Friday, 21 August 2009

Bois Dormant

I seem to be quite fond of antique fragrances. I suspect it's plain greed and snobbery, to have something nobody else has.
Anyhow, I got hold of a bottle of Bois Dormant. I wanted something else from the same seller but ended up with this one - I'm no stranger to irrational impulses. I didn't know what to expect from the fragrance so I didn't bother to expect anything; then one gets more surprise.

It took me quite a time to find out that what my brain classifies as 'powdery', is in fact chypre. And, Bois Dormant is one. I expected something junglelike, lush and dripping wet, like, say, Encre Noire. Or, on the contrary, something very woody, evoking the majestic forest of redwoods at the Californian coast. (1) Simply, something to go with the name of Sleeping Forest. I got a romantic autumn forest, not too dense, rather deciduous, with the specific aroma of dry leaves and a promise of spring flowers.
Yet, it's not a tame fragrance. The start is very green and pungent, I suspect galbanum and maybe artemisia, there is something bitterish about that note; after a while it gives way to a blend of aldehydes and vanilla. Or, I guess it's vanilla, certainly it's a sweet-soapy mix I haven't encountered yet. It is a multifaceted fragrance, yet after another while, the abovementioned sweet-soapy mix becomes a pronounced, slightly decadent rose with a whiff of resins.

Bois Dormant was created in 1925 by Raymond Kling (2) or in 1929 by Arturo Jordi-Pey and Raymond Kung (3) for the house of Houbigant (4), one of the most famous perfume houses... long time ago. Established in 1775, the house supplied many a crowned head but sadly, the company, including the formulas was sold a few times and whatever remained of the name of the house and it perfumes is falling to drugstore squallor. It always makes me sad to be aware that whatever rarity I possess, I'm one of the few lucky; although I'm aware that this fragrance, as many others, couldn't exist today (it's all those anal glands, IFRA regulations and who knows what), everything can be reformulated to at least resemble the old glory. I would like to give a recommendation of something similar yet accessible to give at least a vague idea but alas, I can't think of any.

On a different note, I made a handful of samples for my stay in Italy and I diluted a bit of Fougere Royale. Forgetting to describe the samples, I was left with several vials of approximately the same colour. Fougere kept that bitterness and civet stench despite being diluted in a crazy ratio around 1:30 - in fact, I was cleaning the funnel I used for making Helg's sample and I was pretty unwilling to waste even the tiniest bit. That's a decent perfume.

(1) Kick my shin when you'll feel that my style is getting too close to Helg's.
(2) Says Perfume Intelligence.
(3) Says Museu del Perfum – Fundació Júlia Bonet
(4) Sources agree at least on this one.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Fougère Royale, a long lost legend

I read Luca Turin's The Secret of Scent shortly ago and got some food for thought. For those who do not know, Luca Turin is a biologist interested in smell and in perfumes and he writes about these, including the popular Perfumes: The Guide, written with Tania Sanchez.One of the bits of food for thought was Turin's enthusiastic description of Fougère Royale by Houbigant. Created in 1882, it's the first perfume that used a synthetic ingredient, coumarin, and Luca Turin describes it thusly:
It does smell of coumarin, to be sure, but it is also fresh, clean, austere, almost bitter. This is the reference smell of scrubbed bathrooms, suggestive of black and white tiles, clean, slightly damp towels, a freshly shaven daddy. But wait! there's a funny thing there, something not altogether pleasant. It's a touch of natural cuvet, stuff that comes from the rear edn of an Asian cat and smells like it does. [...] Small wonder Fougere Royale was such a success. At a distance, he who wears it is everyone's favourite son-in-law; up close, a bit of an animal (1).

It sounded intriguing enough to me; I have a weak spot of perfumes gone for long. Some two weeks ago, I gave it a random try on eBay and there it was, a small bottle and only half full but for a price I could afford; the seller guessed that it may be from the 1940's and I must say that I have no clue, I'm not that much of a collector - there was indeed a relaunch of this fragrance after WWII so I'd guess it's from this time. Should anyone know better, feel free to inform me.
Anyhow, it was affordable so I bought it out of sheer curiosity; if it were awful or gone bad, I was quite sure that I could pass the bottle to a collector friend. Decent deal. On Monday, an envelope from France landed in my mailbox, containing Cœur Enchaîne by Honore Payan of Grasse (another brand of which I know nothing) and that Fougère. The latter leaked a tiny bit, spreading the bitter scent into the wrapping foil and around.

