Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Discoveries

Thank goodness perfume doesn’t contain calories because I’ve indulged in countless perfumes over the past year. Of all these fragrant moments, the following 12 perfumes were stunning standouts and will permanently take their place in my collection. This list is a mix of brand new perfumes as well as existing perfumes that were new to me this year.

Balmain Ivoire (thanks to Brian for the introduction)
Chanel 31 Rue Cambon
Chanel No. 22
Creed, Love in Black (or Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones)
Donna Karan, Chaos
Frederic Malle, Une Rose (thanks to Brian for the introduction)
Juliette Has a Gun, Citizen Queen
Serge Lutens, Chergui
Soivohle’ by Liz Zorn, Underworld
Sonoma Scent Studio, Winter Woods
Tauer Perfumes, Vetiver Dance
Yves Saint Laurent, Nu EdP (thanks to Brian for the introduction)
D'Orsay Tilleul
Parfums de Nicolaï Mimosaique
Lalique, Le Parfum

Care to share your standouts?

Happy 2009 to all! Best wishes for health, success, happiness, prosperity, fun, peace and countless fragrant moments.

PS: Here I am, trying to get out of the house to go celebrate New Year's Eve, and I keep thinking about my 2008 list - something wasn't right - I'd forgotten some important new findings - well it just came to me....D'Orsay Tilleul, Parfums de Nicolaï Mimosaique and Lalique Le Parfum. I've added these 3 to the above list making it a list of 15. Oh, well, it was a good perfume year, what can I say?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Late to the Party: Donna Karan Chaos

I’m ecstatic. I found DK Chaos, a jewel of a perfume, at the moment it’s been reissued. I never smelled the original and didn’t know very much about it until reading that it was to be reissued this year. I’m happy I never smelled the original because I need not concern myself with whether the reformulation lives up to the pre-discontinued juice.

I have no idea how I missed Chaos the first time around. I’m a huge fan of Black Cashmere and even purchased 3 back-up bottles in the frightening event of discontinuation. Chaos slipped silently under my radar screen all these years.

Chaos’ list of notes reads like my fantasy bespoken fragrance: (taken from basenotes) sandalwood, cardamom, cinnamon, padukwood, agarwood, saffron, clove, amber, musk, sage, lavender, chamomile and coriander.

Chaos is the ultimate woodsy spicy oriental scent. It is so perfect that it almost smells familiar ~ like something that has always existed. Chaos must have been quite edgy back in the 90’s. I was so proud of Estee Lauder for launching Sensuous this year, but this was before I knew of another more daring and beautiful woodsy fragrance which had already been introduced to the mainstream market over a decade earlier. A molten river of wood? Chaos fits this description, not Sensuous.

I’m nearly delirious from sniffing and spritzing Chaos. I cannot get enough. I just sprayed the inside of my suitcases and bags with it. The name, however, doesn’t suit the scent ~ it is much closer to peaceful and serene than chaotic.

Kudos to Donna Karan for the new bottles, too. I thought the older Black Cashmere vessel looked like an odd thing - a black vibrator to put it bluntly. The new bottles are simple, classic and easier to hold and spray.

Longevity: very good, 5+ hours
Sillage: soft but definite projection
Rating: 5 stars

PS: I should tell you that I purchased my bottle of Chaos from Bergdorf Goodman online. It cost $85, for a 3.4 oz bottle, which seems inexpensive, given how drop dead gorgeous this fragrance is, and how much it's been fetching during the discontinued years.

Seeing the Light in the Breath of God

Breath of God is a gospel CD by C. Millhuff which can be purchased on the Musichristian website for the miraculously low price of 5 dollars and 77 cents. This double length CD offers 700 biblical promises with orchestrated background of well known hymns--and it's only the first volume, which might mean God is a heavy breather. The compilation is "very spiritually reassuring and relaxing," says the manufacturer. Many use it at bed time for children. Bill & Gloria Gaither, whoever they are, describe it as 'overwhelming'. The opening track is called "All of You Who Endure", surely as much of a warning as an overture. "I Am Always Thinking of the Lord" follows, along with, among others, "No Mere Man", "Since We Believe in Jesus", and "Take My Yoke Upon You." What better at bedtime than a sedative?

It's easy and sometimes good for a laugh to poke fun at organized religion, not least when it ventures out into the marketplace with a lowest common denominator smile on its face. In fact, God is many things to many people. To a select few, He's no one at all, which of course is another kind of someone, as negative space is space all the same. Most people, even the most devoutly Christian, have some sense of spirituality. Where did it all come from? Where is it all heading? Who in His right mind would come up with those funny looking, hairless cats? The mind is constantly questioning. The world is full of wonder. Something, or someone, somewhere has to encapsulate all the wondrous conundrums that make up a life. You get so used to things, so buried in the mindless grooves of the day to day, that you can easily forget how amazingly complex and unlikely the universe and creation are. Something or someone has to remind you.

Every once in a while, along comes an entity which snaps you out of this, with such force, such clarity of purpose, that you see it all very clearly suddenly. In that moment of lucidity, you see it's both a joke and a dead serious, awe-inspiring proposition: your life, everyone else's, the fact that skyscrapers and barns co-exist in the same implausible scheme of things, along with Mozart and Mama's Family. The shaky brevity of relationships and our constant, heroic struggle to understand one another, how big it all is, how far reaching, how large and impossible to see all at once, how simultaneously tiny and interconnected: suddenly it all registers in stark, microscopic detail.

For some, that surreality check is a gospel record. For others, it's a sunset. A child's face, a mother's, a birth or death or a fugitive smell out on the street which instantly brings a loved one back to life. For perfume lovers, it might be finding that holy grail perfume. There among the dross of the mass market miasma might be--Eureka!--a vintage, unopened bottle of Magie Noire, Nombre, or Mitsouko. Such shocks to the system, rare enough on e-bay, are even harder to come by in contemporary perfume. So many fragrances flood the market annually that we lovers can become very blase about it all. More pink pepper, you say? Damn. Now that's a dilemma. I really wish I could buy it--but I just don't want to. There are still amazing perfumes being made, and by amazing I don't mean really beautiful or truly great. I'm talking about a perfume that recalibrates the cosmos for you.

Breath of God, in addition to being a gospel CD, is also just such a perfume. The supposed seven days of creation play out on your skin when you splash some of this preposterous stuff on. You can smell the barnyard (thank you, cade oil) and the orchard, the sky and the ground and everything in between. This perfume takes chances, reminding you of the high humor involved in a world which mixes nylon fanny packs and Bentleys into the same big pot. You might not like the results, but you're sure to be caught off guard.

Breath of God is made by B Never Too Busy to be Beautiful, a vegan cosmetics manufacturer related to Lush. The packaging and the overall aesthetic are similar enough that you might understandably confuse them as the same company, but there's nothing remotely close to Breath of God, as one would secretly hope. It comes in a silly, playful bottle perched on a pedestal. Its composition is equal parts Inhale and Exhale, both of which are fragrances themselves, also sold by BNTBTBB. There's a definite tension within Breath of God, creating the sense of yin and yang, its black and white halves roiling around like a winking Jesus. It doesn't do a lot of staying still, though it maintains its remarkable balance in movement. Breath of God contains cedarwood, rose, ylang ylang, vetiver, lemon, grapefruit, neroli, black pepper, sandalwood, and that wallop of cade, or so says the ad copy. What it smells like is much harder to break down, as it probably should be, with a name like that. In a flash, it goes from fruity to woodsy, from petrol to herbal, and back again.

I'm a fan of Lush's Karma, which I've tried in solid and own in liquid form. I wear it often. My good friend enjoys smelling it, though he says he wouldn't wear it. Breath of God would probably elicit the same verdict. I'm not sure that's such a problem. I know many people who admire Bandit's audacity but would no more put it on than they would a piece of ready-made art by Marcel Duchamp. Breath of God has that fearsome impressiveness to it. There's a lot of wit in there. It goes further than many perfumes dare, displaying a fascinating combination of finesse and crudity, a dual personality that feels, in practice, perfectly harmonious. It feels full, a double CD worth of inspiration. Breath of God is a breath of fresh air.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Year: All the World's a Bathroom

I'm a latecomer to perfume, and 2008 was my awakening, starting with Vetiver Extraordinaire. A friend wrote about Vetiver Extraordinaire in a French magazine, making it sound like the best thing in the world. The only thing in the world. I'd visited him in Atlanta several months before and was shocked and a little uneasy when, watching a play in a dark theater, he pulled out a bottle of Comme des Garçons 2, uncapped it with much drama, then sprayed himself, and everyone around us, profusely.

