The dog days of summer! Seattle should reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit tomorrow! I plan on wearing perfume as I work in the garden to keep things alive (my water bill$ make friends shriek and look at me in disbelief). During this week of scorching temperatures, I decided to wear two new "garden" fragrances, one based on citrus, the other on silphium (a mystery plant).
Let's start with citrus, "Italian" citrus. DS & Durga Italian Citrus presents a citrus-lover's dream list of notes: cold-pressed lemon, chinotto (one of my favorite summer soft drinks is based on this fruit), blood orange, bergamot, green mandarin, violet leaf, incense, copaiba balsam, musk ambrette and oak moss. Italian Citrus goes on smelling of warmed (and watery) citrus juice and rind; this scent reminds me of the Moroccan cake we make at my house several times a year that requires the boiling of a whole orange for an hour. After this initial scent of "cooked" citrus, Italian Citrus turns retro; it smells like a citrus cologne from the 60s or 70s (but without the sparkle): there's lemon-orange, a touch of violet leaf. a hint of musk and oak moss. Italian Citrus falls flat; and at $155 for 50 ml it's overpriced. You can easily find zingy citrus perfumes full of lemon, bergamot, orange, tangerine, bitter orange (bigarade), lime and grapefruit...at a fraction of Italian Citrus's cost. Another minus: Italian Citrus is a meek fragrance and disappears quickly on my skin. Next!
Swedish line Stora Skuggan sells two perfumes — Fantôme de Maules and Silphium (with a third fragrance to release shortly: Mistpouffer). Thank you, Stora Skuggan for not flooding the market with a zillion perfumes in a few years!
Silphium, the plant, was interesting; it was used in ancient times as medicine, cooking herb and possibly as a contraceptive (it may have also been used to induce abortion). The plant grew wild around Cyrene (in Libya) and at times it was valued as much as silver. Many horticulturists believe silphium was a member of the giant fennel family and went extinct due to over-harvesting for the Roman market. Greeks put images of silphium on their currency (as did Cyrenians). Scholars believe the familiar heart shape (seen most often at Valentine's Day) derives from the silphium seed pod.
For Silphium, Stora Skuggan has created a "silphium accord;" other listed notes in the perfume are cinnamon, tobacco, geranium, frankincense, cedar, cistus, black pepper, ginger, clove, myrrh and leather.
Silphium goes on with a blast of spice, a scent I'll describe as "hot" cinnamon incense. There's also a distinctive cistus labdanum aroma in the early stages of development, dry cloves, crushed pepper, ginger powder. (Shockingly, the perfume smells like the list of notes supplied by Skuggan PR.) A pleasant mustiness settles over the perfume as it dries down, this aroma reminds me of the smell inside an old wooden spice box a friend gave me that came from northern India.
Silphium provides many distinct sensory experiences for me. Depending on the hours after application, I smell like a spice drawer, a medicinal balm, a creamy (but pungent-smelling) bar of expensive soap, and the entrance to a Japanese temple where cinnamon-and-herb-scented incense is burning. As Silphium dries down, many of us who love vintage fragrances may think we're smelling a great Caron perfume from long ago. Silphium's ending comes as a surprise: the scent of a bitter green leaf crushed between your fingers mixing with myrrh, musky leather and tobacco.
Silphium has a big personality and vibrancy; it lasts all day on me (a little goes a long way). I enjoy it! (Has anyone seen the bottle in person? If so, please comment; I'm curious about the cap — what's it made of?)
For those of you in the Pacific Northwest this week: stay cool!
DS & Durga Italian Citrus Eau de Parfum, 50 ml/100 ml for $155-$230. For buying information, see the listing for DS & Durga under Perfume Houses.
Stora Skuggan Silphium Eau de Parfum, 30 ml for $140, at Twisted Lily.
Further reading: An interesting article on silphium, the plant: Don't Worry, Darling, I Have Giant Fennel: The History and Mystery of the Plant that May Have Been One of the First Contraceptives, by Susan McCarthy at Salon.