Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sleight of Hand: Opium, Version Now

Whenever an actress of a certain age who has disappeared for a few months returns on the scene with a perky new set of bangs, I always start looking for the tell tale signs of a nip and tuck. When something seems different, it typically is. This happens to me on the rare occasion I shave. Did I do something different to my hair? New glasses? New diet, maybe? I get this kind of reaction so reliably that it occurred to me, the last time I shaved, that such an occasion would be a very good time to plan some small subterfuge. That's taking it for granted I could afford plastic surgery.

News of the newly designed Opium bottle filled me with a sinking feeling. What could YSL be trying to hide? Surely this wouldn't be the first time someone has tinkered around with the formula. Whether or not I like the new bottle (I do, on it's own terms, and I don't, compared to the iconic look of the original) is beside the point. The perfume itself is far more important to me. I've been suffering from a feeling of helplessness lately. It would be one thing if I adored a lot of the newer fragrances I smell. I don't; or not so much. So there's that: I'm not a fan of the direction fragrance is taking. I'm not a die hard for vintage either, especially. I'm happy with the way fragrances smelled in the eighties and early to mid nineties. But everything is starting to smell very similar to me in a certain sense, and not in a way which feels motivated by passing fashion, like the big boned stuff of the eighties, say, or the Angel clone mine field of the nineties.

I can't describe this sameness, exactly. It's something I sense the moment I smell something which has just been released or reformulated. The new Rochas has this quality of deja vu. The new Mitsouko. I mention these because I feel they've been reformulated with care and consideration for the most part, as has Opium. The point is, even reformulations I like and recognize as having a clear relationship to their prior incarnations are starting to bum me out, because they smell like somebody's desperate vision of Now.

Opium smells great, as it turns out. But along with the hard orange plastic which used to encase it, something more substantial has been removed. YSL will tell you it's the same fragrance, of course, and most people who love Opium will not feel it has changed, the way, say, longtime lovers of Estee Lauder's Beautiful sense a change in their beloved fragrance of choice. Beautiful smells like Beautiful, but not like it always did. Opium still has the carnation, which is reason enough for relief. I imagined that would have to be the first to go in a bid for "modernization." It still has that wonderful woody rasp to it. The difference is subtle but, for me, constitutes a significant loss. It's the difference between ringing a glass bell with a silver fork and a piece of balsa wood.

That isn't to say the new Opium is hollow. It isn't. It has good persistence, and some amount of presence. It is still an oriental--and probably heavier than anything near it on the shelf. But some of the drama is gone. It has less resonance. The department store had a bottle of the old version sitting out and I compared before and after. More than anything I notice a boozy ambiance is missing. A real sense of depth, like the vapors that rise off a glass of brandy when it stirs. I think what depresses me most is knowing that Opium is one of those fragrances many people feel was "too much" to begin with, leaving it vulnerable to this kind of update.

Given that, it could have been worse. I fully acknowledge that. But I believed there was a place for "too much" in a marketplace which offers so little. I never look at an actress or actor for that matter who is aging naturally and gracefully and think, Why am I forced to look at that dinosaur? Frankly, if I want to watch a movie full of twenty year olds there are plenty of them. Opium was like Charlotte Rampling, to me--one of those women fearless enough to aim for timelessness rather than ceaseless modernization. It makes me happy to see Rampling's face here and there. It gives a sense of context to things. It's a counterpoint. Smelling the new Opium, I feel as though her agent finally convinced her to have a little work done.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Burlesque Without the Kicks: Moulin Rouge

I didn't know what to expect from Moulin Rouge, as I'd heard contradictory reports, none of which seemed very promising, given my expectations. Histoires de Parfums is one of those lines you wouldn't expect to be the underdog it is. The quality is good, the presentation is first class, and the price point, though on the high side, suggests a sense of exclusivity the fragrances tend to justify. And yet for a new release, Moulin Rouge has received relatively little comment; nor did the recent Tubereuse trio, all of which I love (though there is a very good piece on them over at Grain de Musc). The line itself is available in only a few places, neither of which is Luckyscent or Aedes de Venustas. All of the fragrances were reviewed better than favorably in Perfume: The Guide, so maybe backlash is part of the problem. I was shocked to see the line dismissed en masse on one of my favorite blogs recently; and even more shocked that some of the fragrances were regarded with the kind of disdain usually reserved for celebrity scents du jour.

I'll start by saying that, as a whole, Moulin Rouge isn't my thing. I think it's lovely, if not lush or plump enough to qualify as gorgeous. I wouldn't say it's delicate; nor is it effervescent. But it's a skin scent by my definition of the term. It doesn't project much, if at all. I mention these things right up front to make it clear that the deck is stacked against such a fragrance for this reviewer, and in fact when, before receiving it, I read a review which characterized Moulin Rouge as sheer, an alarm went off in my head. However, if I were presented with three other popular skin scents and Moulin Rouge, chances are I would choose the latter.

Often with Histoires, I don't really see much of a connection between the stated inspiration and the resulting perfume. 1740 is one of my all time favorite fragrances. It speaks to me like a hypnotist. Other than the sadistic power it holds over me, I'm not sure I'd call it an apt tribute to de Sade. Colette seems even more of a stretch. Mata Hari comes a little closer. Moulin Rouge is a near perfect evocation of its namesake in ways both literal and associative. Its real failure for me is that it paints what should be a colorful portrait in watercolors rather than oil.

