).

I was expecting Haute Claire to be electric green. It isn't. Ylang balances the galbanum, creating a full-bodied mossy green experience, "mossy" here referring to the shade of green and not to actual moss as an ingredient. The clary sage keeps me on my toes, and I don't settle into this scent until, hours after application, the perfume itself settles down into a stunning and sexy ylang-vanilla that's nearly edible. Before that, though, I do not enjoy Haute Claire when I sniff my wrist. Oddly, I adore it when I turn into my own (minimal) sillage.

Did I mention the scent gets its name (as suggested by the aforementioned imaginary BFF, this perfume's "midwife") from a sword in "The Song of Roland", a 12th Century French poem? While I disagree with this scent's description as "high and light" (to me, it's low and beautifully shady), I completely understand the reference to the sword, which must have perfect balance to serve its handler well.

I enjoy a perfume that challenges me, just as Mandy Aftel seems to have enjoyed the challenges she and Liz Zorn set up for themselves when creating their scents for this project. Haute Claire is the best kind of challenge - it's not what I expected it to be. It's more. It's a really well-done blend of two ingredients that should fight against each other, and yet here they find balance and a kind of peace. The pull of the languid ylang provides the perfect counterpoint to the razor's edge of galbanum (to borrow Mandy's metaphor) just as the heft of a sword must be perfectly matched with its sharp edge and point.

Have you tried Haute Claire? Any other of Mandy's scents? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments! I'm interested to hear them.
And stay tuned: more Aftelier Perfume reviews are on their way. In fact, there will be one here tomorrow!

*If you aren't reading Nathan Branch, what are you doing with your free time?
**Ep. 1Ep. 2Ep. 3Ep. 4

***According to what I read on Scent Hive, ethyl phenyl acetate is sometimes derived from petroleum, but the one used by Mandy is not. Hers comes from "is an isolate from fruit, wine or whiskey."

Italian Splendor by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz in conjunction with the Denver Art Museum (perfume reviews)

This collection of scents - 6 in all - both frustrates and delights me. It's called Italian Splendor, and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz created it as an olfactory accompaniment to a visual arts collection called Cities of Splendor: A Journey Through Renaissance Italy.

This blending of perfume and paint is nothing out of the ordinary for Ms. Hurwitz (aka "DSH"), herself a painter and jeweler in addition to being a world class perfumer. DSH paints in "my style"*, a version of Abstract Expressionism**. The style is often a visual expression of thoughts or feelings without much -if any- figurative representation. The style is loose, maybe primal, often intense, highly subjective for the viewer and, by definition, emotional. Does that sound to any of us like perfume?

So for DSH, the art-perfume connection is strong. It was probably natural for this collaboration between her and the Denver Art Museum to come about. 

*Yeah, I paint sometimes. I love it.
I wish I had time, money and space to do more!

**Think Mark RothkoJackson Pollock,
 Robert MotherwellWillem de Kooning,
Helen Frankenthaler.
 Those are some of my favorites,
but there were many whose work
 is considered "Abstract Expressionism".

"It is far better to capture the glorious spirit
of the sea than to paint all of its tiny ripples.

- Jay Meuser, Abstract Expressionist

Denver Art Museum

Cities of Splendor

Cities of Splendor, the art exhibit, focused on the Italian Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries) and explored the styles specific to various regions of the country. Your time to view the exhibit is over, unfortunately, but the scents live on (as do the paintings, of course - just not all in one room at the moment!). 

We want to transport our visitors to Renaissance Italy, where cities such as Florence, Venice, and Milan played a major role in the development of this innovative, artistic style,” says curator Angelica Daneo. “During the 1400s and 1500s, Italy was not a unified country, but rather a group of independent states with different characters and artistic traditions. The exhibition will show how local styles merged with the innovative ideas coming from Tuscany, and resulted in distinctive styles and lasting examples of Renaissance art.
[via Denver Art Museum] 
Italian Splendor

Italian Splendor, the perfume collection, brought "the glory and richness of the greatest cities and art of Italian Renaissance to life in fragrant form." [via the DSH website] 

There are six perfumes representing six Italian cities or areas:
  • Alba - "from across the Alps"
  • Adoration - from Milan
  • Divine Gardens - Mantua
  • Medici - Florence
  • Secreti di Belle Donne - Venice
  • Venus & Cupid - Siena

The Reviews
I have samples of all six of the Italian Splendor scents, which is where I'm getting that delight I mentioned at the top of this post. The frustration? I received these samples from DSH and almost immediately had them stolen from me. There is a special place in hell for perfume thieves, by the way. Dawn was sweet enough to send me a second pack of samples (thanks again, Dawn!) and I sampled them to review. And I wrote my reviews. And my computer -or Blogger?- ate my reviews. And I feel cursed! But the collection is amazing and so I am re-doing the whole shebang and, sadly, emptying my sample vials to do so.
[It's OK - Santa has my purchase order for Christmas! ;) ]

Here are the six scents and my impressions of them.
Each scent is accompanied by an image from the exhibit that Dawn chose to display with the scent. 

