Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Green Fairy

Absinthe is an intoxicating aperitif with a high percentage of alcohol (up to 72%) and oil of wormwood, among other herbs. This drink, with nicknames such as "La Fée Verte" (The Green Fairy) was surrounded by ceremony, mystery and a sense of danger - it is reported Van Gogh was under the influence when he cut off his ear. Other artists like Picasso, Manet and Degas painted pictures of zombie-like people drinking absinthe alone in cafes.

Absinthe is not legal in the US, but the beauty industry is now bringing us products that let us indulge in its unique herbal scent and mysterious reputation.

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s rich and woody "Fou D’Absinthe" Eau de Parfum will be released in mid-May. I was able to get a preview at Sniffapalooza this month. It has strong woody notes with something sharp in it - perhaps the prick of the fairy herself? I was so looking forward to sampling this scent, and was really disappointed not to like it! It's very masculine and quite strong... some complain of L'Artisan's staying power, but I couldn't even wash it off. That said, I wouldn't mind smelling it on a poet sitting in the shadowy back of a cafe, stirring a sugar cube into his milky green absinthe.

IUNX's No 3 L'Eau Ivre is an icy potion spiced up with green anise, absinthe and everlasting flowers. Apparently the Paris boutique is as lovely as the fragrances themselves and has become something of a tourist destination. Check out these mentions in Wallpaper* and the New York Times.

Absolument Absinthe is a unisex "skin perfume" that adapts to your own chemistry. Absinthe and cannabis (oh, to revel in the use of illicit substances!) are among the 51 fragrance notes contained in this green-tinged alchemist's concoction. I have to say, I love the bottle design, too!

Gobin Daudé Parfums' Biche dans L'Absinthe reportedly has leathery notes with artemesia (absinthe), immortelle flower, green hay, and tobacco leaf... I haven't smelled it, but the description certainly makes it sound fun: "A doe fuses in absinthe, princess of nature, quivering, wild and sensual, happily surrendered to the magic of foliage..." Sounds like someone should take a course in perfume-description-writing!

Lolita Lempicka's "Au Masculin" has top notes of aniseed, green ivy, rum, and absinthe. For the man whose heart lies in the depths of the forest.


Korres' Absinthe Brushless Shave Cream has absinthe extract, and is rich in essential oils and flavonoids to soothe skin and protect it from irritations.


Yves Saint Laurent Eye Shadow Quartet in #3 Absinthe Green

Zuzu Luxe is a vegan makeup line Made from pure minerals. They have an eyeshadow called Absinthe (a matte, warm yellow/green)


D.L. & Co's Absinthe candle has notes of star anise, grand wormwood and bergamot.

Jimmy Belasco: Jimmy's Absinthe candle blends notes of Lime Peel, Patchouli, Amber, Lavender and Sandalwood.

> Learn more about absinthe at the Virtual Absinthe Museum.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

In Memoriam

Just this week, I lost yet another of the spunky dames of my family. As I was talking about these ladies with my mother, trying to envision them at their most alive, I realized that scent is one of the strongest emotional triggers. So I present to you an 'olfactive memorial' of these very special women.

Grandma Eleanor and my dad, New Jersey, circa 1947

We lost my grandmother this week. She'd been slipping for a long time, and I like to think that she's happily reunited with my grandfather (after 10+ years), sipping martinis and dancing to Frank Sinatra. She was a vibrant woman, the consummate hostess and an adventuresome traveler. She always brought my sister and I dolls from their trips which were dressed in the region's traditional dress. These mementos sparked my love of travel, and I pay it forward by bringing ethnic accessories to my nieces and nephew from my trips.

Her scent was YSL's Rive Gauche. The aldehydes, lemon and bergamot top notes remind me of her sparkling, bright personality - and the lemon and lime trees she grew in Florida. The rose and jasmine heart are evocative of her ladylike elegance and the santal and oakmoss base remind me of the outdoorsy life she shared with my grandfather, a passionate sportsman.

Auntie Bobbie, New York, 1945

Last summer, we said farewell to my Great Auntie Bobbie. She'd been raised in orphanages along with my grandfather. After growing up with very little, she took a job as a telephone operator and loved to spend her hard-earned money to dress glamorously and lavish gifts upon her nieces and nephews - and later, her great-nieces & nephews (a group I am lucky to be a part of). One of her funny habits was always leaving the price tags on the gifts! :)

Bobbie's signature scent was Shalimar. The name comes from the gardens in Agra where the emperor built the Taj Mahal as a tribute to his departed love. I imagine her reaching for its elegant bottle, shrouding herself with the richly opulent notes - and releasing her inner queen. Like a benevolent monarch, she took care of everyone around her and was adored by loyal friends. We honor her memory still.

Image: Bobbie looking regal on New Year's Eve, 1956

Grandma Berta in the 1980s

My Grandma "Berta" (Roberta) passed away almost 20 years ago from breast cancer. [I am reminded that a number of companies sell products to benefit breast cancer research - stay tuned for a feature in coming weeks.] My mother remembers that "GrammaBerta," as we called her, wore Tabu. Its spicy-sweet, amber musk fragrance probably made her seem much more imposing than her 4'11" stature. This fiery lady never let her small size get in her way - she'd even stand on a stool to whoop my rambunctious uncle!

