Last week, I was reading a John le Carré espionage thriller and layering scents to come up with a noir vanilla fragrance that conjured the scent of the novel’s heroine and its story of dark and dangerous liaisons.
This week I’m reading Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, thinking about the precarious lives of girls and women in nineteenth-century rural China, and sampling two soliflore scents that remind me of the exquisite delicacy of classic Chinese beauty.
Both fragrances are from a sampler set of
twelve perfumes I received courtesy of the niche French fragrance house, Histoires de Parfums, a line that is best known for its series of date-named scents that capture the personalities of some of history’s most romantic and charismatic characters (Mata Hari, Colette, George Sand, and Casanova, to name a few). Yet the series also includes three “soliloquies”—soliflore scents with the colorful names Noir Patchouli, Blanc Violette and Vert Pivoine—and because my mood has shifted in concert with my reading, my first impulse when opening the box of generous samples was to select the latter two scents. I was hoping, but not expecting, the fragrances would evoke the kind of feeling that their names inspired; I wanted contemplative beauty, and to my delight, that’s what I got.
Histoires de Parfums Vert Pivoine (“peony green”) is elegant in the best sense of the word: a singular, graceful, concise statement of beauty. This fragrance combines the scents of peony and rose, and the combination is so fresh and dewy—the rose so natural-smelling compared to most fragrances that try to showcase the commanding note—I’m tempted to pronounce it one of the prettiest rose scents I’ve ever sniffed. Mimosa is also among the notes included in this eau de parfum, and I’m convinced the cool, cucumber-ish scent of mimosa* must also account for such dewiness; for the weightless, watercolor aspect of this scent. There is a sheerness and transparency here that reminds me, not of the peonies that pop up in my own yard each spring (big magenta blooms without much scent), but of the variety my mother grew in the home where I grew up; peonies of the palest pink imaginable—so pale you wouldn’t think they’d have a scent at all, yet of course they were splendidly fragrant and nectarous, so much so that the ants would climb all over them. Imagine such a bloom floating, anemone-like, in a clear pool of water in a crystal bowl, and you have a good sense of what Vert Pivoine smells like.
This is not to say the fragrance is fragile—it stayed with me for a remarkable twelve hours of wear. Its artfulness is in creating the illusion of fragility, while in reality it is very much like Chinese silk and the Chinese women I’m reading about: fine and delicate, but with an underlying resiliency that proves to be its strength.
The list of notes for Vert Pivoine includes: peony, green leaves, rose, mimosa, gardenia, red berries, sandalwood, cedar, musk, and vanilla. I don’t know if it’s purely my imagination (an imagination swayed by the ideals of Chinese beauty that I’ve attributed to this scent), but I detect a bit of a tea note in this scent, too. I’d love to know if this perception is entirely my own, or if anyone else shares it. (Anyone, anyone?)
Blanc Violette (violet white) is, obviously, a violet scent, and though violets are not typically associated with China or the Orient, the daintiness of this scent is in keeping with the theme above. In addition to violet, the list of fragrance notes includes bergamot, iris, ylang-ylang, star anise, sandalwood, vanilla, musk and—rather interestingly!—rice powder. Rice powder has long played a key role in Asian beauty, its silky formula the secret to a flawless complexion. On smelling Blanc Violette, I can’t say that I distinguish the rice powder note from the other powdery (iris) and creamy notes, but I can say that this violet soliflore is as soft and whispery light as a delicate face powder.
If Blanc Violette were a painting, it would be of a single, fluffy white cloud edged in violet, floating in a friendly sky. If Blanc Violette were a person, it would be a ballerina in a swirl of pastel tulle. It is, in a word, pretty—and though that concept might sound girlish or outdated in an age when women are intent on expressing our long-battled-for power and status, I find that there are days when I actually crave something that is uncomplicated, something that is purely and innocently pretty. The blessing of being a woman in this day and age, at least in western culture, is that we are free to explore all facets of our femininity—yet we somehow see it as a weakness anymore to show our softer sides.
Right now, in the midst of political drama that is like a constant roar in my ear during these months leading up to the Presidential election, I am truly enjoying exploring my softer, quieter side. Today I need a break from drama, even perfume-drama. Next week, you might find me reading something racy and wearing something vampish, but right at this moment I’m floating in a cloud of Blanc Violette, feeling as serene as the September sky and as tender as a wash of violet paint across a canvas of white.
*Long after this post was published, I learned that the mimosa note in perfumery is, in many cases, not the same type of mimosa I'm familiar with (in Pennsylvania, our mimosa trees are of the species Albizia julibrissin). Whereas our mimosa trees have pink flowers that smell cucumber-like, the mimosa of perfumery is usually that of the yellow-blooming Acacia tree (Acacia farnesiana or Acacia decurrens) which has a sweet, powdery, pollen-heavy smell with a hint of dandelion acridness. I can't say I smell acacia in Vert Pivoine, and I'm tempted to think that a true mimosa note was used in this composition, but of course, I don't know for sure.
Histoires de Parfums can be purchased from their website or from the shop, Mio Mia, in Brooklyn, New York (or from Mio Mia’s website, www.shopmiomia.com, where they are quite reasonably priced at $115 for 4 oz.)
Image of pink peony is from Desktop Wallpapers. Photographer unknown.
March 24, 2010:
Exploring Delicate Beauty: Histoires de Parfums’
Vert Pivoine and Blanc Violette
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