Monday, September 15, 2014
I was wearing this last night while reading another Inspector Maigret novel by Georges Simenon.
I'm wearing it again today, doing a side by side comparison to Chantecaille's Kalimantan. Both were done by Pierre Negrin, and they're very much alike, I realized: I don't remember how. People just love Kalimantan but I've never warmed to it - not as passionately as others seem to; whereas, I knew the moment I sprayed Interlude Man that I'd be walking away with it.
In the mystery novels of Simenon (Penguin is re-releasing all of them, or so they say, one a month, to the bitter end - something like 50, all told) Maigret is always smelling the perfume people usher in or leave in their wakes. Just last night he smelled it on a middle class French woman whose husband had been murdered. Several days ago, in another one of these books, a Danish woman locked in her room by her one-eyed brother was constantly broadcasting her scent throughout the house, smelled and remarked upon by the Inspector, each time he entered the front door. Today, the mother of a criminal, herself no Polly Pure, sobbed dramatically into her perfumed hankie.
Did Simenon enjoy perfume? I've searched out biographical information on him but compared to his novels the story of his life... Well, no one is stabbed. He seems to have enjoyed perfume, because it makes an appearance in nearly ever Maigret mystery, employed like facial features and dress to convey character and background. Many a mystery novel excludes the mention of perfume altogether. I picture Simenon in a cafe, reading about a burglary in the paper, grafting its specifics onto a story he remembers about a brother and sister who are actually man and wife disguised as siblings, when an overstuffed woman walks in, radiating tuberose and carnation. All seem essential components of the mood.
I do love Maigret but I don't really get Kalimantan - yet it's similar to Interlude in many ways. They have the same basic structure, maybe. I guess other detective novels are similar to Maigret. Criminals, or their authors, can only come up with just so many plot lines; just so many ways to kill a widow in a darkened alleyway. A limited number of methods and settings for strangulation.
One little ineffable something or other makes the difference. Interlude has the woody amber foundation of Kalimantan, for instance, but substitutes juniper and incense for cinnamon, making all the difference in the world to me. Same writer, different stories. There's also the complexity of translation. The other night I realized I'd purchased two Maigret novels which are actually one and the same: the book was published under two different titles. I can get rid of one, I thought. Then I checked the first pages against each other and realized that two different translators had made the book two different reads probably. Would I like one just a little and love the other, like Negrin's two stories?
Later: The following night I wore Interlude to a party. It's been a little less humid, and I kept smelling it on myself. Is this too much or just enough, I wondered at one point. Outside on the patio a woman I was talking to asked me suddenly what was I wearing. I'm so unused to people commenting on my perfume that I immediately assumed she meant my clothes, though she could see them as well as I could and they were probably largely self-explanatory. Shirt, jeans, shoes, under-stuff. I almost started describing my attire. Then realized she must mean the Interlude. This was the first comment, let alone favorable one, I've received on a fragrance in longer than I can recall.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
When Addie's mother dies, Moses Pray, a former suitor slash john shows up at the funeral. The funeral is decidedly middle of nowhere, prairie in all directions, and other than Pray, and discounting the droning preacher, only maybe two people have attended: two elderly women who've made Addie their charge. Moses happens to be passing through and stops to pay his respects ("I know your backside is still warm," he whispers to the coffin), but the women seize his resemblance to Addie (same jawline) and while they can't talk him into parenting the nine year old they manage to con him into driving her to her aunt's house a few states away.
So the movie is playing on the whole It Happened One Night schema of opposites stuck in a small situation together, rubbing each other the wrong way; referencing dust bowl iconography (the photographs of Dorothea Lange, among other things), The grumpy adult child faces and curve ball verbal outlandishness of The Little Rascals, the history of road to nowhere movies, gangster films.
Moses cheats widows out of their deceased husbands' money, selling them never-ordered Bibles he's embossed their names on, after tracking their misfortunes in the obituaries. Your husband ordered this for you but I can see you're in a bad place so I'll just give you a refund, unless you want something to hold onto that memorializes him in death by contradicting the thoughtlessness that characterized him in life, etc. Addie turns out to be an even better con than Moses, jacking one sale up from his modest 7 bucks to 24 - so he delays the aunt situation indefinitely, and the two stay in various flops that dot the map between their bereavement destinations.
