Friday, January 30, 2009

TWRT 1.30.09

Today is my Father’s birthday – happy Birthday Dad!

There are so many mainstream department store perfumes that I mix up, confuse and barely get around to sniffing. For some reason, Marc Jacobs stuck in my mind as something I ought to try. Well, I tried MJ (the original, 2001) this week and although pleasant and perfectly enjoyable I find it fills me with a feeling of depression. Is smells barren and void of any emotion. As if the perfumer who created it didn’t put any heart and soul into the final product. I think ‘product’ is the defining word. Michael Kors, Vera Wang and Burberry also elicit these same sad feelings for me.

American Idol fans – next week the show gets better. We’ll be done with the truly ridiculous auditions.

As awful as LaVanila Vanilla Lavender was, I find myself wanting a good vanilla/lavender scent.

I love Amouage Lyric. Did I mention this? ;-)

I thought Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under) was gay. I was surprised to find he recently married the woman who plays his sister on Dexter (character Deb Morgan – real name Jennifer Carpenter).

LaVanila makes a wonderful lip balm/moisturizer. It’s like melting crème brulee on your lips.

This week I wore Caron Bellodgia and remembered why I love it so much. Bellodgia is the first carnation fragrance I ever sniffed and it’s still my favorite. I also love Ava Luxe Oeillets Blanc, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Oeillet Rouge and Comme des Garcons Red Carnation. I saw Floris Malmaison on discount – is this one worth trying?

Earlier this week I bought 5 huge bouquets of Casablanca & Stargazer lilies for $10 from the supermarket. I’ve been swooning all week at the amazing aroma wafting about my house.

I had very little time to make a decent meal this week let alone anything special. I did, however, make a quick-n-easy meal discovery. I always buy a frozen pizza at Whole Foods market – just to have something when I’m desperate. I happened to have goat cheese, sundried tomatoes and roasted red peppers on hand. I sprinkled these atop the pizza and it tasted as if it was from a gourmet restaurant.

I secretly love Martha Stewart. There it’s out. I know deep inside she’s just a little Polish girl from Jersey.

I’ve been anticipating the arrival of Serge Lutens Nuit de Cellophane for over a week now. The suspense is keeeeling me.

I don’t believe in layering fragrance. I mean that in the sense of “forced layering” a la Jo Malone. Obviously I mistakenly layer perfumes all the time since I wear about 3 per day. I found the most beautiful blend this week: Serge Lutens Chergui + L’Artisan Bois Farine. I adore Chergui but there’s a tiny part of it that I find sickening. Bois Farine removes the sickening bit, lessens the sweetness and adds a doughy wheat quality that’s sheer magic.

Brian is the best – I lurve my perfume f(r)iend…(awwww)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Three for Thursday: Hampton Sun Privet Bloom; LaVanila Vanilla Lavender & Fresh Violette

Who knew? Hampton Sun’s Privet Bloom is a lovely Green (yes, green with a capital “G”) floral. I’ve been looking for a new green fragrance for the coming summer and tried Privet Bloom on a whim and am pleasantly surprised. It’s extremely green – the greenness reminds me of Diptyque’s L’Ombre dans L’eau, actually. I bought the EDP so I don’t know how the EDT compares, but the longevity and sillage are monstrous, which is a good thing in my book. Privet Bloom is a straight-forward, minimalist, true to nature scent. It literally smells like privet stems and leaves crushed between your fingers and rubbed on your skin. Privet is a shrub (bush, hedge) found growing in the Hamptons as well as many other places on the planet. Privet Bloom is almost shockingly green, with floral notes but the slight florals are discreetly seated at the back of the room. For a small perfume company hailing from New York I am duly impressed.

Longevity: excellent
Sillage: good
Rating: 4 stars

I’m an optimist when it comes to new perfume launches. I read about LaVanila’s newest Vanilla Lavender and thought that if done well – this could be a nice combination. Well, it’s not. If you want to smell true lavender blended with vanilla this is not your fragrance. It smells of vanilla blended with generic florals. It’s very sweet. I cannot smell anything resembling lavender in it. It’s a huge disappointment. Now I’m hankering for a well-done vanilla/lavender scent, do you know of any? It seems that vanilla could add just the right softness to make lavender a wearable perfume, as opposed to a home fragrance.

Longevity: longer than desired
Sillage: good
Rating: 1 star

Fresh fragrances have been hit or miss for me. Mostly, the misses are because they’re too fleeting or just boring. But I keep trying Fresh fragrances because I love the vintage inspired packaging and the product seems to be made of high quality ingredients (or so their branding makes me believe). Fresh’s Violette is a sweet, candied violet-floral that is pretty. I’m not being sarcastic; sometimes simply pretty is good and I’m finding that I like it better than Borsari’s Violetta di Parma, which has a strange plastic note on me. Truthfully, I much prefer Annick Goutal’s La Violette, within this category of simple, sweet, violet solifores but Fresh’s Violette is nice. It’s not among the listed notes but I definitely smell lilac in Violette, perhaps even more so than violet.

Longevity: good
Sillage: good
Stars: 2.75

The Importance of the Fellow Perfume F(r)iend

If you don't have a perfume buddy, a PBFF, I suggest you find one.  Most of us spend time on perfume blogs, I think, not just because we want to read up on the latest releases but to hear other people's thoughts, to derive some sense of a larger community revolving around shared interests and relentless passions.  That's one thing.  That's great.  I enjoy the comments we get on our posts, and the dialogue that opens with the outside world.  That's important.  We aren't doing this for our health.  We both have day jobs, and night jobs, and in between jobs, pets, partners, and pastimes.

But what makes this blog possible, despite all those distractions, is my friendship with Abigail, my partner in I Smell Therefore I Am, and in many respects the site is an expression of the mutual affection we feel for each other.  We email almost every day and assume something is wrong if we don't hear back.  We encourage each other, give support, listen, vent: our communications are so full of perfume chatter that an outsider might assume we have a superficial relationship, but that's just the scaffolding for a much deeper sort of bond.  When I first talked to Abigail on the phone I felt an enormous sense of relief.  I couldn't stop talking.  It was just like our emails, only more so.  Within an hour we'd covered everything from our favorite blogs and perfumes to movies and TV and our individual back stories.  Neither of us asked the other to, um, tone it down.  Neither's eyes started to glaze over after so many minutes of perfume talk.  At this point I consider Abigail one of my closest friends, and I'm not sure what the landscape of my day, let alone world, would look like without her.  I'm telling you, you need this kind of friend.

Plus, you get gifts in the mail.  I just got one today.  Yet another one, I should say.  What is it about perfume lovers?  We have to share.  We want you to smell what we're talking about.  And here's the thing: we spend so much time being disappointed with the people closest to us for not engaging with perfume, not getting it, not appreciating it, not trying to pin it down or run off on imaginative emotional tangents with it.  To find someone who loves it as much as you do is one of the most extraordinary things.  You want to trade secrets, introduce your loves to their loves.  You know how it feels to exist in a day to day world where no one really goes ga ga over perfume.  Having a friend like Abigail means being able to fly that freak flag, non stop, full throttle, 24/7.   It also means you have a sense, an empathy, for the dreariness of that other world, that day to day where people are perfectly happy smelling like nothing in particular, deadening themselves to the world of smell.  You know what I'm talking about: I'm talking about the way people act when you walk into the room smelling of perfume.  It's as if you've come in with a gun, more often than not.  Receiving a perfume gift in the mail is indescribably blissful, an antidote to that squalid state of affairs.

Find someone you like on a blog.  Abigail and I met on The Perfume Critic, in the chat room.  It happens.  Find yourself this kind of friend.  The rewards will make it worth your time and effort.  Plus--another plus--you will find out about fantastic perfumes you've never heard of.  Abigail introduced me to Ava Luxe, Liz Zorn, and so many others I can't count.  And on some days I think I probably couldn't live without Ava Luxe's Cafe Noir and Midnight Violet.  Not that I'm dramatic or anything.  Oh, nevermind.  Abigail understands.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kenzo Kashaya: The Sensual World

Kenzo Kashaya was created by Sophia Grojsman in 1994--the same year Cashmere Mist, Havana, G Gigli, Jaipur, CK One, and Iris Silver Mist came out.  It comes in a carnival glass bottle shaped in leaf-like abstractions.  Osmoz classifies the fragrance as Oriental - Floral.  Like all of Grojsman's work, Kashaya is powerful, with impressive if not potentially assaultive sillage and persistence which seems equally tenacious.

