Friday, February 27, 2009

Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier: Eau de Camelia Chinois

Many online reviewers have it stuck in their craw: a major offense committed by a perfume with the word camelia in its name is the fact that camellia flowers have no smell. Getting indignant about this makes about as much sense as faulting Bulgari black because color has no scent either, or Bal a Versailles, or Coco, so I won't waste much time dwelling on such a non-issue, except to remind people that perfume is more typically associative and abstract than literal and representative. I should also point out that the name of this fragrance more likely refers to the leaves and leaf buds of the camellia, which are used to produce teas such as oolong, white tea, black tea, green tea, and pu-erh tea, all of which are plenty fragrant. I'm going to venture a guess that Chinois means Chinese, too, as opposed to the kitchen utensil of the same name, lest any residual confusion around the name of this fragrance get our tightie-whities in a wad.

Reviewers also fault Eau de Camelia Chinois for smelling similar to Barney's Route de Te. It does--but again, this is like faulting the color gray for being derivative of the color black. Very few perfumes smell like nothing else known to man, let alone like no other perfume known to perfumistas. Personally I derive a lot of pleasure from discerning the differences between very similar fragrances. It helps elucidate what makes them special. Opium and Cinnabar are closely aligned, but the differences between them help you appreciate each more, and spending some time with those observations can teach you a lot about how different elements and accords can influence the same basic elements. I always like Route de Te, and it's true I might not want to own both, but Camelia has its own tonal distinctions and is worth considering separately.

The tea note is unmistakable, as is a bright ringing citrus note up top. Upon first spraying Camelia, the nostrils burn a bit, as if someone had zested a lemon or an orange rind on your skin. That settles down quickly, and the heart of the fragrance emerges. Camelia is bright throughout but has a nice, sturdy foundation, underscoring the tea and grass notes with a smokier, more herbal edge. Where Route de Te remains cheerfully bright and loud for the duration, Camelia creates a chromatic tension between light and dark, heavy and light, and, though an eau de toilette, has the lasting power of many eau de parfums.

It makes for a fantastic Spring and Summer scent and would even bring some levity and icy warmth to the winter season as well. Like Tommy Girl, it speaks with pinpoint clarity, feels crisp and clean with a hint of the dirty underbelly lurking beneath any patch of leafy green. The florals and tea are blended much more smoothly, I think, than the notes in Route de Te, resulting in a nice, mellow feel. You can smell the apple, as in Tommy Girl, but also the grapefruit, the pineapple and the banana. Less readily apparent are basil and fir, though their presence makes intuitive sense. Camelia ultimately feels more sophisticated than Route de Te to me, and proposes a nice, languid alternative to Tommy Girl's non-stop 50 kilowatt, five mile radiance.

The bottle is a big block of a thing and would look very cheap or very elegant sitting out on your dresser, depending on your taste in things and who you happen to be.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Perfection Squared; the NY Times Style Mag on Chanel No. 5, The Bottle

"Chanel's competitors have spent millions of dollars in (mostly) ill-fated attempts to produce perfume bottles as memorable as No. 5's.  Very few packages are as well known as, if not better known than, their contents: the Coca-Cola bottle is one, the Tiffany box is another.  How has Chanel done it?...

"The bottle looked dramatically different from conventional ones and echoed the work of Chanel's favorite artists and designers.  Its geometric shape evoked the 'purist villas' that pioneering Modernist architects like Le Corbusier were building for fashionable clients in and around Paris.  The sans-serif lettering was similar to the radical typefaces being developed by avant-garde designers like Jan Tschichold and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in Germany...

"Critically, Chanel softened these influences in her bottle.  The glass edges were gently rounded, making it seem less radical and more welcoming.  She achieved a similar effect with the lettering.  Whereas Tschichold and Moholy-Nagy were experimenting with sans-serif typefaces in lower-case letters and ditching old-fashioned capitals (on the grounds that they were not only undemocratic but, like decorative squiggles, unnecessarily distracting in the frenzy of modern life), Chanel did the opposite.  By using nothing but capitals, she made her label seem more authoritative and less subversive...

"A few intriguingly designed bottles have surfaced since 1921.  Chanel's archrival, Elsa Schiaparelli, kicked it off in 1937 with her surrealist-inspired Shocking bottle, shaped like Mae West's torso...  Most other perfume bottles have been forgettable at best..."

from "Message in a Bottle", by Alice Rawsthorn, The New York Times Style Magazine, Women's Fashion issue, Spring 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More on Schiaparelli and Chanel

From the New Yorker, October 27, 2003, "Mother of Invention", by Judith Thurman:
Chanel spent the war shacked up with a Nazi officer at the Ritz, on the Place Vendome, from whose windows she could have looked down upon her rival's salon.  Schiaparelli fled to New York, where, in 1942, she helped Marcel Duchamp organize "First papers of Surrealism," an exhibition that raised funds for a consortium of French relief charities.  She settled in Princeton, promoted her perfumes, lectured on fashion to adoring crowds, and volunteered as a nurse's aide at Bellevue.  The Roosevelts entertained her at the White House.  Though various manufacturers offered to bankroll a collection, she refused to design clothes in exile, out of loyalty to, and solidarity with, the couturiers and artisans of Occupied Paris.  When the war ended, she reclaimed her seventeenth-century mansion on the Rue de Berri, which had been commandeered by the germans.  White relates that she found a desk drawer filled with the visiting cards of French celebrities who had been received there, "and she never invited one of them again."  She cranked up her business, doubled the salary of everyone on her staff, and staged a comeback with bustled gowns, wasp-waisted suits, and sportswear influenced by British Army Uniforms.  Her postwar collections were critically well received, and her licensing agreements with America continued to provide a handsome source of income, but the economics of couture has changed, and, while searching for her bearings in a much altered landscape, she began, for the first time--fatally--to look back.

On February 3, 1954, two days before Chanel emerged from retirement to reopen her atelier on Rue Cambon, Schiaparelli presented what would prove to be her farewell show.  She filed for bankruptcy ten months later.  Her work was out of tune with the taste of a conservative postwar public unwilling to think too hard, and weary of irony and aggression.  Chanel became a household word, and Schiaparelli a name that the world would forget how to pronounce.  It's skYAP-a-relli.  The "ch" is hard: like her chic.

