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Diane wrote to me on one day, from the Champlain Valley in Vermont, USA. I admitted openly that I’m always curious about American niche, artisan and „naturals“. This is still a huge terra incoginito for me.

I also told her that sending samples doesn’t guarantee a review, that I do not have time nor will to write negative reviews, and that I’m not impressed by any or all previous reviews she might have got, blogs or vlogs or mentors she mentions (it’s all there, in the „Disclaimer“ section of my web page…).

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. Claire 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 Lauamiel. 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 in 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. Claire, 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

Frost

„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 in 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

 

First Cut

„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 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. Claire 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. Claire Scents

Samples provided by St. Claire Scents, opinions of my own.

Disclaimer

I was here in Grasse two years ago and upon my arrival this August I noticed some changes.
This famous medieval town in southern Provence – the perfume capital of the world – is looking (at the first glance) same as ever, on the outside, especially in the old part of the city. Yes, Jasmine scented water is still sprayed above the streets in the old city…

Yes, this is the place of the genesis of the perfume industry, yes, the celebration of jasmine (Fete du Jasmin) still takes place at the end of the first weekend in August, yes, this closely knit community safeguards this amazing intangible cultural heritage, but there are some new things in town!

You will notice signs on all the main streets leading to city center pointing the way to the famous trio: Galimard-Fragonard-Molinard Perfumeries, and I suggest you do visit them: they have shops, museums and offer a glimpse into factories, with guided tours.

This time my stay in Grasse coincided with an event organized by Fragonard, a conference.

I also took my time to visit two relatively new boutiques on Place de La Aires square in the old town: 1000Flowers Perfumer, by Jessica Buchanan and Parfumes MMicaleff by Martine Micaleff.

 

1000 FLOWERS

Located at 4 Place aux Aires, opened just last year. Ms. Buchanan, a Canadian who grew up on seashores and in the countryside of western Canada is the owner and perfumer.
She sold her house in Canada, moved to Grasse and studied at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery (2007.).

Following the training, she did what naturally follows: apprenticeship and internship, in Robertet and Mane. Now she’s a very active member of the community in Grasse.

There are not that many small perfumers here and there are some really big names present, but she says that all involved, not only parfumeurs, feel like a big family. One that she became a part of: yes, the main players and game changers are mostly Grassoise, but once you prove your serious intentions, work hard, participate and put in some serious effort, you can become a fully recognized member of the community.

Once you’ve proven yourself as serious, they accept you.

It was really a pleasure to talk to Jessica: she found time to talk to me about her fragrances, tell me what she plans to do (regarding Narcotic Flowers perfume) and we chatted about perfumes, naturals, men, rose fields and how it is to live and work in Grasse.

Besides her perfume lines, Jessica offers personalized perfume creation and consulting services. That’s another benefit of being based in Grasse: you do have direct access to expertise and experience in all areas of production.

I was also pleasantly surprised by her project „Perfume for Purists“ – back to Mother Nature botanicals, single note extracts in a neutral base of certified organic French grain alcohol. No additives! I hope this collection will grow, too.

Her Original Collection represents earliest fragrances she created.

I must say that I was really overwhelmed by Narcotic Flowers Perfume! Inspired by tuberose fields near Grasse, launched in 2011. I felt orange blossom, jasmine, rose and oh! tuberose! swirling around in a misty, intoxicating cloud around my head! Wow!

Narcotic it is indeed! You can feel finely blended, first-grade ingredients wildly dancing in this rhapsody of a perfume! As much as I was on my knees after inhaling this tuberose miracle, I do understand that some people, not to tuberose happy, would definitely call this perfume crazy.
I say: if you don’t fancy tuberose, stay away from it and alles wird gut…:-D

Jessica told me that she will announce and present in a couple of days (which she did by now) the new, reformulated Narcotic Flowers! I think that this reformulation won’t make you shed too many tears, on the contrary. Check it out, this is what she says: “Narcotic Flowers has been reformulated, and is all about tuberose, orange blossom, and ylang-ylang. I cut all the other flowers, and added lots of freshness to the top notes, no it’s now a fresh white floral with a carnal under current. It is, after all, a tuberose fragrance!”

When Jessica asked me whether I liked Narcotic Flowers, I told her my honest opinion: yes, I love it, it is truly tuberose narcotic…but. I am not sure I would wear it. It is just too much to handle, overwhelming for me. It really needs a special feeling, mood, atmosphere… She nodded and smiled, I guess this really was the issue with this mighty perfume all along.

Another one, rather controversial as well: Reglise Noire. Now, this is licorice! And I must say again: if you don’t like licorice, well, take a sniff at this one.

This perfume is not licorice only(at least for me)! You will surely appreciate it’s complexity: I find it very addictive.

There are spices, a hint of anise, vanilla, ginger and musk. A very beautiful, warm-under-a-blanket-on-a chilly-day perfume, but I also see that it is also one of those love or hate perfumes, no compromises…Quite interesting.

The Blue Collection perfumes feature flower extracts from local French producers and each bottle contains 5% organic Damascena rose water from a small producer in Grasse. Talking about terroir, hm? Well, Jessica surely covers that requirement! The most interesting one for me is Rose Casis Paradis (2016.): lovers of rose-themed perfumes, rejoice!

There’s a story behind this perfume: it is inspired by the Line Renauld Rose. Sweet, fruity, lush rose accord coming from a very special, award-winning rose – developed in Provence and named after the French singer and actress. Oh, sweet blackcurrant, pear, mango, and raspberry! This is Summer in a small bottle!

Thank you Jessica! I think that your creativity, dedication and grit will make a difference: Grasse is really lucky to have you!