You get a rush of that wonderful cosmetic smell up front and for the first ten minutes or so; a smell not so far removed from Lipstick Rose. Unlike Lipstick Rose, this quality in Moulin Rouge resonates more three dimensionally, creating a deeper, more detailed drama in the mind. The fragrance requires a degree of transparency to achieve this, so that you might see through it, though in the bargain it sacrifices the vivacity and even good natured garishness you'd expect from something inspired by one of the world's most infamous burlesque venues. In Moulin Rouge, the cosmetics mingle with the cool, medicinal tones of iris. Somehow, iris is made to perform a sleight of hand I've never known it to execute. Before I read "feathers" in the company's PR description, I pictured them, sensing that weird smell ostrich feathers can have, half animal, half glamor. The iris also adds just enough powder to evoke blush and eye shadow stirring in the air.

There's the slightest touch of vanilla. And the cosmetics wear down to reveal a barely perceptible fruit medley I've gotten from other Histoires scents. I appreciate the artistry and the subtlety behind Moulin Rouge. What I miss is a sense of the raucous activity and even some of the sweat and cigar smoke which would inevitably have been a big part of the place's experience. I wanted something more voluptuous and unpredictable. What I got suggests a picture postcard for tourists. Unfortunately, it's the kind you'd bring back to your mother.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sonoma Scent Studio: Incense Pure

I hate the smell of incense burning. I've been over that new age scene since 1994. In perfumery, however, incense is an entirely different experience. The incense fragrances I own and love are YSL Nu (edp only, never, ever (ever!) bother with the edt), Parfum d'Empire Wazamba, Bond No. 9's Silver Factory and Etro Shaal Nur. I also have the Comme des Garcon's incense series but over time have grown bored with them. The CdG incense scents seem too realistic, too austere and too 'religious ceremony' for my own personal use.

If you've been reading me, you know that I'm a huge Sonoma Scent Studio fan-girl. I think everything Ms. Erickson creates is exceptional. I don't mean "exceptional for a small independent perfumer," I mean exceptional in the grand scheme of all perfume houses. I often think that if one were to slap some Serge Lutens labels on Ms. Erickson's work the entire perfume-fanatic world would be aflutter and her bottles would sell so fast, far and wide she'd never be able to keep up with production needs. Oh, and include some of that vaguely mysterious, must-try-to-decipher the hidden meaning Lutens pre-release marketing copy and Erickson would have to hire throngs of help otherwise her business would implode from success.

Incense Pure is another one of Erickson's brilliant creations. In fact, I think it's within my top 3 favorites from Sonoma Scent Studio (please don't ask me to list my top 3 favorites because this list of 3 is surely 6 in reality). OK, but now it feels like a dare so let me try:
1. Tabac Aurea
2. Vintage Rose
3. Winter Woods
4. Voile de Violette
5. Ambre Noir
6. Champagne de Bois (speaking of which reminds me of Chanel Bois de Iles but better. There's more sandalwood in CdB and zero turpentine. Apologies to BdI fans, and I do love BdI myself, it's just that Champagne de Bois is beautiful from the start while BdI takes at least an hour to warm up from turpentine to nice sandalwood on me).

And now I must insert Incense Pure into this list - I guess I'd wedge it between Winter Woods and Vintage Rose so it's within the top 3 as I suggested.

Anyway, I have the pleasure of occasionally sniffing Erickson's work while it's still in progress. With Incense Pure, I found the final perfume to be strikingly and beautifully different from the last in-progress vial I sniffed. Sometimes I'm not so sure Erickson is able to incorporate the various comments she receives from her in-progress sniff team. What does one do when the comments are all over the place? For the same perfume, she surely receives this set of feedback: "too sweet," "not sweet enough," "too dry," "too peppery," "not spicy enough..." and so on. Somehow Erickson manages to take all of these oftentimes opposing points of view and craft a final fragrance that knocks everyone off their feet. Maybe she casts a spell over us, I dunno.

Incense Pure is a clean, dry, refreshing, relaxing and natural world fragrance. It is all about incense yet it is not musty, smoky, dusty or dirty at all. Incense Pure (IP) makes me feel refreshed, as if I'm hiking in a nearby state park smelling fresh air, coniferous trees, bark, and the fresh smells of nature. Like I wrote about Wazamba, there is an inherently peaceful, meditative and self renewing feeling from smelling IP. While IP seems chock-full of dry, resinous incense and woods, I need to impress upon you how utterly airy and wearable it is. Somehow IP does not form a scent "wall" but an impression of airy permanence. Erickson definitely included dashes of vanilla and labdanum for a teensy amount of sweetness which gives IP a comforting and approachability factor. But if I didn't know vanilla was there, I can't say I smell it. I mostly smell frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood (and other woods) and a fresh coniferous quality. There are elements of IP that remind me of two of my favorite fragrances; the myrrh is reminiscent of the gorgeously dry yet sweet myrrh in Diptyque L'eau Trois and the frankincense reminds me of the drop dead gorgeous Amouage Lyric.

The notes for Incense Pure include frankincense, myrrh, cistus oil, labdanum absolute, sandalwood, natural oakmoss absolute, aged Indian patchouli, cedar, ambergris, orris, angelica root absolute, elemi oil, and vanilla absolute.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

And The Winner is...

