Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Epic Gardenia

I don’t consider myself a white floral lover but maybe I’m wrong. I think I’m not because I dislike (usually) anything resembling gardenia and jasmine and I mostly hate ylang ylang. Or so I think. My reason for disliking gardenia and jasmine (soliflores in particular) is because both notes remind me of people from my past that I don’t like. I’ll never wear Serge Lutens A La Nuit. Ever. A La Nuit is a beautiful airy jasmine but I could never handle it on my skin for more than 11 minutes. Of the gardenia fragrances I’ve tried, and believe me, it’s not a long list, I think Jo Malone Vintage Gardenia is pretty good. Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia is grossly true to the actual flower and makes me shudder. Annick Goutal’s Gardenia Passion doesn’t smell like gardenia to me nor do I like it and I generally love everything from Goutal.

Strange Invisible Perfumes takes it’s name from Shakespeare, a line from Antony and Cleopatra: "From the barge a strange invisible perfume hits the sense of the adjacent wharfs." Strange Invisible Perfumes (SIP) hooked me on two of their tuberose fragrances, namely Narcotic and Heroine. At the moment, SIP is only making Narcotic and Heroine in pure parfum, not edp, which is frustrating because I get the most from SIP scents when I can hose myself down like I’m on fire and need extinguishing. Because I’ve grown to love the trademark strangeness of SIP scents, I had a hunch I’d like Epic Gardenia even though it’s dedicated to gardenia, my floral nemesis.

As expected, Epic Gardenia begins with some strangeness, but it’s not the usual musty medicinal stench, I think it’s an easier start than most fragrances from SIP. Others have called Epic Gardenia “humid” and I can see this, there’s a similarity between Epic Gardenia, Amaranthine and Manoumalia in their damp tropical quality.

Epic Gardenia reminds me of wilted rotting water from a 5 day old vase of flowers that hasn’t been refreshed. When you’re channeling your inner Martha Stewart you change the water in a floral arrangement every day or two. When you forget, the flowers don’t last as long and you find a vase full of stinky water. You might think I’m being disparaging or describing why Epic Gardenia is awful. I’m not. I love Epic Gardenia. It’s the only gardenia fragrance I can wear and I have been wearing it for months. Epic Gardenia does smell like gardenia blooms but these imaginary blossoms are much less sweet, cloying and heady than what I deem to be the typical gardenia note in perfumery. Epic Gardenia’s gardenia note is tempered with an undercurrent of green earthy musk and there’s an obvious bergamot thread throughout. To enjoy Epic Gardenia I think one needs to practice suspension of disbelief. Actually, to enjoy most SIP fragrances you need a healthy suspension of disbelief; you can’t force the scent to conform to your typical ideals of what a perfume should smell like. If you are able to maintain an open mind, I find the majority of SIP scents will come around and surprise you. The rotting vegetation subsides after about 20 minutes (either this or I just stop noticing it) and Epic Gardenia blooms into the most lush, velvety gardenia note I have ever not disliked. It is sweet, but it’s not cloying or heady or “too much” of anything on me. I can’t even complain about its longevity. The sillage is quiet, of course, being an all natural/botanical perfume, but as long as I spray myself wet, and take care to spray a little on my clothing, I find it lasts at least 5 hours.

Before you ask, I have never tried SIP’s now long gone scent called Lady Day. As I mentioned, it’s a fluke that I even tried Epic Gardenia, given my disinterest in gardenia, so I missed the boat on Lady Day, which might be for the best.

Epic Gardenia is my #1 favorite gardenia scent and my favorite among the somewhat new “humid, tropical” category. I’ve been wearing it so often this year that I neglect to notice its strangeness, maybe it isn’t even odd, and maybe it’s just completely beautiful.

Coincidentally, Epic Gardenia is available at Beautyhabit.com for 25% off with the code Oprah until August 13th. Otherwise it’s $175 for 50 ml. I’m tinkering with the idea of buying another bottle. I’m going through mine at an alarmingly fast rate. Which shouldn't be alarming, it's a good thing, because in theory, I want to drench myself in my perfumes and enjoy every whiff.

PS: explanation for the above pic... Epic Gardenia reminds me of Fantasy Island. When I was a kid I loved staying up late on Saturday Night to watch Fantasy Island (and Love Boat) when sleeping over my friend's house. I suppose Alexandra Balahoutis is too young to recall this, so she couldn't have been invoking Fantasy Island when she created this one.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Profumi del Forte Roma Imperiale

A few months ago I ordered some perfumes from Europe and a fairly giant sized sample of Roma Imperiale was included therein. Honestly, I had only vaguely heard of Profumi del Forte and was perhaps confusing it with other Italian brands such as i Profumi di Firenze or il Profumo. This sample of Roma Imperiale actually caught my attention more than the perfumes I had purchased. I can’t explain why. [Fate. Fate, it was Fate!!] All I can tell you is that I doused myself in Roma Imperiale (Fedex had arrived at the perfect moment, I had just showered but not applied perfume yet) and promptly walked out the door to take the dogs for a stroll. And what a stroll this was. My nose was glued to my wrists. I kept sniffing and sniffing and thinking to myself that this unheard of perfume couldn’t really be this good, I mean this good! I remember this walk with the dogs like it was yesterday, it was one of those special fragrant moments, that doesn't happen to me as often as I’d like. To say I was entranced by Roma Imperiale would be an understatement. And the most fun of it all was that I knew nothing (nothing!) about Profumi del Forte or this particular scent of theirs called Roma Imperiale. My head was empty; it was not filled with the opinions of others, of advertisements telling me what I’m supposed to smell or feel like when wearing Roma Imperiale.

I came back to the house and jumped online. I googled it. The first article that presented itself to me was ISTIA’s very own Brian, my partner in crime co-blogger, who mentioned how great it was on a trip he took to Italy last summer. I do read Brian’s posts but I must have glossed over this particular mention. How funny, I thought. Brian already knows about Roma Imperiale (RI). Seriously, this was kind of hysterically funny to me, plus I didn't find any other bloggers writing about it.

I emailed Brian, probably in ALL CAPS, to tell him how f-ing amazing I found Roma Imperiale. I used up the sample in a matter of days and promptly ordered myself a bottle, albeit a little horrified at the price ($195 for 50 ml). But still, when I love something this much, $200 bucks is worth it.