It is bitter. And bitter and bitter, in all imaginable shades, bergamot that bites your nose off from inside. There's that adstringent feel of very strong green tea (2), crushed spruce needles - no resinous smell, rather an olfactory rendering of the taste of spruce needles, a whiff of something indefinably sweet-ish but not sticky... and, well, that piece of clingy foil does smell of something animalic after being around for several days. With a touch of dirty sea water in a port, with all that ugly floating on it (3). There is something soapy all over, not that pink soapy smell of roses but the sort of soap one uses for weird and tough stains. Bathroom - no way, for me, it would have to be much more homely to resemble a bathroom. An outhouse at a summer cottage, with gusts of wind between the boards and quite a bit of nature nearby. There are no clearly discernible floral accords as far as I can say but I'd guess quite some bergamot, a touch of rose and I wouldn't exclude iris and carnation...
This is one of those perfumes that I cannot compare to anything - I suspect there's something similar somewhere out there of which I'm unaware...
... I looked around the internetz and someone somewhere mentions Covet being a modern fougère, fougère 'on crack' and indeed, there is similar sort of biting pungency I originally ascribed to an overdose of muguet and bergamot. I loved Covet from the first time I sniffed it at Stockholm airport and now it scored another point in sympathy. It's not exactly similar but there's that feel.

Houbigant doesn't exist as a house anymore, the name was sold in the early 1990's along with the formulas for the perfumes and all that remained is names so (4), alas, there's hardly any chance of a reissue of either Fougère Royale or anything else from the good olden days... sigh.

Fougère Royale by Houbigant, created in 1882 (some sources give 1881) by Paul Parquet
Erm, could've tried to search first.
Top notes: lavender, bergamot, clary sage
Middle notes: geranium, heliotrope, rose, orchid, carnation
Base notes: oakmoss, musk, tonka, vanilla (5)
I suppose there should be coumarin instead of tonka and civet added.

Next time, or some other time: Chanel No. 46
(1) Turin, Luca: The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell, p. 22. Faber and Faber, London, 2006. ISBN 978-0-571-21538-6
(2) I do drink tea and I have some general idea about it but that doesn't mean that I'd cease to be a coffee person. Should you give me gifts of this sort, I still prefer Peets coffee. Unless the tea were really really good. Really. I can stand crappy coffee but I hate crappy tea.
(3) I dislike sea in general, not only when it gets stinky.
(4) Something more here
(last) After

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Circulus vitiosus

That's really horrible.
I wanted to find something about Acqua di Genova and the sixth Google result is my blog. It feels really awful that in order to find some information, one is bound to create it first.
I'd suspect nearly the same about FSSA but I'm not going to try.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Farmacia SS. Annunziata: Patchouly Indonesiano

Call me silly but I have an urge to make the world better. (1) It's demonstrated in various ways but regarding perfumery, I'm spreading the glory of several of those who are not known and who in my opinion deserve it. (2)
Lately, I've travelled a bit and met several other perfumistas and on that occasion, I got a test pack with me, to have them smell what I have. Some of well-known but harder to find fragrances... and then those of which nobody had heard before I hammered it to their heads and noses.

Patchouly Indonesiano is one of those hidden treasures. It's a soliflor, and it's patchouli. Now, people hear the name and expect another variation on the wet soil theme as in Encre Noire by Lalique or something neatly oriental as in Coromandel by Chanel.
Nope. No wet soil, no fruity-oriental variation with decadent undertones. This one will hit your nose and keep you entertained for two days with colourful images of tigers and parrots and snakes in a jungle full of interesting flora, trees that would make terribly expensive furniture and, admittedly, wet soil.
Two days; the stuff is rather difficult to wash off. And, it develops all the time. It starts as very strong bitter, the one kept at the back of the liquor cabinet only for the worst cases of sick stomach but very soon, it smoothens into honey and herbs. Lots of honey, for that matter, and for some unknown reason, cucumber. After a while, the cucumber recedes a bit but the metallic, adstringent tone remains for long.
I wondered for long what the scent reminds me of - cucumber and honey and spices, that's Le De by Givenchy, eau de toilette in the old version, damn. Extrait is pure honey and flowers but EdT has the cucumber-metallic-spicy tone too.
After a few hours, metallic cucumber gives way to an expensive pharmacy. It is not a medicinal scent in the way of Knize Ten, which smells of sweet cough pastilles and rubber gloves, Patchouly Indonesiano is herbs that would kill any parasite up to the size of a weasel. (3)

To sum it up, this is a fragrance that takes no hostages. Imagine yourself drinking a bitter in which the last few remaining specimens ofgentiana verna root was soaked while sitting at a fireplace in which bits of a cupboard made of expensive tropical woods are burning. No hostages, I said.