The winner of the "Scents that Sing Spring" drawing is:

La Bonne Vivante

La Bonne Vivante, please contact me with your shipping details.

Fantasia de Fleurs

Every time I think I've exhausted the line, some Creed I've never heard of swerves into my direct line of view. It sometimes feels as though Creed were like a bottomless cup of coffee at Denny's or the glass someone keeps filling for me at a party when I'm turned the other way. Do I just get overwhelmed? Maybe the pricing numbs my perceptions and my faculties start to shut down. I still have a pretty hefty bias against Creed. I'm not sure exactly why, if price point is the turn off mechanism we're talking about. The fragrances can be found at reasonable prices online (I've never paid "full price" for a bottle), and as time goes on they don't seem all that expensive in relation to the other niche lines I patronize.

The result is that even with Creed's I've seen a dozen times, I don't keep much of an open mind. It took me ages to even smell Irisia--to simply pick up the tester bottle and sniff, let alone spray the stuff on a card. Lo and behold, I loved it. Likewise Love in Black, which featured violet, one of my holy grails. Abigail, my blogging partner (would this term have seemed like anything but science fiction ten or fifteen years ago?) has played a big part in my experiences with Creed over the last year or so: I've tagged along as she treks through the line's bounty, giving everything from Jasmin Imperatrice Eugenie to Tubereuse Indiana to Fleur de The Rose Bulgarie new perspective. Still, fixed ideas run deep, and even a more recent discovery like Fantasia de Fleurs seems like some kind of revelation to me. Can someone please hold this rock I've been hiding under?

I first smelled Fantasia de Fleurs the day I finally decided to purchase Irisia. Because of my bias against Creed I do this little dance. I visit and revisit the fragrances I like. I weigh the decision to buy or not to buy like it's some life or death dilemma, in a way I would never do with something I loved from Frederic Malle, Parfum d'Empire, or Serge Lutens. I spray some on and walk away. I roam around smelling it. I go home thinking about it as it fades and becomes a memory, and the memory haunts me a little as I try to remember just how much I liked it and why. I return to the store and repeat this all over again.

Fantasia de Fleurs had some stiff competition that day, as it was make or break time with Irisia, but I remember perking up at the smell of it, like Hold up, what's THIS? I'd never heard of it, I thought, but I read so much online about perfume that I know that can't be true. More likely, the name was white noise to me. Oh goody; another Creed floral. Now I read all the reviews, which are remarkably favorable. Fantasia is one of those Creeds people seem to unanimously appreciate, with a few general caveats: very strong stuff, and gorgeous if you're into that kind of thing. I did my little dance back to the store.

Fantasia strikes me as a love child of Poison and Joy. You either can't go wrong or you're doomed to excess with such a combination, depending on your perspective. Poison is one of my favorite fragrances ever, nuclear strength magic in a bottle, and Joy is pretty special too in my personal perfume canon, so naturally Fantasia speaks to me in a pretty compelling voice. That said, I would advise people who don't like Poison, or Joy, or do like one but not the other, not to hold this against Fantasia. It lacks the things about each which detractors tend to consider biggest offenses. Fantasia has no tuberose. There are no indoles, that I can tell. It isn't spiced like a meal served up to someone who's lost his sense of taste.

To be sure, Fantasia is strong stuff, but it mellows fairly quickly. It is spiced, but faintly, giving it much of its dissonant appeal. The iris, however undetectable, must go some way toward bringing the rose into the present century. One of the things Fantasia's fans point out is how modern the fragrance feels, given what it is. Judging it against a cursory glance at the local mall's inventory, I'm not inclined to agree. But I see the overall point; Fantasia isn't stuffy, and while it recalls or evokes a certain kind of brocaded, heavy velvet fantasy of centuries past, it doesn't feel out of place in this one. It has a formality to it, but it doesn't fall into that grandmotherly gap between something your ancestors subjected their families to and something you might wear on a night out.

Note to fact-checkers: Some people DO find something slightly indolic here, making the fragrance more of a Fantasia de Feces. I really don't, but you should be aware that not everyone agrees with me, as if you didn't already know. Some DO consider Fantasia stuffy, though it seems to me these are generally people who aren't much into anything so unapologetically floral. I think of Fantasia as an interesting precursor to Amaranthine, without the sugared facets. That isn't to say it has anything remotely like cumin in it either. But it does represent another way of scuffing up what might otherwise be a relatively staid floral. Like most Creeds I've experienced, Fantasia lasts well, persisting into a slightly musky, amber dry down that stays close to the skin without hugging it for dear life.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Scents That Sing Spring: Bee - Side

When I went to my cabinet to search for ideal Spring scents, I started getting everything that was right up front out of the way, so that I could find the treasures buried in back. At some point, I realized that the ones I was moving are the fragrances I'm wearing right now, and therefore I needn't look any further. It made me start thinking about what a Best-of list is; how personal a proposition it is. While something by a niche line might unanimously be regarded as exemplary in its category, I might just be getting more mileage out of something rather pedestrian from the mall. There's ideal, in other words; then there's what I'm wearing.

