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Lavender in Provence

Have you ever had an amazing, but simple, meal at a restaurant and thought to yourself that you could easily re-create it at home and when you do it falls short leaving you to wonder ‘It’s only four ingredients and three of them weren’t even cooked! Why didn’t this work? I don’t get it.’ Most often the reason for this kind of dinner disappointment is the quality of the ingredients.

When the pasta is hand-made with organic eggs, when the sauce comes from San Marzano tomatoes, when the cheese is Parmigiano-Reggiano, well, it’s just a matter of letting the ingredients shine. When you substitute a different quality of ingredient, you lose the magic. You may end up with a perfectly fine pasta dinner, but not the memorable one you had at that charming little osteria.

This is what went through my mind one warm day, sitting in the sun on the back deck, the smell of Haute Provence, eau de cologne, wafting up from my wrists to my nose.

Created by Patricia de Nicolaï for her French niche house Nicolaï Parfumeur-Créateur, Haute Provence is a flawless gem of a summer fragrance.

Colognes are one of my favourite things about the hot days of summer. Colognes follow a very simple formula: alcohol that contains a mixture of citrus oils, herbs and/or flowers, with a light base of woods or musk.

Uncomplicated, refreshing and light, colognes are an invigorating pick-me-up that make hot, sticky summer days bearable. So uplifting are they, colognes have become an essential beauty classic for men and women in Europe.

Here at the niche, we love ‘em too and you can find dozens in our Decants Store, but right now, it’s all about lavender, true lavender, the lavender that grows in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.

Between mid-June and August, Provence is carpeted with purple fields of lavender, but ‘true lavender’ grows spontaneously in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.

Lavandula angustifolia, also known as ‘true lavender’ or English Lavender, is an aromatic shrub that belongs to the mint family. Surprisingly, it isn’t native to England at all, but to the Mediterranean where it thrives in areas with wet winters, dry summers and at altitudes between 600- 1500 m. The Haute-Provence Lavender Essential Oil PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) is the most prized by perfumers, like Patricia de Nicolaï.

Parisian born Patricia de Nicolaï, knows perfume. A Guerlain on her mother’s side, she is the great-granddaughter of Pierre Guerlain and niece of Jean-Paul Guerlain. Growing up with such a prestigious perfume pedigree, she learned the value of quality ingredients, like true lavender, and she knows how to make the most of them – just spritz Haute Provence on your wrist.

It opens with a nose-tingling note of tart bergamot that introduces the good stuff – ‘true lavender’. It’s fragrant, fresh and so camphorous it’s heady. This is not the lavender sachet in your underwear drawer. A note of petitgrain, soft and floral balances the lavender, with its spicy, woody and green aspects. Iris joins the lavender, tames it a bit with its powdery and clean facets. It’s the paring of the lavender with the iris that makes this fragrance unisex. At the base, musk gives it a warm-skin feel, while vanilla adds a sweetness to the cologne that I find make it irresistible. Cedar gives the cologne its distinctive woodiness.

The drydown is smooth and elegant and sweet, floral and woody.
Simple, quality ingredients, treated with a deft hand that brings out the best of them makes Haute Provence one of the pleasures of summer.

Haute Provence is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $5.00 for 1 ml.

Image - Wikimedia Commons by Iamhao, Feb. 2013


Alhambra Palace, Patio de los Arrayannes, Granada, Spain - image

We were in Andalusia in southern Spain for almost three weeks last fall. 

In July 2018, old friends join us for a long overdue dinner. They vacation in southern Spain every year, and their passionate descriptions of the landscape, the architecture, music, art, food, the people, the history, inspire us to explore Andalusia for ourselves. In mid-October we land in Malaga, pick up our rental car, and head west on the coastal highway along the Mediterranean. After an overnight flight from Toronto via Paris, we can’t believe we’re actually here, driving along the beautiful Costa del Sol on the Mediterranean on a sunny Sunday afternoon, free as birds and filled with anticipation.

We’ve rented our friends’ vacation home in Nueva Andalucia, up the hill from Puerto Banus, a tiny fishing village which became a playground for the rich and famous in the 1970’s but is now the place to park your 4-deck yacht while shopping for Patek Philippe watches on Designer Avenue. That quaint old village is long gone…but I digress. 

