They say that spring will come again
This moment marks Midwinter or the day known as the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, the time when the earth moves farthest away from the sun . You can imagine in times past as the days got longer and colder and darker, the fear that our ancestors must have felt, wondering if the warmth and light would ever return and when it finally did, the joy with which it would have been greeted . Centuries later we still have reason to be thankful as the earth begins her long trek back towards the suns warmth and the eventual greening of Spring.
Every year to celebrate the wintry Solstice eve, my sister Ellen and I throw a raucous gathering at her lovely home , a 19th century log cabin nestled deep in a beautiful forest womb. The Echo Glen sits atop a very high ravine and far below it the Chagrin River cuts a deep swath through the ancient native lands. Many Solstice evenings ago when my son and nephew were very small I used to take them out into the glen to look for owls at midnight. We’d wander through the woods and see deer as well as the occasional fox or raccoon. I wish that I could bring you those wonderful smells, pennyroyal mint crushed underfoot and the snow drenched pine mingled with hot chocolate and the sweet smell of excited children who have been reveling in sugar cookies and gingerbread. Suddenly, the three of us would be taken by surprise by a great whoosh of wings overhead, sudden and unearthly quiet. Tor those of you who may never have seen one in the wild, the owl is a silent flyer who is usually only seen when he’s passing swiftly by. We’d stand very still, huddled warmly together and we’d wait for the hoots to begin! In those shared moments, I learned that magic is truly possible when allowed to bubble away happily in the cauldron of your heart. We three had so much fun stalking the wild things ever so quietly under the midwinter moonlight and trimming the trees with homemade pinecone ornaments of seed and peanut butter for the winter birds!
Alex and Michael are grown and we now celebrate Solstice eve with a marvelous party, filling the old century home with our friends and a feast , featuring a groaning board of casseroles and salads, fresh cheeses, roasts and hams and homemade desserts. Huge pots of soup simmer on the stove and I make spicy bourbon soaked eggnog covered with clouds of freshly whipped cream! Out will come the guitars and the drums and the fragrant bayberry and beeswax tapers are lit , infused with all of our intentions for a abundant year. The kitchen in my sisters home is rustic and beautiful, with a huge maple table in the center and a glorious hearth that spans almost the entire length of the space. As I lay the fire in the simple brick hearth Ellen unwraps the last bit of the Yule log that she’s saved from the year before and we all touch it , making our wishes for the coming New Year . We then put it in the center of the fire , light the kindling and lift our glasses, hugs and kisses and shared memories all around. Our guests stay for hours cocooned in this beautiful space and just enjoying the magic of being together once again. Many we only see this time of year, but it is always as if we’d never parted and although there are those dear to us who have passed beyond the veils of this present life they make themselves known on this most magical of nights. Many times during our party last year I could sense my mother, whose laughter was present all evening along with the sweet fragrance of her Shalimar perfume.
There’s so much to do and as I write this, my sister , Michael and his darling girlfriend Molly are dipping homemade cookies and dried fruits in dark chocolate and the fragrant cinnamon and applesauce Christmas tree ornaments that I’m baking in my kitchen smell incredible. On my counters dried fruits, fresh citrus and cinnamon sticks macerating in large jars filled with spiced rum and crystallized ginger are waiting patiently to be made into presents and fancy cocktails! Tomorrow I will make pomanders of fresh oranges and clove to tie with ribbons and hang from the tree and clove studded lady apples to simmer in apple cider, red wine and ale for a traditional wassail bowl. My dog Gabriel is sleeping quietly in the corner by the warm stove and my cats are curled up by the fire with not a care in the world and totally stoned on fresh catnip sent by a friend . I’m filled with the peace of another year gone by, sitting here watching the snow falling softly outside my kitchen window with Loreena McKennit ‘s “Midwinters Night Dream “playing on the stereo. Life is very very good and I am most grateful for it all . ( and right now I’m especially grateful for the vintage bottle of Carons lovely Nuit de Noel that’s coming my way way soon! Thank you Donna!)
I wish all of you a warm and cheery Solstice, a very Merry Christmas and a bountiful New Year filled with love, peace , joy ,marvelous perfumes and everything else that you could desire and more. I feel so blessed to have all of you in my life. Thank you for reading my words and letting me know that they’ve touched you. It means everything to me.
I am so thankful to Roxana Villa and her darling husband Gregory Spalenka for inviting me into their utterly fabulous world and making this incredibly vibrant Advent calendar possible. Please enjoy all of the other wonderful entries.