Like the bottle, which reflects red, orange, yellow, and fuschia in different combinations, depending on how the light hits it, Kashaya reflects and recalls various characteristics of Grojsman's well known oeuvre.  You can smell everything from Spellbound to Diamonds and Rubies in there, and at first you might even mistake it, as some online have, for Lagerfeld's Sun Moon Stars, which was released a year earlier.  Aside from sharing some inarticulate, decidely Grojsman-esque quality, the two have very little in common.  In fact, Kashaya seems unique for the perfumer, conveying a mood very specific to orientals, a category she hasn't exactly made a name for herself in, aside from random entries here and there, like Tentations, for Paloma Picasso.  Kashaya is less floral than many of Grojsman's fragrances (see Paris, Calyx, Yvresse, Boucheron) and not nearly as spicy (see Tentations and Spellbound).  It has a pronounced, stealthy vanilla accord and a curious mellowness to it, whereas other Grojsman creations persist in a vibrant state of excitement on the skin for hours, thrilled to be there.

For whatever reason, when I go to my perfume cabinet, the things I reach for most often seem to be Grojsman's perfumes.  People detest Spellbound (Oh the clove, the clove!) and yet I grab it even more frequently than the others.  I believe some of this, or a lot of this, has to do with the immediate gratification offered by Grojsman's work.  The very things people complain about (the strength, the projection, et al.) are the things which attract me the most.  Perfumers, like most artists, are eventually referred to with a marketable shorthand.  For the most part, they're much more complicated than the tags applied to them.  Grojsman's reputation is as a sensualist, and she's of course much more too, but there's a lot of truth there; putting Paris up to your nose is indescribably intense.  Yvress is just about the loveliest, most succulent perfume I own.  And Spellbound, as much as it's derided, is shot full of sensual pleasures (and how, which seems to be the problem for some).  It comes down to this for me: these perfumes have openly narcotic properties.

Kashaya is as intensely pleasurable as anything Grojsman's done, and lives uniquely on the skin.    Don't misunderstand: the florals are there, but they're integrated differently than in the compositions where they take or demand center stage.  Those florals are, specifically, jasmine, orchid, tuberose, and carnation (that old Grojsman reliable).  They're laid out against sandalwood, musk, vanilla, and amber in a way which takes them in uncharacteristic directions, playing up different aspects of the Grojsman artistic project.  Personally, I think Kashaya makes a good masculine, but I wear Paris, Yvresse, and Calyx without complication or inhibition, troubling myself not one second over whether or not this "seems" appropriate or can be "justified" theoretically in some way.  Unlike Tentations, Kashaya is still petty easy to find online, and affordable.  It comes in EDT, which lasts just fine.  I always thought EDP was sort of overkill when it comes to Sophia Grojsman.  It's like picturing Picasso's cubist work done in day-glo, neon paint.

Amouage Lyric Woman: A Review

Amouage Lyric Woman is stunning. I say this after being disappointed by Amouage Jubilation 25 and Amouage Dia. (I have yet to try Gold, but I will, soon).

The Amouage perfume house seems to have plenty of funds for high quality ingredients. While I did not personally like Jubilation 25 or Dia this is not to say that these two perfumes smelled anything but opulent – they were excessively opulent and rich for my taste. Lyric is much easier to wear and yet so incredibly gorgeous.

Amouage describes Lyric:
“Beyond the transient beauty and purity of Lyric lingers a poignant song without a beginning and an end. Inspired by the rose, Lyric is a floral oriental fragrance suspended in time with a mythical melody.”

Amouage Lyric is described by many as a dark, spicy rose fragrance. Perhaps I’m familiar with a great deal of very dark and spicy perfumes but I find Lyric only mildly dark and spicy. Lyric is meant to be inspired by rose, but the rose note is never particularly dominant, in fact, even if you don’t like rose fragrances, you could easily love Lyric. Lyric begins as a softly powdery rose – but not powdery like baby powder – more accurately a dusting of powder created with finely ground spices such as cardamom, ginger and cinnamon with a just a hint of fruit. At the start, the scent of red velvety roses are present along with an intoxicating aroma of deep red wine. The deep velvety red roses and wine are paired a slight greenish herbal whiff perfectly balancing the spicy-incense quality with just enough freshness.

Once Lyric settles in, after about an hour or more, the rose note moves to the background and I smell mostly red wine and soft spices. From this point on I’m utterly smitten with Lyric. It becomes a meditation on spices, soft woods and frankincense. Frankincense, in particular, is the dominant aroma upon dry down and it is just g-g-g-gorgeous. I reviewed Amouage’s official website where they have a blurb about frankincense and how valuable it’s been through history. Apparently, the most prized, sought after and high quality frankincense is found in Oman, where the Amouage perfume house is located. The frankincense from Oman is said to be "...the purest kind, bright white in colour.” In fact, the chosen spices give Lyric a decidedly Middle Eastern quality, different from the usual oriental spice theme.

I think Amouage Lyric is without a doubt a modern classic. It certainly gives a nod to all-time greats such as Guerlain and it is sophisticated and stunning.

Top notes: Bergamot, Spicy Cardamom, Cinnamon, Ginger
Heart notes: Rose, Angelica, Jasmine, Ylang-Ylang, Geramnium, Orris
Base notes: Oakmoss, Musk, Wood, Patchouli, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Tonka Bean, Frankincense

Longevity: Excellent
Sillage: Good, soft but present
Rating: 5 Stars

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Alain Delon's Iquitos

There's a certain logic, if not sense, to the complicated but efficient machinery behind most celebrity fragrances. After the marketing department finishes, Curious or Midnight Fantasy become, somewhere in the imaginations of their consumers, bottled essence of Britney Spears. Deseo and J-lo Glo are thought to embody the allegedly tempestuous spirit of their iconic Latina-American reason for being, as if containing something like civet oil, scraped from the mystery regions of the legendarily ample derriere la Lopez. Mariah Carey is a butterfly, slightly cheap, like the one adorning the bottle of "M". Lovely, at least, is true to its name, trading on Sarah Jessica Parker's racy Sex and the City character, Carrie Bradshaw, without sacrificing the well-intentioned, old fashioned earnestness which is believed to characterize Parker's offscreen persona.

As far as purity of intent, Alain Delon has more in common with Parker than, say, Celine Dion. His star, especially in France, shines brightly, and in fact he still releases fragrances for men and women, but his earliest efforts, much admired and in a few cases obsessively collected ("guilty"), have been discontinued. Unlike most every celebrity fragrance you can think of, Iquitos (1985), one of Delon's best, would appear to be completely antithetical in almost every conceivable way with the star's popular image.

Early on, he specialized in arrogant hubris. In Purple Noon, he became the first, mostly shirtless cinematic iteration of Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley. For Visconti, he played one of Rocco and His Brothers. A self-absorbed twenty-something opposite blank-faced Monica Vitti in Antonioni's The Eclipse, he was visibly contemptuous of her extravagantly placid angst, though without bothering to raise an eyebrow himself. Vitti was a static presence, idling through the movie as if slumped on a conveyor belt before rear screen projection. Delon, though expressively minimalist, was gymnastically cagey, impatient for action, opportunity, sexual intercourse, or whatever else came lumbering into his orbit. Tanned to a color home product catalogues might christen Smoldered Coco, surly in a way only the French have mastered, he exuded a chilling, cryptic moral ambivalence you felt uncomfortable finding yourself attracted to. Later, he played cops and gangsters, expressionless, callous killers in French neo-noirs like Flic Story, Le Cercle Rouge, and Le Samourai.

Where Delon was known for brooding tough guys, sleek like a cat but tortured, perverse and emotionally precarious, Iquitos, go figure, is forcefully lush and unequivocally androgynous, so uncomplicated about itself and its intentions that you assume it must be what it initially seems to be, a routine, straightforward variation of rose. It isn't--anymore than Delon was a typical matinee idol. In his prime, he was once called the male Brigitte Bardot--and not for any lisping hints of femininity. His charisma, conflating the gendered codes of sexual appeal, bridged the male/female divide, as does Iquitos. More aptly, he made the male in you feel like having sex with your female side, leaving you to watch like a panting voyeur. Surely many men wanted to be Alain Delon, if only to experience what it would be like to be that beautiful. IN a way, Iquitos provides this opportunity.

Iquitos opens big with cardamom and ginger. Not many fragrances can pull off the latter, and stumble through the attempt like a girl in her mother's high heels. Not so Iquitos, which walks a straight line in them (and in a suit!). There are green and citrus notes as well, and a breathtakingly pretty jasmine. The greens (most noticeably, vetiver) are packed down in damp soil. Aldehydes lend a projectile dimensionality to the rose. Patchouli darkens it, giving it a slightly grungy, woody aspect, a moodiness. This rose has a fair amount of stealth to it, growing earthier and denser as it dries down into its sandalwood, civet and leather foundation.

