Sunday, October 2, 2011

Aromatic Symphony

Musical Staff
The musical language lends numerous expressions and phrases to the art of perfumery. Some of its terminology helps us to understand how perfumes are composed from conception to conclusion.

Charles Piesse, a French perfumer from the 19th century, was one of the first to equate music to perfume.  He devised a system to identify perfume ingredients by classifying fragrances according to musical notes. Piesse relates odors to the octaves of the musical scale and theorized that scents influence olfactory nerves in the same manner that sounds influence the auditory nerves. Although his method of classification ultimately failed, musical expressions continue to be a mainstay in the art of perfumery.

Just as a musician harmonizes notes to create chords, a perfumer must be proficient in harmonizing scents into fragrant combinations. Thus, the creation of perfume should be pleasing to both the mind and senses. The experience should emulate the composition of an intricate piece of music. For example, a three-part fugue with the olfactory notes being the key signature, the usage of notes identifying the individual elements of the arrangement – as well as describing the perfume and how it smells as it evaporates from the skin. Therefore, it is imperative that the perfumer has vast knowledge of raw materials, and a clear understanding of how they evolve and change. 

Perfume organ by Taco Ekkel

The process is initiated with the master seated at the fragrance organ, his surroundings being an array of aromatics. There, the inhalation of exotic scents, along with the distinguishing of olfactory notes, takes place.  Imagine this phase as the prelude, an extravaganza of brilliant notes coming together in unison.  Bear in mind that notes show more than the aspect of the perfume’s range, they also can represent a particular quality or tone that reflects the mood of the composition.

The first movement begins with what is referred to as top notes. Typically citrus odors, bright and bursting with freshness and, on occasion, is considered sharp. Although quite expressive, they seem to maintain lightness, as well as lending to the initial impression of the composition. They are also the most volatile of the notes, being the first to evaporate. The dissipation of the top notes quickly transitions us into the second movement or middle notes. 
Gem from my rose bush

Middle notes are predominately floral aromas, and as they unfold they exhibit the true heart of the composition, adding fullness, roundness, and complexity. Middle notes, can be either heady and exotic or delicate and subdued. They emerge as the perfume warms on the skin, escorting us gracefully into the third movement or the base notes. 

Base notes -- originating from woods, resins, and spices -- are rich, warm and exotic. They are viscous, having a consistency between solid and liquid. And they also have a dual function and are held in high esteem for their fixative qualities. That anchors the composition, completing the structural unity necessary to achieve harmony while, at the same time, adding longevity. The base notes emerge slowly, almost as if the movement is marked adagio, bringing the symphony to its entirety. Base notes are the last to surface but have the longest duration, or in musical terms sustainability. Base notes leave their clinging impression behind by embracing us for hours, thus completing the fragrance evolution.

Resins W. Djatmiko

Not every symphony will be vivacious or sparkle with brilliance. Depending on the composer, the concert may be inferior, lacking life, or absent of character, with tonality being non-existent. On the other hand, a symphony composed by a true virtuoso will be exquisite, giving an accurate exposition on his thematic idea. Every note being smooth and harmonic as they progressively transition from one phase to another, accompanying us gracefully through the fragrance evolution.

My vintage Youth Dew

An aromatic symphony is a classical perfume, bearing semblance to a beautiful musical composition, one of consonance, as simple notes mingle and produce harmonious blends.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Scents and Nonsense

First and foremost, I’d like to identify myself as a perfume enthusiast and avid collector ---and by no means an expert when it comes to fragrances. I will also admit to having an elitist attitude where celebrity juice is concerned. However, these perfumes are not excluded from my fragrance library, due to my love of collecting decanters, regardless of the perfume they hold.  As for having a signature fragrance --- I don’t. My perfume wardrobe consists of a few vintage, classic, niche, and naturals. I select aromas that seduce my olfactory senses, and don’t go to war with my body chemistry.

