White Flower Storm

It´s that time of year – the birds, the bees, the flowers, and the sneeze – my seasonal allergies are back with a vengeance. It´s also winter-spring (Wing? Sprinter?) where the weather can go from 70 degrees to snow flurries, and nothing seems right, fragrance-wise. I cut way back on the candy sampling, because I´m acutely aware that the only thing standing between me and a migraine is one or two bad fragrance choices.

But my life was brightened last week by a joyful plant discovery and two fragrances which are similar (wildly expensive white florals) that turn out to be quite different in some interesting ways.

I love browsing the Forest Farm nursery catalog; three years ago on a whim I bought something called “white forsythia” because it looked pretty, was labeled FRA (fragrant), and cost $8.95. They sent me a pathetic-looking 8-inch twig which the dog promptly stepped on. I planted it in a sunny spot out front and, other than noticing last summer that it was still alive (or a weed had sprung up in its place) that was it. This Saturday in the rain I stopped sneezing on the path to our door long enough to notice the forsythia was covered in small white blossoms, just like the photo below – in terms of timing it is slightly ahead of the yellow forsythia (which is in heavy bud.) I stepped over for a sniff and — oh, happy, happy day! It´s got a strong, sweet, slightly earthy smell, somewhat like witch hazel, or honeysuckle with a note of hay. I have it growing in a sunny spot near our walkway with minimal supplementary water, and it´s survived our zone-6 summer heat and humidity. There is nothing else in bloom here yet except some random crocus, jonquils and the early magnolias. If/when that bush gains some height it´s going to be a showstopper.

On to perfume: first is Ellie, rocking the blogs right now, created by Michel Roudnitska (son of the legendary Edmond) and released by Jessica Dunne in honor of her grandmother Eleanor, after whom the fragrance is named. It contains white florals, vanilla, vetiver, and musk and is available only at Bendel in New York for a whopping $180 for half an ounce (approx. 15 ml). Something like jasmine and lily would be my best guess, although others have said lily of the valley – there´s the greenness of a Casablanca (and maybe a drop of galbanum?) at the opening, along with a small burst of something citrus-like, and eventually a mild indolic note. The vetiver is extremely light at the opening (it might be adding to the general perception of greenness); in the middle I get a bit more vanilla than I personally love, but it fades again. The vetiver becomes much more pronounced in the drydown, while the musk remains unobtrusive. It is a vivacious scent, strong but not heady, that I think would thrill you white flower mavens.

Cradle of Light is available at Bergdorf and online from CB I Hate Perfume, priced at $250 for 15ml. I don´t think I´d be violating any confidences to say that when Patty and I were there last summer, Christopher Brosius told us he was working on this fragrance, using the CB Musk I´d fallen in love with as part of the base (which is how we got on the topic), and topping it off with various expensive jasmine absolutes and some other goodies. I was, I admit, stunned enough by the sample price when it became available ($50 for 2ml) that I basically ignored it, figuring that my layering trick of CB Musk and various jasmines (like Montale Jasmin Full and Donna Karan´s) was close enough.

That illusion was effectively destroyed by my first taste of the fragrance. Cribbing directly from the CB website: “a blend of pure white flower absolutes: Moroccan, Indian, Egyptian and Tunisian Jasmine Grandiflorum, Indian Night Blooming Jasmine, Jonquil, Narcissus, Tuberose and White Lotus. The bouquet is set against a green background of Sumac, Tomato and Violet Leaves with a hint of Galbanum and grounded in a base of Sandalwoods and CBMUSK. The scent begins with a fresh green presence; gradually the flowers emerge becoming warmer and richer.”

I swear to God, Christopher Brosius is not paying me to shill for CB I Hate Perfume, and the sample didn´t come from him. The initial two minutes of this fragrance is a wonder – at first dab it smells of almost nothing (huh?) presumably while the oils are warming on my skin; then there is a broken-stem fusillade of galbanum and other shrubbery so intense I was worried I´d met my first CB scrubber where I´d least expected it, along with a damp-earth note that conjures my beloved Black March; the greenness suddenly subsides; there is a brief pause for maximum effect, then comes a storm of white flowers that manages to come right up to my pleasure redline but not stifle me. I do this again and again, and it never fails to enchant me.

