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I had a hunch that I was going to get on well with the newest perfume from Puredistance, the intriguingly-named Sheiduna. It was created, as each of this luxury brand’s perfumes are, as a collaborative effort between Puredistance’s founder, Jan Ewoud Vos, and the perfumer he personally chose for the project: in this case, Cécile Zarokian, who just happens to be one of the perfumers of Amouage Epic Woman, the fragrance I’ve worn the most over the past two years, which she created with perfumers Daniel Maurel and Angeline Leporini in 2009 while an intern at the fragrance house of Robertet. (Having learned that Maurel was her mentor at Robertet is the icing on the cake for me, as his name is behind three of the most beautiful perfumes in the Amouage arsenal. In an interview with Zarokian at CaFleurBon, she pays tribute to him, noting, “He was a great teacher, very open, and I learned a lot from him”—and later mentions that he trusted her to deal with briefs from clients, which was how she landed Epic Woman as a project.)
Why do I mention all of this?
Because I often find that you can smell a signature in the style of certain perfumers—perfumers who are memorable, such as Germaine Cellier, Jean-Claude Ellena and Olivia Giacobetti, to name a few—and while I am only familiar with two of Zarokian’s creations (she has authored at least 30-some perfumes for a number of houses), I notice parallels between Amouage Epic Woman and Puredistance Sheiduna that make it tempting to say that Zarokian has a signature. There is an arresting intricacy to both her perfumes for Amouage and Puredistance: a level of complexity that denotes passion on her part, as the perfumer, and, by extension, conveys this same attribute to her perfumes, which have a passionate nature and a deep sense of romance. At the same time, the very intricacy of their structures also lends these perfumes a feeling of intelligence and an intelligent sense of self-control. I’ll attempt to explain this by the time I get to the end of my review, but let me state up front that my hunch was right. I love Sheiduna. It is a perfume that stirs one to dream of another life—perhaps the next life?—where by some divine stroke of fortune you are reincarnated as one of the world’s most singular redheads or you become the lucky partner of one. (The decision is entirely yours, and it can be any redhead you like, from Damian Lewis to Emma Stone.) For the purposes of this review, I’m choosing Jessica Chastain—she has many of the qualities I see embodied in this perfume—and again, I'll attempt to explain this connection by the time I'm done, but to get there I need to back up a moment.
What I need to tell you first is that Sheiduna is a tangerine dream of a perfume that is on a wandering path through a rose garden, somewhere warm, like Morocco, and it doesn't miss or overlook any part of this exotic landscape. Not the intermingling scent of lemons and oranges that have fallen from the trees that line its walls, nor the cool scent of mint that springs up between its stepping stones. Not even the spices the gardener has sprinkled on the foliage of the roses, nor the woody-amber aroma of his perfume that spirals around the more velvety scent of the blooms. Essentially, Sheiduna is the feminine personification of such a garden, and that is why the actress Jessica Chastain comes to mind when I smell it. Not only is she a gorgeous redhead—and so much of what I smell in Sheiduna comes across in undulating shades of orange and red, from its tangerine top-note to its rose-infused heart, as well as it tendrils of cinnamon-and-clove spice—but her approach to her vocation is marked by the same romantic intensity and sense of exploration I feel when wearing Sheiduna. A willingness to go deep into the garden. “She is known to prepare extensively for her roles," says the writer of her Wikipedia bio, who relates a number of these ways in the article. (In preparation for her role in Tree of Life, for instance, Chastain “practiced meditation, studied paintings of the Madonna, and read poems by Thomas Aquinas,” while for another role she prepared by reading graveyard poetry.)
Beautiful actresses are a dime a dozen, but Chastain is more than that. She’s 'all in,' so to speak, while also exercising a sense of discernment and a level of sophistication about her choices, and that's why I find in her the perfect analogy for Sheiduna. Which, now that I've made it, I'll abandon so that I can describe the perfume in a more straight-forward fashion, below.