  1. Alba ("from across the Alps)
    Flemish designer, active 1500's,
    Military Scenes,
    possibly from the story of Scipio Africanus,
     late 1500's,
    woven at a Brussels workshop
     wool and silk tapestry,
    Denver Art Museum,
    Neusteter Textile Collection,
    Anonymous Gift
    Many wonderful works of Renaissance Art were created in Northern climes. Tapestries were known especially from the Flemish through France and into Italy.
    Alba was inspired by one such tapestry from the late 1500's, woven at a Brussels workshop. The tapestry is made of wool and silk and the fragrance has been designed to convey that subtle sense of texture. Alba also takes it's inspiration from alpine flowers, delicate flowering trees and a delicacy of the northern landscape, white truffle. 

    Top notes: BergamotBitter AlmondBitter OrangeLemonPetitgrain
    Middle notes: Elderflower absoluteFrench BeeswaxItalian NeroliJasmineJonquilOlive Flower,Orange Flower Absolute - SpainOrris ConcreteWhite Rose Accord
    Base notes: Australian SandalwoodHeliotropeVirginia CedarWhite Truffle

    The first few minutes are stupendous, morphing from one thing to another - all beautifully blended and seamless.

    Close attention allows me to pick out the lemon, the orange blossom, the jasmine and rose - but if my attention wavers for a moment I am refocused on a beautiful and gently swirling "floralocity". Slowly a slightly powdery nuance is folded in, gently - as if cooking the perfect mousse. The powder and florals continue to soften into a lovely and light woody-earthy drydown.

    I can't imagine a better representation of tapestry work, by the way. The way the notes blend but somehow also remain intact, they way they make patterns - it's all very clever. I do not see colors with things I smell (synesthesia), but even I can realize that the scent matches beautifully with the soft greys and earthy colors in the tapestry shown. Alba wears fairly close and fades after about 3 hours, but that only means I get to put it on again and experience those amazing top notes!

  2. Adoration (Milan)
    Bonaficio Bembo
    active about 1444-78,
    Adoration of the Magi,
    about 1455-60,
     tempera and oil paint on panel,
    Denver Art Museum;
     the Simon Guggenheim
     Memorial Collection, 1957

    Inspired by Bonifacio
    Bembo's "Adoration of the Magi" (about1455-1460) and Renaissance Milan's great wealth and status among cities. This fragrance depicts traditional Catholic incense, which is based on the gifts of the Magi to the Christ child: frankincense, gold and myrrh. Even during the Renaissance, these rare aromatic gifts of the East (frankincense and myrrh) were more costly than their weight in gold. 
    I have included a precious rose note to this design as well, to center the essence and to symbolize Mary. 

    Top notes: AngelicaGalbanumImmortelleRosewood (bois de rose)
    Middle notes: Bulgarian Rose AbsoluteEastern LilyRed Rose
    Base notes: Atlas CedarwoodAustralian SandalwoodFrankincense co2 absoluteLabdanum No. 3Myrrh GumVanilla Absolute

    Let me start by saying that as a former Catholic (12 years of Catholic school, Mass every weekend), I don't think of this as a church-y incense. At least, it's not church-y in the way that Armani Privé Bois d’Encens is. Boy, do I love that perfume! It's weird, though, because I don't really love the scent of an incense censer swinging down the aisle.

    But Bois d'Encens is a BIG scent (with an even larger pricetag, by the way). This perfume, Adoration, is much quieter and more contemplative. It smells to me not of the burning incense during Mass, like Armani's scent, but rather of the church when no one is in it. It's the lingering scent of soft incense over the woods used to build the church and its pews. Soft florals hint at the perfumes of the women who bowed their heads while kneeling to pray and maybe even a breath of flowers from the arrangements on the alter.

    This perfume is beautiful. It is one that helps me find my center, my place of calm. It has been a long, long time since I found comfort in the church - but this scent is my new comfort, my zen. It's perfect for soothing oneself after a bad day. It's a great sleep scent, too, though it's a shame to miss the drydown which is soft and floral and comforting with a dose vanilla and sandalwood to keep you nice and mellow. This would be a great thinking perfume, too, I suspect. I may grab it the next time I'm on the horns of a dilemma. It can't hurt.

