Under an orange cloud: Divine

As someone predisposed toward natural perfumes, I soon gravitated to the website of Providence Perfume Company, a botanical perfume company based in Rhode Island. I’d check their website from time to time, first telling myself “No. You have enough”, then musing “But…what would I buy?”

At first the choice seemed clear…one of PPC’s six perfume oils. Or maybe—just maybe—I’d make an exception to my hatred of alcohol-based perfumes and get the much-lauded Provanilla, with its notes of vanilla (of course) and melon. But something kept bringing me back to Divine.

Here’s how PPC describes it:

Inspired by a glamorous friend who is never without her red lipstick. Upon sampling this scent, she threw back her head and declared it, “Simply DIVINE!” A beautiful melange of Moroccan orange blossom, red mandarin, queen neroli, lush vanilla, natural musk ambrette and vintage oakmoss. Sexy, warm and feminine. A perennial customer favorite.

Well. None of that sounds very me, does it? Except I kept coming back and coming back. Then I noticed it did check a few of my usual boxes. Ambrette? Vanilla? Yes and yes. And vintage oakmoss? I’m not sure what that means, but it must be special, right? Sure enough, I placed an order in due time, hands shaking and conscience guilty.

When my package arrived, I have to admit I was taken aback by the strong scent of orange (mixed with alcohol, ugh) emanating from the bottle. I’m not generally fond of citrus scents, and this was one seemed quite sharp. I was worried. Then I put it on my skin.

This is no simple citrus perfume. It’s not fresh, it’s not invigorating. It’s not clean.

Something warm and hectic, a fever, underlies the fierce orange. The hot, sticky and unsavoury quality of a sickbed mingles with a sweet vanilla. I’m guessing some combination of the musk ambrette and the oakmoss makes this one so fraught.

But it’s not unpleasant. It gets under your skin.

It’s a dark orange cloud overhead on a dark day, a hint of bright sweetness in a fog. And though it rises up with startling projection when first applied (from a roller bottle in my case—another reason I love PPC just as much as I hate to spray—it settles quickly into a low-lying mist of soft and sweet burnt orange. Musk cotton candy, voluptuous and sad.

Maybe it’s just the name, but it reminds me of another Divine that pulls me in. I guess what I mean is, you could do worse. Much worse.


My first amber


What is amber in perfume? Perhaps surprisingly, it isn’t a single ingredient. Rather, as Elena of Perfume Shrine explains, it’s an “olfactory convention of the late 19th century” centred on the combination of vanilla and labdanum.

Amber can be mysterious and stealthy, hiding at the base of perfumes without really coming to the fore. However, it can also be highly appealing in its own right, given its warm, sweet and glowing character.

Drawn in by amber’s scent as well as its Victorian associations, I went looking for a “single note” amber to experiment with. Searching Alkemia’s Etsy shop, I noticed Ambre Extrait, a natural amber perfume at a slightly higher (though still affordable) price point than other Alkemia scents.

The notes

Alkemia describes the scent and its notes this way:

“Our 100% natural aged amber accord is an exquisitely sultry blend of some of the most precious and spiritually redolent resins in our Alkemia collection including: North African Rock Rose, Cambodian Agarwood, Prussian Amber Resin, Madagascar Vanilla, Nepalese Spikenard, Somalian Opoponax, Tunisian Liquidambar, Himalayan Cedar, and Honduran Styrax.

“Together these natural unguents and essences swirl into a richly resinous golden single note Amber. In its bouquet, a true amber-lover will be able to detect notes of wild honey, red earth, pale wood, temple incense, smoke, beeswax, sap, bark, saffron, velvet, skin musk, crushed citrus flowers, butter, and suede.”

In the bottle

With the bottle uncapped, Ambre Extrait smells golden and sweet, with a smooth and rounded quality, like a piece of polished amber stone.

It doesn’t have a clean or fresh quality, though – there’s something at its centre that feels almost unwholesome (perhaps the “skin musk” of the description).

On skin

Applied to skin, it smells much the same, with the additional emergence of a honey-like quality. It remains smooth, sweet, musky, and seemingly freighted with the mysterious weight of the past.  

Ambre Extrait gets milder as it sits on the skin, the sweetness joined by a resinous and woody quality that heightens the “golden” feel of the perfume.

Overall impression

Being very mild and soft, Ambre Extrait is not a public fragrance. But for the wearer, it’s a soothing, fascinating scent. Recommended for “true amber-lovers” as well as mere mortals like me.

A curious vanilla


Ayala Moriel is a Vancouver perfumer who uses only natural materials in her work. I’d been perusing her site with interest for a while when I finally decided to make a blind purchase of three scents: Espionage, White Potion and Zangvil (all in the oil format).

I plan to review all three, but I’ll start with Espionage since it caught my attention first. But it also gave me pause. Why?

The notes

Ayala Moriel’s website lists the notes as follows:

Ambrette (Musk) Seed, Bergamot, Virginia Cedarwood, Orris Root, Rose Otto (Turkey), Tabac Blond, Tonka Bean, Vanilla Absolute, Vetiver, Guiacwood, Jasmine Grandiflorum, Leather Notes.

There’s a lot there that I love – ambrette, cedar, and jasmine to name a few. But the leather gave me pause. I don’t really wear leather (the material) and its scent has never had much appeal for me. Still, I decided to take a chance.

In the bottle

I opened the bottle and immediately wondered if I’d made a mistake. The leather is strong, and there’s a sharpness to the scent that was unfamiliar to me.

I hate to say it, but Espionage was almost reminiscent of bug spray on first sniff. On the other hand, I actually like the smell of bug spray…

On skin

When first applied, Espionage sends up a potent, almost overwhelming cloud of leather and smoke. These notes seemed overlaid with a veneer of sweetness, like a leather jacket with syrup trickled over it.

After a minute or two, the distinction between the leather note and the sweetness disappeared. The notes merged into a single smooth scent with its edges softened and blurred by the musky ambrette.

As time continued to pass, Espionage got sweeter and a dark, creamy vanilla became its most prominent aspect. The leather still tempered it though, setting it apart from simpler and “younger” vanilla perfumes.

The florals are present, but (to my nose at least) impossible to pick out individually. Rather, they’re part of a very well-blended whole.

Overall impression

Espionage is soft and subtle – others are unlikely to notice you’re wearing it unless very close to you. For me, this is a major selling point. However, be warned if you don’t feel the same (it’s also possible that the eau de parfum version projects farther).

I highly recommend Espionage, even for those ambivalent about leather and especially for those looking for a soft vanilla scent that’s different from the usual.

Just reserve judgment for a few minutes after applying; for this scent at least, first impressions are deceiving.