Eve, who is Adam’s wife (though they live apart—she in Tangier and he in Detroit), would wear Le Labo Poudre d’Orient. When I first smelled this fragrance, given its name I thought it would be a powdery and cosmetic composition, diva-like and ornate, and once again (similar to my reaction to Baque), it was delightfully not what I expected. Poudre d’Orient is shimmery, uplifting, delicate and cool, not in a way that is aloof but in a way that is most enchantingly cerebral. From the moment I sampled it, I knew there was a violet note in it (the true note is actually violet leaf, per the perfumer’s listing) because that is a note that has a very specific effect on my brain: I feel like I smell it in color, and, when pronounced, it is the most romantic, cool evocation of a twilight-blue sky. The kind of sky that is on the knife’s edge of nightfall, just when vampires are beginning to wake. Of course, violet is an aroma that was often used in vintage face powders and lipstick, so it does have a cosmetic association for me as well, and here (as in other violet scents) it’s a pleasingly delicate cosmetic scent that isn’t overwhelming. The powder in Poudre d’Orient smells like rice powder rather than talcum powder and has a gentle, candied sweetness and odd floralcy about it—odd in that it doesn’t smell distinctly of any recognizable floral scent. Were I to venture a guess at the floral component of this scent, I’d guess violet, orris, and heliotrope. As for the non-floral component, I’d guess cardamom (because there is a specific, shimmering uplift to this scent that I identify as such); cassis (a note that smells a bit like rose suspended in a warm liqueur); and soft white musk (due to the diffusive nature of Poudre d’Orient, as well as its longevity, which is impressive for such a soft scent).
Of course, these guessed-at notes are merely for description (because you can only get so far by saying that a perfume smells blue and cool like the twilit sky… that kind of abstraction works for certain perfume lovers and is pure nonsense to just as many more). So, to be official, “violet leaves, patchouli, vanilla and suede musk” are the true notes per the Anthropologie website where this fragrance is listed (Poudre d’Orient is a perfume that Le Labo created specifically for the Anthropologie label as a joint venture with them).
Going on memory (alas, I can't do a side-by-side testing), Le Labo Poudre d’Orient is reminiscent of Bond No. 9 Andy Warhol Silver Factory, minus the incense. Both offer up a perfume experience that reminds me of the somewhat rare intersection where cerebral meets playful, and bring to mind the word hip, which Eve certainly is, albeit not in the sense of being trendy, but in the sense of being very aware and able to move through the world with fluidity and ease, like a true bohemian. She has the intellectual’s love of books and affinity for chess, and on top of that is good-humored, nurturing and the ethereal element that lifts melancholic Adam up. The woman who makes him O-negative popsicles and persuades him to dance. If I could, I’d bequeath to her my sample of Poudre d’Orient, as it is so much like her: feminine, sylph-like, fully present, and lighter than air.
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Puredistance SHEIDUNA: The Essence of Sophistication
October 2, 2016:
‘For Sheiduna I used a lot of naturals: starting with real and expensive rose oil, real tonka absolute (and not coumarin!), expensive real vanilla absolute, benzoin resinoide, real ambergris infusion, incense resinoide, myrrh, vetiver, patchouli, labdanum, geranium, lemon, tangerine. And of course I also used, in small quantities, some aroma chemicals, for example amberXtreme and ambroxan, the only amber woody molecules in the formula, since without them there is no perfumery!'
- Cécile Zarokian
Puredistance SHEIDUNA has notes of lemon, tangerine, blackcurrant, aldehydes, Bulgarian rose essence, geranium, clove, vetiver, patchouli, amber-woody notes, incense, benzoin, myrrh, tonka bean, vanilla pods and musks. It is a perfume extrait, with a 27% concentration of perfume oils, and will be available for purchase from the Puredistance website in late October (as well as at Luckyscent.com), where the prices will likely be the same as the other Puredistance fragrances. (Currently the Puredistance extraits start at $190 for a 17.5 ml flask, with larger bottles also available.)
My review is based on a small spray bottle of Sheiduna that I received gratis from the company. It is likely I will end up purchasing a bottle of Sheiduna at some point; in the past, I have purchased flacons of Puredistance ANTONIA and Puredistance WHITE for myself.
Image credits: photograph of Jessica Chastain, top of page, is from the cover of the April 13, 2012 issue of T magazine, the style magazine of The New York Times. Photo of Paris-based, independent perfumer Cécile Zarokian was provided by Puredistance, as was the photo of the Sheiduna perfume flask and bottle.
If I Could Scent Them . . .