My personal collection
During my fragrant explorations, I happened upon a perfume article that captured my attention. The topic being, the hundreds of perfumes that are launched yearly.  My enthusiasm quickly waned, when I realized there was no mention of niche or natural perfumes.  Even with the current surge of interest in these genres of perfumery. The article’s emphasis was strictly about commercial perfumes, with the focal point being celebrity fragrances. With all the chatter about celebrity scents, and the realization that if I blink twice, there’s another launching of someone’s “signature scent”. Well, I allowed my curiosity to get the better of me and continued on with the article. Yes, I surrendered; I waved my scented hankie and trudged on through the plume of celebrity stench --- peculiar mixtures of exotic fruits, flowers, bubble gum, and cotton candy.
" It's really hot. I mixed all these scents together, it smells so good." - Paris Hilton

The piece was filled with interesting tidbits about the millions of dollars spent on advertising campaigns, promotional strategies, and the occasional shrewd television commercial. Lastly, the exorbitant fees paid to celebrities to “create” and endorse products.  I could be mistaken, but I get the impression that there is little, if any participation in the creation of their signature scent --- but I will concede to hearing much inaccurate talk about The Notes, from celebutaunts during their promotional appearances.  Maybe a crash course in perfumery for dummies should be considered before starting their promotional tours.

Although the article was enlightening, it left me with numerous questions about the current celebrity scent sensation, and the shift from celebrity endorsements to celebrity creations. The most significant question being, why celebrities perceive themselves as magnificent human beings, deserving to be immortalized with a perfume? What is the appeal, why are these perfumes being purchased without a single whiff?  I realize there is this enormous fan base. but is that justification for such impulse buying? Why are star- struck consumers having to don the celebrity brands? Are these individuals under the impression that they will undergo some sort of celebrity transformation?  Are they really aspiring to be one of the irrelevant but idolized? For example, Kim, Snooki, and Paris. Undignified, and simpleminded, lacking poise and polish --- busy stroking their immature egos and using their “fame” to hawk mediocre perfumes. Their claim to fame ---- sex tapes, drugs, alcohol, and arrests. Oh, I forgot to mention, Oscar winning performances on reality shows.
Snooki's dressing table????
Celebrity endorsements are not new phenomena. Decades ago, Hollywood’s elite endorsed perfumes that they adored and actually used.  For those of us who remember Joan Crawford, she actually spritzed her body with Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew. What a concept!  Gloria Swanson enshrined Narcisse Noir in the film Sunset Boulevard. Talk about a free endorsement for the perfume house of Caron --- and from a genuine leading lady.

The classic film,  The Women
The grand dames of Hollywood were breathtakingly beautiful, oozing with sophistication and elegance, each having a unique style. Not absent of scandal, but noteworthy in their fields.  I doubt the world will be privy to drug and alcohol fueled sex reels from the starlets of yesteryear.  These glamorous women ---singers, dancers, and actresses were muses for some of the great perfume creators. Audrey Hepburn, Princess Grace, and Isadora Duncan are celebrities who were paid this immense compliment and deservingly so. With that, I pay homage to the muses of bygone times.

Audrey Hepburn

Friday, April 1, 2011

Divine House of Dana

Javier Serra, lawyer and former director of the Spanish fragrance house Myrurgia, established the house of Dana in 1921 in Barcelona Spain. Dana then headquartered in Paris before relocating to the United States during the German occupation of Paris.

Serra recruited the most talented noses to create original scents. The most recognized perfumer and educator was Jean Carles. He was best known for his aromatic genius, creating fine fragrances with simple and economical ingredients. Early marketing of their products, with veiled sensual advertisements, were done elegantly, resulting in Dana exemplifying sophistication.
Vintage Ad 1945
The gothic trademark, influenced from a piece of artwork by 
Spanish artist Mariano Andrue, inspired Dana’s logo. The company name, Dana (Danae) was chosen for its simplicity, the theory being that it would be easy to pronounce in any language - and for its mythological associations. According to Greek mythology Danae was a beautiful goddess and daughter of king Acrisius. 
Dana Logo

The house had enormous success after Javier launched his first fragrance Tabu. Other beautiful creations followed with some being of limited release in France. American women were introduced to these fragrant luxuries, via G.I. husbands and boyfriends, serving in the armed forces during World War II. Although it was a time of devastation and many sacrifices, perfume somehow remained a hot commodity – along with cigarettes and chocolate. Soldiers on leave from the war zone, some with mud still on their boots, lined the streets of France in front of perfume shops in pursuit of a bottle of perfume for that special someone.  

