Saturday, December 14, 2013

All Things Green

'Spring Sycamore'. Rose Strang

"The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves: but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine"

From 'The Magician's Nephew' The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis

That description from The Magician's Nephew has stayed with me since childhood. The excerpt describes Digory's arrival in 'the wood between the worlds' - a strange and magical place, beautifully described by Lewis. 

Digory in the woods 
My parents were keen on the outdoors, and on all our explorations of the mountains, coastlines, rivers and woods of Scotland I'd judge a place's quality on its 'Narnia-ness'. I was always seeking that 'wood between the worlds' essence of stillness and the feeling that if you were quiet enough you might even hear the plants growing. Lewis was born and grew up in Ireland, which most definitely informed his evocative descriptions of flora, fauna and landscape, and they reflect his love of the 'emerald isle'.

So green, for me, is peace, serenity and the magic of childhood. My house, clothes and jewellery often feature the varying shades of green, as do my paintings. And just as I judged landscape on whether its quality was Narnia-like, I also seek something magical from green, and woody green, perfumes, I expect them to transport me. 

I'm unlikely to wear a perfume while on holiday up north, but when I'm back in the city it's therapy really. Green perfumes do tend to suit the warmer months (with a few exceptions).

Today the wind is howling outside and I'm as drawn to my smoky orientals as green perfumes, but in honour of the occasion I'm wearing a couple of green favourites as I type! 

Here are few of my favourite greens 
(with a few more updatesfor St Patrick's Day!):

Woodland Walks

Chanel No. 19, by Chanel
I feel it's fitting to begin with one of the grande dames of green.
'Perfumes, the Guide', an amusing and informative book written by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, describes No 19 as a 'Wire mother' as opposed to a snuggly more natural mother, and suggests that it will 'appeal to women who have ever wished to know what it is to be heartless' and while I find many of their witticisms amusing, on this occasion I must disagree!

The numerous perfume reviews of Chanel 19 that can be found online are testament to the affection many women feel for this perfume. To me it's a feminine take on the aroma of the 'great outdoors'. This gives it the sense of being freed from a corset and is presumably why in the early 70s it was marketed towards the emancipated and more 'up-front' kind of woman when it was first released.

But really its message is gentle: I have yet to smell a perfume that so beautifully and abstractly conjures up the aroma of the countryside - from river valley flowers and hedgerows to sun warmed woods and mountain tops. There's even the mildest suggestion of the perfume of a wood-smoke fire and the idea of home-coming. We're used to the dry down of vanilla and musks, but here it's the idea of being gently brought back to earth through green galbanum resin and oakmoss after the cooler lily of the valley and hyacinth opening

Sillage light to moderate, longevity around 4-5 hours. Seek the parfum extrait for a richer version.

Ninfeo Mio, by Annick Goutal
Goutal perfumes often aim to evoke ideas, emotions and experiences, and with Ninfeo Mio inspiration was sparked by the mythical garden of the Hesperides. Camille Goutal and perfumer Isabelle Doyen searched for a real-life garden to further explore this idea and during their travels discovered the walled gardens of Ninfa in Rome. 

(Click here for an introduction to the gardens of Ninfa by Monty Don, they really are beautiful gardens.)

Isabelle Doyen captures something timeless, in the sense that this perfume evokes memories of childhood. Going with the mythical garden theme, an arkadian idyll perhaps. The opening of Ninfeo Mio is very citrusy but not just sharp - it's also sweet lemon, herby, like lemon verbena. Then it becomes more woody and that's when this perfume begins to evoke childhood - rummaging around in the bushes and trees with the sun warmed smell of twigs and leaves, tomato plants, and more specifically to me the smell of raspberry bush leaves - bitter green and with a touch of animal! 

Other reviewers have commented on that element, and it's true, there's a civet-like catty or sweat note that makes this perfume feel strangely wild, even sexy, but not in a standard feminine way. It's very, very close to natural smells of woodlands but only if you're rolling around on the ground, as I like to imagine a wood nymph might do on a summer's day. 

In this sense it's worlds apart from Chanel No. 19's equally beautiful yet lady-like take on the idea of a green perfume that evokes the great outdoors. There's also a note of fig, a dusty milky sweet quality that prevents Ninfeo Mio from being a little too rough, sharp and green.

If you seek the unusual and you're bored with flowery feminine classics, I think this might appeal very much because it's as far removed from the clean, bright cheer-leader/ivy league aesthetic of perfumes such as Hillfiger's Tommy Girl or Lauder's Pleasures as it gets. I'd quite like to spray Britney Spears with this liberally and see if she melts, like candy floss. Who knows, it could even bring Miley Cyrus to her senses! There is life beyond the city.

Sillage moderate to strong at first. Longevity 4 to 5 hours.
Iris de Nuit, by James Heeley
Classic English perfumery includes, among many others, Penhaligons, whose meditational and uplifting Elixir is among my favourite incense style perfumes, also Creed perfumes, much sought by the rich and famous. Though to my nose their perfumes for men surpass those for women.

