The Lady and the Baby Unicorn

ladyunicornWe have a special guest here at the Cincinnati Art Museum, The Lady and a Baby Unicorn. Painted by Raphael in the 1500s, and now hangs permanently in the Borghese Gardens in Rome, we were exceptionally lucky to have her for a while here. The picture is a blonde young woman holding a little baby unicorn who is bleating. She looks somber, almost hurt. The inclusion of a unicorn in her lap fairly screams that she is a pure and virginal girl. There are a few mysteries associated with this painting, it’s not just a pretty portrait of a young lady and her identity isn’t totally agreed upon to this day, though experts think she is Giulia Farnese, related to the evil Borgia Pope Alexander, in some way or another. Here are a few salient facts about her, though:

  • The unicorn was originally a little dog! They found this out through x-raying the image and finding a dog underneath. Since this is thought to be a wedding portrait, the dog was to symbolize faithfulness.
  • The unicorn was added later after some speculation about the bride’s virginity/purity. She may have come from a family reputed to be pretty hot blooded and so the unicorn was put in her arms to show off her goodness.
  • Years later, this picture was repainted to turn the woman into St. Catherine of Alexandria. She acquired a shawl, the palm of martyrdom, and the Catherine wheel symbol which identified her.
  • The pose was heavily influenced by daVinci’s Mona Lisa.

I looked at this painting and wanted to make up a perfume which would represent it and its multiple meanings. I chose a vanilla/vetiver combination for the bulk of it, the reason why is because vetiver is such a dark, earthy, sexy scent, and vanilla is a virginal fragrance. Putting together the two would cause a dichotomy of sweet foody and damp sensual. The rumor about Giulia Farnese was that she was not as pure as she wanted others to think she was, and tongues wagged she was a lusty girl. So the painting has a disapproving look and the unicorn is protesting loudly that the sitter is entirely pure. In my perfume you will find both the divinely pure and the divinely dirty. I think they belong together.

Just for fun, check out the Posset Lady and a Baby Unicorn at Possets Perfume. It is a portrait in itself.

The Elements of Scent-Dry

dryDry is a word we don’t often associate with perfume and it might mean something different to different people. I mean that it is not flowery, it is not candy sweet, and it is a slightly bitter scent. Hatshepsut comes to mind from my collection, it is a scent based on galbanum, an element which I think of as the soul of dryness. It is beautiful but you would never be tempted to put it in your mouth. Boozy note add a dry element as well mostly because of the sour/bitter thought they conjure up.

A huge component of the idea of “dry” is that the scent has no sweetness of flowers (i.e. honeysuckle, rose, lily, lilac, or any of the sweet flowers). It can have no aquatic/ozone notes. There should be no hint of the gourmand scents (like candy scents) or fruity notes. I also think that a crystalline musk is a very dry element.

In the current collection, Mona Lisa is a great example of a dry perfume.

Hop over to Possets and take a look at our brand new Yule listing for 2015. There are representatives from each of the scent families and it’s just fun going through the list of perfumes on offer. This year our Yule theme is Portraits and we are offering free shipping on all orders through December. Now is the time to stock up and give your gifts (we always have a great presentation, perfect for gift giving right out of the shipping envelope! Http:www.possets.com

The Elements of Scent-Chypre/Fougere

chypreA well loved classic which few people know anything about, the blend called Chypre is actually named after the island of Cyprus where the original idea emerged. Europe went wild for a new perfume they had never smelled before and it came from dealers on Cyprus. It was a combination of bergamot, labdenum, and oakmoss and smelled ever so much better than the straight up essential oils which the good people of Europe had been using as perfume. Complex, dark and elemental, Chypre took the West Countries by storm and soon they were producing their own version of this item.There is some magic which happens between the two foundation elements in a good chypre, and a lot of it depends on the quality of those ingredients. I have tried chypres which just did not make the grade even though their elements were of the best sort, and I have tried chypres which were divine with great elements, too. Depends on a lot of factors, if the perfume works or not.