It has taken me months to write about Roma Imperiale, and I still don't feel equipped to do so even tonight. I figured that over time and with repeated wearing I’d find the perfect words to describe it to you. But time is passing and I’m not coming up with much more than this: Its structure is similar to Shalimar but it smells entirely different. By this, I mean, it begins with a citrus/herbal top and dries down to a vanilla/amber of sorts. This comparison with Shalimar is very loose, keep that in mind. RI is much more floral and soft and actually much more complex to my nose than Shalimar. Shalimar is a seemingly simple structure of citrus, vanilla, amber and aldehydes that make the whole thing pop off your skin and project into the next room; Shalimar growls "oriental." RI is as soft as bunny ears and while it’s present with some sillage it doesn’t have that old school aldehydic quality and it only purrs oriental, in a very low key tone. The opening has some citrus but also hints of herbs and spices (cinnamon, tomato leaf, bergamot and coriander). The heart is a dreamy, almost powdery blend of tuberose, jasmine, ylang ylang (these are the notes I can smell distinctly, there are more of course) and all this gorgeousity (yes, I made up that word) is laid over a base of the puffiest clouds of sandalwood, ambergris and vanilla. It is not edgy. It is not an usual overlapping of discordant notes. RI doesn’t make me want to resort to those artsy fartsy descriptors and suggest there’s some sort of “juxtaposition” or “tension” or “polarity” going on here. Roma Imperiale is just Pretty with a capital P. It’s soft, easy going, retro yet modern (which, by the way, I'm realizing is my favorite made-up category, this "retro-modern" thing I have in my head are scents that have a retro vibe, a classic structure but are not old school harsh, they would hopefully not be called “old lady” by the 20-something set).

I hesitated to write about Roma Imperiale for so long because I just don’t have the words for it. I can’t think of anything else to compare it with. I can only tell you that I absolutely adore it, I mean I am completely and utterly smitten with it and have fallen under its charms. Roma Imperiale could hypnotize me and order me to murder people in the dark of night and I probably would. So I hope you get the picture. Don’t judge me. I just f-ing love it.

From the Profumi del Forte website, here are the official notes:
Top notes
Bergamot, mandarin, neroli, rose-wood, coriander seed, cinnamon, tomato leaves
Middle notes
Orchid, jasmine absolute, tuberose absolute, ylang - ylang, iris butter, Turkish rose essence, seringa
Base notes
Civette, oak moss, grey amber. Vanilla, sandalwood

The bottle which houses Roma Imperiale is beautiful as well. It’s a tall, slender yet hefty etched glass bottle which arrives in an elegant box to boot. Sillage is light yet present and longevity is great.

Friday, July 16, 2010

TWRT 7.16.10

This week's random thoughts ~

I love Prince. Purple Rain was among the first concerts I ever attended as a pre-teen. It was also one of my first R rated movies (along with Flash Dance) both of which I snuck into numerous times. I saw Purple Rain, the concert, with rivers of blue eyeliner and thick blue mascara streaming down my cheeks due to the adolescent hysteria of good seats, proximity to Prince, and my gawd, it was just so thrilling. But I’m thinking Prince must be batty with his latest thoughts on the internet. I mean, I know Prince lives in his own little "Prince World" but I thought he was a savvy business man of some sort.

I’m fixated on all the prairie dog colonies out here in NM. Photos to come. That's my little Girl Greta in the above pic. She'll be 8 this October.

The only TV I’m watching these days is True Blood and Hung. Hung is mostly unsatisfying, I mean, really, I want to SEE IT (oh, c’mon you know exactly what I mean by “it”). True Blood is back to its usual charms. With True Blood I always wish the episodes were 2 hours long, I hate for them to end. And what about that scene with Tara “doing” the vampire a few weeks back. Her eyes were rolling back in her head. I was all “I’ll have what she’s having” a la that scene from When Harry Met Sally.

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” Guess who said this? (Don’t look it up, just guess) I was surprised.

Upcoming perfumes I’m excited about: the new flanker for Hermes Eau des Merveilles called Claire des Merveilles and the new Shalimar with more focus on vanilla. Notice a trend here? I’m making my peace with vanilla. And also the new Etat Libre d’Orange called Sex Pistols. Sid & Nancy was another flick I watched at least a dozen times during high school. High School = the rebellious years, hence the attraction to these idiots, who for the life of me I can’t figure out why they were so interesting. They made only 1 album and their popularity was just a blip before Sid & Nancy’s deaths in their early 20’s. But Gary Oldman sure as heck did a bang up job as Sid.

Tauer’s new Carillon pour un Ange. Hmmm. Not sure I’ll be able to review this one in full. I think it just isn’t my thing. LoTV usually goes all air freshener on me unless it’s vintage Diorissimo, which in fairness is the polar opposite of what Tauer has done with Carillon, so there’s barely a reason to bring it up. Carillon is a dense, strongly green, mulit-facted floral. There’s some LoTV but just hints. I can see this being a love or hate scent. Now Orange Star, on the other hand, is gorgeous and I concur with everything The Non Blonde wrote about it. I’m coming to realize The Non Blonde and I might be scent twins.

Today I’m wearing Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Ylang & Vanille. This is pretty stuff. Pretty, uncomplicated and well done.

Ever notice how nobody ever mentions Mitsouko Fleur de Lotus?

So I had a perfume catastrophe last night. I was pulling out Micallef Hiver in order to wear it and write a review because I love this stuff when the bottle of Micallef Rose Aoud in front of it fell to the floor and smashed. It took me awhile to realize the bottle had smashed because I keep it in its box and I didn’t think much of its tumble; I figured it had managed unscathed. Well, when I saw the pool of perfume (think: crime scene pool of blood puddling around a body, I let out a yelp). Then I got all sulky wondering why I have such bad karma. Now I’m just peeved that half my house reeks of Rose Aoud. The bottle was 98% full and it leaked all over the floor.

I’m also not sure if I can write a review of Serge’s newest Bas de Soie. It’s just ok. Not much to say either positively or negatively. My love for all things Serge is quickly fading. My favorite fragrance from SL is Fleurs d’Oranger (among my top favorite perfumes period) which has now been reformulated. FdO was not massacred but it’s definitely NOT the unbelievably gorgeous and most stunning orange blossom on the market anymore. This reformulation coupled with Eau de Laundry Detergent and several blasé releases (Nuit de Cellophane, etc) have left me disenchanted and wondering if Lutens/Sheldrake have lost steam or perhaps are just doing what the corporate suits tell them to do. Most likely the latter.