Rumors has it that Marc Buxton, the perfumer responsible for many of the Comme des Garçons fragrances which established that line's reputation, created Iquitos. It's a compelling theory, especially in light of Jil Sander's Scent 79 Man, another Buxton creation, released in 2008. 79 shares with Iquitos a certain quiet but robust formal elegance, balancing woody with floral in a way Buxton has made his own. Many imitate the effect. Few improve upon it. Add to this the fact that Buxton is known to have composed at least one other Delon fragrance, Delon Pour Homme.

Iquitos is a fantastic masculine which gives new meaning to the term, tossing the letters around. From masculine to..."lean music"? Or "lace in sum", perhaps. It was discontinued and is increasingly harder to find, so I'm relieved to own two bottles. It's an uncommonly brooding, intensely unique fragrance which would make perfect sense on either gender. And it lasts.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Guerlain Vol de Nuit

Most of us dislike the term, but I do understand what people mean when they describe a perfume as smelling “old lady-ish.” Given that the classic Guerlains were created in the early 1900’s, you would think these would smell especially dated. Just look at these launch dates:

Jicky, 1889
Apres L’Ondee, 1906
L’Heure Bleue, 1912
Mitsouko, 1919
Shalimar, 1925
Vol de Nuit, 1933

When someone calls a fragrance “old lady-ish,” I assume they mean that the scent is heavy, synthetic, suffocating and has the “brick wall effect,” which means you feel as if your nose hits a brick wall when smelling it. Amouage Jubilation 25 is like this for me. Jubilation 25 is a brick wall that I can’t smell through, or relax around; it’s overwhelming, and it definitely seems dated as if it were created in 1889, when it was, in fact, launched in 2007.

Somehow Guerlain has managed to create timeless fragrances. I can’t imagine a world where women and men don’t wear Mitsouko or Shalimar. Of course I have never smelled the original 1925 version of Shalimar, so I don’t know what Guerlain has done over the years to update their fragrances and conform to new regulations, perhaps this is where their genius lies?

Of the fragrances listed above the only one that smells dated to me is Apres L’Ondee. I know I’m an utter philistine, everyone adores Apres L’Ondee, but it gives me the creeps. Apres L’Ondee calls to mind a funeral viewing inside a spooky old mansion. Yes, a room with a casket and a body with family paying their respects. But aside from this one, I find all the classic Guerlains so easy to wear, so completely not dated.

Vol de Nuit is easy identified as being Guerlain, in that it shares that smooth spicy-ambery-vanillic base once it’s dried down. I love the way Vol de Nuit starts off – it’s a blast of citrusy oakmoss that takes no prisoners. Like nearly all the Guerlain fragrances I have, I love the way these classics skirt the very brink of daring for some time but then come swirling back to this smooth and socially acceptable Guerlain base. Vol de Nuit is quite daring at the start. The first 15 minutes are what some would call “old lady-ish” but I’ve grown to love this part just as much as the dry down.

Perfumes have personality, and Vol de Nuit has a clearly marked one.
Vol de Nuit, as a person, exhibits a cool strength and daring confidence. She has clarity of vision and strong motivation to do whatever it takes to be great, to succeed.

On Basenotes, it says, Vol de Nuit was created as “a tribute to women who like to take risks.” It really does smell like this.

Guerlain Shalimar

There weren’t any members of my immediate family growing up who wore perfume. I don’t have memories of my mother’s fragrance wafting about the rooms or recall the scent of my grandmother. Finally, by the time I was a young adult, there were additions to my family, and these women wore perfume. Two of my uncles got married and these new aunts liked fragrance. Then one of my college friends also liked perfume and wore it every day. The commonality for all of these women is that they have one signature scent that they adore and will wear for the rest of their lives. All three of these women wear Shalimar and only Shalimar. They are devoted to Shalimar as if they’re married to it. And, I believe all three wear only the pure parfum.

Because I know and love all of these women I have a good association with the fragrance. I never wore Shalimar because it seemed to be “their” perfume, not mine, and I never felt allowed to wear it, at least not in their presence. So for many years, I secretly coveted the ability to wear Shalimar. About five years ago I moved to another state. I don’t see my aunts or my college friend but maybe once or twice per year now. We talk, we email, we stay in touch, but we see each other less. One of the first things I did once I realized I could was to buy Shalimar for myself. Even now, after several years have passed, I feel as if I’m sneaking around when I wear it.

I love the smell of Shalimar but usually find it a little too heavy and sexy for day-time wear. Recently I’ve found that Shalimar shower gel followed with the body lotion is absolutely perfect. I might also use one spritz of the perfume on my wrist just so I can smell it when I want.

I’ll never feel like Shalimar is my scent, but I love it nonetheless. I might love it even more since it’s a forbidden fruit for me. There is something about that mysteriously beautiful bottle that’s so magical and alluring. And, perhaps it’s only because of my experience with Shalimar, but it seems to be an only child. Shalimar looks perfect as the sole perfume on the bureau of a woman who adores it. It doesn’t seem right when Shalimar is grouped in a large collection. Shalimar is meant to be a monogamous scent, a scent for the devoted.

Friday, January 23, 2009

This Week at the Perfume Counter

I haven't been reporting from the perfume counter much lately because almost all of my purchases were made online.  I got sick of the hassle--and it is a hassle, the retail environment, even under the best of circumstances (friendly, informed staff, accessible testers, et al).  Ultimately I don't want anyone, even someone I like, hovering around me when I look for perfume.  I'm self conscious and need time to myself.

Then I wanted Fendi Asja, because it was made by Jean Guichard (Eden, Loulou, La Nuit) and I'd read about it somewhere, and I remembered seeing it at the local Korean discount perfume shop, and why bother sending off for it when I could drive across town and within a half hour have it in my sweaty little paws?

This prompted further ventures into the perfume marketplace.  I hadn't been to the Russian Kiosk in months, after the woman who works there seemed to have been insinuating, last time, that I'd somehow swindled them by trading my bottles of Gucci Nobile, Le Feu D'Issey, La Nuit, and other rarities for their moderately priced, widely available perfumes, when I'd only paid between 25 and 35 dollars a pop.  This greatly offended me, as I knew what I was selling them was valuable and rare (unlike some of the stuff they've tried to tell me is no longer possible to find, even when I know otherwise, having seen it upstairs at Perfumania and been born further back than yesterday) and because my selling them something at mark-up was no different than them doing the same to me, and what I was selling them was actually quite valuable and will make them quite a little chunk of cheese, whereas there are only so many people I can pawn off a bottle of Gucci Rush on as if it's a hard to find elixir.  Still with me?  I'm sure, if you spend any amount of time shopping retail for perfume, the tone of this rant is a familiar one to you.

There was a new guy behind the counter.  Where do all these Russians come from?  He was just as pushy and wanted to tell me what I wanted.  I very quickly disobliged him of the idea he would be able to piss on my leg and tell me it was raining.  I was happy I braved the annoyance of a drop-in, though, because they had Paloma Picasso's Tentations, created by Sophia Grosjman.  Two bottles.  I did that thing where I panicked for a small moment, thinking I should buy them both, because what if these were the last bottles on Earth?  Then I got over it and moved on.

I returned to the Korean store the following week, buying another Guichard perfume, Cartier's So Pretty.  If you haven't tried it you might consider it.  I love it.  It's a fruity floral, to be sure, but rich and decadent.  I think Tania Sanchez was spot on when she called it a Mitousko with Creme de Cassis.  It feels like an older perfume.  It isn't shot through with that "radiance" which gives so many modern fruity florals no legs to stand on.  To my nose, that radiance usually involves an anemic transparency.  Not so with So Pretty, which is like falling into plush upholstery.  It's a deep, dark smell with a lightning bright touch of fruit.

I also got Grosjman's Kashaya, done for Kenzo.  When I first started collecting perfume I never thought I'd eventually own as many Kenzo perfumes as I do.  Ca Sent Beau, Jungle Homme, Jungle Elephant, Flower, Amour.  I own and like them all, and Kashaya is yet another surprise.  Someone on felt very smart for revealing the true identity of Kashaya: it's Sun Moon Stars, by Lagerfeld, thinly disguised.  Having spent time with both, I fail to see this supposedly striking similarity.  Kashaya is unmistakably Grosjman, but I'm unaware of anything in her oeuvre that smells quite like it.  Initial application indicates more floral than oriental, but the heart and the dry down are resolutely the latter, with what seems like the perfumer's trademark carnation augmented with sandalwood, amber, vanilla, and musk.  It wears beautifully and comes, if you can find it, in a carnival glass, leaf-patterned bottle.

