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There is one perfume commercial more infamous than any other. Chanels “Balcony” for Egoïste, produced in 1990, directed by Jean Paul Goude. Égoïste was created by Jacques Polge and is a woody spicy fragrance with sicilian tangerine, brazilian rosewood, coriander, damask rose, sandalwood, vanilla and ambrette seed.

Jean-Paul Goude was born in 1940 in Saint-Mandé. He is a graphic designer, illustator, photographer and advertising film director. His name became famous world-wide for the Chanel commercial but many people knew about him already before because of his collaboration with icon Grace Jones. He directed several of her videos and took many memorable photos of her. Their collaboration was at its peak in the early 1980’s and their personal chemistry strong enough for her to become his muse and the mother of a son, Paulo. Paulo Goude has a band, Trybez. Here’s a moment of their concert at one of my favorite places in the entire world – Paradiso. Rather crappy quality but still. This is his mother performing on the same stage.


Goude is a universe of inspiration and aesthetic joy. Explore his official website or check out the official documentary video So Far, So Goude. Right now, there is a restrospective hommage to his career in Paris, at Les Arts Décoratifs. Go if you can!

The music you hear in the Chanel Ègoïste commercial is Sergei Prokofiev’s “Montagues and Capulets” from Romeo and Juliet. With this magnificent take on the complete version I wish you a lovely Saturday. Valery Gergiev conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.


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It sounds almost to obviously ”nice” to be interesting, but honey really does play its role well in a high-quality perfume. If you make a note-search on Fragrantica for example you will see that honey is a very very popular ingredient that is part of an impressively wide range of fragrances. Yet we tend to not really speak about it so much. Why is that? It seems to be like the pretty smiling well-composed sister that gets forgotten at the family dinner because the little magnates, animals, delinquents, clowns, professors  and divas demand all the attention. But lets not forget honey… It takes all kinds to make a world. And sweet like honey is so much more interesting than sweet like sugar. Honey has attitude.


Honey is versatile and interesting. You can add it to a light breezy citrus caressy fragrance and to an extravagant oriental. (You will often find it in gourmands of course). It works in pour homme, pour femme and pour both. You’ll find it in a diva like Dior’s Poison but also in Jo Malone’s youthful Nectarine Blossom & Honey and Chanel’s Beige.
Another example, an interesting one, is Acqua du Cuba by Santa Maria Novella which is a unisex fragrance where honey is combined with herbs, tobacco and citrus. It is a warm fragrance, slightly spicy with a vanilla base.


If you are into Serge Lutens look for Miel de Bois and A La Nuit. There’s an interesting discussion on Miel de Bois here. One of my personal favorites, Ambre Narguilé, also has a honey in the composition that must be described as quite bold and nothing for a shy day. Honey is sweetness with integrity.

Scents affect us in many ways. One is that they give us pleasure. (Or the opposite if we are unlucky). Another is that they connect directly with our memory and imagination. Who would we be without our memory and imagination?

This post will be without pictures, deliberately. You will get your own pictures in your head when reading it and it is important that it is just like that.

When I moved to Amsterdam to study communication I had the fortune to make many Italian friends in the student house where I stayed. After I had introduced myself to one of them he started to recite a poem. (If you are Italian, or from a Latin culture or maybe just from anywhere south of the Baltic Sea this might sound normal to you. To me, raised in Sweden, this was magic). The poem was ’A Silvia’ by Giacomo Leopardi. Naturally I became Leopardi’s biggest fan that very second and bought a book with his poems within a week. For years I had an inner image of this poet as a tall charismatic sensual passionate Man of Art & Words. And then one day I started researching and found out that this ardent heart belonged to a man who had a very short, very isolated and very non-carnal life due to illness. He was not attractive, and in lifelong physical and emotional pain. He was also alone. Much of the time physically, most of the time emotionally it seems. Not only in a romantic sense, also in his family and in an existential sense.

Yet this man created the most tender, sublime, dynamic and powerful poems that you can imagine. About life and what being human is about, yes. But also about women, desire, the dance of heart and the reflection of one soul in another. What is reality? The inside or the outside?