It seemed hostile and generous at the same time, part assault, part act of mercy. When I asked him about 2 he mentioned he'd been writing about perfume a lot. I was fascinated. Write about perfume? Here was a serious, well known writer, respected for his novels about the lower east side and the denizens of old Times Square. Was he doing it in secret? Later, he emailed me the copy of his article on Vetiver, showing his real name, right at the top. I asked for a bottle last Valentine's Day. It seemed appropriately extravagant for the occasion: it came from far away (I ordered from France, if you can believe it, which shows what I knew), was costly (or so it seemed, compared to the mall), and surely, I figured, it would be a special perfume for special occasions.

At the time, I had maybe four or five fragrances: an old bottle of Coriandre, a Fragonard, something by Aveda, the original Comme des Garçons. It wasn't that I hadn't bought scents in the past. I just didn't know where to look. I didn't even know anything like Vetiver Extraordinaire existed, the world of niche perfumery being subterranean territory to me. My bottle of Coriandre reminded me of high school. I used to sneak into my stepmother's bathroom to smell it.

I did a lot of sneaking into bathrooms back then. When my sister or stepmother emerged from their rooms, they smelled fantastic. Their scents had gravitational force, and everything around them collapsed into that central point of interest for me. I envied that power. More importantly, I envied them that pleasure; that drama and intrigue. There was even solace in that dynamic somehow. Scent was emotional armor and hypnotic allure. Buying Coriandre later was a bit of a defiance for me, but I treated it the way I always had: I kept it in the bathroom, smelling it every once in a while or even obsessively. I never wore it, unless getting into bed, where no one would catch me.

I still remember the day Vetiver Extraordinaire arrived in the mail. It was packaged beautifully, and the glass bottle and chunky cap had a heft to it which seemed important, even momentous. It smelled like nothing I'd ever experienced. Dry and wet simultaneously, grassy, sheer. What was this vetiver stuff? A plant--a grass, you say? I sprayed some on at work and the whole office shifted. It was so combustible. It engaged the people around me, altering their behavior, altering my mood, my attitude, my imagination. It truly was momentous, and in the weirdest possible way.

I started researching perfume. Here was my stepmother's bathroom, spread out all over the world. A little bathroom called Frederic Malle, in Paris, France; stark and sleek, black and red and dull green glass. Little bathrooms called The Different Company, Le Labo--and hey, what about that Comme des Garçons perfume the writer had employed to change the course of the play we were watching? What of number "2"?

The first part of this awakening for me was a systematic run through of all the perfumes which had ever secretly captured my imagination. First up was Angel. Years ago, when it came out, I'd smelled it as quickly as possible on the shelves. What would I do if a saleperson came over and started asking me questions? I wanted that smell for my own more than anything. This year, I bought it at the mall, where the saleswomen indeed hovered around me, sizing me up. What kind of husband or boyfriend was I, their eyes were asking? How big a dupe? They talked me into the most expensive bottle they had, deluding me somehow into believing my girlfriend (essentially myself in this scenario) deserved the very best. Hadn't she waited long enough?

A month or so later I visited Portland, wondering, "Do they have any interesting bathrooms?" They did! The Perfume House, my host said, but she didn't think it was much. It was closed the first few days of my trip and I passed the time in Nordstrom and Saks, where I got Declaration Essence and smelled Gucci pour Homme for the first time. When I was looking at Declaration Essence, I sprayed it ever so slightly on my wrist. No no, the saleswoman said, taking the bottle from me. "How will you enjoy THAT?" Before I could answer she'd sprayed more perfume than I'd ever dared, covering my wrist in a wet pool of smell. It was so strong that when I walked into the nail salon to let my host smell, it registered over the toxic stench of nail products. I walked around inside the dream of that aroma all day.

The Perfume House really did it for me. Located in an old home on the middle of a busy street, its curious effect on my outlook was incalculably transforming. For someone who associated perfume with private, clandestine areas of the house, being in a house stocked full of bottles, everywhere you looked, was revolutionary. I can't explain how life changing this was for me. It took perfume out of the bathroom: brought it right out into the open, into the living room, the bedroom, the foyer, the bedroom. And everyone came out with it, setting bottles and cotton swabs of scent all over the counters and shelves. It was a four day conversation about perfume and for once the subject didn't feel like a dirty secret. The whole history of the world was tucked inside the topic. How strange to emerge from the building. Out on the street, no one else seemed to be having the conversation.

Over the next four or five days I spent roughly ten hours there. It was an intensive crash course on just some of the variety available in fragrance. Lutens, L'Artisan, Amouage, Piguet, Carthusia, Lalique, Patou, Crown, Goutal. The owner and his staff were wonderful. They made no assumptions, no value judgments, knew something about everything they stocked. What they couldn't remember they immediately looked up, without my having to ask. I bought five or six perfumes that trip: Dzing!, Sables, Bois 1920 Classic, Comme des Garçons 2, Chypre Rouge. My last day, I had a cold and was quietly devastated that I couldn't smell the things I'd bought. Regardless, I didn't want to leave.

The interesting if perhaps predictable thing is that since that time I have purchased everything I smelled and liked in that store over the course of those four days. And then some, naturally. Am I trying to make up for lost time? Maybe. Last night, thinking about it all, I suddenly considered again how brief everything is. I'd been out to dinner with my friends to celebrate one of their birthdays. Time telegraphed back and forth in my head and I got sad thinking how ephemeral life can be. Your relationships and the things which mean so much to you are blips on the screen, brief and fleeting. It tortures me. Someone's face eventually becomes a photograph, frozen in time, telling only a fraction of the story. The dog you loved and woke to for fifteen years is long gone, along with her smell and the sensation of her fur against your cheek.

Perfume, for me, I realized, extends those blips into lifelong memories, which live on indefinitely in the mind. I only went to LA several months ago, but this weekend I smelled Chanel Cuir De Russie, which I bought there, and already it smells like that whole trip to me: the insecurities I felt showing my film for the first time, coupled with the wonder of being in that weird, magical and merciless place. Perfume brought every complicated emotion back to me with visceral economy. Nothing else has the ability to do that with such facility. Maybe it has to do with the fact that perfume itself is so complicated and hard to pin down. Perfume itself is tangled emotion and wonder, sadness and beauty and beatitude all mixed together. The smell of violets isn't simply floral but ancestral for me. Violets are my grandmother, conjuring every last detail of her memory. Fragrance has the power to bring the dead back to life. It changes things, alters the course of time, penetrates the mind and the mood.

Meeting Abigail in The Perfume Critic chat room was important for me. Starting this blog extended the conversation I began at the Perfume House in Portland, bringing it into the outside world. We talk almost every day, several times a day. We meet on the blog to share our impressions and all those complicated feelings. We share perfume and the stories behind them with each other. And all those conversations are peppered with everything else going on in our individual day to day lives. When I talked to Abigail on the phone the first time, after we'd known each other a couple of months and been blogging that time, it was like walking into the Perfume House again. I didn't want to hang up. We talked so easily, more easily than most people I've known ten times as long. The things I'd worked so hard to hide or downplay in conversation with others were matter of fact between us, and I talked like someone's hand had been muffling me all this time.

I can't imagine talking about perfume without Abigail being by my side in the discussion. Together, we've left the Perfume House and taken it out onto the street, continuing the conversation in public. Funny thing, that. Once you start talking on the street you draw others who are having their own conversations. Ours eventually started getting responses from the people reading us, and we continue (avidly) reading other people. Perfume: The Guide was indispensable. IS indispensable. Turin and Sanchez are real advocates, deepening the exchange of perfume between self and the larger world, chief proponents of the right to opinion and passion when talking about it and sharing it, defending it or dismissing it. All the reference lists on various perfume blogs were key, too. I printed them all out and carried the phone book-sized lot around with me, studying as if cramming for an exam. I wanted to know perfume inside and out. I still do. All the perfumers, all the companies, all the ingredients, accords, terms, all the history. I have the feeling there's no going back for me now, and despite all the wonderful things that have happened for me this year with my work and in my personal life, my initiation into perfume and the open embrace of that long-forbidden pleasure stands alone as a singular achievement.

Below are flashbacks from the year for me, some of the moments which come most readily to mind:

-Walking into Chanel in Beverly Hills, where the first thing I saw was a row of Les Exclusifs. I came for Cuir de Russie but they were out. I was the only one in the crowded store looking at perfume, and the sales force seemed perplexed by my insistence and questions. Wasn't there someone in my life who might like a nice quilted purse?

-Traveling across the country for work allowed me to visit perfume shops and department stores I don't have access to at home, and often I was much more preoccupied with tracking down bottles of juice than the real reason for being in town. I visited Nordstrom and Parfumerie Nasreen in Seattle, Barneys and Etro and LuckyScent in LA, Barneys in Chicago, Fena Fresh in Greece. My favorite is still the Perfume House, though it doesn't have many of the lines I look for.

-I shopped online a lot. Nothing compares to the excitement of opening a package you've been waiting for. Will it disappoint? Will it exceed expectations? I've experienced both and everything in between, from the let down of Comme des Garcons 2 Man (poor longevity) to the thrill and surprise wallop of Rien and Jasmine et Cigarettes.