And finally, to our darling Marina without whom this wonderful place called Perfume Smellin Things simply wouldn’t be....I feel so blessed and incredibly honored that you have given my words a place to call home. Thank you for it all.
See you all next year!
Originally Published on Perfume Smellin Things
From The Women Who Paved My Way....
My mother's natural blue gray pearls were actually her mother’s pearls and her grandmother's and great grandmother’s before her. I inherited them when she died 3 years ago and they are beautiful, longer than opera length and even when wrapped in three strands they fall fluidly way beyond my breasts. These pearls are the loveliest silvery blue, the bewitching shade of the sea before a storm. Because they are natural pearls and at least 130 years old there is a whole other lineage of women that I'm linked to through them, Japanese free divers who often risked their lives to obtain these coveted beauties.
There was no other way to collect pearls before the 20th century and sometimes the divers had to go as deep as 40 to 125 feet into the sea and because of the extremely fickle nature of natural pearl growth, any pearls found were extremely rare. To harvest the pearls that I now call my own women that I've never met had to brave uncertain tides, dangerous creatures and hypothermia. More important even than the stories of these pearls are the untold stories that I will never know, but that I can feel. Women who had no other way to feed themselves became pearl divers and were probably paid what amounted to pennies to fashionably adorn my family’s bosoms and as glamorous as they make me feel I cannot wear them ever without acknowledging their true cost.
In 1983 on New Year’s Eve my mother let me wear them to a fabulous Black Tie dinner dance because she thought that they went beautifully with my silver-toned crushed velvet dress. Somewhere in the moments between the last dance and dawn I was seized by a bit of nostalgia. I picked up one of the strands, lifted them to my nose and inhaled their sweet/salty perfume. Surprisingly these pearls have never needed to be restrung and even though they are so very old are lustrous still and perfumed with the essence of all of the women who have treasured them before me. Sandalwood, violet, jasmine and rose and my mother’s Shalimar, which she wore until the day that she died. Maybe it’s my imagination but I’d swear to you that they still smell of the bottom of the sea. Even though I’d heard about all of them for so many years it was the evening that I truly met all of my maternal grandmothers for the very first time.
My maternal grandmother Frances died before I was born and was known to have loved rich oriental fragrances like sandalwood, patchouli as well as single Florals like violet , lilac and rose. She is the one that I am said to resemble the most in looks and spirit. She was a painter, one of the original artists in a notorious and somewhat scandalous Greenwich Village colony at the turn of the century, beautiful and very provocative, at least until she married my grandfather, a terribly sweet gentleman farmer from Champaign Urbana who was probably a very settling influence on her. Somewhere in all of my trunks and treasures there exists a worn and incredibly provocative and sepia photograph of a woman that I could recognize as myself wrapped naked in a bearskin rug, smiling and holding a long cigarette holder.
Taken over a century ago she is draped in yards of pearls that I recognize as my mother’s pearls... my pearls. As I fall backwards through time the distinct fragrance of her attar of violets, sandalwood perfume and tobacco seems to linger alongside her throaty laughter as she makes herself known to me through this delicious photograph. Her long auburn hair is swept up in gorgeous combs made of sandalwood, mother of pearl and 18 karat gold and is surely scented with the simple single floral perfumes of jasmine and rose that she preferred, nothing too heavy. I am told that she always knew just the right moment to undo the combs, letting her gorgeous hair cascade magically down around her face bringing with it a cloud of soft sweet scent. She must have been amazing.
My mother taught me to do this with my own long hair. Just one spray of a single floral note warmed in the hand with a drop of olive oil and then finger combed through from the temples back. Then take some beautiful hair combs and twist your hair up or back in a chignon, pull the front pieces back; whatever you like, but keep it simple, two combs maximum, one is the best. Then at the right moment, just smile, tilt your head, release your hair and toss it gently while never breaking your gaze. It’s an old fashioned sleight of hand but I promise, he won’t know what hit him. The simple floral perfume keeps it from seeming too obvious; your hair should just smell clean and pretty, not drenched with scent.
After she died, my mother inherited most of her mother’s jewelry and delighted in wearing the beautiful pearls as often as she could. She would always wear them draped against gray silk and satin, nestled against her chest. When I miss her the most I go to my jewelry box and put them on. They still smell a bit of her sweet almond soap and Shalimar perfume, a wonderful fragrance that’s lighthearted and giddy; the scent of a woman who was always the belle of the ball. My mother was quite beautiful and more than a little bit bewitching to my father who was quite besotted with her. I still remember watching the magic that passed between them as they’d leave the house together, excited for a wonderful evening out. My mother was one of the original Yardley English Lavender girls so she’d been taught that fine fragrance was a magic spell that needed to be wielded powerfully. She had many delicious secrets and her ritual for applying perfume was one that I still use to this day; one spray on the nape of the neck, one spray at the point where the soft flesh of the breasts meet and depending upon what she was wearing one spray at the ankles. “Remember darling” she’d say “Only just enough perfume to be enjoyed by the lucky fellow who is close enough to kiss you, never so much that it tosses you head first into the room.”