I think a significant part of the success of Cradle of Light is due to the constant presence of the various earthy or leafy notes, which make the fragrance more complex while reigning in any tendencies toward something overly heady. This scent transfixed me so much that, at one point, I had to pull the car off the road just so I could sit there for three minutes with my nose glued to one arm. Like Ellie it is exceptionally long lasting – one small, oily sluice across my wrist scented me and the air around me the entire day.

The CB Musk (proper name: CBMUSK Reinvention) shows up slowly among the florals and is clearly there in the drydown. You can pick up that odd, sweet smell in an instant, and I wonder how various CB Musk-haters (or people on the fence) would feel about it, adorned by so much gorgeousness. I am on record as finding his Musk sensual and comforting, rather than offensive or even particularly assertive (a viewpoint not universally shared; Colombina the Terrible, who likes skank, finds it unwearable.) As Brosius says of the Musk on his website: “This is a very rich scent that wants to be worn only in specific places,” and whether he means only in singles bars, or on specific private parts of your body, I can´t say (maybe both.) As a dirty base for what I am told are some extremely expensive absolutes, it´s perfection.

Of the two, Cradle of Light is, unsurprisingly, more to my taste. Ellie is ethereally pretty; it´s the work of an artist, with a certain young, yet mannered feel (think Audrey Hepburn); its greenness and tenderness offer up a fresh, dewy charm that I appreciate while not being enormously moved by, if that makes any sense. Cradle of Light (interestingly, I keep accidentally typing “Cradle of Night”), is a darker, richer fragrance, with much less overt white-flower sweetness and more leafy, musky depth. If Ellie is a person (or place), Cradle of Light is a journey.

Speaking of which, you know where this is going, right? I had about three drops of Ellie left, so I layered them with Cradle of Light, garnering me the bright and the dark simultaneously in one glorious burst.

Unfinished Business: Winner of the Vicky Tiel Sirene, selected by Hecate’s nimble, grimy hand, is: Teri! Please Contact Us with your mailing address. Also, for anyone who missed it, here´s an article on scenting your car in this week´s Sniffapalooza.

White forsythia images: mtholyoke.edu; forestfarm.com

  • Louise says:

    Dang! Got to go buy some absolutes. March-it’s your fault, totally. Kiss kiss.

    • Louise says:

      Double dang-why can’t I thread my comments?!

      • March says:

        Because you haven’t had enough caffeine and chocolate today?


        Good thing I don’t live closer to Tysons, I’d be eating one of those Vosges bars every day.

  • Robin says:

    Oh dear, I’d been ignoring Cradle of Light too. Maybe I shouldn’t.

    • March says:

      Robin — I found it interesting mostly because I have such difficulty with white flowers on a frequent basis. They tend to overwhelm me, and I never guess which ones will do it (I can wear Carnal Flower, which I think kills off a lot of people.) So I’m always poking the edges of my tolerance, you know?

      I think you like the CB line in general, so my guess is you’d like it, but whether the Earth would move is another question./:)

  • Louise says:

    I think he still sells the leathers in the reasonably priced absolutes-Spicy Leather appeals most.

    • March says:

      Yeah, they’re $30 – $35. His absolutes are pretty long lasting — have you tried them before? Of course we are talking about you…;) And on me WYSIWYG — the smell stays true.

    • Maria B. says:

      Online he sells the leather accords only in 15 ml. quantities at $25-30. Some of the perfumes available as samples contain some leather: Violet Empire, In the Library, and Mr. Hulot’s Holiday come to mind.

  • Justine says:

    Did someone say Vosges? My ears perked right up.

    I am also not a CB lover. Sorry to say, but time and again they remind me of Demeters for people who are too snobby to admit they like Demeters, except of course with more poetic names (ducking and running NOW).