In an earlier post I wrote about Polge comparing poetry and perfume, that perfume is like a kind of language. It is something that communicates. Naturally, the creation of perfume is much like the creation of poetry. But I would like to highlight one particular power that they share – poetry and perfume both have this almost undefinable ability to create The Other. The feeling, experience, world or phenomenon that does not yet exist or that is not here. A creation for the senses that they do not yet know about, or cannot anticipate. I think what I am trying to say, put in a very simple way – the power of sensual experience to take us on journeys… somewhere. And this somewhere can be back, future or away. The somewhere can be known or unknown until we get there. Art can do this, also music. Take you somewhere.

Proust referred to involuntary memory. That does not mean necessarily “unwanted” but rather that it is not deliberately created by your intellect. The term is described here, but you will probably experience it the best if you read Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ where you will find the episode with the madeleines. You can find an excerpt with this part of the book if you google, for example here.

We should not undermine the power of scents. Not only as an aesthetic, as an attribute, but as something that affects our brain. Scents have a fascinating capacity to activate memories and feelings and can be used in therapy to activate the brain. Scents can give you real physical pain when you find a sweater that still bears the smell of a lost person. Scents can create collision between the past and the present. Scents can awaken desire to have something or someone that is not at all in that zone of your life yet. Scents can make you feel more comfortable in one country than in another. Scents help us choose our partners and teach our children that we are theirs and they ours. (Speaking of which, I have been reading about pheromones lately and there is so much that I want to tell you that I just do not know where to start.)

Try to activate the scents of your life and relationships. The lilies at your wedding. The summer clothes drying in the sun. The first snow. Swimming in the sea at night. Hair damp from summer rain. Freshly baked bread. Airports. A new piece of writing on a sheet warm from the printer. Your favorite ingredient. Your friends home. Coffee. The way your city smells when you take your first step outside in the morning. Think about what smells there are in different places and situations that are significant to you. See if there is some way for you to make them concrete and possible to re-create. Add olfactory memories to your relationship – maybe there is a particular fragranced candle or flower or spice that you can return to on anniversarys and important days just to evoke that special feeling. Give your child fragrance memories because he or she will remember them forever. Buy spices on your travels or find the plants that grow in the destination your fantasies like to return to. Also it is not unusual that perfume houses have fragrances inspired by specific places, just look at Byredo and Chanel. But it is of course not sure that their memories are the same as yours.

The attentive returning reader of this blog might now be thinking that I am contradicting myself. Because I have said many times that we should search for the fragrances that reflect who we are and avoid trying to create something else with superimposed olfactory characteristics. True. But I am not saying that you should wear a fragrance that smells of Buenos Aires, Cape Town or Tokyo but not of you. You want a scent of a geographical place that probably reminded you of a place in yourself. This  is precious, and personal. Your memories are parts of your inner you. Some memories, and some parts of ourselves, we prefer to let rest un-activated, but some we want closer. Scents can help you with that.

Opoponax, also known as sweet myrrh, grows in particular in Iran, Italy, Greece, Turkey and in Somalia. The herb grows one-third meter to one meter in height. A resin is extracted from the stem by making an incision. The resin is drinkable in liquid but has a bitter taste, and the odor of the fresh resin is supposedly also quite unpleasant. The resin hardens when exposed to air and creates little dried pieces, which is how it is most commonly sold. And here is where the story starts getting more olfactory interesting and pleasant: the dried resin is inflammable and if burned as incense it gives a woody balsamic smell that has been a part of spiritual ceremonies for many, many, many years.  The name opoponax, sometimes spelled opopanax, has its origin in the Ancient Greek word for vegetable juice and healing. 
Photo: getreligion.org

The opoponax resin and oil also have an interesting role in medical history. The oil/resin are muscle relaxant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory and stimulate circulation. They can be used for antiseptic and anti-parasitic purposes, and have been used throughout history as treatment for various medical conditions such as spasms, asthma, bronchitis, chronic visceral infections, painful menstruation, arthritis (mainly Chinese medicine), hysteria and hypochondria (!). In Somalia specifically, opoponax resin is used in folk medicine to treat stomach problems and for wound healing.