Safari by Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren launched Safari in 1990 and it was created by nose Dominique Ropion. It is now discontinued and this is such a shame, for it is a classically gorgeous chypre.

For those of you who are chypre-loving fragrance fiends Safari seems a must-have. Given the long list of notes for Safari, I find it to be rather dry and crisp and so easy to wear. Safari is potent, but just enough to last, never too much or overwhelming -- for me it’s the perfect balance of sillage and longevity.

Safari begins with a galbanum, green notes and a citrus blast, which soften quickly letting the floral heart present itself. None of the florals claim their identity to me – it’s mostly a lovely green floral on a bed of dry woods, musk and patchouli. The bitterness of many chypres is not present in Safari – yet it still maintains its gorgeous dry and green quality without ever seeming sweet. Safari seems utterly sophisticated in a classy and well-mannered way – Safari isn’t too showy and perfect for very nearly any occasion. There are many modern chypres which really smell like flor-ientals to me these days – Safari smells like a complex and beautifully rendered chypre, a true chypre, to me. I feel compelled to say it again, it’s such a shame Safari was discontinued.

You can still find Safari at many online discount perfume shops. If Safari is one of your favorites you might considering hoarding a few bottles in case it becomes one of those highly coveted scents going for $300-500 on ebay in the future.

Safari’s notes, from basenotes, are listed as:
Top: Galbanum, green notes, mandarin, aldehyde, hyacinth, orange daffodil, blackcurrant
Heart: Muguet, rose, narcissus, carnation, orchid, honey, jasmine
Base: Cedar, musk, vetiver, styrax, vanilla, amber, tonka bean, patchouli

...and the's so beautiful....

Random Thoughts on Shocking de Schiaparelli

Recently, over at, Angela posted a piece on Shocking de Schiaparelli, comparing old version to new. The lucky woman found a bottle of one or the other at the thrift store, along with a quilted robe and a shell-ornamented soap dish, and reports that the versions are only marginally related.

I've never smelled the orginal, though I was told by Christopher Brosius of CB I Hate Perfume that it surprised him: "Not at all what I expected--but then, that was Elsa's genius... I can say that I was expecting something rather deep and exotic from 'Shocking' but found it to be quite light, fresh and brisk - essentially the exact opposite of Chanel no. 5 (which present incarnation I must say I LOATHE, although I do get the point of the original)." Sometime last year, I found a bottle of Shocking (the 1990s reformulation, I'm guessing) and have thoroughly enjoyed the fragrance, however big a bastardization of the Jean Carles original it might be. For me, the newer Shocking has few peers in the category of spice rose, with an excellent ratio of longevity to projection. I'm going to put myself out on a limb and say that I suspect Brosius would dislike it, as in interviews he's made it very clear what he thinks of the volume at which contemporary perfume speaks as a whole. It's true, new Shocking speaks loudly at first, but it settles down into something I'm willing to wait out. Angela isn't exaggerating when she says a spritz of Shocking lasts all day. It does, and then some, in my experience. Honeyed and balsamic, with a prominent clove note, it grows richer and more interesting as time goes on.

Schiaparelli herself interests me more and more, too, especially after reading Canadian writer Derek McCormack's latest book, The Show That Smells. Over the top and tightly written, the novel recounts the story of a non-existant "movie" made by Todd Downing, director of the cult classic Freaks, which stars Elsa Lancaster in the role of Elsa Schiaparelli, a vampire. Her arch-nemesis: Coco Chanel. The whole thing takes place in a hall of mirrors, where Schiaparelli and Chanel fight for the soul of poor, hapless Carrie, whose husband, country singer Jimmy, is dying of Tuberculosis. Schiaparelli agrees to save Jimmy if Carrie will relinquish her soul. I think she wants to eat her, too. Schiaparelli's restorative magic elixir? Why, Shocking, of course. Chanel plays good, Schiaparelli bad, and it's abundantly clear, from the first sentence, that McCormack clearly favors the latter. The Carter Family make appearances as well in this "thrilling tale of HILLBILLIES, HIGH FASHION, AND HORROR! Literate perfume aficionados would definitely find the book thrilling--trading as it does in fashion and fragrance lore, including a longstanding , extravagantly vicious enmity between Chanel and Schiaparelli.

I'd never read much about Schiaparelli before. I assumed she was sort of a novelty act. Reading up on her after McCormack's book, I learned that a lot of this has to do with how her legacy was managed, or mismanaged. Chanel is assumed to be the more relevant, more important (i.e. better) designer. And yet to google Schiaparelli's work is to witness the intersection between surrealism and fashion in the thirties and forties: a skeleton dress, the bones quilted into the fabric; a hat shaped like an upturned shoe; a gown with simulated rips, called the Tear Dress. Schiaparelli, much more so than Chanel, had a sense of humor about what she was doing, and her direct descendants would be Comme des Garçons, Martin Margiela, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Moschino, and Etat Libre D'Orange, all of whom share her interest in playing around with the line drawn between good taste and bad, low brow and high. To assume that Schiaparelli is no longer the household word that Chanel is would be tantamount to saying that Van Gogh never sold any paintings during his lifetime because he was a dreadfully untalented painter.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tomato, Tomawto: The Many Faces of a Perfume (or, Just Who Do You Think You're Talking To?)

You never know what you're going to get when you order perfume off the internet these days.  Everyone knows you take your chances with Ebay (will it be the right formulation, or even the real thing?) but many of the other fragrance vendors can be just as inconsistent.  Back when I ordered Bandit, for instance (from I don't remember where), I received what I imagined must be the latest iteration.  In Seattle, months later, I smelled from a bottle in an off-the-path perfume store and it seemed to be the same.  I'd never smelled Bandit before purchasing it so had nothing to go by, but I'd read Lucca Turin's review of the fragrance in Perfume: The Guide, which reports that the modern reformulation is pretty faithful to the original(s).  The bottle at the perfume shop in Seattle looked like it had been on the shelf for a good many years.  The box had that beat up quality.  The one I'd purchased online seemed a little newer.  After all this, I found two quarter ounce bottles of Bandit pure parfum.  They smelled heavenly, much better than the others I'd come across, but the bone structure was there, and the difference was no more than the one between most EDP and parfum extrait concentrations.