At one point, overnight in one of these motel rooms, after Moses has gone to bed, Addie gets up and quietly locks herself in the bathroom with a cigar box full of mementos from her mother. In the box are pearls, postcards, and what looks to me like a half ounce bottle of Evening in Paris, with its classic hourglass meets urn silhouette. The very best thing about this scene - aside from the idea of such a tomboy taking an interest in such a feminine perfume, aside from all the standard implications of a scent reviving memory, conjuring the dead - is the fact that Addie, posing in front of the mirror as her mom, douses herself in the stuff the way a man would the cheapest splash cologne, slapping it on her neck, her cheeks, and finally, for good measure, wielding the bottle like a salt shaker on either side of her face.
From this the movie cuts to the next morning, a tight shot of the front seat of the car Addie and Moses spend most of their time in. Moses keeps sniffing the air, wrinkling his nose like they've passed an animal carcass on the side of the road. He finally figures out it's Addie, who seems pleased to be noticed, like her mother was, for her perfume, to have magnetized attention this way, but she can't command it for long: Moses opens the window over the dash, airing out the cab, and Addie's face flatlines back into its frustrated childishness.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
(Or: Why I Seem to Have Stopped Writing "Reviews")
For a long time now (let's throw a number out and say five months) I've spent more time on customer review sites than on perfume blogs proper. Until recently, I didn't really ask myself why. I must have just concluded, in some hazy region of my hamster wheel mind, buried chin deep in everyday routine, that I'd lost interest in perfume. Why else wouldn't I want to read in depth analysis, let alone write it?
I guess it gradually occurred to me that a loss of interest wasn't borne out by the amount of time I spend on, say, Fragrantica, a site I visit at least ten times a day - often impulsively. It gradually occurred to me, in some equally hazy way, that I don't want to write or read about perfume the same way anymore. The blog review has come to feel essentially reductive to me: these are the notes, this is the perfumer, here's a brief evocative list of things this scent evokes or recalls or references. Here is how long it lasts, here is something the perfumer told to me at a cocktail party I was invited to as I stood at the red hot center of the fragrance industry. Here is the history.
I appreciate the notes. The anecdotal information can be interesting. Knowing that you see a woman standing under a tree eating an apple in a flowing white gauzy dress when you smell this perfume is...maybe over-sharing. It's at least beside the point. The problem for me is that the monolith this template has become in aggregate, across scores of blogs, obstructs in some ways and minimizes in others what perfume actually does for or to me. It makes fantasy feel rote. There is a catalog element to a great deal of perfume writing now: Here is this, and this is this that and the other thing. Moving right along, here is another.
How can I expect anyone to see the point in making imaginative, truly inspired fragrances when so much of us spend so much time and space making what we say we love sound so phoned in?
I think I just want to step off the hamster wheel for a while? Maybe that's it. I don't expect to get to the bottom of anything; I want to stop pretending that you should read me because I can, or because it's possible.
I used to stand at my grandmother's vanity to smell her perfumes. I've written this at least twenty times throughout the lifespan of this blog. It's often the only thing that matters to me. I've gone back to that memory my entire adult life. The sun coming through the windows, the colors of her pale rug, the gilt mirrored tray the perfumes sat on, the light blue velvet chaise off to the side with an afghan my grandmother made draped across it. She made all of us afghans like it. My sister got one in the same colors. I was a boy, so mine was red, white, and blue.
It was difficult for me to pretend to sit on that blue chaise in my own room, back at home, with that red, white, and blue afghan. I used to sneak into my sister's room to sit with hers. In my memories I chart one forbidden moment after another like that; I sneak into an endless series of rooms, rooting around where I'm not meant to be. For a long time I had a recurring dream: The house was always different, but it always had a secret room I discovered during the course of the dream. The room was enormous, stockpiled with deep dark glamorous (to me) family secrets.
It occurs to me writing this that part of the reason I store my fragrances the way I do, deeply layered in no particular order, stacks upon stacks, in a bureau, is because it makes looking for anything involve finding many things I'd forgotten about. It recreates that sense of discovery and secrecy. This entire system of memories exists in the perfumed air surrounding my grandmother's vanity.
I'm always finding Dior Addict pushed back to the rear. I might have three bottles to make sure that virtually anywhere I dig I'm bound to come across it. I don't know why I don't wear it more often, or why I want to keep being reminded it's there in this particular way.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Cristalle is nice, and I prefer the edp to the edt, which is nice too, for the all of five minutes it lasts on me. Cristalle in that big brick bottle Chanel makes. My Cristalle edp comes in this brick but hits you like a feather. I keep trying to like feathers but I prefer bricks. So the Cristalle feels like a beautiful tease, and puts me in an irritable mood.