It is not difficult to find sweet myrrh essential oil for private medical use, a google search will lead you to several web stores that offer it. Its primary use is by topical application, for example mixed with coconut oil you can use it for sore muscles and joints. Only use it externally. Opoponax is often used as incense in spiritual, religious and other ceremonies. Therefore you can also find it in web shops such as St John’s Bookstore that belongs to the St John Monastery in California. They sell dried resin pieces that they import themselves from Somalia. In their product description the scent is described as a “complex scent reminiscent of brown sugar, butter, and lavender, with hints of rosemary”.

When used in perfume making opoponax is often combined with frankincense, vanilla, rose, cinnamon, patchouli, sandalwood, lavender and citrus oils. It has a spicy-sweet herbal scent that is also popular at spas. 

So now you might be thinking… what perfumes are there that smell of this liturgical remedy? 
Not too far-fetched an example is Opoponax from Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella in Florence, one of the world’s oldest pharmacies. 

A magic place that you should go to if have not yet. It was founded by Dominican friars shortly after their arrival in Florence in 1221. The pharmacy used medicinal herbs grown in the monastic gardens to make medications, balms and pomades for the monks’ infirmary. In 1612 it opened to the public and still today we can go to Via della Scala to find elixirs, creams, waters, soaps, teas, fragrances and a million other things in beautiful bottles and boxes that all smell of ancient insight. I love the face tonics and hair products… If you are interested in reading more about Officinina Profumo-Farmaceutica di SMN, I suggest for example this article
Another overt tribute to opoponax is Imperial Opoponax from Les Néréides. A fragrance that combines opoponax with benzoin, sandalwood, amber and vanilla. I have seen this fragrance appear in many places in the online perfume world, and the reviews strike me as very heterogenous and puzzling. 
You will also find opoponax in the one and only Shalimar as well as in Opium from YSL, L’Eau Ambree from Prada and Pomegranate Noir from Jo Malone to give a few examples. Chanel perfumes often include opoponax, you will feel it in Coco Mademoiselle, Coco, Pour monsieur and Bois des Iles. In the case of Coco, an oriental spicy from 1984, Polge used opoponax with coriander, pomegranate blossom, mandarin orange, peach, jasmine and bulgarian rose as top notes, middle notes: mimose, cloves, orange blossom, clover and rose, and the opoponax comes as a base note with labdanum, amber, sandalwood, tonka bean, civet and vanilla.

In Opium from 1977 opoponax is bart of a woody base with among others (!) sandalwood, cedarwood, labdanum, benzoin, amber, musk, patchouli, vetiver and castoreum. Opium is a striking oriental-spicy  with quite a large number of ingredients… Top and middle include for example (!) mandarin, plum, clove, coriander, bay leaf, carnation, cinnamon, jasmines, roses and lily of the valley in the floral middle. Opium was quite controversial when it was launched as it was accused of glorifying drug use. In retrospect it seems that the controversy contributed to impressive sales numbers, the perfume was a huge success.

In 2000, Opium caused a new stir when ads with a quasi-naked Sophie Dahl in ectasy appeared. The photo taken by Steven Meisel was hugely admired in some countries and created massive protests in others (for example UK).  
The Opium provocations are far from over. Quite recently this film directed by Romain Gavras was banned, accused of glorifying drug addiction.
Opoponax has quite an interesting range of experiences don’t you think?

What would the perfume house of Chanel be without Jacques Polge? Of course, there were Chanel perfumes before Polge. But he has done so many of Chanel fragrances and had such an infinite impact on the olfactory aspects of the Chanel brand that it is hard to imagine a bottle with Chanel written on it without the content being if not created than poetically surveyed by Polge.
I am a lover of poetry. What would reality be without its poetic dimension? Even if you do not read poetry, it plays an important role in everyday life. I am a lover of fragrance, and fragrance is a form of poetry. It doesn’t speak, but it gives so much.” Jacques Polge
Jacques Polge was born in 1943. During his childhood he spent many summers in Grasse, which he has said what made him aware of the possibility of pursuing a career within the perfume world. It was in 1978 that he became the house perfumer of Chanel and took over the role from Henri Robert who created, among other perfumes, the last perfume in Gabrielle Chanel’s life, No. 19. Before coming to Chanel, Polge worked at what is now Givaudan (then Roure) and before that he did an apprenticeship in Grasse after taking his degree in English and literature. 
When Polge came to Chanel he took it upon himself to both treasure and renew a perfume brand synonymous with the world’s mot famous perfume, Chanel No 5. This perfume was in fact the first perfume launched by Chanel and there are of course many myths and stories about it’s creation. It was created by Russian-French chemist and perfumer Ernest Beaux who Gabrielle supposedly met through her lover Dmitri. Dmitri knew Ernest Beaux as Beaux was the favorite creator of bespoke perfumes for the Russian court.

