Diane wrote to me one day, from the Champlain Valley in Vermont, USA. I admitted openly that I’m always curious about the American niche, artisan, and „naturals“. This is still a huge terra incognita for me.
She was quite assertive (in the most positive and charming way), I’m always curious, and weeks later (!!!), the sample vials were on my desk. Just in time, somehow, since I really got a little bored with recently worn samples.
Champlain Valley. I had to look it up on a map. During my numerous visits to States, the closest I got to Vermont is – Boston, and no, I was not aware (until now) that Diane St. Clair makes the best butter in the USA! It is even said that her butter is better than the butter from Normandy (and I know how THAT butter tastes!). Butter is a complicated product, trust me on that one, and hand-made butter, quality of which is depending on the sort of cows, the season of the year and grass they eat, each batch different – is hard to find these days.
Let’s say Diane is an artisanal dairy product maker. Niche butter? Oh, yeah! You know what we are talking about here if you’ve ever tried quality, home-made butter. Well, Ms. St Claire certainly conquered that particular niche. I’m pretty sure that’s not the only niche she shines in. Or will shine in.
How in the world did she get to make perfumes? Well, I would say that she set her mind on doing that. Making fragrances, scented images of her world.
From what I have learned, she approached perfumery as studiously as butter-making: reading, researching, learning, and practicing. For four years. It is not by mere accident that she came upon Ms. Eliza Douglas, trained in Grasse, NY based, and took classes with her. Years passed, mentors helped a little: Luca Turin and Christophe Laudamiel. The feedback they gave her helped her grow (oh! I’m so genuinely fond of people who take feedback for exactly what it is- feedback, and learn from it!).
Her story is very inspirational: she is a living proof that you can, provided that you are goal-driven and just as strong-willed – become a perfumer, even though you are geographically restricted, have no logistics to dig into top quality materials, no money to throw around and no eager investors. Thank you, Diane. This is beginning to sound like a typical American success story, forgive me. Only she knows what it took to make these perfumes happen, and only she knows how it is to expose them and herself to the world of perfumes now.
Three fragrances were launched this year: Gardner’s Glove, Frost, and First Cut. Naturals (80% natural raw materials), hand-made, portraiting the world she lives in. Authentic.
Diane is talking about her world, in olfactory language. From available information, certain revisions have been made, and the samples sent to me are, generally speaking, 20-25% concentration ones, up to now available in 13ml size, dabbers, not sprays, but that will change.
What pleases my nose the most is that Diane St. Clair, although working with natural materials, didn’t fall into the pitfall of natural-made perfumes – very often lacking either rhythm, performance, lasting, or sillage.
If compared to some relevant other naturals, the longevity is pretty good, if compared to so-called „bombs“, well… then we are talking apples and pears. You simply have to give „naturals“ time to develop, let them breathe, connect to your skin: time is their valuable resource. Patience, my friends, patience is a valuable resource in the world of quick fixes and one-sniff judgments: there’s no superficial stardom here. Authenticity, grit, and sincerity: oh, how good it is to feel you!
Allow me to introduce to you this fragrant trio:
The Gardner’s Glove
„If you work amidst the thorn and bramble, you know that the gardener’s glove is a soft, pliable leather, worn down from work, in all the right places.
The scent carries the background fragrance of the glove-tanned, aged leather, woods and soil—along with the ambrosial elements of the garden—sumptuous jasmines, roses, green blossoms, and ripe fruit.“
There’s no bloom or fruit of your labor in a garden that comes without dealing with thorn and bramble. If you have ever done any gardening, you might know how satisfying that feeling is.
The Gardner’s Glove took me instantly to my small Mediterranean garden in the backyard of my small cottage on the island of Brac. I have tried to tame that garden, so help me God, I did. I smiled when first sniffing it.
It perfectly describes my struggle with Nature. My old gardening gloves kept in a shed. Soaked in red soil, traces of plants and pieces of wood all over them. Ones that have seen some decent gardening, well-worn but kept anyway because they are comfortable, fit my hands perfectly, cozy, and reliable. Yes, they do have their own smell: I can find them in the tools shed easily, in a box on a top shelf on the left…they smell of simple pleasure that gardening provides.
It’s all about that moment when I am kneeling on the soil: sitting back, lifting my head to rest a little bit. Noticing flowers blooming at the far end of the garden, under a linden tree…bees are buzzing, and your senses sharpen. As you inhale deeper, you can feel the touch of rose-and-jasmine vibe at this fragrances’ heart.
It reminds me of my little garden in May, and my (failed) attempts to plant tomato sprouts. I am aware that this is too late a season to plant tomatoes in the hot Mediterranean climate, yet I’m doing it anyway: simply because I love the smell of those frail, soft plants. That bitter touch makes the final leathery feeling fresher than expected, strangely comforting, relaxing, and refreshing. What a wonderful day!