  3. Divine Gardens (Matua)
    *Image is cropped*
    Follower of Andrea Mantagna
    [possibly Giralamo di Cremona],
     active 1460's,
    The Triumphs of Fame, Time and Divinity
     about 1460
     Tempera on panel
     Denver Art Museum
     Gift of the Samuel H. Kress
    Inspired by the allegorical image, "The Triumphs of Time, Fame and Divinity", by a follower of Andrea Mantagna, Divine Gardens not only speaks to the imagery in the work but also Mantua's exquisite homes and gardens of the wealthy and powerful.This green and glorious fragrance is my first green chypre utilizing a tomato leaf note.

    Top notes: BergamotBitter OrangeGreen MandarinSpearmintSweet BasilTomato LeafWhite Thyme
    Middle notes: Bulgarian Rose OttoGrandiflorum JasmineMuguet (Lily of the Valley)Sylvestre PineTagettesViolet
    Base notes: Australian SandalwoodBalsam FirBrazilian VetiverEast Indian PatchouliMuskOrris Root

    This perfume urges me to walk in the woods, breathing in the scents of the trees and listening to the sounds of my footsteps. 

    Divine Gardens might be classified by some as "masculine" (I don't waste time on that nonsense). It certainly would be classified by most as "green". It's not galbanum-green, rather pine-and-herbs-green. 

    This perfume is clean, fresh and invigorating. It's also pretty linear on my skin (or to my nose). There's a lovely tomato-leaf note (I really love that in a perfume!) that runs throughout, though the herb-y top notes fade to pretty florals and eventually to a pine-y wood drydown. On me, this scent lasts for several hours and wears close to the skin with minimal sillage. 

  4. Medici (Florence)
    Follower of Sandro Botticelli
     Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap
    About 1481
    Tempera on panel
     Lent by the Berger
    Collection Education Trust
    One of the most famous names in Renaissance Italy, not only among the mighty, wealthy and powerful but also among the fashionable and beautifully scented. They were known as a lavishly scented clan. My
    Medici perfume was not only inspired by this fabulously scented family but by a painting attributed to a follower of Botticelli called "Portrait of a Young Man in a Red Cap". The scent speaks to fiery red spice notes, deep woods and leathers that would have been found in any study of a young Renaissance aristocrat. 

    Top notes: BergamotBlack PepperCitron AccordRosewood (bois de rose)Sweet Orange
    Middle notes: ArtichokeCarnationCinnamon BarkClove BudGreen PeppercornOriganumRed RoseWhite Thyme
    Base notes: AmberAmbergrisLeatherMossOrrisPeru BalsamTobacco AbsoluteVirginia Cedar

    One isn't supposed to have favorites when it comes to kids or relatives, but with things like ice cream or shoes it's OK. It is also OK to have a favorite perfume from a collection. If it wasn't ok before, then let's make it so! And this scent, Medici, is my favorite from the Italian Splendor collection.

    The Medici family were great patrons of the arts, and if they were "fashionable and beautifully scented" to boot, I'm a huge fan. Hold on - I'm going to use this as an excuse to douse myself in this perfume again so I can talk about it even more intelligently than usual. ;)

    The top of Medici is fairly classic - lots of bergamot and bright citrus. It immediately takes a turn to an interesting, peppery and spicy place. There are a few spicy, biting herbs, peppercorns, cinnamon and clove all assaulting my nose in an almost edible way.

    The florals are buried under these spices - in fact carnation likely adds to the feisty melange. The rose serves to flesh out the scent and add a lovely, classic beauty.

    I'm not sure I would automatically think of this perfume as "red". Instead, it's the most lovely ruddy leather tone. Speaking of leather...

    There's leather and oakmoss in this baby! And I swear there's incense in there - is it a olfactory trick?

    Medici's drydown is heavenly, though not in the way that Adoration is (see above). Medici is a little dirty, very earthy, and quite sexy. I don't think it projects much off the skin, but it lasts and lasts and lasts. The far, far, far drydown is a soft amber with the occasional flicker of leather, embers that stir up from time to time before dying back down.

    If you are a fan of classic perfumes, leather scents, or grand Perfumes like Amouage you'll likely love Medici.