Sandwich of the week: a breakfast sandwich. Scrambled egg whites on whole wheat toast with sliced tomato, mild green chilis draped across top and Monterey jack cheese. Cut into 4 triangles for easier eating. You truly can’t avoid the cultural phenomena of green chili in NM.

Have a fragrant weekend everyone!

Parfums Delrae Emotionnelle

Back when it first came out, I wasn't thrilled by Emotionnelle. I guess this was over a year ago now. It seemed like some kind of departure for Delrae, an important shift, though I couldn't put my finger on what kind. Anytime Emotionnelle's creator, Michel Roudnitska, produces anything even remotely evocative of his father Edmond's oeuvre (Diorelle, Parfum de Therese, Rochas Femme, Eau Sauvage, et al), comparisons are begged. And most of Roudnitska, Jr.'s fragrances seem speak to that heritage in some way, so the conversation about Emotionnelle was road-mapped before it ever hit my skin.

The strong melon thrust of Emotionnelle can certainly be seen as an homage to Parfum de Therese and Diorella. It can be seen as somewhat retro in a certain sense; not just because it recalls that vintage stock but because it doesn't align itself with any contemporary trend that comes to mind. I would never say there's no relation between Emotionnelle, Therese, and Diorella. How could you? But something about that comparison turned me off, I now realize. Again, I can't tell you what; but I think it's a bit of a trap door.

True, Emotionnelle feels retro, but it doesn't feel as spring-like to me as Diorella or Therese. It feels more like an oriental, actually, what with the clove, cedar, and amber in the base. Even at the top, when the melon is strongest (it's strong all the way through, mind you), there's something barbed about Emotionnelle, a sharper edge missing from Therese and Diorella. Emotionnelle feels darker and spicier than I thought at first, and ultimately a comparison to Rochas Femme might be more apt.

Like all of Roudnitska's work for Delrae, Emotionnelle has exceptional persistence and projection. Of all the coin I've laid down for perfume, the money I spent on the first five Delrae fragrances seems most intelligently squandered. I've written about the first four and about Roudnitska's work in general before. For me, he's a sensualist on the level of Maurice Roucel and Sophia Grojsman. What distinguishes him is a quality which can make his fragrances feel ten miles deep and horizons wide. The work of Roucel and Grojsman is by no stretch shallow or narrow, but the end effect, while plush and often robust, doesn't feel particularly voluminous. Both create perfumes which seem to have ripened right on top of the skin. Grojsman's Yvresse is a good comparison to Emotionnelle, with its boozy peach focal point. It feels more concentrated, more intensely pin-pointed.

Emotionnelle takes you down into the soul of something and spreads its arms out to bask in the full breadth of its splendor, and I get the feeling that Delrae decided, after it, to move in another direction, something considerably less epic in scale. The last two fragrances in the line up were created by Yann Vasnier. The word you hear most often in relation to these is light. The word you heard most often in relation to Roudnitska's perfumes for Delrae was heavy. I would subtract the "v" and add a "d", myself. I'm not sure vendors knew how to sell or market those first five Delrae perfumes. The one place here in town which carried them has stopped updating their stock. They still have boxes of Eau Illuminee and Debut on the shelf, collecting dust. I suspect Delrae felt a need to change its point of view.

It happens. A lot, actually. A perfumer has a run or a relationship with a brand which can last two, three, or twenty perfumes. Would I have enjoyed seeing how the relationship between Roudnitska and Delrae played out over the course of a few more? Yes. And I'm not a fan of what Delrae and Vasnier have produced since their division. But change is always at least interesting, and I'm curious to see where Roudnitska goes from here. For some reason, I feel that Delrae and Roudnitska tried working through their relationship with Emotionnelle. I feel it might have been each party trying harder to make the other happy. This is all speculation. But something about Emotionnelle felt brighter to me than the first four Delraes.

Either way, I'm sorry I misjudged it. I'm glad my expectations were high enough that I purchased it unsniffed. And I wish it hadn't taken me a year to come around to its charms. But it's becoming clearer and clearer to me that sometimes a blogger can't expect to have an instant opinion about a newly released fragrance. Some you know where you're at with right from the first sniff. Others your feelings and mind evolve around. Emotionnelle is a special fragrance.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Creed Sublime Vanille

People like to poke fun at Creed for their over the top marketing. I think almost all marketing is over the top and Creed’s doesn’t bother me any more or less. The bottle which houses Sublime Vanille is absolutely stunning and I find the jus inside equally as stunning. Sublime Vanille is simple. Or at least it seems exceedingly simple because there’s no complexity to speak of or much to ponder here, but don’t let this fool you, because it’s beautiful, especially if you are looking for this simple sheer type of vanilla.

When I first tried Sublime Vanille my reaction was “so what?” But over many months and many sprays of other vanilla fragrances I’ve realized this one is really good. It’s good if you are looking for something that sings vanilla, in a soft and not-entirely foodie way, that is also fresh and citrusy in addition to its sweetness. I don’t think it truly smells like Shalimar, but in my mind, it’s like a deconstruction of Shalimar, rebuilt to suite modern tastes. Of course it’s a bit more fleeting than I would like, but I solve that with about 5-6 healthy sprays and then I’m all set for at least half the day. I think of Sublime Vanille as the ultimate comfort scent. The one you reach for when you're a bit down in the dumps and need a soft cozy perfumed hug. Sublime Vanille is just so easy, deceptively simple and pretty, which is the reason I thought it was plain and boring the first time I tried it (and especially for the price tag!). But I've come around to thinking that Sublime Vanille is the best in it's class if you are looking for a soft yet fresh vanilla scent.

