Writing a perfume blog can be quite claustrophobic at times. There are so many perfumes that I have and so many samples and so many ways to approach a perfume. It is like an unexpected gift when things I read in other blogs give me feedback and new ways to approach perfume. I have wanted to write about Eau d’Italie Sienne l’Hiver and I knew I had to write about this one before the weather starts getting cooler because both the name (Sienna in Winter) and the aura of this composition are strictly hibernal.
This wonderful post appeared on Sherapop’s Salon de Parfum made me think about the implications of branding and naming on our perception of a perfume. And there I found the perfect angle to write about Sienne l’Hiver, a perfume released in 2006 by Eau d’Italie, a perfume house founded by Marina Sersale and Sebastián Alvarez Murena, owners of Le Sirenuse Hotel in magnificent Positano, Italy. I do not know what was the brief for the Eau d’ Italie perfumes but something magical happened and Bertrand Duchaufourd has offered his best work through this line.
Sienne l’Hiver is a very special perfume. It is a breakthrough in many ways. It is beautiful in a restrained and melancholic way that completely transports the wearer to a grey, hibernal landscape that somehow manages to remain familiar and comforting. It is one of the best Duchaufour creations and it is as unconventional as wearable perfumes get. Notes as listed in Parfumo are Benzoin, Fern, Geranium, Gaiac wood, Labdanum, Musk, Papyrus, Violet leaf, Cedar and the end result has nothing to do with what you would expect from these. In reality it opens with a milky, sappy note that is quite indefinable. One thing comes to mind: dry beans soaked overnight. If you crack one open before you start boiling them this is exactly what it smells like. Something between green and doughy. In fact Simone lists Sienne l’Hiver in her best iris perfumes list, but guess what: iris isn’t listed in the official notes. It does however has that creamy doughy-ness of iris. Together with this starchy opening note the smell of crushed read clay bricks creates a surreal atmosphere. A little cinnamon is a familiar “back to reality” note but only to be joined with a slight truffle note, the mushroom, not the chocolate! But what dominates the rest of the development is a note that is only familiar to people who have lived in olive producing regions. In the early winter, when the olives are collected they are transferred to oil presses which are usually near the olive orchards. The olives are pressed and a black mass is what is left when olive oil is extracted. It is rich with pits, skins and oily residue. Pure biomass going by the name pomace. As it is left behind or in its way for further solvent extraction of lower quality oils, it exudes the most narcotic smell that travels with the wind and marks the harvest time in these oil producing regions. I can only describe it as oily, sweet, slightly plastic-y, slightly soapy (have you ever smelled pure unscented olive oil soap? ). It doesn’t have the tart fruitiness of olive oil but is rather thick and sticky. To my nose this is what Sienne l’Hiver is about. The milky papyrous-violet opening sets the mood for a romantic, nostalgic and dark scent. Cedar and woods set the rural backdrop. And Duchoufour with a stroke of genius creates a gourmet minestrone soup with beans, truffle and olive paste. Of course the composition is immediately recognisable as a Duchaufour creation, with a combination of iris and cedar in a milky texture. It also has the warm spiciness that is featured in many Eau d’ Italie scents.
This is where marketing comes in. By naming this Sienne l’ Hiver the wearer has already a preconceived notion of winter and Italy with all the associations of deep green foliage, cypress trees, wet forests, red brick walls and romanticism. In reality Sienne l’ Hiver is a futuristic, abstract, avant-garde perfume that is borderline wearable. Had it been bottle in a clear plastic atomizer and labelled Comme des Garcons Factory 2, Olive Mill it could have easily been up there on the pantheon of techno-scents next to Soda and Skai. The intense smell of pressed olives justifies this completely If it was sold in a glass square bottle with a bull’s eye logo and lanelled Poubelles de Paris (Paris Trash Cans) it would have been a provocative, ironic, conceptual unwearability. The amalgamation of savoury gourmand notes, beans, truffle, are the perfect notes to build an unconventional gourmand scent.