Chypres can be dressed up quite a bit, with citrus or leather top notes, floral tops, resins, patchouli, or amber. It is a very versatile category.  Out of all the places which are renowned for chypres, France has to be the most famous. They were the source of such blockbuster perfumes as: Bandit, Cabochard, Mitsouko, and Femme.

A hallmark of the 20th century, chypres fell out of the public preference when aggressive musks and candy sweet scents came along. With the simulacra of fragrances, novelty made chypre seem “old fashioned” and quaint. That started in the 1980s and here, about 40 years later, chypre is re-introduced to a new generation which sees it as being a break from the oh, so expected sharp musk and fruity scents. Chypre does deserve its place among the perfume families and so it is back with a vengeance. I say hooray. One of my favorite chypres is a blend I made and named Sorrow; it’s a classic into which I have inserted a good deal of galbanum. It’s named after a character in a Thomas Hardy novel.

Fougere is a member of the chypre family, too. A fougere is the combination of oakmoss, lavender, and coumarin. I think there is a similarity between that and chypre due to the oakmoss base which is uncommon in other sorts of perfume blends. One of the most famous fougeres (which you never knew was one) was Gillette Foamy shaving cream’s fragrance! It was a beautiful fougere and highlighted the fact that it is considered a man’s sort of scent.

Fougere Royale was first made by Houbigant and it was rumored to be the first perfume which used artificial ingredients as the coumarin (vanilla scent) in it had been manufactured in the lab! It was said to have been presented to the French Empress Eugenie, who was the supreme taste maker for her generation. Her approval signaled the beginning of the rage for artificial scent which persists to this day.

And, the term fougere means fern in French, and refers to the fact that this fragrance is very much like the scent of dried ferns. My perfume, Landscape in Suffolk is a fougere and one of a modern type which still carries the unmistakable traces of the genre.

Hop over to Possets and take a look at our brand new Yule listing for 2015. There are representatives from each of the scent families and it’s just fun going through the list of perfumes on offer. This year our Yule theme is Portraits and we are offering free shipping on all orders through December. Now is the time to stock up and give your gifts (we always have a great presentation, perfect for gift giving right out of the shipping envelope! Http:www.possets.com

The Elements of Scent-The Aquatics

The Aquatics

The Aquatics

Few people are neutral about the classification of perfume known as “aquatics”. They have a sea-like tang about them which might not be what you expect from a perfume.They are usually “cleaner” and not at all spicy/resinous/sweet. So, this is a group of perfumes reserved for mavericks in general.

They were practically non-existent until Issey Miyake came out with his blockbuster, Eau d’Issey. It was the soul of aquatic and became the darling of taste-makers everywhere. This was the 1990s and overnight the “old” perfumes became out. This strong and slightly aggressive type was in every collection from Guerlain to Demeter, everyone wanted to smell like the sea.

And what gave the “aquatics” their characteristic fragrance base? In most cases it was the use of  a compound called calone. Calone is supposed to be the scent of the pheremones of the brown algae. This makes perfect sense. I am sure that our ancestors perked up when they smelled the mating “call” of one of the most common of all plants. Must have signaled food and comfort. Calone is frequently described as having a melon odor and I think an argument can be made for its having a cucumber fragrances. Think about it, both of those vegetables have a very high water content.

I have a great deal of fun coming up with aquatics, mainly because I never liked them and decided to create a form of aquatic that I did like. Maryland (one of the perfumes “about” an American state) is a classic aquatic from Possets, but I managed to bend that prim seashore edge until it was much more interesting and merged with a true perfume vibe. It’s one of my favorites, and I never thought I would say that about an aquatic! I have done that with Michigan, Custance, and The Shipman. All of them have been VERY successful, and that is in a collection which features loads of vanilla (that perennial top-seller).

Pick of a sample of one of my aquatics and see for yourself. You could even write in the comments section that you want a sample pack of 6 and you want me to pick them out for you!

Hop over to Possets and take a look at our brand new Yule listing for 2015. There are representatives from each of the scent families and it’s just fun going through the list of perfumes on offer. This year our Yule theme is Portraits and we are offering free shipping on all orders through December. Now is the time to stock up and give your gifts (we always have a great presentation, perfect for gift giving right out of the shipping envelope! Http:www.possets.com