I believe Heeleys wins out over these two in terms of a classic elegant English aesthetic, though Heeley's is a contemporary perfume company. 
I first discovered James Heeley designs in London while seeking a gift for a friend, and having discovered there one of the most beautiful espresso cups ever (I like ceramics almost as much as perfume) it came as no surprise that his perfumes were equally perfect, sharing the minimalist elegance of all his designs. He seems to focus mainly on perfume now.

Iris de Nuit feels like a medieval sort of perfume. There’s nothing obviously sensual here, more a cerebral aesthetic, though very beautiful and romantic in a twilit, ethereal way that reminds me of Arthur Rackham illustrations.

It's as much about violet as iris, and these two alone would conjure up an old-fashioned soapiness, but Iris de Nuit also has notes of carrot oil which sweeten it slightly while matching the rooty/vegetal aspect of iris root (orris), also angelica and ambrette (from the musk mallow plant) which enhances the metallic haze or mineral-soil aspect of orris. Angelica has an anisic or fennel quality, and taken as a whole I think this combination is truly inspired. In the base there's a light, dry cedar which is the perfect choice for a base note here.

The feeling is poetic, moist green, twilit violet, inky cool and oddly reassuring. Also for some reason it makes me think of Boticelli portraits. I apologise in advance for this ridiculousness but it makes me feel like wearing faded silk, reclining in an over-grown garden and being serenaded by a mandolin, probably something by Purcell. 

Sillage soft but persistent, longevity around 5 hours. This is a perfume that's ideally suited to Spring I feel. Pricy but worth its weight in iris bulbs.

Infusion d'Iris, by Prada
I sought out this perfume in 2008 while working on a year-long contract in Stoke on Trent in the West Midlands. A strange time of mixed emotions. Inevitably when I first moved there I pined for the sea, hills and forests of Scotland, and began to search online for a suitable fragrance to evoke a homely mood, which is really when my love and appreciation of perfume began to deepen.

One of these days scientists will invent an app that allows us to smell a perfume at the click of an internet button, anything's possible. But all I had to go on was descriptions of notes since Stoke on Trent shops didn't yet stock this. I bought it blind and when it arrived I reverently unwrapped it, taking my time to fully appreciate the experience. Infusion d'Iris isn't a 'high-end' perfume, it's affordable with most budgets and it's now one of the best selling perfumes out there. 

It was created by Daniela Roche-Andrier for Prada in 2007 and although it's by a mainstream designer, to my mind it was fairly ground-breaking. As other reviewers have pointed out, its inclusion of Orris (Iris flower root - one of the most expensive ingredients in perfumery) was perhaps due to the fact that orris extraction methods had become more streamlined and therefore cheaper around this time.

Orris nearly always lends a nostalgic mood to perfume, some might say sad, even funereal and it has a slightly vintage feel since it was used extensively by high quality perfume houses such as Guerlain and Chanel in most of their perfumes from the 20s to 70s in particular. 

To me it never tips into funereal, it's evocative, slightly dreamy, and this is why Infusion d'Iris's earthy vetiver, subtle woody incense and creamy orange blossom combined with the drifting nostalgic note of orris to produce the perfect perfume for that time of my life. Breathing it in was the olfactory equivalent of an imaginary walk in the Highlands - a gentle caress of perfumed forest.

Sillage soft, longevity around 4 hours, the opening is citrus/floral and it dries down to iris/vetiver

Sun-dappled Leaves and Herbs

Philosykos, by Diptyque

Now that I've had a few years with this as one of my favourites, I feel I know its personality inside out. The fig is deliciously dusty, silky and slightly under-ripe which gives it an astringent green tone. The cedarwood is sun-warmed, restful and comforting and there's a smidgen of coconut which adds the slightest edge of warm sweetness to round out the perfume as a whole

But alongside that loveliness there's a subtle quality in this perfume like the fresh air of a perfect beach holiday in Greece - it's late afternoon, you're lying underneath a cedar tree, the beach is quiet now - just the slight echoing sound of children's voices playing near the lapping water. A delicious breeze wafts past,the first breeze of the afternoon, wonderfully refreshing - you feel awake to nature, fully in the moment.

This is Oliva Giacobetti's second take on a fig-centered perfume, the first is Premier Figuier by L'Artisan, but for me and most others Philosykos is fig tree perfected. Giacobetti's perfume are nearly always characterised by a slightly drifting atmosphere which lends an abstract quality alongside recognisable notes

This is very fresh, green and woody and there's a touch of sweetness that reminds me of an under-ripe banana.

I recommend the EDP for longevity, though the EDT is more affordable and also lovely, but you'll need to re-spray or use more than usual for it to last.

Au thé Vert, by Bulgari
Au Thé Vert's green is mostly about salads, herbs and citruses as opposed to woods and mosses. This is a classic by the genius of 'transparency' in perfumes Jean Claude Elena, who created this in the 90s for Bulgari. He's created many more in similar vein, most recently for Hermes - Un Jardin du Mediterranee and Un Jardin Sur le Nil. But my favourite is still Au Thé Vert. 

