Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Brian's Best

Often this year, I found myself wishing that the fragrance industry would focus on quality over quantity. That might not have bothered me so much, had smaller companies not been thinking too big for their britches as well. Increasingly, it feels like niche lines are falling prey to the All New, All The Time syndrome--pepper spraying the market indiscriminately with fragrances which seem like sixty others before them. I'm sure your oud is perfectly lovely, as lovely as your iris. Can you tell me what distinguishes them, using something other than fanciful ad copy?

There's a desperation there, an urgency which might produce more frisson, if only more time were taken. Logic would seem to dictate that more at stake might result in more admirable efforts. What's the rush? I felt like I was being treated to dinner but presented with the check, sped through the meal lest I notice the change of plans.

Still, there were pleasures to be had in 2009. Some were even nice surprises. While Michael Kors Very Hollywood and Marc Jacobs Lola continued the trend toward inoffensive mediocrity at the mall, there were items of interest as well. La Prairie has never, to my knowledge, been on the cutting edge of fragrance, and to many a blogger the company's latest trio of scents, Life Threads, was little more than retread. I wouldn't disagree, but it all comes down to what's being revisited. Life Threads Gold was similar to many a recognizable floriental; particularly, the original Dolce and Gabbana for women, which is a fraction of the cost. Silver is a tuberose dressing up in big sister Fracas' shoes. Meanwhile, Life Threads Platinum is essentially Gres Cabochard. Cabochard can be had for next to nothing, you say, but it's a shadow of its former self--drained of everything but the general idea, whereas Platinum is rich and wonderful, as if La Prairie saw how a classic was being maligned and took matters into its own hands.

Issey Miyake's A Scent was wonderful to run into at the the counter. I prefer it to the very similar Estee Lauder Private Collection Jasmine White Moss, which feels sharper and somehow more synthetic to me. Again, a throwback: A Scent speaks the language of the vintage green chypre, albeit scrubbed clean. Less successful a remake was Narciso Rodriquez Essence, a fresh scrubbed rose as metallic and molten as its wonderful bottle. Hands down, Essence was the bottle of the year for me. The fragrance was well done, if not particularly interesting. I liked it a lot better than its peers.

The most hideous bottle award would go to Lolita Lempicka Si Lempicka. What planet are these people on--and exactly what kind of psychedelic unicorn populates it? Excuses to those who find it dreamy but the line's first bottle was awful enough, tripped out like My Little Pony's ceremonial saddle, gilded gewgaws and all. Far from an improvement, this one reminds me of something a child distracted by a conflicted psyche might make in art class out of clay, paint, and glittered drool.

I think the best the mall had to offer me was Alien Liqueur. A fan of the original, I often defended it. No Carnal Flower, maybe--no "head space technology"--but a fantastic improvement on Dominique Ropion's original, a spray of which never ceases to make me happy somewhere in my own conflicted psyche. I secretly hoped the Liqueur version would not disappoint, and the unicorns were listening, because it's a wondrous thing, a true desert island keeper. I could go on and on about this stuff. The Angel version, though pretty damn decent itself, felt a bit muddled toward the drydown, like somebody got bored before really thinking it through. Also very good: A*Men Pure Malt.

Don't get me started on masculines again. I can't keep going on about it. I get depressed. The new DKNY was appallingly pedestrian, and who could distinguish it (the packaging, the juice, the color scheme, the model) from Versace's latest (also wretched) and a dozen others. These lines are also guilty of needlessly confusing the consumer by using the same name, over and over, across ten different fragrances. Versace Homme or Versace Pour Homme? Versace Pour Homme or Versace L'Homme? DKNY WHAT--at this point? Someone please send these people a link to basenotes.

You know things are bad when a new release aims for, not the forgotten, original spirit of a classic fragrance, but its utterly forgettable reformulation. Case in point, Usher V.I.P. Hey Usher: Your smile is infectious. Your cologne is a cancer. Next time you copy Fahrenheit, dig a little deeper (into the past, into your pockets, into your imagination). You might have been sucking a pacifier at the time, but the eighties are hardly ancient history. Play Intense was hardly much of an improvement on the original Play (a.k.a. Not So Intense). It had the nice smoked tar and anise qualities of Black and Lolita au Masculin, but applied it so subtly you might rightly assume Givenchy has become scared of its own shadow.

Carolina Herrera's CH Men was a happy medium, though in these odds medium becomes a rather mercurial compass point. The down side was a rather robust synthetic amber. The up side was an interesting interplay of notes (somewhere between Lutens and lothario) and the sense an imagination was at play in the battlefield of commerce.

Speaking of amber, where has it been all my life? I was not a fan until this year. The difference was made by a process of gradual elimination. Straight up amber? Not so much. Smoky, rich, tarry, leathery? I'm clearing a space on my plate. Teo Cabanel's Alahine was a revelation for me (Thank you, Abigail). Parfum D'Empire's Ambre Russe had already pointed me in the right direction. Annick Goutal's Ambre Fetiche, after some initial confusion, has been the nail in the coffin. For months, almost a year, I'd mistaken my sample of Ambre Fetiche for Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier's Or des Indes. It's complicated, as they say on Facebook. Why was everyone saying Or Des Indes smells so much like Shalimar? I wasn't seeing the connection. Why was everyone raving about Ambre Fetiche? I wasn't seeing the appeal. Where was the amber? Much later, after deciding I couldn't go on without a bottle of what I took to be Or Des Indes, I received it in the mail and discovered.....hmmmm.....Shalimar. One bottle of Ambre Fetiche was soon on the way from Rei Rien. Ambre Fetiche is said to have an overload of synthetic amber. If this is how good synthetic amber smells, I fail to see the problem there. In the course of a year I went from amber apathy to double holy grail. Under great if not groundbreaking: Dior's Ambre Nuit, a wonderful rose amber which lasts with unusual tenacity and feels as rich as the bottle is smooth.

The trend for exclusive lines continued to articulate itself in 2009. An adjunct to this trend was the inauguration of several lines under the names of their perfumers. I haven't smelled Francis Kurkdjian's line yet, nor Mark Buxton's, but oh how I want to. Reports indicate that the latter is uneven, while the former is...not. Van Cleef released its "Collection Extraordinaire". Based on reactions to the price, I'm not sure the conclusion was extraordinary, but the iris was said by Robin at NowSmellThis to be quite good. I fell in love with Chanel's Coromandel this year, and Sycomore has been raved about by many. It seems that Chanel is at the forefront of these exclusive lines. The verdict is still out on Cartier's Les Heures du Parfum.

Biggest letdown at the department store--and the most depressing indicator of the mainstream mindset: YSL Parisienne. It was something like Sharon Stone replacing Gena Rowlands in the totally gratuitous and mercilessly unentertaining remake of "Gloria", all surface embellishment. It smelled better in the bottle than anywhere near the skin. Gloria too esoteric a reference for you? How about Fran Drescher replacing the voice of Bambi's mother in the original Disney cartoon?

A list of the most spectacular niche fragrances I found this year would have to includeHistoires des Parfums 1740, which is so good it feels like contraband I should hide and find a way to smoke in a very ornate pipe. I've decided I can't do it justice. It's too sensory an experience. It doesn't lend itself to words. Thanks to Abigail, I smelled most if not all of the Parfums MDCI line. A standout for me was Vepres Siciliennes. Classified as a fruity chypre, it was so much richer than anything I've experienced in that category. Invasion Barbare was astonishing; Peche Cardinal, great fun, a joy ride in a convertible Porsche, full speed ahead. Curiously, the MDCI offerings from masters Pierre Bourdon and Patricia de Nicolai were the least interesting to me.

Under great but disappointing, file Ulrich Lang's Nightscape, which has its moments but too often sits on the skin sulking, a pout taking over its features. At times it seems to be scowling. I liked Acqua di Parma's Profumo, but the price tag made ME scowl. Then I walked away. Having walked away, I promptly forgot about it. Note to Acqua di Parma: Aramis at 50 bucks intrigues me. At 400, I need memorable, or you do, if your intention is my intention to buy. High points to Robert Piguet. The care with which this line is being re-asserted is admirable and should set an example to all large companies seeking to reinvigorate their bought out inventory. The Futur reformulation (by Aurelien Guichard) is fantastic--for about ten minutes. Oh what a ten minute fantasy it is. Metallically green in the fashion of Paco Rabbane Metal, gusty in the manner of Vent Vert--yet while Vent Vert blows back and forth, Futur plows straight ahead, no looking back, until but a memory. No matter. Seeing all the Piguet bottles lined up, knowing each fragrance has been handled well, makes me immensely happy.