I have a growing list of vanilla fragrances that I like these days, which is a big step for me because I previously disliked almost anything with vanilla or gourmand tendencies. Most of my favorite “vanilla” scents are only barely focused on the actual note of vanilla. I generally choose vanilla scents where the starring roles are reserved for woods, spices, booze and incense, such as Annick Goutal Vanille Exquise, L’Artisan Havana Vanille, Parfumerie Generale Felanilla, The Different Company Oriental Lounge, Guerlain Tonka Imperiale, Boucheron Trouble, Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille and Dior Addict. If you happen to be looking for a simple vanilla that is soft yet fresh I can’t think of anything better than Creed’s Sublime Vanille. Well, you might also try Paul & Joe Bleue (for a fraction of the price), which is beautiful but even closer to being a copy of Shalimar. L’Artisan Vanilia is much too candy sweet and childlike. Same for Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille, this is woody vanilla with burnt sugar but it’s more foodie than I’d personally like. Creed’s Sublime Vanille hits that perfect G spot of sweet fresh citrusy vanilla that doesn’t make you feel like you've been baking a cake, only that you’re wearing a lovely perfume.

Here's another take on Sublime Vanille from Patty at Perfume Posse. I'm mostly agreeing with Patty, except that after wearing this "middle of the road" vanilla as she calls it, I've decided that Sublime Vanille is excellent precisely because it's the best of this sort, and sometimes I'm looking for a vanilla fragrance without an angle or an agenda.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mystery of Musk: my observations on three more

I have been wearing three entries for the Mystery of Musk Project for the past 2 days. I would never, ever, ever, ever, [ever] sniff solely from a blotter because; 1. That’s just wrong and you will not receive a true impression of the fragrance and, 2. You simply must wear all natural/botanical perfumes on your skin. Thems the rules.

I’m loathe to write this post because the three perfumes I’ve been testing just aren’t to my liking whatsoever. I mean, I can barely describe them in a useful manner. So, here goes, and I’m cringing:

Alexandra Balahoutis, perfumer behind Strange Invisible Perfumes created a scent called Temple of Musk for this project. I like several fragrances from SIP; namely Fire & Cream, Magazine Street, and all of her tuberose scents, Heroine, Narcotic and Trapeze. SIP is a line that took some time investment from me; I had to become accustomed to the initial blast of medicinal-balsamic-ick that seems to start off all her fragrances. Well, accustomed I am, so now it’s no longer a problem and I think SIP has a handful of masterpieces. I own SIP Musc Botanique so I expected some similarities with that one. I approached SIP Temple of Musk with familiarity and hopefulness. Sorry to say this is not my cup of tea. Temple of Musk starts medicinal and ends medicinal and there just isn’t anything here for me to even attempt to tease apart. Thankfully it doesn’t last long. After an hour I smell wet cardboard and then it’s gone.

Lisa Fong, perfumer behind Artemisia Natural Perfume created a fragrance called Drifting Sparks. Drifting Sparks is not unpleasant but it also contains a strong medicinal aroma with some vague florals in its heart and finishes off quite quickly not lingering longer than 60 minutes on my skin.

Adam Gottschalk, nose from Lord’s Jester, created a scent called Dionysus. Dionysus is sweeter and easier to wear than the above two scents. Dionysus seems strongly vanillic and maybe even more like chocolate than vanilla with a balsamic note over this vague medicinal quality I’ve been experiencing with several others.

I did not smell musk, or what I perceive to be musk, or cumin, civet or anything of that sort in these three fragrances. I am sniffing with an open mind, so I was hopeful to find something that DID smell musky, albeit in a non-synthetic botanical structure, but I’m just not finding this to be the case.

More on Tabac Aurea

Several people commented on Laurie Erickson and her work after I posted yesterday. Again, this morning. Specifically, Tabac Aurea. I've posted before saying this fragrance is one of my trapped on an island without any other perfumes top ten. And I've always been aware of its fans on the blogs. But the comment this morning reminds me about an incident recently with a few girlfriends of mine. One baked me a key lime pie and brought it over. The other I've worked on a few film projects with. She does make up and like me loves perfume and knows more than a little about it (i.e. a lot more than her pocketbook should). Her favorites tend to be all things Chanel. But she likes Black Orchid a lot, and I once gave her a bottle of CDG Luxe Patchouli, which made her eyes roll back into her head. If someone wore it, she said, she would probably have to eat them.

I say this all as background. The night I was given my very own personal pie, we had a little smelling session. I figured I'd let my favorite pie lady pick out something she liked. She smelled a selection but chose an old favorite, Kouros. The selection included Dior Ambre Nuit (they both loved this) and Dior Eau Noire, as well as several Parfumerie Generale fragrances (Un Crime Exotique and Coze, I believe), Alahine, Amaranthine. I forget what else. We generally smelled things they wouldn't have been able to get their hands on here in town. Included in this gold mine of scent was Tabac Aurea.

Now, I know I love Tabac Aurea. And I know many other bloggers and blog readers do, but nothing prepared me for an in-person reaction of the kind I got from these two. What struck me about this as I thought back to it this morning is that both of these women are pretty familiar with perfume, mainstream and otherwise. They know brand names and designers. They're not above a good ad campaign. They can be marketed to but expect some intelligence or style or vision in the sales pitch. While not exactly jaded, they're certainly pretty sophisticated. I'm here to tell you it was as though I'd spread cocaine on my arm. I wasn't prepared for the intensity of their reaction, no matter what I think of the stuff personally.

I'm going to wager that a review which compares her work to illicit drugs isn't one that Laurie Erickson will rush to include in the link section of her website. But it really was that intense. And from my post yesterday and the comments I got it's clear to me that I'm not the only one whose fragrance rarely gets noticed. It took me two and half years of experience to come up with ten remarks I'd received in regards to something I had on. I find all this particularly interesting in light of the recent discussion about artisan perfumery centering around the Natural Perfumers Guild project, The Mystery of Musk. It seems pretty clear to me that the one thing which is always sure to sway opinion and move people, when it comes to fragrance, is a damn good one. All the branding in the world, all the tradition (read Old Boy's Club), means squat when it comes to the real, firsthand experience of a fantastic--make that mind-blowing--fragrance. And Tabac Aurea is the best example I can think of to illustrate that principle at work, off the blogs and out on the street.