 

PARFUMS M MICALLEF /MAISON MICALLEF

Founded in Grasse in 2006., quite successful. Very high-end luxury, uniting passions: Geoffrey Nejman (finance and banking), Jean Clause Astier (the Nose) and Martine Micallef (Artist).

The perfumes? Liquid luxury. Placed in beautifully decorated bottles, featuring old techniques and methods – are amazing.

Well, if you visit the shop in Grasse, located at Place aux Aires 14. you will see for yourself what their „Creative Desk“ looks like: customization workshop is right here!

You can create your bespoke scent and design, add initials, personal messages, engravings – right here, in the boutique.
I’m sure that most of you are already familiar with MM collections, an impressive line up of perfumes and I must say I am very impressed by Jacaranda Limited Editon (2017), featuring rose, spices and sandalwood.

Mon Parfum Pearl as well, a new 2018. flanker – Centifolia based, soft, powdery mist…My guess is that it is targeting Millennials…Yet, these perfumes have an incredible smoothness to them, like a signature style.

A difference can be felt: Jessica, an Artisan Parfumeur, is there for you (on a very short notice), passion for perfumes oozing out of her eyes. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to meet Martina Micallef in Grasse (I did send a mail prior to arrival).

I like to meet perfumers/owners of houses in person: after all, one part of their personality is always present in perfumes they make. Next time, maybe.

Maison Micallef has approximately 900 selling points, yet they seem somehow hard to get (I think their site is the easiest way): I guess that is a part of high-end luxury branding.

I was received by most friendly, beautiful SA Karima and we did a video together – check my IGTV account! Now, that was fun!

Karima is very helpful, fast moving, quick thinking and kind SA. Karima, you are great! :-*

Parfum Baby’s Collection is really something to stop by: my son is into „serious“ perfumes now, but these! Little baby perfumes! Awwww!

One more thing: I did put on Martine Micallef’s apron (as you can see)! The very special apron, heavy leather one with gold finishing – made for her in Marroco…thank you, Martine, hope you don’t mind!

I also hope that these photos will speak more than words: this little boutique is certainly a huge plus for the whole city of Grasse.

 

ELENA MEETS ELLENA (CELINE AND JEAN-CLAUDE)

I planned my trip carefully and as soon as I saw announcement for the first Fragonard Conference to be held in Grasse, at la Maison Fragonard – La Fabrique des Fleurs (La Premiere Conference Olfactive: DIALOGUE ET HISTOIRE(S) DE SAVOIR-FAIRE) to be held August 7th, just one day upon my arrival in Grasse – that caught my eye.

When I saw that speakers will be Celina and Jean-Claude Ellena, together for the first time, you can just imagine how thrilled I was! I booked my place immediately!

Before the start of the Conference, all participants attended a guided tour of Fragonard factory, which was an excellent warm-up. Then we moved on to the Conference Room, fully packed.

A lecture followed: Ellenas spoke about the history of their family, the importance of know-how transmission and about changes in the perfume industry.

The conference was in French, of course, and although my spoken French is poor (French always offer me help and tell me that it’s “just fine” – but I know I could do better…), I understood every word Jean-Claude Ellena said.  He speaks beautiful French and his expressions are very poetic. When he speaks, his sentences sound like music.<3

Two generations of Ellena’s. Wow. Mr. Jean-Claude Ellena is a legend, a one of a kind Master Parfumeur. I don’t need to add anything more to this, really.

His set of values is well known: olfactory minimalism (ever since he left big companies), value of creation above commercial influence (the way he speaks about „marketing people“…), the importance of staying always curious, never stopping to explore, creating art for art’s sake and nurturing your olfactive memories.

He also spoke of the importance of terroir, but he also stated clearly that the industry in Grasse should welcome not only the Grassoise: new people bring new ideas, provoke changes, everybody benefits from that.

Celine Ellena told us how it is to be a perfumer when your father is Master Parfumeur.

With a smile, she recalled that when she made up her mind to become a perfumer herself, she thought that she needed a diploma of some kind.

Her father told her: „Then go and study something, get a diploma“. And she did: in psychology and linguistics!

Upon finishing her studies, she continued on her path of becoming a perfumer: first an ISPICA diploma, then apprenticeship at Charabot and Symrise…Now she is independent, working for The Différent Company, Biotherm, and Fragonard.

In 2018. Fragonard is celebrating its signature fragrance: Verveine (Verbena), created by Celine Ellena!

That’s not all: we had a chance to watch both Ellenas show us examples of perfumery magic. Paper strips were handed out – on one, vanilla. On the second one, Isobutil Phenyl Acetate. What do you smell when you take both strips?

Chocolate! The second „experiment“ was a recreation of strawberry scent. The purpose: a practical answer to some questions (again!) about the necessity of synthetic components in perfumery…

One more thing Celine Ellena shared with us: for parfumeurs, Grasse is great. Always has been:

Everything you need is right there. People, know-how, materials… Paris? Yes, of course, Paris is important for business activities, but Grasse? Grasse IS the capital of the perfume world.

I did manage to exhange couple of words with Mr. Jean-Claude Ellena: we laughed because I said „Nice to meet you, Mr. Ellena. My name is Elena.“ He said: „And you are The Plum Girl.“ One of the rare meetings when I didn’t have to explain, he immediately knew why I named my blog The Plum Girl…

I hope I have given you enough reasons to plan your visit to Grasse. I know one thing for sure: I’ll be back! There’s so much more to see, so many people and places to visit.

Elena Cvjetkovic
The Plum Girl
Photos: The Plum Girl Private Archive
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