The Korean store had Valentino Vendetta by Edouard Flechier, Rykiel Homme, and Sander for Men by Jacques Cavallier, all of which I nabbed.  Vendetta is a spicy masculine, with lavender and clove.  I'd heard it doesn't last long, but it lasts well on me.  Rykiel Homme is an unusual thing, fruity and candied and woodsy all at once, and so well balanced that you can't accuse it of erring on the side of any of those things.  I find it pretty addictive and I'm eager to try Rykiel Grey (also Flechier).  Sander is said by Luca Turin to be slightly cold, merciless.  I'm impressed by it myself.  Don't expect a break with tradition.  Sander smells decidedly conventional, yet better than most of the stock at Sephora.

At Ike's, a little discount drugstore here, I've found many good things (Kingdom, Cinema, Opium EDP), and a few months ago they put everything they had on sale, fifty percent off.  You can imagine the damage this did to my pocketbook.  I'd always wanted Polo but not enough to splurge fifty bucks.  25, no problem.  And so on.  As far as I knew there were two Ike's in town and I'd cleaned both out.  Imagine my elation when, yesterday, driving off the beaten path, I saw another location.  It was as if a window in time had opened up, revealing entirely unknown territory.  I bought the following: very rare original formula Montana Perfume at 10 dollars, and Laura Biagiotti Venezia, at 22.  Venezia is an unusual floriental, not resinous at all like Opium and Cinnabar and Coco.  At some point I might write about it, once I spend more time with it.  It wears like a dream and I can see why people still look for it.

In a few weeks I go to Portland, for a return visit to the Perfume House.  I already called to see if they have the hard to find, discontinued Ferre de Ferre.  They do, one bottle, and are holding it for me.  Ferre is what I consider a violet aldehyde, with influences of incense and spice and other faint florals.  The top notes aren't so distinguished but the whole thing mellows into the most intoxicating, distinctive blend.  It will be nice to revisit the Perfume House, having learned so much since the first time.

TWRT 1.23.09

This week was really cold – perhaps that’s why I was into big powerful fragrances (Insolence EDP, Alien, Joy).

Today I’m wearing Calypso Mimosa. This is supposed to be their signature scent. It’s entirely underwhelming so if this is their best work I’m not impressed with Calypso at all.

Hermes Apres La Mousson is growing on me even more. If you like vetiver and cool spices (and aren’t turned off by a slight melon note) give this a try. It seems perfect for hot summer days.

I’m a devoted fan of American Idol but I hate this stage where they show only the most ridiculously awful auditions.

I made chocolate chip cookies this week from scratch. I followed the recipe on the back of the Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips bag. I was plum out of vanilla extract so I used almond extract in desperation. They were even better this way.

Serge Lutens Nuits de Cellophane is on its way to me. Additional unsniffed purchases will be Annick Goutal Un Matin d’Orage and Prada Infusion de Fleur d’Oranger. I’m just keepin’ it real; I know I’ll buy these unsniffed.

I saw a film called Taken with Liam Neeson. It was an excellent thriller. I saw it without any preconceptions and was pleasantly surprised.

I’ve figured out how to purchase more perfume. Since January 1st I’ve stopped buying breakfast and lunch during the work week. I make coffee at home and eat a breakfast bar in the morning and make my lunch. I will save approximately $300 per month by doing this. It’s a pretty painless way to afford more fun stuff.

There are several boxes waiting for me at home (proof of my savings on breakfast and lunch so far this month!) which I can’t wait to go home and sample all at once.

Oh, and I like the new judge on American Idol. She looks a bit like Katherine McPhee.

Have a fragrant weekend everyone.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

ALIEN: A Review

I’d like to change the names of several Thierry Mugler perfumes:

Angel should be Alien
Alien should be Angel
Angel Innocent should have a unique name all its own, because it’s a great fragrance that unfortunately lives in the shadow of Angel with a name that implies “diet Angel.”

Alien was created by perfumers Dominique Ropion and Laurent Bruyere. I’m a huge fan of Ropion and adore his trademark style – which could be described as scents created for bombshells, femme fatales and vixens. If you don’t like fragrances like Dior Addict, Thierry Mugler Angel, Givenchy Amarige or Guerlain Insolence you can pretty much stop reading now. Alien is a big, sultry, synthetic-smelling, unmistakably gregarious fragrance.

I suppose anything created in the wake of Angel, no matter how good, might suffer from the step-child syndrome. Alien, to me, is a gorgeous jasmine fragrance that is often forgotten. The list of notes for Alien are rather mysterious -- "amber solar accord", a woody Cashmeran note, and jasmine sambac. Suffice it to say that I pretty much dislike jasmine fragrances as a rule, but the treatment of jasmine in Alien is beautiful to my nose. Instead of smelling realistically, like an indolic, sweet, white flower – the jasmine in Alien is draped sumptuously across a woody, ambery, spicy base – giving it a completely abstract quality. I must admit the initial blast of Alien is startling – it’s potent and at first, a suffocating jasmine aroma that could easily be a scrubber if you don’t give it a chance (well, you might think it’s a scrubber anyway, but if you haven’t tried it yet and so far this description appeals to you, give Alien at least a full day’s wearing). But after about an hour the fragrance settles into a slightly quieter scent with a dreamy oriental quality. Luca Turin often uses the word “raspy” when describing certain fragrances. For the most part, I can’t say I completely understand his usage of the term, but in the case of Alien, I find the first hour best described as a raspy jasmine scent. The raspy quality disappears but I actually quite like this effect. Once dried down, Alien becomes a warm, velvety, jasmine-oriental, with just a dash of green.

Longevity: weeks
Sillage: your sister in Kansas knows when you’re wearing it
Rating: 4.5 stars

PS: The bottle is actually unique and attractive in person.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hermes Un Jardin Apres La Mousson: A Review

Given my penchant for hording full collections, I purchased a bottle of Apres La Mousson, mostly to have all three fragrances in the Hermes Un Jardin collection. I’ve read many reviews, mostly from mediocre to bad, including the scathing review from Chandler Burr, and upon finally sniffing Mousson, I find myself perplexed.

Mostly what I’ve read about La Mousson is that is smells like melon – cantaloupe, watermelon, green melon – and a watery aquatic accord. Today I wore La Mousson and even with the idea of melon firmly cemented in my mind, I don’t find the scent overwhelmingly melony. If I smell my wrist, and visualize cantaloupes, I do find a slight melony note, but this is quite forced and with all the weight that pre-conceived notions carry. Yes, the melony aroma is here, but it’s slight, and it’s definitely not a melon focused fragrance to my nose.

What I do smell in La Mousson is a peppery, gingery, vetiver aroma atop a watery herbaceous base. Oddly, I expected to dislike La Mousson and I find myself liking it. Of the three fragrances in the Un Jardin series, La Mousson smells the most complex and interesting. I happen to love the scent of pepper, ginger, cardamom and vetiver and La Mousson seems to be a fragrance based on these notes more than anything else. I can see how this would be an especially refreshing fragrance for the summer heat and it’s much more unique that the usual citrusy-light-green-floral fare.

Perhaps it’s my skin chemistry which doesn’t make the melony note dominate but I find La Mousson to be an interesting alternative for someone looking for a sheer, aquatic yet spicy, vetiver fragrance for warm weather. La Mousson is delicate, yet feisty – I like it.

Notes: cardamom, coriander, pepper, Kahili ginger, ginger, vetiver accord.

Longevity: average 3-4 hours
Sillage: soft
Rating: 3.75 Stars ;-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 20, 2009: Inauguration Day in the U.S.A

For this happy occasion I'm wearing Joy by Jean Patou. The name expresses my feeling for this historic day!

Best wishes for peace, happiness and goodwill to all our fragrant friends.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Two or Three Scents I've Put in Heavy Rotation Lately

Jil Sander: Scent 79 Woman/Man

Not so distantly related to Chanel No. 19, Scent 79 Woman is a marvel on the skin, balancing fruit (cranberry, peach) and what smells like galbanum against may rose, jasmine, and iris in perfect proportion.  The fragrance lasts forever, not just on the skin but in the 4.2 oz, Noguchi-like bottle, a white, bifurcated block of glass.  Everything about Scent 79 Woman is
 great.  Even the box is unusual, oversized and imposing, a real treat to open up.  The bottle rests inside like a Matryoshka doll.  Scent 79 is quite different, but recalls, for me, Krizia Moods, too.  Moods seems to use linden against fruity elements in a similar way, though animalic notes weigh it down, anchoring it in darker territory, whereas Scent 79 Woman is bright and cheerful, on the surface at least.  It has an interesting, edgy tension.