-Reading the Guide for the first time made the whole world stop for me. I couldn't hear or see anything else.

-Buying every last perfume I ever smelled in my stepmother's bathroom, including all the Estee Lauders and Coco.

-The constant adjustment my sensibility has gone through regarding gender lines and designations when it comes to perfume. What once seemed unspeakably feminine to me now registers as totally androgynous. What once seemed impossibly butch is now passably femme.

-I spent all year trying to find several perfumes. I ordered Chaos for a friend when it finally came out again and was a little more affordable. In the meantime, during my search, I came across DK Signature, which caught me off guard and turned out to be one of my favorite purchases. I looked everywhere for Lancome Cuir. Even the Lancome reps seemed never to have heard of it. It finally became available on Parfum1, and I love it.

-I ended the year buying five Ava Luxe fragrances and Breath of God from B Never Too Busy to be Beautiful.

Thanks to Perfume Shrine for involving us in this project. See also:

Perfume Shrine
Ars Aromatica
A Rose Beyond the Thames
Bittergrace Notes
Grain de Musc
Notes from the Ledge
Savvy Thinker
The Non Blonde
1000 Fragrances

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Thank you for being there

I happily returned to my own home today after spending several days with relatives in my old hometown. As I looked around at my family members and old friends I realized there is one important piece of my life which they completely do not get. I keep my perfume interest (habit, obsession, whatever word works best), a secret from them. I’ve never told them I write a blog about perfume. They would think me crazy. I mean, bat shit crazy. Like many of you out there, I don’t have any blood relatives who have even the remotest interest in fragrance like I do. I’ve tried to explain The Posh Peasant to my closest aunt, and her reaction was “well, I guess everyone has their thing.” This basically means she thinks I’m bat shit. Oh, sure, I can talk about all my other hobbies and interests with my family, but not this one.

Being cooped up with people with zero interest in fragrance for a few days made me appreciate all of you so much more. It’s only been over the past 3-4 years since I became aware of basenotes, Now Smell This, Perfume of Life, MUA and many other blogs and online fragrance resources. This online perfume community makes my perfume obsession seem completely normal. If I’m candid, I must admit that finding all of you, who are just as interested/fascinated/enthralled by perfume as me, has caused me to feed the obsession even more. Yep, you’re a bunch of enablers! But, I love every moment of it. I really do. And I’m so glad you’re all here to go on this perfume journey with me.

By the way, I only took 3 bottles to Boston with me. Tom Ford Black Orchid (more about this later), Chanel No. 22 pure parfum (holiday gift to myself) and Diptyque Opone.

Reason for pic choice above: birds of a feather, flock together.

Pic is taken from Elephannie shop on Etsy

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We're You're Biggest Fan: More Blogs We Award with Our Undivided Attention

Here at I Smell Therefore I Am, we often talk about our favorite blogs. Abigail and I spend hours online, not just working on this site but on most of the perfume blogs which have sailed into our orbit. Some of these are written by people we've gotten to know a little bit over the past year or so. Some respond to our posts. Some have written us personal emails. Others we've just strayed into. One thing we've noticed is how intelligent and cultured fragrance bloggers tend to be. They bring a diverse array of outside interests into their ongoing discussion of perfume. To them, talking about perfume means talking about art and literature, music, fashion, politics, social history. Reading these blogs, you learn about perfume, for sure, but also about things you might never have been exposed to. Blogging about perfume is a way to share style and tastes and a passion for things in general.

Recently, the Fragrantica Blog Awards were announced. None of the recipients were any news to us. We read them regularly, and enjoy them. But we wanted to share with you some of our own favorites, along with some exposition on why we keep going back to them. We list them in no particular order.


This site is indispensable for anyone with more than a passing interest in perfume. People who blog know how time consuming it is. To be consistent is a challenge. To be timely, current, and endlessly stimulating, let alone informative, is near impossible. Somehow, Nowsmellthis does all of these, providing nothing short of a symposium on all things perfume. The resources offered are pretty staggering. Need to know the perfumer behind your favorite perfume? Curious what else she's done? Want to know something about that niche company whose name you can't quite remember? Nowsmellthis tells you who did it, when, what else, how, where, and everything but why. No other site is as reliable when it comes to upcoming releases, industry news, and the overall pulse of perfumery. The core review team (Robin, Angela, Kevin) issues one trustworthy, no nonsense review after another on everything from the latest to the sadly forgotten.


Mark, Dane, and Thomas infuse perfume criticism with a healthy dose of wit, reviewing in concise, lucid prose perfumes which sometimes deserve only half the bother. Luca Turin says Vol de Nuit is a standard, a way to recalibrate your perfume antennae. These guys are my Vol de Nuit. They can be counted on for candor, humor, and a good laugh. When they like something, they appraise it without fawning. When they dislike it, they issue the verdict with admirable, if withering, precision. This is the only site on my radar which is posted by more than one person, all of them men. That might mean very little to you. To me, it's infinitely encouraging.


I love Olfacta. Her voice is inimitable: assertive, savvy, all over the place in terms of interests, resulting in a remarkably focused read. It's a voice that reminds me of sitting down with a good friend who knows a lot more than I do. At some point you shut up and listen, figuring you'll learn more from her than vice versa. You'll only be depriving yourself of an education if you insist on running your mouth. Olfacta will talk brain chemistry, music, and art in the same breath as perfume. But don't expect insufferably high brow content. The meter dips just as often into lowbrow, with posts on Mad Men, The Banger Sisters, and recipes for mulled wine. Most blogs let you know how many visitors they've had. On the left side of her blog, Olfacta lets you know how frequently she visits everyone else, down to the day and the hour. Here's an excerpt of a review on the Comme des Garcon Incense Series:

"Zagorsk, which seems a bit contrived to me at home, makes sense in Alaska. It reminds me of the epic movie 'Dr. Zhivago,' of that scene with Omar Sharif as Zhivago and Julie Christie as Lara, swathed in fur, crossing the steppes. Zagorsk is cold and austere, full of pine, birch and cedar. It’s meant to evoke Russia. There is something melancholy about Alaska, too, though, months of nights that never end, a summer so short, and with so much work to be done. Zagorsk has the gravitas to handle such a place. Imagine how silly, how out-of-phase, some girly-girl floral would be here. Zagorsk was perfect."

Perfume-smellin Things

Along with Nowsmellthis and Scentzilla, PST was one of the first perfume blogs I ever visited. Colombina's writing is personal, detailed, and voluminous. Go ahead, type something into the search engine, the most obscure thing that comes to mind. It's almost a cinch that Columbina's been there and done that and had something compelling to report about it. Her review of Ormonde Woman is as wonderfully cerebral as its subject: "I feel uncomfortable using words like 'masculine' or 'feminine' when describing this perfume. It is beyond definitions like that. Like Lilith, this perfume is not human and requires a whole other vocabulary. My synesthesia is not enough to write a better review of Ormonde Woman. I need the gift of xenolalia." But Columbina's particular gift merges mind to libido, sensationalism to sensibility: "What I discovered when I reopened [Bal a Versailles] was a riot of sensuality, symphonies of roses and jasmine, amber, wood and spice….visions of large jungle cats mating , velvet on nakedness and a deep wet kiss in all of the right dark places , the scent of heaving cleavage!" These, reader, are from the same month. In addition to the above, Columbina is prolific.

Bois de Jasmin

Just to give you an idea of the diversity available on perfume blogs, here's a quote from BDJ's review of Ormonde Woman: "The combination of spicy vibrancy and sultry sweetness is amazing. It is an olfactory equivalent of a Bengali wedding sari—red silk, embellished with intricate gold embroidery and sumptuous golden thread. Warmth of amber provides a richly textured brocaded background to the interplay of spicy and sweet notes." Bois de Jasmin is one of the few sites I visit without any specific agenda in mind. Often I link there and read an entire page of reviews. They're informative and interesting, always thoughtful, rarely if ever dismissive.

I knew when I started this post I could never do these bloggers justice or express more then a fraction of my appreciation for what they do and how well they do it. I also knew I wouldn't be able to write about all of my favorites at once. The post would simply be too long. I'll get to some of the rest after the holidays but did want to mention some of the others, lest you think the ones I've mentioned are top priorities rather than the first I pulled off our site's blog roll. As much as I admire the informative, comprehensive tone of sites like Bois de Jasmin, Nowsmellthis, and Perfume-smellin Things, and the opinionated concision of sites like Olfactarama and Peredepierre, I'm always just as compulsively drawn to highly personal sites like Mossy Loomings, Everything is Interesting, Fragrance Bouquet, Notes from the Ledge, and Indie Perfumes, all of which detail distinctly personal experiences of perfume and life in general. I never know what these sites will talk about, but I can always count on emotionally detailed posts which are alive and open to the outside world. We'll get to them and others eventually but will be reading them religiously in the meantime. I should also point out that the single most visited site by me is basenotes, which is more like a part of my brain at this point than a website I frequent.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dolce and Karma: The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

Sometimes, the simplest perfumes are the most attractive to me. They don't dive deep into my skin and my imagination, charting unknown depths of sensory pleasure. They don't smell impossibly rich or impressively complicated. They don't boast a provenance tangled up in Grasse Royalty, and in fact are created by people I've never heard of, who might have worked on the last Celine Dion fragrance for all I know or care. Instead, they're unusually strong, forthright, and accessible. They state their intentions right from the start in bold, declarative language.