One other scent I associate with her is apple pie. She made the most beautiful pies for Thanksgiving... and the apple pie emerged from the oven with a perfect, bonnet-like pastry crust. The hot apples were just bathing in cinnamon, rivaled only by the spices lurking nearby in the pumpkin pie. Of course, I had to have a "sliver" of each!

The last "Grand Dame" of my family is still with us, but sadly my Great Aunt Eunice seems to be following the same path as her sister, my Grandma Eleanor. I don't have a picture of her now, but will try to find one soon. She's a lovely, elegant lady - a lover of art, a Francophile (she married a Frenchman and split the year between the Hamptons and Lyon), and took me on my first trip to Europe when I was 16. She's the only person I ever met who could downshift from 5th gear to 2nd on the highway and not notice!

Eunice always smells citrussy and fresh, and I had thought perhaps she wore Roget & Gallet's Extra-Vieille or Annick Goutal's Eau d'Hadrien. Tonight, I found out that her scent is "4711" - a light refreshing cologne that was invented in Cologne, Germany and has been popular for over two hundred years. Like her, it's a true classic.

> One piece of advice to all of us: have professional portraits of yourself taken every few years. It may seem vain at the time, but trust me that your family will cherish them for generations to come.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Gettin' Figgy With It

Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover themselves the in Garden of Eden. Since then, figs haven't been used much for beautification - except perhaps eating Fig Newtons as a diet food.

The fig was rediscovered as a beauty element in 1994, when L'Artisan Parfumeur launched a scent called "Premier Figuier" or "First Fig" - and indeed they were the first to explore this note in perfumery. Later, they launched the "extreme" version, now available in a gorgeous Flacon de Collection.

Now, we can find the earthy scent of fig in dozens of products. Here are some favorites, from body to home, inexpensive to spendy.

L'Occitane's extra gentle shea-butter soap pamper the skin with a delicious Fig scent.

Burn's Fig Leaf Candle has the touch of sweetness from ripe figs but is grounded with wood notes and crisped up by black currant leaf. Would make a nice addition to a bachelor pad!

Keep a bottle of Cucina's Fig & Fresh Herbs Purifying Hand Wash next to the kitchen sink for clean, moisturized and fresh-smelling hands.

Another figgy fragrance is Heeley's Eau de Figuier for those who are looking to capture the sparkling freshness and full-bodied ripeness of a fig at the height of its season.

Pacifica offers a Body Butter, Soy Candle and Bar Soap in its own Fig, which includes notes of palm, cyclamen, moss, and clove set in a base of woody sandalwood. The packages are beautiful and the trio would make a lovely hostess gift.

In makeup, "fig" is either an earthy-neutral shade or a rich, dusky purple. Check these out:

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Spice Route

I was lucky enough to visit Egypt with a group of friends last month. The country's ancient treasures like the pyramids of Giza and temples of Luxor and modern marvels like the Aswan High Dam took my breath away. While the cities continue to expand, archaeologists keep finding marvels from centuries past!

Shopping in the Cairo market, of course I had to visit a vendor of perfume oils. He had bottle after bottle of fragrant oil blends, with exotic names (designed to tantalize tourists!) like Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, and Secrets of the Desert. I purchased a blend called Saffran, inspired by the spice.

Egypt was part of the Spice Route, and it's easy to imagine merchants carrying their precious cargo across the desert on camels such as these. There are even such references in the Bible: "And behold, a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt."

Inhaling the variety of spices in the markets, I began to reflect on modern products designed to help "spice up" our lives.

L'Artisan Parfumeur offers a trio of scents called "Epices de la Passion" - and includes Saffran Troublant or "Saffron Spell" (saffron, vanilla and sandlewood), Poivre Piquant or "Fiery Pepper" (white pepper and milky sugar), and Piment Brulant or "Hot Pimento" (Mexican red pepper with chocolate and poppy). Saffran Troublant in particular has achieved something of a cult status among perfume junkies. Packaged in a red satin case, they are each very different and seductive!

Origins has jumped on the spice caravan with "Spice Odyssey" - a foaming body scrub containing spices such as clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and paprika. The scent is truly intoxicating (although doesn't last, so it won't overpower your perfume). It's a powerful scrub, because unlike sugar- and salt-based scrubs, the walnut and coconut shell particles won't dissolve in the shower. However, it ends up leaving coffee-ground like particles all around the tub! Also, it would be better if you could squeeze it out of a tube; it's a bit tricky to scoop the right amout out of the tub. Still, it's a unique product and I'd recommend giving it a try.

DuWop's Lip Venom also unlocks the power of spice to put more pout in your pucker. Intense ingredients like cinnamon, ginger, and wintergreen essential oils create a tingle that helps plump and redden lips. Warning: the zing & sting may make kisses say more than you mean!