Eurofine Gifts


Dana, with all of its success,has not been without transfers, acquisitions, and mergers. The company purchased the rights to several companies such as Helena Rubinstein, Max Factor, and Shulton. Renaissance Cosmetics - the former House of Houbigant - acquired Dana Perfumes in 1995, but a few years later, filed for chapter 11.  Finally, in 1999, the company was acquired by what we know as Dana Classic Fragrances. 

Presently, Dana Classic’s is headquartered in Florida and continues to capitalize on the sentimental past and appeal of vintage scents – most of them being reformulated. Today, the company now owns more than 100 trademarks and sells perfumes through mass-market retailers such as Sears and Walgreens.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring is in the air.

Harriet Prescott Spofford asked the question "Don't you love heavy fragrances, faint with sweetness, ravishing juices of odor, heliotropes, violets, water-lilies, powerful attars and extracts that snatch your soul off your lips?"

From my garden

This beautiful and descriptive inquiry evokes pleasurable recollections of vibrant gardens abundant with fragrant and colorful flowers. Images of velvety petals with droplets of dew, being the loveliest sight one can encounter. Inhalations of odorous blossoms, some heady and persistent while others are unobtrusive, releasing delicate and fleeting aromas, is one of natures greatest pleasures.

Yet flowers, with all their beauty and fragrance, are sadly lacking longevity.  Before you know it, blossoms lose their luster and the sweet aromas wane, eventually fading. I’m able to endure the months without fragrant flowers, due to my collection of beautiful essences that decorate my bureau and sparkle on my shelves. 

My winter
Today, I have a preoccupation with spring. After a long and turbulent winter, the fantasy of transitioning from winter to spring is a lovely mirage. Spring, being my favorite season, is a time of rebirth and rejuvenation. It’s the season of spirits being lifted after having lain dormant for months. I’ve had a sufficient dose of frigid temperatures and towering mounds of snow. I’m eager for spring to emerge.  

I’m longing to feel the warmth from the sun and experience gentle breezes in the air. I’m anxious to witness buds appearing on tree limbs and crocuses forcing their way above the compacted earth. I’m ready to catch a glimpse of birds gliding and butterflies flitting about euphorically. I yearn for sunnier, longer days and blossoming flowers.

From my collection
Spring resuscitates my senses; it’s my kiss of life.  I feel bright and lively, light and airy, youthful but mature, sensual yet refined. Confident, but reserved. Therefore, I’ve selected a fragrance that adequately reveals my personality. L’Air du Temps by the house of Nina Ricci.     

L’Air du Temps, a true French perfume, remains a beloved favorite today.  Launched in 1948, post World War II, L’Air du Temps was intended to represent peace, love and freedom after a long and exhausting war, when the scarcity of luxury items and meager rations unfortunately ruled the era. This timeless floral conveys femininity and sophistication and most definitely helped with the resurgence of a romantic and peaceful time.

The collaboration of Robert Ricci, perfumer Francis Fabron, and Marc Lalique - the creator and designer of the iconic intertwined crystal dove stopper - bestowed upon us the quintessential perfume. 

Vintage Ad

“The air of times” exudes hope and optimism with its classic floral notes of spicy carnation, gardenia, rose and jasmine. The delicate soft sweetness settles into a sultry, powdery dry-down of iris, sandalwood and musk, evoking both joy and tranquility. Nostalgic and elegant, L’ Air du Temps is forever imprinted on my senses.