With Chanel No 5, Gabrielle Chanel, like many other times, challenged what views, offers, restrictions, aesthetics should be associated with men or women.
 Sometimes we forget the enormous symbolic value this perfume has, political I would even say. Today Chanel is sometimes a bit too superficially regarded as the iconic image of French femininity. We should not forget that Gabrielle Chanel was quite avant-garde when it comes to gender equality matters. When it comes to Chanel No 5, the design of the bottle was a provocation to what was “design for women”. It was clean, bold. (The bottle has looked the same since 1924 with modifications done only to the stopper). For the content, well at that time respectable women often chose solifleurs. Heavier perfumes with for example musk were associated with sexual provocation and therefore with more physically generous types of women. And then there was the liberated flapper. Chanel No 5 was for her.

Real perfume is mysterious, but the perfume which many women use is not mysterious. Women are not flowers. Why should they want to smell like flowers? I like roses, and the smell of the rose is very beautiful, but I do not want a woman to smell like a rose.”  Gabrielle Chanel 
Gabrielle was exposed to numerology already as a child as the convent orphanage where she was raised, Aubazine, was founded by Cistercians who were strong believers in numerology. To them, the number five was very significant. In 1920 during the process with the development of a fragrance for Chanel, Gabrielle was presented with numbered glass vials she chose the sample composition contained in the fifth vial. (The number five reoccurs, Gabrielle would present dress collections on the fifth of May for example). 
Gabrielle Chanel, photo by Edmonde Charles-Roux 
Chanel No 5 is one of the earliest famous perfumes with aldehydes. Aldehydes are organic substances, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, which are manipulated in the laboratory. The process arrests and isolates the scent. A myth states that according to Constantin Weriguine, Beaux’s student, the aldehyde that Beaux used had the clean note of the arctic, “a melting winter note” but was the result of an accident. A laboratory assistant mistook a full strength mixture for a ten percent dilution… “Number five”, Gabrielle Chanel said, “a perfume like nothing else. A woman’s perfume, with the scent of a woman.” 
Gabrielle Chanel challenged many conventions about femininity during her lifetime. But Chanel is not really a very unisex kind of perfume house. If you take a look at Antaeus (sage, myrtle, patchouli, sandalwood, labdanum, beeswax) for example this is what you get. 

(Antaeus, a character in Greek and Berber mythology, was a half-giant and the son of Greek Goddess of the Earth, Gaeia and God of the Sea, Poseidon.) 
However, as you might recall from my post on pour homme and pour femme, there are men who for example use Chanel No 5. I think if Gabrielle could visit us for a moment and have a cigarette in a café and read the thread I recommended….she would have loved it.
On my personal Chanel wish list are samples of the fragrances from the line Les Exclusifs de Chanel. When this line was launched in 2007, Chanel took a new step by offering the line on chanel.com. This increased accessibility tactic got some media coverage and was a step that was completely in line with Gabrielle Chanels vision of accessible style.
Les Exclusifs de Chanel includes four scents created by Ernest Beaux (Chanel no. 22, Bois des Iles, Gardenia and Cuir de Russie) and six new fragrances (Bel Respiro, 28 La Pausa, 31 Rue Cambon, Coromandel, no. 18 and Eau de Cologne). In 2008, Sycomore and Beige were added and in 2011, Jersey. 
I have a particular weakness for No 22, which Beaux created in 1922. Also the naming of the perfumes was revolutionary in their uncomplicated conceptual form. Gabrielle Chanel preferred simplicity and the symbolism of numbers. No 22 is also a floral aldehyde but with nutmeg, bourbon vanilla and Florentine iris. After No 22 came Bois des Iles, created in 1926. This perfume took Chanel perfumes in a new direction. It was a romance with the exotism of the time, the longing for the far away, woody with oriental rose, mandarine and tonka bean. 
All the new scents are the evocation of a some part of Gabrielle Chanels life. For example, Bel Respiro is the name of the house close to Versailles that Gabrielle Chanel bought in 1920. 28 La Pausa was also her property, a vacation house by the sea with a view over Menton and the Italian coast. No 18 is the number la place Vendôme that Chanel saw from her balcony at the Ritz. Coromandels, Chinese laquered screens belonged to her favorite decoration elements, she lived surrounded by them. And 31 rue Cambon is of course the sacred spot where everything started and still thrives.
I liked the idea, the poetic idea that fragrance is a kind of language. It doesn’t use words. It doesn’t use images. It’s invisible.” Jacques Polge 