I've tried but two of the Boadicea the Victorious fragrances. I'd heard such bad things. I now know to be prepared to disregard such accepted misgivings when it comes to something about which I maintain more than a healthy curiosity. I kept thinking about Complex. Violet and hard core leather. What's not to love? Reviewers call it everything short of the most insidiously vile excuse for a fragrance ever inflicted upon an unsuspecting society. Finally, I ordered a sample. There was no expected drumroll. Flat out, instant reaction: I love the stuff--as passionately as others despise it. The idea it might offend seems so laughable to me that I can't help imagining the scathing commentary about it online was dreamed up by its marketers.

Bond No.9 continues to disenchant its admirers and reinforce the resentment of its detractors. I suggest less rather than more. Less bullying. Less perfume. I smelled the Oud. It's nice. Cats are nice too. I'll pet yours but I don't want any. That said, the Bond I most eagerly anticipated, Success Is A Job In New York, while nice (lovely, even) didn't make my must have list. That place of privelege went to--big surprise--Harrod's for Her. Listen, it's a nuclear strength spiced tuberose. It will win you no friends in any indoor environment. It smells very much like Michael by Michael Kors. There's every reason not to like it, let alone own it, but I've fallen hard for it. There's something very lucid and opulent about it, like a ten-tier wedding cake made in an E-Z Bake oven.

If I must pick an oud, I'm going with Le Labo's. It's the only time I can remember a fragrance stopping me dead in my tracks. I walked past a friend wearing it in a large hall and it slapped me in the face with a tickle and some tongue. No traffic was stalled by L'Artisan's effort. It might just be me and Bertrand Duchaufour. We don't always see eye to eye. That said...I loved Penhaligons' Amaranthine. My problems with Duchaufour have often to do with diffusion. Where does it go? Into what wormhole slips the scent of his fragrances once they hit skin? It's as though someone entered a party smelling wonderfully of some unknown perfume, but left the door open, so the wind carries it all away. Amaranthine was robust and declarative. This guest closes the door behind her.

I'm in love with Sonoma Scent Studio's Tabac Aurea and Liz Zorn's Purple Love Smoke. These two indies really launched me into some fascinating headspace. A friend tells a story about the single most defining moment of her childhood. She'd just returned from a screening of Mary Poppins. Dick Van Dyke had drawn a chalk scene on the pavement and the cast had jumped in, entering a parallel world. When she got home, my friend drew on her own chalk board, placed it on the floor, and took a leap of faith. The flimsy, store-bought chalk board broke, which must have been like learning Santa Claus is a fraud and those cookies get eaten by your mom and dad. Tabac Aurea and Purple Love Smoke are examples of the rare fragrance, which, having drawn a fantasy with chalk, ushers you in and has the substance to sustain what its surface promised. I found them mesmerizing. I long for a Purple Love Smoke EDP, though I know I'm not getting it and I understand and respect why, but oh, to float around in those vapors.

I continue to be surprised exploring the range of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. There are misses--there would have to be, with hundreds of oils to choose from--but the treasures make the hunt worthwhile. Every year, limited editions are released. Some of these are coveted on Ebay and go for big bucks. I'm glad to have two of the year's best: Diable en Boite and Now Winter Night Enlarge. The former pits tangy peach against hemp, tobacco, clove and tonka, resulting in a thing of wonder--somewhere in the half life between the succulent fermentation of Yvresse and the classic, balls-out Oriental Spicy. There's a little devil on the label, but this stuff is a big piece of heaven. Now Winter is even better still: vanilla-infused red musk, champaca, petitgrain, ylang ylang, patchouli, nutmeg, honey, galbanum, and traces of caramel. As weird as that all sounds, it doesn't prepare you--which isn't to say Now Winter is an olfactory assault. The strangest thing is how beautiful it is, how incredible it smells out of the bottle, and how many changes it goes through on the skin. Now that Ava Luxe has stopped producing as much or any of her fragrances, I'm gravitating toward BPAL even more frequently. It satisfies a certain level of curiosity and adventure I bring to perfume in ways no other niche, indie, or mainstream line does, taking off-the-wall risks, some of which pay off in dividends.

One of the best things about the year was my continuing friendship with co-blogger Abigail. It's hard to believe we've been doing this together for over a year and a half and haven't met in person. Our friendship has been a huge boost for me on a daily basis. If you don't have a friend in fragrance, find one. Post comments. Make your profile available (i.e. not anonymous). It's worth it.

Along those lines, I have gotten so much out of reading fellow bloggers this year. Like you, maybe, I visit them every day. I thoroughly enjoy them all for different reasons.

Other participants in this year end best of exercise are listed in Abigail's post.

Best of the Best 2009: Joint Project

This is Abigail’s list - Brian’s will follow shortly

Even in the face of IFRA regulations and many sad reformulations, 2009 was the year I knew I would continue to enjoy perfume throughout my life. There were plenty of mainstream and niche perfumes that struck my fancy this year.

These are my personal favorites, not all were launched in 2009, some were simply new to me this year:
Teo Cabanel Alahine extrait (My holy grail. I didn’t even want an HG, but here it is)Alien Liqueur de Parfum (perfume aged like good booze, in oak barrells – a very good thing)
Annick Goutal Ambre Fetiche (in the butterfly bottle, my favorite holiday gift to myself)Annick Goutal Songes in eau de parfum (the edt is lovely but edp is swooooon worthy)
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Parfum de Luxe (delightfully classic and beautiful)
Estee Lauder Private Collection Jasmine White Moss (a modern chypre I love)
L’Artisan Havana Vanille (I’m still shocked that I love this)
Laura Mercier Minuit Enchante (I'd never smelled a single thing from Laura Mercier until Minuit Enchante showed up this year. This is LMs best. It’s stunning, trust me)
Le Labo Aldehyde 44 (I feel almost bad listing this one because it’s a $400 city exclusive. But, I’m crazy about it. Several other big aldehydes I’ve loved this year: Robert Piguet Baghari, Guerlain Vega, Mariella Burani and Amouage Dia)
Parfums MDCI Un Coeur en Mai (and Enlevement au Serail but Un Coeur is my favorite)
Soivohle’ Green Oakmoss (Liz Zorn is a brilliant rebel)
The entire Sonoma Scent Studio line (especially Tabac Aurea & Vintage Rose)
Travalo Atomizers
Rei Rien (a wonderful discount etailer owned by a true perfumista)
Les Nez Manoumalia

*Honorable Mentions
Penhaligons Amaranthine (I don’t know why I resisted liking this. I just didn’t want to like it. I never bothered with a review. But the thing is, I actually do like it. I prefer Les Nez Manoumalia and/or Annick Goutal Songes if I’m in this sort of warm saucy white floral mood, though).
Bond No. 9 Success is a Job in New York (Contrary to a lot of flack that Bond receives, they keep getting better and better)
Balmain La Mome (seems so ordinary but I’ve worn it again and again. There is something special about La Mome)

The demise of Ava Luxe
L’Artisan Al Oudh (yawn)
Amouage Ubar (I know I’m supposed to love this but it smells like bug spray on me).
Diptyque discontinuing one of my favorite perfumes: L’Eau Trois
Diptyque L’eau de Tarocco (I swear this is unscented water. Chandler Burr did the happy dance so I purchased Tarocco unsniffed and the moral of this story is that of the emperor wears no clothes)
The fact that Gobin Daude isn’t back in business yet and this is likely a silly rumor that’s been alive for a few years now. I’ll never get my hands on all the Gobin Daude bottles I want (sobs).

