Honey lovers rejoice! Roxana Villa of Illuminated Perfume has created a deliciously honey inspired fragrance that feels at home on the skin whether it’s warm or cold outside. Yet, to call this simply a honey fragrance does not do Mellifera justice as this perfume has captured the entirety of a bee’s life; wood and musk from the hive, resins and spice from propolis, and of course flowers and sweet honey.
I have had the good fortune of meeting Persephenie Lea who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside, and I love supporting her small business. She hand-crafts her skincare and fragrances in small batches, and uses only the highest quality ingredients. Some of her perfumes are “mixed media” so not all of them are 100% natural, but her body care is, and include the frequent use of organic botanicals.
Many of you are already familiar with Nikki Sherritt via her line of all natural candles at her etsy site, Gabriel’s Aunt. She also creates botanical perfumes and recently established a separate shop, Rebel and Mercury, in order to better feature her line of fragrances. The name seems to suit her perfectly since it reflects Nikki’s independent and evolving creative spirit.
When Nikki launched Rebel and Mercury back in June, she sent me a sample of a new fragrance, Var en Provence. When it arrived, I was too busy with travel and work to spend quality time with the fragrance, but luckily the sample of Var en Provence caught my eye last week and I’ve been able to hang out with this perfect summer scent and get to know it a lot better.
To my nose, Var en Provence falls squarely in my favorite genre, the woody floral perfume. Having said that, I’m not certain of the woods in this perfume and I wonder if it’s the orris root and olive leaf that merge into a basalmic and herbal accord. But let’s get to the floral aspect first. Mimosa is the focal point of Var en Provence and it glimmers in the soft light of Southern France. Fortunately, this is a soft-focus mimosa and not at all high pitched which is often the case. The mimosa in Var en Provence is definitely sweet, but it’s a gauzy draping of honeyed blossoms that feels very wearable and appealing.
Going back to the woody floral discussion, and I’d like to clarify that those balsamic nuances are present only in the opening of the fragrance which I find very interesting as wood essences tend to be basenotes. But as I said, the earthy, almost mushroomy quality of orris combined with the herbaceous olive leaf hover around the opening notes and then dissipate as the heart opens to the soft and plentiful mimosa flowers.
The drydown continues the mimosa theme as it becomes even more powdery and floral. The final stage of Var en Provence is like a soliflore that allows for an unexpectedly serene yet intriguing mimosa experience. Clearly, I highly recommend mimosa aficionados give Var en Provence a try, and for those of you who are a little gun-shy regarding this yellow fuzzy blossom, you should give it a shot as well.
Var en Provence is available at Rebel and Mercury in various sizes and price points.
Disclosure: A sample was sent to me for consideration by Nikki Sherritt. The opinions in this review are my own. I was not financially compensated for this review or any other.
Mimosa Flower by InFire at etsy.
BlundaAromatics in Los Angeles is an exquisite olefactorium/ artisan enclave/ scent school/ alchemical collaboration run by Persephenie Schnyder. Blunda’s website describes its store hours as Saturday: 11-5, Monday – Friday: By Appointment or Chance. It truly was a magnificent accord of chance, serendipity, a dash of divine intervention, and a dear college friend that dispatched me to Blunda a couple of Saturdays ago to experience natural perfumery in the flesh and to hear Ayala Sender describe her Ezra Pound haiku-inspired scent Hanami.
As I slipped out of the blazing SoCal sun and into Blunda(a Swedish word meaning “to close one’s eyes”), I was greeted warmly by Persephenie herself and an ethereal enclave packed with natural perfume devotees. The walls were replete with sculptures, art, and shelves — shelves teeming with delicate glass vials of essential oils and jars of all sizes containing exotic substances; Ayala refers to this as a perfume organ.