I was excited to get back to Perfume House this year because they carry the Robert Piguet line.  Looking back, I couldn't understand why I would have ignored Bandit my first time there.  Wouldn't I have snatched it up immediately, such an arresting perfume?  I can't even remember smelling it.  Maybe, I thought, I just wasn't yet evolved enough and didn't recognize its greatness.  Maybe my tastes needed to mature a little.  I'd been much more attracted to Visa during that first visit to Perfume House.  Because I have Bandit now, I wasn't interested in getting any more this time.  But I was very interested in picking up a bottle of Baghari, which I'd seen at the Los Angeles Barney's months ago and liked.  I'd been given a sample of it during my visit and ultimately decided against buying any; since then, having spent more time with the Baghari, I realized I wanted some, and planned on buying it at the Perfume House.

This is where it gets confusing.  In December, a friend from Portland visited.  She agreed to pick up a bottle of Visa for me at the Perfume House.  I figured I should resume my exploration of Piguet there, since Visa was the one I'd initially found most compelling, but when my friend/courier arrived with said merchandise, I didn't really recognize the smell.  I did and I didn't.  It seemed less interesting at first and I had to adjust my expectations.  In my head, "Visa" had become something else, richer, more visceral.  By comparison, this here was plain old fruity gourmand.  Fast foward to my recent return to the Perfume House.  Another customer came in, looking for something special.  She'd just been initiated into niche perfumery and the world of fragrance teeming just under the surface of the face mainstream  fragrance shows to the world.  I couldn't resist making suggestions, and went directly to Bandit, excited by the prospect of blowing someone's mind--but when we sprayed it on a cotton ball, it smelled nothing like the Bandit I know.  It bore no similarity, even, that I could tell.  Gone was the grassy splendor; gone the strange, perversely au contraire base.  This was powdery and prissy, a stuffy society lady to old Bandit's Sartre-reading, gender-bending, chiffon and leather streetwalker.  Perfume House is reliable and I trust these are the latest versions of Piguet, as they say, so what's up?  Are THEY being lied to?

Complicating things, Baghari smelled nothing like the tester I'd been given at Barney's.  I could see about as much relation between the one and the other as I could between Bandits Now and Then.  Did I mix u all my testers?  Did Barney's have a different version of Baghari?  The tester was a wonder of jasmine and rose under a fizzy layer of citrus aldehyde.  I could see, smelling it, the perfume Turin seemed to be talking about in The Guide.  The one at Perfume House was equally lovely but in an entirely different direction, distorting my ability to immediately appreciate it on its own merits.  And while I'm thinking about it, why did Barney's even have Baghari?  Why Baghari but not Bandit, when both are about as obscure to the average consumer?  Why Baghari but not Fracas, for that matter, which is recognizable enough to have put Baghari in some kind of useful context for the uninitiated?  Was the tester I was given at Barney's LA even Baghari in the first place, or did I simply remember it that way?

The virgin buyer of Bandit might be getting any one of several versions, whether he walks into a store or shops online.  Add to this the fact that some retailers are no better than the sales force at Sephora when it comes to knowing what they have in stock and what it should smell like.  My first bottle of Bandit was opened and partially used.  I sent it back and got another, equally beaten but at least unopened.  I was lucky and got an older version.  How many others aren't so lucky, and think we're smelling the same thing when they sound in on  It isn't just Piguet and a classic like Bandit, known by many without, more often than not, actually having been smelled (after all, I heard about Bandit and many other perfumes long before I actually got my hands on them).  It's any old perfume, no pun intended.

It's Magie Noire, for instance.  The first time I smelled it was in a discount shop.  Do I need to tell you that the second time I smelled it I barely recognized the thing?  It's Anais Anais, which is said to be very much the same as always and I believed this, until I smelled a bottle from the eighties and had a very different impression.  Is Lou Lou the same old Lou Lou?  Is Coco the same old Coco my sister wore in high school?  How much of the perceived changes between one and the other has to do with the passage of time and the distortions of memory?  How much is someone else's tinkering around?  We all know that natural musks have gone the way of the Studebaker, changing the face of nearly every perfume in some minimal to profound way, and that various other ingredients have been outlawed as if they were crack cocaine or hashish and the public must be protected from them lest they serve as gateways to more insidious contraband.  Everybody knows that one perfume is repackaged as an entirely new thing using the same name, while another is presented as if an entirely new entity under a totally different name, and some of us catch these things, but how do you discuss perfume when you never know what you're dealing with from one to the next, or whether you're even talking about the same thing?  It's like discussing the color red with someone viewing things through rose-tinted glasses nobody told you or him he was wearing.  You both might as well be color blind.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust: Fendi Palazzo

I'm having trouble figuring out why it's so hard to find much on the perfume blogs about Fendi Palazzo. I suppose it will be even harder now that the fragrance has been discontinued. Where it is mentioned, more often than not, the reviewer seems resolutely unimpressed with the juice, however high the marks for the bottle. Interestingly, that bottle seems the height of overkill to me, like the coat worn by a woman I saw pumping gas today: floor length velour, a bold print of recurring tiger heads, sparkling cut glass "jewels" for eyes. The bottle for Palazzo strikes me as something someone who pronounces Versace incorrectly might adore all out of proportion. I don't reget its discontinuation. The fragrance itself I'll have a hard time doing without.

On Basenotes they're downright merciless about Palazzo; on, a little less theatrically dismissive. The chief complaint seems to be what many of its detractors perceive as a striking similarity to Angel. I smell no such similarity. To me, Palazzo shares more in common with Karma by Lush. It has the bold assertiveness of Angel, along with its odd juxtaposition of off-center elements, and of course, being an Annick Menardo fragrance, it feels foody, all of which might be why people reach for that comparison. Then too, the patchouli is right up front. But for me it's as if Menardo refined and elevated Karma's appeal. There's absolutely a bit of the head shop to Palazzo: some incense, an ambience which comes off like smoke or resin. There's also a strange, citrus brightness there, albeit buried so deeply underneath the surface that it registers almost subliminally.