An unusual man brought up the matter of what fragrance to wear for Christmas. By now I suppose you have all made your choice for today, (I would love to know what it was). Tomorrow we will all make it again. So, my thoughts on this are as follows.

Christmas is a beautiful holiday that offers a wealth of inspiration for self-insight and care for others regardless of how or where you spend these days. It is a special time and therefore deserves a special fragrance, This does not mean complicated fragrance. Just a deliberate choice. (Which on the other hand is the way I wish more people looked at fragrances all days of the year but anyway).

Here are a couple of examples of things to consider when picking your Christmas fragrance.

1) What other fragrances and scents will surround you? 

Christmas is a holiday of many odors, scents and smells. Some amazing, some less amazing. Wherever you will be – your perfume will be a part of a larger olfactory sensation. Try to predict some dominant traits and see them as a part of your palette that you work with when choosing what to add (with your chosen perfume). In my home for example there are various white flowers, spruce needles, oranges, cardamon, an open fire, no meat or red wines during Christmas Eve, just white fish and very delicate flavors followed by cakes or warm drinks with dried fruits. This to me suggests a lighter fragrance or gourmand.

2) Who are you spending Christmas with and how close will they be? 

This is actually quite significant. Just think about it – for example would you want to put a delicate piece of white fish in your mouth while your nose is stuck in an attack from your neighbour’s heavy floral? (I HATE when that happens at a restaurant). If you are in company of many people seated very close for the whole evening I would suggest you all go easy on perfumes for dinner. I am strongly in favor of not wearing strong perfumes to dinners at all actually. Or apply them so much in advance that by the time you sit down you’re in a gentle base note phase.

These two are things you should think about. Apart from that other criteras are more for pleasure and as many as you want them to be: what will you wear (style, texture, how warm etc), what scents do you want to feel yourself and what will make you comfortable etc.

My choice today was based on this: the general fragrance palette described above, that I like the classic Christmas style, that my day was divided in two parts where the first was a long walk downtown, a visit to church to light candles for the absent ones, light lunch and then in the evening dinner with few people in a spacious house. Plus also that Christmas Eve for Catholics is not “the real feast” (that is tomorrow) but an evening of anticipation for what is to come. In Polish we call this Wigilia.

Therefore… I chose something light and young, elegant but discreet. From an iconic brand (for the classic feeling) and by an iconic nose. As I applied it in the morning, by dinner there was just the softness of the basenotes. Also, I applied it only on the neck so the sensation was very mild, both for me and others. 

Top notes: orange, bergamot, mandarin, grapefruit
Middle notes: morning rose, Italian jasmine, ylang-ylang, mimosa, florentine iris
Base notes: Indonesian patchouli, Haitian vetiver, Bourbon vanilla, white musk, opoponax, tonka bean

You probably guessed. By Monsieur Jacques Polge:

Tomorrow I will wear my beloved Omnia. The first one. Masala tea, cinnamon, nutmeg, almond, chocolate, ginger, mandarin orange, saffron, pepper, cardamom, cloves, tonka bean. Quite appropriate for Christmas Day in other words. 

Hope you are all having a beautiful Christmas.