The following are things the cooler weather and psychology of Spring have teased to the fore of my collection lately. Along with those are things I wouldn't normally put on my list, typically because they don't happen to be ground-breaking, particularly hip, or quintessential in some way. I call this the B-Side list because I think we all have these kinds of favorites in our collections and wear them regularly, right alongside the A-side. In some cases they give us just as much or more pleasure. Some of them seem downright underrated to me and I sometimes wish I heard more about them.

Laura Mercier - Neroli

Aside from a few limited editions, I haven't given much print to the Mercier line. Funny, because I own three of the fragrances, and gifted someone with a fourth. I ignored Neroli for a long time because I assumed it must be fleeting. Why get attached? Recently, I was bored waiting for something at the counter, and I sprayed some on my wrist. I smelled it all day and thought about it all week. I repeated this a few weeks later to make sure I hadn't just imagined the stuff lasted well. Eventually I bought a bottle, and Neroli really is a little sleeper. It isn't straight up Neroli. The note is bolstered with musks and florals, but these additions make the neroli stand out, and neroli is what you're conscious of.

Hanae Mori - Haute Couture

This is but a song online, and worth every penny. It's a green jasmine. Fresh stems, laundry in the breeze, just the right touch of coriander and just the right amount of 'strange' in the mix. Haute Couture is a pretty happy scent, but it isn't empty-headed. There's some gravity to it, and just a little drama.

Gucci - Flora

I think this is the first time I'm admitting to owning this. I've had it for well over six months, and grab it far more often than I ever imagined I would when I got it in a trade as an afterthought. I've smelled various osmanthus fragrances. None give me the satisfaction of Flora. I like it more and more each time. And I find it lasts. I don't care for the EDP version. It's heavier, and focuses more on the undertones, drowning out what's well judged in the toilette. Flora was almost unanimously dismissed at the time of its release. The general consensus seems to be that it's routine, nothing special. Having spent some time with it, I feel like I discovered something it takes patience and open-mindedness to see, and I recognize how the swift reviewing process of the blogs can sometimes do more harm than good.

Armani - Sensi

Which brings me to Sensi. Like Flora, this one takes time. Spend an afternoon with it. You'll see. It's a simple melody but a great tune. I forgive a lack of innovation when it makes up for itself in duration and diffusion. Sensi is stronger than you expect. Like several of the bloggers participating in this exercise, I tend to like heavier scents: orientals, chypres, the old school stock. For a long time I took that to mean I wouldn't be interested in Spring-like scents, but the ones I gravitate towards have presence, like those orientals I love. Sensi smells like a breath of fresh air, its creamy jasmine landscape painted in oils rather than watercolors, and is something of a chameleon; it works as well during the winter months as the Spring. No wonder. Fragrantica classifies it as an Oriental Woody.

Creed - Irisia

Let Irisia represent all the green chypres I start to wear regularly around this time of year. Givenchy III, Jean Louis Scherrer, YSL Y, et al. What to do when you read that Irisia (one star) is marked by "exceptional banality and unpleasantness" in the same grouping of reviews which gives Britney Spears Believe three stars? Surely that's a joke. Don't believe it for a second. I don't know that I prefer Irisia to other classic green chypres, but I wouldn't say it's anywhere close to inferior. The name is misleading, as any hint of iris is hard to pick out. I'm guessing I reach for Irisia the most because it smells more masculine than its brethren.

Perfumer's Workshop - Tea Rose

This is either your...cup of tea, or it isn't. I've enjoyed it for years, in minor doses. The bottle I have dates back to the eighties, and smells quite different from the bottle I smelled recently at TJ Max. The current version smells like a vinyl blow-up toy. The dry down eventually moves closer to what I remember, but it lacks some special factor which makes it feel much further removed. The Tea Rose I recall is one of the best rose fragrances of its kind ever, as far as I'm concerned.

Delrae - Debut

There are a few dead horses I tire of hearing people beat. One is that the first four Delrae fragrances are just too...this or that. If Debut, Eau Illuminee, Bois de Paradis, and Amoureuse aren't the very best niche perfumery has to offer, my nose isn't smelling right. Let's stop complaining about how heady they are, or can I expect silence about how thin the overwhelming majority of modern fragrances besides these have become? You can't have it both ways. The first four Delraes represent a big fat Yes to perfume lovers. This perfume lover wouldn't dream of saying no.

Lorenzo Villoresi - Yerbamate

I'm not suggesting the line doesn't have its share of admirers. Yerbamate, like several other Villoresi fragrances, is something of a cult item. Still, you don't see the scents getting much attention when the time for this kind of list arrives. I think they deserve a special boost here and there, to help counteract some of the beating they've taken recently. Yerbamate is one of my favorite Villoresis, though I'm pretty partial to Garofano and Teint de Neige. Its weird, smoky green character isn't something I've come across in any other fragrance, and it's one of the most persistent tea scents I've smelled. Truly one of those rare fragrances you have to smell for yourself.

Etro - Magot

Not exactly one of the line's best sellers, and in fact I might never have purchased a bottle had I not run into one for ten bucks at TJ Max. I liked it from the start, but it's taken me a long time to place it properly. Don't ask me why, but I kept thinking Magot was a floral. Instead, it's tangy, a bit woody, and creamy. There are florals in there--jasmine and iris--but they aren't the centerpiece. Magot is a cheery fragrance but not without gravity. It smells like you feel when you first walk out your door to face the day.