Palazzo is related to Menardo's Lolita Lempicka, as well, and in fact feels like a simultaneously muted and amped up version of that juice, where the sense of sugary saturation is adjusted to more tolerable levels. Palazzo subtracts Lolita's vanilla ad-infinitum foundation, replacing it with patchouli and gaic wood. Both fragrances have similar notes up top and in the middle. Down below they go their separate ways. I admire Lolita and even owned a small bottle for a time, until I faced the fact that it wasn't something I was going to get much if any wear out of and gifted it to someone else. It was something I wanted to like and wished I could wear, but it made me feel silly somehow, like I'd baked something in my easy bake oven and decided to smear it all over myself. Palazzo wears a more serious expression. It feels a little more sophisticated and I get a lot more mileage out of it.

And why not? There's a lot to like. It last forever, projects exceptionally, and though I seem to be anosmic to most musky scents, this one keeps reasserting itself throughout its lifespan. Palazzo is a friend whose merits I try to point out to the rest of my crowd, without much luck. More for me, as they say--while supplies last, anyway. Sephora, which has pulled Palazzo from its shelves in all but gift set form (packaged with shower gel), classifies it as a woody oriental. Osmoz regards it as "floral - woody musk" and, in addition to patchouli and gaic wood, lists the following notes: mandarin orange, lemon, bergamot, pink pepper, orange blossom, rose, and jasmine. I should also say that I see similarities between Palazzo and Burberry Brit Gold, though again, Palazzo manages to be everything I wish that other fragrance would be.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What's in a Name: More on Etat Libre D'Orange

Whenever my good friend Bard is over, I present him with a selection of fragrances to smell, hoping to hear wildly detailed descriptions. Bard is a writer and always has something interesting to say about even the most ostensibly thoroughly uninteresting subjects, so my hope each time is that he'll describe what I'm smelling in some way which will support my conjured vision of it.

He always disappoints me. Actually, I'm often frustrated, if not inwardly furious. Rather than give me elaborate narratives he offers cryptic, inert, one word summaries. "Play-doh," he says, handing the bottle back to me, or "Astro-turf." Sometimes he gets a little wordier. "I'm reminded of a cat doing a dance on an umbrella," perhaps, or: "This one is hamster cage--with a trace of hamster pee." I'm convinced he does this to annoy me, to short circuit the carefully wrought fantasy life I've built around the perfumes I like and perfume in general, but I'm also willing to concede that he might just see fragrance differently than I do; not as a procession of florals and leathers and orientals and gourmands but as an amorphous stream of wildly diverse associations and abstractions.

I thought of this today because a few more Etat Libre D'Orange perfumes arrived in the mail. In the past, I enjoyed Jasmine et Cigarette and Rien, but I've resisted buying any more of the line's creations until now, and I'm not sure why. I suspect it might be all the bad feeling around them, which influences me more than I realize--though now that I'm aware of this I want to look at them even more intently.

I find the discussion revolving around this line and its aesthetic more than a little perplexing. While enough people appreciate the perfumes, many more don't, or do only grudgingly, scoffing at the advertising schema or the florid copy, closer to old purple prose porn like Lady Chatterly than something describing the pyramid of your average fruity floral. We perfumistas say we're wise to the way fragrance companies talk about their product, able to discern between reality (what it smells like to us) and fantasy (what they say it conjures), and yet Etat Libre D'Orange, which gently mocks this way of selling and looking at perfume, is taken so seriously by some of the most ardent among us that you often wonder what exactly they want: the truth, or a more skillfully worded lie.

I would wager that Etat, like Bard, knows that you can describe fragrance in any number of ways, if you liberate yourself from the comforting straitjacket of perfume convention, and that in doing so you can expand your fantasy life exponentially, liberating it from the ad copy to which it adheres so closely into some terra incognito of pleasure and impulse. Many people take umbrage with the company's bold pronouncements, the whole "revolutionizing perfume" posture assumed by the ad copy, and, holding that up to the silly pop art erotic playfulness of the ad imagery, they (I think) mistakenly assume that Etat must be full of it, a clueless company unwittingly contradicting itself. How can you assert that you're the most radical thing to come along in modern perfumery and expect to be taken seriously when you package your product in ridiculously infantile parodies of sex and gender? Well, exactly. Almost every perfume house known to perfume lovers does exactly that, in a more meticulously evolved way.

People act as though Etat is celebrating the iconography of porn, and to an extent they are, but they're also poking fun at the way perfume is sold to us, showing us, in the process, how even the most jaded among us demand this approach. We demand to be sold sex like we're impressionable children--and so what, anyway. We want our fantasy world supported and indulged, however childish, and perhaps it should be. Perhaps we should embrace that rather than pretend it doesn't exist in the more evolved. What if Etat weren't trying at all to take perfume advertising all the way but to show us that it's already there and we just don't see it, if only because, for the most part, we choose not to? Could we then look at the perfumes for what they are, and maybe acknowledge that when Etat says they want to revolutionize the world of perfume, they mean the way it's perceived more than the way it's sold or composed?

People complain. The perfumes aren't all THAT. Snap. They aren't so very groundbreaking or unusual. Snap snap (Oh no I didn't!) But of course they are. Compare them to anything at the mall and you see that it's true, that even when they tweak pop formulas just the tiniest bit, they're showing how rigid mainstream and even niche perfumery typically is. That isn't to say that some of these perfumes aren't thrillingly strange. Secretions Magnifiques certainly is. It's mostly to say they needn't go very far to show up contemporary perfumery for what it is: afraid of its own shadow, chicken when it comes to taking even the smallest, subtlest risks. "Subversive"? "Disturbing"? Oh come on, now. Have a sense of humor. What's the difference between Etat using these words to describe Secretions and venerable Guerlain saying, of Insolence, "The irreverent scent of youth, daring, and freedom"? Oh REALLY. Freedom from what, exactly? The difference, perhaps, is one between tongue in cheek and head so far up own ass. I'm pretty sure the one, openly cartoonish, is having a laugh at the other.