Mito Voile d'Extrait is a brick - not a blunt thing, not bombastic, but it has force, it's got a confidence and an assertiveness about it. People compare it to greens like Cristalle and maybe Chanel No.19, Scherrer, Givenchy III. References can be useful. They make you feel you can control the narrative happening to you.
I don't compare Mito to anything but other Vero Profumo fragrances, each of which, in each concentration, is a different state of mind. I find it difficult to put them into words. I can find all kinds of words but I don't want to restrict the fragrances. I don't want to break them down or compartmentalize them. They happen to me in a place outside of vocabulary. They make words feel feeble at a time when almost everything does back-flips to assure you it can be summarized succinctly.
I've heard that Vero Kern, the perfumer behind Mito, was inspired by an Italian garden, at Villa d'Este in Tivoli. Smelling Mito I don't need her to describe that garden in words. She's brought it alive in my mind. Cristalle is this kind of thing: beauty as an ethereal concept, something that wafts across your consciousness as a veil. Sheer, really. Chanel takes pains at all times to reassure you that you are in control of what you see and experience.
Mito takes you over the way extreme beauty or experience does. There's no safety from it. There's no remove, no conceptual detachment. A veil sits between you and the thing you see through it. It imposes an abstraction, a sensation of separateness, locking you securely behind the wheel of your own experience. It pats your hand and affirms your sovereignty over your perceptions, the things you see out in the world. They don't happen to you; you happen to them.
What Mito does, what all of the Vero Profumo fragrances do for me, isn't precious that way. When I see someone or something beautiful, I experience it, it colonizes my emotions, changes the alchemy of my thoughts and mood. There's no separation; there's no protection from it. I'm communing with it and being changed by it and it might end up being stronger than I am. It is in that moment. It can make me feel tiny, a speck, swimming around in powerful, gorgeous and fraught otherness.
Do you know that moment in a beautiful place, where everything seems to be perfectly constellated, caught in a moment of full bloom? It reminds you what a miracle a moment can be, how fugitive it is. Mito sits on my skin bringing that alive. A brick as in a force of beauty. Cristalle assures you beauty can be handled, minimized, abstracted, ordered. Mito reminds you what a fantasy that is.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
There are some key differences between eau de toilette and eau de parfum, the primary difference being skank. Honeyed skank, really. The eau de toilette is honeyed chypre, lasts forever, relates itself to true moss leather chypres like Trussardi Femme and Rochas Mystere. It kisses you like you kiss a baby.
I once found two or three bottles of the eau de parfum for something like 30 bucks each. At the time, I'd never smelled anything like it (at this point, I have and I haven't), so I bought them all. I worried the world would end and I'd be without La Nuit otherwise.
Weeks later I decanted some and traveled to a film festival in Philadelphia. A friend met me there and the night my film screened I doused her in La Nuit. I wore, I think, an equally generous application of Diptyque L'eau (pomander rose). The cab driver looked shocked when we stepped into the car, and I apologized without meaning it. I thought then and still think now you shouldn't have to make excuses for smelling better than life at large wants you to.
We were out for several hours, and when we returned to the hotel there was a man out front, airing out his tiny dog. Oh how sweet the dog looked. If not sweet, then harmless. The leash seemed mostly decorative. You don't need chain link to keep a balloon from drifting away.
My friend did that thing as we approached the entrance and saw the dog, that thing you do: "Does he bite?" The owner assured us his dog was just shy of herbivore, so my friend, wafting furiously, bent over to pet the thing - and this probably-chihuahua became a fierce attack dog. It just went totally apeshit, like a bear had approached it still stinking of the fawn it had just swallowed whole.
The owner was as shocked as we were - maybe more shocked. It was his balloon; we'd never seen it before.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Let me tally. At this point, I own I think five - now six, bottles, various formulations. I try to keep track by the packaging but mostly I know by the smell.
This one from the drugstore, probably dating to the early 2000s. It isn't as insistently bright and austere as the latest version. It isn't glorified grape bubblegum like some of the others.
I see Poison out in the world and sometimes I'm overcome and though there are five, now six, bottles back home, home isn't instantaneous enough. I add to the pot. Something about that green shimmery box; it starts before I even get the packaging open, before I even uncap the bottle. What Poison means starts when I see the box and the memory of the smell and what I know it will do to me and my mood kicks into gear. It focuses my thoughts. No small feat on any given day.