A good example is Coty's Exclamation. This fantastically garish rose is like a starter perfume, a back to basics beginner's floral by Sophia Grojsman, and a perfectly good illustration of the way a brilliant perfumer can work on all levels of commerce, from the niche company (100% Love) to the Prescriptives counter at the mall (Calyx) to the bargain shelf at the drugstore (Exclamation, Diamonds and Rubies).

Karma, by the Lush cosmetics company, and Dolce, by Michael Marcus cosmetics, are recent favorites. I reach for Dolce, in particular, every day, if only to smell it. One reason it gets my immediate attention, like Exclamation, is its staying power. I love L'Artisan. I love Guerlain. And if I have all day to sit on the couch and smell them, knowing they're nearby and can be reached for and renewed when they fade, I'll grab them. I'm on the couch enough, but I do have a job and get out in the world too, and though I admit I carry at least two perfumes around in my backpack, there are times when I'm not able to spritz or switch. I want something, like Dolce, which will be there two hours from now.

Dolce couldn't be less complex, though it isn't really linear, either. It starts off with the biggest blast of lavender and lavandin you've ever smelled. No graceful Pour un Homme business here, no soft bed of lavender drizzled with vanilla and doughy cake. Dolce lacks the subtlety of Pour un Homme or other lavender-inflected fragrances like, say, Cafe Noir by Ava Luxe. But it speaks very clearly and you know exactly where you stand with it. Apparently, lavandin is a hybrid of lavender officianalis and lavender aspic or spike lavender. It's heartier and grows at higher elevations. Most of the pictures you see are lavandin, or so I've read. Lavandin is much more camphorous, "louder", as one online description put it. Dolce adds to lavandin a blast of rosemary, just to make sure you know it's serious, I guess.

This initial astringency segues into a deeper, more even-keeled stage of of chocolate, vanilla and musk, but the rosemary and lavandin are in for the duration, which redeems the fragrance for me. I'm not a musk fan. Nor am I a chocolate lover. The herbal qualities of Dolce steer it just enough from gourmand overkill that you forget you're actually smelling chocolate. The pyramid on Michael Marcus' website lists geranium and orange. I'm not saying those aren't there. But who's going to notice a violin in the corner when a big band is in full swing front and center? The tune Dolce plays is catchy and upbeat, and plays indefinitely. It's an eminently likeable composition which hits all the right notes, fulfilling the simple needs we bring to an old standard. It repeats the chorus enough to satisfy.

The Marcus counter displays five perfumes. None besides Dolce particularly appealed to me, proving just how hard it is to compose that catchy tune. The others were so unmemorable that I couldn't begin to describe them to you. I smelled Dolce four times before buying it. When I did buy it I returned it a few days later. I think I did this because its appeal made no real sense to me. I think I probably returned it out of snobbery. Then again, Exclamation doesn't cost 100 bucks. What's to reconsider? All of Marcus' scents are 100 bucks for 100 ml. At the time and in theory this seemed ridiculously presumptuous of them. Yet it starts to make sense when you consider how long Dolce, at least, lasts, and how pleasing it is. I returned to the mall several times, sniffing Dolce as I passed that section of the store. Ultimately I bought it again and have enjoyed it thoroughly ever since. When I looked Michael Marcus up online I discovered he's done a lot of magazine work. It seems as if he might have made his name doing Paula Dean's make-up. For this alone he should be drawn and quartered.

Speaking of orange, there's Karma, another fragrance whose easy appeal I struggled with. Did I want it? Did I like it as much as I seemed to? How could I, when it seemed so...basic? Finally, as with Dolce, I decided that gravitating toward it again and again in the store was all the indication I needed. The decision was made the first time I sniffed it. I just chose to be in denial. Karma isn't for everyone. Like Dolce it starts out with a pretty blustery flourish. In Karma's case, that means a sunny citrus disposition, the clearest voice in the room. To some (to me, even, the first few times I smelled it) it would seem that such a clear, penetrating orange might never go away. And essentially it doesn't. It sticks around, like the lavandin in Dolce, presiding over things. But the more you smell Karma the more you recognize its subtle strategies. Karma is a catchy song played with unusual instruments, producing a curiously familiar but unusual effect.

The orange is complicated and intensified by an incense accord, pine oil, and patchouli. Lavandin makes an appearance here as well. Like Dolce, Karma lasts and lasts, playing out its song on the skin.

Monday, December 22, 2008

This Week's Random Thoughts

Tonight, I'm wearing: on one arm, Neil Morris Spectral Violet. On the other, Neil Morris Gotham and Fetish. Spectral Violet lists galbanum alongside violet, which is fine by me. I like it a lot. Fetish is nice. Gotham is interesting. I have a bag full of Morris samples. Today I organized all my testers, my odds and ends and decants. By organized I mean I took them out of the drawer they were kept in and put them in a plastic, sealable tub. I spent some time with all the Neils again, having only really smelled them once, and quickly. Previously they were pleasant enough, but something about the freezing cold brought them to life. They're unusual and compelling and I intend to wear some tomorrow. I need a full day to judge.

Also revisited: Michael Storer's Monk (which I love), and the Ava Luxe samples I own (Midnight Violet, Cafe Noir, Madame X, Milk, Oiellet Blanc, out of which I least like Milk and most like, as in can't get enough of, Cafe Noir). Earlier today I'd ordered some Ava Luxe for myself. Film Noir, Midnight Violet, Biba, Queen Bess. What is it about these small perfumers that seems even more fascinating than the Big Guys (and Girls)? Somehow, it seems even more incomprehensibly heroic, these lone men and women making perfume, without the backing of big companies or teams of decision makers. What they do seems so quiet and hopeful, shows such perseverance. The fact they have fans seems astonishing, given the noise made by bigger machinery.

Everyone's getting perfume this year. My mom, my dad, my friends, my enemies. I gave my dad Aramis. He wore it when I was growing up. He also wore Aramis 900. I think my own first fragrance was JHL. One of the firstm anyway. I hadn't smelled it since then, until a few months ago when, in a small town between here and my mother I stopped at a department store which stocked some. Verdict: It smells almost exactly like Youth Dew, and if it moves away from Youth Dew it's only to address Versailles.

My partner's co-worker is getting Lolita Lempicka. My friends are getting: Prada, Nu, Jaisalmer, and I can't say what else, in case they peruse this. Abigail's getting a whole box of perfume. I do know what I'm getting. Patou 1000 edp, Ormonde Woman, and Breath of God by B Never Too Bust To Be Beautiful. I'm thinking about nothing else the last few days. I plan to be in a mild narcotic coma induced by fragrance two days from now.

I'm finding it more of a struggle to maintain interest in people who are ambivalent about perfume. I have zero patience for those who are hostile toward it.

Why did I tell someone from out of the country I would ship things to her if she had them sent to me direct from the manufacturer? Someone please tell the person known as me I have plenty to do as it is.

Will I see Milk? Everyone's telling me to. I'm resisting. I'm sure it will be great. I'm sure it's swell. But I'm just not in the mood to watch someone's tragedy in the making. And before you revoke my card, let me point out the fact that I didn't really want to see The Passion of Joan of Arc, either, and not just because it was silent. More and more, I'm looking for opportunities to laugh.

Everyone's getting cookies, too. Otherwise, I'll eat them all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Full Disclosure: My Sickness Exposed

In the 2007 Spring and Summer issue of a magazine called Fantastic Man, critic/biophysicist Luca Turin was photographed sitting in front of what I assume to be a significant portion of his fragrance stash.

A second photo showed the cabinet without him.