Vraie Blonde is a comic vision of succulence and fizz, and at the same time a refined construction which sits interestingly beside fragrances like Mitsouko and Yvresse, chatting up a storm with them. Encens et Bubblegum is what the name says and more, and the unusual combination of words, rather than restricting you to reductive associations, encourages you to make new ones. These are playful, skillfully done, often gorgeous juices--and remarkably consistent in vision. They participate in the history of fragrance even as they assist in ushering us into its future. It's clear to me that nothing whatsoever about Etat Libre D'Orange is crass or obsessed with the bottom line. The pictures of spurting penises and Dali lips blowing nippled bubbles might strike you as obscene. They might strike you as shameless attempts to get your attention or your money. But what Etat is doing has nothing to do with cutting corners or selling short.

It's hard to imagine any other company, even Comme des Garçons, releasing Secretions Magnifiques, though it makes sense that the perfumers behind Etat do so much work for that company. Comme des Garçons, like Etat, is interested in expanding and exploring what it means to enjoy or appreciate perfume. What should--what can--perfume be? How should we talk about it? Does it HAVE to smell like this or that? If so, who says? What's the lingua franca, or can there be one? Maybe it's too personal. Maybe we call it flowers and fruity gourmands because this shorthand, however shy of the truth, is the readiest common barometer. If that's the case, who's pandering to the bottom line? The angrier or more indignant people get about Etat's methodology, the more interested I become in their project and perfumes. It's clear they're touching nerves--and with such wonderful prods.

To me, Secretions Magnifique is conceptual art applied to perfume, and to smell it is to engage with the phenomenon of fragrance in unusual, even exceptional, ways. If Secretions Magnifique falls, to some, or even all, just this side of unwearable, so what? I get tickled and fascinated when people start talking about wearability. Bandit, even now, is considered not so very wearable by some, and it troubles me not the least. Perfume doesn't necessarily have to be about wearability, and in fact, when I smell Mitsouko and my mind starts racing and the synapses start firing, I'm not thinking about how good it will go with my shirt or my suit. Hopefully, I'm beyond the restrictions of such thinking. I'm simply fantasizing, in some dreamy netherworld of mood and sensation. To me, Etat Libre D'Orange speaks to THAT kind of liberation: the enjoyment of perfume for enjoyment's sake.

Put another way, why should Bard change his vocabulary to fit my limited imagination?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

L'Heure Attendue

During a recent visit to The Perfume House in Portland, I surveyed what was left of their vintage stock of Jean Patou, five or six bottles of varying sizes and concentrations. The instant favorite was Divine Folie, a carnation- and clove-laden attention grabber. Adieu Sagesse was, for me, a pretty variation on L'Heure Bleu. L'Heure Attendue was a nice, slightly aldehydic melange of florals complicated by woods, faint spices and patchouli. Testers for all three, along with Amour Amour and Chaldee, sat out on the counter as I browsed the store's inventory, and when I came back to them, the distorted top notes had tapered off, and I was surprised to find how much I liked L'Heure Attendue.

I didn't smell it again until this Monday, a week later, when it arrived in the mail. The bottle is gorgeous, with a blue glass berry-cluster stopper. It comes wrapped in a geometrically patterned silk scarf, and once I got the stubborn stopper out (without breaking it, whew), some of the juice spilled on the fabric, more of which later. I dabbed some on my arm--along with about four or five other things which had been shipped with it--and went about my business, and an hour later, something kept catching my attention. It took me a while to figure out that this wondrous thing on my skin was in fact L'Heure Attendue, which had smelled nice enough earlier but now seemed to have morphed into something beyond words. You hear a lot of talk about development in perfume, but I rarely see anything that strays so very far from where it starts. That's not to say L'Heure Attendue goes off on improbable tangents. It's just that I didn't pay so much attention to it until it settled into what is clearly its general state of affairs, a langorously spiced floral with enough wood tone to it that it seems a little more modern than you're at first apt to assume.

There's lily-of-the valley in this 1946 Henri Almeiras fragrance, created to commemorate the liberation of France. I don't know that I detect it exactly. I can't actually discern any of Attendue's individual notes: geranium, lilac, ylang ylang, jasmine, rose, opoponax. I do smell some of the mysore sandalwood, and in some weird way Attendue reminds me a bit of Chanel's Bois des Iles. It also reminds me of another beautiful aldehyde, Ferre de Ferre, the incensed violets of which conjure the image of a chic headshop, where fur-draped, perfumed society women slum among glass pipes and velvet, black light posters. Attendue has that curious incense quality to it, though the floral accords are not as specific. Lush Karma shares this head shop quality; a more contemporary composition, it replaces the florals with a citrus influence. Nothing really prepared me for how lovely L'Heure Attendue is, but I'm glad I grabbed a bottle; judging by its scarcity, I seem to be one of the few who didn't seem to know the fragrance was worth having. About that scarf: Its aroma has persisted all week, and the scent on fabric is even more divine, where it plays out in stop motion.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

This Week at the Perfume Counter: The Perfume House, Portland, Oregon

I have a soft spot for this little off-the-beaten path place, so I was excited, a few months ago, when I found out I'd be able to make a trip back to Portland this month. Around this time last year, I visited and, on the hunt for perfume, was directed to Hawthorne Street, where the Perfume House sits just back enough off the road that you might miss it if you drove by too fast. I drove slowly. The store is aptly named; situated in an old house, the first floor is almost entirely taken up by fragrance. Last year I had a crash course on Lutens and L'Artisan. I obsessed over all the Comme des Garçons. I wasn't so interested in Patou's Ma Collection; I only learned later that they'd all been discontinued and many are hard to find. I would have paid a lot more attention, had I known back then. The Perfume House has an extensive selection of Caron, and I got a primer on those. I smelled the Montales, Etro, Amouage, D'Orsay, Carthusia.