Scent 79 Man stays much closer to the skin but lasts just as impressively as its sister.  Again, there's a wonderfully unlikely balance, from bottom to top.  The literature on Scent 79 Man implies much development.  I don't experience it, but the balance itself is plenty complicated.  It's an unusual structure, closest I think to Chanel Antaeus, though, again, not animalic in the slightest.  Tobacco, faint hints of leather, angelika, clary sage and frankincense are the things I notice first.  Spending more time with the fragrance, I get the jasmine, violet and iris.  The perfumer behind Man is Marc Buxton. 79 Man is EDP and also 4.2 oz, the bottle black to Woman's white.  Both are available at Neiman Marcus and well worth the 90 bucks. 

Paloma Picasso: Tentations

Months back, I took home a 5 ml sample of Tentations from the local Korean-owned discount fragrance store.  They had many discontinued items but Tentations wasn't one of them.  The sample smelled somewhat off to me and at first I didn't like it.  I felt I should have it, because it's discontinued and it's Sophia Grojsman, whom I love, but doubted I'd buy a full bottle even if one were available.  I couldn't really see any similarities between Tentations and Grojsman's more widely known work, like Paris, or even her more relatively obscure scents, like, say, Yvresse.  A few days ago, I visited the Russian-owned perfume kiosk at the mall and discovered two bottles of Tentations.  Smelling it, I knew instantly that I'd been right about the sample, but it wasn't as far off as I'd imagined it must be.  Truth is, Tentations opens on a weird little medley of notes including peach, pepper, and orange blossom.  Under that you can smell, most immediately, carnation and cinnamon.  The combination of peach and pepper is odd and intriguing, lovelier than you think it could be.  The addition of cinnamon is weirder still.  Carnation only makes things more peppery.  I love Tentations, its rich but subtle spices and the way it plays out quietly on the skin, and I'm baffled why it didn't thrive, where other Grojsman scents, much louder, have demonstrated remarkable longevity in the marketplace.  Tentations, I also realized, is distinctly in keeping with Grosjman's other work.  The peach recalls Yvresse.  The carnation, Elizabeth Taylor's Diamonds and Rubies.  The spices put it right alongside Spellbound, which seems in some ways like Tentations jacked up on steroids.  Like the majority of Grojsman's scents, Tentations lasts well.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Lush Icon: Mixing Metaphors

It's been 24 hours since Icon arrived in the mail, and I still don't quite know what to think of it.  I bought it hoping it might be something between Karma and Breath of God by Lush's offshoot company B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful, hoping for something somewhere between the two.It is and it isn't.

The descriptions made it sound dark and gothic.  The word Byronesque was bandied about in the ad copy.  Crushed purple velvet, brocade, church incense.  Perfume is so conceptual and subjective, and I'm sure that to some people it does evoke these things, and at some point it might even conjure those associations in my own head, but for now I'm not feeling it.  Still, a funny thing happens with me.  Sometimes, the most fantastic perfumes are more than I can handle.  It's like wearing a Picasso painting on your arm all day.  Very distracting.  Rather than permeate my day, these perfumes can sometimes take it over, causing me so much distraction that I might as well be walking in place for all I'm getting accomplished.

Every once in a while I need something a little more manageable, a little less spectacular.  Something more interesting, more peculiar, than masterful.  Something which keeps me on my toes with a subtle, unobtrusive persistence.  One of the fragrances I turn to is Dolce by Michael Marcus.  It's almost repulsive at times, with its camphorous thrust and chocolate underbelly.  I've written about it before, and my feelings about it change.  One out of ten times I pick it up and smell it and wonder why the hell I would ever possibly entertain the idea of wearing something so...what, exactly?  I have a feeling Icon is going to be one of these fragrances for me.  Why, I'll ask myself, would I want to waste my time with something so crude when there's Chamade and Third Man, both of which smell infinitely refined in comparison to almost anything else but especially, spectacularly, alongside Icon?

The myrrh in Icon gives it an almost sickly resinous sweetness, and I admit, after 24 hours I can see I'll need to wear it on a full stomach.  The combination of myrrh and orange blossom is pleasant and dense in a curious way myrrh wouldn't be by itself, though I don't think of orange blossom as heavy or overbearing.  Icon is made "with deliciously heavy essential oils," the Lush website boasts.  The customer reviews praise its pungency, a word which pops up frequently in reference to the fragrance.  It's said to be for "strong personalities".  Several fans suggest that it makes a good alternative to head shop patchouli and incense fragrances, with their hippy stench.  I always find this a curious thing to say.  If you don't like head shop, why would you want an alternative that approximates it in any way?  What exactly is it about head shop you don't like?

My main problem with Icon is its dry down.  It's that I can't make my mind up about.  The initial application for me smells of sassafras and herbs and a barely perceptible orange blossom.  As it wears, the sassafras impression moves closer to incense, specifically myrrh, and the herbal qualities shift somehow into something drier, less pungent.  The middle stages of Icon are the nicest for me.  And they last quite a while; several hours on my skin.  When they fade, you're left with a bit of a question mark.  The overall combination somehow goes slightly off, with a sour disposition I can't pinpoint but don't find particularly pleasant every other time I smell it.

Still, oddly enough, I can see being attracted to Icon for those last stages on certain days, when I don't feel like being refined, a walking piece of art.  Lush brought Icon back after discontinuing it.  You can buy it online for about fifty bucks.  It's nowhere near as brisk and sunny as Karma, though they're definitely related, made by the same company, and closer to each other than either one of them is to other Lush scents like Honey I Shrunk the Kids.  I wonder how the other products in the range smelled--the soap and body powder.  I can imagine Icon smelling very nice as a body powder, where the dry, crisp quality would work to its advantage and make more sense.  Icon has cult appeal for having been terminated in 2000 and re-introduced more recently, a mystique of exclusivity.  I'm still undecided whether this is a deserved reputation or a sales approach.  

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dandy of the Day: Kristen Wiig

“I invented air so you owe me 10 cents every time you breathe.”

It was simply a matter of time before Kristen Wiig was our Dandy of the Day.

Now that our beloved Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have left SNL, Kristen Wiig is suddenly the veteran female cast member. Time has flown past so quickly it’s hard to believe that Wiig (pronounced “Wig,” as in hair piece) has been on SNL since 2006.

Wiig plays numerous hysterically funny characters. She’s a masterful comedienne and impressionist and is also unusually beautiful for a goofball. Wiig plays a character named Penelope on SNL who makes me laugh so hard tears roll down my checks. Penelope is a compulsive braggart who needs to one-up everyone around her. The skits have Penelope interrupting people to boast about not only having done every single thing they’ve done, but ten times better. Penelope’s claims are so exaggerated they barely make sense – as she twirls her hair around her finger and trails off every third sentence with “…so….”

I like to imagine Wiig is every bit as nutty and irreverent as her characters. A person who plays the female half of the “A** hole” couple, Target Lady and screams “I said WE!” with reckless abandon must be a dandy offstage, too.

Kristen Wiig likes to wear delicate white floral scents. For the past year, she’s been enjoying Kai perfume, paired with Kai body butter (which she read was one of Oprah’s favorite things).

TWRT 1.16.09

I was gathering up clothes for laundry last night and I got whiffs of Guerlain Insolence EDP from some sweaters I wore this week – this stuff is just gorgeous and it lasts for days

An easy, quick and yummy way to make lasagna is to layer cheese ravioli instead of regular lasagna noodles. I layered frozen cheese ravioli with chopped spinach & ricotta, doused the whole thing with sauce and mozzarella and viola

Thanks to Olfacta I’m reading What the Nose Knows and finding it fascinating

Four floral notes I adore are orange blossom, linden, mimosa and osmanthus. I’ve noticed that there’s often an herbaceous or vegetal quality to perfumes that focus on these notes. I suppose one could call this a fresh floral or a green floral.

I cannot wait for Sunday night – Big Love starts again

Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice, really ought to smile

I’m looking forward to the new Serge Lutens called Nuits de Cellophane. In case Mr. Lutens is taking requests these days I’d love to have a vibrantly green fragrance by him. Which reminds me, I need to try Bel Respiro.

Nip / Tuck is a guilty pleasure of mine but I was mortified by the situation between Christian and Liz this week. This show has jumped the shark but I still watch.

I feel like the lone person who was not able to take advantage of the C.O. Bigelow sale in the U.S.

Smashbox Halo mineral foundation is pretty good stuff. I switched from Bare Escentuals and like it better.

Where I live it’s the dead of winter, absolutely freezing cold. The upside is that I’m able to wear the most full-bodied florals and spicy fragrances from my collection. Also when the temperature reached 16 degrees today I was so happy that Brian knows how to knit.

For those who watch Flight of the Conchords I have four words for you: “I’m weaving right now.”

Annick Goutal Sables: A Review

The story goes that Annick Goutal created Sables for her husband, cellist Alain Meunier, as a way of capturing olfactory memories of summer days together in Corsica. Sables was created for a man, and is labeled as a men’s scent, but it is so easily unisex.