(Perfuming the Characters of Adam and Eve in Only Lovers Left Alive)
Given that this is October, the month of Halloween, and that I’m writing about vampires … umm, I don’t know whether you’ll consider this post a trick or treat, but if it’s the former, I hope you’ll forgive me for writing about two perfumes that are not only discontinued but very hard to find. Slumberhouse Baque was launched in 2012 by indie perfumer Josh Lobb (it’s official notes, by the way, are apricot, cedar, straw, vanilla, tobacco leaf, davana, ambergris and parchment), and now it seems like it’s completely vanished from the Earth. (Thank you Ann, of Perfume Posse, for so kindly giving me a sample of this three years ago, which I’ve hung onto all this time!)
Le Labo Poudre d’Orient was created by Le Labo not for their own label, but as a limited-edition perfume for Anthropologie (an apparel and clothing store), and is now sold out. As I was writing this post, I did see a 60-ml bottle on eBay going for $155, which (though it once retailed for much less) is reasonable given the uniqueness and quality of this scent. My advice? If you see one, snatch it up! (I was fortunate to receive a generous sample of this from blogging friend Undina. Thanks, U!)
October 11, 2016:
I’ve never smelled a more clear-and-singing tangerine note than the one I experience in Sheiduna. Along with lemon and a geranium that introduces a cool-green minty element into the perfume’s opening accord, the tangerine start to this perfume is nose-catching in the same way that seeing a woman with gorgeous locks of flaming red hair walk by is eye-catching, or stumbling upon an unexpected garden in a city will make you pause. These notes are not only uplifting, they are breathtakingly pretty and they linger long enough that you can have an actual conversation with them before they depart and the fragrance transitions into the next stage. Some twenty minutes into its development, the scent of roses start to emerge, and they are soft, dewy expressions of rose that have a garden naturalness about them. Intertwining them are smells of gentle spices—they resemble a mixture of cinnamon, clove and coriander that are restrained rather than heavy. Rather than taking over the perfume, as spices often do, they seem to make the other notes dance and have a sense of undulation. Alongside this mix, there is the scent of arid wood that lends Sheiduna exoticism—as if its lush garden resides in a city in the Arabian desert—and this element, too, has been tempered such that it achieves this effect with as much restraint as the treatment of the roses and the spices.
What is most impressive about Cécile Zarokian’s composition is that she creates a very intricate tapestry of olfactory elements while having a great sense of balance and proportion. When I say that Sheiduna is a perfume with presence and a sense of passion, that is true: it will get you noticed. It wafts beautifully, and, as much as I use the garden reference in this review, smells womanly and perfumey rather than like something found in nature. Still, its passionate nature isn’t blowsy with a let’s-throw-all-caution-to-the-wind sensibility. Smart choices have been made here—Zarokian has exercised a deft hand with the heavy notes, an audacity with the lighter notes, and (by whatever sleight-of-hand makes such a thing possible) brings a sense of movement and breath to the entire composition. The latter allows me to smell the more nuanced aromas within Sheiduna—a low-key vetiver, with its citronella-grass-and-light-floral aroma; little puffs of vanilla that are softer than clouds.
Altogether, this is the scent of sophistication. That difficult-to-describe essence that goes beyond natural beauty is what I recognize when I see a Jessica Chastain film, and it's what I find in Sheiduna.
I never thought I would seek out a vampire film. Until now, I have only loved one—Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula—and that was discovered courtesy of my husband’s viewing tastes. Despite a vague childhood memory of being intrigued with Barnabas Collins from the television soap opera Dark Shadows, I’d not otherwise shown an interest in occult characters … until last spring, when I stumbled upon the Jim Jarmusch-written and directed film Only Lovers Left Alive on Amazon. I’ll admit it was the title, and the fact that Tilda Swinton plays a lead role as one of those lovers, that reeled me in. The other lead (the other lover) is played by Tom Hiddleston, whose work was previously unknown to me and who won me over so completely, I have since made it a point to seek out his other films. Playing a moody-musician vampire who is Adam to Tilda Swinton’s Eve (yes, those are their names), he is the melancholic element in the periodic table of chemistry that the two of them have so perfectly set in this mood piece, while she, on the other hand, is the ether. This is a film that doesn’t rest on a story; what it floats on so memorably is its combination of mood, setting, and the aforementioned chemistry that these two characters exude, to sfumato-like effect, through their quiet dialogue and gestures. Only Lovers Left Alive is an otherworldly slice-of-life about the beauties of life, reflected through the eyes of the undead. (I emphasize "undead" intentionally. In Jarmusch’s film, the vampires are the true living-breathing romantics of the world, while “the zombies” are the bulk of the mortal population, who seem to have a deaf-dumb-and-blind immunity to the things that ought to be treasured.)