  5. Secreti di Belle Donne (Venice)
    Vittore Carpaccio
    about 1465-1525
    Portrait of a Lady with a Book
    about 1495
    oil on panel
    Denver Art Museum
     Gift of Samuel H. Kress Foundation
    During the Renaissance, Venice was at the height of it's power and luxury. Not only the global force for trade in Europe of exotic spices, fabrics and ships, but also for love and seduction through their beautiful Courtesans. A famous book of the period was called simply "Secreti"; a book of beauty secrets. My Secreti di Belle Donne perfume is inspired by the famous Courtesans of Venice and Venetian delicacies as well as the work by Vittore Carpaccio, "Portrait of a Lady with a Book".
    Secreti di Belle Donne is a wonderfully rich and subtle perfume that speaks to the beauty preparations of the lovely ladies of Venice as well as the underlying erogenous scent of the lovers trysts. 

    Top notes: BergamotBitter OrangeBlood Orange (Sicily)Cardamom co2 AbsoluteCured Fruit (accord)Melon
    Middle notes: Cinnamon BarkClove BudDamask Rose AbsoluteOrange Flower Absolute - SpainOsmanthusSaffron absoluteSambac JasmineYlang-Ylang
    Base notes: AmberAmbergrisBenzoinCiste AbsoluteCivetHoney BeeswaxHoney MuskVanilla Absolute

    Secreti di Belle Donne
    is one of my absolute favorites from this collection.

    Fresh on the skin, SdBD is a glorious honeyed fruit-creme with gentle spices. Ripe (over-ripe?) melon is tangled with citrus and fruit in a sensual, not terribly well-hidden metaphor for our young and luscious Belle Donne.

    Almost immediately, that ciste absolute jumps in and stays pretty steady for the rest of the ride. I wear labdanum well - and strongly. It seems to love my skin. So maybe my experience with SdBD isn't what anyone else can expect? Regardless, it's lovely. Its sweet and nearly vanillic amber lends a great support for the rest of the notes.

    This is a well-blended perfume that seems to be fairly linear at first blush but, after closer inspection is actually a subtle and complex creature. Using fruits and indolic florals (with their ripe fruit nuances) is a great trick, as it holds that lush quality in the forefront for most of the scent's development.

    The drydown is where I expect we are meant to find out our Belle Donne's secret that has been hinted all along. This pretty and prim young woman hides her sexuality behind the proper trappings of upper-class decorum. The fruit and indoles that merely suggested are traded for ambergris and amber and civet - and the secret is out. Just dirty enough to tempt, but not so blatant as to be crass.

  6. Venus & Cupid (Siena)
    attributed to
    Girolamo di Benvenuto
     Venus and Cupid
     about 1500
    Tempera and oil on panel
    Denver Art Museum
     Gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation
    Inspired by "Venus and Cupid", attributed to Girolamo di Benvenuto, 1470-1524, the image and delightful scent are reminiscent of earlier Roman themes decadence and luscious natural sensuality. Venus and Cupid is a sensuous perfume filled with floral fecundity and the nectar of the Gods.

    Top notes: AcaciaCassis BudNeroliVine Leaf
    Middle notes: Centifolia Rose AbsoluteHibiscusHoneySambac Jasmine,TuberosaWisteria
    Base notes: AmberFig LeafMossSandalwood

    Venus and Cupid opens with a creamy green and citrus swirl.

    Florals come into play, green and rich. A very fresh figgy greenness is also quite apparent. This perfume is probably best described as "ripe". Not in that slang way that has a negative connotation, but in the traditional way the word is used: ripe, like fruit ready to be picked.

    Even to the end, many hours later, when it is a soft and slightly-powdery amber, Venus and Cupid still seems fresh and full. It is that quality that makes this scent seem comforting. I can see the connection Dawn is making to "natural sensuality". This is not a sexy-dirty scent, but there is an almost innocent and unaffected natural quality that truly does seem sensual and free.

"Today painters do not have to go to a subject matter outside of themselves.
Most modern painters work from a different source.
They work from within."
-Jackson Pollock, Abstract Expressionist

I was completely surprised to find all six of the Italian Splendor scents not only "good" but GREAT. I am definitely "a DSH fangirl". I admit it. But not even fangirls expect to like everything from a sizeable collection. Admiration doubles, though, when it happens.

I wonder if DSH's connection to art, to the raw emotion of Abstract Expressionism specifically, is why she is such a talented perfumer? Do her Muses connect directly to her soul enabling her to so perfectly express the concepts and ideas she has dreamed up?

I don't know. All I know is these scents are exquisite. I am adding Medici to my stash as soon as possible - if not immediately! And Secreti di Belle Donne, Adoration, and maybe even Alba and Divine Gardens are soon to follow. I'm delighted by them all - and frustrated when I look at these now empty sample vials. Sigh...

Have you tried these scents? Why the heck not?
Do you like Abstract Expressionism? What is your favorite artistic style? Have you been to Italy? Don't I smell amazing right now with all of these perfumes on me?*

*Yes, I do! ;)