Tuesday, September 2, 2008

This Week at the Perfume Counter: Belle en Rykiel, Lancome La Collection, Bijan V.I.P.

I really scored the other day at Marshalls. Every once in a while, one does, though happening upon something unusual requires frequent visits and a persistent trek through a sea of Elizabeth Taylor fragrances. In this context, even Ralph Lauren Hot would have to be considered a real find. This time, however, I was truly surprised.
On the same day, I found Demeter’s Patchouli, Belle en Rykiel, and a boxed set of four half-ounce Lancome La Collection re-issues which included Magie, Mille et une Rose, Climat, and Sikkim, all eau de parfum. The first was seven bucks. The Sonia Rykiel was 20. The real bargain was Lancome, at 25 dollars. I couldn’t wait to get it all home.

I expected to like the La Collection, and I did like them—every last one. The Belle en Rykiel was more of a curiosity to me, and cheap enough I didn’t mind shelling out for it. Osmoz classifies it as an aromatic oriental. I won’t argue, though the apparently forceful lavender is news to my untrained nose. I don’t get that astringency, nor even much of a floral note. The composition smells to me of coffee and amber, very bright up top, winding down to a smooth, addictive, ambery patchouli; “feminine, but with a nod to the masculine,” its marketers proclaim. No one else, smelling this on a man’s or a woman’s skin, would make such tiresome classifications. According to basenotes.net, Belle en Rykiel was created by Jean-Pierre Bethouart, the nose behind Caron’s Parfum Sacre, in 2006.
I’d smelled Climat and Mille et une Roses at Saks several months ago, when I was in LA. A saleswoman accosted me, refusing to cease and desist until I told her what I was looking for. I spat out Cuir by Lancome, knowing they wouldn’t have it but hoping otherwise, and off she whisked me. The surgically enhanced blonde Lancome rep, whose fake fingernails looked more natural than the expression permanently etched upon her face, had never heard of Cuir, and hearing me pronounce it got a look in her eyes which might, I imagined, have been revulsion, had she been able to move her features properly.
She offered La Collection instead. I wasn’t enthused by the bait and switch but couldn’t hide my instant attraction to Climat. A rich, classic fragrance, its floral core is made nearly vibratory by a rich vetiver base. I liked it, but not as much as I imagined I would like the phantom Cuir. Mille et une Rose, I was informed, is a bestseller. I left without smelling the other two. Like most perfume shoppers, I prefer to be left alone with my addiction.

Someone had obviously opened the Lancome box, though I didn’t see this until I got it home. Someone else had taped it shut. The bottles are small glass decants with cut crystal stoppers, and I imagine various shoppers had used the perfume freely or even spilled it by the time the staff got to it. A little of the Climat and the Mille et une Rose were missing. That bothered me less than I thought it should, as the untouched Sikkim and Magie turned out to be my favorites anyway.

Like Belle en Rykiel, Sikkim and Magie are ambiguous, indeterminately gendered, Sikkim more straightforwardly so. Sikkim is an impressively rich oriental chypre which opens with a strong thrust of galbanum. There are spices, vague hints of incense and, as with Miss Dior, an ultimate descent into rich leathery territory. According to Marlen from perfumecritic.com, who reviewed the fragrance for nowsmellthis in 2006, the remaining notes include: aldehydes, ylang ylang, bergamot, gardenia, thujone, carnation, jasmine, narcissus, orris, rose, amber, castoreum, moss, patchouli and vetiver.

Sikkim was originally released in 1971. Magie, created by Armand Petitjean in 1950, is a more conventionally attractive perfume, with notes of jasmine, violet, musk, and amber. Magie is one of those vintage floral slash animalic compositions which are now virtually extinct, and because the fruity, clean floral scents on the shelves of Sephora now equate with femininity, the masculine is by default…almost anything else. Petitjean created many fragrances for Lancome throughout the thirties, forties, and fifties, among them the elusive Cuir, which I’ve yet to smell.

Other treks to the counter included a few stops at Perfumania, where, intending to pick up a bottle of Kouros, I instead bought V.I.P. by Bijan and Burberry London. I can’t find anything about V.I.P. on the internet—not on basenotes, nor osmoz, nor have I found it reviewed anywhere. I’m no good at picking out notes which don’t happen to be galbanum, rose, violet or patchouli, but if pressed I might identify angelica in V.I.P. It has something in common with many of the woody aromatics I’ve smelled and owned-- Fendi Uomo, Azzaro Now, French Lover—yet when you compare them it holds its own with unique touches.

London is one of those fragrances I buy when I can’t get my hands on anything that excites me more. I bought quite a lot last week, probably at least partly due to the anonymous email I received last Friday from nicecritic.com, which said: “Brian, your cologne/perfume is very strong on a regular basis. My feelings were hurt and I wanted to know who the culprit was. Do I really spray that much on? I’ve always sprayed less than I want to, and try not to wear some of the more aggressive fragrances out in confined spaces, like the office or, say, the post office. Receiving this kind of email made me want to douse myself in Poison or Paris. I wanted to wash my hair in Miel de Bois or Broadway Nite. Use Alliage for mouthwash. It made me lonely in my obsession for perfume, and a late-night call from Abigail, fellow aficionado, really lifted my spirits.

When I discovered from nowsmellthis that Fresh was re-releasing Tobacco Caramel and Patchouli Pure, I called Sephora immediately to see whether they have it. At this point I don’t know why I bother. The girl on the other line had never heard of patchouli and thought I was saying something I’D never heard of. To aggravate me further, I suppose, she made no effort to put me on hold and walk three or four feet over to the Fresh section for a more thorough investigation. Sephora is the only shop I know that will tell you what they have in stock based on guess work. Perhaps she might have used her headset, had she not removed it to answer my call. Shopping online has been so nice lately, compared to this idiocy.


susan booth said...

Hi, I love Kenzo flower and Ralph Lauren Hot, i just bought two new bottles from cheap smells. The dry down with the vanilla and honeysuckle on Hot is to die for!

Brian said...

Well you're in luck. You will never run out of HOT while TJ Max and Marshalls are around; nor will you ever suffer a shortage of Red Door, Celine Dion, Britney, and Red. Though Red is admittedly a little harder to come by there. I'm strictly ambivalent about HOT but see it so often I've started to regard it casually as the cockroach of perfume.

Brian said...

Which isn't to say I don't like cockroaches. Naturally. It's just there are a lot of them.