The cabinet looks like a structure intended for the storage of LPs. There are sixteen square cubbies, each packed full. Aluminum blinds have been installed across the top but the bottles which have spilled out onto the carpeted floor would make drawing them difficult if not impossible. Judging by the photos, it looks as though Turin would have soon been forced to make a familiar decision: adapt or expand. Half of the space within each square is wasted. Think how many more bottles could be stored in the shelves if they were to be bifurcated. I picture Turin going to the hardware store. There he finds spice shelves which can be used to create more storage space for short bottles in a tall cabinet.I've looked at these photos many times, identifying many of the bottles and boxes on Turin's shelves. Sometimes I spot things I hadn't noticed before, like today, when I saw a recognizable box on the lower right shelf: a black cube with Encre Noire embossed across the front in a simple, unfussy font. A long white box which previously meant nothing to me now turns out to be a collection of the reissued Lancomes: Magie, Climat, Sikkim, and Mile et Une Roses. Tabu sits on the floor, next to Tabac. The contrasting aluminum stripes of Rive Gauche are visible somewhere on the right middle shelf. Annick Goutal--Sables or Duel--sits nearby. With a quick glance I can spot Brut by Faberge, an Etro, A Serge Lutens, DKNY, Prada, the ridged round cap of a Caron, Patou's Sublime, Tommy...Since seeing these photos I've become very curious about other people's storage spaces. Where do people store their perfume? Would they even show me? There's so much shame and discomfort involved, at least for me. I have way too much to feign sanity. The other night, a close friend was over. She wanted to smell Lolita Lempicka Au Masculin. She followed me into the butler's pantry but I made her leave before I opened the cabinet doors. Only one friend has been allowed to see my cabinet with the doors open, and even then I'm uncomfortable. My partner likes to make exaggerated noises when he walks by, giving voice to my sickness. I remember starting out with ten perfumes. I kept them in my sweater drawer. That seemed an embrassing number to me, yet I harbored secret intentions of buying more. I asked a friend if he thought maybe I had a problem. "Do YOU feel it's a problem?" he answered. "Not really," I lied, and I've rarely looked back. Presently I have upwards of three hundred bottles. Eventually I was forced to move them to the butler's pantry. I play a game with myself. As long as I can fit everything into this cabinet I'm not deranged or impulsive. This involves a few subtractions every once in a while.In the spirit of full disclosure, here it is: my perfume cabinet. I'll show you mine, if you show me yours. I'll show you mine anyway. I didn't organize it for these photos. I shot it as I keep it, though I rearrange regularly, depending on my moods, acquisitions, and exchanges. There's also a drawer above the cabinet, in which I keep samples and atomizers, like the many I've been sent by Abigail over the course of our friendship.

I'd love to see pictures of your stash. I read many of the perfume blogs; some religiously. Check out the blog roll on the right. Some of these bloggers write the most interesting, personal content on perfume--yet, as much as they open up about their tastes and distastes, as much as I feel I have an idea what they think about perfume, I have no idea what their versions of that most sacred perfume-lover's space looks like.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Expensive Candles

So I finally did it. For the first time in my life I bought an expensive candle. Diptyque candles were on sale at Bigelow Chemist so I chose Tilleul. If you read this blog you’ll know I’m crazy about tilleul/linden/lime tree blossom. The candle is undoubtedly a lovely smell, but after burning it for about 4 hours last night, I decided that expensive candles just aren’t worth it. I can buy an equally nice smelling candle at Target for about $10 and I’ve found the Target candles to have stronger projection and last a mighty long time. There’s one at Target called Tahitian Vanilla that is just wonderful. Tahitian Vanilla usually makes me hungry or in the mood to bake so I’ve stopped burning that one lately and instead picked up pomegranate and fir tree for the holiday mood. On the one hand I’m disappointed that the Diptyque Tilleul candle isn’t simply amazing, but on the other hand, I’m glad I won’t be spending $60 on candles (more $$ for perfume, tee, hee ;-)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

L'Artisan La Chasse Aux Papillon Extreme & Frederic Malle Une Rose

Two quick things ~

First, I should have included L’Artisan La Chasse Aux Papillon Extreme in my post from a few days ago called Pick a Pepper. La Chasse is a gorgeous peppery linden-floral fragrance. If I wasn’t so annoyed with L’Artisan for their utter lack of tenacity surely I would have thought of this one. La Chasse is a beautiful delicate floral with a heavy dose of linden and a solid dash of pepper. Overall it’s a light and ethereal fragrance, I notice I used the word ‘heavy’ in the prior sentence and there’s nothing heavy about La Chasse – just that the most noticeable floral note is linden for me. I love La Chasse, and I just deal with the lack of staying power by spritzing myself about 12-15 times in the morning.

Longevity: reasonable if you apply 1/4 of the bottle
Sillage: light
Rating: the scent is just so lovely I give it 4 stars even while grumbling about it's tenacity

PS: I should note that the original La Chasse Aux Papillon and the Extreme versions are quite different. The original does not contain pink pepper and therefore is much more delicate, girlish and simply pretty in a generic sense. The Extreme concentration is, once dried down, perhaps a bit more spicy/peppery than it is floral.

Second, whoooooaaaa, Brian sure was right when he wrote about Frederic Malle Une Rose being a stunning rose fragrance. I finally purchased myself a bottle and have been in a virtual fragrance-induced-coma all day. Une Rose is unlike any other rose scent I’ve smelled. It starts off like a bunch of lush, velvety crimson red roses ~ a perfect bouquet of David Austen roses that I just want to shove my face into. Then Une Rose does a lot of morphing around. The middle phase is a fresh earthy, mossy, herbal, garden bed with bushes of roses growing from it. The last phase, the dry down, is an unusual loamy-vetiver-earthy rose scent that strikes me as the aroma of an afternoon in the garden, down on my knees, hands in the soil, weeding, clipping the rose bushes and very much involved with nature and vegetation. Even though it smells earthy and loamy I wouldn’t call this a ‘dirty rose.’ Une Rose seems more like the true to nature smell of a bed of roses in a damp, earthy spring garden. And, if you haven’t smelled it yet, be prepared for a great deal of changing. Une Rose takes several hours to go through all these interesting stages on your skin. Each stage is so different, beautiful and unusual. I’ve read that wine dregs are among the notes in Une Rose. If I focus I can smell what seems like wine dregs, although had I not known this I don’t think I would have identified this note as wine. I think the wine-like note serves to keep the rose essence extremely lush and sweet all the while there’s so much damp and earthiness happening. If this sort of rose appeals to you ~ Une Rose is Hypnotic.

Longevity: Excellent, easily 5+ hours
Sillage: depends on application, it will project if you want it to.
Rating: 5 Stars, a stunner

Monday, December 15, 2008

War of the Roses: Knowing, Opone, Kingdom, Voleur de Roses, Kingdom, L'Ombre Dans L'eau

You can draw a line, however squiggly, all the way from the rosy-toned warmth of Dityque's Opone back to Estee Lauder's Knowing, by way of Alexander McQueen's Kingdom and L'Artisan's Voleur de Roses. Variations on rose, these fragrances are also, taken together, a quick, impressionistic sketch of the last twenty years or so in perfumery, moving from deep over-saturated color to faint, gestural abstraction over the course of two decades.

Knowing (1988) remains bright throughout its development; too bright by a mile, according to some. Its cheerful, high-wattage garishness, which doesn't win it many fans these days, serves as colorful distraction from its bedrock disposition, that of a dark, moody, maybe even tortured rose. Knowing is classified by Michael Edwards as Chypre - Floral. I might call it Gothic - Boozy. There's a wine note in there--perhaps the alleged plum and melon, slightly fermented. The patchouli dry down is tinged with a healthy quotient of oakmoss and civet. Nearly feral in effect, Knowing is one of my favorite fragrances, aptly named, and I return to it compulsively, having loosely designated it some kind of standard in the category of rose. It lasts well, projects impressively, and seems as wondrously out of place on a man as it is on a woman.

Knowing was released the same year as Eternity, Carolina Herrera, Boucheron, and Rumba, all big boned, sometimes fruity, florals, so angular they come across as square-jawed, crossing a line into masculinity. Interestingly, Paco Rabanne released Tenere in 1988, expanding on the urinous incense accord of Kouros, which had been released seven years prior, with the addition of rose. Tenere bears more than a passing resemblance to Herrera, as well, though for rose Herrera substituted tuberose. Common knowledge says that old feminines have only over time become more masculine. Tenere shows how slight a distance one sometimes needed to travel to get from feminine to masculine even back then.

Voleur de Roses explores some of this boozy cum bilious territory, using patchouli instead of civet. It effects the dewy voluptuousness of Knowing to some degree, especially up top, where all the money seems to have been spent, but the rose dissipates quickly, leaving a grunge which, however forthright, pales in comparison to Knowing's heady basenote cocktail. Ultimately, it achieves in its brief life span a sort of faux filth, too pretty to really mean it. After screwing up its face at you, it vanishes, leaving you to wonder what exactly you smelled or whether it was ever actually there. Voleur was created by Michel Almairac in 1993.

Kingdom was released in 2004; Opone in 2001. Opone is much drier, like spices steeped in rose oil. It registers as a descendant of Knowing, if somewhat unwillingly, as though trying to keep a distance. It preserves Knowing's moodiness but loses its diffusion and radiance. Like Kingdom, Opone smells strongly of cumin. Knowing is more richly spiced than either, with notes of cardamom and coriander against a background so vividly bright they feel enriched rather than diminished by it. Kingdom inflects its cumin with a citrus tang, relieving some of the dryness as well as adding depth. Opone adds saffron and woods to its rose motif, but these are dry additions and coupled with the linear tendencies of the Diptyque fragrances this makes for a rather flat wear. Opone comes very close to Voleur de Roses, though less transparent. It never gets as close to rose as Voleur's opening, but trumps it by staying put. Where Voleur sparkles, Opone smolders, warming on the skin. I prefer it.

