Friday, May 23, 2008

Private Reserve Semiramis

I don't know if this Private Reserve - Secret Perfumes business coming to the US is a result of The Secret trend (made famous by Oprah, seems to be based on The Secret Doctrine by Blavatsky) or if they're freemason perfumes or what, but they are shrouded in mystery for sure. Available only at one place called The Perfume House in Portland, Oregon, these perfumes are said to have originated in France, commissioned by Russian Czars and their secret formulas protected by the French Perfume Council (you can read the article on Perfume-Smellin' Things by Donna at this link). They're very exclusive perfumes, and as far as I know, samples are only available at the decant and sample online store, The Perfumed Court.

These are oil perfumes and are quite potent; the one in the line I've tried before and loved was Snow Rose, but here I am reviewing Semiramis which I was reminded of this week while sampling Weil Zibeline Secret de Venus. It's not that they're all that similar or in the same fragrance family per se (although they both have warm and spicy Oriental elements; Zibeline is more of a Chypre Floral with animalic-leather notes, and is much sweeter, more robust) but that the piquant yet ambery opening of Zibeline brought to mind Semiramis in an instant. I'm pretty sure the sharpness I'm getting off the top is violet combined with some kind of spicy-herbaceous notes--maybe coriander, sage and tarragon. Semiramis is the name of an Assyrian Queen, connected in legends to the Hebrew name Miriam (Shamiram in Aramaic) and (the Virgin) Mary among others. She's often depicted in ancient art holding a child (often identified as Tammuz / Adoni /Adonai / Adonis). Because the Virgin Mary is also connected to Aphrodite/ Venus according to some legends, I thought it was a funny coincidence that Zibeline Secret de Venus should resemble Semiramis at all, even if just in passing. I don't know when Semiramis was created but since Zibeline Secret de Venus was composed in 1928, I wonder if this type of composition was a contemporary style for ultra-feminine (goddesslike) blends in the early 20th century, Europe.

As Donna states in the review, it isn't overly sweet. While it comes across to me as a violet Floral with some woody-herbaceous Oriental feel (think of the piquancy of Serge Lutens Bois de Violette but lighter and more Floral), with the most inconspicuous hints of amber and vanilla, it can also convey the form of a sumptuous fur perfume without really going that route. It doesn't smell animalic to me at all, but the note of sandalwood is there to give it a dry woods feel. Semiramis dries down to a tart but relatively well-mannered and clean-baby powdery iris-vanilla finish, redolent of royal toiletry soap.

Other names for Semiramis include Astarte (Easter, also Cyprus), Ishtar, Isis and Columbia. She's also credited for inventing the chastity belt (see the entry on Wikipedia). Since Aphrodite (like Demeter, an aspect of Diana (see the Wiki entry on the Triple Goddess) is also associated with Persephone, a figure who was abducted by Hades to become Queen of the Underworld and who in the Orphic myths was seduced by Zeus in the guise of a serpent, it can be said Semiramis and Persephone are also related figures. Persephone was often depicted as a young goddess holding sheafs of grain and a flaming torch, much the same way Semiramis was (and some would say she is the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty). Semiramis is a gateway to understanding the mystery of the madonna-whore dichotomy throughout history. A perfume such as this can sometimes open the doors to the convoluted history of the origins of woman from the perspective of a very different time and place, more than a stone's throw away from the here and now.

Notes: Amber, sandalwood, jasmine, iris, rose, violet, narcissus, ylang-ylang, vanilla.