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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Soft touch: The pastel world of Arts & Scents perfumes

By Donna

If you have never heard of the Arts & Scents fragrance line from Germany, you are not alone, as it is not well known in the U.S.A. even though it has been in existence since 2010. After reading about this natural brand on another site I was very curious, because they sounded quite different from the dizzying array of new niche fragrances being launched almost daily. I am very glad that I was able to single these delightful scents out from the herd. The first one I tried was Dream of India and I was quite taken aback, in a very good way. I was expecting incense and spices and whatever else one thinks of regarding Indian perfumery motifs, but it was not anything like that. There is incense in it, but it the softest imaginable interpretation of it, a gentle and enchanting suggestion of Eastern delights. I imagined a literal dream, with gauzy veils draped above a bed in a darkened room where I lay half-asleep in the afternoon with the aroma of the perfume hinting at the vibrant life outside – languid champaca flowers, curry, masala spices, rosewater. There is an aura of cool stillness about it that is very restful, and I was drawn to it over and over again.

A Day in Grasse evokes another kind of place; this one is about a sunny morning in the legendary rose fields; the day is young and the summer heat has not yet taken all the chill from the air as the heady aroma of roses drifts upon the air. If smelling this does not being a smile to your lips, nothing will. It is a fresh yet powdery rose, plump and cheerful, and definitely a vivid pink blossom, an unabashedly feminine perfume accented with the exhilaration of vetiver and red clover. There was a time when I did not care for powdery scents, and they are still a challenge for me, but A Day in Grasse is so beguiling and straightforward I can't help but love it. A must-try for rose and romance lovers.

Equally charming is Cupido's Kiss, a bouncy fruit-laden creation that is just simply delicious. Sometimes a perfume does not have to be overly complicated to be good and this is a great example, bursting with juiciness and delivering a shot of pure pleasure. Underneath the fruit lies a beautiful bouquet of flowers waiting to surprise you, and another twist comes later – a warm, musky base that's decidedly sexy. It builds upon itself until it becomes a symphony of intense sensual pleasure, and I would happily buy a full bottle and splash it with abandon. Cupido's Kiss is one of those perfumes that reminds you of why you fell in love with fragrance in the first place – simply because is smells good and brings joy. This was a big win for me.

There is just a touch of fruitiness in Light of Ormuz, which seems to be the closest thing to a dedicated masculine scent in the line – all of the scents are nominally unisex – and that abstract tang of fruit, green notes of mint and vetiver and a whisper of cedar complete this understated fragrance. It does not proclaim itself as being manly the way mainstream fragrances for men usually do; it is quiet, reserved and very attractive. As subtle as it is, it lasts surprisingly well. If this fragrance were a person, it would be the young Iranian man I once met who looked just like an idealized portrait of Alexander the Great – softly curling reddish chestnut hair, a perfect high bridged Greek nose, carved cheekbones and startling, icy grey eyes, a refined beauty yet not a “pretty boy” at all. 

Wild Cat Musk does not quite display truth in advertising; the name made me think I was going to be smelling another Musc Ravageur, but this cat is a sweet, fluffy kitten that wants to snuggle but is also ready for some serious mischief. It really very wearable and I enjoyed it immensely. The opening has a chili pepper tingle and the musky quality is softened by hibiscus; I really love this combination of notes. I have never been a “musk person” although I enjoy smelling musky perfumes on others. I am always afraid that I am anosmic to the particular musk in the scent, as many people are, and that everyone around me is getting an overdose. That problem should not arise with Wild Cat Musk and I would wear it with confidence; it is possible to smell sexy and cuddly at the same time and this is the perfect example. Like most of the others from this house, it is soft-focus, gentle and highly wearable.

Another that might be more of a masculine than not in concept is Cuero de Mexico, but a touch of sweetness along with the leather makes it perfectly unisex. The leather itself is of the sort found in Trussardi and Daim Blond, a civilized leather with a touch of daring, and it is supported by neroli and a light, delicate tuberose. The more I wore this the more I liked it, and I would suggest it to anyone who prefers their leather scents to be restrained and elegant. It has an open airiness, a sense of distance that feels like being on the road with the horizon rolling on before you with all its limitless possibilities, and it's another one from this brand of which a full bottle would be most welcome.

I had a little trouble with Pan Tierra – something in it smells like brick dust and kept me from fully appreciating this well done gourmand fragrance. Even though it has caramel, coffee chocolate, tonka bean and vanilla, it is not really all that sweet, which is a good thing, since I enjoy gourmands more when they can breathe a little bit. I think the problem I have is that the chocolate is a dusty cocoa instead of a more “liquid” and darker chocolate note. For those who do enjoy this style and like a dry cocoa effect, I recommend trying it out.

I saved Night & Dawn: A Vampire's Love for last – it is the most unlike the others in the line in its intensity and could easily have been one of the Devilscent perfumes, which is high praise coming from me. It is a stunner, a beautiful and unusual fragrance that would turn heads anywhere. It begins as a warm, sweet enveloping fruit scent, like sipping a glass of cordial in front of a cozy fireplace. Notes of lychee, tobacco flower and passion fruit blend with heady tuberose to create a luscious and decadent impression. As it develops on the skin, vanilla and sandalwood make themselves known, and it is all underlined with a particularly fine and profound patchouli that feels well aged and mellow and never overpowers the rest. This is one of my favorites of the group, and it's not just good “for a natural perfume” it's marvelous on its own merits. Besides, who can resist a perfume with the tag line “You are my heart's eternal night?” If this is what vampires are wearing these days, I am going over to the dark side right now.

The fragrances of Arts & Scents: The Art of Creation are all created by Manuela Pfannes-Völkel and are available via the perfumer's Web site. Sample sets are available for purchase; you will also find several perfumes that are not included in this review. (I am very curious about Beach Flower and Coco Tango now and I really need to try something named Orange Planet Space Essence!)