The accompanying photo is from an installation by the artist Jack Pierson.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Last Ten Reactions to a Fragrance I Remember Getting

1. Movie Theater

I watched a local film with three friends. Two were a married couple. The third was a good friend of mine. He's used to the way I smell. Several times a week he visits and we watch trash TV, and along the end table between us are typically lined anywhere from six to ten fragrances. I make him smell most of them, even though his assessments ("vinyl raincoat mixed with cat pee" is one of my favorites) tend to break the lofty fantasies I'm trying to build around them. Many people I know are well aware that I'm "really into" perfume. I forget that some people have no idea. When we left the film we all stood outside to talk about how horrible it had been. The sound, the performances, the direction (what direction?), the lighting. "And some woman sitting behind us was wearing the stinkiest old lady perfume!" said my friend's wife, aghast. It was like she'd survived an incident involving a rather virulent nuclear leak. "That old lady was me," I told her.

2. Editing Suite

A couple times a week I've been working with my co-editor on a film we shot this year. Neither she nor her girlfriend seems to wear perfume. They don't even seem to wear oils. She knows I like and write about perfume; it shouldn't come as a surprise, as the film is thematically tied into fragrance. One day, she emailed me to discuss our work the day before. Her room still smelled like me, she said, meaning my perfume. I can't remember what I was wearing but because we'd been working so closely and it's so hot I probably went easy on her and used very little. She said she liked it, which made me feel good, because even better than having your perfume complimented is having its memory installed, appreciated, and associated with you.

3. Email

Sometime last year--maybe the year before--I received an anonymous email. Whoever it was had signed up with an online service which basically allows you to insult people safely. Whatever you say can't be traced back to you. It's the loveliest thing. I rarely get comments on what I'm wearing. So it seemed strange to receive this notification. "Someone wishes to inform you that your cologne is unusually strong," it said. I know many people but like most of us I see the same several faces day after day, mostly at work. It was probably a co-worker, and I was annoyed that she couldn't just bring it up in person. I never heard about it again but have been paranoid ever since.

4. Workplace

I work with three women. One never says a word about whatever it is I'm wearing. When I asked her what she wears she says Chanel No. 5, though only on special occasions. Another co-worker says something about my perfume only rarely. Usually, when she likes what I have on, I give her some. The third party tends to go into paroxysms of pleasure every morning when I make coffee. She doesn't drink it but loves the aroma. She also sneezes a lot in the other room throughout the day and I generally take this to mean that I've over applied. This might be a product of the aforementioned paranoia. I asked her at one point whether her nose is particularly sensitive to smell. She said yes. I then asked whether the things I wear bother her. She said they usually don't, although there is one thing I've worn that gives her a migraine. More paranoia. What could it be? Every morning I wonder: Is this the cologne she was talking about? The whole thing seems bizarre to me because I'm fairly conversant about fragrance and read the forums like crazy and know which ones are considered scent bombs and which are inoffensive (i.e. non-entities, if you ask me) and I've always been conservative, both in what I choose to wear at work and in how much I apply.

5. Coffeehouse

It's four o'clock and I have recently reapplied. I'm very likely wearing at least three different things, which must smell like a melange to everyone else. Me, I can only smell what I just put on. I go to the counter to get my coffee. One of the teenagers who works there whispers something about me to her co-worker, whom I know better. The co-worker says, "He ALWAYS smells good," and she smiles at me. This makes me happy but also paranoid. Writing all this, I'm starting to realize how afraid or anxious I am most of the time: afraid of offending, afraid of being smelled, being discussed as a stinker, wanting to stand out but afraid of it too. In a general sense the comment made me wonder how often people like something I have on and say nothing.

6. Car

Recently, a friend got into my car and, after buckling in, said, "Your car always smells so nice."

7. Boyfriend

When I first started wearing things--which is to say ten things at once--he would migrate to the back room for refuge. On several occasions he pleaded with me, or simply said my name urgently, because we both knew without speaking what he was getting at; essentially, "please stop." He never does this anymore. He never complains. I don't know what happened. Maybe he's desensitized. Maybe the behavior seems less compulsive now, more routine, and therefore doesn't bother him as much--or, cross fingers, at all. Every once in a while he comments on something I've sprayed. Who knows what, because when I'm at home I have at least five fragrances up and down my arms. He smells the little pools on my skin until we determine which one he likes. Last time it was Amber Ylang Ylang.

8. Coffeehouse

One of my best friends is a straight male. We work on movies together. He was always slightly bemused by my perfume habits, as if they were the behavior of some weird, unclassifiable creature from a parallel dimension, harmless but curious. Then I found out that he had a special bottle of Riverside Drive by Bond No. 9, which is hardly typical for a straight guy, making him something unclassifiable himself. When I found discount bottles of Armani Prive Bois d'encens, I brought it over immediately, knowing he'd be hooked. Later, we screened at a film festival in Chicago and I took him to Barneys with me, just to watch his mind get blown. He left with a bottle of French Lover. He often tells me I smell good. However, one day, greeting me outside a coffeehouse for a get together, he said, "You smell like tampon."

9. Friend's House

I visited a friend in Los Angeles after sniffing at Barneys, Saks, and Nordstrom. I had scent strips with me and forgot them when I left. My friend told me later that her cats had gone crazy for whatever was on them, rolling around the floor like they'd gotten into catnip.

10. Wedding

I wore Bandit parfum extrait and lots of it to a friend's outdoor wedding. She and I often discuss perfume. I've given her: Nombril Immense by Etat Libre D'Orange, Nuits de Noho by Bond No. 9, Angel Violet, Marc Jacobs Violet Splash, Fresh Sake, and others I can't remember. I worried, before leaving the house, that no one would smell the Bandit, so I added some Azuree. When I left the wedding, I hugged the bride good-bye. "You always smell so good," she whispered in my ear.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mystery of Musk: my observations on five

I suppose I should tell you what I think smells musky. Examples of pure musk for me are Kiehl’s Original Musk and Serge Lutens Musc Koublai Khan. The former seems your basic musk, neither clean nor dirty, Kiehl's is a complete reference musk in my mind, while the latter has some unclean properties. When I was a kid certain musks like Alyssa Ashley and Coty Wild Musk were all the rage so these register as smelling like basic musks to me. There are loads of musk perfumes on the market but the majority seems to fall in one of two camps, either vanilla musks (Creative Scentualizations Perfect Veil, Sonoma Scent Studio Opal) or clean musks (Serge Lutens Clair de Musc, Donna Karan Cashmere Mist).

