Colored Stones!

In the days of Isabella and Stewart (the middle 1850’s) it was considered the height of vulgarity to own or wear colored stones. So, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, topazes, or any other stone of that sort were avoided, and diamonds and pearls were the only really acceptable gems to be seen with. White opals were just barely allowed, but only as long as they didn’t show too much color.

In the old photographs you will never see a woman decked out in the mid 1800s with anything other than white or colorless gems. This fashion continued until the turn of the century and even a bit beyond.

This brings me to the point of Stewart’s gift to Isabella, that massive colorful explosion of passion bought from an enthusiastic Maltese jeweler. To receive as one’s engagement ring a mammoth pink diamond was just awful! Stewart is a man of science who neither knows nor particularly cares what the fashion of the time is for engagement rings. If his brother, Timothy, had been around to advise him on his fateful trip to the Maltese jeweler, all would have been right BUT Isabella was truly aghast at this eternal present and used all of her well learned poise not to cry out when she received it. She really would have been far happier with a smaller white diamond set in a platinum modest setting.

Ladies had modest engagement and wedding rings (matching metals and stones, thank you) and then wore their eye popping gems during evenings, balls, nights out and grand soirees. That was when the “little” wedding and engagement rings were left at home.

Engagement rings were set with a stone of about 1/2 carat or less in the center, round cut. They were surrounded by much smaller stones also round cut (any other cut was also considered vulgar). All in all we would consider it all very dull and far too understated while being fussy. A great many of those engagement rings have been taken to the modern jeweler and transformed into something more modern or become bit players in larger settings. Here is a page of good examples of the kind of rings I mean.

A Nice Sign

Last night I worked until a bit after 6 p.m. at the office. I was dreading going out into the gloom and I saw that the sky was still a bit lit up! When I went out to the car it was not pitch black and I didn’t need my little keychain flashlight. Oh, that is the first sign to me that winter isn’t eternal. What a great moment.

February 2nd is the half way point of winter, though. It’s: Groundhog Day, Candlemas Day, St Blaize’s day (invoked against throat diseases), Imbalc and Lughnasagh in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and Inventors’ Day in Thailand!

Valentine’s Scents at Possets!

Possets has just announced its Valentine line of fragrances. Quite a few of them are associated with Dark Matter the Victorian romance novelette serialized and sprinkled with links to the perfumes mentioned in the story. Great fun. Stewart and Isabella have run away to the island of Malta. What is happening there? Read it and find out.

There is also a section which isn’t associated with Dark Matter and it has quite a few unusual Valentine fragrances there. Estrogen, anyone? It’s all happening at Possets.


Gad, all day long I have been doing business things and not creative things! Ah hates that. Feels like my time has been co-opted by corporations. The the HVAC man turned off the heat in my building, then I had to hunt him down and get him to turn it back on (he was working on the system and forgot to turn it back on). I had a feeling this day was going to be less productive than I had wanted it to be.

How To Smell Like You Are 23% Richer and Better Educated

Mrs. Tootoo

A few suggestions...

Of course people consciously and unconsciously make judgments about each other all the time based on the scantiest pieces of evidence. Want to be perceived as a little richer, better off in general, used to the finer things in life? Simple. Here are a few perfume elements to search out.

Tea. Not just any tea, the sort of pretty thin and elegant tea accord you find in a proper translucent teacup. Chai, dark black tea, incense and tisanes say more “New Age, fun, cutting edge, let’s talk about things esoteric”, and that is fine in the right circumstance. But the effect a lovely green or orange pekoe has on your audience is more of an underline of propriety, and sometimes that is what’s called for.

Leather. Ever since the introduction of Cuir de Russie, leather has been a mark of upper classism. It is most probably the association of horses and the money it takes to keep them, or perhaps the notion that you have to have money to buy leather goods. In any event there are lots of leather fragrances which mimic the scent of real leather without harming any living thing.

Chypre-a glorious harmony of oakmoss, bergamot and other delights which combine to make a strong, green, perfumy but dry whole. Worn with care it does add distinction.

Sandalwood-I think we all know what basic sandalwood smells like, it’s slightly astringent, and because of this dry and woody side it makes a perfect component of your fragrance to be admired in.

VERY light florals of a single flower. Acceptable flowers would include: tobacco flower, light rose, very light violet, very light carnation. Unacceptable flowers would include: tuberose, gardenia, magnolia, honeysuckle, strong rose, lily, lily of the valley (amazingly strong and distracting), and any other big heavy floral.

“Green” fragrances. Things which smell like leaves and grass are perfect when you want to make a good impression. Pine and fir fall in this category but you might want to go very light on those, you don’t want to smell like White Cap.

Notes to stay away from if you want to project breeding would include the following:

Relentlessly sporty fragrances,the kind which make you think of clenched teeth drying in a withering social situation.

Cloying and confused bouquets of nondescript flowers.