Nina Ricci - Love in Paris

Another one that grew on me, or that I grew into. Jasmine, apricot, rose, peony and star anise on a base of woods and musks. It seemed too easy, so I dismissed it for a long time. Now I've learned enough to know how difficult easy is.

Please see Abigail's list, below, for links to participating bloggers of Scents That Sing Spring.

Scents that Sing Spring! A Joint Project and a Free Giveaway

My perfume personality leans toward orientals, chypres and florientals but when spring arrives I’m ready to flaunt simple floral beauties that are neglected the rest of the year.

This depends on where you live, but for me, I’ve usually spent the last 6 months indoors, in front of a fireplace, television or reading a book, disconnected from nature. When warmer weather and blue skies show up I’m longing for nature specific florals. Early spring is when I pull away from abstract scents and desire more realistic fragrances. I crave certain florals like a vitamin deficiency, such as hyacinth, lilac, iris, violet, honeysuckle and green florals.

And, because we all love lists, here are my favorite spring fragrances broken into three categories; 1. The all time hits; 2. New loves for 2010 and 3. Recurring loves, last spring and this year, too.

Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile in eau de toilette
Iris Nobile is my favorite iris. I wear the eau de parfum during the fall/winter and I love the eau de toilette in the spring/summer.

Annick Goutal Grand Amour
Pure class and beauty. Hyacinth heaven.

Annick Goutal Le Chevrefeuille
The best honeysuckle fragrance bar none. It reminds me of honeysuckle iced tea. Simple and stunning.

Guerlain Chamade
Elegant aldehydic hyacinth. Chamade feels suited for festive soirees during the months of March, April & May. Invite me to an outdoor wedding, I’ll wear Chamade in vintage parfum de toiltette.

Jean Patou Vacances
Vacances is the quintessential spring fragrance and the only lilac focused perfume that works. It is luminous and I wish I had gallons of it so I could wear it 24/7 for the month of April.

Serge Lutens Fleur d’Oranger
This is my favorite orange blossom. It’s pure, natural and true to the flower but with more facets than other orange blossom scents. It has a soft oriental base rather than that clean-musky-soapy base.

Byredo La Tulipe
Clean, soft vegetal floral. Fresh cut stems. Byredo pulled this one off. It’s unique and memorable.

Bond No. 9 Eau de Noho
EdN is a delightfully cheerful linden floral that lasts; it's a linden gem.

Parfums DelRae Debut & Mythique
I’ve been living under a rock because I just discovered Debut this year. Debut is dreamy and striking the perfect chord with me these past 10 days.

Mythique is my second favorite iris scent and it might have knocked Acqua di Parma off it’s pedestal if it only had some sillage. Mythique lasts but so close to the skin I have to touch my nose to my arm to smell it. It loses points for zero sillage but the aroma is magical ... just can’t deny the glorious spring fantasy this one conjures.

Annick Goutal Un Matin d’Orage
Gardenia, wet stones, fresh upturned earth and soil. Makes me think of gardening, sinking my hands in the cool April ground. Love it.

Parfums MDCI Un Coeur en Mai
Another green hyacinth prominent fragrance. I told you, it’s as if I have a vitamin definiciency, my system requires hyacinth!

Creative Universe Mare
The notes for Mare are sea salt, avocado and ginger lily. Mare is remarkable for conjuring a breezy cool seaside without any of that ozonic/aquatic drivel. Mare reminds me of a walk along the ocean on the northshore of Massachusetts in May. Creative Universe doesn’t receive enough accolades. Several fragrances from this line could easily be a spring/summer favorite.

Sonoma Scent Studio Voile de Violette
Deliciously flirty, fruity and fun violet. VdV is not candy sweet and it's a robust violet which is nothing short of a triumph for springtime violet lovers.

This article is a joint project suggested by Ayala over at Smelly Blog. Thanks so much to Ayala for organizing everyone and for providing such a goofy-great image above (I must have watched The Sound of Music 100 times as a child =).

Participating blogs:
Katie Puckrik Smells
Perfume Shrine
The Non Blonde
Notes from the Ledge
Scent Hive
Savvy Thinker
Roxana's Illuminated Journal
Perfume in Progress
All I Am A Redhead
Ambre Gris
A Rose Beyond the Thames

Ok, so I made you read all the way to the end before telling you about the free giveaway. It's not a full bottle of Tauer's newest release or anything that special - but it IS your choice of any of my favorite spring scents above in a large decant.

You know the rules, you must have commented before this post... I will choose the winner on Sunday evening (April 18) Good luck!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Byredo La Tulipe: Early Spring in a Bottle

I like Byredo. I’m one of the few who love Pulp (the tartest, juiciest fruity scent on the planet) and I also love Green. The others I’ve only sampled so I can’t give final judgment based on a tiny vial (those are my rules).

I was eagerly anticipating La Tulipe. I had an idea of what it would smell like - what I hoped it would smell like from the description, and to my delight it turns out to be just what I wanted. La Tulipe is early spring in a bottle. Early spring meaning the first movement towards vegetation after winter’s thaw, with warm soil just beginning to erupt with shoots and flowers. Around the time tulips bloom there’s not much else blooming. There are daffodils, some crocus, a few violets and pansies, but none of these early spring flowers are enormously fragrant. La Tulipe smells like the promise of flowers, it’s only a mere whisper of florals, with a dose of what I describe as a vegetal note over a clean musk base.

