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