If I give the impression that this film is aiming to be profound, however, fear not. It is a vampire flick, after all, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, apart from it being a silky take on the genre that is clearly aimed at culture snobs. (You, me, and all the other lovers left alive who comb the late-night aisles looking for music and books). If you’re a regular reader here, you know I like to supplement my cultural interests with a side or two of perfume, so without further ado, here’s my “If I Could Scent Them” pairings for Adam and Eve.
If I Could Scent Them . . .
Adam would wear Slumberhouse Baque, a fragrance that suits him to a T, not only for being utterly and uniquely gorgeous, but also for being discontinued and practically impossible to find. (Adam is a collector of exquisite, hard-to-find treasures, particularly vintage guitars, and pays princely sums of cash to acquire them via a confidential agent—a rock-and-roll savvy kid named Ian—on the black market.)
Baque is a tobacco fragrance in the way that Only Lovers Left Alive is a vampire flick, which is to say it’s a left-of-center member of that genre. The tobacco is not forthcoming but rather hidden, to the degree that when I first wore this scent I questioned whether there was tobacco in it at all. Now, please understand that (as with most of my reviews) the notes I’m about to describe aren’t necessarily the actual notes of the perfume, they are what I smell. And the very first thing I smell when Baque hits my skin is the scent of cognac, underpinned with leather, followed by a chaser of buttered rum. There aren’t a lot of perfumes that open with heavy base-notes, the way this one does, and manage to do so with an olfactory sensibility that strikes one as aristocratic rather than rough-hewn. The whiff of cognac is deep, and deepened further by the turn it takes into dark buttered-rum territory, and exceptionally smooth. Pockets open up within it where the tobacco appears, and when it peeks out, this is a pale blond tobacco—almost a spirit of tobacco, one that is sun-cured and unlit. (When my husband wears this scent, the tobacco note is far more obvious, but he agrees with me that it is a lightweight tobacco.) When Baque has been on the skin for a good half an hour or longer, it begins to change again and suddenly there is smoke, low-banked, slightly tarry, and leathery in a way that reminds one of the olfactory ingredient that spells Russian leather—birch tar. This low-key smoke swirls around something lightly spicy—a hint of cinnamon—before the final development in this changeling fragrance takes shape. Up to this point there hasn’t been much hint of it (except in the whiff of buttered rum that the fragrance exudes in its early stages), and one wouldn’t expect to find a layer of creaminess at the bottom of this regally austere perfume. Until, voila!, it appears, smelling like golden, toasted flakes of coconut, very natural and pleasing but also quirky and unexpected! This is not a beachy coconut smell, it is the smell of a pleasing, vanillic richness that lightens the nature of the scent and strikes one as ingenious. It is probably a coconut smell that is achieved by way of sandalwood, for in the final stages of wear, hours later, it dissolves completely into the soft, slightly arid and creamy smell of stand-alone sandalwood.
Altogether, Baque smells like the tobacco scent that a refined rock-god would wear, and is suited to Adam for that very reason. In the synesthetic way that olfactory notes often trigger sounds and color in my mind, Baque’s concentration of base notes smell austerely bass-y, reminding me of guitars and Adam’s style of music (dark, heavily amped, funereal compositions). Yet Baque’s darkness is not solid or overbearing: there are windows within it that allow glimpses of the blond tobacco; later, the gentle smoke; and, finally, the out-of-nowhere whiff of coconut that resolves into a chamois-like sandalwood accord. These wispier elements of Baque—at one moment pale and golden, at another, smoky and tinged with spice, and then, in an offbeat way, sweetly creamy—are the poetic elements of this tobacco fragrance. And that aligns perfectly with Adam, who is not your typical rock-star vampire, but a true poet.