Think of the last time you trimmed the stems from a big bunch of tulips or daffodils to arrange in a vase. Byredo La Tulipe smells like the cut stems of those tulips. I wouldn’t call this green, as in traditional perfumery green, also known as galbanum, but I’d call this vegetal or perhaps the idea of vegetation. La Tulipe lists freesia among the notes and I love the way the freesia is handled here because it’s not too sweet – it’s a perfect light waft of freesia. This is not a honeyed freesia ala Chanel Beige but a restrained, gentle poof of freesia.

La Tulipe is fresh, joyful and perfect for spring. I received my bottle this past weekend and have been wearing it a lot. Every time I wear it I like it more. Longevity is good, not excellent. It lasts maybe 3 hours on me with the third hour becoming quite faint. I tried spraying on clothing and this allows the scent to cling longer.

Byredo La Tulipe is available at Barneys for $195, 100 ml.

Etat Libre D'Orange: Like This

The best moments of Like This happen right up front, for about the first ten minutes. That isn't to say the base is without merit. The Etat line has some sort of trademark dry down. I recognize it here, but don't ask me to describe it. I can't. It leads me to believe I'd know one of their fragrances at twenty paces, and right away, Like This registered like the return of a nostalgic scent. I like that base, whatever it is, but by the time Like This hits its stride I've lost interest in it. By dry down, I've moved on altogether.

It pains me to say this, because there aren't many Etat Libre D'Orange fragrances I don't care for. I love the line. I defend its sensibility against detractors who find it tasteless or tedious. I wish half the people making perfume had Etat's visionary sense of humor. I would sweep the floors of their workspace just to be around that kind of energy and intelligence. But Etat has its mis-steps for me; namely, Don't Get Me Wrong Baby, I Don't Swallow, and Fat Electrician. The fact that Like This comes fast on he footsteps of Electrician really means nothing to me. I guess I could see doom in the lack of thrill I find in these. I could read it as a trend. But I feel pretty confident in a line which has given me so much pleasure: Charogne, Rien, Jasmine and Cigarettes, et al. And I respect the misses of a creative process as much as I adore the hits.

I think I would feel the way I do about Like This whether it had been curated by Tilda Swinton or not, yet I have to acknowledge that it feels like a rather odd match. Maybe I'll come around. I'm always changing my mind about things. My hopes were high. What could be better than Tilda and Etat putting their heads together? I won't answer that question, because I could spend a lot of time going down the list. I've read that Tilda approached Etat, having smelled the line's Rossy de Palma and Tom of Finland fragrances. The story goes that Tilda helped develop Like This. I have no idea anymore how involved people become in their fragrances. I guess it must vary. Some phone it in; others shake the beaker. I have a hard time picturing an actress, socialite, or musician designing clothes. While they can draft up something clever in the best case scenario, what can they ultimately know about drape and seam?

Like This is alleged to have Pumpkin. I don't smell it. I do smell the ginger. I can't tell you how excited I was to hear that immortelle would be in the fragrance. And yet I'm hard pressed to identify it. The fragrance bears an uncanny resemblance to Tibetan Mountain Temple by Pacifica. Tibetan Mountain Temple is about the same size, and cheaper. I prefer it. The irony is that it also happens to smell more like something I would associate with Tilda Swinton. Regardless, I look forward to the company's next release.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Penhaligon's Amaranthine: Lone Dissenter

Penhaligon’s Amaranthine received (pretty much) across the board excellent reviews. I received my bottle of Amaranthine many months ago and right away there was something about it that didn’t sit well with me. Yes, it’s Bertrand Duchafour and yes, it’s a departure for Penahligon’s but that’s not going to make me like it nor will that make me smell facets and pleasures that aren’t there.

Amaranthine is very sweet. I cannot underscore this enough - it's sweetness level is sky high. To me, it’s a milky vanillic floral. Not even particularly tropical – just a milky sweet scent with unidentifiable florals. It reminds me of Lalique Le Parfum and Kenzo both of which I like much better. Sometimes I think our readers only want good reviews but I do want to offer a contradictory point of view on Amaranthine. I enjoy the beginning of Amaranthine and this is the period of time I feel I’m being too critical, too harsh on this fragrance. But after those 15 minutes fade and it dries down to a swampy, sweet, humid mess, I can't help wonder what everyone else is smelling (only the first 15 minutes, perhaps?). Honestly, if I smelled this blindfolded, after it had been on skin for over an hour, I’d probably think it was something from Avon or Bath & Body Works. I don’t detect spices at all, nothing green, nothing woody. I'm not sure if anyone else mentioned this, but Amaranthine seems a failed Songes. Annick Goutal Songes does the tropical floral vibe with vanilla and soft spices brilliantly. To prove I don't dislike tropical florals entirely, I do love LesNez Manoumalia (this is tropical floral supreme) and L’Artisan Fleur de Liane (delightful green tropical floral).

I'm not sure what the inside of a woman's thigh smells like but I doubt it's anything like Amaranthine. Nor do I think Amaranthine smells corrupted. If anything, it's a gourmand floral concoction, basically comfy, milky, feel-good jus. I envision a tray with rice pudding, warm milk and a pile of sweaty petals and flowers turning brown in the heat of the tropics. Gag.

Turns out the opposite happened for me: I expected to love Amaranthine and I have a like (15 mins)/hate (the rest) relationship with it. I expected to hate Havana Vanille and I love it.