Pure parfum is not always better. Case in point: I prefer Coco in edp rather than pure parfum.
Not all reformulations are bad. If you’ve never sniffed the original, don’t bother doing it now, why torture yourself?
Avoid perfume reviews written by those going on a few dabs from a 1 ml vial.
Loads of niche perfumes are dreck. Just because it’s niche (and more expensive) doesn’t mean it will be better than mainstream. In fact, I find myself liking mainstream fragrances equally if not more sometimes.
I’m tired of Guerlain’s exalted status. This has nothing to do with the fact that they’ve rolled out a few duds over the past decade. I simply want a reign change.
And, my biggest revelation of all came very recently. If you find a fragrance too light or fleeting, simply spray yourself wet! Brian and I have joked about how we have trillions of perfumes yet act as if every spray is our last. For goodness sakes, spray yourselves, use the stuff, it's meant to be enjoyed and I've found that many of my favorites really need 6-8 sprays to last all day (L'Artisan, Chanel, Annick Goutal, etc.)

*Best Perfumery Trends in 2009
Perhaps not a huge trend but I was pleased to find some mainstream houses making modern classics, such as Estee Lauder Private Collection Jasmine White Moss and Chloe eau de parfum Intense

*Best Vintage Finds this year
The Jean Patou Ma Collection.
Aside from Vacances, the most famous Jean Patou of all, I found Chaldee, Caline and L’Heure Attendue particularly stunning.
*Best Packaging/Advertising
Juliette Has a Gun Purse bullets (and all Juliette Has a Gun bottles and packaing, the gold Midnight Oud bottle inside a brown suede box is chic).
L’Artisan Al Oudh (even though I don’t care for the scent, love the bottle)
Isabey Fleur Nocturne (haven’t sniffed it yet, love the bottle) *Notable Perfumers for their Excellence in 2009
Laurie Erickson of Sonoma Scent Studio
Jean-Francois Latty for making my holy grail scent, Teo Cabanel Alahine (prior to 2009)

*Best Hype
I really can’t stand hype, it annoys me and makes me resist trying it.

*Best Inexpensive Finds
Trader Joe’s (Trader Jacques) Liquid Hand Soap in Orange Blossom Honey

*Best Light Reading
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

*Best Gift I Got
Pepper spray from my Dad. Sounds strange but I take it to mean he really cares. In case you'd like some for yourself it's the Kimber Pepper Blaster and supposed to be the safest and easiest to use. :-)

What were YOUR favorite finds this year?

More participating blogs on these links, please don't forget to visit:
Mossy Loomings
Smelly Blog
Bittergrace Notes
Eiderdown Press Journal
Scent Hive
Roxana's Illuminated Journal
A Rose Beyond the Thames
The Non Blonde
Notes from the Ledge
Perfume Shrine
Under the Cupola
All I am a Redhead
Perfume In Progress
Savvy Thinker

Enormous thanks to Elena of Perfume Shrine for organizing this joint project and for entertaining, amusing and educating me all year long on her blog!

Happy 2010 to everyone! I wish you much happiness, health and good scents in the new year.

EDIT: OK so I went to MossyLoomings blog who had also already posted (we're both up late) and I loved her category called
Best Song to Sing Along to Out Loud in the Car (!!)
and my answer is -
but then I went to her recommended nifty new site and it wasn't there :-( which made me feel rather old. There are remakes on this site but not the real thing. Not Axl or Slash.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chloe Eau de Parfum Intense (2009): A Review

Chloe edp (2008) was nice enough. It was built around a fresh rose accord and certainly is a good offering for mainstream department store buyers. I bought it, I don’t wear it, but it’s decent. I can see how many “normal” people strolling through a department store and taking a quick sniff would like it (“normal” refers to those who own less than 10 bottles of perfume).

A new version of Chloe fragrance arrived this fall, and, to my surprise it’s not simply a more potent or intense version of the 2008 edp. Chloe Intense is rather nice and definitely created for classic tastes. I imagine the executives at Coty making three versions of Chloe (edt, edp and Intense) for three age demographics (edt = under 25, edp = 25-35 and edp Intense = 40+). This makes me wonder if the majority of consumer tastes do fall within these presupposed age demographics. I don’t, but I’m not a “normal” perfumer consumer either. Or, perhaps another way of looking at the distinctions between the three Chloe concentrations would be seasonal; the edt is meant for spring/summer, the edp for fall and the intense is for winter.

Chloe Intense has a spicier and more woody presence. In fact, it’s not particularly useful to compare the edp with Intense because they aren’t that similar – aside from the shared rose heart. To give a few comparisons, I find Chloe Intense to be along the lines of, but much more subtle than, Sisley Soir de Lune, Ungaro Diva, Bond No. 9 West Side, Madame Rochas and Paloma Picasso.

Chloe Intense has a harsh start with a heavy dose of pepper. I like the start, it’s my favorite part, and I wish it stayed this way, sort of edgy, sort of a big ballsy rose-pepper scent. It mellows a great deal between the start and the dry down. In essence, the majority of the fragrance is a classic aldehydic rose oriental. The aldehydes are present but they are tame, to please modern tastes. Everything about Chloe Intense is classic yet tame. I do like it but it’s the sort of fragrance that just won’t be worn by someone like me with trillions of other fragrances to choose from. But a more normal consumer, one who enjoys classics, but always finds them a bit too much, too overdone or too old fashioned might be utterly delighted with Chloe Intense.

Bottom line: If you like rose orientals, and the idea of a tame classic appeals to you, Chloe Intense is worth a shot.

Octavian at 1000 Fragrances also wrote this about Chloe Intense

The only list of notes I could find are: pink pepper, rose, sandalwood and tonka bean.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

And the wait is over: L'Artisan Havana Vanille

Man, it took long enough for this stuff to show up! I pre-ordered Havana Vanille in August and just received it Monday (12/21). I admit that during this long wait I became thoroughly disenchanted. I’ve been reading very negative posts on MUA & POL and I became less and less interested in it ever gracing me with it’s presence. Many noted it’s lightness, suggested it was fleeting, thought it smelled like something wet and moldy. Now that I have my bottle I gotta ask: what on earth are you smelling out there? Havane Vanille is simply gorgeous.

I’ve been wearing Havane Vanille for two days. One thing is for sure; this is not a fragrance you can judge based on a dab from a 1 ml vial. You need to spray HV – and I mean several big, bold sprays of it. Today I scanned MUA and read a post by DorothyEm where she wrote this in response to someone asking how to make L’Artisan scents last longer:

DorothyEm: “I read a post on another board from a L’Artisan representative and he suggested that you spray enough so it "pools" on the skin. In other words, spray liberally and enough to make your skin WET.”

It now occurs to me that I should do this will all L’Artisan fragrances, not just Havana Vanille. Maybe I should be ‘spraying myself wet’ with Annick Goutal, Chanel and Jo Malone, too. Just a thought. Anyway, back to HV. The fact that I wasn’t particularly interested in Havana Vanille ever showing up combined with the second fact that I don’t get excited by vanilla fragrances in general makes me recommend HV highly. Or perhaps this means HV is a vanilla fragrance for those who don’t care for vanilla scents. Case in point: I love Guerlain Spirituese Double Vanillle but this is perhaps the only vanilla I go crazy for and I wear it about 3-4 times per year, usually when I’m on a diet or when the weather is frigid and I need to olfactory equivalent of a big down comforter. My taste in vanilla scents pretty much runs toward ambery woods and not straight vanillas at all. My favorite ambery woods are Givenchy Organza Indecence (amber, cinnamon, and woods, woods, woods), Theorema (clove, orange, spices, and woods, woods, woods), Annick Goutal Ambre Fetiche (gorgeous ambery woods), Serge Lutens Rousse (cinnamon & woods) and Parfum d’Empire Ambre Russe (decadence bar none). So, as you can see, vanilla fragrances are pretty much not in my collection (well...I really dig Cristobal by Balenciaga and I think of it as a highly vanillic oriental). But, in general, I prefer ambery woods. So, if you are like me, you might also love Havana Vanille.