L'Ombre Dans L'eau, another Diptyque rose, was created in 1983 and makes for a nice comparison with Knowing. In place of plum and melon it offers blackcurrant leaf and dew-laden greenery. Knowing might easily have been inspired in part by L'Ombre, though it is admittedly darker and deeper, more resinous in its heart, straight down to that pitchy base. As time goes on, L'Ombre settles into a nice mix of sweet and sour. Knowing, on the other hand, is positively schizophrenic, bright and cheery with a rotted out core. After twenty years, it's still a rose to beat.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Perfume as Library: Delrae and Perfumer/Author Michel Roudnitska

Hearing perfumer Michel Roudnitska discuss his creative process, you might mistake him for a novelist. Each perfume, he says, represents years of training and experience. During that time, the decisions he weighs are similar to a novelist's worries and concerns when trying to balance the bigger picture of a 200-plus page novel. Will the introduction of one element wreak havoc on balance and proportion? Do individual characters move along in believable directions, contributing to the harmonious sense of a world in microcosm, or do they stick out and strike out in unbelievable, inconsistent ways?

During their gestation and construction, novels, like perfumes, inhabit the minds of their creators, living with them. Their authors walk around in these worlds for years at a time, seeing them differently from day to day, tweaking, eliding, deleting. They see the world differently through this lens, too, and bring that back into the process. As Roudnitska says, for him, the template is always the natural world. You use synthetics to evoke it or recall it, but the process is recreation, not replication. Often, synthetic molecules get closer to the source of their inspiration than the natural materials produced by that source do. A perfumer's objective isn't just to create a wonderful fragrance in its own right. He or she also seeks to maintain a certain level of consistency from one production to another. For Roudnitska, this means that Noir Epices, created for Frederic Malle, must speak in some thematically consistent way with Debut, created for Delrae. Each perfume might be a world unto itself, but it belongs to a larger universe.

What is that universe? It can take a long time to determine what ties an artist's work together, unless some readily apparent trademark emerges. Roucel is known for his Magnolia accord, and all of his perfumes share something tangible, however inarticulate that might be. Likewise, Annick Menardo and Sophia Grojsman. Then again, these three are prolific, and have quite an expansive body of work behind them. Roudnitska has created a handful of perfumes, many of them admired, most of them respected. What else besides their high level of quality links them isn't yet exactly clear. You can look at many novelists with ten books or more under their belt and make quick, intricately webbed lines between them. The parallels pop out at you. With novelists of only several the similarities, where visible, sometimes tend to be cruder and more superficial.

Roudnitska's Delrae perfumes are wondrous things. They aren't necessarily a series, not sequels per se, but they're clearly related. Each is a complicated vision of the world, embodying the breadth and scope of an epic novel. Tolstoy wrote War and Peace in 1869. It took him eight more years to complete Anna Karenina; nine more to produce The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Roudnitska has produced five fragrances for Delrae in the course of 4 years. Four of these were created between 2002 and 2004.

Each is fully realized, more intricate by far than the majority of perfumes released in twice as much time--mass market, niche, or otherwise. Where many perfumers create small, personal novels, Roudnitska seems intent to tackle the universe, and the room he creates, within which a wearer can roam and imagine, is equally boundless. Says Roudnitska: "To reduce the fragrance to a simple instrument of seduction or a toiletry product, as is often the case, vastly limits the possibilities of this nevertheless very powerful medium to touch our souls." Where some perfumers aim for the libido, via the pocketbook, Roudnitska aims for the psyche. His fragrances, to extend the novel analogy by way of William Faulkner, seek to fit the whole world on a postage stamp.

Bois de Paradis is Roudnitska's own favorite. It was two years in the making and involved 300 trials: "Before I started, I had a quite precise olfactive shape in my mind," he once said. "The mere thought of the potential fragrance outcome was enough to make me crazy: a mix of cedarwood, wild rose, exotic fruit jam and tasty 'marron glacé'. Gathering all my favorite ingredients in a new harmonious composition seemed like an impossible dream to realize. "

Fitting then that the result is so impossibly lovely, a mix of the literal and metaphorical, evoking fragrant rolls in the hay, sun-baked grass and stewing fruit, crimson rose bushes against the vista of a setting sun, and the strange, inexpressible beatitude of a journey through the cosmos. Like all the Delrae fragrances, Bois de Paradis uses the best materials, achieving that admirable rarity in perfume: a sense of lush succulence with the depth and textured clarity of a life fully lived. It smells like nothing on earth and yet feels remarkably comforting, emotionally familiar. Citrus, French Rose, fig, blackberry, spices, woods, amber: this is abstract perfumery with the precision detail of photo-realism. It's just that the photo depicts fluctuating emotions and moods, rather than fixed objects and places. As Roudnitska said of his father Edmond's Parfum de Therese, Bois de Paradis is "at the same time very round and with so many facets."

Where Bois leans toward dense, golden hues, Debut is a study in verdancy, with a deceptive mood of transparency. Lime, green leaves, linden, cyclamen, and vetiver are perhaps the first impressions to register, if one starts to delineate the fragrance's effects. That's a little like describing fireworks individually by the colors they make, rather than collectively by their patterns and sounds. From under Debut's green layers, lily-of-the-valley emerges, along with honeyed sandalwood. The musk, you eventually realize, has been there all along, so saturated in green it went unnoticed for a while. Debut does last a while, and then some. For an eau de toilette it had remarkable longevity. The toilette was reportedly replaced by eau de parfum, though the bottles I've seen in stores across the country are still edt. Though marketed as a feminine, Debut relates obliquely but significantly to Grey Flannel. It contrasts damp against dry in much the same way, with a sheer, bright aspect distinctly its own. If Bois is the warmth of a sunset, Debut is the cool, fresh morning air, before the sun has cleared the roof and struck the lawn.

Amoureuse is commonly regarded as Roudnitska's most intricate composition for Delrae. It tells a complicated story, with plots and sub-plots, protagonists and antagonists, crowded scenes and heavy emotions. An apt comparison is Marcel Proust, whose Remembrance of Things Past was published in seven installments from 1913 to 1927. Where the other Delraes tell one story, however dense the exposition, Amoureuse is many novels in one. Various people I know plan at some point in their lives to read Proust, to finish his novels, each of which is upwards of a thousand pages. It's a huge investment, not just in terms of time but concentration. I know two people who've made the commitment. One said the experience of reading the novels, which took him quite a while, illustrated the things the books had to say about life and memory. Your mind tries to keep track, is constantly making new associations, remembers things one way and another, experiences the thing you're doing through some other thing it recalls.

Some find this density too much. They admire Amoureuse for its complexity but rarely if ever wear it. They consider it the best of the line but wear the others more often. I confess: Swann's Way, the first novel in Proust's multi-part opus, sits on my shelf, where it's been for fourteen years now, unless you're talking about the more recent translation I bought thinking it might somehow render the thing easier for me to read. The medley of jasmine, honey, woods and fruit in Amoureuse seems to extend in all directions, echoing across space. It covers too much ground to take in easily. Sometimes, you want a quick read, which isn't to say that any of the Delraes are beach books; just that Amoureuse, by comparison, is a monumental experience, one even the people around you might not wish to get sucked into. Jasmine, Honey, woods, and fruits seem harmless enough, simple and straightforward, like the Madeleine cookies Proust remembers from his childhood. But, oh, what those cookies represent, what "spaces traversed". Revisiting one, Proust's mind tangles in baroque patterns:
"Undoubtedly what is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, is trying to follow it into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far off, too confused and chaotic; scarcely can I perceive the neutral glow into which the elusive whirling medley of stirred-up colours is fused, and I cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the one possible interpreter, to translate for me the evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable paramour, the taste, cannot ask it to inform me what special circumstance is in question, from what period in my past life."
Still with me? Look at how long, how labyrinthine that last sentence is, and so it is with Amoureuse: meticulous and daunting, merciless perfection.
Whatever their creator's favorites, Debut, Bois de Paradis and Amoureuse seem to be the buying public's preferences, whether the bottle sits unused or in heavy rotation. Eau Illuminee rarely gets the love. Of the four Delraes, it seems the least appreciated, and yet I love it most of all, I think. It tells a much simpler story than the others, but again, sometimes you don't want someone talking your ear off. That simpler story, simply put, is lavender, basil, bergamot, vanilla, orris. Eau Illuminee is cologne in edp concentration, and just gets going when most colognes have extinguished their energies. Some find it sour, and some days I agree, as if the basil speaks louder on one day than another. But the sour tang of basil isn't unattractive to me, and whether it decides to make itself known on any given day makes for an interesting twist. Eau Illuminee is fresh and tart, chilled citrus for the first part of its lifespan. Gradually it moves toward vanilla and orris, but it never loses its lavender orientation the way Pour un Homme seems to. Vanilla doesn't grandstand. Eau Illuminee clears my head, creating a sense of well-being.