Our friends’ home turns out to be much more than their pictures! A gated garden complex, the large second-floor corner apartment has a gigantic patio facing southwest, so that when we recline on the comfy loungers, a glass of cold vino blanco in my hand, a cold beer in my husband’s, we can see the island of Gibraltar, at the very tip of Spain, rising up between our toes. Does it get better than this?

The Costa del Sol has great weather and is a vacation playground for northern Europeans – mostly Brits, but also Swedes, Germans, and Russians are there all year round. In fact, you catch whiffs of fish and chips any time of day or night in the resort towns. Costa del Sol is the south coast of Andalusia, but Andalusia itself is big, one-fifth of all Spain, a large autonomous region of hills, rivers, farms and cities with a very distinct and rich history. Andalusia was the Muslim part of Spain from 711 to 1492, and the legacy of the Moors is apparent everywhere you go… Alcázar castle in Seville, Córdoba’s Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral, and the Alhambra Palace in Granada. We plan to see all these historic wonders, and we do. 

Wherever we visit during our mini-trips, I’m on the hunt for fragrances. This is sunny Spain so naturally I’m looking for a spectacular citrus, sunny and zesty…Seville oranges, orange blossoms, flamenco!  But all I find is same old, same old, because perfume shops are selling mostly to tourists, who want to buy what they already know. Except for one shop in Puerto Banus which although it is obviously all luxury niche scents, holds no new treasures for me. I ask the owner, a beautiful French woman, a few questions, after listening politely to a detailed story about her recent move from Paris:

“Do you stock Spanish lines, by Spanish perfumers?” 

“Yes, of course. Carner, Ramon Monegal, Jesus del Pozo…”

“Mmhmm, I know these perfumers, and own several of their fragrances. Are there other, more local lines by Spanish perfumers?”

“Well, there is Alvarez Gomez, Santa Eulalia, Jimmy Boyd…”

“And where could I find those…?”

“In Madrid, Barcelona, where the Spanish people shop…we don’t sell here…”

“Are there any from Andalusia?”

She shrugs, as only Frenchwomen can do, “I do not think so. But there is a fragrance with the name Cuir Andalou. I have it in my bag, I wear it today”… and she lifts her wrist under my nose. “ I bought it in Paris, it’s by Rania J. I think it is beautiful.”

So I sniff Cuir Andalou, and Madame is correct. It is beautiful. Leather, but the soft leather of a well-worn jacket, sweetened with florals, deepened with spices and woods, and darkened with just a wisp of oud, the distinctive Arabic note that puts the Andalou in the Cuir. This is a sexy leather. I must have it.

Later that day, I google Rania J. as I sunbathe on the patio, sip my vino blanco and snack on paper-thin slices of jambon and bright green olives from the local olive groves.  Rania Jouaneh is the owner and perfumer who started the niche brand Rania J. in 2012, and the nose who created all seven of the fragrances in the line. Her creations marry the refined elegance of French perfumery with the scent memories of her childhood in the Middle East and Africa - jasmine and orange blossom growing in private gardens, notes of spices, leather goods, attars heavy with oud notes permeating bazaars and markets. 

In an  interview with Fragrantica Rania describes her vision for her leather fragrance:

“So I thought about leather and I wanted my leather to be more dry but with a bit of flowers to bring more life into it. And I don’t want my leather to be overly-sweet or sharp and strong. I like it to be soft and supple, very complex (of course with a lot of naturals) and deep; I want my leather perfume to be as soft to touch as skin. My goal was to create a leather depth in the perfume.”

“…I chose to decorate my leather accord with rose absolute, neroli oil, and also orris and violet. Flowers made the perfume more bright and lively as I don’t like one-dimensional perfumes. I love deep and complex perfumes so I added woody and spicy notes as well. It’s still a leather fragrance, but it’s a multidimensional fragrance. It’s like a leather jacket on a person who wears floral perfumes...”

“…the oud is a very small accent in the drydown…it does not grab  your whole attention; it gives more character to the perfume. It gives a black shadow and makes the dark side of the perfume more pronounced. I am happy with Cuir Andalou because I feel it’s more wearable by all genders than any of my other perfumes. It’s perfectly unisex, for men and women…”

Cuir Andalou opens with a warm, rich leather accord, paired with vibrant florals and dusty saffron to balance the sweetness, but with none of the “barnyard” bitter aspect that’s sometimes found in leather fragrances. In the heart, the floral notes deepen, sweet neroli and rose, powdery violet and iris, subtly shadowed with the faint smoke of oudwood. In the base, vetiver and castoreum add earthy depth, and sandalwood keeps the leather accord distinctively dry and silky smooth. Cuir Andalou is leather perfection.