Save the candybox for fun situations, that just screams SEX and if you want to present yourself as serious and professional, candy is a bad idea. So the fruity fragrances are in the same boat, save them for playtime with your friends. Smelling like banana during an afternoon tea with the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough isn’t the “done thing”.

Big Orientals. My mother had a friend who would come for a visit every once in a while. She was quite old fashioned and adored this huge “wooly” fragrance which was loaded with labdanum. The entire house reeked while she was there and for hours afterwords. I dreaded Mrs. G paying a call on us. She was a dear lady but her perfume would leave you gasping.

So there you have it. I hope that has given you some ideas about the projection of breeding and good taste. We live in such a varied world that there are legitimate times in our day that we want to project all sorts of persona, but good breeding still cuts across lines of activities and it’s always welcome.

…First, You Have To Be A Man…

My Mother

My Mother

Such an ironic story. When I was a child I once solemnly entered my mother’s bedroom to announce that I had decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was about seven, and very serious. I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and so I pulled myself up to my full height and said,”I want to be a perfumer.”

Mother’s face didn’t change at all. She simply looked at me without expression for a long time. Finally she said,”Well, Fabienne, I am afraid that is impossible. First, you have to be a man. You have to be French, and have to be from a family which is a French perfuming family…” Then she went on to outline the long and tortuous path a perfumer must take to become a master perfumer.

I was perplexed. I loved my mother’s favorite fragrance, Bandit. As a matter of fact it was the first thing I ever smelled when I was born, the first breath I ever took was full of Bandit! My mother had applied it liberally before setting off for the Delivery Room that June 20th evening and so I was set for my first encounter with the world. My Fairy Godmother would be Bandit.

Funny thing is,that Bandit is one of the world’s greatest perfumes and it is French. However, it was made by a woman!!! Yes, Robert Piguet* actually was not the inventor of Bandit, it was a woman, Germaine Cellier! She was a perfumer of astounding talent. Her contributions to perfume include: Bandit, Jolie Madame, Vent Verte, and Fracas!

So, mom never knew this but her cherished notion was not quite right, her favorite fragrance broke her cardinal rule of masculine creation, it was made by a woman. Oh, and I became a perfumer. Perhaps Germaine Cellier influenced me at birth! I actually think my mother would be amused.

*Robert Piguet was a designer who hired Cellier to make a perfume to compliment his clothes collection. He took the credit for the creation, just as many Haute Couture houses do now, chemists are hired but the House takes the credit. C’est le game.

That is a picture of my mother a few years before I informed her of what I wanted to be.

Where Are The REALLY High End Natural Fragrances

One of the people on my forum asked the question of where the really really really high end perfumers who do 100% Natural perfumes are. That was a good question. You don’t see them advertised in airplane duty free magazines, or on the Champs Elysee or in the Dubai stores or in New York…so where are they or do they exist? Well… I think they don’t exist other than as independent makers. Why?

What you find as a really really high end fragrance has undoubtedly come out of one of 7 labs. The “Seven Sisters” put together virtually all of the high end fragrances and sell them to the designers or “perfumers”. All of the celebrity perfumes come from those companies. Chandler Burr’s book The Perfect Scent gives you a great picture of how these perfumes are made, he shows you a celebrity fragrance and one from a house of couture Hermes.

The lab fragrances many times rely on “nature identical” ingredients. For instance, one of the vanilla components is coumarin. You can “squeeze” it out of the plant (which is time consuming and yields inconsistent results) or you can make it in the lab and it will be cheaper and more predictable and it will smell the same and it will be a lot less trouble to make and It will have exactly the same chemical structure as the “real” coumarin. You would not be able to smell the difference between the two under any circumstances. Oh, and to add wonder to the mix, the lab coumarin would be more pure!

Large perfume houses are set up to sell. They are not set up to conform to one principle (unless that is to make money). So if something is a lot of trouble and expensive and won’t fetch as much money as what they usually do, but it is more natural…they won’t make it.

Combine that with the fact that people, when presented with two items, will always choose the one which is less expensive and comparable. I am sure that you can think of a time which you bought a higher priced item because it was “better” or better for the environment or natural but that is the exception rather than the rule, and the high end perfumers have to make the money to pay their vast armies of employees and their trips to the Nile to sniff lotus buds at dawn in June whilst being fed dainties on private barges.

Finally, there is the question of the end product. We all have to admit that there are parts of a fragrance that we are just not prepared to forgo. Whether it is musk, lily of the valley, “that pink scent”, the smell of fog at dawn or whatever, we just don’t like perfume as much unless it contains those elements. So if you take out the nifty modern artificial elements, what you are left with is flat, fuzzy, and unattractive. Once I went to a perfumer in a wonderful American city who advertises that they make perfume from recipes written up in the 1840’s, about the time when perfume was still 100% natural. Maybe it was bliss in 1849 but it was like something from a very old lady’s wardrobe to me, and I am a perfumer who can appreciate what most people are trying to achieve. The reason was that they were using old fashioned ingredients and I knew it.