There's a list of perfumes from around Poison's time that I obsessed over at the fragrance counter as a teen. Poison heads that list. So getting it, even the sixth or seventh bottle, without thinking much of it, without thinking at all, is a powerful thing. I thought so much as a teen back then - about how I might get a bottle, keep it on hand to smell, even if I couldn't wear it. I thought about it but it was forbidden. I looked forward to the next time I could pass through the mall and pretend I had a girlfriend who wanted it as much as I did. That porn of talking to those sales associates is a vivid memory - inevitable, protracted coos about how special it would be to receive Poison as a gift, as if I didn't know.
So it does something massive to me now, walking in, seeing it, throwing it in the cart, taking it up to the cashier and out to the car. It means some things will always be out of reach, but not this.
When I asked the drugstore associate to unlock the perfume cabinet for me she asked as they always do which bottle I was wanting to see. I said Poison and she laughed. Is that what it's really called, she said. You want Poison? Loads of laughs. It meant nothing to her. She'd never even heard of it.
Friday, July 25, 2014
Amber, Vetiver, Orange Blossom. Like Teo Cabanel's Alahine, Sublime is a strange, diffusive toasted amber.
I was telling someone last night my sense of smell isn't particularly robust. I like strong, forceful things that keep reminding me they're with me. Sublime isn't strong or forceful but it's that rare fragrance that stage whispers.
People complain about a hairspray note. I often think, "What's wrong with people?"
Groggy this morning from staying up not so very late but drinking a little too much beer on an empty stomach. The company was so good and the moment so perfect I didn't want to leave. Second story stone balcony of an old quad apartment complex.
We're having what my friend said is called a...polar vortex? So the air was unusually cool, without much if any humidity. There was a little strand of colored Christmas lights strung across the balustrade; just enough illumination. The view was a textured layering of trees, very still. The mood was chatty but pensive in a languid way. There were four of us on the balcony and the sound of the other three talking was a form of lullaby.
This might have had everything or very little to do with picking Sublime this morning, and the place it's taking me.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
I've never been a big No.5 fan, so the cologne concentration surprised me. It's sweet and ambery and a little leathery, less sharp than its better known siblings, more mellow. It doesn't last long but at least, unlike the edt and edp, it isn't meant to.
I bought this little bottle on Ebay. When I posted this picture on Facebook I was told that the bottle probably dates back to no earlier than the 70s, which is just fine with me. I put it on the back of my hand and enjoyed it most of the day, reapplying when I missed that initial rush of vanillic amber. The bottle is shaped like a flask you'd hide in your pocket to get through a particularly tedious ordeal.
I'd like to smell this on a guy.
Friday, June 27, 2014
Originally called Doussan French Perfumery, the perfume house now known as Bourbon French Parfums dates back to 1843, the year perfumer and founder August Doussan arrived in New Orleans from France.
The establishment has since passed through several hands and noses, all of which and whom you can read about on the company's website or hear about, I imagine, if you visit the store in the French Quarter.
The perfumes are, depending on who smells them, either wonderfully old school or old lady, that much-loved term for all things not fairly strictly contemporary. I like or love nearly everything I've smelled, and stand among Bourbon French's many admirers.
It's true the scents recall a different time and probably require some amount of appreciation for perfumes past. It's also true that the history of perfumery is increasingly hard to discern in the changing landscape of modern fragrance, where reformulations have altered the old reliables and prevailing fashion has drastically remapped the rest.
It helps that the pricing is reasonable. It doesn't hurt that you can buy many different sizes and concentrations. The perfumes arrive in velvet drawstring pouches. The labels look like they were printed on a vintage press hidden in the basement of the building. Not much information is provided about the fragrances, which adds to the pleasure of discovering them and enhances their sense of mystery. Several have become personal favorites:
One of the house's better known fragrances, Voodoo Love is earthy, floral, and spicy, beginning with an unusually strong dose of vetiver that bursts forth on the skin and is gradually embraced by velvety rose and jasmine. There is probably quite a lot of patchouli in this fragrance, helping to turn the lights down on those florals, and it could be that the patchouli, and the vetiver, neither remotely clean, contribute to the scent's subtle but pervasive animalic quality. It could also be that there's civet in the mix. If so, it's humming faint accompaniment. I sense clove but could be imagining that, a phenomenon that happens for me with many of Bourbon French's perfumes. I would probably classify Voodoo Love as a floriental, and it reminds me of once-popular, now-forgotten Lanvin fragrance which only exists in my mind. It has great persistence and projection, and the extended dry down is worth waiting for. The scent veers back and forth between accepted ideas of masculine and feminine on the way there.