I loved all of my mother’s beauty rituals and over the years I’ve made most of them my own. To her and all of the women who came before her, baths and dressing rooms were the place where the glamour that they were known for was created. My mother took it all very seriously, this business of beauty. She took baths in lovely oils, forever eschewed showers and she always had scented candles burning in her bathroom. She loved floating feminine hemlines and she would always be sure to put a few drops of her perfume on them so that there was just a subtle scent when she moved through the room. It was she who taught me the easiest trick I know; that a few drops of vanilla mixed with a bit of fragrant bath oil rubbed into my breasts has the effect on any man of creating almost instantaneous and lasting hunger. She taught me how to apply my lipstick perfectly without a mirror, a nifty little trick that has never failed to disarm any man who just happened to be watching. When I married she gifted me with a sterling and tortoise shell comb, sable brush, mirror and instructions to never allow my husband to see me looking ill even if I felt like I was dying, advice that I've almost always heeded to this day. Her own husband rarely saw her without lipstick and even when she'd just woken up from open heart surgery. Her first words to me that moment were a breathy “Your father can't see me like this, did you bring my hairbrush, lipstick and perfume?" And of course because she was my mother I'd known that she'd want it immediately. He had to stand impatiently outside of the ICU until I'd made her up to her satisfaction, barely conscious she still had that sense of herself. She was a pretty smart woman. Some of you may be reading this and completely disapproving, but my parents were pretty happily married for 67 years. She definitely knew what she was doing!
Someday, I hope to have a granddaughter of my own with whom I will share all of the intimate secrets that my mother taught me. I will love those moments and share all of the family stories with great pleasure, especially the really wicked ones! Continuing the tradition started so long ago one day the lovely pearls and combs will be passed down to her , along with my collection of perfumes that I hope she will treasure. She will hopefully be blessed as all the women in my family have been with a wicked sense of humor and a penchant for naughtiness but if not the pearls will probably still fit her like a custom made glove. I don't wear them at all the same way as my mother did, she preferring blouses of flowing silk and I am most comfortable in Ralph Lauren. Yet I remember my mother wearing them once when I accidentally walked into my father’s studio late at night...she was lying naked on the couch draped only in the pearls and a soft cloud of Shalimar, as sensual as a beautiful odalisque in a museum. He was painting her and the canvas was fairly glowing with his adoration. I still have that painting, I've never forgotten that moment and I don't think that the pearls have either, immortalized as they were in love, linseed oil and canvas.
I know that it sounds terrifically romantic but I promise that it wasn’t the martinis. Those of us who are truly mesmerized by perfume can attest to its abilities to conjure visions at the deepest level of the soul. That was the moment that I became obsessed with scent as the catalyst for memories and began looking for other ways of wearing it, ways that were more meaningful to me as a woman than simply just spraying on the latest perfume that was currently in vogue.
Those pearls are among the most sensuous pieces of jewelry that I own, probably because they are forever imprinted with the souls of the women who wore them before me. My grandmother's were beautiful and worldly women with lavish tastes and hearty appetites for life and their men adored them. They had all sorts of wonderful tricks, seductive ways that kept their husbands enchanted with them for decades. Violet pastilles to keep their breath sweet and rose scented lip balm, leather gloves that were perfumed with precious oils so that every touch from their hand was as soft as petal and smelled just as sweet, orange flower and rose waters that were not only good for the skin but perfumed so that a cheek offered for a simple kiss became a soft pleasure for the lucky gentleman.
Many of the wonderful Indie perfumers that I’ve met are exploring this concept, recreating and bringing back age old traditions of scented waters and lip balms, exploring the connections between smell, memory, scent and sensuality in a way that is completely familiar and captivating. These days you can walk into almost any store and find a suitable bottle of perfume, but to me that’s just the beginning. Beautiful fragrance is made to be worn, not the other way around. My interest lies in finding new ways to accessorize myself with scent that are perhaps not quite as obvious.