- Top Notes: Meyer Lemon, Tomato Leaf Absolute, Galbanum, Bergamot
- Middle Notes: Jasmine Sambac Absolute, Jasmine Organic Extract, Apricot, Black Currant Bud Absolute, Linden Blossom, Lily, Rose Absolute
- Base Notes: Leather, Saffron, Patchouli, Ambers, Vetiver, Benzoin Resin, Castoreum, Fir Needle
„An homage to the great New England poet, Robert Frost, whose summer writing-cabin in the woods still stands a mere 25 miles from our farm.
Many of Frost’s poems are filled with olfactory imagery.
This scent follows the story of Frost’s poem, “To Earthward” which describes the transformation of youthful love, from “sweet like the petals of the rose” and “sprays of honeysuckle” to painful love, which stings like “bitter bark”, “burning clove” and “rough earth.”
This scent weaves together accords of clove and smoke; bitter woods and earth; sweet rose and rose geranium; sprays of honeysuckle and sparkling citrus.“
Oh, Frost! This fragrance is the one I expected the most from! My first thought: how bold it is to name a fragrance after the poet I love so much, one of the most celebrated poets in America!
TO EARTHWARD/Robert Frost
„I crave the stain
Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove….”
Love. The soft petal of the rose. And burning clove…
Sensual, erotic, romantic, and seducing, a poem playing with rhyme and emotions.
The perfume? Forget the listed notes! They cannot bring you the feeling of this fragrance, not even close. This „natural“ is finely balanced: it sways like a hammock on an early Autumn day, from cold shades under a tree to warm rays of sunshine on an opulent, warm and rich Autumn day. Tantalizing, and my favorite!
The first impression of citruses fools you into believing that this whiff of freshness is the best you’ll get out of it.
Slowly but unavoidably, darkness arises: rich and opulent, smoky, earthy, and dark cocoon envelops you slowly, and you cannot be certain where will it take you…but it feels so good. It shifts like a shadow: clove to roses, roses to the damp earth, damp earth to cozy woody smoke, smoke to leaves in a forest, leaves to spice, spices to patchouli, leathery patchouli…
As you let go, let it breathe, and work its way, this fragrance simply glides in such a comforting way. Last rays of sunshine at dusk, a comforting hug on a cold Autumn morning. Adult love.
- Top Notes: Bergamot, Mandarin Yellow and Green, Coriander, Petitgrain sur fleur, Meyer Lemon
- Middle Notes: Honeysuckle Accord, Rose Geranium, Elderflower Absolute, Petitgrain Absolute
- Base Notes: Cistus, Labdanum Absolute, Vanilla Absolute, Vetiver, Cedar, Smoke, Clove Absolute
„The hay harvest is the focus of every dairy farmer’s summer, keeping the fields regenerating and providing hay for the cows in winter.
The mowing and drying of native grasses, clovers, wildflowers, and legumes takes three days of sunshine and many hours of hard work.
This scent is of meadows, herbaceous and green, with wildflowers strewn throughout and splashed with radiant sunshine.“
As with all „naturals“ in my experience, First Cut is something completely different on a blotter than on my skin. Once again, I must say: please do forget the listed notes once you spray it on. Just follow your nose and your feelings, travel wherever it takes you, and this fragrance will most certainly push you down your own rabbit hole.
Don’t we all have at least childhood memories of the scent of freshly cut grass? Of rolling down a grass-covered hill? Well, I do, and this is why this fragrance made me smile: after the initial burst of yummy citruses, it felt like being in my grandmother’s kitchen, smelling fresh and sweet at the same time: rosemary and basil might have triggered that feeling, I instantly remembered that big pitcher of cold home-made lemonade with basil on the kitchen table. What I enjoyed most is the immortelle-hay-tobacco honey-like accord!
What surprised me was an exquisite dry vanilla touch: very refined, functional in underlining the whole finishing touch, quite natural smelling in the best possible way. This kind of vanilla I’ll take any day!
- Top Notes: Bergamot, Yuzu, Rosemary, Basil, Tomato Leaf Absolute
- Middle Notes: Lavender Absolute, Rose De Mai, Rose Geranium, Immortelle Absolute
- Base Notes: Hay Absolute, Tobacco Absolute, Oakmoss, Vanilla Absolute
Just while I was finishing this review, Diane told me that her new fragrance is macerating! Casablanca: “rich, resinous, and juicy”:
In the meantime, she has also changed the bottles: instead of 13ml ones (65$), soon you will be able to order 30ml bottles! I tried to convince Diane to keep the 13ml ones as a travel pack offer, I hope she does! Samples will also be sprayers instead of dabbers.
St. Clair Scents made my day: these are honest, natural-smelling fragrances with surprisingly good construction and obvious use of fine materials. Not herbal, not patchouli-oily or remedy-like, not „flach“ as some „naturals“ come, these fragrances do have interesting development phases, rhythm, and melody to them. Non-pretentious, down-to-earth, sincere, so…American, in a good, innovative way: I dare say that many high-end niche perfume houses in Europe should really take a sniff, just to remind themselves of long-lost sincerity! Back-to-roots niche, with honest core values, and I appreciate it.
The Plum Girl/Elena Cvjetkovic
Photos: The Plum Girl archive, St. Clair Scents
Samples provided by St. Clair Scents, opinions of my own.