Havana Vanille begins like an after dinner drink heavy on the booze, specifically rum, and it's a very dark rum. Think of something along the lines of a Black Russian or Baileys Irish Crème. Something thick, boozy and spiked with milk. I might be hallucinating but I also smell something like almond liqueur – along the lines of Frangelico. Havana Vanille transports me to a dark retro lounge with me draped in the corner leather booth and, yes, on this occasion, I'm smoking a cigarette (maybe even a clove cigarette, it’s been years, give a girl a fantasy indulgence). Havana Vanille simmers down and loses it’s gourmand quality once the rum note dissipates but it never leaves entirely. Once the rum simmers it becomes a veritable spice fest; clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, dry smoky woods and burnt sugar. I know there is tobacco here but it’s so mild mannered I can’t pick it out. I can’t say I smell anything that resembles straight up vanilla, or vanilla as I know it in perfumery, and this is likely why I enjoy HV so much. To me, it smells like the idea of vanilla, and those I asked to smell me the past two days did not say I smelled like vanilla (fyi: they said I smelled really good, but didn’t know what it was). I don’t find much resemblance at all to Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille, which is good, because I’m not a fan. I think of Havana Vanille as a love child, a result of the coupling between Guerlain Spirituese Double Vanille and Givenchy Organza Indecence. It’s a blessed child – born from good parents. If you like ambery, spicy woods as I do, you ought to check out HV.

Notes include rum, clove, dried fruits, narcissus, tonka bean, helichrysum, vanilla, smoked woods, moss and balsamic notes

Monday, December 21, 2009

Interesting piece on Avery Gilbert's blog

Interesting read: Avery Gilbert’s blog piece.

Photo credit: above is a Roberto Cavalli ad where the model apparently has no spine.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tinkering with the Top 10 List

Turin/Sanchez Top 10 Perfumes
Amouage Gold
Bulgari Black
Chanel No. 5
Guerlain Apres L’Ondee
Guerlain L’Heure Bleue
Guerlain Shalimar
Jean Patou Joy
Serge Lutens Bois de Violette
Thierry Mugler Angel
Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche

My Revised List
instead of Amouage Gold (Givenchy Amarige)
instead of Bulgari Black (Frederic Malle Carnal Flower)
instead of Chanel No. 5 (Chanel No. 22)
instead of Guerlain Apres L’Ondee (Robert Piguet Fracas)
instead of Guerlain L’Heure Bleue (Guerlain Mitsouko)
Guerlain Shalimar, agreement
Jean Patou Joy, agreement
instead of Serge Lutens Bois de Violette (Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger)
Thierry Mugler Angel, agreement
instead of Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche (Yves Saint Laurent Opium)

Here’s my thought process:
Amouage Gold may be beautiful but it’s's just so unapproachable and obscure. It's probably personal, I just wouldn't put Gold in the Top 10. If I am to choose another humongous floral – with uniqueness and classical tendencies – it will have to be Amarige. Sorry to all the haters. Amarige is classic.

Bulgari Black. I think the Turin/Sanchez team are trying to give a nod to something new (ish) – from the last 10+ years as opposed to all the classics on this list which are well over 25+ years old. In this category, I’m picking Frederic Malle Carnal Flower. It’s breathtaking.

Chanel No. 5 – oh please, I just never understood the No. 5 fascination, maybe that’s my loss. I think Chanel No. 22 is so much better.

Guerlain Apres L’Ondee – I think another house is deserving besides Guerlain. For me, Shalimar and Mitsouko are enough recognition for Guerlain in the top 10. Here I would like to include Piguet’s Fracas. Fracas is still a sought after classic to this day.

Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, Mitsouko is just more mind-bogglingly- cool.

Guerlain Shalimar – I agree.

Jean Patou Joy – I agree.

Serge Lutens Bois de Violette, well, while I do agree that Lutens deserves a spot in the top 10, instead I’d nominate Fleurs d’Oranger.

Thierry Mugler Angel – I agree.

Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche – for YSL I think Opium deserves recognition over Rive Gauche.

Obviously I have thoroughly bought in/used the Turin/Sanchez model for this list, accepting their logic entirely and substituting where I deemed necessary. If I were to create a top 10 list from scratch, aside from it taking me a full year, 365 days of nonstop revisions and perhaps never concluding; it might also be completely different. Who knows? For instance, it pains me that Tabac Blond, Chinatown, something from Hermes and Teo Cabanel Alahine are not in my top 10.

(I think this could be fun….What say YOU?)

photo credit: above pic is from Fiordiligi's own private stash. Fiordiligi is her user name on Perfume of Life. this photo makes me drool.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

One from the Vault: Fendi Theorema

It took me a while with Theorema. I think I needed to smell other things first. A lot of other things. I don't think my frame of reference was wide enough at the time. Theorema seemed too sugared for my taste. There was something candied about it, I thought, which placed it alongside some of those department store celebrity fragrances which seem more like a dessert plate than a perfume. It seems strange to me now, that I had a full bottle of impossible to find Theorema and blithely gave it away. What was I thinking?

Released in 1999 (or 98, depending on source), Theorema wasn't exactly ahead of its time, when you look at the territory Serge Lutens had already traversed. But it was certainly unlike most of its neighboring fare at the mall. Some of the releases contemporary to it were: J'Adore, Allure, Rush, Baby Doll, Jaipur Saphir, and YSL Vice Versa. Aside from Allure, which shares vanillic qualities with it, Theorema stood alone. Even Allure's similarity ended with the word vanilla, as its treatment of the note took it in an entirely different direction. While not particularly edible, Allure emphasizes the gourmand bombast of vanilla, creating the impression of considerable density. Theorema explores the woodier facets of the pod, its results more lucid, if not transparent.

Organza Indecence also came out in 1999, and has more in common with Theorema than any mass release of that year (or many others). Interesting to see how Organza Indecence has persisted, if not thrived in the marketplace, while Theorema is now extinct. With a pronounced influence of plum, Organza Indecence is much fruitier, but both fragrances spread themselves out against a backdrop of sweet-spicy cinnamon and damp overturned-earth patchouli.

Theorema's top notes read like a perforated Lutens pyramid. Nutmeg, pepper, orange, rosewood. Its heart notes are classic old school oriental perfumery: ylang ylang, carnation, rose, and cinnamon. These middle notes place it in company, at least in spirit, with Opium, Asja (also Fendi) and Cinnabar. The base notes add to patchouli touches of benzoin, sandal, and labdanum. You can see the influence of Shiseido's Feminite du Bois throughout Theorema's carefully judged stages; specifically, its woody resins and sweet, semi-stewed mellow ambience. More than Lutens, even, I see a real resemblance to the work of Pierre Guillaume of Parfumerie Generale. Theorema is the distant ancestor of Un Crime Exotique, most notably, and I think diffuses more like a PG fragrance than a Lutens, going wider rather than deeper as it makes its way through the senses and the room.

Theorema now seems far less sugary than I once thought. I can't say why. It might be that I'm more familiar not just with a broader array of perfume in general but with more of perfumer Christine Nagel's work specifically. Her Ambre Soie for Armani's Prive collection is a step through the looking glass from Theorema, with that same strange burnt sugar quality. It came just four or five years after Theorema, but was much more at home in an exclusive, niche-like collection. Dolce and Gabbana The One (2006) is an adaptation of this style to a more commercial application. Rose Absolue for Yves Rocher (2006) and Mille et Une Roses for Lancome (1999) feel like the same perfumer working out the same sentence in different languages.

Theorema is difficult to find. I haven't tried the Leggero version. I'd be interested in hearing from someone who has.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Aramis Devin: Another Country

I've always loved Devin, but it's so close to Aliage, and the lasting power is so inferior to its older sister, that I've opted out of buying it. Now that Aramis has re-released many of its forgotten classics, some of which were discontinued, I've revisited, and I see my error. If you told me one of my favorite movies was being remade, I imagine I wouldn't be that interested. If you told me the director was making a sequel on the same themes with some of the same actors, I'd pre-order my ticket.

I don't know that Bernard Chant, the nose behind Devin, had anything to do with Aliage. I assume he did, though I've seen Francis Camail listed as the Perfumer. I don't contest that, though the earliest credit I can find for Camail is Eau d'Hadrien (with Annick Goutal). That was in 1981. An Estee Lauder fragrance, Aliage came out in 1972. It certainly bears the woody-herbaceous imprint of Chant, but so does Aramis 900, and I don't know that he did that either.