I’m not going to list the notes because you probably know them by now and as far as I’m concerned they’re all lies (!) Green tea? Coriander, cardamom and clove? Orange blossom? Amaranthine smells like this: ylang, indolic jasmine and condensed milk.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Christian Dior's Poison

Like Luca Turin, I would give the latest formula of Poison five stars, but I wouldn't put it in my top five fragrances of all time. I'm not sure I would put it in the top twenty.

I knew they'd done something to it. What I remember isn't what I got when I bought a bottle over the course of the last few years. It is and it isn't. It smells great but none of the expected memories were triggered, and I was fooled into thinking it mustn't be as good as I thought it was. When I used my bottle for a film recently (which is to say I broke my bottle for a scene which required it), I didn't replace it. I decanted the perfume into a few old stoppered bottles, and even when one leaked I let it go. I've seen many bottles of Poison in the stores and have read each of their boxes to judge their ages. Poison is still popular enough that, unless you're willing to dedicate yourself to the risks of an online search, coming across an older version is pretty unlikely.

What I remember is being totally floored by Poison. It wasn't simply a perfume but a frame of mind, like desire and ecstasy are frames of mind. There are only a small handful of fragrances I ever sought out at the women's fragrance counter back then (they are: Angel, Poison, and Fendi). I didn't want to draw the wrong kind of attention to myself, or waste a lot of time with subterfuge involving an impression I might be buying for an imaginary girlfriend. No guy buying perfume for his girlfriend spends more time smelling it than she would, and I couldn't be sure I wouldn't. I had to love a perfume beyond reason to make such a spectacle of myself, and I loved Poison that much, but when I smell it now I wonder why.

I stopped wondering today, when I ran across an older bottle, finally, at a local drugstore. I thought I was seeing things when I spotted the packaging, an upright, rectangular box, as opposed to the now very familiar short square cube. When I got it in my grubby little hands I saw that the ingredients listed only alcohol, parfum, and D&C Violet No.2. If you've looked at the latest list of ingredients you know it reads longer than the Smith pages in the phone book. The Dior decal had come loose and the box had a slight film of dust over it. While the clerk was turned the other way, I removed the bottle (taller and narrow, rather than the "apple" shape everyone thinks of now) and sprayed some on my hand, totally unprepared for the rocket trip down memory lane.

I would easily classify the old Poison as one of my all time top five favorites. And it's easy to see how this stuff divided people so violently back in the day. It goes beyond robust. It surpasses intense. But the newer stuff isn't for sissies either. So what's the difference, exactly? Musks, primarily, it seems to me. And what a difference they made. The newer Poison is just as spicy, but it ultimately feels more floral, more feminine to me. It also sticks to the surface, if that makes any sense. It doesn't have the depth of the older formula, which feels like a very plush velvet pillow you might fall into and never hit bottom. A very dark velvet, smoky purple, like the bottle. The animal density of the original has a unique psychological effect, and a stealth. It takes over your senses but at a very low register, a baritone really, at a frequency only asubwoofer would recognize. Consider those musks a subwoofer. Lacking them, the latest version is all treble.

I've been so happy all day, smelling this stuff on my very own arm. Problem is, now that I know how truly good this stuff was, I'm left with only 50 ml, and am scared to use it up and wait for the appearance of another old bottle in some unknown drugstore.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Making a Stink: My Thoughts, Bundled into Little Packets of Nothingness for You (Plus Our Latest Draw)

Put a Cap On It

Dear people who make bottles, can you do a few more trial and error runs before you settle on your caps and atomizers? Let's start this stream of consciousness right there. Anyone who reads this blog more than a few times a year knows that I love Etat Libre D'Orange all out of proportion. I own all but perhaps five of their fragrances. I love the chunky square bottles. I like the caps; the way they snap on like making a decision. So it's a real bummer that the perfumes spray so lamely. Then there's Parfumerie Generale, which sprays evenly and even delicately but generously. Problem is, the cap doesn't stay on. There are other culprits but I should keep this brief. While we're discussing bottles, get a load of the new Andy Tauer packaging. Anyone seen it first hand? How exciting, the prospect of Tauer's brilliant perfumes being matched by clever design.

Please Step Away From the Coze

Is it just me or does Coze have pheromones in it? Despite the caps I'm in love with Parfumerie Generale, whose scents are rich in sensual pleasures. But Coze goes beyond this. It's practically pornographic. I can't control the look on my face when I wear it. I can't keep my hand away from my nose. Better my nose than my pants, I guess--for the public's sake, if not mine. Coze has fantastic tenacity. Aomassi is a kissing cousin but peters out before things really get going. It's more of a one night stand. Psychotrope seems gorgeous but I'm curious: what's the lasting power like on that one?


While it thrilled me to see that Fresh finally took the suggestion of its consumers to heart, issuing smaller bottles of its greatest hits, it frustrates me that they used this opportunity to sneak in weaker formulas. Cannabis Santal is markedly different to my nose. It's as if they imagine the shock of new packaging will distract us from the truth, and yet isn't it always a tell tale sign, when an actress appears with blunt cut bangs, that a little nip and tuck has taken place behind the scenes? None of the Fresh fragrances seemed to have very impressive longevity, save for Santal. Sometimes I like reformulations and they can improve a perfume's persistence. I happen to think that the latest Rochas Femme, however sharp it became in the bargain, outlasts its former incarnation. Cannabis Santal is sharp but flat. Whatever's been done has taken away some of its character. The SA at the Lauder counter, ever chummy with me, likes to tell me how many changes have been made to the brand's line up, how often people notice, and how, just as often, she denies anything has happened. I don't expect Fresh to fess up, but I know I'm not imagining things either.