I was overwhelmed and excited during my initial visits to the Perfume House, so this trip was a welcome opportunity to get a little more specific, spending more time on things I'd either missed in the shuffle or overlooked out of general beginner's ignorance. I've learned a lot in the space of a year, too, and was able to focus on rarer items, like a single bottle of Molto Missoni (tarry, smoky, floral: me likey) and Elsha, a cheapo but lovely leather toilette with a modest but committed following of admirers. I found a few things I'd been looking for all year, like Balenciaga's Quadrille; this one is very nice, subtle but rich, my favorite of all the old Balenciagas I've smelled (Le Dix, Prelude, Portos, Ho Hang). I revisited the Ma Collection, snatching up bottles of Divine Folie (wondrous carnation!), Adieu Sagesse, and L'Heure Attendue. I passed on Amour Amour and Chaldee, which were pretty but didn't arouse must have psychosis. L'Heure Attendue is spicy wood on the dry down: sandalwood and patchouli, according to Jan Moran. There's also geranium, lilac, rose, ylang ylang. Adieu Sagesse is the final entry in Patou's love trilogy and makes wonderful use of carnation, a floral note present in many of the Ma Collection fragrances. The focus seems to be on gardenia but I'll have to spend more time with it. Adieu wears like a skin scent, floral musk and a bit green.

There are no more bottles of Vacances in stock, but they had a tester in the back and brought it out so I could at least get a whiff. Turns out Vacances is one of my all time top five favorite fragrances. It must be as popular with others. Of all the Ma Collection testers, it was the only practically empty bottle. In fact, there was barely enough left to spritz out onto a cotton ball. Over at Bois de Jasmin, Vacances is characterized as "intense verdancy", "a perfect juxtaposition of delicate peppery and green sap notes folding into honeyed sweetness." Intense about gets it. Vacances is leafy green and lilac, and totally out of this world lovely. It also gets my vote for best use of galbanum. In addition to Vacances I smelled Cocktail and, finally, Pascal Morabito's Or Black. There was none of the latter in stock (you can only get Or Black in France now) and I could see why Turin raves about it and others want to get their hands on some.

Perfume House, like other older perfume shops (Parfumerie Nasreen, in Seattle, for instance), does have rarities like Molto Missoni in stock. There are early Parfums de Nicolaï, Safraniere and other discontinued Comptoir Sud Pacifique selections, Zut by Schiaparelli, even various Crown fragrances. I picked up Sandringham, Crown Fougere, and Crown Park Royal, all very nice. Sandringham is my favorite of these period pieces, all three distinctly bygone-era masculines. All three last amazingly well, too, and have a base which seems characteristic of the line, rich in moss and sweetened woods. Sandringham is distinguished by a well-blended muguet note. Crown Park Royal uses galbanum in a way which places it close to contempoary fragrances like Romeo Gigli's Sud Est and patchouli in a way which places it squarely on top of Michael by Michael Kors. Park Royal exceeds both in terms of subtelty, managing to use some very heady materials without being taken hostage by them.

After several days at Perfume House I finally did the math. I'd been spending so much on fragrances I liked, when for the same amount I could get one I truly love. Amouage Jubilation XXV is to my mind a Bertrand Duchaufour masterpiece. Timbuktu is swell but poof and it's gone. Likewise Dzongkha, Mechant Loop, Sienne D'Hiver and his entries in Comme des Garcons' Red Series. I like them all but on me they're little more than skin scents. Not so Jubilation XXV. Months ago I'd been given a sample, most of which I wore out on the town in LA one night. Jubilation really commands the space around you in a way I love, its fruits and spices burnished with just the right amount of frankincense. It projects and attracts. Wearing it, I felt electric, and thought if I ever had that kind of money for a bottle of perfume, this would be it. Of course, once you've purchased three or four bottles of perfume, you've spent that kind of money. Realizing this, I took my unopened "like" buys back to Perfume House to trade in for a "love".

The best part of the place is the staff: the best I've encountered in any fragrance retail environment. As I remembered, they were friendly and helpful without being obtrusive or overly chatty. Tracy, in particular, is always great to shop with.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille: A Review

Back in 2007, Guerlain launched a limited edition fragrance called Spiritueuse Double Vanille. Vanilla is a key ingredient in “Guerlinade,” which is the name for the house’s signature accord. The Guerlainade accord is supposed to be what makes almost all of their fragrances smell especially Guerlain-esque. I like vanilla, and I love almost all Guerlain fragrances, but there was something about the idea of Spiritueuse Double Vanille that simply bored me, I didn’t even care to try it.

Last week I purchased a bottle of Spiritueuse Double Vanille. Again, I was so bored with the idea of it that it took me several days to try it. Yesterday I wore it. Initially, I thought my preconceived notions were true. For the first hour I kept thinking that this was the essence of brand mystique – that everyone was in love with it simply because it’s Guerlain.

Then…Spiritueuse Double Vanille began to work its magic on me. As hard as I fought it…as much as I had logically decided that SDV was no big deal, that it’s simply vanilla, it’s boring…it won me over. Spiritueuse Double Vanille absolutely smells like vanilla, but not that icky sweet artificial vanilla, this is vanilla with earthy, spicy realness and depth.

If you’ve ever bought a high quality organic vanilla extract to use in your baked goods, you’ve come fairly close to smelling SDV. SDV has that boozy quality that real vanilla extract has, and it also contains a fair amount of soft spices, woods and incense, just enough to give it depth and complexity. To say that SDV is stunning would be overly high praise in my mind, but it is perhaps the nicest vanilla fragrance I’ve smelled. While SDV is not too sweet it is still absolutely a gourmand fragrance. SDV is essentially a vanilla fragrance done by the house of Guerlain – which is to say the nicest I’ve come across. As others have said, Guerlain SDV is extremely comforting, soft and soothing. I’ve also read other reviews suggesting that there is a dark animalistic side to SDV – this is not something I smell. SDV is pretty much a straight up boozy vanilla extract, nothing more exciting, more carnal or more edgy than that. Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille is quite simply a very well done vanilla – that smells verrrry good.