Devin (1977) was the second fragrance release from Aramis, an Estee Lauder offshoot devoted to male grooming products. Chant inaugurated the Aramis line, in 1966, with Aramis Cologne. Aramis was Chant's Cabochard, her cheeks slapped with citrus aftershave. Aramis and Estee Lauder fragrances are curious in their approach to gender. Azuree, released about five years after Aramis, is its androgynous counterpart. It's as if the man who was Aramis, after dressing in female drag, then put a suit on top of his gown. Aramis 900 is strikingly similar to Aromatics Elixir, a fragrance Chant orchestrated for Clinique. JHL (1982) puts big boy pants on Youth Dew and Cinnabar, classic Lauder feminines, monogramming them with Mr. Lauder's initials.

Aliage was somewhat butch to begin with. It was promoted as a Sport Fragrance, though I'm hard-pressed to come up with a sport women were playing back in 72 which might have lent itself to such a powerful onslaught of resins, woods, camphor and jasmine, a combined effect nearly nuclear in strength. The chrome and glass bottle, with its seventies type, recalls the indoor tennis courts of my youth: curvy modular surfaces, corrugated metals and amber glass.

I picture women in short tennis skirts, hair fixed to their foreheads by sweat, but the ad for Aliage shows a fancy lady perched on the back of an open station wagon, holding what appears to be a polo stick. She's dressed in a herringbone pantsuit, a tweed overcoat slung over her shoulders. Her shirt looks like something a man would wear. I'm not sure a man would fancy her beret, but its jaunty angle doesn't exactly broadcast the girl next door, or anywhere nearby. The look is finished off with leather gloves and ankle boots. A flannel blanket hangs over the tailgate, on top of which: a picnic basket, phallic bread loaf and wine bottle poking out the top. Because ads of this sort are market tested to within an inch of their lives, I take it no room was left for accident here. The message seems to be very much about women's lib and a spirit of emancipation which begins with a mindset and extends into lifestyle.

Interesting that Devin should take such a different approach. While its advertising campaign mirrored that of Aliage in key ways (the outdoors, fresh air, green backdrop) it was practically unconscious by comparison. It was billed as a "country cologne: a rich, sophisticated fragrance that captures the relaxed, unhurried attitude of the country life." I'm not exactly sure what the country life looks like, but Devin seemed determined to articulate it. I've tracked down three adverts for Devin. All show a scruffy male in a decidedly contemplative mood. The setting might best be described as elbow-patch rural. Surrounded by trees, open country roads, and grassy fields, the model seems to be far away (mentally and physically) from the sporting life. Taken together, Devin and Aliage indicate a pretty blatant reversal of roles. While women navigate the playing field, men go out to pasture.

Aliage never loses its bluster. It's a wind that never stops blowing. In effect, it remains active, whereas Devin is passive. Aldehydes make the top notes (orange, artemisia, lavender, bergamot, galbanum, and lemon) shimmer like sunlight through overhanging tree branches. But Devin isn't bright like Aliage, which remains piquant. The middle notes are dense and moody: carnation, cinnamon, jasmine, caraway and pine tree needles. Compare this to the middle notes of Aliage: pine tree, jasmine, caraway, Brazilian rosewood. In Devin, the mixture feels velvety, the lambswool collar of a knit sweater rubbing against your face. The effect is partly cloudy, and none of the ads depicts a sunny setting. Carnation and cinnamon add a spicy, simmering quality. Someone's cooking in the kitchen, somewhere in the distance, but it isn't a woman.

The dry down of Devin is mellower still. The basenotes read like a litany of library aromas: labdanum, leather, amber, patchouli, musk, oakmoss, cedar. Aliage subtracts the leathers and languor, livening things up with vetiver and myrrh. Devin doesn't really remind me of the outdoors, whatever the intent. I see a domestic, if equally solitary, scene; a dark glass of tawny port, leather arm chairs, heavy drapes, vintage books, wood paneled walls, a burgundy Persian rug. It isn't entirely insular. The window provides a view, and is cracked, but only just so. Looks like it might rain. The woman of the house is out there with her polo stick, oblivious to the forecast.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Reunited and it feels so goooood

Sonoma Scent Studio has blown me away with their phenomenally high quality and gorgeous fragrances. Over the past 12-18 months, I’ve swooned over Tabac Aurea, Winter Woods, Voile de Violette, Wood Violet, Champagne de Bois, Femme Jolie, Fireside, Ambre Noir and even the pretty little skin scent called Opal.

As a kid, back in the late 80’s, I wore Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose like it was going out of style. You could count on the fact that my first car (powder blue Ford Escort named Nelly) would nearly knock you over with the remnants of Tea Rose when you jumped in the passengers seat. But this was the last time I really wore a rosey fragrance. As much as I love roses, to grow them and to smell them, I never wear a rose fragrance for a full day. I’ll put a spray or a dab on my back of my hand – just to sniff – but never to really wear it. In the past 5 years, I’ve purchased all sorts of rose fragrances; FM Une Rose, DSH American Beauty, Lancome Mille et une Roses, Guerlain Rose Barbare, AG Ce Soir ou Jamais, SL Rose de Nuit, Le Labo Rose 31, Diptyque L’Ombre dans L’Eau and so on. I love to sniff these rose perfumes but somehow I never want to wear them. I don’t know what exactly happened between me and rose scents, maybe it was a bad experience, a bad memory linked with rose scented perfume, or maybe I’ve grown to think of rose scents as somewhat prissy, straight-laced and conservative (Laura Bush looks like she’d smell rosey). I honestly can’t figure out what happened – why I never truly wear a rose fragrance – I only like to sniff them.

Enter Sonoma Scent Studio Vintage Rose. Suddenly I can wear rose. I yearn to wear this. Vintage Rose is stylistically similar with Guerlain Rose Barbare and Le Labo Rose 31 – yet I couldn’t wear those and I want to wear Vintage Rose. And a lot of it. Vintage Rose is fairly potent and has some good sillage and yet I want to bathe in it – I don’t care if those around me gasp for a little fresh air – crack the car window, I want this stuff swirling and trailing all around me. I can’t explain this phenomenon – aside from the fact that when I sniffed Vintage Rose for the first time – I had an immediate emotional reaction, I felt I’d been separated from a rose relationship for a long time – and suddenly this was it – The One.

Vintage Rose is deep red roses, piles and piles of plush, crimson and wine colored petals. These roses are so velvety soft and plush I want to lay in a bed covered with them all day. Vintage Rose starts off rather vividly with red roses but it quickly introduces that Sonoma Scent Studio “fingerprint,” if you will, of dry woods. I’ve come to think of this SSS woodsy fingerprint as smelling like my current surroundings in the high desert, the mountains of the southwest. These are dry, crisp and smokey, not cigarette smoke but slightly charred woods and a pinch of incense. I smell pinon logs burning on the fireplace. I smell the dry desert air. Cedar, sandalwood and juniper shrubs. Then along comes the most luscious and plump fruit preserves. I immediately thought of my grandmother and her canned fruit preserves. Do you remember those clear glass Ball canning jars? Imagine those brimming with fresh from the garden preserves; strawberry, black currant, plum and blueberry. Vintage Rose is all of this and more.

Today I wore Femme Jolie body silk and sprayed myself liberally with Vintage Rose. It was as if I had an epiphany, a reunion, and I felt happy and peaceful. I might even wear it again tomorrow. It’s been 2 straight days with no other dalliances, not even a back of the hand sniff of something else. This is weird.

Notes: Rose, plum, cedar, sandalwood, amber, labdanum absolute, tonka bean, and vetiver.

Purchasing information: Sonoma Scent Studio website

Above image borrowed from Aedes de Venustas website. When I smell Vintage Rose this image came to mind.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Smells: A Purely Biased List of Favorites, PART ONE

I'm not one for seasonal strictures--I'm dressed in white as I type this--and when it comes to fragrances, I find that I wear the ones I love all across the calendar. Still, scent is associative, and no time evokes specific memories around smell more than Christmas.

The fragrances I love to rediscover during this holiday aren't always the usual suspects; certainly not often the flankers intended to conjure a fantasy feast of gingerbread and fruitcake. My favorites scatter the elements of Christmas like a cubist painting, approaching the subject from a variety of angles simultaneously. They parcel Christmas out into bits and pieces of sensory memory, rendering them with photographic detail. Theoretically, I'd have to wear these fragrances all at once to get the bigger picture. In reality, they only work separately, one at a time, demonstrating how complex and textured the memories surrounding holidays are. Forty Christmas seasons have accrued a dense system of overlapping triggers. The following are the tip of the icicle.