    On the other hand, this Cradle of Light sounds right up my skanky alley, but the price will prevent me from ever finding out, I’m sure.

    • March says:

      Heh heh — you’re not feeling the love, are you? Well, I’m not too snobby for Demeter, either, as you’ve probably noticed, so of course I’d like these. I’d refer to Marina’s note further up there — I think these scents leave some folks completely cold, which is totally fine. I sort of group Demeter and CB together mentally, apart from other lines. It’s a different approach — one that happens to work well on my skin, for whatever reason, and I enjoy.

      My favorite Vosges, with no self-control at all, is the gojiberry-salt one, which sounds disgusting and tastes divine.

  • violetnoir says:

    I think I am going to ignore the raves about CofL, because I just have to. 8-|

    And, as beautiful as Ellie is, it shares six, count ’em, six major notes in common with Parfums del Rae Debut, created by, you guessed it, Michel Roudnitska.

    Here are the notes for Ellie:

    bergamot, tangerine, cyclamen
    LOTV, jasmine, gardenia, rose, fig leaves
    vetiver, sandalwood, musk, vanilla, coconut

    Here are the notes for Debut:

    bergamot, lime, ylang-ylang, fresh leaves
    LOTV, linden, cyclamen
    vetiver, sandalwood, musk

    Hmmm…I think I’ll save my pennies and wear Debut with a splash of Amoureuse on top.


    • March says:

      Vi, I went back and looked up my Delrae review to refresh my memory. Debut was the one I was most excited about, and it ended up being my biggest disappointment. Something on my skin goes all sour, like old, wet leaves. It was weird. I tried it months later and same thing. But you’re right, they should theoretically smell a lot alike, and maybe on someone else’s skin they do!

      Amoreuse was swoon-worthy, on the other hand.

      • Maria B. says:

        I’m head over heels over DelRae Eau Illuminee. Absolutely bonkers. I’ve never felt that way over a greenish scent.

  • chayaruchama says:

    Veddy Interesting.
    This should give some things to look forward to atSniffa, since I’ve sampled neither yet.


    • March says:

      Oh, you’re going! I have never been to one, I bet they’re a blast.

      Tell me what smells good to you… so many things to consider…:x

  • Louise says:

    Oh, yeah-wich cb leathers do you recommend? CB has several. Thanks!

    • March says:

      Louise — there weren’t any I didn’t like. However, I don’t think he sells the samps of his individual leathers online anymore? Just the bottles? I’ll go look.

  • Louise says:


    Your write up tempts me to revisit my white floral period…long ago. Given my predilection for dark, rich things (Vosges chocolate, anyone?), which do you think I would most like? CB???

    Gonna look up those white forsythias-they look lovely!

    • March says:

      L — you’re a tough call because of your scent-eating skin. Let’s see if Maria chimes in…. my money’d be on CB, but what do I know? I’d probably start somewhere else anyway. Have you tried Carnal Flower? Or the Serge Lutens A La Nuit (or Datura Noir?)

      • Louise says:

        Carnal flower is just awful on me-really rott-y. Of the SLs-Datura is a real favorite, maybe because of the almond. I wore it so much that my son called it “eau de maman” when he was little.

        Maria-are you home?

        • Maria B. says:

          Hi, I’m home. I’m just on Pacific time. |-)

          I tried CB Black March yesterday, and I loved it. That wet earth with greenery poking its way out! I was heading out to do gardening, so it even fitted the occasion. Therefore, I’d try CoL before the Ellie, not that I have anything to go on about the Ellie.

          I tried Carnal Flower recently. On me it didn’t turn bad, so, Louise, maybe our skins don’t react with white flower scents the same way. CF was okay, but if I were to wear tuberose, I’d stick with Fracas, which is more velvety. I’m very fond of Serge Lutens A la Nuit. It’s just jasmine, no other flowers. The Mona di Orio Nuit Noire I sampled was fabulous (orange blossoms). Bot of these rest on an oriental base, and I think that makes it easier for me to like them. It might be the same for you, Louise. I still haven’t tried the Datura Noir, but I will.

