Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sweet Earth Perfume Compact Returns

There is a certain emptiness that takes hold when a beloved perfume is discontinued, a feeling not dissimilar to the loss of a familiar companion. A quality of sadness laced with regret and the fear of extinguished memories painfully filters through consciousness. Perfume is witness to our innermost thoughts and as such privy to more than our earthly companions. When The Vermont Country Store decided to meet customers’ requests and re-issue Sweet Earth perfume compacts, a wound in my own heart was mended--Sweet Earth Rare Flowers was the first fragrance I had ever purchased.

1973 was the year of the Paris Peace Accords, the year in which nearly all U.S. military personnel left Vietnam. Those against the war continued to wear stainless steel bracelets with names of POW and MIA soldiers, carrying emotional shrapnel that marked a conflict which future generations would sooner sacrifice to amnesia. As the prospect of peace drew near, Coty introduced Sweet Earth, a triple-pan perfume compact containing three solid fragrances, each based on a single raw material. Sweet Earth possessed an element of affordable chic as the scents could be used alone or combined according to the desire of the wearer. A total of seven stock keeping units were released through 1976, retailing at $2.75 per unit. In a nod to the art of perfumery (and the ingredient consciousness of a waning hippie era) the inside of the compact contained a legend for each of the scents, adding an element of education to the fragrance purchase.

As a child, I purchased Sweet Earth Rare Flowers at Alexander’s department store in the Bronx. I can still recall standing on tiptoes to reach the glass counter, excitedly clutching three dollars I’d won beating a boy in a baseball card flipping game (he had a crush on me, but when I crushed him at cards it was all over). A kindly saleswoman allowed me to sample different compacts, advising me to read the legend in each one when I had questions about what I was smelling. At first I thought she was trying to keep me from overzealously dipping my fingers into the solid perfume, (I was gently, but firmly instructed to run the tip of my finger across the compact and test a small amount on my forearm) but her instruction and wisdom encouraged patience and satisfied my curiosity. There were three different compacts to choose from and I instinctively gravitated towards Rare Flowers, which housed tuberose, jasmine and mimosa scents. The mimosa intrigued me most as the year of my first fragrance purchase was also the year I’d been introduced to the scent of a Persian Silk tree in my aunt’s backyard—a tree with flowers that strongly resemble the scent of true mimosa.

The Vermont Country Store is responsible for bringing many beloved fragrances back into the marketplace, including Bourjois’ Evening in Paris (1929), a scent that was a favorite during World War II (it went out of production in 1969 and has since been resurrected as Soir de Paris). Ellen Adams, Personal Care Buyer for The Vermont Country Store, understands the emotional impact that fragrances have with regard to recollection of things past, “…We know that one whiff of a certain fragrance can bring back wonderful memories. One customer commented that when she smelled a certain perfume we had brought back, it made her feel like her mother was there with her again.” Adams and her colleagues reintroduced the Floral (née Flowers) and Wood (née Woods) Sweet Earth compacts currently sold at The Vermont Country Store. When asked if Rare Flowers would be available any time soon, yes was the definitive answer. There is a little girl inside of me who just can’t wait…


Between 1973 and 1976, Coty issued the following Sweet Earth compacts:
• Rare Flowers: tuberose, jasmine and mimosa.
• Flowers: hyacinth, honeysuckle and ylang-ylang.
• Grass: clover, gingergrass and hay.
• Woods: sandalwood, amberwood and patchouli.
• Herbs: chamomile, sage and caraway.
• Colonial Wild Flowers (1976 Bicentennial promotion): lilac, columbine and wild rose.
• Colonial Garden Flowers (1976 Bicentennial promotion): peony, verbena and lavender.

It is interesting to note the groupings of fragrance families, in addition to the educational nature of the legend which is included in the compact. Should The Vermont Country Store consider a fragrance concept for an all together new compact, a chypre trio would be quite timely.

Vintage editions of Evening in Paris can be found at Aunt Judy’s Attic, an online antique store that sells rare and discontinued perfumes. Offerings on the site are a testimony to the passion of fragrance connoisseurs and the nostalgic power of scent. The posted photo of the Rare Flowers compact is from the site.

Photo of Alexander's in the Bronx sourced from Lantern Media.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

L'annine® Mango Hand and Body Cream

When gourmand notes are used in functional products, two possible outcomes exist. The first is a balanced result, where the edible material’s aroma resonates with the function of the product and adds character to the base. The second and less desirable outcome is a product that is overly jammy or vegetal, with aromas that overpower the base or its perceived function. L’annine® manufactures a hand and body cream in three fragrances. Each is lovely in its own right, but L’annine®’s Mango formula is a great example of well-executed, functional perfumery—that’s right, perfumery.

