Thursday, October 25, 2007

Earth Angel


Despite the unseasonable temperatures in much of the coastal Northeast, I’ve begun thinking of what will be most likely another transition-less jolt to winter. And with those thoughts, the dilemma of what to wear on cold, windy days. Vetiver and dry woods are perennial favorites, also orientals with sufficient amber and incense. But the minimalist in me craves something earthier, something that will remind me of the soil, the very dirt of life that hides beneath a frozen, unyielding crust: Angelica (Angelica archangelica), whose long, fleshy root is the stuff of Chartreuse, vermouth and various infused remedies. In perfumery, angelica’s root and seeds are steam distilled to produce a sweet, woody, herbaceous oil which, when blended by an expert like Jean-Claude Ellena, can produce a thing of light and shadows: Angéliques sous la pluie (2007). Using all parts of the plant, including the leaves, Ellena crafts a green, sparkling accord, at turns peppery, earthy, coniferous (cedar) and fleshlike (musk). Softer, sweeter and more muted than Jacques Polge’s Chanel No. 18 (Les Exclusifs de Chanel) whose ambrette accord was inspired by diamonds, Angéliques sous la pluie is quite literally more “rooted” in the natural world. Some argue that its relative weakness and lack of longevity make it inferior to other angelica scents, such as Creed’s Angélique Encens (1933) and Guerlain’s Angelique Noire (2005), but the only difference is Ellena’s eschewal of gourmand yumminess (i.e., vanilla). Nor is this a spice-cabinet anthem, but rather a whisper of the bulb-cellar with the gentle respiration of human life. If it were a wine, it would be a Grüner Veltliner with pepper softness in place of power. If it were a piece of clothing, it would be a light virgin wool scarf wound about the neck under a cashmere sweater, comforting, like a still small voice from out of the storm.

8 Comments:

Blogger helg said...

If it were a drink, it would be gin and tonic (to me). Seriously it reminds of that feeling when you sip one.

However I have to comment on the vast differences between this and the other Angeliques you mention (Creed, Guerlain), as well as the Chanel No.18.
I think Ellena's rendition is much more the crisper and truer rendition. The rest are stanzas of symphonic proportions, his is a haiku.

October 26, 2007 at 1:14 PM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

Thanks, E. I wasn't obviating the differences between them. I find the gentleness of Ellena's haiku as intoxicating as your g & t, albeit not my summer drink at all. Rather something sipped in a cocktail at some alpine lodge, preferably with a jigger of Chartreuse vert.

October 26, 2007 at 10:15 PM  
Blogger helg said...

Of course :-)

Hey!(re:the drink at alpine lodge) That would be Alpona!

October 27, 2007 at 2:04 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

You must be reading my mind, as that wonderful Caron will be the subject of my first posting this week.

October 27, 2007 at 8:02 AM  
Blogger Lucy said...

Odd coincidence, I had been looking high and low for an angelica plant a couple of months ago, trying to find the ingredients for Carmelite Water. Long story short, I ended up abandoning the plan to make it, because of time constraints, but kept the plant on my windowsill. There was one very cold night which didn't do it much good...
After reading this review I now regret I didn't do more more with it. I hadn't realized the connection with the name (tho I should have) and these particular perfumes. Now I want to try them while focusing on this component...thanks for the review!

October 27, 2007 at 5:54 PM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

L., happy to give the encouragement toward your Carmelite water. Keep me abreast of the developments. Acc. to one Scandinavian source, the leaves of the angelica plant can be used in the pickling process, too.

October 28, 2007 at 7:13 AM  
Blogger Marie Fatime of Damascus said...

Lovely writing, as always. For the odiferously-challenged among us: might you explain "orientals?" Merci.

October 30, 2007 at 12:55 PM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

MFoD, Great question. Orientals are the sultanahs of perfumery. Sensual, often heavy, blends of resins (labdanum, olibanum), over-the-top flowers, vanilla, musk and amber introduced by citrus, green or fruity top notes. Opium and Shalimar would be notable examples in this genre. There are also woody versions, which employ sandalwood and/or patchouli.

October 30, 2007 at 1:38 PM  

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