Tomorrow evening I will take them dancing in Manhattan to the black tie wedding of a dear friend and because it is not yet New Years Eve I will still be wearing my beloved Caron Nuit de Noel. My dress is long and sewn of flowing black velvet, full sleeved and adorned with a faux sable collar that floats all around the top of the dress which is worn off the shoulders. Because it is such a romantic dress I have brought the combs for my hair and I am happy, almost giddy with anticipation of a wonderful evening spent in the arms of my boyishly handsome husband. As I write this somewhere my mother is smiling...She would most definitely approve.
Authors note: If you have lovely pearls of your own please remember not to put them on before you apply your fragrance because it’s not good for them to come into direct contact with the fragrant oils or hairspray. The little bit on your skin or clothes will be just fine.
Originally published in The Perfume Magazine
Co-Founder, creator and artist of A Dozen Roses, Sandy Cataldo, signing bot
Well, the holidays are upon us and stores are filled to the brim once again with people wishing to create a bit of magic in their lives through the time-honored custom of gift giving! Many of my readers may not know that I spent many years in the luxury gift industry, more specifically my family owned a very beautiful specialty store referred to all around the world as the Tiffany and Company of Cleveland. We carried all of the finest lines of porcelain, crystal and sterling silver, gorgeous jewelry, candles and perfume. I learned over the years that choosing the right gift for someone so dear to them was often intimidating and confusing for my customers so we worked very hard to to create a shopping environment such that all who came through my doors were thrilled and inspired by what they saw. When I saw the economy begin to crash in 2003 I closed my business and continued on as a personal shopper, corporate branding and lifestyle consultant with a never-ending passion for perfume!
I’ve discovered most recently that the hunger for experience is back, that tactile experience of walking into a beautiful store and purchasing just the right thing for someone that you’ve become enchanted with. The reality of the the internet and online shopping has become such a pleasant experience and the world has gotten smaller because of world wide web and I love that, yet I don’t want to overlook the very personal experience of being well served in a beautiful store filled with gorgeous gifts and salespeople who know you by name.
In either reality customer service IS the magical ingredient and the very spice that allows us to really feel thrilled by the gifting experience. In my world it’s all about the way I make you feel when you’re shopping in my store. Yet sadly, the thought of shopping during the holidayseason fills many a heart with dread, but I truly believe that gift giving during the holidays can be the most fabulous fun of all! The stores are filled with beautiful displays of gorgeous gifts, fabulous scented candles and beautiful fashions designed to entice and delight but the vision of any great store hasn’t been fully expressed unless it’s customers feel cared for, understood and related to in a way that satisfies the heartfelt desire to create the gift of an experience, through the giving of a present, whether the recipient is a business acquaintance or a close intimate companion.
By Beth Schreibman Gehring
I know that my choice of the word “experience” in relationship to the practice of gift giving may be confusing for some and yet for me that is precisely what my customers are craving. I always felt that the most precious opportunity that I had was to be able to serve my customers through the simple act of bringing elegance into the world through the presentation of gorgeous gifts!
It is my desire to create for you the possibility of a new “experience”, one that is based on the quality of service and the nurturing of sensuality, beauty and uniqueness, key ingredients for the sustenance of our creative lives. We are living in a society that is starving for substantive experiences and joyous moments. The very act of purchasing a wonderful gift for someone that you love is an act filled with a sense of renewal for the relationship and an opportunity for excitement and creativity!
Really great stores (both brick and mortar and online) have beautiful gifts at prices to suit every wallet! There is something quite exquisite about a personally selected gift from a fabulous store, chosen with care, then beautifully wrapped and delivered. Whether the package has been handed to you personally or shipped UPS by a wonderful online merchant the experience CAN be the same. The fabulous perfumers and other merchants hosted on Etsy are a perfect example of just how personalized the online shopping experience can be. I have been amazed over the last few years just how quickly I’ve received my purchases and the beautiful service that they’ve been able to provide from start to finish featuring fabulous presentation, gorgeous gift wrapping and sheer enthusiasm and knowledge of their products.
I truly believe that walking into a beautiful store should be a sensual and exciting experience regardless of what is being sold there. Beautifully scented candles burning, soft music playing and a warmly smiling salesperson who offers you a steaming mug of something warm or at least the equivalent in time and service is what’s of value in this world. It’s easy enough to provide the bare minimum, but what’s really amazing is when you’ve walked into a store who knows and respects the value of your dreams.
For instance, when a young man would come into my store to purchase a piece of jewelry for his fiancé, he really wasn’t the least bit interested in the cut, color and clarity of the diamond that he was purchasing or the weight and carat value. Those are simply the facts and any GIA trained gemologist can produce those facts in an insurance appraisal.