New Haarlem (Bond No. 9)

There are several good coffee-centered scents in my cabinet (Ava Luxe Cafe Noir and A*Men Pure Coffee, to name a few). New Haarlem is something of a curiosity among them. While the coffee note is unmistakable, it tends to be much more impressionistic, depicting not just the steaming cup but the mood of the breakfast table conversation. As it wears, New Haarlem becomes slightly spicy, with interesting undertones of amber.

Ambre Fetiche (Annick Goutal)

Ambre Fetiche is a deeply resonant mixture of resins and leather (birch tar, maybe?). It lasts and lasts, and lasts some more. This is a slowly collapsing, intermittently crackling pile of resinous logs left burning in the fireplace, viewed through the frosted glow of nighttime windowpanes.

Nuit de Noel (Caron)

Christmas is the smell of things stewing, simmering, and roasting. So what's with all the marzipan? Nuit de Noel is that rare seasonal fragrance, which bypasses sweet tooth for smoked savory and mixed nuts. That would be wood smoke and hazelnuts, and mingling somewhere within is the combined effect of all the settled-in perfumes worn by the women of the house.

L'eau (Diptyque)

The pomander hanging over the dinner table, distributing the aroma of clove, fir branch, orange oil, cinnamon, and dried rose in all directions. Approaching religious experience, it manages to insert the mood of Christmas Eve cathedral (those vast, vaulted ceilings and a Christmas tree the size of Rockefeller Center) into the dining room.

Wrappings (Clinique)

While not technically a seasonal release, Wrappings is sold only at Christmas. You get a 30 ml bottle with perhaps an equally modest tube of lotion. Forget the lotion, and buy the gift for yourself. This stuff is Ormonde Jayne Woman writ in neon the colors of pine tree and holly berry. Where Woman is warm, sleepy-eyed, and twilit, Wrappings is blinding bright and bracing cold. Woman is a solitary walk along a forest trail. Wrappings is a party in the snow. Mace, artemisia, cedar, and moss go the expected places. What veers Wrappings down an unknown path is the steep cocktail of cyclamen, jasmine, rose, carnation, and orris, electrified by aldehydes. The overall effect is as exhilarating as a snowball fight deep in the woods.

Minuit de Messe (Etro)

I get confused when people go on about this one's gothic prowess, as if it were all dungeon stone and incense smoke. It must be my chemistry, or my nose. Messe has always been user-friendly for me, a mellow, resinous incense. There's a wonderful zest of citrus up top, which takes its time leaving. Upon its departure, frankincense and amber move to the center of the picture. Truly a midnight mass, materializing a dim cathedral full of well-dressed men, women and children, all buzzing with barely contained, drowsy excitement under a veneer of respectably somber supplication.


There's too much dissonance in there to dismiss this as a sweet-shop essay on all things cake and cookie. "Woodsy notes" are listed in the pyramid, along with amber, musk, and an admittedly ubiquitous vanilla. This doesn't begin to get at the weird play of contrasts in Gaultier2. It's a dividing fragrance. Some find it saccharine. I find it has just the right touch of Barbasol. There's enough five o'clock shadow and tobacco in there to complicate the picture. One of the few fragrances to remind me of the men hanging out on the periphery of the Christmas festivities. Simultaneously robust and laid-back.

Anne Pliska (Anne Pliska)

Somewhere between Shalimar's citrus petrol and Obsession's electric spice, Anne Pliska's signature scent strikes the perfect balance between edible and inedible on the oriental continuum. Abundantly tranquil, like a half-recalled moment of a forgotten Christmas day, where the chatter of family and the steady rustle of gift wrap evolved into a quiet, subtle hum, clearing your mind to unnoticed pleasures, scents from the kitchen you hadn't been able to smell through all the noise.

Agent Provocateur (Agent Provocateur)

Roses are really the last thing the holidays bring to mind, yet despite all its comparisons to rose chypres past, Agent Provocateur manages to evoke the season in a way none of its predecessors did. It's probably the saffron up top, the cedar down below, and the vetiver somewhere in between, which situate the florals in the sweet but boozy territory of spiced rum cake, an aroma ascertained through elaborate plumes of cigarette smoke.

Cinnabar (Estee Lauder)

Truly a classic. Woozier then upright Opium, this oriental has dipped into the punch bowl with a little more abandon. You can smell the fermented fruit on its breath, and its fuzzy state of mind is palpable from the other side of the room.

Noel au Balcon

I get pretty weary of the slams directed at Etat Libre D'Orange. The more time I spend with this line, the more I appreciate its artistry and quality. Even it's most ostensibly mainstream (i.e. throwaway) fragrances, like Don't Get Me Wrong, Baby (I Don't Swallow), offer riches worth revisiting. The sense of humor is refreshing and conversational. Why is it that we can laugh at the unintentionally silly and overblown ad copy of estimable houses like Guerlain, while faulting Etat for its open sense of the ridiculous? Why is it we don't bat an eye at horsey Hilary Swank writhing in the cosmos for Insolence, but decry the squirting penis of Secretions Magnifiques, as though the latter weren't the subliminal thrust of the former laid bare? In an industry which serves no higher goal than the bottom line, releasing only what has been test-marketed to death, what exactly is the beef with a house whose nerve is prodigious enough to push boundaries in the form of a fragrance like Secretions Magnifiques? I find it hard to take Etat's detractors seriously.

Noel au Balcon is a subtle inversion in some ways of the seasonal release. Key word release here, as indicated by the stuffed corset of the perfume's accompanying illustration. Noel au Balcon takes the dense cakey comfort food of Five O'Clock au Gingembre and turns it on its nose with perfectly judged touches of cistus and red pepper. It truly evolves on the skin, from sweet to salty, maintaining an interesting floral backbone throughout. Apply it before you meet the family. It will linger until you leave with mandatory leftovers. It has far more gravity than its brethren.

Une Rose

The only other Christmas rose for me. This one is straightforwardly rose, but its wine dregs hint at that half dark, half jolly place the right kind of holiday party can take you. This is rose as high drama--moody, like the emotional baggage you bring to the Christmas table, a state of mind where a butter knife can look like more of a weapon than you ever had cause to notice before. A scent like Une Rose makes all the trivial resentments and longings teased out by the holidays seem as majestic and impertinent as classic opera performed in combat boots.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thoughts on Gift Giving for (and from) the Perfume Lover

The worst part of Christmas for me--I'm just going to say it--is knowing I can't really buy people perfume and they can't really buy it for me, resulting in an enforced hiatus from something I really love.

There are maybe two or three friends I can gift with fragrance. They appreciate my choices and react with enthusiasm to the introduction of the unknown. Perfume is a special gift to them. They might only wear it once or twice a year. That makes it even more special. Everyone else makes very little distinction between a bottle of, say Chanel Coromandel and Ralph Lauren Glamorous. While perfectly happy with the gift, their eyes glaze over when I venture into anything deeper than a superficial back and forth about it. The gift is a conversation closer. This is something to shove in a cabinet. Where's the joy there? It's like you've given them a Snuggie. They're not even interested in taking it out of the box to see what distinguishes it from a garden variety throw.

Last night, my friend asked what I want for Christmas. What have I asked for? Well, I said, I hope people have the good sense to get me perfume. After a pitying laugh and a shake of the head, he said, "You're not getting any perfume, Brian." I know this but I asked him why anyway. You never get wine lovers wine, he said, because they know so much more about wine than you do that you're afraid you'll pick out something they wouldn't be caught dead drinking.

This is probably why I look forward to Abigail's present more than anyone else's. Abigail gives me the kind of gifts I wish I could give other people, knowing that I'll like whatever she sends and that she can't possibly send the wrong thing. We talk almost every day, and she listens. Gift-giving is about listening. I'm a little hard of hearing. I'm just being honest here. The problem is, I tend to tune people out when I'm not hearing anything about a personal passion, or one which provides a port of entry to the casual outsider. So I like wine and you know nothing about it. Okay. I can't drink wine without a glass. That's a start.