Disclosure: A set of perfume samples was sent to me for testing by Arts & Scents at my request.
Image credits:Pastel globes wallpaper from Kitten wallpaper from Art for Night & Dawn: A Vampire's Love from

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Summer Rerun: On the Lighter Side

By Tom

This week is my birthday, so I'm doing a summer rerun this week.
Nasomatto China White, Isotta Fraschini Profumo Uomo and L'Artisan L'Ete en Douce

First off, I want to thank all of you for wishing me a happy birthday in this blog last week, I was truly touched, and it made turning 137 years old a lot easier. I thank you all!

What did not make it easier was the fact that it was about 137 degrees in the city of the lost Angels this weekend. I know, climate change is supposed to be bu*l**it, but I don't remember it being so hot so early or so often. Or perhaps my advancing age makes me kvetchier.


So, this means that I decided to drop into ScentBar (blissfully air-conditioned and always congenially staffed) to test out a few new things.

China White is new from Nasomatto, who is very tiresome about listing ingredients. My first sniff reminds me of an ashtray, of recently extinguished cigarettes. I mean that in the best way, mind you- there's a delicious decadence to its opening that's quite wonderful. I wasn't overwhelmed with what came later, a delicate, powdery floral with only an undertone of the ashtray opening, It's interesting, like all of the Nasomatto line, but like those scents didn't quite entice me to purchase.

Isotta Fraschini was there also. Isotta Fraschini was an automobile company in Italy from the 20's to the 40's which specialised in deluxe automobiles. In real life Valentino and Clara Bow owned them, in the movie "Sunset Blvd", batty Norma Desmond is chauffeured around Los Angeles in one. Naming a cologne after a company whose most famous (arguably) cultural reference is as a leopard upholstered punch line seems silly, but at least it's not Hummer, right?

Actually the cologne itself is quite pleasant. It's a very smooth mix of tonka, woods, spices and anise-tinged musk, none of which would have the bad taste to actually stand out. It has that "I've smelled this before" quality to it that, were I in a more charitable mood (or in heavy AC) I might refer to as "timeless" instead of "derivative". It seems like part of a spec sheet on gracious living and in it's zest to be completely unassuming, grated.

L'Ete en Douce was a 180 degree turn however. Minted orange blossoms and airy hay notes are light as a feather and refreshing as spring rain, while the gently woody and musky drydown manage a feat that I find L'Artisan scents usually do either/or but not both: be ethereal and long-lasting. Completely full-bottle worthy for me and perhaps immediately necessary in my life, this was of the three the one that seemed to me most worthy of it's price.

L'Ete en Douce is $145 for 100ml, at Luckyscent, Barney's and L'Artisan Boutiques. Isotta Fraschini seems to be unavailable. China White is $185 at Luckyscent and Barneys

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Bell Jars at Barney's

By Tom

I had posted about this before, but I was in Barney's in Beverly Hills the other day and saw that the vaunted Bell Jars were there, for $290. I still don't know if they've migrated to every Barney's or just the larger ones (BH actually redid the first basement level into a whole realm of paint and fumes) but while I am glad that I don't have to ration (although $290 isn't exactly "spray liberally" territory considering my finances) it does take away some of the thrill of the chase.

Back in the heady early days of my discovery of Serge Lutens and the discovery that I seriously lusted after several of his scents, he had a two-tier system: release something in the square bottles that were sold outside of Paris, and the Bell Jars were exclusive to the Paris Salon. If you lived in the EU you could order of course and there were people who were willing to part with semi-filled bottles on eBay, usually for about the price of a high-mileage Pinto. It always seemed to me that the non-exclusives were just a bit blander. That they were (dare I write it?) That they were a bot watered down. The big stuff, the ones that made you go "whoaaaah" or sometimes "yikes" were reserved for Paris.

Of course you could get decants, but if you wanted the experience of your own neatly wrapped Bell Jar and wasn't going to Europe (and didn't live there) hoops had to be jumped.

The fist Bell Jar I acquired was via a friend. He lives in New York, and was going to visit his parents who live in Switzerland. He offered to carry back and mail my bottle of Chêne if I would let his mother have anything they might shove extra into the package. I ordered online, it arrived in Switzerland and according to my friend, shove they did. They also sent a very sweet and Gallic note thanking me for purchasing. I still have the bottle.

The second one was pure blackmail. A dear friend completely spaced my birthday and was terribly apologetic about it when she remembered weeks later. she asked how she could make it up to me. I knew that she was attending a wedding that would be in the south of France and would be in Paris for a few days. I told her that she would make my year if she could stop in the Palais and buy me a bottle of Muscs Kublai Khan, and that could be my present for two birthdays and Christmas. She hemmed and hawed, since she would have her mother and then 6-year old nephew in tow, but she eventually produced the bottle after telling me what a trial it was.

About a year later, I was in New York visiting her and at her request got something for her out of her bedroom. On the vanity were to little black boxes containing Bell Jars of her own. I had to laugh. That and applaud her choices. That, and wonder what her mother's nightstand carried. The nephew I'm sure didn't indulge.

In any case, the Palais only deal started to fade when "special editions" started appearing at Barneys in the square bottles. Then Berdgorfs received some of the Bell Jars, Then Barneys in New York got the full line, and now Beverly Hills.

Like I wrote, I'm happy that I don't have to ration that bottle of Chêne like I was rationing Perrier in Death Valley. But I hate to admit it, the thrill of the hunt is gone. As well as the admitted snob appeal of telling someone who compliments you on your scent that it's only available in Paris. Even if you admit (as I always do) that I rely on the kindness of friends to supply it.

Image: Serge Lutens