Selling that diamond as if those were the values that matter just cheapens his experience. What’s really at stake for him are the tears in her eyes as she opens his gift and the possibilities that he’s created for their life together. He’s got it all planned. He’s asking her to marry him at Christmas, her favorite time of the year and he wants to pick the piece of jewelry that really reflects his feelings for her and his dreams of her response. If he doesn’t feel as wonderful purchasing it as he does giving it then he’s missed out on an important part of the whole experience. I always felt that if every customer that came into our store didn’t feel as wonderful through the act of giving as they do receiving that we hadn’t done our jobs.
It’s my goal to convince you to only be shopping with merchants that make you feel precious because you truly are. Your time is precious, your feelings are precious and your money is precious. I knew most of my customer’s names and made sure that my staff did too. I knew how they wanted their coffee and made sure that I knew what their wives and daughters lusted after, no easy feat because I had thousands of customers, but that was our job and we did it well because we wanted to. Every gift would be wrapped in beautiful tissue and the box covered with exquisite paper and then we would hand it back to the man who purchased it, thrilled to see a look of pride in his eyes as he left knowing how happy she was about to be. That’s how we knew that we’d done our job well. That’s how you deserve to be treated.
I have heard it said that the specialty gift store is outdated, a relic of the past from a lifestyle that exists for few anymore and yetpeople flock to Europe, hungry for this sort of shopping experience! The gorgeous boutiques on the streets of London or Paris continuously give us wonderful examples of merchandising. They are lovely to explore, and their seasonal merchandise, always beautifully presented, is a feast for the senses; a truly engaging experience for the customer. Maybe what we enjoy so much about these stores is that they maintain a natural relationship to the rhythm of the seasons, not the artificially induced shopping cycles that we have created in this country. I really believe that this is the way that a store offers the most significant value to its customers. By keeping the atmosphere relaxed and closely aligned to the natural patterns of our lives, we stay happier and less frantic, andmore able to enjoy the true essence of the holiday season!
This holiday season, I hope that you’ll be able to shop in stores that care about you and the experience that you’ll have sharing yourself with people through the gifts that you choose! Remember, that the gifts that you choose this holiday season or anytime will always convey the essence of you, the gift giver! Gift giving in its purest form is artistically inspired by love and the desire to provide for the recipient a special moment of beauty and timelessness. It is my wish for you this season that your needs for a truly relaxing and wonderful gifting experience are met with elegance, beauty andenchantment, through stores that continue the tradition of providing for you, the customer, all of the quality and expertise that you desire, along with LOTS of fun!
Request the service and style that you deserve and you will help any merchant create a shopping experience where the exceptional can occur and remember when you’re shopping for many presents simple things like a list can really help. I learned a long time ago to create a list and was thrilled when I discovered that there was indeed an app for that called simply “The Christmas List”, I’ve used it for years because it helps to make a few notes. You can assign prices and even make notes. I spend a lot of time interviewing my clients and finding out about their friends and loved ones. The most common mistake that people make is to give a gift that they’d want for themselves. It’s an easy trap to avoid as that usually happens when you’re feeling pressed for time.
Negotiating a large gift list is a bit like planning a dinner party and takes a little bit of visualization. Create the guest list and then look around the table. Everyone there is unique and yet the common thread is the relationship that they have with you. Stop for a moment and give yourself the pleasure of thinking about each person sitting at the table. Who are they? What really means something to them? Imagine your table with a place for each and the present on their plate. Now visualize the delight they are experiencing, the anticipation. Then allow yourself to see what each is opening and mark it down in your notes, even if it’s just a feeling. I discovered over the years that it wasn’t the money spent that purchased the most precious gifts, but the time and feeling behind that purchase. I’m all about the extravagant gesture when it is appropriate, but oftentimes it’s not nearly as meaningful. My customers would spend way more then they needed to on gifts when they were feeling stretched for time and inspiration. Take the time to enjoy the process yourself and you will get as much enjoyment out of the act of giving as they will receiving.
What’s on my wish list this year? Well, I’m hoping that Santa brings me a set of Annick Goutal “Noel “ Votive candles and a jar of Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia Body Cream. A bottle of Tom Fords delectable Violet Blonde would be just so very lovely and so would Jo Malone’s delicious Roasted Chestnut candle as well as that seductive little boxed “Discovery” set from Kilian with 10 travel sized bottles of his luscious perfume. Last but definitely not least I’m begging Santa to give me the opportunity to sit down someday with Christopher Brosius and have him create a beautiful perfume just for me! I’ve been a good girl this year…really I have, even when I’ve been very very bad! Please, if you see him will you please put in a good word for me?
Originally published in Perfume Magazine