The desserts Ayala and Persephenie prepared for our motley crew were other word-ly. Neatly stacked rows of sakura mochi (Japanese rice pastries filled with Azuki bean paste and wrapped in pickled cherry leaves) greeted us along withAyala’sperfumed teas, fresh and tiny tea sandwiches with cucumber, watercress, minted radishes, carrots, ginger and cream cheese, and wickedly delicious marble-sized handmade perfumed White Potion and Guilt chocolate truffles. As I tried to control my primal instinct to hoard and/or devour, I wondered how have I missed this genius; this cool lounge-like sliver of smell-hounds in LA? This brilliant speak-easy of taste, intelligentsia, and performance scent-art? Thank chance and the prodding of Trish for this revelation!
GENUFLECTIONS BY A NEW NOSE
Ayala’s presentation was a wonderful introduction to natural and organic fragrance for the botanically naïve. After describing her personal inspiration for Hanami and reciting the rich Ezra Pound lyrics that inspired the perfume and Heather Ettlinger’s poetic perfume project:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Ayala began by passing around scent strips dipped in her base notes of Vetiver, Tonka Bean, Cassie, Siamwood, Vanilla CO2, Copaiba Balsam and Bakul Attar. (For photos, check out her own SmellyBlog post here). As we passed and considered each note through the group, it felt surprisingly beautiful, holy and communal. There with Persephenie’s perfume organ as a back drop, we exchanged musical nose notes in quiet revelry.
Breaking Hanami down note by note seemed especially appropriate given the deconstructive nature of the tradition up-ending haiku written by Pound. With its unpredictable metrics (the musical notes/cadence of a poem), the poem shifts between hard clip urban consonants and noun images, and the gorgeous seductive nature of soft dark s’es and sh’s, p‘s and b‘s. Ayala’s base ensemble captures this brilliantly.
Cassie, as she explained, is a type of mimosa used in tanning leather and appropriately, it speaks with a musty earthen, even industrial and honeyed depth. Vetiver, a simple grass root with an incredibly rich and complicated wet woods and marshland scent, bowled me over. Vanilla CO2, she used because it is shearer than Vanilla and has a half milky half watery sense. Ayala identified these choices as a desire to pull a deep metallic, dark and dusty –even gloomy — smell. The final woodsy, metallurgical accord is spectacular.
Then Ayala moved to the heart notes allowing us to appreciate the individual notes of Pink Lotus, Magnolia, Tuberose, Violet Leaf, and Oleander, before providing the scent strip fan of the Sakura Accord in its entirety. Again this process, especially for a novice like me, was extraordinary. There is something truly mystical and transformative to sit (or stand) in a jam-packed room and reverently pass these deep, dark woodsy and floral scents among one another. And finally, for Hanami’s top notes, she purposefully steered away from citrus and turned instead towards earthy-wooden florals — Cabreuva, Frangipani, Mimosa and Rosewood.
There is a hard softness in the core underpinnings of this perfume that beautifully echoes the elegiac quality of the poem itself. This heavy metal base creates the perfect enduring and quixotic caesura (pause) in one’s mind, a kind of olfactoric undertow. The floral tip opens up a deep and resonant space for that urban anonymity, the alienation and intimacy of modern living, to transpire in all its crushed complexity. It is a lot like that final image Ezra Pound leaves us with – Ayala’s final fragrance looms like the enduring apparition of our lives, of our faces, anonymous, mysterious, individual, as petals on that wet, black bough. Ayala’s composition is not just a perfume, Hanami (and Ettlinger’s entire poetry project) should be installed in MOCA or MOMA, as an art experience. It is a stunning and sublime fragrance.
Much to our collective joy, Ayala brought several of her other signature perfumes with her as well as small samples of her entire collection. I was immediately taken with Bon Zai, another Japanese-derived scent. It is minimalist, woodsy, and the Juniper is fabulous. Juniper! Juniper! Fete D’Hiver I found bewitching as well, although totally different from Bon Zai. It is described as “Spicy roses with incense and amber dries down to a powdery snow on fluffy fur” on the website, and this really says it all. Now to start saving up so that I may purchase all THREE.