I went to Whole Foods Market to sniff a few musk oils just to double check my thoughts on what plain old musk smells like. Egyptian musk and Oriental musk from Kuumba Made smell like your garden variety musk to me, with the Egyptian Musk being most animalic (aka bum sweat and/or armpit). I also gave Sonoma Scent Studio’s Egyptian Musk a sniff to find it’s a really nice take on musk. SSS isn’t an all natural/botanical perfumer; she uses synthetics, which, aside from her brilliant blending skills is another reason why her perfumes last so amazingly well. I also re-tried Annick Goutal Musc Nomade and this, once again, ended in frustration. I cannot smell Musc Nomade. I am utterly anosmic to it. There may as well be a few drops of water on my arm. So, with this leeetle bit of background information I’ll delve into a handful of the perfumes making up this project (in no particular order whatsoever):

oh, and, just another disclaimer or two (sorry, need to get this off my chest): I do feel bad for not Loving all the fragrances in this project, but I believe it’s crucial to remain honest in any perfume review, no matter how personally involved one feels. Some of the perfumers participating in this project are small indie artisans and it pains me to find a few of them lacking. It really does. But I also know this is solely my opinion and others might love what I dislike, and so it goes. I am also purposely NOT reading the reviews of other blogs participating in this project. I want to smell “blind” without influence from anyone else. So if I end up commenting similarly or to the contrary, well, so be it:

Perfume by Nature
hails from Australia and entered a fragrance called Craving for this project. Craving, to me, smells like chocolate chip pancakes with a hefty dose of maple syrup. There is a teensy musk note in the base, which, of the scents I’ve worn so far, is actually the most animalic and potentially the most interesting considering its non-animal/botanical source. The overall thrust of Craving is uber-gourmand; very sweet and not a breakfast for diabetics. The musk here is hidden and I wish it was more pronounced because I think there’s a lot of potential in this musk note.

Providence Perfume Co. entered a fragrance called Musk Nouveau. Musk Nouveau opens with a medicinal and balsamic entrance that I’ve come to associate as the trademark of Strange Invisible Perfumes. I mean this as a point of reference and compliment because I like a good number of SIP fragrances and I am not inferring that there’s any copying occurring here. The comparison is merely a reference. Musk Nouveau is quite nice, I smell some woods, some patchouli done with a light hand and a dash of coffee and pepper. I’m not getting a lot of what I perceive as musk here, but I am getting a nice fragrance.

Jane Cate, nose behind A Wing and A Prayer Perfumes in California entered a scent called Tallulah B2. Tallulah B2 is named after Tallulah Bankhead, an outrageous and witty actress from the depression era. Tallulah B2 opens up very sweet and citrusy with zero musk in sight. I felt a little panicky with this one at first, but then it mellows into a vanilla musk type of scent, in the same vein as SSS Opal or Creative Scentualizations Perfect Veil. Tallulah B2 morphs once again after about an hour when I do start to detect a lovely, albeit clean musk in its base. Once dried down I quite like this cozy little number. This is one of those perfumes which could easily be described as a cashmere sweater. It’s lightly sweet, lightly musky, with the idea of some fruit and nuts (I smell hazelnuts or toasted almonds) and it’s simply effortless.

Sharini Parfums Naturels from France entered a scent called Graines de Paradis. Graines de Paradis opens rather bright and citrusy and settles into a heart of balsamic drenched florals. The thrust of this composition seems to lend itself to being labeled a floriental with a bouquet of florals emerging more than anything musky. It does, however, have some musky and woody base notes because it registers as a floriental and not a straight floral. There is sex appeal here, folks. The longevity is good at about 3-4 hours but like most of these naturals the sillage is nonexistent.

Anya’s Garden
entered a fragrance called Kewdra and whooooaaaa mama this is the most sultry, dark scent I’ve sniffed thus far from all the entries. Kewdra is based upon the heroine, Kudra, from the novel Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. If you haven’t read Jitterbug Perfume yet, it is a must read for anyone interested in fragrance and who also likes an immensely quirky yet unforgettable good romp. In fact, just thinking of Jitterbug Perfume gives me an olfactory memory of reading it. The book conjures the smell of musk musk and more musk. It’s a musky tale if you know what I mean. Anya’s Kewdra is a dark, exotic, scent, ever so slightly sweet and floral. The fragrance itself is a dark amber color and when I first applied it to my skin I thought it would stain, like a henna tattoo. Well, it doesn’t stain, but it does give me the impression of being super saturated and dense. It turns out Kewdra isn’t overly potent, once worn it is not overpowering but it has a nice heft for a natural.

Thus far, I haven’t smelled musk as I know it. I haven’t smelled anything in the way of Kiehl’s Original Musk. But what I have smelled is so varied and interesting.

Friday, July 9, 2010

From the Mountaintop: Norma Kamali Incense

As soon as I smelled this magic stuff, I knew I had to sign on and talk about it, because I waited forever to try it, and my hesitation had to do mostly with how infrequently I heard it mentioned. Incense couldn't be all that--it couldn't be too terribly fantastic--with so little being said on its behalf. I revisited the reviews on makeupalley again and again--one of the few places I saw it discussed--trying to find a common denominator in the general opinion there. Incense was said to be strong like you can't believe, one of those assault weapon fragrances which make massacre of your nearest neighbors. It was said to be linear ( like a bullet leaving the chamber, it moved straight to its victim), offensive, too bold to be tolerated. How could anyone actually wear his stuff, people asked. In theory, this sounded like my kind of fragrance, but the stuff goes for a whopping two hundred and twenty bucks, which is quite a sum for a feckless gamble.

I should mention: I'm not an incense fanatic. I rarely seem to back flip for whatever the latest craze seems to be, and I often resent the din of conversation centering around something which seems more about marketing than merit. Wonderful things have been done with Oud--I own a few of these things--but I grow weary seeing someone's mouth start to make the shape of the word, worried I'll have to hear more about it. Fig and iris were like Brittany and Kate Plus Eight to me. Where did these things come from? How long would they be cultural wallpaper? Would everything be brought to their level? The various permutations of these trendy notes fascinated me about as much as a photograph of Brittany emerging unawares from a limo, sans underthings. They were distractions, more than anything. Incense, for me, was just another one of these pointless celebutants. I loved some of the fragrances, the Comme des Garçons series, particularly, but for a while it seemed like learning to love the enemy, someone with whom you'd be forced to share a small cell indefinitely.