Notes for Patchouly Indonesiano:
Top notes: Indonesian patchouli
Middle notes: Indonesian patchouli
Base notes: Indonesian patchouli

It is available only as extrait, 100 ml for 95 euros at Farmacia Santissima Annunziata at Via de' Servi in Florence and possibly somewhere in the internetz.

(1) How long will it take until some commenter who knows me well makes a snarky remark that my favourite method is kicking people's shins?
(2) For the perfumes, not for the information value of their websites.
(3) Yes, if you ask, then I do think that it might be better prevention of moths than mothballs. In fact, anything is better than mothballs, anything smells better than mothballs. And this strong shit would probably not only kill them but make them want to be born in another universe.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Growing up

In the last few days, I've been through more family reunions than I'd consider humane. I've heard stories, found out that, for example, my aunt doesn't drink a little but that she plainly drinks... etc.
I've been asked about my future plans. What I plan to do for a job when I'm done with studies? Well, Auntie, do you have some irresistible offer for me, I answered using the stock answer for combatting idiotic questions.
I've been asked about Italy. Like, where there I was.
lorence, Cousin I. Aah, Florence. And where were you in Italy, asked Cousin II. No, my cousins are not the brightest bunch. I answered again and Cousin III. asked What about those oh-so-hot Italians in... where were you there. I had no time to waste on hanging around with guys back there in Florence, I answered. That's a pity, Cousin I. continued, it would be fun to go for your wedding to Rome.

It reminded me of a lady I know. She's an occasional writer and in one of her real life stories, she described how she moved to the countryside - and to real backwater, for that matter. She needed to fix something around the house, found a repairman... who however wanted to deal with her husband. She was happily divorced, said that it's her plumbing or whatever and that she's going to deal with the repairs. The guy wouldn't give in and Maya, being aware of the countryside mentality, got an idea as ingenious as evil, called her male friend to Lima - a High Court judge or something like that, for that matter - and had him talk to the repair guy in Spanish for half an hour. Allegedly asserting that the things be done as Maya wishes. Repair guy was happy working for a decent lady with ahusband, and even one on a business trip so far away, it has to be a honorable lady indeed, Maya got her plumbing fixed... and later on, she developed her evil plan and added the guy's long Spanish name on her mailbox, thus earning lots of reputation in the village.

I'm 30 and apparently, there hasn't been any decent feast with lots of free food and booze so folks are asking me when I'll get married. Or not, in fact, after several legendary answers of mine, like, say, Erm, well, I don't have that much time for hobbies and I'll rather spend it collecting knitting yarn. Now they ask my mom and she has parallel thinking with Maya, I've had an imaginary boyfriend doing geologic research in Mongolia since around 2005. Mommy is happy that nobody asks her whether I'm weird or what, aunties are happy that they have gossips to.... gossip about and I think all are crazy.

A few years ago, my cousin was marrying some filthy rich Australian and the wedding was overdone. Overdone with abit of taste but still, there was that snobbish undertone of See how much better things are done in Australia. My mom was enchanted and started planning my wedding. "It has to be so memorable that it'll be talked about for three generations," she kept repeating despite the fact that I was single and kept repeating that if nothing else, if a bucket of money has to be spent, then not for feeding the whole family for two days. "You wouldn't have to pay for it," mom asserted and I kept trying to dissuade her from thinking stupid. Luckily, whatever mom thinks, she doesn't talk stupid at least.

Although mom stopped trying to marry me, she wants me to give a clear plan of what I want to do when I'm done with the school. I haven't told her yet that I plan to start another school. When I mentioned that I may find some postdoc fellowship in the U. S. or somewhere, she replied "But I don't want you to go to the States, it's far away." Erm, sure, she would want me to teach at the local university, because "nobody is that much interested in working there and you'd have better promotion opportunities and such." No. Damn. Way. I might explain the whole story some other day but there was some sort of conflict and it was not nice. And, she would want me to live back at parents'. (And to get married and have some kids she could spoil.)

As if I knew. I'm sure that I want another Siamese cat, though.