I passed L'eau by Laura Ashley many times before I finally came off my high horse to smell it. Who knew. The stuff is fantastic, not an eau at all but a perfectly judged, crisp citrus chypre, long since discontinued. Strictly wait list. Expensive when found. L'Eau manages to be both modern and old school and I can't get enough of it. For something so fresh and happy it lasts so well and diffuses with such richness or character. How about a drawing. This stuff is impossible to find and I know where some is stashed. I'm happy to share the wealth. To qualify for the draw, please write me a paragraph about one of your favorites, something which was initially beneath you. You were too good for it but out of boredom or curiosity or both you tried it one day and realized how fantastic it is. Note: a paragraph is not a sentence. I don't need a book, but I'd like to hear your thoughts. Free hefty decant of L'eau to a duo of lucky draws.

Friday, April 2, 2010

TWRT 4.2.10

This Week's Random Thoughts ~

American Idol: why is it that everyone (well, almost everyone) is so good this year except they aren’t blowing me away? I’m still peeved that I lost my favorite boy so early on: Alex Lambert (no, not last year’s Adam Lambert, but this year’s shy little Alex Lambert who was genius). At this point I’m liking Siobhan, Bowersox and Lee.

I’m refraining from posting a review of the “anti-perfume.” One of my favorite bloggers, Nathan B, wrote a nice piece about it, with perfect pics (L’eau striking a pose next to bars of soap, L’eau flirting with the whitest of towels) but I cannot get past the marketing.

I’m sad Takashimaya in NYC is closing. I only went to the shop once but it was a beautiful boutique (for the Asian obsessed such as me) and they carried several perfume lines that aren’t available anywhere else in the U.S. If anyone hears that they are having big discounts in the final weeks before they shut their doors please let me know. I have my eye on Takashimayo “T” fragrance and Mona di Orio Jabu.

Brian gifted me (among other things) a bottle of Agent Provocateur Strip. This stuff is fantastic. It’s a warm cinnamon-y amber (and I get patchouli but no one else does) that is so numilicious (nummy, derivative of yummy, with -licious). It reminds me of a mix of Coromandel, Rousse, and Prada original. I received it just over a week ago and I’m not kidding when I tell you I’ve used at least 1/3 of the bottle.

I tried the new Chanel lipsticks and they aren’t all that. Rather thin and dry off quickly. I was sucked in because Chanel named a few after their fragrances.

Dear Jesse James,
You Suck.
With zero respect,

Ok, so I mentioned this gaggity stuff I’m putting on my face a few weeks back – emu oil. Well, it is actually working. I have smoother more even toned skin and it’s fantastic around my eyes, less fine lines. Of course you only use this stuff at night before bed because it’s an oil but I think it might be the 8th wonder of the world.

Is Amy Poehler pregnant again? She’s doing that weird thing on Parks & Rec where she always has a bag or object in front of her stomach.

Beverage of the week: water

If you use Facebook you should be aware of this

There might be something wrong with me, because I found Jennifer Hudson’s former size/figure refreshing. Assuming she was perfectly healthy at her previous weight, I thought it was nice to have a little representation above a size 10. But now she’s the new face of Weight Watchers and thin. How dreary.

So how long do I have to wait for the new L’Artisan Nuit de Tubereuse? Because I’m antsy.

Sandwich of the week: BLT on the freshest whole wheat bread (sans crusts) with Boston Lettuce and vine ripened tomatoes (sliced razor thin). And, unfortunately, a good BLT doesn’t taste right if you use fat-free mayo, you need to use the real deal (just use sparingly of course).

Dinner of the week: Korean JabChai. Clear glass noodles (made from rice, I think) sauteed with garlic, onions, sesame seeds, carrots, bok choy and shitake mushrooms. Toss with your favorite protein (I used shrimp and scallops but my Korean aunt always used beef which was delish) and dress with a brown sugar, soy, wine sauce. I miss my aunt, she’s the glamorous one who wears Shalimar and only Shalimar. I wonder if I should ask if she’s noticed the reformulation. On second thought, best not to bring that to her attention.

Speaking of reformulations: Amarige is ruined. I haven’t purchased a bottle in over five years because I stocked up a long time ago. I just bought a fresh bottle and it’s pitiful. I am really sad about this. I have several harvest editions which are fabulous but the original is long gone.

Does anyone else think it’s odd that Luckyscent is now carrying Annick Goutal, Creed and Van Cleef & Arpels?

Santa Fe really lacks a good bagel shop. I’ve been craving fresh NYC bagels and lox. And pizza for that matter. I have found a good sushi joint thankfully.

Anna Paquin comes out as bisexual while engaged to True Blood star. I can’t help but think this is a publicity stunt. That she (and/or her PR reps) think straight guys will have a few daydreams about her bi status and therefore increase her popularity. Maybe I’m a just a cynic.

Have a great weekend and Happy April everyone!

Lovely photo courtesy of Mr. Guerlain