It's also about observation, which is a kind of listening too. When interested in giving someone perfume, I start a conversation with them. What do they wear? If they don't wear anything, then why? A lot of them used to wear things and stopped. I'm fascinated to find out what these were. Sometimes they assume these things aren't available anymore. They've never heard of perfumania,, Reirien or Luckyscent. They might be curious to try things but know nothing about them. They have no idea about decants, and The Posh Peasant might as well be the planet Mars. This means I can take them to Mars, which is pretty exciting.

When I visit their houses, I ask to see their perfumes. I can tell from seeing where they keep them and from looking at them how often they're worn and how much they're valued. People either respond to this kind of solicitation and engage with you, or they don't. At some point I know when not to waste my time on something which will ultimately be about as exciting to them as a blanket with arm holes in it. Some people know Mars must be there and are perfectly happy with its peripheral existence. When this is the case, I try to find out what else they're into. Surely everyone has a consuming interest.

I've learned a few key things from this process, the most interesting of which is that perfume is a conversation you have with other people. I didn't previously think about it that way, but it is. Perfume is communal. You wear it and others smell it and it creates a shared mood or interconnected states of mind. It opens a space for a discussion about memories, more often than not. The other thing I've learned is a related issue. Many people don't have a consuming interest which doesn't involve TV or the internet, not as a means to an end but the end itself. Which is to say: many people's interests are isolating, enforcing a certain level of separation.

I always like hearing those stories about people (usually guys) who gift their significant others with perfume. The best thing about this kind of gift is that it usually comes alive in a way many don't. My grandmother received Caron's Nuit de Noel when she was a young woman. My aunt remembers it sitting on her dresser in its mottled green, tasseled case. She remembers my grandmother wearing it on rare nights out. I have to assume her sisters and brothers made the same kind of heightened associations she did with the fragrance, that it became bound up in their memories of their mother. I'm guessing they looked forward to nights out, however subconsciously, because it meant their mother was most "herself". The smell of Nuit de Noel brought everything together--mother to father, sisters to brothers. That's some kind of gift.

Thought went into it. There was a strategy of connection there. I miss that during Christmas but I keep trying to create it, I think, hoping to find that appreciative recipient who really "gets" the giving and understands how to extend it and give it back.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

TWRT 12.6.09

This Week’s Random Thoughts –

Perhaps I’m cranky, but do you ever wonder why certain people go to the trouble to post their masses of reviews on basenotes and MUA when you find the majority of them worded like this: “well, I don’t usually like tuberose (floral orientals, chypres, just fill in the blank) so I loathed this and needed to scrub it off my wrists.” Personally, I don’t need anyone, who prefers sheer citrus scents like Annick Goutal Duel, to review Amouage Gold from a dab-on 1 ml vial, and tell me it’s just “a big heady, cloying 80’s scent.” Thanks but your opinion is useless. I often wonder why these people do this. Are their lives so boring that they get an ego boost out of being a “top reviewer” on MUA or basenotes? If you are not inclined to like anything sweet, heady or powerful then don’t bother buying a vial of the stuff to tell me how much you dislike it.

So, Serge’s next release (L’Eau)is as fresh as a dryer sheet. I’m not reading anything mysterious or mythical into his choice aside from the fact that he’s a sell out just like everyone else and needed a fresh cologne in his line-up.

On the cooking front, I made turkey pot pie this week for the first time. It was an exercise in using up Thanksgiving leftovers. I learned that you need to boil the potatoes before putting them in the pie to bake. It was otherwise good.

Amouage Ubar smells a bit like bug spray. And I normally like big florals like this.

I’m having a huge affair with Strange Invisible Perfumes lately. It might end badly but for the moment I’m anxiously awaiting a big box. For those who need to know, Heroine has been reissed in parfum concentration. And, just to clarify, because I was dopey and didn’t get it myself, it’s heroine with an ‘e’ on the end, as in female hero, not heroin the very bad drug.

I thought I was doing well this year with holiday shopping. Suddenly I realize it’s December 5th and I have loads to do and I’m stressed as usual.

I ordered Angel Excessive Parfum in the limited edition bottle because it was on sale. I’m so happy I did because the bottle is a thing of excessive tacky beauty and the juice is as powerful as a nuclear explosion. I want to hide it away and sniff it in 20 years and see what I think then.

Guerlain’s Chypre Fatale is not really a chypre nor fatal. It’s very fruity with a little patch in the base. Oriental Brulant is the nicest from their Elixir Charnal limited edition series.

My nose is changing. Now when I go back and sniff things from a year or two ago I seem to smell them more clearly (if that makes sense?). I wore Divine eau de parfum this week and was in heaven. This is truly some gorgeous glamour juice. It’s such a well done ‘big floral.’ I don’t know that I’d call it buttery, like LT in The Guide, but I will call it amazing. It’s big, blowsy, retro and oh-so -feminine and pretty. To me it’s a big powdery tuberose but when it dries down it seems to turn into a lovely bouquet of hyacinths.

Friday, December 4, 2009

1876 (aka Mata Hari): Histoires de Parfums

Some time in the last year, the Histoires de Parfums line, one of my favorites, reformulated several of their fragrances, which makes discussing them more than a little challenging now. Adding to the frustration, older and newer versions are often equally interesting, sometimes equally good, but for the most part entirely different perfumes. Reading about them online, one should always try to keep in mind the transition point and whether the fragrance at hand made the cut unchanged.

For my money, I'd start with Noir Patchouli (unchanged) and 1740 (also unchanged). Inspired by the Marquis de Sade, 1740 is unbelievably good. Though it seems slightly familiar at first sniff (as if it had been around for centuries), there's nothing remotely like it, not just in terms of smell but longevity, quality, and projection. At one time I believed Sonoma Scent Studio's Tabac Aurea to be very similar. They do have common motifs, but 1740 is darker and denser, and ultimately an entirely different beast. 1740 is a slightly woody tobacco and supple leather fragrance, one of the richest scents I own, and the best (i.e. most judicious) use of immortelle I've come across in a so-called masculine. Noir Patchouli is essentially a milked rose patchouli. No one ever mentions the rose--even the notes indicate only "floral bouquet"--but for me it's a fascinating update of fragrances like Aramis 900 and Aromatics Elixir, presided over by the feel of a unisex rose chypre.

1876 (Mata Hari) does list rose in its pyramid, but I smell less of it there than in Noir Patchouli. Regardless, I'd had my eye on 1876 for a long time. I'd received a sample pack from Histoires when I purchased 1740. All of the scents were nice--1969 being another standout--but 1876 attracted me most. The bottles are about 200 bucks: no more than the Chanel Exclusifs, but, at two ounces less, a lot more expensive than almost everything else. When an online merchant liquidated its old Histoires formulations, selling them dirt cheap, I bought a few, 1876 among them. The original version is a lot more openly fruity floral, with a weird off note I like very much, but it has nothing on the reformulation, which has some of the caustic, singed allure of Ava Luxe's now apparently discontinued Midnight Violet.

The notes of the newer 1876 vary depending where you look. I've seen: bergamot, orange, litchi, rose, iris, violet, caraway, cinnamon, carnation, vetiver, guaic wood, and sandalwood. But the notes listed on the bottle, surely the most reliable source, include cumin and white musks, and say nothing of violet. 1876 is a well blended fragrance, and picking out these individual elements isn't easy, but I do discern the carnation, the cinnamon, and a subtle interplay of orange and rose. Perhaps because of the carnation, 1876 reminds me of orientals like Opium and Cinnabar. Despite the orange and bergamot, it lacks the dense, dewy fruitiness of those classics.

It doesn't lack their forcefulness, and it won't be something anyone who dislikes that kind of bombast will find very appealing, I suspect. The charm of 1969's friendly succulence will not be lost on such a person, making that his go-to Histoires fragrance. Though I prefer 1876 and typically can't get enough bombast, I sometimes wish 1876 had the lasting power of 1740 and Noir Patchouli. For something named after showy, boastful Mata Hari, it starts whispering too soon, and I get impatient with it, wishing it would back up its initial come on. 1876 sticks around but becomes pretty mellow a little earlier than I'd like. You come over for a party and the only other person partying has brought out the bong and enjoyed it a lot more than makes for good company, zoning out there next to you.