I buy a bottle of Cuir Andalou, my sexy leather, as soon as I arrive back home. It was love at first sniff, in that little shop in Puerto Banus, and the affair is still going strong. This leather floral has become my favourite leather fragrance. The EdP has a moderate sillage, lasts all day, and loves my skin in cold and hot weather. It makes me feel alive every time I spritz it on.

So to wrap this up…I travel all the way to Andalusia hoping to discover a new and wonderful citrusy Spanish fragrance, and end up with a leather fragrance with a Spanish name made by a French perfume line, which I have to buy in Canada because it isn’t available in Spain. How crazy is that!  

Cuir Andalou is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $5.00 for 1 ml.


Welcome to

"She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight."

                                                                       Raymond Chandler

We are Gwen and Kay, two perfumistas making our scent journey in the cool, clear North.  We are also BFFs - we hang out together a lot, travel together - so we try, buy and share fragrances.

What started out as a shared interest grew into a hobby, and has now become our obsession.

We’ve spent many evenings with a glass of prosecco, a little cool jazz playing in the background, spritzing, sniffing - “How does this smell on you?” and, sadly, sometimes scrubbing.

We’ve tested and tried hundreds of samples over the years, and when we deemed a fragrance ”full bottle worthy” (FBW), one of us has tracked it down and bought it. We now own a lot of really great perfumes, and we continue to buy bottles of what we think is the best of "niche" as new scents are launched.

Also, we include many perfume "classics" that are the foundations of modern perfumery - like Shalimar, Chanel No.5, Eau Sauvage - plus other perfume "gems" that have been discontinued, or were ahead of their time when launched but now fit perfectly in the Niche category. 

With so many exciting discoveries, we can’t help but talk about our passion with other friends. Wherever we go, people ask “What is that perfume you’re wearing? Where can I get that?” So we end up sharing a bit of our “juice” with friends. But the circle has grown, so we've started this website to let others buy and try samples from our collections and experience the fragrant beauty we write about.


We blog

We blog once a week and post a story about a scent from our collections, and add it to our Decant Store. We're not scent critics, so these aren't negative reviews. We love all our fragrances  - that’s why we bought them! But we describe how we think they smell, and share our stories about why we love them - maybe you’ll rediscover an old flame, or fall in love with a new scent.

Or we post conversations about whatever has grabbed our attention recently. Or we write about a specific perfume note,  and offer a Decant Pack, which allows you to explore new territory by trying 3 or 4 fragrances in a special pack at a special discount price.

We sell

We sell 1 ml. decants - .7 ml volume once you allow for the stopper in the vial - filled from our own bottles in our collection because the only way to experience a fragrance is to try it on your own skin. We take the fragrance from its original bottle and decant it into a smaller brand-new, 1 ml sterilized glass vials so that you can try it on your skin to see if you like it.

Through our Decant Store you'll have access to some of the world’s greatest niche scents, hard-to-find fragrances, and classic favourites. 

When you click on the Decant Store tab you’ll find our personal descriptions of each of the fragrances we currently offer from our collection, then you can add them to your Shopping Cart.

Let's be clear (this is a disclaimer!!)

  • We don’t sell full bottles of any fragrance - just .7ml decants. We only sell decants  from the perfumes we've bought.... because we love them.
  • We don't re-sell manufacturers samples.
  • We don’t represent any perfumers or distributors, so we don’t have every scent from a whole line of perfume.
  • We aren’t being paid to promote any product or scent.

If, after sampling a fragrance, you decide that you must have it, i.e. it is FBW (full bottle worthy), and you can’t find it, e-mail us and we will direct you to the best source we know – retail store or online source.

We provide

A place for you to learn about scent, and to share your fragrance experience with others. Click on the section called Resources, under My Perfume Notes (see top right), where  you'll find a Glossary, and fragrance FAQs. You'll also find two great tools we've created - Handmaps and My Sample Perfume Notes - so you can keep track of, and record your own scent experiences.
We hope you enjoy, and visit us often. Leave your preconceptions behind, look around, see what’s on offer, read the Blog, share your experiences and discoveries, and join the circle.

It’s just us.