In reality every scent can be seen from different perspectives. It is not a two-dimensional photograph or painting. And like all three-dimensional objects it can look very differently depending on what angle one chooses to look at it. Bottle design, name choice, marketing, offer an angle that makes the scent approachable to a prospective audience. Still our own experiences determine the references we are going to use to interpret the metaphors of the actual ingredients into a figurative note listing.
Notes from Eau d’Italie: Geranium, Violet, Fern, Iris, White Truffle, Olibanum, Hay, Labdanum, Gaiac Wood
Notes from my nose: soaked beans,red bricks, truffle, olive paste
MemoryOfScent by Christos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Fantastic review, Christos!!!
Thank you Birgit
Beautiful review Christos – without a doubt my favourite Duchaufour creation (can’t say I’m the biggest fan but this one blows my mind). Loved reading your take on this 😀
I think there is an almost unanimous agreement that this is probably Duchaufour’s best! Thanks Freddie
I really enjoyed this review! L’eau d ‘Italie doesn’t get enough attention!
An amazing house. The worst fragrance is at least beautifully done
The part with the CdG and ELDO tease was the perfect ending of a spring and smiling day for me! It made my evening! Thanks!
Nice to hear my humour agrees with you Lyubov 🙂
Fantastically astute review, especially about the importance of names and marketing. Your comment about “Poubelles de Paris” made me smile, but your point is dead-on about “provocative, ironic, conceptual unwearability” via one’s mental associations.
Even I who happen to like this a lot find it a bit unwearable at times, especially in the summer. Beautiful but difficult to wear. So I really wondered what part this evocative name played in the wide acceptance it gets from reviewers
A most thought provoking commentary.
Something you touch upon – I think it is actually the refraction of scent through our own perceptions, memories and prejudices that dictate the experience.
It is possible to at least make the attempt to set aside the impact of marketing and imagery. To try and set aside ourselves and our pasts when sampling would be impossible and foolhardy.
The Perfumed Dandy
The attempt to set aside our personal experiences when it comes to judging perfumes is not only impossible but also derogatory meanigless. This is what makes perfumes so special, the ability reflect the wearer and his or her experiences and start a dialogue with time. Beauty or ugliness are in the nose of the beholder
I think the key word here is ‘meaningless’ a perfume stripped of experience is just that an empty meaningless moment.
The Perfumed Dandy
So true, Christos. Perfume is a mutable, mirrored, and multi-layered canvas – and you beautifully point out all the reasons why this is so.
(And your description of Sienne l’Hiver itself is gorgeous. It allows me to see, all at once, the perfume, you, and the olive orchards of Greece.) ❤
Thanks Suzanne. Usually people describe this as moody and melancholic. I guess it creates this image subconsciously but it actually IS the smell of Mediterranean winter
Knowing my tendency to change my fragrance tastes and opinions from time to time depending on still unknown to me factors I had to revisit Sienne l Hiver after your excellent review. From the last time I smelled it, more than 3 years ago, I was left with the veggie-rooty-earthy impression you and most of the people describe, plus a big question mark as to why the heck create something so eccentric especially for a hotel fragrance line. This second try revealed some extra points I missed back then. 1)Resins (mainly at the beginning) add this odd, part wood varnish part rubber note. 2) Where I could smell the mix of dried or even rotten veggetables, responsible for this orris like earthy note, now I clearly smell Dirt. It is more a dried mushroom type of dirt. And of course this dominating green olive oil soap base you describe too. If its purpose is to make a person think, recall olfactory memories and play, this is a success. Otherwise I can understand it only as the weirdest souvenir from a weekend spent at Le Sirenuse.
If the concept of the line is “bottle your holidays in Italy and take them home with you” then they have succeeded. And Duchaufour also managed to make such an unwearable concept get great reviews and sell quite well.