Imagine carnations steeped in peach nectar. Pour that peach nectar infusion over slightly spiced rose. Mon Idée is the most cheerful Bourbon French scent I've smelled. It doesn't get "carnation" right in the strict sense of the word, and carnation is so ever-present that you might be led to believe that it strives to. What it does get is the feeling of receiving a bouquet of carnations from, say, an admirer, or a loved one - that flush to your cheeks and your senses, the heightened feeling of possibility being noticed or admired can bring, the nearly electric thrum of the colors in the bouquet after this mood filters them to your senses. Mon Idée, for me, is an astonishing fragrance. It's very floral, like another favorite, Perfume of Paradise, but it doesn't have the latter's hothouse vibe, nor its indolic carnality. Mon Idée wafts around in a little pocket of happiness, well being, and radiance which is so foreign to the experience of every day life that smelling the perfume can produce an elated confusion of uplift and heartbreak.
A peach of a very different frequency presides over Romanov. This fruit is slightly turned, an effect enhanced, if not entirely created, by the distinct presence of honey. The peach skin has darkened; its fuzz gone rough. I would say this is primarily peach, rose, and honey, although there is clearly something sturdier going on underneath that core medley; some clove, possibly or even probably some patchouli. Like Voodoo Love, Romanov conjures fragrances that never were but seem to have been. You keep trying to place it. I should add that a common remark about the Bourbon French fragrances is that they are uniformly powdery. With a few exceptions, I don't get the connection. Romanov, Mon Idée, and Voodoo Love could hardly to my nose be called powdery, nor can most of the others, which leads me to believe that I've been right in concluding previously that for many the word powdery is often a stand-in for vintage. That said, while all three of the scents I've mentioned have vintage aspects and at times an overall vintage vibe, they also strike me as better versions of niche scents than the overwhelming majority of niche scents I've smelled in the last few years.
If you find a better name for a fragrance, do let me know. Sans Nom has to be called something, so why not call a spade a spade? The scent reminds me of everything from Opium to Cinnabar by way of Teatro alla Scala, but Sans Nom feels peerless at the same time. The usual suspects are there: rose, jasmine, patchouli, clove. But somehow Sans Nom feels softer than its comparisons. Again, I could be imagining it, but I smell what seems like a lot of Ylang to me. Of the so called feminine fragrances in the Bourbon French inventory, Sans Nom sits second to Voodoo Love as the most masculine in feel. Or does it? I can't decide. It's the only BF fragrance I've smelled that I might call a straight up oriental. Despite it's powerhouse company and notes, it isn't the most persistent fragrance in the line, nor the loudest. It isn't quiet - not at all - but there's something meditative and whispery about it that I don't usually get in orientals.
Other favorites are Perfume of Paradise, the custom blend formerly known as Dark Gift, Patchouli, Vetiver, Kus Kus, and Oriental Rose. Thanks out to Maria Browning of Bitter Grace Notes for introducing me to this line with a very thoughtful and generous care package of samplers.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Last week, Barbara Herman (author of the blog Yesterday's Perfume and the book Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of provocative Perfume) was in town on her way to a reading in Nashville. When she asked if I might like to head that way with her I said yes, and even though I ended up attending a funeral the morning we were leaving and we plowed carefully and slowly through buckets of rain on the highway to get there, it turned out to be a fantastic trip.
Barbara had a list of things to see in Nashville, but with her reading on the agenda we didn't have much more than a day to tool around. When we walked out of the place we were staying the first morning, the lawn was so green, and the red and white stripes of her shirt looked so good against it, that I asked her to risk grass stains and a morning ritual redo for a picture. She was game and silly about it and that was basically the tone of the trip as a whole.
If you haven't read Barbara's work on the blog or gotten your hands on her book yet, I encourage you to. I'd enjoyed her voice for several years before we met last year at a Scent Bar event in LA, and was surprised at how down to earth she was for a writer, let alone an active blogger. It turns out her actual physical presence is essentially like her writing - good natured, sharp and smart.
Highlights: a rose water-infused iced coffee at a place called Fido; Princess Hot Chicken (where the woman at the counter asked me how hot and I said VERY MILD, Baby steps please, to which she answered, Okay, and come on back when you're ready for the real stuff; smelling selections from Barbara's stash of vintage perfume with Maria Browning (whom I'd met and adore) and Ron Slomowicz (whom I hadn't met, and whose blissful M. Micallef Rose Extreme I smelled before he fully arrived); and staying up late with Barbara to mis-pronounce passages of text in snooty fake accents.
(Photo of Barbara taken by me last Friday morning)