Warm Facets of Lavender

lavender embroidery northwise
Lavender embroidery by Jessa Spencer / Northwise.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a real sucker for lavender. Lately I’ve been reaching for DSH Perfumes Au Crépuscule de Lavande, which was recommended to me as a “candied lavender” perfume. When I first smelled it, I was simultaneously smitten and conflicted. Smitten because it’s such an easy-to-love scent. It makes me think of Cinnabon: coated in caramelized sugar and so delightful that it feels like a guilty pleasure. Conflicted for precisely the same reason: it was so easy to love that it made me suspicious. And besides, it doesn’t smell like what I expect from a lavender.

lavender perfume aftelier face elixir dsh

Even though I already knew that a good lavender could be soft, rich, and pillowy (broadly speaking: the difference between lavender absolute and lavender essential oil, the latter of which is more thin and herbal medicinal-smelling). I’ve smelled lavender complemented by vanilla-tinged tonka or spiced sandalwood, but never quite like this.

Then I put on some Aftelier Lavender Face Elixir and finally I was able to reconcile this particular quality of lavender. It feels to me like a difference in kinetic energy: lavender typically has a quality of restful stillness, but in Au Crépuscule de Lavande and Aftelier’s Lavender Face Elixir, I feel a gentle warmth as if generated by the friction of hands rubbing together, a kind of buzzing, or purring. In Au Crépuscule, this cinnamon-esque warmth is enhanced with sweet, golden resinous notes and tonka bean.

Thank you, Dawn and Mandy for showing me a new side of lavender. 

Perfume Note: Chocolate

Chocolate notes in perfume: cozy, delicious, and delightful.

When I want straight-up chocolate cake batter, I go for 4160 Tuesdays Over the Chocolate Shop, or the lighter Profumum Sorriso with accents of orange.

My most beloved perfume, Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 (I’ll only vouch for the original formulation) is a velvety, vampy cocoa patchouli. Sammarco Bond-T has a similar character but goes in a more dense, smoky leather direction.

Fzotic Ummagumma is chewy chocolate incense smoke, and his Corpse Reviver is booze-soaked, fruity, chocolate-covered civet.

Slumberhouse Ore is cocoa in a deep dark forest cabin, autumnal and moody.

DSH Perfumes Piment et Chocolat is unsweetened dark drinking cocoa with chili powder. Arquiste Anima Dulcis also features cocoa and chili, but is sueded, lighter, with vanilla folded in. Orto Parisi Boccanera is dark, nutty wood dusted with cocoa and chili.

Lubin Upper Ten for Her is a bright-eyed, fruity raspberry-rose going out for the evening, a cocoa powder compact in her purse.

Meshaz Spiced Cocoa puts cardamom front and center, but dries down to a soft cocoa powder.

And, it’s not a perfume but Bright Black Candle’s candle for Cocoasavvy resonates with cocoa and cotton.

Do you have a favorite chocolate scent?

Categorizing Scents

Scent resists organization. Even so, there are quite a few tools for categorizing perfume materials. I like to use them as jumping-off points when I’m brainstorming, rather than puzzles where every scent may lock perfectly into place.

My favorite is Mandy Aftel’s natural perfume wheel. It looks like a color wheel, visually characterizing and grouping smells. Unlike a color wheel, however, a scent’s position on the wheel doesn’t necessarily correspond to special relationships the way a color wheel indicates complementary colors, etc.

I’ve also been poking around on Scent Tree, an interactive website that includes synthetic molecules and groups scents into “branches” such as fruity, undergrowth, leather burnt, and buttery.

Do you use a tool to reference or categorize scents? What have you found helpful?

Perfume Note: Lemon

lee price lemon bath paintings

When I was 22 I moved to gray drizzly Seattle—my first time living on my own—and I spent a lot of time looking at these paintings by Lee Price and drinking tea with entire lemons emptied into the mug. Lemons are bright, they cut through. Today was another gray drizzly day in Seattle and I spent it smelling lemon perfumes.

lemon with perfume samples

Citrus notes are everywhere in perfumery, but a distinctive lemon note can be hard to pull off because we associate it so strongly with cleaning products. The surprise winner of the day for me was Dirty Lemon by Heretic Parfum, which I had never smelled before. It’s rich and warm like lemon-oil-soaked wood baked in the sun and seasoned with pepper.

If you’re looking for a fortifying lemon scent, try Fzotic Five: dry lemon atop sweet wood, with mists of ozonic salty air.

HEELEY Oranges and Lemons Say the Bells of St. Clements is juicy and bold and balanced with a subtly bitter note and vetiver; his Note de Yuzu is a salted marine lemon.

D.S. & Durga Italian Citrus is a balmy balsam lemon, soft and subdued.

Departing from lemon-centric perfumes, Zoologist Chameleon opens with a distinct lemon note but is also a delightful pastel tutti frutti tropical haze.

Xerjoff 1861 Naxos wraps me in a plush luxury hotel bathrobe with lemon, lavender, tonka, and tobacco.

Masque Milano Terralba is lemon and clary sage and vetiver growing cliffside by the sea.

The actual lemon I had in my kitchen, when I grated the peel a bit, smelled like lemon drop candy. This lemon bonanza of a day was topped off with J.W. Dotson’s Lucky Lemon online class, a wonderful survey of the expansive cultural history of lemons, hosted by The Institute for Art and Olfaction.

The Act of Smelling

“The act of smelling something, anything, is remarkably like the act of thinking itself. Immediately, at the very moment of perception, you can feel the mind going to work, sending the odor around from place to place, setting off complex repertoires throughout the brain, polling one center after another for signs of recognition, old memories, connections.”

—Lewis Thomas

Banana Scent Color Palettes

Three banana scent color schemes.

Yesterday I tried a sample of Hilde Soliani Donna Sentenza and was carried away on a banana pudding dreamboat, vanilla wafers swimming beside me like dolphins. So I pulled out a couple other banana perfume samples, along with my color-aid card deck from long ago art school. L’Artisan Parfumeur Bana Banana is a milky-creamy green banana, a light-hearted soirée full of elegant party dresses. Sarah Baker Jungle Jezebel screeches in on neon heels of peach lactones, tutti-frutti cocktail in hand.