And in the same vein, if you smell most of the high end 100% natural fragrance parts by themselves, they are not all that pleasant. It is an odd twist of nature that distillation by steam has this tendency to make things smell like they have been dried, and a lot of things are steam distilled. They often smell dried out rather than fresh. Then there are things which smell divine in nature but cannot be made into essential oils (lily of the valley, peony, osmanthus for instance). If they can become essential oil, they may smell dreadful, too. I have smelled essential oil of carnation which was really phfffft and butter which was awful (I shudder to think about it) and osmanthus (smelled like hay but not attractive). That is just the nature of the item.

So, if you are looking for the ultra high end 100% natural perfumer, I don’t think you are going to find what you expect. Perhaps Mandy Aftel comes about as close as you are going to get. If you do find someone who can do a good job with natural ingredients, they will be very very very expensive, I am sure of that.


Last night I was working off some of my holiday calories by shoveling snow in front of my house. It was about 5 p.m. and the snow had stopped for the most part. I shoveled and shoveled, scraped and threw loads of snow around making a path up to our front door and cleared the steps. It was cold but I had worked up a sweat and kept my heart rate monitor on the whole time. 140, it got up that high.

Finally, I had finished and I leaned on the snow shovel for a moment and saw what a ghostly beautiful thing was all around me. I felt like I had been transported to a slightly different place where the air was blue and the snow glowed aqua in the shadows. I looked up and everywhere there were snow shards tumbling through the air catching the light and looking like a shower of tiny diamonds.

It was twilight and all the dog owners were out walking their dogs. All of the dogs I saw were big ones. One huge black Newfie nosed me wagging his tail slowly and with the gravitas that only a working water dog can muster. He was obviously filled with relief and joy at the snowfall. Fulfilling his set nature by cavorting in the snow and cold.

I regretted having to go in. I was shown a lovely parallel universe where everyone was happy and moved about in an indigo land. Some people dread winter, but it’s moments like this that show you it’s allure. You just have to be willing to see it.

Snow Day…

Well, the flakes are still falling here in Cincinnati. I went into the Possetorium for a while this morning but got out pretty quickly as things were becoming icy and I don’t think the city did much about the side streets this time. So, I stayed at home and did chores about Possets all day long and will try to get in tomorrow for a good pack and ship session. I am not sure that the roads will be passable then, the snow is slushing up all around and it is still coming down. Bah!

It’s beautiful though, and last night my husband and I surprised 4-5 lady deer in our backyard. We went out looking at the porch and repairs in the gloom of night and I noticed a movement and there they were, 4 lovlies eyeing me! They stood stock still but I could tell they were perturbed. As soon as we went inside, they left. Something like fairies or strange folk from other worlds, they don’t like to be discovered and want to stay under the cloak of invisibility.

My backyard is a lively place.

On St. Fabian’s Day!

St Fabian's logoToday is St. Fabian’s Day! A little known holiday to everyone but most Fabienne’s (and Fabians) around the world. He is, as you might guess, my patron saint, and also the patron saint of leadworkers, which makes him just ideal as an object of supplication for hit men.

He was a pope and martyr who died in the year 250, the last pope to be beheaded by the Roman emperor Decius. His crime was to bring back the bones of a controversial holyman to Rome and thereby stir up the populace against the State. Decius had had enough of this energetic prelate, and struck his head off and earned him the palm.

Fabian’s origins were somewhat Cincinnatian. He began his life as a farmer around Rome who was supposed to have gone to that city looking for entertainment, hearing that the election of a pope had caused a lot of debate among the priests and higher ups in The Church establishment. Fabian gained entrance to the election audience and when another round of voting commenced, a dove flew in the window out of no where and settled on Fabian’s head. Everyone, tired from so much contention, decided that was a celestial sign and immediately carried Fabian out of the voting area and into the community declaring him to be the new Bishop of Rome, the pope!

During his reign, Fabian was supposed to have been a great organizer. He made quite a few changes in the church structure so that things could get done and unnecessary bureaucracy was done away with,

He was buried in St. Calyxtus’ Cemetery where his massive gravestone still resides (it was featured in the Roman episode of Rick Steves’ Travels in Europe). Now his remains are in St. Sebastian’s Church outside Rome, purportedly Fabian’s head is the object of veneration there.

I have always been aware that Fabian has lacked a cheering section, which I (of course) thought was a great pity and thoroughly unfair. I have set about to change that by first painting a picture of St. Fabian which somehow lacked the popularity of Mantegna’s St. Sebastian. So, I decided to attempt to immortalize him in my current medium, perfume. I make a blend, called St. Fabian, and present it to the public for one day only during the year, and then it is put away again until next year. Rose and resin are the two main features of it, and it is meant to echo the idea of the odor of sanctity which is said to be roseate. Here it is. And I must say I did a better job in perfume than I ever did in paint!

So, have a great St. Fabian’s day. Go organize something, mind the birds, and don’t get in trouble.