Functional perfumery is highly underappreciated and oftentimes more difficult to execute than fine fragrance creation. Lotion, cream and detergent bases have unique characteristic odors that need to be reckoned with. If you have ever smelled unscented, tallow-based soaps then you have made acquaintance with such harsh, alkaline odors. (Even the scent of “unscented” products can be slightly unpleasant, something I personally notice every time I unwrap a bar of Dove “unscented” soap.) There is also the matter of chemical reactions that cause malodors and discoloration. Buying a product you like and seeing separation and discoloration occur after purchase is more than disappointing—it’s enough to turn you off a product for good.

L’annine® Mango Hand and Body Cream is a gentle rendition of ripe mango, the fragrance harmoniously situated within a silicone, allantoin and glycerin base. The olfactive unfolding of the cream’s perfume seems to follow the trail of aromas engendered by a cutting knife against the fruit. Notes of green mango skin and orange are the first aromas to be noticed, followed by a pulpy fresh aura one finds as the knife draws closer to the pit. The scent does not overstay its welcome—it curtsies and slowly exits as the light formula is absorbed into the skin.

You may never know the name of the person who developed the scent for your favorite fragranced product, but rest assured—the craft and skill of a professionally trained perfumer is there.


Image of mangos from

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Orange Blossom Candy Dots


In August 2007, gourmet candy purveyor Artisan Sweets became the only American distributor of Orange Blossom Candy Dots. The candy, known as pastiglie fior arancio in Italian, is manufactured by Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano, an historical confectionery with roots in the second half of the18th century. There is an interesting effect that transpires if the candy is eaten after applying an orange blossom fragrance. A tangible synchrony of the senses occurs that is best compared to sympathetic vibration between two tuning forks—a flavor and fragrance connection that is nearly impossible to forget.

Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano’s discs of colorless molded sugar are perfumed with natural orange flower and develop a granular feel in the mouth as the confection dissolves—a sophisticated way to experience traces of pure sugar crystals on the tongue. For the uninitiated, pastiglie fior arancio are remotely akin to Necco® Candy Buttons, small removable dots of colored sugar that are assembled in rows and fastened onto strips of paper. The Necco® confection, designed for children, is pastel-colored, but the texture is far from pleasing—it resembles hardened dry icing used to decorate cakes. Orange Blossom Candy Dots are quite small, but their size belies the beauty of an impactful flavor.

Not all orange blossom fragrances permit sensory resonance with Orange Blossom Candy Dots. Fresh and delicate compositions are necessary as orange blossom possess a slight Concord grape odor due to the presence of naturally occurring methyl anthranilate. Slatkin Orange Blossom and Citron eau de parfum and Jo Malone Orange Blossom cologne match perfectly with Orange Blossom Candy Dots. A review of each of these fragrances is provided as a guide to exploring flavor and fragrance connections. Feel free to experiment with other matching fragrances in haute niche ranges.

Fragrance Reviews/Recommendations:

Slatkin Orange Blossom and Citron is as welcome as a summer breeze that sends curtains fluttering with the promise of clement weather. At first sniff it is decidedly crisp and refreshing. The scent seamlessly transitions into a bouquet of gentle white florals, slowly fading in an upward stream of musk. There is a pronounced hedonic nose of jasmine in the bouquet which is simply expressed, lacking the indolic quality of a full jasmine. A faint touch of honeysuckle also flirts with the orange blossom, adding a quality of freshness à la Marc Jacobs Blush. Though Slatkin Orange Blossom and Citron doesn’t have the complexity of earlier eau de parfums in the branded line, it most certainly has its place in the Slatkin pantheon. In addition, the ancillary products are aesthetically pleasing and well formulated. The shampoo, in particular, possesses a lasting fondness for scenting the hair.

Jo Malone Orange Blossom cologne bows gracefully to the white radiance of orange flower. The scent begins on a honeyed citrus peel note dappled with clementine leaf before revealing the tender presence of its floral heart. True to its cologne formulation, the quality of constancy on skin is pleasant and not overbearing. Fragrance layering opportunities exist with other scents in the Jo Malone line, which make it attractive to the fine fragrance connoisseur. Orange Blossom body cream, body lotion, bath oil, and shower gel formulations are also available should the desire for indulgence arise.

Additional Notes:

If you are interested in making a delectable orange blossom pastry, consult my Persian Orange Blossom Cookies recipe on Bois de Jasmin. It is a beautiful and fragrant cookie that is easy to make (and difficult to resist after it has come out of the oven).