Notes are listed as: vanilla, spices, benzoin, frankincense, cedar, pink pepper, bergamot, Bulgarian rose and ylang ylang.

Longevity: excellent 4-5 hours
Sillage: I used a lot – those around me could smell it
Rating: 4 stars

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Serge Lutens Chypre Rouge: A Review

I love spicy. I love orientals. I love the color red. I love warmth. I love slightly sweet scents and I love dry scents. I love vegetal, woods and celery notes. Chypre Rouge, containing all these elements, seems as if it were made for me.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed reading Lutens’ ludicrously incoherent press releases. The press release for Chypre Rouge is one of his most amusing:

“I remember looking at the forest ground, covered with dead leaves, and finding it both macabre and beautiful. Something caught my attention: a strange patch of moss at the base of a tree, it looked as if it were bleeding, purple and red. Ceremonial dress, splendid and dying, lit by the rays of a nearby clearing. “Don’t deny, you will confess!” In this doorless dungeon we look for an exit. Thin light comes from a murdering hole. Eagle nest, precious stones, coat of arms, standards, what are we made of? Eternity, limpidity, freshness, beauty, velvet softness. A secret continent of which we would be the body, in golden darkness, moss of spices and vermeil. The kiss of a choirboy on the ring of an archbishop. Softness and depth, secret in scents where, laying our cheeks we can only dream.”

After smelling Chypre Rouge, there is something about the press release that makes sense to me – something I can’t put words to – something along the lines of a feeling.

Chypre Rouge is easily identifiable as a Lutens/Sheldrake creation. It starts with the hallmark spice stew – but this time sans fruits – this time, solely vegetal spice stew. I smell celery, which is a good thing, because I like the salty celery-vegetal note. I also find Bvlgari Black to have a prominent celery note and I quite like Black. The vegetal/celery note does not last but more than 10-15 minutes and then Chypre Rouge becomes all dry spices, woods, with a dash of sweetness. These spices are not listed but there’s definitely an aroma of curry, cumin, cinnamon and anise. Chypre Rouge hits the back of my throat and nearly makes me cough.

Chypre Rouge makes me visualize the Middle East – the desert – on a cool night after a hot day – it’s dark, I’m alone, I see a campfire in the distance. The air is spiced, dry and foreign as if I’m on another planet. The fire in the distance intrigues me; I smell the flames and the burning charred woods – the winds whip about me every so often, making certain I remember that I’m alone. The sky is dark inky blue with a bright full moon. I want to walk over to the campfire to meet the strangers but I’m afraid. I’m just standing there breathing, feeling the wind and breathing.

To say that Chypre Rouge is transporting, is an understatement. I like abstract perfumes – those that smell like unnatural synthetic man-made aromas – but Chypre Rouge is a wonderfully natural yet foreign aroma. It almost doesn’t smell like perfume at all – more like sticking your head into a spice cabinet and inhaling. But while it smells naturally like spices & woods, there is still something unnatural about it, something obviously man-made. This is a good thing. If Chypre Rouge smelled only of a spice cabinet I don’t think I’d bother wearing it and inhaling it over and over again while closing my eyes and feeling far away and dreamy.

I can’t imagine wearing Chypre Rouge in anything but cold weather. It is a warming fragrance, and for those who truly love spices, it’s a beautiful thing.

Notes: thyme, pine needles, honey, beeswax, jasmine, pecans, fruit gums, patchouli, amber, vanilla, moss, musk

Longevity: very good, 4-5 hours
Sillage: surprisingly close to the skin considering how it starts off so loud
Rating: 4 stars

Friday, February 6, 2009

TWRT 2.06.09

I forgot to tell you this last week – I heard on NPR that grapefruit fragrance makes a person seem 8 years younger. So stock up on Diptyque Oyedo or Guerlain Pamplelune…;-) (It was NPR, National Public Radio, it must be true!)

I’ve been so busy this week I haven’t watched any of my favorite TV shows. I still need to catch up on last Sunday’s Big Love.

Confession: I received Aquolina Pink Sugar shower gel as a free gift with a purchase from I have never smelled Pink Sugar, but I love the shower gel. For some strange reason I like my bathroom smelling like strawberry cotton candy. It’s weird.

I didn’t have time to cook but I found a fabulous Japanese restaurant that delivers. Oddly, they have a few Malaysian dishes and their roti canai appetizer was delish.

I love Oprah, but this doesn’t feel cathartic like admitting I love Martha Stewart. I think most people like Oprah. Oprah’s recent magazine cover where she shows two photos of herself side-by-side – in one photo she’s obviously many pounds thinner and the caption reads: “How did I let this happen again?” Oprah and Martha seem opposite ends of a spectrum. Oprah seems to be a true, genuine and flawed human being while Martha projects a fantasy of perfection. Well, I love ‘em both.

Animal lovers: I recently switched to a high protein - low carb dog food because I’ve known several people whose pets developed diabetes because of their diets. Dogs and cats would never consume so much carbohydrate (aka sugar) in nature. Contrary to what I used to think, a good quality canned dog food is healthy. Now I mix dry food with canned food – both low carb. If you live in the U.S. I highly recommend a company called WagginTails. Simply order online and they deliver superfast:

Seriously, were you as pissed off as me that People magazine put that photo of Jessica Simpson on the cover and suggested she was fat?

I haven’t worn Guerlain Chamade in a long time – I wore it this week and loved it. Sometimes only wearing fragrances every once in a great while allows you to revisit them all over again as if new.

Keiko Mecheri Genie de Bois smells quite similar to Serge Lutens Bois de Violette

The first day I bought Perfumes: The Guide I read the entire book cover to cover. It was an enjoyable read. Lately I pick it up now and again to read what LT & TS thought of something new I’ve tried. Since I love LouLou by Cacharel; like Noa and sort of like Amor Amor I tried Eden because LT gave it 4 stars. What on earth is he smelling? Eden is gaggity.

