For people of a certain generation, “Casablanca” is a name which instantly evokes passion, longing, and romance. The famous Oscar-winning film starring Humphrey Bogart as “Rick” and the beautiful Ingrid Bergman as “Ilsa” was, on the surface, a war-time drama involving spies and Nazi resistance figures in Casablanca, Morocco, but it was ultimately a heartbreaking romance involving star-crossed lovers. “We’ll always have Paris,” Rick’s quiet words as he said goodbye to the woman he loved, a farewell full of sacrifice, tenderness, and yearning as she boarded a plan to leave, have become one of the most famous lines in movie history.
For perfumistas, reading about fragrances is fun but smelling what you’ve read about is even better. As most of you probably know, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez just published their Perfumes The Guide 2018, the first new version of the book in ten years. The authors sought to examine the changed perfume landscape since the original Guide was released and, consequently, there is a heightened focus on both niche and indie/artisan houses.
I haven’t done a giveaway in years and years, but this seemed like a good occasion to make an exception. One of the criticisms of the book, in some quarters at least, is that too many of the houses are small and unknown. That won’t be the case if you’ve been a regular reader of this blog because I’ve long emphasized niche and indie/artisanal houses over big designer ones. In fact, a good number of the brands that I’ve covered are reviewed in the book.
Gardener’s Glove, Frost, and First Cut encapsulate the philosophy and world of their creator, Diane St. Clair, who was profiled at length in Part I. On an olfactory level, they are nature-based bouquets (with roughly 80% natural raw materials or essences) that embody the smells of the world around her — the gardens, flowers, meadows, grass, hay, woods, and earth — but they are also extensions of her artisanal philosophy, a philosophy which has made her gastronomy and the Michelin world’s Queen of Butter:
What happens when The Queen of Butter, Diane St. Clair, a woman who makes the most coveted and expensive butter in the world, carried in some of the most famous temples of Haute Gastronomy like Thomas Keller‘s French Laundry and Per Se and sought by other Michelin-starred chefs (who are frequently turned down), decides to turn her attention to fragrance? The result is St. Clair Scents, a new indie perfume house that applies the same artisanal philosophy and naturalistic aesthetic to fragrance that Ms. St. Clair uses to make the best butter in the world. Today, I’d like to focus on the intersection of artisanal gastronomy and artisanal perfumery to tell the unusual tale and journey of Ms. St. Clair. At the end, there will be a brief scent summaries of her new trio of fragrances: Gardener’s Glove, Frost, and First Cut. Next time, in Part II, I’ll review all three fragrances properly and at-length.
What really fascinates and intrigues me is Ms. St. Clair herself. Perfumers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, particularly the self-taught ones who make artisanal perfumes, but I’ve never encountered someone whose background is in gastronomy or luxury food. Nor have I ever encountered someone who is already an established rock star in their own world — nay, a superstar in their particular niche — who then decided to start from scratch in a completely new field, taking on the challenging, insular, and often exclusionary world of perfumery, learning and doing everything themselves from the ground-up, all without deep pockets or wealthy investors. Not until now, not until Diane St. Clair.Continue reading