Sunday, February 27, 2011

Museum Pieces

by Justine Crane

My first experiences with antique and vintage oils came by way of packages shipped from Berkeley, California, from the studio of avid Natural Botanical Perfume aficionado Lisa Camasi. Over those first few years of working in perfumery, I received little 5/8th dram bottles of vintage rose geranium, old cedars, smooth spices and antique sandalwoods, among other vintage oils, gems to hoard and dilute in minute amounts and formulate with sparingly. Then came the real booty. We both managed to get our hands on some rare antique resins and swapped samples. From those transactions I acquired a gorgeous oakmoss soluble resin that knocks me out when I open the bottle for a waft. It's richness and mossy darkness are many more times intense than its modern counterpart. It's what those vintage chypres were made with ~ velvety and smoky, sweet and deep and hinting at loamy black soil and warm fungi. Along with the oakmoss there was tolu balsam the color of dried blood and reeking of black pepper and mint, cinnamon and vanilla and lush jungle flowers. Even after diluting to 10%, the dry brown-red blood color and dense peppery-minty-floral-cinnamon scent persists. Tenacious. The antique olibanum ~ indescribably lovely. There are no lemony top notes to this vintage, just a slight edgy resinous pitch with surprising warmth and softness. Then came the galbanum. Lovely, green, heart of Vent Vert galbanum. Sweetly green with none of the prickly sharp pine resin tones. Then the benzoin, the sweet, vanillic, honeyed, lickable benzoin. No modern benzoin I've ever smelled comes close to the sugary, nearly edible quality of this antique benzoin. The antique styrax is crisp and clean and floral. Yes! Floral! The vintage labdanum smells much like modern labdanum, but perhaps a little denser, a bit richer, more substantive, with smooth edges and little of the prodding bitterness some labdanums possess. The heart of amber.

The real jewel of the haul has to be, and is, undeniably, the antique orris resin. None of the contemporary samples of orris I have used are comparable to this orris resin. Sweet and soft and powdery with fruity notes and flashes of sweet violet and raspberry marshmallows and boronia . . . wonderment. Museum worthy.

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