Debut is cooler than Bois, though not as bracingly cool as Eau Illuminee. Still, it relates more directly, at least superficially, to Eau Illuminee, just as Bois de Paradis relates more directly to Amoureuse. The fifth Delrae, Emotionelle, isn't yet widely available. Who knows where it will fit in. It should also be mentioned that there is a definite dialogue going on not just between the Delrae contructions but between these and the work of Edmond Roudnitska, creating deeper levels of meaning and association. The citrus green language of Debut and Amoureuse, as many have noted, has roots in Diorella's vocabulary. The sumptuous lily note of Amoureuse recalls the clarity of Diorissimo's muguet, while its fruity influence updates Rochas Femme. There is masterful subtlety in everything Michel does, but one thing is glaringly obvious this early on in his output: none of his books can be read by their covers.

[This article is indebted to all of the bloggers who have explored Delrae long before me. Particular thanks to Bois des Jasmine's interview with Roudnitska from 2005:]

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pick a Pepper

I’ve always been fond of pepper. I pepper nearly everything I eat and the same goes for fragrance; a whiff of pepper makes a scent all the more intriguing for me. Supposedly, according to my horoscope, Aries people like pepper, along with the other fire signs (Leo and Sagittarius). I’ve been meaning to do a fluffy fun piece about the possible link between one’s zodiac sign and their choice of perfume but that’s still percolating in my mind for now. Peppery fragrances are wonderful for dreary days and cold weather so here are a few of my favorites peppers.

Diptyque Ofresia.
I reviewed Ofresia recently so I won’t bore you again, but this is a beautiful blend of freesia blooms and pepper. A sweet floral and pepper seems to me an unusual combination and the pepper stands out just as much as the freesia. I think it’s stunning and while I might tire of a fragrance that is singularly about freesia the addition of pepper keeps me sniffing myself all day ;-)

L’Artisan Poivre Piquant
I love the story of Poivre Piquant. The main notes of this fragrance are white pepper and milk. Poivre Piquant is based upon a tradition from Indian wedding ceremonies. In India pepper and sugar are placed on the bride’s veil to symbolize the hope of sweetness and spice in her upcoming marriage. The aroma of Poivre Piquant very much captures this idea of sweetness and spice – there’s an equal pairing of milk and honey with a soft whiff of pepper. Overall the fragrance is quite tender and comforting.

L’Artisan Piment Brulant
Piment Brulent reminds me so much of the book Chocolat by Joanne Harris. If you’ve read it you’ll remember the descriptions of “real hot chocolate” which were topped off with a dusting of cayenne pepper and other spicy ingredients. Piment Brulant contains notes of red pepper, chocolate, vanilla, musk, amber and cloves. It’s simply gorgeous, but not for the faint of heart – this stuff is as fiery as it is creamy.

Yves Saint Laurent Nu (the EdP, -not- the EdT which is quite different and not peppery at all). Brian introduced me to YSL Nu just a few months ago and it’s become one of my absolute favorites. Nu is a combination of incense and pepper. Nu is cooling, not fiery, but the whiffs of pepper are very much present.

And, no, I don’t usually sneeze while wearing my favorite peppery perfumes!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Comme des Garcons x Stephen Jones: A Review

It’s been a big year for the diminutive little violet. There was Feerie, Creed Love in Black, Frederic Malle Dans Tes Bras (if this smells like violets to you, then you’re luckier than me), Guerlain Insolence (the EdP launched in ‘08, the EdT launched in ’06, so Guerlain was ahead of the crowd), and now CdG x Stephen Jones (CdGxSJ) have tried their hand at violet.

I guess I shouldn’t insinuate that CdGxSJ are followers, going with the violet trend like many other perfume houses, because who else decided to mix violets with meteorite? If the aroma of meteorite isn’t an original scent then I don’t know what is.

Well…that isn’t so true, actually. CdGxSJ reminds me a lot of Creed’s Love in Black. Back in July, I described Love in Black as smelling like violets and tar, or an asphalt driveway with beautiful little violets strewn about. If CdGxSJ hadn’t listed meteorite among the notes I would have gone with the tar or pavement analogy with this fragrance, too. CdGxSJ really does remind me a lot of Creed Love in Black. It’s striking me as odd, that a perfume house like CdG, who seem to pride themselves on avante garde fragrances teetering on the edge of being unwearable (at times) would create something so similar to a staid and traditional perfume house such as Creed.

CdGxSJ does smell really good. I like Creed Love in Black and I also like CdGxSJ. Earlier this year, Brian, my co-writer for this blog, made it his project to help me understand and enjoy violet scents which I previously didn’t like. Well, for the most part, I still don’t like the ultra-girly, soft and powdery violets scents, but I do love this new batch of violet scents that growl instead of purr. CdGxSJ has created a violet scent that is recognizably violet but with the addition of a mineral-y quality as well as a slight woodiness, that makes it drier and fresher than the violet fragrances of yesteryear. If you like violet scents paired with unusual notes then this is a must try.

Lots of us refer to spicy, skanky rose fragrances as a “dirty rose” scent. “Dirty violet” now strikes me as the perfect categorization for CdGxSJ and this new crop of violet scents.

The packaging is fabulous. The bottle looks like an old fashioned ink well and comes in a little hat-box with funky fish-net wrapping – tres chic. But, again, there's another similarity here: the bottle reminds me a bit of the new CK Secret Obsessions bottle....hmmmm.

CdGxSJ notes: violet leaf, meteorite, cloves, carnation, rose, violet, jasmin, heliotrope, gaïac wood, magma, black cumin, vetiver, amber

Longevity: Good 4+ hours
Sillage: Light
Star rating: 4

Monday, December 8, 2008

6 First Impressions

"The first time I passed through Switzerland," wrote journalist Ernesto Sabato, "I had the impression it was swept down with a broom from one end to the other every morning by housewives who dumped all the dirt in Italy."

Psychologists say we have three seconds to make a first impression. Even when we've only just met someone, and spend maybe all of several minutes with them, we leave with an indelible sense about their personality and character, an overall assessment which elides substance in favor of tone. We carry that away with us for better or worse, and we return with it, making subsequent decisions based on those early conclusions. Often the first decision we make is whether or not to have anything to do with someone again.

Is it fair to rush to judgment, or should we worry about it? First impressions can be misleading. Take the gruff woman you meet through a friend. You assume she's closed off, a snob, tight lipped because she has nothing to say. What's her problem, anyway? Turns out, you later discover, she might not say much but she doesn't mince words, either, and her silence usually means she values privacy. When you need her to keep a secret, she does.

And what about perfume? So much of my education has involved adjustment to and reassessment of things I at first either felt ambivalent about or reacted with extreme distaste toward. I loved Chanel Cuir de Russie instantly. I knew I'd just inhaled something truly great, a work of art; a masterpiece, even. Ditto Dzing! And Lancome Cuir. I smelled Une Rose and felt I'd finally found the perfect rose. On the other hand, there's Donna Karan Signature. I liked it from the start, but my feelings have changed, deepening over time, and what I first smelled is a much simpler picture than what I see now. Ivoire seemed only minimally interesting to me when I first found it. Now I find it something of a changeling, more complicated than I gave it credit for. Others, like Patou 1000 and Pure Poison, seemed inifinitely feminine to me at one point, a line drawn in the sand along the gender divide. Now I wear them very comfortably, and that line, washed away, keeps shifting, appearing somewhere else.

Maybe truth and fiction co-exist in first impressions, representing a code you crack over time. I expect my feelings about the following fragrances to evolve, and I'm fully aware that some of these gut reactions say more about me than the perfumes themselves, but I thought it might be interesting to explore my first impressions, looking for some kind of truth in them, as so much of what I write about perfume is carefully thought out, evaluated and re-evaluated.

1. Cuir de Lancome

Turpentine and violets are having a conversation, and birch tar keeps butting its head in. The violet is soft and a little moody. It can't quite say what's on its mind. This is the very best of the Lancome reissues, given a run for its money only by Sikkim. It smells of the leather handbag your mother was given at Christmas when you were a kid, off-putting and hypnotic at the same time. You want it to stay like that forever, with that fresh off the shelves clarity. It smells of Cuir de Russie and Heeley's Cuir Pleine Fleur, without the barnyard, like Caron Tabac Blond and Knize Ten without all the fuzzy distortion. This is fine store bought leather, lightly stained, with an oily finish on it that your fingers slide right along. It stays clear and bright on the skin without the sense that anything darker lurks in the wings. I used to hide in my grandmother's closet trying to get to the bottom of all the things that made her who she seemed to be. All her accessories and clothing. Why did she keep some things and discard others? Why did she favor one denim skirt over a pair of burgundy kulots? How did she wish to see herself, and how did that match up to how she felt? Did everyone else see the same person I did? Adults were endless mysteries to me; none more so than her. The thing I remember most about her closet was all the leather: belts and handbags and shoes. Even her Polaroid camera had leather detailing. I used to wonder how much of her would be left if you took all that away. The smell of the leather was tough and sweet, noxious but comforting. Like her skin, which was lined with age and tanned, it seemed like some kind of armor against something.