What drew me to Norma Kamali's version, I can't exactly say. Probably the idea of its force. I make no secret of my love for the stinky. This makes it into a joke, but really, for me, it's about embracing scents others make silly excuses not to like. My friend Bard says that when people say a fragrance is overpoweringly strong, what they essentially mean is, they don't like it. Which isn't to say some fragrances aren't loud. Poison is an intense scent. Amarige can be. Habanita is. But I'm always shocked, when I discover such pariahs for myself, how tame they actually are compared to these reports, and I've gradually learned to pay attention to the fragrances people dislike intensely.

I finally dropped coin for Incense, and I knew the moment I sniffed from the stoppered bottle that it would enter my top ten. I got the feeling it had always been there, on the list, waiting for me to join it. Incense is just about everything I might ask for in a fragrance, and so much more than a simple, straightforward variation on a them that I'm disinclined to call it by its name. Incense is robust but smooth, balsamic, charismatic, a little smoky, vaguely spiced, woody, diffusive, and persistent. It does smell like incense. It smells like a lot of other things, too. At the same time, I'm again thoroughly baffled, Bard's words aside, by the response to it. I don't consider Incense to be a particularly "fierce" or "potent" smell. I don't find anything in the opening which singes the nose hairs; nothing which resembles paint thinner or lighter fluid fumes. It doesn't tip heavily toward the masculine to me. The reports of its relentless linearity confuse me as well. While I do feel that Incense remains consistent from beginning to end, and while I agree it goes through no radical shifts, I suppose I wonder what fragrance truly does. Incense operates like a natural fragrance, shifting mercurially, full of nuance and depth. You smell it on someone and it speaks of a story. You feel there's something going on there, under the surface. Incense seems to collapse the idea of a surface, forcing you to sense depth. It has the kind of presence most perfumes are developed by creative teams to avoid at all costs. By this, I don't mean it's loud, or even that a little goes a long way; I mean that it has character and is unique.

Those who adore it and assign it top ratings like to point out that a bottle will last you forever, because you only need one drop. More strange praise, which I know now contributed to my resistance; why spend 220 bucks on something you can never have too little of? The truth is, I see myself moving quickly through Incense. I sprayed myself about five times in the summer heat yesterday and by no means or stretch did I scare anyone out of the room. I was working side by side all afternoon with a colleague and had no problem. Trust me, I asked. Incense requires no more or less application than any other scent that comes to mind, but, then again, like many of the fragrances I love, it's often most misleadingly described by its devoted admirers. It's the kind of scent you can't find the proper words for, maybe, even as it compels you to search.

Finding a great fragrance can be a religious experience, and you want to share the pleasure it brings you. It alters your consciousness a bit and leads you to see things in a different way. You want to shout it from the mountaintop. That can come off like proselytizing. It can also come across as superiority--something I often pick up from other perfume bloggers. I think I understand that. I empathize. Ultimately it's a process of trying to put into words, with some kind of definitive elan, why one fragrance has touched you more than another. In order to emphasize its greatness, something else must be less great.

Ultimately, however, the way a fragrances reaches one person will be very different from the way it does or doesn't connect with another, something we all know very well, however much we engage in dissecting the unclassifiable. We collectively pretend that we can reach consensus on fragrance: this, over here, is the good stuff; that, over there, that's the crap. The pile of crap is usually a gold mine, and gives away the lie of all these glorified opinions. Few have called Incense crap, mind you. But many sing its praises in a way which doesn't do it any favors, particularly when you consider that, had I heard it described differently, I might have purchased it months ago.

(The accompanying image is a photograph of a Norma Kamali dress taken by Mark Seliger)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mystery of Musk: DSH Musk Eau Natural

Of the twelve perfumers who submitted their work for this project, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ (DSH) is the one whose work I’m most familiar with. It was within the past year that I suddenly realized I knew her shop from my college days in Boston. DSH had a boutique on Newbury Street called Essence Studio. I’m not sure why this took so long for me to realize, (in fact I'm pretty sure she told me this) but it suddenly clicked (this 'sudden realization phenomenon' also known as dawn breaks on Marblehead to New England natives, with an additional silly connection ~ Dawn’s first name and Marblehead being a town I called home in Massachusetts). But I’m digressing to the point of no one understanding me. Anyway, the point is, I spent many hours in Essence Studio in Boston. I was such a young budding perfumista back then ((sigh)). And I’ve since had the pleasure of becoming familiar with a great number of DSH fragrances these past few years.

For this project, DSH created a fragrance called “Musk Eau Natural” which she describes as an Art Deco inspired scent from the 1920-30’s. Musk Eau Natural is parfum concentration so the depth and detail are particularly luscious. DSH has created a wonderfully spicy, resinous and incense-y fragrance in Musk Eau Natural. It actually seems more spicy and resinous and less about dirty musk than what I initially expected. For this, I’m glad, because while I look forward to testing some damn filthy musks during the course of this project, I personally prefer spicy woods to, well, bum sweat.

Musk Eau Natural is a warm, inviting, peppery-at-the-start, fragrance. If I *had* to compare it with an existing musk perfume the one it veers toward is Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur. So, if you're familiar with Musc Ravageur, you'll know this means Musk Eau Natural has a strong labdanum, woody tendency, with a velvety sort of beeswax/angelica underpinning. The body odor aspect is minimal while the warm woods and spices are most evident.

Whoever wins the giveaway at Perfume Shrine is one lucky little devil. This is a numilicious spicy, woody, musky skin scent. One amusing note, the person who was forced to sniff my wrists while wearing Musk Eau Natural today said it smells like: "an attic with a wardrobe of vintage (read: previously worn) clothing in the corner." I can't say I smell anything that would have conjured this image, and maybe he was pulling my leg, but it's what he said!

For more details on notes, you can visit the DSH website

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mystery of Musk: background musings

Some background thoughts before I begin reviewing the fragrances ~

Musk is an interesting idea. If one were debating what smelled good a few hundred years ago I would understand why musk (civet, etc) would top the list. Humans smelled differently 100+ years ago. Without central plumbing and near constant bathing we were musky little creatures. Present day humans exert an enormous amount of energy ensuring we do not smell, well, human. We brush our teeth, shampoo our hair, deodorize our under arms, chew gum, launder our clothing after one wearing and in nearly every obvious olfactory way, we remove any trace of the smell of our humanity.