          I hope this helps, skin twin (almost). 🙂

          • March says:

            Louise speaks French — you ought to hear her say “Fracas.” Tres sexy. I don’t believe I smelled it on her, though.

          • Maria B. says:

            March, I speak French too, though I’m a little rusty except with the pronunciation. We could drive you crazy, absorbing all the scents differently and saying the French over and over. Fra-CAH!

          • Louise says:

            Hi Maria-I wish I was on Pacific time, too. I am homesick!Fracas is very rich on me-but I enjoy it occasionally-and it lasts!

            Must try A La Nui, and Nuit Noire-You are right Maria, it’s the oriental base that makes them friendly and helps them stick around(today I am wearing Blue Amber-9 hours and still goin’ strong).

            I am glad March finds us sexy.

          • Maria B. says:

            Louise, at my age, it’s nice somebody does. 8-|

            Montale Aoud Roses Petals also lasts a long time on me. I have a similar attitude to yours about the Fracas–only for certain occasions. But I could wear A la Nuit every day if the world weren’t so full of perfumes.

            I thought about you this weekend because I tried on Harmatan Noir, and do you know the result? On me it’s a clean scent. After a brief opening I smell as if I’ve just taken a shower with Cashmere Bouquet soap. :d

  • Patty says:

    Both of these please me immensely. CoL’s changes are a wonder,and I remember that same feeling, the white florals building, and I was thinking, ruh-roh, The Blob is going to come out of the overheated tank, but then it just hit the line and held, other notes coming up and keeping the WF madness in check. Beautifully done perfume.

    • March says:

      Hey, the XXXX Human Existence stank finally wore off the outside of the Ellie samp enough for me to try it. Dang, it’s gorgeous. Layered with the CB Cradle it’s a kick. I got more of the tomato leaf out of the CB too, which was great.

      • Patty says:

        Col layers with lots of things. i layered it with Black march, and it was more earthy. I need to keep working my way through the rest of the scents to layer it with! 🙂

  • Marina says:

    Cradle of Light is one of very few CB perfumes that I find myself able to appreciate…because it smells like a Proper Perfume 🙂 After trying many CB scents I came to the conclusion that the “I Hate Perfume” philosophy is not for me 🙂 The leather accords are nice though!

    • March says:

      Marina — I wondered what you thought of Cradle — not too much musk for you? It’s still quite prominent on me. I totally understand what you’re saying – whatever the CB scents are (or aren’t), they mostly aren’t perfume-ish in any classical (or even niche) sense. And as I recall, Black March creeped you out.

      Yeah, he does great leathers. His various smoke accords are wonderful, too.

  • Judith says:

    Oh, I recently tried Ellie (thanks to someone’s generosity) and thought it was beautiful. Now, coincidentally, I am waiting for an order containing it and the myseterious Cradle of Light, which I have never tried. I only ordered a smidge of that, to try, though–and from your description, I am going to need MORE!

    • March says:

      J — if you have liked any of the other CBs, I think you will really like Cradle. As I said, I ignored it because of the price, and I thought I was replicating it (more or less.) But Cradle is quite different than I imagined. I look forward to hearing what you think.

  • Elle says:

    I’d been wondering what to wear today. No more question – Ellie layered w/ CoL. I have to say I am madly, sadly (financial agony) in love w/ both of them. And your description of Cradle of Light as a journey is absolutely perfect! I find myself mesmerized by all its changes – completely addictive, especially the dry down.
    Now I’m off to find out if my favorite local nursery has that white forsythia. Love Forest Farm, but want instant gratification, especially since the yellow forsythia are already in bloom here, which means I’d need to have the white yesterday if I want to enjoy it this year.

    • March says:

      They are both lovely, and I’m grateful for the generous gift. BTW if you go off looking for that plant, it belongs to a completely different family than traditional forsythia. Its proper name is Abeliophyllum distichum, and I think “white forsythia” is one of those semi-lame names that conveys bloom time and shape but does a complete disservice to the fact that it’s quite fragrant, and it really is stunning out there in the early-spring nothingness.