2. Guerlain Vol de Nuit

A big blast of galbanum right up top, along with the signature Guerlain depth of focus. It smells very much like a high end masculine. You can see a line straight from this to Guerlain Homme, and it has, thanks to the galbanum and what comes off like pungent narcissus, a camphoraceous intensity about it, rather than the mojito glued to Guerlain Homme's fist. Just a faint whiff of booze on its breath. No girly drinks for this one, though someone did put vanilla bean in the whiskey glass.

3. Lancome Magie Noire (pre-reformulation)

How can this feel so wrong--but wear so right? It's nothing like the reformulation, which is straight up powdery woods. This has a strange, nearly off floral formality missing from the update. That influence doesn't make it old lady as much as off its rocker. If this is old lady, she has a towel over her head like a turban, fastened with a brooch you mistake for costume jewelry at your own risk. Befriend her and you might have inherited it. She's hard of hearing and listens creatively, so she might take your condescension for friendship either way. Magie Noire has a weird, fruity influence which mingles not altogether comfortably with what appears to be narcissus, like the honey people sometimes infuse with chamomile. Strangely, it smells more modern than its latest iteration, putting it closer in mood to the latest Visa than the late great gone forevers.

4. Parfumerie Generale Un Crime Exotique

This is almost photorealism gourmand, smelling of tea steam and gingerbread. But there's something there you instinctively know not to swallow. It isn't just foody, but the room and the mood of afternoon tea time. Intoxicating, evocative stuff, endowed with an emotional undertow devoid of any apparent rational sense. I don't know the Cotswold cottage it conjures. But I can see it like a memory of sitting there. The walls are yellow from the morning sun. Someone is at the sink with his back to me, getting the tray ready. I'm hoping for biscuits. There are mismatched ladder-back chairs and woven place mats on the table. The shadows are gentle. Outside the yard seems respectful of the house's scale, with a modest garden and well manicured patches of cascading shrubs. It seems picture perfect and just as I start to wonder where I put my digital camera, the neighbor passes the open window in his overalls, waving jovially, and the stranger in the kitchen, bringing the tea over, sees the neighbor just in time to tell me all about his predilection for local underage boys and dress-up in his wife's clothes. In some ways, this is a throwback to Magie Noire, a comparison I might not have made without spraying them on two sides of the same arm.

5. Etro Palais Jamais

It's as though someone put a scrap of paper in an ashtray alongside a not-entirely snuffed out cigarette, and the only thing on hand to douse the fire before it got out of hand was a bottle of Guerlain Vetiver. The juice turned grey green in the glass, smelling and looking like fragrant, dissolving coal. This smells fantastic but I'm already preparing myself to defend it by anticipating exactly how its detractors will dismiss it. So many people are so anti-smoke. Back in high school, we lived across from a city park. It was close enough to sneak over for cigarettes. Something about the smoke mixing into the evergreen and concrete of that environment calmed me down, putting my angst into perspective. It made cigarettes seem perfectly natural too, practically harmless. Surely those big tree could take it. On Fall days you could smell the dirt and the grass and car exhaust from the kids driving their parents' cars around the relatively safe back roads of the park. It wasn't unusual for someone in one of the adjoining neighborhoods to be burning leaves. Even when they weren't, the memory of bonfire from Homecoming past or approaching played heavily on the mind.

6. Jean Patou Sira des Indies

I've heard bananas foster but to my nose it's pear. After which: some very expensive apertif, some sweet but bitter cordial served in a squat but fluted glass you might snap in two if you grabbed with more than your thumb and forefinger. If this is in fact bananas foster, someone soaked it in Joy, rendering it heady but inedible (and indelible). With Patou you get a curious transparency, similar to Chanel, but in place of Chanel's chilled glass lucidity, Patou provides warmth, a clearheaded sense of burnished texture. Picture a woman with natural blond hair. She's sitting under indirect sunlight, and you see every facet of the color. It isn't "just" blond, like a cheap at-home kit, all uniformly hued, but infinitely varied, with depth and volume you can't imitate without accomplished artistry. Blond turns out to be an amalgam of things, some darker, some lighter, yet the end effect is the sense you could look straight through the back of the head to the freckles on the front of her face.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chanel No. 22 = Perfection

Oh, Chanel No. 22, how do I love thee? I cannot count the ways. No’s 5 and 19 receive all the attention and devotion. I say, let the droves have 5 & 19 and leave me with 22.

No. 22 is meant to be an aldehydic white floral with a touch of incense. I must admit to not even smelling white florals – to me, it’s all about aldehydes, soap and incense. No. 22 smells as if the most pure French soap were crafted into an incense cone and burned – cleanly – without smoke. Where No. 5 is haughty, you’re humble. Where No. 19 is cold, you’re warm. You are the epitome of class and grace. I am devoted to you, you are perfection.

Hot and Cold with Grey Flannel, Beautiful

This weekend, I've been watching my friend's dogs downtown.  This is only about a ten minute drive from where I live, and I'm here all the time anyway, but being in someone else's space can feel like a vacation, if only from the static landscape of your everyday routine.  A different space offers new perspectives, making almost everything seem entirely new.  It's as if you stand back from your life and view it from a small distance a little more objectively.

I thought about this weird shift of perspective and how profoundly a subtle change can influence the mind because almost every perfume I own has smelled different to me over the last several weeks.  The air went decisively cold here, and they all seem to behave differently, like creatures shedding their fur or skin, entering into some transitional appearance or behavior for the time being which renders them practically unrecognizable from their former selves.

The biggest difference is longevity.  I used to think the difference between a short- and long-lived perfume was simply a matter of time.  You enjoyed the latter at length.  The former you kept spraying or accepted defeat.  Now I realize that the longer perfume stays on the skin, the more deeply your mind engages with it.  Even the most linear perfume, over an extended period of time, is given depth and shading by one's perceptions: the mental and emotional associations you make with it, the ability to juxtapose one environment with another as you carry it through the scene changes of your day.  Even things as apparently minute as other people's largely imperceptible reactions and adjustments to a fragrance create an ever evolving context.  Increased longevity extends the drama of a fragrance in any number of ways, in any number of directions.

You do notice the stages more lucidly, where they exist.  Some scents, like the Fresh line or Jo Malone, have none to speak of.  Others tumble down into their base notes like leaves falling from the trees, creating a series of changing shapes on the way.  I was shocked by Grey Flannel this morning.  I sprayed it on the back of my hand and wondered where I'd been all this time.  I've always smelled the violet, but suddenly everything around it had shifted, and seemed heightened.  I smelled galbanum as if it had elbowed its way in out of nowhere.  And rose: how to explain having missed the obvious for so long?  The rose in Grey Flannel presides over the entire affair in a steady, calming tone of voice.  As the scent progresses and my senses adjust to the shock of the new where I least expected it, I notice the citrus accords.  The geranium!  Grey Flannel isn't just severe, as many who've grown up with it assert, but tangy and textured, qualities for which it rarely gets credit.  The most surprising discovery for me is the presence of iris, situating Grey Flannel closer to Dior Homme than I would ever have thought to put it.  I see now that in many ways these two masculines are different generations of a similar philosophy.

This curious ratio between alleged stridency and an underbelly of subtle permutation is something Grey Flannel shares with Beautiful, by Estee Lauder.  True, Beautiful is a big boned eighties floral.  But it has more complexity than well over half the mass market fragrances presently sold at the mall, and the stridency smuggles in softer, more nuanced shapes the way shoulder pads concealed femininity behind a parody of the masculine silhouette.  What produces that tobacco accord Tania Sanchez talks about in Perfume: The Guide?  Is it a combination of cedar and vanilla?  Why is it that a scent which is famous for being overly feminine leans increasingly toward the conventionally masculine as it plays out on the skin?  In the warmer months, this drama zips along with the economy of a sitcom.  Laugh tracks and audience applause lead you in pre-orchestrated directions without giving you the time to make sense of the leaps.  In the winter, Beautiful slows down, giving you the room to wander around in it.

These are just two of the scents I'm getting re-acquainted with.  Even the ones I thought I knew seem foreign, like 1000, which seems less floral to me, more chypre, dark and moody where before it seemed bright and slightly empty-headed, too pretty for its own good, or yours.  How is it that a scent which seemed so cool in the summer now feels so warm in the winter?  Are fragrances mood rings, driven by body temperature?  The season makes velvet of fragrances, it seems to me, and I'm so busy reconsidering everything it's as if I bought an entirely new collection.