I can only speak for myself, but it often strikes me as a craving, a need to recover some of this lost animalic sensuality when I hunger for some musk, some “skank” (descriptor courtesy of the writers at Perfume Posse) in my fragrance. Perhaps now more than ever, with the onslaught of so many pointless “eau de laundry detergent” scents, I’ve desired a bit of musk in my personal space. I am so otherwise scrubbed and deodorized.

As we all know, natural animal-sourced musk has been banned for decades. What we are familiar with now, are synthetic musks. This task is especially challenging for natural perfumers, who cannot and choose not to use man-made synthetic substances which would be quite an easier route to my mind. All of the perfumers involved in this project are using (creating, sourcing, imagining) natural substances. For the natural perfumers involved in this project, this is no easy “grab synth-musk accord #69 off the shelf” for them.

Forgive me for not digging into the details of the natural substances used, because this has never interested me. It does not interest me in synthetic perfumes nor does it interest me in natural perfumery. I consider myself the end user, the consumer, the one who appreciates the experience, the final product, but I don’t groove on the specificity of how it’s created. I smell perfume and I either love it or hate it no matter the substances involved.

The Non-Blonde’s description of natural perfumery resonated so much that I’d like to repeat her words here and then add a few of my own.
The Non Blonde: I know I'm not telling you anything new, but it's worth repeating: true luxury (and not just in perfume, it's true for jewelry, handbags and cheese) isn't bought at Macy's and doesn't have a famous label one can buy at the mall. True luxury is a unique item, hand-made by a skilled artist who selected the best materials and has a point of view and a personal touch. The natural Perfume Guild brings together the people who create these gems; it educates and promotes quality and artistic expression in perfumery.

I think of natural perfumery as a personal choice, a philosophy of life, a political statement and everything in between. There is a growing movement in the U.S. for organic and locally grown/made products. Do you have a Whole Foods Market in your town, how jam packed is this place?! I think it’s obvious there is an enormous shift/trend towards these types of original artisan created goods. Natural perfumery falls under this broad umbrella of original hand-made art for me. I think it’s purely coincidental, but the roll-out of this project occurring around the same time as America’s Independence celebration is a curious connection. Natural perfumery strikes me, by its very nature, as free, independent, pioneering, adventurous, edgy, stripped of pedagogy, outside of the mainstream and also sometimes a rather acquired “taste.”

I recall the first time I smelled some creations from Anya’s Garden, Strange Invisible Perfumes, Soivohle’ and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. Some of their darker, animalic and more adventurous scents made me recoil a bit. After an entire lifetime of smelling synthetic scents, some naturals, certainly not all, many natural perfumes are simple little lovelies just like many simple little synth scents, but it’s the daring scents which took some time to understand and acquaint myself with.

I think I am in for a wild ride with all the sniffing I need to do for this musk project. But I am looking forward to it, because after my initial shock (this is a several years ago now) I have come to appreciate, love and adore several scents from a handful of natural perfumers I admire. For me, my positive hit rate is no different from the number of perfumes I like from large houses churning out synthetic scents. There are always hits and misses.


Other blogs participating in the Mystery of Musk project:
Perfume Shrine
The Non Blonde
Bitter Grace Notes
First Nerve
Grain de Musc
Indie Perfumes
Olfactory Rescue Service

Monday, July 5, 2010

il Profumo Blanche Jacinthe

Blanche Jacinthe as described by il Profumo website:
“opens with celestial notes, given by the preponderance of the white and intense water hyacinth, which appears also in the heart of this perfume, in a very deep and sensual way. This alchemy is completed by orange flowers and jasmine. It closes with a trail of amber and musky notes.”

Announcement of Blanche Jacinthe on NST last year added galbanum and chamomile as additional notes. Obviously the ad copy is a bit lacking here so I’ll sum up the notes list in my own words with what I actually smell: water hyacinth (or insert hyacinth, lotus and/or water lily here), galbanum, chamomile, orange blossom, jasmine, and white musks.

Blanche Jacinthe (which I normally would shorten to BJ but you might imagine why I will not) reminds me enough of other hyacinth focused fragrances for me to group it into the same category with Annick Goutal Grand Amour, Guerlain Chamade and Parfums MDCI Un Coeur en Mai. However, Blanche Jacinthe also reminds strongly of Byredo La Tulipe with its soft green vegetal “freshly cut stems” quality.With a little snooping around, it turns out water hyacinth are a completely different plant from regular hyacinth. Water hyacinths are destructively invasive plants, considered ‘pests’ of the plant world but work nicely when used to make wicker (rattan type) furniture. Who knew? Well, we do now. I confess to not having any idea what water hyacinth smells like and am guessing il Profumo mean to convey that Blanche Jacinthe contains a watery, aqueous smelling hyacinth note, hence “water hyacinth” as opposed to generic hyacinth. From what I am smelling it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that the idea of lotus flowers or water lily is evident in this lovely little number as well. If anyone has actually smelled water hyacinth and knows that the scent differs greatly from regular hyacinth just let me know.

This article at NST is incredibly helpful and bears repeating given the list of notes in Blanche Jacinthe. The “notes” listed for a perfume are not an ingredients list. The notes are purely marketing or advertising copy. The list of notes is meant to convey how the overall fragrance smells but it by no means suggests that, in this particular instance, essential oil (or synthetic essence) of water hyacinth is used.

Normally I am quite the chypre, oriental and floriental lover but this year I’m having a field day with springy, pretty, girly white florals. Blanche Jacinthe could easily be dismissed as especially fresh, clean, watery and one-dimensional. I would only encourage sampling of Blanche Jacinthe if you are an avid hyacinth fan or perhaps tried La Tulipe this year and fell for its charms.

I am pleasantly surprised by Blanche Jacinthe and can easily say it’s one of my best unsniffed purchases so far this year.

A note about edp vs. parfum: I’m finding the parfum to be a tad greener and the additional notes of galbanum and chamomile seem most obvious in parfum concentration.

Sillage is soft and comfortable (yet present) and longevity is fair to average lasting about 3-4 hours on me (5 sprays).