Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Yesterday morning I woke up with a mosquito bite on the back of my thigh—a small price to pay for the pleasure of staying outside late into the evening, talking with my sister and husband around the patio table after we finished dinner, and then after she left, staying up later still to watch the almost-full moon float across the sky in my backyard as the wind pushed the humid air around. I love the Summer Solstice. I feel like it is the start of my time of year, because I live for the months of summer and autumn, and this period where the hours of daylight are longest have a manic effect on me. Not literally manic, thank goodness, but every part of the midsummer day and night seems indescribably beautiful, making me wish I didn’t have to sleep because I don’t want to miss anything:

much of the morning light. Now that they’re gone I have another place to enjoy the cheer of petunias during the day and the rise of the moon over the mountain ridge-top at night. Just off my back stoop there is an old redwood fence wrapped in wild grapevine leaves that drives me mother crazy when she visits. She views the grapevine as a weed and wonders why I don’t take it down, whereas I view it as a decorative plant, even knowing that its wild wooliness can get out of hand. I have to keep it from leaping the fence and climbing my walls, but its wanton growth makes my yard seem more natural, and it is a nice match for the petunias, for which I also have a fondness. They are interesting flowers that almost seem to lead a double-life: all gaiety and fluff during the waking hours, and then in the blue of twilight they become a velvety expression of scent, acquiring a spicy and exotic air of mystery one would not credit them with otherwise. I once listened to a TED talk about the savvy of the plant world—how plants have a way of bending humans to their will—and now I cannot help but view the petunia as one of the most cunning of flowers. They catch my eye under blue skies, and then hook me again with their come-hither scent when night falls.

Midsummer Delights and Regina Harris Amber Vanilla

Not the early summer morning, every bit as soft as it is bright, full of the mourning doves’ gentle cooing and the dewy coolness of grass underfoot, as I drag my lawn chair to that place in the yard where I have my second cup of coffee;

Not late morning with its easy solar warmth and diamond shimmer, as the sun climbs to the highest point in the sky—nor even the late afternoon with its hypnotic heat that makes the mind lazy and the surface of a swimming pool look good (and which, as an added bonus, is often a leveling force against the rude and pushy people of the world, because it kicks the snot out of them);

And certainly I would not wish to miss the long midsummer evening, bathed in its golden light that fades the way blue jeans do, gradually and gently, before it becomes the short midsummer night, balmy as bathwater and bewitching—its sultriness enabling one to slink about like an alley cat and not get cold.

June 23, 2013:

Regina Harris Vanilla Amber perfume oil is available from, where a 15 ml bottle is currently $125. My review is based on a complimentary sample I received when I purchased another perfume recently at LuckyScent.

Photo of flower pots on stump, as well as photo with the ceramic fish, are both my own.

Photo of rose campion, midpage, is one I found on the Internet (at several sites, so I don't where it originated).

Bottle image for Regina Harris Amber Vanilla is from

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Not to be outdone by wily flowers, though, I am wearing a perfume oil that blooms bewitchingly in the summer heat. Regina Harris Amber Vanilla is an herbal-tinged, resinous amber perfume that initially strikes one as simple, yet which undergoes at least a couple of transformations during its long wear time on the skin. Like the other Regina Harris oil I’ve worn (her Frankincense-Myrrh-Rose Maroc oil), this composition has a very pagan sensibility that makes me want to say that it’s the perfect amber for the nature lover. Amber perfumes are usually rich affairs, and that is the case here, but for the first half hour of wear, Amber Vanilla has a greenness to it that smells cool and uplifting, like a mixture of mint and pine needles. It smells like an amber constructed not only with labdanum, patchouli and vanilla, but also with cistus oil, the more herbal-smelling essence of the same plant from which labdanum is obtained. Sometimes I think the opening of Amber Vanilla smells a bit like geranium, with its mint-and-rose smell, but anything I say about this fragrance in regard to notes is purely conjecture, as Ms. Harris has never divulged a list of notes for her scents.

The vanilla in Amber Vanilla arises out of this herbal accord and is not sweet. It’s a vanilla that plays hide-and-seek for a couple of hours, and only when the perfume has been on the skin for a good long time does it finally emerge to assume its role as the creamy, round facet of amber most people are familiar with. Before that happens, Amber Vanilla goes through its initial stage of smelling like a wild-child amber perfume, herbal , woody and spice-flecked; then around the one-hour mark it begins to smell powdery and golden, as if it has decided to give up its feral ways and is now interested in exploring its beauty, like a girl who was once a tomboy realizing she is now a woman; and then in its final stages, the perfume achieves the cushiony thick and hypnotic scent that one recognizes as the custard-like base of an oriental perfume. Even at this stage, though, it’s not a gourmand amber with a fat amount of vanilla. It’s deliciously thick without being colossal or showy.

In my celebration of Midsummer, I’ve been re-reading some of my summer favorite books, including Peter Mayle’s Hotel Pastis: A Novel of Provence, and one of the minor characters in the book, a young woman working in a café in a tiny village town, is described as “the ripe young Provençale with the dark eyes and olive skin”—a girl who walks “in the loose, indolent way of people who live in the sun” and is a mesmerizing young thing to look at. “He watched her walk away, hips rolling lazily under her short cotton skirt, her down-at-heel espadrilles slapping softly against her feet,” Mayle writes, and a similar character saunters into my mind after several wearings of Regina Harris Amber Vanilla. This is an indolent perfume that unfolds on the skin with a mesmerizing slowness—and though its beauty is evident right from the start, it’s the kind of beauty that is more rustic than refined, that at its heart remains a little un-manicured and wild, even as it reaches its full potential.

Which is maybe why it was such an easy thing to fall in love with. It suits my style of décor.

On one side of my house, the rose campion is currently in bloom, and there is something fairy-like about the way these dainty magenta flowers float atop their silvery stalks. On the other side, in front of the tool shed and in a series of mismatched pots, my annuals wink at me with a bouncy fullness that makes me want to wink back at them.  And so I do, because I am wearing my summer shoes, the ones that make me feel flirty because of their bright pop of color and the four inches of height that they deliver to my otherwise diminutive, five-foot-two-inch self. These are the shoes I reserve for jeans and dresses with long hemlines, so that that they don’t overstep the bounds of flirtation and start talking trash, which they are wont to do. (“I’m almost as tall as you,” I saucily declared to my husband the other day when I was wearing them, to which he rolled his eyes and said, “Not even close.”)

Compared to my side yards, my backyard is small, and until last November, was occupied by oak trees that filtered out