I'm guessing that some of the fragrance's medicinal buzz is from the iris, but I could be wrong. This vaguely camphoric element places 1876 in a different arena than the orientals mentioned above, giving it heat, an ongoing frisson they lack. It's probably inevitable that this will start to resemble the candied sweetness of red hots on most people, given the cinnamon, but that isn't an entirely unwelcome development, contributing, along with the orange, just the faintest touch of the gourmand.

For those who don't know, Mata Hari was an exotic dancer of Dutch descent who pretended to be far more exotic, trading on a vogue for all things oriental by cultivating a fictitious past steeped in Asian culture and training. A contemporary of Isadora Duncan, she was known for her sequined costumes and a trademark routine which involved what seemed to amount to glorified striptease. Typically, her performances ended in rather ornate brassieres and jewel-dripping headdresses. She was a courtesan, mixing company with various military brass during the first world war. One of these men seems to have made her a spy in service of the Germans, though there's some debate about the veracity of that reputation. Some suspect she wasn't a spy at all; but a scapegoat. In any case, her sexual encounters made her privy to top secret information. Her name is synonymous with sexual intrigue and the term femme fatale. She was tried and executed by firing squad at the age of 41.

Floral but spicy, bold but soft, the sexy orient impostor 1876 manages to conjure associations which are perfectly in keeping with her mythos. Like Mata Hari herself (see above picture) it's a masculine disguised as a feminine.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Well Hello, Sunshine: Alahine (Teo Cabanel)

Smelling Alahine for the first time was a unique moment for me. I can't remember the last time I responded so emotionally to a perfume, when the clinical part of my mind was so swiftly bypassed, the more associative part so thoroughly ignited. Alahine is that rare fragrance for me, managing to meet my expectations without sacrificing the element of surprise.

What you do expect, from the raves on various blogs and boards, is an amber oriental. What catches you off guard is the mercurial development of the thing. Alahine goes through so many stages that at various points throughout the day I imagined I must be smelling something else I couldn't remember putting on. It has the complexity of (and more than a little resemblance to) vintage Bal a Versailles. They share a balsamic warmth, though Alahine remains sunnier. Bal a Versailles, if sunny at all, is constantly threatened by clouds. It retreats into a darkened room, becoming more insular. Alahine has its own drama, but it's a drama played out in the open, in broad daylight. The colors give away these differences, the one lucidly gold, the other a more inscrutable reddish brown. For me, Alahine is the untroubled person Bal a Versailles once was.

Granted, it's a setting sun, a rich, sulfurous gold. Out the gate, it seems to me more aldehyde than amber. The florals are hazed, one of those gorgeous old soft-focus photos, the light flaring in star shapes, the flowers amorphous arrangements of color. Those florals pop, but with the kind of impressionistic fuzz you find in Cinnabar. It's a fantastic opening, and I would be happy dwelling indefinitely there. It does last a while. Gradually, things go even softer, becoming what some have characterized as powdery. I don't get that so much. There are far more powdered fragrances. What Alahine becomes is more humid, muskier, than that. Hours on, it's working magic across the skin, shifting the subject from flowers to to field.

The later stages of development are where I get the vanilla, the benzoin, the patchouli. These have the most interesting, extended conversation with each other, sometimes murmuring, sometimes getting a little more excited, projecting what they have to say. Between this and the opening come rolling impressions of rose, jasmine, and (particularly, for me) orange blossom. These aren't so pronounced that you can single them out with any kind of confidence, but you don't exactly want to anyway. Alahine is about this particular harmonious convergence, a sum of its parts in the best possible way. You forget for a second what any of these things smell like by themselves.

I'd also like to point out how sublimely unisex it is. This stuff would smell good on anyone. It seems custom blended for the person who happens to be wearing it the way a period feels inevitable at the end of a well written sentence. Abigail wrote me to say I should give Alahine time, not because I might revise my initial opinion but because it's something that you grow to understand over time. I believe that. After a year, she realized it was her holy grail, and she hadn't really been looking for one. I'd just been thinking the same thing, so I can't imagine where I might be in twelve months.

Abigail's review here.

Oriental Lounge, Celine Ellena: A Review

I've been anxiously awaiting The Different Company's Oriental Lounge this fall. My bottle arrived from Aedes last week and I admit to not being initially enamored with it. Before wearing Oriental Lounge, I read the interview with the perfumer, Ms. Ellena, on Grain de Musc. Take the time to read it, it gives the reader a unique perspective and definitely enriched my sniffing experience.

I haven't loved anything from The Different Company yet. I like Osmanthus, Sel de Vetiver, Jasmine de Nuit and Sublime Balkiss, but it isn't love. My favorite from the line so far was Sublime Balkiss, which is a very light, modern take on a berried chypre. From Ms. Ellena's comment on Grain de Musc I believe it's true that The Different Company (TDC) sorely needed to add an oriental to their arsenal, something spicy and wearable in cold weather. And so we have, Oriental Lounge.

Here's the thing about me. While I'm an absolute perfume enthusiast and worship loads of classics there's a part of me that looks positively towards the future of perfumery. Even in the midst of all these horrendous reformulations and IFRA restrictions, I still have hope for modern interpretations of classic structures, like the oriental. While I liked Sublime Balkiss, I enjoyed it's take on the old fashioned chypre format, the issue for me is one of longevity. Sublime Balkiss just isn't potent enough for $175 of my hard earned dineros. A good example of a modern chypre, for me, is Estee Lauder's Jasmine White Moss. This is a modern chypre done well. Jasmine White Moss looks fondly upon it's older chypre cousins while still being it's own sort of chypre and I love it. This is what Oriental Lounge is doing for me. Oriental Lounge is born of Shalimar and other classic orientals but it's done well enough and differently enough to be worthy of your time. Ironic that Celine Ellena said orientals aren't her favorite category because I think this is one of her best works for TDC.

Oriental Lounge, what it smells like: Angela from NST is right, Oriental Lounge starts off with a familiar Shalimar-esque beginning, in fact, it reminds me of Shalimar overall, except without the lingering citrus, less obvious aldehydes and zero civet/animalic/musky stuff. So, I do think you wouldn't be terribly far off by categorizing Oriental Lounge as a cleaned up Shalimar. There's a sharp bergamot/citrus start over an ambery-vanillic base. And I initially agreed with Angela that it seems flat and linear. I tried a spritz at Barneys back in October and my first impression was that it was too sweet, flat and boring. It turns out you need a few sprays (not dabs) to experience this perfume. But I should point out, that while you need a few sprays, Oriental Lounge is not fleeting or overly sheer, it has good enough presence.

If you absolutely adore Shalimar and think it's Guerlain's gift to orientals you probably won't be impressed with Oriental Lounge. If you like and appreciate Shalimar but find it old fashioned, a bit strong and difficult to wear, but you still like the idea of it, and find yourself sniffing it in private, then Oriental Lounge could be your ticket to the modern oriental airway. Now I will not mention Shalimar again, because while Oriental Lounge definitely draws from it's roots, it's interesting enough to be described on it's own merits.

After reading the interview with Ms. Ellena on Grain de Musc I realized the best part of Oriental Lounge is the caloupilé note (aka curry leaf). Apparently this note is what gives Oriental Lounge it's slightly green and metallic vibe. The addition of curry leaf (not to be confused with Indian food, there isn't anything foodie about Oriental Lounge) gives Oriental Lounge a nicely jarring quality. It isn't all warm, cozy and snoozy, in part because of this curry leaf aspect. Oriental Lounge is a lovely balance of sweet and dry, this may be, for me, the best part of it. I usually don't like flat, sweet, ambers in the least. But put a hunk of amber inside a swarm of dry, spicy, citrus and herbal notes and I'm there. Oriental Lounge can be described as lush, creamy and mysterious. There is a gourmand touch but it might only be a hallucination, something the scent makes you imagine, because really, it's not particularly sweet nor gourmand at all. The dry down does go a bit sheer and linear on me, it's main characteristic is a sharp ambery wood, but the hours prior to the dry down are swirls of warm oriental dreaminess.