RSP: Italian Summer

In RSPs (Runway, Sidewalk, Perfume), I try to connect current fashion trends and perfumes.

One of my favorite fashion themes this spring is the application of baroque forms and large-scale lace and embroidery to light and buoyant fabrics. Sultry but effortless. And also very Latin. In my head, I’ve been referring to it as the “Italian summer” look. Per esempio:


Naturally, my mind went to re-creating this look, and selecting a perfume to go along with it. I’m sure you all understand. For a “sidewalk” look:

italian summer

As for the perfume, one recent release stood out to me as the perfect accompaniment to this fashion theme, and that was Jour d’Hermes. Other apt choices could be Elie Saab Le Parfum and Dior Grand Bal. Any other suggestions?

Images courtesy, Miss Selfridge, Piperlime, Pommellato, Perfume Master. Reviews are never compensated, and posts are never sponsored. See my Media & Disclosure policy for details.

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L’Ambre des Merveilles

Hermes launched its newest flanker to Eau de Merveilles without a lot of fluff or fanfare, and that seems appropriate. Maybe more than any of the other flankers, each of which has been well done in its own way, L’Ambre des Merveilles has what helped make Eau de Merveilles a success in the first place: presence.

L’Ambre (created by Jean-Claude Ellena) opens with some recognizable Eau des Merveilles elements: bittersweet, salty orange mixed with pepper, woods, and a foamy wash of ambergris (which is not a listed note, but I smell it or something like it). But in L’Ambre, the saltiness and the woods are not as stark and synthetic as they were in the original (an effect I loved, but this is something different and equally good). In L’Ambre, the salty quality goes velvety, with lots of vanilla and a very sheer amber. It is suggestive, not cozy. This is the fragrance Jennifer Aniston should have been wearing in the moodier, sexier advertisements for her perfume (see above).

I appreciated the original Eau de Merveilles for using a synthetic framework to create an organic impression. L’Ambre is a way to re-experience what I liked about Eau de Merveilles, but with a twist. Exactly what a flanker should be.

My only beef: I wish it was a little more diffusive.

For another review of Hermes L’Ambre des Merveilles, see Suzanne’s Perfume Journal.

Image courtesy Sample was my own acquisition. Reviews are never compensated, and posts are never sponsored. See my Media & Disclosure policy for details.

O Tannenbaum

Today I’m participating in ‘O Tannenbaum’, a joint blogging exploration of perfumes that feature prominent wood notes. For links to all the other participating bloggers, scroll down to the end of the post. Big thanks to Joanne and Krista for inviting me to participate.

For my post, I am trying something different: two short pieces of writing (one fiction, one not) inspired by two woodsy perfumes.


In summer, they come to Italy. Trailing endless luggage and children too weary even to misbehave, they take a house near mine in Positano. Like my husband and I, the Parks are American, but we don’t know them. We only hear them, and hear of them. My grandparents emigrated from Positano, and the town is full of relatives and family friends who love to gossip.

Mrs. Park looks barely old enough to be the mother of their two children, a girl about seven and a son who has been saying for three summers that he is four. If I’m on my back balcony at lunch time, I know I will see her making her way down the steps from their place to the water, her face hidden by a pair of sunglasses. She walks up the beach, then back, then past my house in the opposite direction. My friend Alessandra, who takes care of the Parks’ children, says that Mr. Park spends his days swimming laps in their pool and disappearing for long drives. I asked where he goes, and she made a gesture that said “Who knows, but we can all guess, can’t we?” I couldn’t, but I let it drop. I saw Mr. Park face to face for the first time in town. Slim and taut with a swimmer’s body in fitted, expensive clothes.

Almost every night, the Parks host parties of three or four other couples. Their guests wake me up, early in the morning, as one after the other their cars roar up the hill past my house. This summer, I stayed up later and later, idly watching the lights in their house and listening to the squawking voices. Sometimes they had music, sometimes they ate outside on their veranda, overlooking the ocean. Often the whole group went skinnydipping toward the end of the night, racing naked down the steps and yelling as they clambered into the water. Only Mrs. Park walked slowly down. She picked her way like a wild animal, and in the moonlight, her pale skin looked to me like a lantern, swinging lightly.

One night, after midnight, I walked down to the beach. Stepping out of my dress, I laid it down on the beach and laid back on it. The air was warm and salty. Before long, I heard footsteps coming down the steps from the Park’s house. Mr. Park was almost past me before he saw me. He looked down at me, a naked silhouette against a printed dress, then back at his house. “Swim?” he asked.

Un Jardin en Mediterrannee is an Hermes fragrance created by Jean Claude Elena. Its official notes include fig tree, orange blossom, bergamot, and white oleander. It starts on my skin as a simultaneously clean and earthy scent. There is a salty quality to it, and although it isn’t listed in the notes, I smell lime. It clearly suggests the ocean. At the same time, there is the damp richness of vetiver, the creamy sweetness of fig, and a subtle hint of florals. Wearing Un Jardin en Mediterrannee is truly evocative of the Mediterranean, and the perfume’s evolution follows the day from afternoon to late at night.


