In late 2014 independent perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz released her Brilliant Collection, a quartet of fragrances inspired by an exhibition of Cartier jewelry at the Denver Art Museum. I've been sampling the four Brilliant scents this week, and while I could go on and on about this interesting analogy between jewels and perfumes, and the language we use to describe both, I'll try to stay on topic by sharing my thoughts on my two favorites from the collection.
Jacinthe de Sapphir was created to evoke "a densely blue, gorgeous hyacinth in the ground" and was "inspired by the Queen of Romania Sapphire, one of the famed Cartier jewels." It has a composition of violet leaf, galbanum, bergamot and hyacinth; rose de mai, narcissus and tuberose; and tolu balsam, Peru balsam, vetiver, styrax and civet. As promised by Hurwitz, this fragrance evolves from "dewy" to "luscious and earthy." It opens with a stemmy-green burst of galbanum that only gradually fades into a bouquet of floral notes. The hyacinth is prominent, as promised, and the peppery narcissus shows up too; the florals are grounded in a mineral-ozonic accord that really does suggest spring breezes over damp soil. (I'm reminded of the famous opening lines of T. S. Eliot's "The Wasteland," substituting "hyacinth" for "lilacs.")
This fragrance turns duskier as it lingers on the skin, and the styrax and resins in the base slowly peek out, but they're soft and delicate. Jacinthe de Sapphir pleases me the way a watercolor by John Singer Sargent might do — it layers subtle veils of olfactory "color" without ever turning muddy or garish. If you like Guerlain Chamade's balance of green notes with hyacinth, or you're a fan of later (but already vintage!) spring-florals like Cacharel Anaïs Anaïs, be sure to give this fragrance a try.
Deco Diamonds (what a great name!) is a tribute to infamous style icon Wallis Simpson and her collection of Cartier diamonds — both the woman and the gems were "bold, impeccable, stylish, hard and brilliant." This composition includes notes of neroli, peach, galbanum and aldehydes; sambac jasmine, gardenia, tuberose and honeysuckle; oakmoss, sandalwood, civet and ambergris. It is described as "a study in contrasts" with a "vintage aspect."
I'd go further than a vintage "aspect" for Deco Diamonds: it's like a vintage fragrance, period, minus the slight sourness or fustiness that often works its way into old bottles of perfume. It's sparkling yet refined, with an extravagant dose of aldehydes and a heart of cool white floral notes. I often don't enjoy wearing white florals, nor chypre fragrances, yet Deco Diamonds fit my wrist as easily as a bejeweled link bracelet. The florals here are satiny and sheer, and the chypre base is transparent, but still recognizably chypre, not the sweet synthetic patchouli that passes for "chypre" in many mainstream fragrances. On second thought, perhaps that sheerness and transparency do make Deco Diamonds more of a contemporary translation of a classical floral chypre, but in the best possible way.
The real Simpson reportedly wore Jean Patou Joy and Estée Lauder Private Collection, as well as Crown Perfumery's Crown Bouquet, which was supposedly inspired by her. If she could time-travel to the present day, she'd probably enjoy Deco Diamonds too. This scent feels sophisticated and ageless (and who doesn't want to feel that way, too?), and despite its formidable list of notes, it has an airy quality that keeps it from feeling overwhelming. If you like to wear crisp, aldehydic white florals like Estée Lauder White Linen, you may love Deco Diamonds too.
Do you have a favorite from the Brilliant Collection, or any other favorite fragrance inspired by a jewel? Feel free to comment!
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Jacinthe de Sapphir and Deco Diamonds (as well as Rubis Rosé and Fumée d'Or) are available as 10 ml ($55) and 30 ml ($125) Eau de Parfum, as well as 1 dram ($48) and 10 ml ($142) Parfum; sample vials are also available. For purchasing information, see the listing for Dawn Spencer Hurwitz under Perfume Houses.