I find Sables to be the most unique of all the Annick Goutal fragrances. The scent focuses on immortelle flower, which is oftentimes an overpowering scent, and has been described as smelling like maple syrup. Maple syrup isn’t exactly what I smell in Sables; I’d describe it as a bittersweet herbal aroma blended with a smidgen of maple syrup. The reason I enjoy Sables so much, is that while there is, indeed, a syrupy sweetness, it still maintains a woody dryness overall. There aren’t very many fragrances that I can think of that are truly sweet yet dry. Other perfumes with a similar immortelle flower note are Serge Lutens El Attarine, L by Lolita Lempicka and Frederic Malle’s Musc Ravageur. I don’t think immortelle flower is among the listed notes in Musc Ravageur, but there’s a similar spicy vanillic-ambery quality that reminds me a bit of Sables.

Sables was created in 1985 and in many ways seems like the precursor to gourmand fragrances arriving a decade later. Annick Goutal created Sables based upon memories of Corsica, an island in the Mediterranean in between France and Italy. There is an obvious dry sandy quality to Sables that immediately makes me think of sand dunes and warm sun-kissed beaches. The sandy, gritty quality mixes beautifully with notes of sandalwood and pepper to perfectly temper the sweetness of immortelle flower. I’m finding Sables to be a particularly lovely fragrance for cold weather. And, very important to me, Sables has strong projection and excellent longevity.

Longevity: Excellent
Sillage: Strong, 2 spritz
Rating: 4 Stars

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere: A Review

I didn’t begin my perfume journey by loving the classics. I came of age in the late 80’s, & early 90’s wearing fragrances like Poison, Ungaro Diva, Givenchy Amarige, LouLou and CK Obsession. Ten years ago, I would have thought something like Guerlain’s Jicky or Mitsouko simply smelled dated and heavy and until recently I thought Chanel No. 5 smelled like dishwashing liquid. Perhaps a really expensive dishwashing liquid, the kind that rich folks buy at Williams Sonoma, but some sort of cleaning fluid nonetheless.

I’ve read that our sense of taste and smell changes every seven years. I think this is definitely true when I look at my timeline of fragrance loves. My taste in fragrance changes rather dramatically every 5-7 years or so. It was easier for me to love the classic Guerlains and Carons, these became fragrant treasures much earlier in my perfume journey. But, Chanel, took at least a decade of sniffing for me to love. And the love really showed up in 2008, last year was the year of Chanel for me. I couldn’t get enough Chanel and right at the moment that I began to love the original No. 5, Chanel introduced No. 5 Eau Premiere.

I like to view perfume releases through the lens of my imagined marketing aims of the company. Chanel had (and has) the most well-known and famous fragrance with No. 5, so why update it? I was perplexed. But with Chanel’s apparent “conquer the world” mentality, I guess they wanted every segment of the market to adore No. 5. I imagine most young-ish people don’t particularly like No. 5, with all its obvious aldehydes, synthetic qualities and the “coldness” of it; perhaps it seems dated and old fashioned to them. Surely the diehard lovers of No. 5 nearly fainted at the idea of tinkering with something like No. 5 (aside from the reformulations it must have undergone over the years, which many diehards already lament).

I sniffed No. 5 Eau Premiere with an open mind and I am duly impressed. Eau Premiere is obviously No. 5 – there’s no mistaking the original scent inside whatever changes have been made to this creation. It seems to me that Chanel created a sort of abridged or “Cliff’s Notes” version of the original with Eau Premiere – something that is much easier to love and more obviously modern. Eau Premiere is more citrusy, less powdery to my nose, and less sharp and cold. It’s as if Chanel took the most crowd-pleasing part of No. 5, magnified it, took a snapshot and put it in a bottle. The aldehydes are there, there’s no doubt, and it still resembles the original No. 5 to such an extent that those who aren’t dissecting it might not notice a big difference. I think it’s less cold, but this isn’t to say it’s a particularly warm perfume, just a bit less cold and aloof. Eau Premiere is like the easy-going, gregarious sister to the more classically sophisticated and formal older sister. The original No. 5 has a starched and slightly stiff quality, every hair in its place, every nail perfectly manicured; you could say her personality is reserved. Eau Premiere has lightness, rounder edges and playfulness. I imagine this description is precisely what Chanel strove to create.

In my opinion, Eau Premiere is a well done perfume. I can smell the differences between it and the original No. 5, but I also find them similar enough that Eau Premiere is a legitimate and respectable quality flanker. I can’t say that I actually prefer one over the other – I like both equally. There are days when I want the original and I have already spent many days enjoying Eau Premiere.

There is a downside to Eau Premiere, though, and that is longevity. I find Eau Premiere to be fleeting where the original is not. I wonder if this is intentional? Are modern perfumes expected to be fleeting? Does the segment of the population that Eau Premiere is marketed toward prefer lighter, low-sillage fragrances? My guess is yes. Chanel doesn’t seem to miss a beat.

Longevity: Less than average
Sillage: Soft
Rating: 4 Stars

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Guerlain Insolence Eau de Parfum

Admittedly it took some effort for me to like violet scents. And, even now, I prefer the edgy violet fragrances, those “dirty violets” like Ava Luxe Midnight Violet, Creed Love in Black, Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones and Soivohle’ Domino Viole. There’s just something too pretty and overly girly about most classic violet fragrances for me. When I wear Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue or Borsari Violetta di Parma I feel like I should be wearing a gingham jumper dress and pig tails.

In 2006 Guerlain Insolence EDT arrived on the scene. Insolence EDT caught my attention – even though it isn’t an edgy violet – it’s an undeniably pretty and fruity violet scent. I bought a bottle of Insolence EDT, and I like it, but don’t wear it very often.

Then, in 2007, along came My Insolence. This one makes me gag. The only day I wore My Insolence I wanted to crawl out of my skin by 12 noon.

Guerlain saved the best Insolence for last. Hitting the stores now in the U.S. is Guerlain Insolence EDP. Somehow the EDP manages to be stunningly beautiful yet not too girly or innocent. Insolence EDP is violets in flashing neon lights. It’s violets on crack or steroids – it’s a 50 foot violet plant. It’s so aggressively violet-y that it refuses to be simply pretty. This is not a soft wallflower violet; this is an attention getting scent. The main difference between Insolence EDT and EDP is that the EDP is much stronger and so much more intensely violet-y, that when I compare them side-by-side the EDT hardly even smells like violets anymore. The most delightful part for me is that while Insolence EDP is a sweet candied violet scent for sure, it’s still not too sweet, it’s entirely wearable.

Why am I not surprised that it took Guerlain and Maurice Roucel to create the perfect pretty violet for me?

Longevity: Days
Sillage: Strong, one or two sprays will do it
Rating: 5 Stars, I love it

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Caretakers

Back in December we were holding a big 20% off sale at The Posh Peasant and one of our customers ordered Keiko Mecheri Hanae, which just ran out of stock that day. We contacted her (let’s call her Anne) asking if she wanted to wait for it while a new supply came from the manufacturer or whether she’d like something right away and wanted a different perfume. Anne replied that she had no problem waiting for KM Hanae, because this was the perfect fragrance for her. She told me she’s a pediatric nurse, and she wears Hanae because it’s beautifully soft and comforting and hands-down the most unobtrusive and lovely floral scent she’s ever found to wear at a hospital around infants and children.

This struck me as such a wonderful notion. So many of us talk about wearing perfume solely for “ourselves,” which usually means we still adore something like Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle even though during the first hour anyone around us might get little whiffs of menthol and gasoline! But all of us in an office environment or any sort of work environment where we’re in contact with others need to be mindful of the impact our scent has on others. Now, I’m not interested in getting into the whole debate about banning fragrance in the office (which I think is terrible) but instead looking at the way we smell and how this influences others in our day-to-day lives.

What Anne brought to my attention is that there are professions where one wants to smell nice, but nice in a way that takes those around you into consideration, just as much as your own preference. Anne had found the perfect scent with Keiko Mecheri Hanae. Since this communication with Anne, I think of Hanae as a softly soothing and “caring” smell.

Other fragrances that I’ve come to group into this caretaker category are: Lalique Le Parfum, Miller Harris Couer d’ete and Guerlain L’Instant.

Lalique Le Parfum is the only oriental fragrance from Lalique but it’s a very soft and non-challenging oriental. LLP is mostly a vanillic floral scent with gentle dashes of spices. The list of notes may make you think it’s a big powerful fragrance but it’s not, it’s so comforting and pretty. Sometimes finding a perfume that is just perfectly pretty is a real challenge. Lalique did it with Le Parfum – it’s luminous and I love it.

