May 6, 2010

Nenufar and Pyxis - Scents of Time

Perfume can act as a vehicle for time travel into the deep past. Through perfume I can experience the particular sensibilities of people in other cultures and times, as much as through architecture or art or clothing or furniture, since style is carried through them all and so too through the sense of what people considered most appealing in perfume. The standards of beauty and value change focus so widely over the centuries. There are records of recipes and surprisingly even samples left from the ancient world of various cultures, from which it has been possible to recreate the scents used in other times, or use them to inspire modern interpretations. Two scents produced by Scents of Time are representatives of the great ancient and perfume-mad cultures of Egypt (Nenufar) and Pompeii (Pyxis) and can be sampled or obtained from Aqua de Luna online.

I’ve always been partial to ancient Egyptian art, and would like to see more Egyptian style incorporated into my life, so I am happy that Nenufar, is gently light and transparent and can be used in our modern humid hot summers. I expected an intense, heavy type of perfume to represent ancient Egypt, but Nenufar is built around the blue lotus flower, as a transparent green sweetness. The flower was a cultural icon in ancient Egypt, depicted everywhere in its art in delightful ways. Everyone seems to be smelling or wearing the lotus, from the animals to the people of all classes and functions, as do the gods. I found it touching that blue lotuses were found strewn over the body of the young Tutankhamen when his pyramid was first opened. David Pybus of Scents of Time speculates Cleopatra may have used its intoxicating properties and scent in her seduction of the powerful Mark Antony and Caesar.

It grew wild abundantly at that time on the Nile, and possessed well-known and thoroughly exploited intoxicating properties. The flowers were steeped in wine and caused euphoric states and visions. It was also beneficial in that it is like a more powerful version of gingko, increasing blood flow to the brain, and said to be aphrodisiac for both men and women.

Pybus worked with the perfumer Monserrat Moline of Givaudan on the concept of the blue lotus flower as an anchor, using headspace technology to help create the exact scent of the blue lotus. Personally I have never smelled it in nature, so it is not a scent I can readily recognize, but I know that the actual blue lotus is much like a water lily that floats on the surface of the water, with a glowing yellow center, and from this it seems to smell much the way it looks.

It is light and sheer, indeed hinting of the aquatic, with floral sweetness overlaid on nutmeg and a clean light musk. The notes are listed as green watery accord, nutmeg, angelica, lily of the valley, floral accord, sandalwood, musks, orris, heliotrope, almond, and patchouli.

Pyxis is based on perfume found in Pompeii, which was preserved in the ash, found in a perfumer’s atelier which was suddenly buried by the volcano. It is indeed classically Italian, which stands to reason since it was directly inspired from perfume of the classical age in Italy. For me this ideal is primarily about a concentration of classically beautiful natural materials used for personal ornamentation and pleasure. The essence of this aesthetic is the image of a young woman in a green field gracefully strewing flowers, as combining the height of human bodily perfection expressing divinity as grounded in nature. Worshiping the divine by revering nature and beauty.

Pyxis is in the family of mossy Woods, with bright top notes of bergamot, lavender, peppermint, rosemary and basil, with a touch of peach to blend it together. The heart notes are rose and jasmine, which come up strongly in the heat of the sun or skin after exertion, and therefore perfect for a warm climate or season that has periods of morning and evening coolness. The base notes are sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss, amber and benzoin and the woods give the rose and jasmine that mellow roundness that supports the Mediterranean body consciousness of a human/divine animal nature. The perfumer was Michael Evans.

Perfume being one of the ancient arts, I am glad to have such choices that connect to the past yet that are still eminently wearable today. These two express primal connections to nature and moods that we can still recognize within ourselves. Wearing these can also be an expression of internally incorporated legends from the library of history.

13 comments:

ScentScelf said...

What a lovely introduction to these scents...thank you.

Lucy said...

Glad you enjoyed it --- I wish they were available retail but online is the only way so far

chayaruchama said...

They sound delightful !

The blue lotus , in absolute-
can roll your eyes in the back of your head ;-)

I have a few cherished vials sent by one of our natural perfumers; costly as it is, it has its own exquisite character.

What a wonderful exploration....

Lucy said...

Dear C/I
They are very pleasant, very wearable. Blue lotus is a material that we could use more use of. Tho this one is made via headspace technology so is not from the actual flower itself. I am not sure that the scent of the flower in bloom can be captured from the flower itself, I would guess not. Tho the actual blue lotus itself does have these compounds that are hallucinogenic. As the Lotus eaters knew...
We can always try to get the flowers re-cultivated widely and start wearing garlands of them, as the ancients liked to do. Then dip them in our wine.

Lucy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anya said...

Lucy, I will be growing the sacred lotuses as soon as I get my water garden set up. You are invited to come sniff and munch, as you wish ;-)

Natural perfumers feel such a link to the ancient perfumers, especially those of Egypt. Thanks for this article.

PS I emailed you yesterday, not sure you got it, please drop me a line, need to chat. Thanks!

Lucy said...

Hi Anya,

I would love to make a trip around the country and visit the perfumers, and you in FL, esp., LZ in the Midwest, and a number of people in CA, that would be some great trip.
Not this year, but hopefully in the next or so...
No I didn't get the message...
you can send again to my regular email, which gets everything...

Lucy

Anya said...

Hi Lucy

Sent the message again.

Lucy said...

Thanks Anya!

Josephine said...

Hi - we met at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball in '08. You wisely told me that Serge Lutens' Chergui smelled a bit "cloying" on me. You were so right.

After all this time, I have started a blog of my own. Come visit at notesfromjosephine.blogspot.com.

Lucy said...

Hi Josephine,

So true, not everything works for everyone. Chergui is one of my favorites on me, but I have been surprised at how different such things turn out to be on different people. You have to go by your own instincts, of course.

Good luck with your new site!

Allen said...

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Lucy said...

Yay, Allen, glad you like it!