It's basically a development on the theme of eau de cologne, similarly light, yet more elegant and complex. It has a subtle floral, herby nuttiness - a lovely accord of orange blossom facets (neroli), citruses, cardamom and of course, green tea. The tea feel is implied in its fresh quality rather than as a noticeable note, but what this really reminds me of is a jug of iced water fragranced with citrus slices, flower petals, lemon verbena and possibly a tiny touch of cucumber.

It's perfect for summer and I remember wearing it on a trip in 2001 to see the Venice Bienale. It was a work-related trip in mid-June and involved a lot of traipsing around galleries at the mercy of a slightly manic gallery director, which can be fairly exhausting in the heat. I counted 5 blisters on my poor feet after three days, but I wore Au Thé Vert and felt cooled and calmed.

Sillage light, longevity a few hours

Fresh-cut florals
Baiser Vole by Cartier
This deceptively simple lily soliflore has an elegant, yet fluffy cloud-like quality that belies the listed ingredients of 'lily and green notes'. On opening I'm reminded of a floral shampoo scent, but into its heart notes Baiser Vole (meaning 'stolen kiss') develops green, peppery facets,  alongside a subtle and very light vanilla - like fresh-cut lilies just beginning to release their angelic scent on a sunny morning.

(Previous review here, scroll down to review - Baiser Vole) 

A La Nuit by Serge Lutens

Lutens perfumes often tend towards challenging for those more used to mainstream perfumes, and A La Nuit's opening notes feel like no exception - there's a quite powerful fruity, pear-like note that almost reminds me of nail polish remover! But within 15 minutes a dewy, mildly indolic and very authentic jasmine appears.

Jasmine absolute has a fresh aromatic green quality alongside a fleshy, slightly fecal heaviness, the former quality in mainstream perfumes is usually more enhanced to create a clean aroma not dissimilar to jasmine scented tea, while the latter's heavy, animalic qualities are often enhanced in perfume classics such as Patou's Joy. In A La Nuit a balance is struck with addition of fruity grenadine which opens the bouquet so it resembles the aroma of true jasmine flowers that wafts in the evening air, clove, which subtly cuts through the viscous feel of jasmine, and warm benzoin with a clean musk dry-down which extends longevity.

Sheldrake (the in house 'nose' for Serge Lutens) has used three jasmine absolutes in A La Nuit which is maybe why it was descried by Tania Sanchez in 'Perfumes, a Guide' as 'Death by jasmine'.  I get the feeling though, that she didn't stick around for the dry-down, which is almost skin-scent light. It does last on clothes till the next day, like a little touch of warm tropical steam from a green-tinted glass hothouse, on a chilly afternoon in Edinburgh I love it, but if you're not keen on jasmine it's best avoided!

Lastly, on the right a symphony in green; Traquair House in the Scottish Borders, looking out onto a garden maze.

All photos © Rose Strang


  1. That picture of the maze at Traquair House is fabulous.

  2. I did like Philosykos by Diptyque.

  3. It's lovely, the only problem is it doesn't last long enough, though the Eau de parfum is stronger. We must go on a perfume trip post christmas!

  4. I love this post and your painting at the top is gorgeous as well as that maze garden! The Narnia series was what got me hooked on reading as a child and I'm attempting to get my kids to have some passion for them …. they like the 3 films but the books not so much. It's a shame the movies seem to have halted after Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

  5. Many thanks Megan for your kinds words! Likewise, I loved the Narnia Chronicles as a child, and still do as an adult, Also I agree it's a pity the film series faded out by the Voyage of the Dawn Treader which didn't even stick to the story - sacrilege! I've heard they're going to attempt the Silver Chair, let's hope it goes ahead.

  6. Dearest Rose
    It appears I can finally comment here!
    Before I have always been told I was not The Perfumed Dandy and my remarks rejected!
    What a cheek.... but what a perfectly delectable treat this is.
    There's not a single scent on here I would disagree with in any way. And the strangest thing, this is the second time in as many days that someone has been singing the praises of Baiser Vole... well I just had to go and get reacquainted.
    It's an exercise in subtlety meets ideosyncrasy the likes of which we don;t see enough of today.
    Greens are the colour of spring scent wise... Balmain's Vent Vert in Vintage, Norell in its orginal forms, Futur for something scraily, symphonically artificial and the masterpiece Eau de Campagne, Jean Claue Ellena's first and still one of his best.
    I'm in a chartreuse hued heaven.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  7. Dear Sir Dandy,

    How lovely to see you here! And thank you for persevering with the weirdness of blog post comments!

    Baiser Vole is a surprise isn't it? It seems on the surface to smell a little clean white floral/shampoo-ish but then develops and lingers in a strangely ethereal way. I absolutely agree it's idiosyncratic and I imagined a vase of lilies in a contemporary Swedish wood-built house, or an arty indoor wall garden of moss and white flowers
    Those others you mention I still have to make an acquaintance with, especially Eau de Campagne - I find some of his minimal perfumes a little too sour (probably those with grapefruit which I also struggle to eat without liberal sugar sprinkling) but loved Au The Vert.
    Vent Vert I must try in vintage.

    I agree green perfumes are definitely ideal for spring, talking of which, a very happy spring to you Dear Sir T.P.D.!