Miller Harris Coeur d’Ete is another lovely caretaker fragrance. The story goes that Lyn Harris created Coeur d’Ete while she was pregnant; she wanted something that would nurture her senses. Lyn Harris created Coeur d’Ete with some unusual notes, it includes white lilac, cassie & heliotrope, blended with things like chocolate bean, banana and liquorice. Coeur d’Ete is an especially soft and gentle floral and even though it contains chocolate, banana and liquore, the gourmand notes do not overtake the florals.

Guerlain’s L’Instant, perhaps the least loved by true Guerlain fanatics (Guerlainiacs?!), is another caretaker contender. The notes read as seemingly similar to Shalimar but it’s nowhere near as aggressive as Shalimar. L’Instant starts with a citrusy burst but mellows down to a soft honey-vanilla-amber floral, with the floral note bearing the most resemblance to magnolia flowers. L’Instant strikes me as creamy and most notably it’s a gentle, modest scent that I imagine anyone smelling on you would find lovely.

This is just a handful of fragrances that strike me as being soft, gentle and agreeable to the wearer as well as to those around you. Surely there are many others.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Frederic Malle En Passant: A Review

On the southern edge of Boston, there’s a section called Jamaica Plain, where Harvard University maintains a huge public arboretum called the Arnold Arboretum. I lived “on the pond” in Jamaica Plain (affectionately referred to as “JP” by the locals) and felt fortunate to be able to take walks in a beautiful natural landscape that’s also so close to the city. One of the best times of year to visit the arboretum is “Lilac Sunday” which is an annual event in May. The arboretum has literally hundreds of lilacs (I’m guessing the number, there may be more) in all varieties and colors. For anyone who loves to sniff flowers and especially lilacs, Lilac Sunday is a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

As much as I love the smell of lilacs, I was never particularly interested in En Passant. A fragrance focused on lilacs seemed a bit too quaint and innocent to me, like something a 12 year old girl could wear. I had also read the reviews of En Passant and the description of a fragrance smelling of lilacs with aquatic, cucumber and wheat notes just didn’t appeal to me whatsoever.

Well, leave it to Olivia Giacobetti (who created some of my favorites such as Philosykos, Ofresia, L’Artisan Premier Figuer, Safran Troublant and Dzing!) to make me swoon for this seemingly oddball scent. En Passant IS a quaint scent; it’s gentle, innocent and hopeful. To me it smells like walking through the lilac bushes at the Arnold Arboretum on a drizzly spring day, the leaves of the trees are still drooping from the downpour, but the rain has stopped and the sun is coming out. It’s April so most of the trees are just beginning to bud, there’s that singular smell of spring in the air, the breeze carries the aroma of new growth, a green herbaceous scent fills your lungs, and you smell the damp soil along with the leafy green wetness of life. En Passant is a fragrance but it’s also a moment in time, it’s a memory and it’s the feeling of hope.

Most reviews I’ve read about En Passant suggest that the scent of dewy lilacs slowly recedes and the smell of wheat or bread take center stage. After about 90 minutes I do smell bread, it’s very similar to L’Artisan Bois Farine actually, but this wheat note never overtakes “Lilac Sunday” for me. The wheaty-bread smell seems to dry the previously wet, herbal, green lilac scent to the point that it’s as if the sun came out and dried off the lilacs.

En Passant seems the perfect fragrance for hot weather or when you don’t particularly feel like wearing a complex perfume, just something simple, sweet and hopeful.

Longevity: Good, about 3 hours
Sillage: Soft
Rating: 5 Stars, lovely

Jack Black: Signature Black Mark

I smelled Jack Black Signature Black Mark last year at Nordstrom, the only place I've ever seen it. I admired the way it handles cedar, which often smells slightly dull and cold to me, or is presided over by incense accords to such a degree that it leaves the category of cedar altogether, opting for midnight mass.

Incense accords have, for me, typically sharpened cedar in a composition, giving it some projection and precision, but at the cost of what I look for in a cedar-inflected fragrance in the first place; namely, cedar. Black Mark takes the opposite approach. Burnishing the cedar with Kashmir saffron, leather, and coriander somehow softens it, lending a velvety texture to the smell, which is fuzzy rather than flat. Estee Lauder's Cinnabar is a useful comparison, not because it smells anything like Signature Black Mark but because it shares that fuzzy quality, a quality which makes the scent feel three dimensional, something you relax into, like a comforter or a sweater, rather than a veil of smoke or an inert bed of sawdust.

It surprised me, when I looked up saffron on basenotes, to discover how many fragrances I own and love in which the note plays a prominent role. How did I miss it before? Chaos, Comme des Garçons 2 Man, Costume National 21, Black Tie, Lancome Cuir, Guerilla 1, Palisander, Opone. I can see similarities between each of these and Black Mark and it occurs to me that saffron could very well be what most attracted me to all of them. Opone is the only fragrance which immediately came to mind when I started thinking about Jack Black's Signature Black Mark. I like Opone. I like Olivia Giacobetti, the perfumer behind it. But something about Opone fails for me, and I'd attributed the failure to saffron. I find this theory less convincing, now that I know I've apparently liked the note more often than not. Opone's anemia has little to nothing to do with saffron, as far as I can tell.

Another useful comparison when considering Signature Black Mark is the aromachemical Cashmeran, which imbues fragrances such as Alien and Dans Tes Bras with a creamy density, as the name might lead you to expect. Cashmeran makes Alien seem a fitting name for that Mugler fragrance, as well, endowing jasmine with an otherworldly texture, sturdy and formidable, rather than the practically ethereal treatment the floral note often receives. In Dans Tes Bras, Cashmeran seems to drizzle the mushroom accord everyone discerns in that Maurice Roucel creation with mist, giving it an impressionistic volume. It could be the saffron which makes Signature Black Mark seem similarly tactile. Regardless, as with Alien and Dans Tes Bras, you feel as much as smell the resulting effect.

Signature Black Mark is certainly intended as a masculine and is regarded as one by the basenotes community. To me it's decidedly unisex and would smell just as feminine on a woman as it does masculine on a man, and vice versa, for that matter. The fragrance lasts well and projects respectably. I can smell it hours later, wafting up from its points of contact. It was created by Yann Vasnier, who contributed to DK Gold, another lovely scent. It costs about 65 dollars for 100 ml, uncommonly affordable for that size. Also rare: it's concentration is Eau de Parfum.

I originally bought Signature Black mark that first day at Nordstrom. A few days later, I returned it. I'm not sure why. I'm guessing I probably felt that it was too easy to like. I didn't trust it, maybe. Months later, I couldn't get it out of my head. I couldn't forget how wonderful it smelled and the cozy but heady mood it put me in. I eventually purchased it again online, and have thoroughly enjoyed it ever since.

I'm learning.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

LesNez Manoumalia: A Review

LesNez is a niche perfume line hailing from Switzerland. The line was the brainchild of René Schifferle, a perfume lover who, after being bored by perfumes currently on the market, decided that “some really different perfumes were missing”. Therefore, lucky for us, the perfumers working for LesNez have freedom to create the most interesting, daring and unusual compositions they can imagine. The three existing fragrances in the line (Let Me Play the Lion, The Unicorn Spell and L’Antimatiere) were created in collaboration with Isabelle Doyen. Ms. Doyen is famous for her scents created for Annick Goutal.

The newest fragrance offering from LesNez, called Manoumalia (pronounced “man-oo- mal-eya”), due to launch in early 2009, is created by Sandrine Videault. Ms. Videault was one of the last students of famed perfumer Edmond Roundnitska (quite the teacher but I digress). Manoumalia is said to have been imagined by Ms. Videault’s time in Wallis, an island in the South Pacific. Wallis is a little known French territory located halfway between Fiji and Samoa.

As you might guess, a fragrance built upon the idea of an island in the South Pacific, will surely be tropical in style. Manoumalia is a tropical fragrance, but it is also so much more and so well done. The first few moments of Manoumalia are slightly reminiscent of a green Monyette Paris, Kai, Child or Montale Intense Tiare perfume. But after five minutes Manoumalia gets even more interesting than any of these scents. Just for the record, I adore Monyette Paris, and find it utterly beautiful. Manoumalia contains ample servings of vetiver, sandalwood and amber which keep the potentially extreme “tropics” aroma from taking over. To compare and contrast, let’s take Monyette Paris and Montale’s Intense Tiare, both of these fragarances showcase the sweet fruity florals of the tropics to the extreme. Monyette and Montale give us a fantasy version of the ultimate sweet and floral scents of the islands. Manoumalia seems to give us a more natural or realistic olfactory gift from the tropics. Manoumalia includes the green plants, the woods, some dirt and earthy dimension along with the gorgeous sweet tropics.