Please come back to Scent Hive on Tuesday for Part II of Scents & Serendipity, Ayala & Persephenie
Hanami is available at Blunda Aromatics.
Written by guest contributer ~duVergne Robert Gaines: a neophyte to the odor order, is a professional feminist and occasional poet. She lives in Los Angeles near the La Brea tar pits with her partner David Riley Shackelford and their two cat children, Trotsky and MadX.
The sun rarely shines in April as brightly in the Northwest as it did the day Hanami arrived. It was also the day I planned to take my boys to the Japanese Gardens, so the sample’s arrival felt inspired. After gingerly opening the padded envelope, Hanami immediately went on my wrists and neck. And then stepping outside, I could feel my bones finally being warmed by the sun’s rays on my skin. I grabbed my boys from school, and off we went to stroll the gardens. The cherry blossoms were radiant in the sunlight, twinkling against the impossibly clear sky. Rows of pink gauzey blooms were dreamlike, and it was all I could do to keep from smelling my wrists.
Hanami, the Ayala Moriel Parfums fragrance, twinkles like a light and floats like gauze upon the opening. It’s sparkly with mildly peppery topnotes, and weightless like gossamer with its minimalist rendering of mimosa and frangipani. The fragrance also possesses unexpected buttery and dewy qualities, and the woods are immediately palpable which carry you right to Hanami’s heart which is a beautifully blended woody floral. Hanami then shifts back and forth in the drydown, evolving with your motion, the breeze, and warmth of your skin; from the sweetness of vanilla, back to woods and florals. Sometimes the woods are more pronounced, then honeyed mimosa peeks in again, powdery citrusy magnolia breezes by…
Hanami was created by Ayala Sender after she was invited by Heather Ettlinger to be a part of the Perfume in a Poem project. Ms. Ettlinger is the founder of the blog Memory and Desire, who over a year ago asked several perfumers to create a fragrance inspired by the following two-lined poem:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Ayala discusses her experience and inspiration for creating Hanami here. I recommend stopping by the link as she is a poetic writer in addition to being a fabulously talented perfumer.
Clearly Ezra Pound’s poem is not evocative of sunny, pastoral days like I had in the park. Dark, overcast days on an anonymous city street is the tone the poem elicits. But not to be mistaken for another part of the country, rainy days came quickly, and Hanami’s temperament fit them as well. The woods took on more of a damp, moody quality in the wet weather. And the vetiver, while more subdued in the warmth, opened its grassy earthiness more readily. Subsequent wearings also heightened my awareness to a subtle hint of sandalwood within the drydown, and interestingly bakul attar is in the base notes. I came across a fascinating piece about bakul trees on Floracopeia, which I highly recommend reading. Bakul attar is made from the essential oil of the bakul flower and sandalwood oil. And while I am not familiar with the scent of the bakul flower, the sandalwood provides a warm woody base for the florals of Hanami.
As mentioned above though, the base provides a foundation for morphing to occur, and it transpired again in the cooler, rainy weather when the earthier, mustier notes became more apparent. I love this aspect of Hanami, and find it incredibly appealing that it seems to be a fragrance for all seasons. Spring and Fall at least. I’ll have to see how it wears in extreme heat and cold temperatures. But I have been wearing Hanami all week and I give it high praise indeed.
Hanami means “to enjoy the cherry blossom season” in Japanese. It can also mean “flower party.” Well, for those of you in the Los Angeles area, there’s a flower party going on at Blunda Aromatics on Saturday April 18th and Ayala Sender will be there to exhibit her gorgeous Hanami. So if you are in the area, stop over there for tea and chocolates that Ayala crafts herself, and meet this incredibly talented perfumer who is dedicated to the use of 100% all natural ingredients in her perfumes. See the Blunda Aromatics link for full details.
Hanami is available at Ayala Moriel Parfums.
Posted by ~Trish