In New Orleans I stayed in a tiny hotel room. Its wood floors creaked at all hours, and mysterious birds cried in the night. The tropical humidity of New Orleans is constantly watered with gulf breezes and rummy cocktails, making the air a heady mix of flowers, alcohol, and swamp. I wandered the streets, waiting for the city to whisper soulfully in my ear, eating beignets and becoming a connoisseur of renditions of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Most of the singers extra for it. They have signs. “Saints, $10.” I listened to them for hours, drinking cups of coffee to stay awake, not to miss a moment of the songs they sing late at night after the tourists have wandered away. But I spoke the shorthand of “Saints” rather than the real poetry of New Orleans. In the low, flat buildings it was the same. Their dim, shady interiors whisper of tragedy, but I couldn’t quite hear them. It isn’t a city made for eavesdroppers. I retreated to the gardens for rest. Plaintain trees strove to take over everything. “Can I eat these?” I asked the man who sold me another cup of coffee. He rolled his eyes and laughed softly, not unkindly, before he walked away. When it came time to leave, I was exhausted and unsatisfied, but still high on coffee. At the airport, I scanned the tired but happy faces of my fellow passengers. Bedheaded and bedecked by mardi gras beads, reeking of spicy sweat and stale beer, they could pass for the shamans of some other civilization. Did they find what I sought? I didn’t have the courage to ask.

Bal d’Afrique by Byredo was created by Jerome Epinette and is intended to represent Paris in the 1920s, and particularly the then-current obsession with Africa. Its official notes are bergamot, lemon, neroli, marigold, bucchu, violet, jasmine, cyclamen, amber, musk, vetiver, and cedar. Bal d’Afrique is complex, sensual, flirty, difficult to pin down. It smells of cedar and a sweet, rummy amber. Flowers, steamed milk, and nutmeg. It evoked this time in New Orleans that I’ve described above, and my attempts to get the city to share its soul with me. 

Here are the links to other participants today.

All I am….is a redhead

Beauty, Bacon, Bunnies

Beauty on the Outside


Eyeliner on a cat

Fragrant Reviews

Muse in Wooden Shoes

Olfactoria’s Travels


Redolent of Spices

Scent of the Day

Suzanne’s Perfume Journal

The Candy Perfume Boy

Undina’s Looking Glass

Samples were my own acquisitions. Reviews are never compensated, and posts are never sponsored. See my Media & Disclosure policy for details.

Vetiver Tonka and Ormonde Woman

This weekend, I went for a long walk in Golden Gate Park. It’s such a big park that it is actually possible to get lost in it, and in the less busy parts you can walk for a while without running into a single other person, surrounded densely by trees and shrubs. What you can’t avoid are the scents. Earth, trees, the salty marine air, damp leaves, junipers. If I ever move away from San Francisco, this is something I know I will remember, and I will miss it.

Choosing my perfume for that walk in the park wasn’t difficult. I love trees. I love how their branches reach energetically for the sky. Some scents remind me of that feeling, either because they actually smell like trees or just because they smell so alive. Hermes Vetiver Tonka and Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Woman are two. Although they are very different, they share that wonderfully vibrant quality.

The notes in Vetiver Tonka (created by Jean Claude Ellena) are vetiver, neroli, bergamot, grilled hazelnut, dry fruit, cereals and tonka bean. (via) The notes in Ormonde Woman (created by Geza Schoen) are cardamom, coriander, grass oil, black hemlock, violet and jasmine absolute, vetiver, cedar wood, amber, and sandalwood. (via)

Both fragrances take me on a walk in a forest on a summer day. Some reviewers (here and here) have written about Ormonde Woman’s bewitching properties, but for me there is nothing threatening in Ormonde Woman. The woody notes, the spices, and the jarring note that seems to be hemlock are serious, sure, but the vetiver anchors the perfume to the real world. It may be an exploration of mysterious elements, but that exploration takes place during daylight hours, not under cover of night.

Vetiver Tonka takes this wonderfully real, living quality of vetiver and rounds off its edges for something more comforting. Vetiver oil comes from the plant’s root (via), and Vetiver Tonka spotlights vetiver’s earthiness. It feels organic, but not intensely “green” or smoky, as in many classic vetivers. Paired with tonka, bergamot, and nutty notes, the effect is softer and more feminine. Although my nose doesn’t smell cereals, I am not surprised to read them in the note list; they seem to fit. In this fragrance, Ellena captured my idealized vetiver, which may not be real but which is — for me — better than real.

For a review of Ormonde Woman, see Perfume Shrine. For a review of Hermes Vetiver Tonka see  What Men Should Smell Like.

Image courtesy Public Domain Images. Sample of Ormonde Woman provided by the company. Vetiver Tonka is my own acquisition. Reviews are never compensated, and posts are never sponsored. See my Media & Disclosure policy for details.

Iris Ukiyoe

In keeping with perfumer Jean Claude Ellena’s inspiration for Iris Ukiyoe, the fragrance brings to mind the peaceful, serene feeling of walking through a Japanese garden. According to Wikipedia, the word directly translates as “floating world” in English.


A “floating world” is an apt description for the effect of Iris Ukiyoe, both in the sense that it is serene and in the sense that it is a little detached. Many have described it as cold.

Iris Ukiyoe is meant to highlight the smell of iris flowers as opposed to iris root. I can’t comment on this, because the iris flowers I’ve smelled haven’t been strongly scented at all. I can only say that to me, Iris Ukiyoe smells  creamy-buttery-powdery. It is reminiscent of a the cleanest aspects of an Easter lily. It isn’t narcotic at all, and the delicacy of the floral note is just barely tinged with a very subtle greenness.

I can appreciate the limpid, delicate quality of Iris Ukiyoe. But I really feel its lack of a firm backbone. Without something strong to ground it in the garden, it’s simply too floaty.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 


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