The complete Slatkin Orange Blossom and Citron line is available in-store at Bergdorf Goodman. Due to high demand, availability of the eau de parfum may be limited.

Photo of the orange blossom comes from

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Letter from a Perfumer

Sometimes life opens up like the precious petals of a flower; we never see the unfolding, but feel it intuitively as random patterns in our lives form realities that foreshadow the future. At this time our senses are highly attuned to the present and no subtlety escapes unnoticed. So it was when Gwenael Goulet, four-star chef at Buffet de la Gare, stopped me in the street to unravel the composition of Slatkin’s Persian Lime & Mimosa fragrance. This singular instance would lead to a letter from a perfumer.

“What are you wearing?” Goulet asked. I wasn’t sure what he was referring to. “Your perfume…It’s so fresh and youthful and there is something in it that reminds me of Brittany, where I’m from.” I let him smell my wrist and he immediately singled out the lime blossom and other gourmand notes, wanting to know more. My curiosity was piqued and I remained intent on contacting the perfumer in order to get the facts that led up to Mimosa's creation. The next time something like this would occur would be in the afterlife—and I wasn’t about to wait that long to find out.

On August 5th, 2003, I sent perfumer Christophe Laudamiel an email and told him about the unusual occurrence. A week passed and there was no reply. Another week passed and I began to wonder if Laudamiel thought I had penned a myth as an excuse to meet him. On August 23rd a warm and enlightening response arrived in my inbox, with a culinary reference. The letter you are about to read sparked an enduring professional relationship:

Dear Michelle,

Besides the official description the fragrance contains some materials which, taken on their own, are not part of the concept. They act as a motor inside the fragrance to give it diffusive power.

In this Mimosa fine fragrance, as well as in the Persian Lime & Mimosa Body Therapy line, some of these materials belongs to the linden blossom family, some to the milky family, some to the green rosemary family, some to the citrus family, some are abstract molecules. Certain of these materials, be it naturals or molecules, can be quite offensive when smelled on their own, just like salt is strong, but a pinch in a cake makes a nice difference, boosting other flavors and giving an aura to the whole composition. Some of the materials which I use are quite unusual in fine fragrances, or I use unusual proportions of other ones, unusual meaning for such a fresh floral fragrance…

Any diffusive fragrance is built on a key of strong materials dressed up by the rest of the fragrance. Because these strong materials are difficult to work with, it is hard to find new unusual keys each time, so much so that certain perfumers will work mostly with known keys. If I am given the freedom to work in my own style, I use mostly new keys, and I have been known for this, which I have to discover each time. This requires (an) extra amount of work and inventiveness, but results are astonishing, as you have experienced yourself. Mr. Harry Slatkin has always understood and believed in this and gives me a lot of freedom in my work. This is quite unique in the age of commercialism in which we are today.

Christophe Laudamiel

I read and reread each word, over and over again and was fascinated by the extent to which Mr. Laudamiel detailed the creative process. Mimosa is one of my earliest olfactive memories and as such exerts a powerful force on my emotions. As a child, I often played under a Persian Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin) which grew in my aunt’s backyard, running my fingertips along its green leaves which magically folded when touched. A. julibrissin was once a member of the mimosa family, but is no longer considered to be a part of that genus. The flowers, a cluster of stamen with silky pink threads, have no petals and bear a strong resemblance to true mimosa in fragrance. If you brush the flower across your cheek it creates a pleasant tickling sensation that is akin to being touched by miniature delicate feathers.

I have yet to encounter a vibrant fragrance with the sensual qualities that Slatkin’s Mimosa possesses. Its bright, lactonic floralcy is boosted by the use of terpeneless patchouli sourced from Laboratoires Monique Rémy (now owned by International Flavors and Fragrances). Patchouli sans terpenes smells cleaner than raw patchouli, leaving the original material’s diffusive properties untouched (think less “hippy”). In addition, the Persian lime oil used in Mimosa resembles the fruit’s freshly cut skin and is not at all functional smelling. Slatkin’s Mimosa takes at least four hours to dry down, marking the skin with a warm, crystalline musk. Reading Christophe Laudamiel’s letter while smelling the fragrance proves to be infinitely revelatory—a testament to the mysteries and pleasures of perfume.


Slatkin Persian Lime and Mimosa is available at Bergdorf Goodman and Zitomer. Availability varies.

Buffet de la Gare is located in Hastings on Hudson, a suburb of Westchester.

Photo of Persian Silk Tree flower from GardenBits.