To be sure, there is a sweet fruity, tropical floral heart in Manoumalia, but the vetiver, sandalwood and amber underpin the fragrance giving the fruity-florals a certain weight and beauty I’ve never before experienced. Manoumalia is not solely a vacation or beach scent, it is a serious perfume easily worn to the office or for any occasion you wish to smell fabulous.

I’m surprised and delighted by Manoumalia. If this sort of fragrance sounds appealing to you, I highly recommend it.

Manoumalia will be available at Luckyscent in the USA in early 2009.

LesNez Manoumalia notes include: Fagrea, vetiver, tiare, sandalwood dust, ylang ylang, amber accord. Please visit Perfume Shrine for a more detailed description of the fragrance notes and fascinating specifics on the island of Wallis.

Longevity: Excellent 5+ hours
Sillage: Soft but present
Rating: 5 Stars

The image above is an engraving of The Surrender of the Island of Otaheite to Captain Wallis. It is located at Auckland Art Gallery.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Best & Worst of 2008

Initially I didn’t want to create a best & worst list. Who am I to do this? But then I noticed that just about all the other blogs did it….so…. here’s my take. (yeah, I know, if everyone jumped off a cliff…)

Disclaimer: I have not smelled every single new perfume launched in 2008. Also, there are many new launches that I have smelled that are not on these lists because they are neither the best nor the worst.

Lists are in alphabetical order

Best of 2008:

Bond No. 9 Lexington Avenue: A very nice scent. It’s interesting & unique yet easily worn.

Calvin Klein Secret Obsession: This is good stuff. Remember, it’s CK, it’s not going to contain black truffles or rain water blessed by monks, but it smells quite good.

Chanel Beige: At first I was indifferent; I expected something a bit more interesting or edgy. But Beige is simply lovely – it’s a beautiful freesia/honey scent that seems classic and timeless. Well done.

Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere: I love this even more than the original No. 5. The only reason I don’t own it is because the original has better longevity. Eau Premiere is somewhat fleeting

Comme des Garcons + Stephen Jones: Nice dirty violet.

Creed Love in Black: Nice dirty violet. Rather edgy for Creed.

Ralph Lauren Notorious: Similar to CK Secret Obsession above, this is Ralph Lauren, there won’t be any meteorites or bark from a giant Redwood found growing in the Sahara desert in this juice, but nevertheless it smells quite good.

Worst of 2008:

Frederic Malle Dans Tes Bras: OK, I understand artistic license, but this smells like salt and mushrooms.

Estee Lauder Amber Ylang Ylang: this is EL’s Private Collection; it should smell like a high quality perfume. If it were solely unexciting that would be fine. But EL AYY smells like something from Bath & Body Works.

Lalique Amethyst: Insipid berry blah-ness that smells cheap.

Serge Lutens Serge Noire: Smells nasty.

Tocca Brigitte: Blah fruity mess. Smells like ginger for 5 minutes. The worst from Tocca.

Tom Ford White Patchouli: What patchouli? Where are the white florals? This smells like an astringent.

The Different Company, Sublime Balkiss: A Review

Sublime Balkiss launched in 2008 in Europe. Americans have to wait until sometime this year (2009) to have ourselves a sniff of this new juice from Celine Ellena (daughter of Jean Claude Ellena). Well, along with Frederic Malle Dans Tes Bras, Sublime Balkiss was my most anxiously awaited new fragrance. Dans Tes Bras was a big disappointment for me; all I got was salty skin and mushrooms. Sublime Balkiss is not exactly a disappointment, I actually quite like the scent, but I’m rather put off by the longevity.

Sublime Balkiss starts off with a juicy berry blast that is wonderfully effervescent. It isn’t a light fruity concoction but instead think berries in a mystical forest at twilight.

The Different Company is advertising Sublime Balkiss as a chypre, a modern chypre, which uses two types of patchouli instead of oakmoss. I’m tiring of this new term, “modern chypre” because most modern chypres that I’ve smelled bear so little resemblance to real chypres that I don’t see the point. Perhaps perfumers need to create a new label for these so-called “modern chypres.” Nevertheless, Sublime Balkiss (SB) uses two types of patchouli which are quite faint or perhaps tame and not easily detected. I imagine it’s the patchouli that gives the berry notes a serious anchor, a deeper complexity, but I don’t smell any sort of traditional patchouli at all. For those who dislike patchouli, you’re in luck, because you might find you like this fragrance quite a bit.

For a fragrance meant to highlight berries, SB is rather dry. It is not sickly sweet by any means. It starts off juicy but once it dries down it becomes a woody, mossy, berry scent. I actually love the combination of berries, woods & earthiness. I can’t explain this via the list of notes, but as I smell my arm I imagine berries growing in the underbrush of a forest. There is something dark green and forest-like about Sublime Balkiss. I don’t mean SB smells like pine or balsam but there’s an element of mossy greenness about it.

I’m disappointed with SB because this could have been a real winner for me if it projected and lasted longer than 30 minutes. I love the scent but I just can’t accept an expensive fragrance that doesn’t last. Aside from Sel de Vetiver, all TDC fragrances have been fleeting on me.

Perhaps you will have better luck with longevity. It’s a nice scent and one worth trying.

Notes: bergamot, violet, blueberry, blackberry, blackcurrant, lily of the valley, rose, lilac, patchouli

Longevity: Poor, less than 90 minutes
Sillage: Soft
Rating: 3 Starts (this would have been a 4 or 5 with longevity)

Fendi Asja

Asja seems like an answer to a question Opium and Cinnabar started formulating over fifteen years after their arrival, a question they probably never intended to ask. How do you extend their balsamic depth, as intricately detailed as the panoramic relief on a red lacquered chinoiserie cabinet, into the contemporary imagination without sinking it under the weight of its own opulence? It's as if someone took her great-grandmother's heirloom in to be appraised, discovering that what had been obscured under years of grime, seeming to be featureless, is actually a gorgeous, infinitely complex piece of art. Sit it in the corner and it fades into the shadows. Clean it up a little and it makes the corner seem more like the center of the room.

Asja remains true to the picture of the Orient painted by Opium and Cinnabar, right down to the packaging (in this case, a bottle which is part miso bowl, part Pee Wee Big Top) and in fact can be said to pay respectful homage to their basic construction, with a nod thrown in toward the damascenone succulence of Chanel's Coco. The similarities are there, and anyone familiar with all four might immediately think of one or the other when smelling this 1992 creation by Jean Guichard. Yet Asja turns a light on, illuminating an overly familiar structure, so ubiquitous as to seem dimensionless, in such a way that its depth is shown with singular clarity.

It isn't exactly that Guichard simplified here; rather, that he wasn't afraid of white space, and created unusual juxtapositions with infinitely arresting results. Like Opium and Cinnabar, Asja smells of cinammon and other spices. Asja lacks the sharp, peppery carnation they employ to such heightened effect, and yet you might swear it's there. It feels more transparent, nearly sheer, without losing Opium's and Cinnabar's sense of rich, rococco embellishment. Asja has a bouyancy which is simultaneously boozy, a fruity aspect which stops just short of overripe, if not fermented. Its smokiness and a sweet and salty duality put it right in line with many of the perfumes produced by Serge Lutens, though I can't think of too many I prefer to it for this kind of result.

Opium and Cinnabar have fruity elements as well; chiefly, orange. Asja is distinguished by its honeyed raspberry accord, which somehow manages to evoke carnation in much the same way rose-less Nahema conjures rose. The raspberry recalls a familiar structure by playing an entirely new tune. Put another way, it strikes a familiar cord without sounding like a broken record. Asja is the first Jean Guichard perfume in which I can see a direct link to the work his offspring, Aurelien, has been doing, particularly the reformulation of Piguet's Visa and Baghari and Bond No. 9's Chinatown. Aurelien, too, seems particularly suited to this kind of bas relief, contrasting a well-known, even overly familiar structure with an exceptionally simple conceit: the nectarous piquancy of Visa, canted in novel directions by the addition of immortelle, collapses chypre depth without rendering the whole thing shallow. Chinatown uses peach in a way which seems similar to Asja's raspberry, resulting in a salty, almost peppery territory neither fruit would have reached on its own. Baghari employs equally subtle, no less radical maneuvers to the classic aldehyde, creating what seems like a fizzy, sparkling background against which grannies jasmine and rose seem more energetic.

Asja isn't just an interesting sidebar to Opium and Cinnabar and the school of spicy orientals they represent. It updates them in ways which are both respectful and irreverent, and deserves to be seen not just in relation to them but as a wonderful perfume, an exceptional fragrance, in its own right.

Asja also makes a fantastic masculine, by the way, and I intend to wear the hell out of it.