Have a fragrant weekend, ya'll!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cartier So Pretty: A Review

Brian told me Cartier’s So Pretty was really good. I bought it unsniffed. He says I’m highly suggestible. He’s right, but I also trust his nose.

So Pretty arrived a few days ago. It is aptly named. Perhaps more appropriate would be *SO* Pretty. Before writing this review, I poked around online, to find the list of notes and see what others have to say about it. I’m surprised to find very few reviews. The Non-Blonde just wrote a review a few weeks ago where she noted her surprise at how little has been written about this gorgeous perfume. (Brian, is there where you found out about So Pretty?!).

So Pretty is an ultra feminine scent, but it’s not girly. A real adult woman can wear So Pretty with confidence. So Pretty starts off smelling like a fruity rose floral hovering at the edge of a modern chypre. I know I just wrote the dreaded words “fruity floral” but So Pretty is not insipid or thin instead it’s quite classic with some “heft” and depth. I agree with The Non-Blonde that So Pretty is a classic floral in the same vein as Annick Goutal’s Grand Amour and Guerlain’s Chamade – I would also include Yvresse, Joy, Rive Gauche, 1000 and Parfums de Nicolaï Odalisque as being perfumes in a similar style with So Pretty. If I had to categorize So Pretty I’d call it a classic *fresh* floral – it doesn’t have much in the way of spices, musk or woods – so it’s mainly a well-blended abstract dewy floral scent.

Cartier So Pretty is a beautiful fragrance and one that deserves more high praise.

Longevity: excellent, 5+ hours
Sillage: good, depending on application could be strong, 2-3 spritzes are plenty
Rating: 4 starts

This review is based upon the eau de parfum – I do not know how the eau de toilette compares.

Basenotes list the notes as: mandarin, dewberry, neroli, iris, diamond orchid, rose, sandalwood, musk

Mitsouko & Me

Every so often you have to put up with my ramblings. Today I wore Mitsouko edp so I was thinking about it on and off all day. I love Mitsouko, but, as much as I love it, I’ve frequently wondered why it’s so revered by perfumistas. Maybe I will answer my own question by writing about my relationship with Mitsouko.

I wear Mitsouko when I don’t have time to think about what I’d like to wear. Mitsouko is a “go to” fragrance for me. It works for nearly any occasion. In a way, it’s that perfect little black dress – which is effortless and classic, garners compliments and you know you look good in it. I do not swoon when I smell Mitsouko. I love the aroma, I really do, but I don’t swoon. I’d say that I enjoy Misouko, I appreciate it, I feel completely comfortable in it, I will always have a bottle, but I do not swoon.

In a way, Mitsouko works for me as a practical fragrance. Mitsouko is practical as opposed to fussy; handsome, with good bone structure as opposed to gorgeous or stunning. Mitsouko seems humble; she seems like the offspring from a loving family with old money as opposed to the offspring of the flashy nouveau riche with multiple nannies. Mitsouko is not an ultra luxurious car, she is more like a high end Honda – she runs beautifully, smoothly, she’s dependable; she’s probably a conservative silver or black. Oh, but she definitely has heated leather seats.

Mitsouko is the standard. I guess that’s the big deal. I might not swoon, but I can’t think of any other perfume which hits all the same notes as Mitsouko. I’ll be happily married to Mitsouko for the rest of my life. Like all good marriages, I suppose I need to tell her that I love her and appreciate her every so often.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Téo Cabanel Oha: A Review

Because of my immense love for Alahine, which falls easily within my top 10 fragrances of all time, in fact, it’s within my top 5 favorites of all time, I haven’t worn the other Téo Cabanel offerings very much. Lately I’ve been swooning for Amouage Lyric and enjoying other oriental-rose type fragrances so when I went away last weekend I brought one bottle with me and this was: Oha. I wanted to spend some time with Oha and see if I liked it.

To backtrack for a moment, Téo Cabanel is a little gem of a perfume company, with its roots in the late 1800’s. Téo Cabanel reestablished itself in 2005 under the direction of Caroline Moncouqut and the perfumer/nose being Jean-Francois Latty. Jean Francois Latty has also done YSL Jazz and YSL Pour Homme. It was March’s review on Perfume Posse which led me to sample Alahine in the first place, otherwise I had never heard of this small perfume house.

It was just a few months before I launched The Posh Peasant that I sampled Alahine, Oha and Julia. Immediately I knew that I *must* have this perfume line available at The Posh Peasant. Téo Cabanel’s official website states that they use the finest, 100% natural ingredients, and no compromises are made on quality. This certainly seems true as their fragrances do smell very high quality. Téo Cabanel creates perfumes which are modern takes on a decidedly classic French style – which is my personal favorite.

Oha is a beautiful rose oriental and I’m so glad I finally took some time with it. The notes are listed as: roses from Bulgaria and Morocco, jasmine, cardamom, vanilla, iris, tonka bean, woods, and white musk. It’s not listed among the notes but I think there’s an element of patchouli in Oha, which seems to anchor the rose and other florals. There’s a slight similarity with L’Artisan’s Voleur de Roses (though much less patchouli registers in Oha), but I actually think Oha is more complex, interesting and has excellent longevity in comparison. Another comparison would be Juliette Has a Gun's Citizen Queen, which I also love, but Oha is less dark and spicy than Citizen Queen and the rose is more prominent in Oha. Oha begins with slightly hesperidic notes, tea rose and sparkling woods. It definitely starts off more rosy in the beginning than when it dries down. At the start you might think it’s all about rose, but the rose, while present throughout, walks off center stage after about an hour. The majority of time Oha is on my skin I smell a lovely retro oriental aroma, with slight whiffs woody notes, and a teensy bit of powdered vanilla to soften the edges of the rose petals. Oha is refreshingly crisp yet comfortably warm. Oha is classified as a chypre but I think of it as an oriental, however, for either category I find it light as opposed to heavy and very easy to wear. Oha smells elegant and expensive, it’s easily an evening fragrance, but when applied with a light hand it also works beautifully as a day-time fragrance.

Longevity: excellent 4-5 hours
Sillage: nice, individuals close to you will compliment
Rating: 4 stars